In a company that has a roster as deep as AEW’s, it’s not surprising that the company is still able to book first time matches that feel like a massive moment. MJF vs Kenny Omega is a prime example of one of these matches. In a year like 2023, where both men have had quite the admirable output of match quality, accompanied by tv booking that has left fans scratching their heads more than once, it does feel quite fitting for the two to come to blows at this point in their careers.
Not only was this a first time match, surprising as it is considering they’ve both been with the company since 2019, but it was also a bout that held huge implications for both men. For Omega, this match was all about defending his streak as the longest reigning AEW World Champion before MJF surpassed him; for Max, it was about beating one of the best to ever do it on his pathway of cementing his own legacy. AEW put together a fantastic video package detailing the importance of this match to not only the two men involved, but the past, presence, and future of AEW as a whole.
Going into this match, the crowd was electric. From the moment both men made their entrances, the energy within the building was palpable. Everyone in attendance recognised this match for what it was about to become – an absolute cornerstone in the history of AEW. Before the two men even locked up as the bell rang, they were treated to a chorus of “holy shit” chants from the crowd. In the early goings, it’s hard to pinpoint just who the audience is rooting for most. It took a matter of seconds for duelling chants for both men to break out as they grappled for the upper hand in the early going. Even as they broke apart on even footing, the crowd began chanting “both these guys”. It’s clear as day that there was just a genuine appreciation from the fans to see two of AEW’s top stars finally coming face to face in this match.
Omega and Friedman spend the first few minutes of this match exchanging holds and slipping away from each other, with the odd sneaky pinfall attempt thrown in for good measure. Coupling this with some (not so) subtle showboating from both men, clearing feeding off the energy of the crowd, we’re barely five minutes into the match and it already feels special. It’s no secret that Kenny is considered the best wrestler of all time, but Max is digging his heels in and proving once again that he is more than capable to be put on this sort of stage and hang with the living legends of the business.
After the handshake/eye poke exchange from Max, we saw something that’s mildly uncharacteristic from Omega in this stage of his career – he used the Terminator Dive in considerably early stages of the matchup. MJF was not one to be upstaged in a match for his title though, and responded in kind with a Fosbury Flop, much to the delight of the fans.
From here, both men spent a period of this match exchanging offence – Kenny took a dive off the top rope, and was quickly repaid by Max with a back breaker powerbomb combo and a failed pin attempt. Max held the momentum with a submission till Kenny was able to fight out somewhat before the champion once again countered. He locked Omega in what appeared to be some sort of modified sleeper before quickly planting him on his head instead. After another failed pin attempt, Max fell victim to his own actions – after spending too long showboating for the crowd, his attempt to mock Kenny’s V-Trigger with one of his own was thwarted by Omega reversing the move into a snap-dragon suplex. The match fell into a pattern that long term Kenny fans are familiar with – sharp offence mixed with strategic holds to wear Max down, and big time moves that both are effective in dazzling the live crowd and drawing closer to a successful pin attempt.
Despite this work though, during Omega’s patented “You Can’t Escape”, Maxwell nailed his midsection by getting the knees up and the momentum was once again turning tides. Omega was able to turn this back around almost as fast though, and this is where the match took a spectacular turn.
Up to this point, the match had been a spectacle to watch, because of course it had – it doesn’t feel like these two are capable of much else. However, with Kenny introducing a table into the mix, it created a sense of urgency about the challenger that we hadn’t quite seen yet. Omega had been so calm in the short build to the match, but now about 12 minutes in, it felt like he knew that it would take something big to keep Max down for the three count.
A frenzied exchange of pin attempts followed by the buckle bomb/clothesline exchange lead into possibly one of my favourite match spots I’ve seen in a while. Rolling to the apron, the two jockeyed for position before Omega nailed Max with one of the most vicious snap-dragons he’s ever executed in AEW. If that wasn’t enough to cement how much of a threat Kenny truly considers the world champion to be, the Doctor Bomb through the waiting table sure as hell was.
Despite many tv matches falling victim to time constraints and not allowing moments to breathe, that wasn’t the case here. The move was expertly placed within the match, and both men were able to utilise the often despised adbreak in order to sell the effects something like this would truly have. The crowd stayed with them for this entire moment of the match, giving them an outpouring of love, adoration, and motivation to keep pushing through the bout.
The following flurry of strikes both men threw at each other followed by a One Winged Angel reversed into a poisonrana, only for Kenny to then throw Max into a poisonrana of his own, was quite the breathtaking sequence to follow. Both men showing such clear urgency as to why winning this match was so important to each of them is such an undervalued notion in wrestling, and the build of this match between Kenny and Max highlighted and built upon it beautifully.
Back to the two jostling to keep momentum in their favour, I was absolutely delighted by MJF pulling a Made In Japan out of nowhere this deep in the match. Obviously, the move itself is gorgeous in execution and not something we see Max doing, but I can’t help but hone in on the accidental symbolism of pulling this move out in a match against Omega – a man who truly did cement his legacy in Japan. It’s all about the little details in wrestling for me, however intentional they may or may not be.
This move however was not enough to earn Max the victory, and the two were once again at a stalemate. Max was throwing offence at Omega only for the challenger to be able to reserve once again and throw MJF into a sickening pile-driver that wasn’t quite enough to earn him the victory either.
Now having to deal with another 90 second adbreak, much is the issue with tv wrestling in extreme bouts, neither men held back in what lengths they were willing to go for the belt. Kenny dropped Max in a nasty powerbomb onto the guardrail, and teased a second before changing course back into the ring. This did Omega no favours though, and Max was able to get the upper hand for only a moment before his own showboating caused him to be face planted into the top turnbuckle. At this point in the match, seeing Kenny hit the stride he does has me feeling for the first time that god damn, maybe he’s going to do it. Of course, that melted away when Don Callis decided he needed to make an appearance.
Despite my personal feelings about interference in big time matches, it didn’t take away from what I thought was quite the spectacular closing stretch. Kenny surviving the first Heat Seeker and being able to reverse a Panama Sunrise (a wonderful homage to Adam Cole by Max in the crux of this match) into a stunning near fall, only to fall victim to those two moves in the reverse order was just something special to watch in execution. Not only did MJF get the win over Kenny Omega, he did it clean as a whistle and truly earned the right to be the one to surpass Kenny’s iconic title reign. I wouldn’t call this a passing of the torch moment per se, but it was something absolutely monumental at this point of the company’s history. This match and moment is one fans will be looking to from the future and considering one of the highlights of AEW’s first five years.
Now, post match, I am very much a fan of the fact they let the moment breathe as much as it did before going off air, and showing all of the people that are gunning for Max’s spot on the throne. Even more so than that, the beautiful show of respect between champion and challenger is what really highlights the importance of this match to me, and the implications for both men involved. We just saw two of the very best go toe to toe and deliver something truly special to watch, and seeing them acknowledging that themselves, in my opinion, just added to how monumental this moment was. To quote what Tony Schiavone said on commentary, this really, truly is what All Elite Wrestling is all about.