This past Sunday at AEW Double or Nothing saw MJF lose in decisive fashion to his former bodyguard Wardlow, however the match was in doubt leading up to the event following Friedman no-showing a Fanfest event, with a flight reportedly being booked in his name out of Las Vegas.
The match ultimately did happen, although reports emerged shortly after that MFJ only arrived at the T-Mobile Arena at the last minute, and left immediately following his match’s completion.
This dramatic situation was the latest chapter in the ongoing contract disputes between MJF and AEW, with The Pinnacle leader making it known that he’s unhappy with his level of pay in comparison to others, and that he’d be considering his options when his contract expires in 2024.
During a recent PWTorch VIP audio show, Wade Keller providen an insight into the current status of the disputes between MJF and AEW President Tony Khan.
Keller noted that the absence of MJF at the aforementioned Fanfest event were down to his own frustrations and a desire from AEW managements side to not allow these frustrations to boil over in such a public manner.
“the way it was portrayed to us is MJF was in no place to be in public. He was in a bad place. And so it just seemed if not mutually agreed upon [it was] pretty obvious to everybody that it would be good for him to not make a public appearance yesterday. So that kind of got things rolling…I’ve been learning stuff behind the scenes off record and on background for a while and pieced together some more details as this story went along. This weekend was circled, I was told, as a weekend that people in AEW were hoping that Tony and MJF could sit down and hash out their differences. There was just hope that cooler heads would prevail.”-Wade Keller
Wade continued, pointing out the differences between Khan’s “calm, cool, collected” demeanor in comparison to MJF’s tendencies to allow his frustrations to overcome him.
“Tony Khan on social media can come across sometimes as defensive. But his demeanor otherwise, at least from anything anybody’s seen that I’ve talked to is pretty calm, cool, collected…MJF is a little different. MJF gets really worked up. And by all accounts, he’s been so worked up that he just became sort of withdrawn and bitter to observers and people who have been around him or observed him at Dynamite lately.”-Wade Keller
Many originally considered the starting point of these public disputes to be Tony Khan’s frustration with MJF regarding an interview with Ariel Helwani that MJF reportedly didn’t schedule with AEW’s PR department.
Keller however, revealed that according to sources close to the situation, Khan’s reaction to MJF’s interview was overblown in several reports. He instead states that MJF’s decision to raise questions regarding his current contract during the meeting between the two was the true starting point to the situation the pair now find themselves embroiled in.
“A key source in AEW though indicates Tony Khan wasn’t all that upset about the situation. It was just something he felt he needed to bring up to MJF, like, ‘Hey, don’t do that next time…’ Now, other sources indicate that the conversation didn’t go well, because from there, it veered into MJF expressing his bitterness over his contract status, and that it was a breaking point in their relationship. MJF has since made it clear that he’s unhappy that he wasn’t given an early contract renegotiation offer.”-Wade Keller
Keller went on to discuss the current terms of MJF’s AEW deal, with the expiry date set for January 1st, 2024. Keller touched upon MJF’s original agreement with AEW, noting that he received the typical deal handed to AEW’s original signees around the time of the company’s formation, although MJF ultimately progressed higher up the card than any other talents working on the same agreement.
“MJF signed an original starter contract with AEW that was in the range of probably dozens of other early signees who have been with AEW ever since. Some have been cut, some have stayed in the lower cards, some have moved to the mid-card, a couple maybe moved to the upper card. Nobody’s moved higher than MJF, among those on those starter deals. And by a starter deal, a very broad loose range is like $40,000 to $70,000. Like, you can make a living but you know, it’s a starter deal. And some might not even be making $40,000. And I know there’s some people who are just on a per date basis. But this was among the people who started signing starter contracts, people without a lot of leverage and any national TV exposure. And Tony was at a point where he’s handing out a bunch of contracts and wanted to see who would be good and who wouldn’t be, you know, who we wanted to stick with and who we wouldn’t. And so a lot of money goes out to a lot of people when you get that starter contract. And the idea for Tony is, you know, when they come to the ones who deserve it, will get a raise.”-Wade Keller
Following on from this, Keller then revealed that MJF did actually recieve said raise in January of this year, although he is still considerably underpaid in comparison to a number of ex-WWE stars and free agent signings. He also notes however, that there are several midcard level talents that are also earning considerably more than MJF, leading to the majority of his frustrations over the current deal.
“By the way, MJF was given a raise once since he signed with AEW. So he’s making substantially more than the starter contract, like hundreds of thousands of dollars but it is modest compared to the contracts of more than a half a dozen free agent signings AEW has made over the past year…Christian, Mark Henry, Malakai Black, Adam Cole, Bryan Danielson, CM Punk. There’s six right there. And I know I’m leaving off a few more…All of them are making more than MJF right now. Like I’m told that with confidence. So yes, he got a substantial raise percentage-wise, but it’s modest compared to the contracts of more than half a dozen free agents just in the last year that AEW paid, including wrestlers nowhere near his stature as a top tier main event star and ratings draw. I think everybody would agree Bryan Danielson and CM Punk deserve more than MJF. You would argue Adam Cole should probably be in the ballpark. And if he’s paid more, it’s not like a huge deal but MJF has been way more valuable to AEW than Adam Cole…if you look at Christian, Malakai Black, Mark Henry… I mean, he’s obviously worth more and has been worth more to the company, and he’s just not getting paid near what they’re getting paid in, in most cases, actually many cases. In many cases, those wrestlers are getting paid four or five times more than him…So, you know, MJF is by all accounts is kind of fuming over this.”-Wade Keller
According to Keller, MJF originally approached the contract discussions earlier this year with optimism, believing his contributions on screen to warrant a significant pay increase. In MJF’s mind however, he was let down by the offer on the table, leading to the situation spiralling to the level it has now reached.
“He felt that his work, his professionalism, his rapport and friendship with Tony Khan would have led to Tony renegotiating his deal, when there was about two years left. And by the time January 1 2022 came around, yes, he got a new contract and a raise…But MJF was thinking, ‘Hey, come on, Tony, approach me, get me on the level of some of these people that you keep bringing in. I’m doing great work, and I’m drawing great ratings.’ And when Tony didn’t do that MJF the way he handled it was to get very angry privately and then it kind of exploded. And I think Tony was caught off guard by how angry MJF was getting…””
MJF and Tony Khan were really close as recently as late last year. MJF was one of those wrestlers Khan would have long phone conversations with about ideas for storylines and matches. At some point, that relationship fractured and the real reason might be as simple as MJF feeling disrespected that Tony didn’t approach him with the new contract offer sooner. It’s possible something else triggered or amplified this the situation but that hasn’t been even hinted at in reports elsewhere or from our sources, but some people are wondering that – is there something else we don’t know about?”-Wade Keller
Keller finally touched upon the rumours of the public disputes between MJF and AEW being a work, with Keller shooting down this notion. He does however, accept the possibility of a new, improved deal being worked out for MJF, which would subsequently allow the situation to be used in a kayfabe storyline.
H/T to WrestlingNews.co for the transcription.