There is a very likely chance that in their journey through life, everyone will encounter at least one individual who massively overcompensates for their deficiencies in some fashion. Perhaps you yourself are that individual, self-aware or not, and have found ways to cover your weaknesses with a different kind of strength. There can be healthy level of this, like striving for peak achievement at an individual sport, say professional wrestling, because one's interpersonal skills are not their strongest suit. But it doesn't take much to tip from healthy behavior to that of an unhealthy bent, to turn that overcompensation into a negative aspect of one's life, say in the case of an individual whose self-confidence is lacking but they present as supremely confident in public. Their overcompensation turns to narcissism, their behavior becomes repugnant, possibly to the point that neither they, nor the individuals who are captivated by them, even realize the depth of their trauma.
With that in mind one can look at the path of Maxwell Jacob Friedman, and see how his traumas and massive insecurities have fueled the monster he has become since defeating Jon Moxley at FULL GEAR 2022. Over the last year, fans have watched MJF trauma dump on the world and use it as justification for his behavior. It really began when CM Punk entered into his world, and Max opened up about the bullying he suffered as a young Jewish kid, about the disappointment he felt when his idol left him, and how he turned all of that into a rage that drove him towards where he is today. Prior to those revelations, MJF had merely presented as a talented rich kid wrestler willing to use anyone and anything that helped further his goals of, it seemed, wrestling as little as possible while milking as much money out of it as plausible. He used Cody Rhodes until he saw “The American Nightmare” as being of no further use, he used and abused Wardlow until “The War Dog” finally took a stand for himself one year ago in Orlando, he used Chris Jericho and The Inner Circle for as long as possible, and used up Pinnacle while they were of convenience.
But it wasn't until the confessionals prior to REVOLUTION 2022 that Max actually let the world in on why he is the way he is, or at least how he perceives the impact his life has had on shaping him into the man he is today. Now in that moment, as he spoke his truth, it was easy to sympathize with Maxwell and even relate to his tales of being the bullied; after all, the whole point of a narcissist's gaslighting and manipulation is to make their victim feel either sympathetic to the abuser or feel as if they are responsible for the narcissist's behavior. And that's what MJF did a year ago, tried to make Punk feel as if he was to blame for MJF's actions, and that same attitude has only grown stronger in the 12 months since MJF lost that Dog Collar Match.
Max has justified being the bullied who in turn becomes the bully, but in truth he is only a bully on the surface. His actions, pretty much since day one, have been that of a coward, hiding behind one person after another, and putting road blocks in the way of everyone he does not want to face. He did it with Cody, he did it with Chris Jericho, he did it with Wardlow leading up to DOUBLE OR NOTHING 2022, Max even did it prior to DoN '22 when he couldn't be bothered to fulfill his obligations at the Fan Fest, leaving hundreds of fans disappointed as well as costing AEW time, money, and aggravation.
He has hidden behind people, behind his inherited wealth, behind his threats about “the bidding war of 2024”, and when things didn't go his way after Wardlow decimated him in Las Vegas last year, he ran away from AEW, but not without choosing his words very carefully. MJF made sure to address the fans in Los Angeles with words that would resonate with them, he made sure to touch on key issues that would generate their support despite the fact he was abandoning the company that had given him the platform to express said views. He did everything he could to make himself beloved in the fans eyes, justifying his cowardly actions seconds before running out the door, gaslighting all of AEW into supporting his twisted perspective.
That led to a bizarre situation when MJF finally got his demands met and returned to All Elite Wrestling at ALL OUT 2022, a situation where fans actually cheered for AEW's own devil and he soaked up every single moment of it with glee. For the first time, the AEW faithful were giving Maxwell the appreciation he's wanted since the very beginning, and the sick part is that by the fall of 2022, he didn't want it so much as he needed it. He needed to know he could manipulate the fans, play with them in the palm of his hand, and even when he stood across the ring from Jon Moxley at FULL GEAR 2022, fans were actually torn on who to root for in their championship bout.
Then MJF played his hand, or should that be played William Regal, and used The Blackpool Combat Club's mentor to weasel his way into claiming the AEW World Championship. In that moment, for those who had forgotten since ALL OUT 2022, MJF showed the world who he really is at heart, and what he's willing to do in order to get what he needs so that he can validate himself and his behavior. If he can convince people he's in the right along the way, then even better, and it's hard not to rally behind MJF at times. He is a charismatic, charming individual and a talented professional wrestler when he feels like actually doing the work inside the ring. He has become the kind of person that can make you feel like you need to be in his presence, and that you are somehow enhanced by being on his team, by being one of his “devil worshippers” as Max called them upon his return.
