All Elite Wrestling star Maxwell Jacob Friedman likes to tell most anybody that he’s “better than you, and you know it.” But, for fellow Long Islanders, he might not go quite that far.
MJF, as he’s better known, regularly professes his love for all things Long Island. Along the way, the smug Plainview-Old Bethpage JFK High School graduate has earned a reputation as one of the most despicable villains in all of pro wrestling — unless, that is, he’s performing in “the most magical place on earth.”
And while it’s not quite on this side of the Nassau County border, MJF is counting on being the hometown favorite for the biggest match of his career on Saturday, when he challenges Jon Moxley for the AEW world championship in the main event of the Full Gear pay-per-view event at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
MJF talked to Newsday about the big opportunity, whether Long Islanders are naturally “heels,” and who is on his Mount Rushmore of Long Island-born wrestlers (Hint: He’s, at least, one of them).
You’re like the most hated guy in wrestling. Yet, when you come to Long Island, you’re Hulk Hogan in 1987. What do you make of that? Is it just geography?
MJF: It's not just geography. It’s biology. Long Islanders are just born better. It’s in our blood. I leave my apartment in Glen Cove every day, and I just inhale the air, as if it’s a drug. Because the air here is better. The beaches are better. The people are better. The gyms are better. The movies are better. Everything here is better.
If you are, like the quintessential Long Islander, and one of the biggest villains in wrestling, does that make Long Islanders heels?
MJF: I detest that word. I think what it makes Long Islanders is honest. That’s the word I would use. We’re honest — brutally honest. We’re not afraid to say it like it is. I feel like that’s why when I come home to the UBS Arena, I’m shrouded with love and respect. I’m not just from Long Island, I am Long Island.
"maxwelYou have the biggest match of your career this Saturday, challenging Jon Moxley for the AEW world title. It’s close to Long Island, but not quite. Is anything bittersweet about that? Would you have preferred to get this title shot at the UBS Arena or maybe the Nassau Coliseum?
MJF: Of course I would. But, it’s still the Tri-State area, and, in my mind, that’s my backyard. All I do is travel. Very rarely do I get to breathe in Northeast air. So I will take it. To me it is a homecoming. And, hopefully, it’s the crowning of the new homecoming king. This is not just the hardest match of my career. It’s the most historic, because we could potentially be crowing the face of the next generation of professional wrestling.
It's incredible how many wrestlers from your generation came out of Long Island, whether it’s Create A Pro (wrestling school in Hicksville) or NYWC (in Deer Park). What does it say about the quality of training out here?
MJF: I think it says a lot about it. You see a lot of people who were trained at Create A Pro on the biggest stage possible. I think that Create A Pro is easily, hands down, the best professional wrestling school in the world. And it doesn’t even come close. And I think anyone in our industry, if they’re being honest with themselves, would say the same thing.
I’ve talked to people who trained with you there, and they’ve said they saw something in you back then, especially when you were doing promo classes. Did you feel like you were at the head of your class when you were training there?
MJF: I feel like I’ve been at the head of every class I’ve ever been in. Did that ruffle feathers at the time? For sure. Because I was great, and I knew I was great. It’s been that way since birth. I remember the first time I got into a wrestling ring, I had this feeling of euphoria, like none other. Because I just felt like, “OK. At this point, in this chapter of the book that is life, this is where Maxwell Jacob Friedman is supposed to be.”
What was the first live wrestling show you attended on Long Island?
MJF: The first live wrestling show I saw on Long Island was an NYWC show. The first live show I saw in New York was in Madison Square Garden. It was the first-ever Elimination Chamber (WWE Survivor Series 2002). I just remember when Shawn Michaels hit the pose, in his weird little Dutch Boy haircut, crimson mask, dookie brown pants. I just remember looking to my left and my right and going, “I could do this.” And I was right.
Who was on that NYWC show?
MJF: Alex Reynolds, Tony Nese, Mikey Whipwreck, Pat Buck. A lot of those guys ended up having a hand in training me.
And you work with some of those guys now in AEW. Is it awkward at all that maybe you’re higher on the card than they are?
MJF: They all have to bow down to the king. That’s how it goes. There’s a hierarchy in the sport, and you’ve got to abide by it, whether you want to or not.
When you think about the great wrestlers that have come from Long Island — besides yourself, obviously — who is that the top of that list? Is it Mick Foley? Taz?
MJF: The Mount Rushmore of Long Islanders who are professional wrestlers, I just think is me four times. I think Mick Foley is a hack, and it’s really upsetting that I never got to wrestle him — not because it would be a dream come true for me, but just because I really want to punch him in the face and knock him out with my Dynamite diamond ring, and prove, beyond a shadow of a dDoubt, that I’m the greatest Long Island wrestler that’s ever lived.
Chris Jericho is technically a Long Islander too. He was born in Manhasset.
MJF: Oh, stop it. You can be born somewhere, but he’s a Canadian. He’s a gross little Canadian.
Some news came out recently about you being cast in the movie about the Von Erichs (Sean Durkin’s “The Iron Claw”). People are really excited to hear you’re getting this opportunity, but on the other hand are a little puzzled about you playing Lance Von Erich.
MJF: I don’t know where that came from, because I never confirmed that.
Is it not true?
MJF: People are just guessing. I never said that. I’ll just say whatever I end up doing in that movie is incredible, because I’m incredible. And, my God, the cast is so stacked. Zac Efron is the GOAT. Jeremy Allen White, Lily James: Insanely talented people. And you know Sean Durkin is incredibly intelligent, because he booked me.
Is there something to be learned from the Von Erichs’ story — this cautionary tale about these guys who flew so high, and had a tragic downfall?
MJF: I think the number one lesson to be learned is: Don’t be born and raised in Texas. It’s a horrible place. If the Von Erichs were a Long Island family, none of this would have went down.
We talked to your mom a few years ago, and she gave us this great quote about how her son is a “jerk.” But I was there at the UBS Arena, seated right behind your mom, and she was so much the proud mom when you came out. What's it like having your mom in the stands cheering you on?
MJF: She’s a [expletive]. She’s such a glory hog. I don’t think she was proud of me. I think she was just proud that people knew that she birthed me.
What should people expect this Saturday?
MJF: Expect history being made. Expect the crowning moment of the guy who is going to bring professional wrestling back to the cultural zeitgeist. I want to make professional wrestling something people have no choice but to talk about again. I feel like we’ve done an incredible job, the brand of AEW, in doing that in such an incredibly short period of time. The fact that MJF has only been on TV for three years, and the fact that I am getting reached out to by publications as incredible as yours, I think it’s very telling. And I think there’s only greater things to come if I win that AEW world title, because I’m a guy who can wave the flag of this sport, and do it very well.