All Elite Wrestling is one of the newer wrestling companies out there and its weekly show, AEW Dynamite, has been airing since October of 2019 on TNT. Every Wednesday, the show features wrestlers furthering the carefully crafted storylines to match with the gimmicks (characters) the wrestlers have created.
One of the rising stars on AEW is Maxwell Jacob Friedman, better known as MJF. MJF, whose real name is Maxwell T. Friedman, is a villain you often love to hate. For the purposes of clarity, I’ll use MJF when talking about the wrestling gimmick and Friedman when discussing the wrestler portraying him.
MJF likes to remind people that he is better than them. He enters the ring with a Burberry scarf draped around his neck, typically accompanied with his bodyguard, Wardlow.
He is currently part of the group The Inner Circle, an alliance of wrestlers in AEW led by wrestling legend Chris Jericho and filled with other villains (or heels, as they’re referred to in the world of wrestling). But while there might be something endearing about the other members of that group — even at his most conceited, there is something inherently goofy about Jericho’s gimmick — MJF is, pure and simple, a jerk.
There may be moments that make him a little more likable, such as giving Inner Circle member Jake Hager a pep talk after he lost to Wardlow. More notably, MJF did a duet with Jericho on “Me and My Shadow.” The performance, beyond being delightful, led to MJF being named one of the best performances of 2020 by the New York Times.
He remains a jerk. During a tribute to the late wrestler Jon Huber, who wrestled for AEW as Mr. Brodie Lee, MJF removed Huber’s son’s lucha mask — an essential part of his gimmick — in a move that is seen as very disrespectful in the community. It was a moment that fit perfectly with the self-centered, sneering gimmick of MJF. Thankfully, a wrestler gave Brodie Lee Jr. a kendo stick, a bamboo wrestling weapon, which he used in the match to knock out MJF.
There is an inherent Jewishness to MJF, even if it’s not explicit. Friedman is Jewish and previously wrestled under the name Maxwell Jacob Feinstein, using a surname that could be read to a non-Jewish audience as more explicitly Jewish. This Jewishness is a bit clearer on MJF’s Twitter, where he tweets in character. There he mentions eating his grandmother’s challah French toast or says things like, “Happy Chanukah you disgusting gentiles,” to his followers. Additionally, you can order an MJF sweatshirt that reads “My Hanukkah is Better Than Yours” from AEW’s official store.
Friedman’s own Jewishness seems to have informed a more well-rounded Jewish villain, and one not based on antisemitic stereotypes. He is not cheap, greedy, or money-obsessed. And I don’t think I’ve ever heard MJF sprinkle Yiddish into his promos. MJF ends up feeling much more realistic, even on a program where there is a wrestler who is a dinosaur with a Master’s in Medieval History.
While MJF’s superiority and self-centeredness are constantly present, there are small moments that truly soften him. He asked to join The Inner Circle with a notable sheepishness. When he purchased everyone in The Inner Circle bomber jackets, getting one too big for Sammy Guevara, it was both a show of his wealth as well as him just trying to fit in.
Ultimately, MJF feels like someone you might know. He’s the guy who showed up to your b’nei mitzvah and told you how much better his bar mitzvah will be, all the while being concerned that people won’t show up.
MJF is not the first Jewish wrestler, and not the first on AEW’s roster, which includes Matt Sydel and Colt Cabana. Cabana’s Jewishness is a little more explicit, such as him discussing Hanukkah in AEW’s web series “Being the Elite,” while wearing a Colt Cabana ugly Hanukkah sweater. But Cabana has a big smile, a fun energy, and seems like a Nice Jewish Boy who is also pinning people in the ring. In many ways, Cabana is the opposite of MJF, who has come into his own as a true wrestling villain.
There is always a danger in having a Jewish villain, as many villains throughout pop culture have been rooted in antisemitic stereotypes. While not the villain per se of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Moishe Maisel, played by Kevin Pollak, is certainly an antagonist. He is a businessman and seems obsessed with money to the point it borders on an antisemitic caricature, as pointed out by the New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum. Recently in Alma, Sara Levine made the case that it was probably for the best that HBO’s series The Undoing removed the Jewishness from the source material, ensuring the “objectively pretty terrible characters” of the show don’t represent Judaism in a less-than-flattering way.
At the same time, real representation means showing the good with the bad.
There have been plenty of messy Jews on TV in recent years, and I’m grateful to have someone like MJF to help broaden the way Jews are depicted. MJF can be loathsome and you may enjoy watching his opponents knocking him down, but there is something that feels human about him, too.