But the reality is, MJF doesn't feel anything real except a hole where a soul is supposed to be. He is empty, save the gnawing insecurities and self-doubt, and everything he puts out into the world is just facade, overcompensation to hide it all; he is a textbook narcissist and nothing is going to fill him up. The AEW World Championship won't do it, beating Bryan Danielson won't do it, but it will be fodder to continue building this false ego MJF wants the world to see.
That's why he confessed to what he did in that disgusting car accident story, telling a story to the people that's endearing in his pursuit of the woman of his dreams while simultaneously disgusting for how it ended up. MJF needs the people to know he is a disgusting human because that's who he believes himself to be, and the vicious cycle continues with every terrible action he commits because it justifies his belief that he's a terrible person at his core. MJF does terrible things because he is ultimately terrible at his core, but he also wants sympathy and justification for his actions. That's why he says to the world he would down a bottle of pills if it wasn't for the AEW World Championship just seconds before being disgusting regarding Bryan Danielson's family, before speaking ill of Bryan as a father.
MJF wants the world to know he's a piece of, to borrow a line, infectious human waste but he wants them to sympathize with him because of it. He wants to be the villain, but also wants to be understood for why he's the villain. It's not his fault, this is who the world made him, and being better...changing...growing...well that requires doing the work, and we've all seen how little Max actually likes doing the work. He'll spend all day in the gym aiming for that ideal physique, but ask him to put the time in between the ropes, and he'll find any way possible to avoid that situation.
And the collision of all those aspects of Max's psyche is what led us to this Sunday night where he must face “The American Dragon” Bryan Danielson in a 60-Minute Iron Man Match with the AEW World Championship on the line. Clearly MJF does not want to face Bryan in a wrestling match, as evidenced by the usual Max method of throwing other people's bodies in the path of his foe, but he needs to prove to the world he is a great professional wrestler. MJF needs to beat Bryan so he can validate his belief of being “better than the best”, and he needs to do it in Danielson's world. He can't stomach the doubt of the fans if he can cut it for one hour, he can't deal with not being seen as a deserving World Champion, a problem none of the AEW World Champions before him ever had to deal with during their reigns.
Meanwhile, since his tenure in AEW began at ALL OUT 2021, Bryan Danielson has done what he always does. He wrestles, he fights, he competes, and does so against anyone willing to stand across the ring from him. He earns the reputation as the best wrestler in the world, as a man many consider The G.O.A.T, by actually wrestling not just talking about his wrestling. Bryan backs up his words with actions, his own actions, not proxies or roadblocks, but with his own wrestling abilities honed across 20+ years of competing around the globe. Danielson is the wrestler that MJF wishes he could be, who has the honest respect from fans and colleagues alike that Max wishes he could earn, but in the AEW World Champion's mind, he can take it all by beating Bryan at his own game.
One hour of blood, sweat, and tears.
One hour of fighting.
One hour of survival.
It's a situation Danielson has been in before; he did it with Adam Page here in AEW, he did it with Colt Cabana, Nigel McGuinness, and Samoa Joe in Ring of Honor, he even went nearly 75 with Austin Aries in 2004. But MJF, he tops out at 38 minutes in that fight with Punk on DYNAMITE in February 2022, and all the gym time in the world, all the Instagram selfies of your personal records, none of it can prepare a wrestler for what fighting for one hour feels like on a body. It's not just muscle fatigue, it's also fatigue on the spirit as the waters get deeper, fatigue on the will if the fall count is not in your favor and you're fighting from underneath. This is possibly the ultimate test of a professional wrestler; it's physical, it's psychological, it's strategy, and putting it all together to survive for one full hour.
Once upon a time, Bryan Danielson had an entrance theme by Offspring called “Self-Esteem”, and its core lyric was “I'm just a sucker with no self-esteem”; is that who MJF will be for agreeing to this one hour challenge? Or Can MJF actually do this? Is he capable of rising above himself and becoming the better wrestler this Sunday night at REVOLUTION 2023? Or will Bryan Danielson expose Maxwell Jacob Friedman to the world as a fraud of a World Champion, a man undeserving of his position atop the greatest professional wrestling company on the planet today? Will he force MJF to see that, underneath all the bluster and narcissism, he is still just that broken kid hoping football would be his ticket to acceptance?
REVOLUTION 2023 gets underway at 8pm ET/7pm CT live on pay-per-view from Bleacher Report, PPV.com, traditional PPV providers, and in select locations around the United States courtesy of Joe Hand Promotions.