Maxwell and the Giant Contract
Updated: 4 days ago
Wherein I bloviate on a subject about which I have no inside information or expert knowledge: a pro-wrestling contract dispute, specifically that of Maxwell Friedman:
Yesterday, Will Washington reported on Fightful's "Grapsody" podcast on the impressions he had gathered from conversations with other talents in All-Elite Wrestling regarding the rumors of contract disputes between Max Friedman and Tony Khan, from which he inferred that the kernel of the dispute is that Friedman would like to be paid more fairly based on the value that he currently brings to the table, but that, while everyone fundamentally agrees that he is currently underpaid, and Khan is not unwilling to renegotiate based on that, what he isn't willing to do is make unilateral concessions with nothing in return, specifically: an extension. And while Friedman would like to be paid more in line with his current value, he evidently is not willing to push back his free agency to get that.
Since this inference has been released into the Twitter-sphere, I've seen a lot of takes on the situation, and with apologies—because perhaps I am the one over-simplifying their stances—it seems to me that a lot of these takes lack nuance. I'd like to address some of these (straw men!) one by one.
...Tony Khan is a sports manager, and in sports contracts, if you want to renegotiate for more money while you are under contract, you have to make concessions, generally by extending your deal...
Every word of that is true, but misleading. WWE and AEW are two entertainment companies competing for the same potential viewers and ticket-buyers, and for the same group of talents needed to produce their television shows and live shows to attract that audience. What they aren't is two sports teams competing for talents to win athletic competitions against each other, and an argument founded in comparing a contract with All-Elite Wrestling to a contract with the Jaguars or with Fulham FC is based on a faulty premise.
Friedman is far more analogous to an actor on a television show who turned out to be a bigger star than could have been predicted or on a show that's a bigger hit than could have been predicted who now wants to renegotiate their pay before their original contract has expired. In fact, that's not so much an analogy as an exact description...
We probably can all think of similar examples from different shows and franchises where a show is a surprise hit or a bit player is embraced by the audience and their role unexpectedly expanded, and an actor insists on more money. In some cases a compromise is reached, while in others the ownership side (TV execs, producers, as the case may be,) cut bait and release the obstreperous talent and attempt to recast, often to both sides' regret.
...giving in to Friedman would set a terrible precedent, then everybody would insist on more money before their contract is up!...
This one just sounds like sour grapes. Everybody might like to think that their value has suddenly redoubled since their valuation was originally set, but there is only one other All-Elite talent at all in the same boat, and that's the AEW Champion Adam Page.
If anything, compromise with Friedman would set a good precedent: giving the best new prospects coming in faith that if their own gamble on themselves should pay off, and they find themselves a few months down the road far more valuable than they are now, they won't be stuck laboring for years for far less than the going rate.
Friedman works a very safe style and, in my estimation, has lasting appeal. But a career-ending injury can happen to anybody. People may say that he should finish his contract first and then negotiate, and he probably will, and there's an excellent chance that it will all even out for him or more by going that route. But let's not pretend that there are no risks to him of working for less than he is worth for now.
...Khan would be a fool to give in to his money demands without extracting an extension, when MJF is threatening to leave!...
I hear that MJF did a podcast once long ago out of character, but I refuse to watch for the same reason I won't click on links to pics of Rey Misterio unmasked.
"MJF" has hinted at jumping to WWE both on AEW television and in promotional interviews, but "MJF" is a fictional character, and Max Friedman is a performer who almost never breaks character, to the point that I think that people maybe forget that the reality of the things he says should always be taken with a grain of the Salt of the Earth. There's almost certainly at least some reality to the reports of Friedman's dissatisfaction with this contract and of his intent to carefully weigh his options when it is up. After all: who wouldn't?
But I have little doubt that both Kahn and Friedman are also playing up their conflict to some extent, because it plays in quite nicely with the "MJF" character, and does a great job of adding on to his already-scorching heat with the AEW fans. Even his adoring hometown fans weren't on-board with cheering his allusions to "Bidding War 2024."
In short, I believe that this rumored dispute is a complex situation, with no simple cut-and-dry answers, and that Friedman's (rumored!) position regarding his contract isn't as unreasonable as it might at first appear.