WHAT IF MJF TURNED FACE? (and the Horsemen form while Cody gets freed of the stipulation that he cannot challenge for title?)
The title got a reaction, didn’t it? You hate it already, don’t you? Let me explain. MJF is fully acknowledged by many as wrestling’s most credible and “over” heel, and many think he is destined to become an all time great as a heel. While this may be true, a short babyface run with an eventual turn might be the thing to put him over the top. Not just as the most genuine and respected heel outside of kayfabe, but establishing a position inside the storyline narrative which could bolster his status to one even more coveted by those in the industry: wrestling’s biggest drawing heel.
For those who are opposed to a “flip flops” and wary about multiple turns, I will make the case that if executed ideally, this “turn” won’t be a character direction change for MJF as much as it will be a defining moment that reinforces an already nuanced and sophisticated character. There is a relevant historical correlation to this idea, one that not only shows the effectiveness of a short term face turn to help establish a heel at the top of the card, but uses some of the most compelling figures in wrestling history to make the case.
Case History: The Rock in the Fall of 1998
On October 12th of 1998, on Monday night Raw, members of the Nation of Domination D’lo Brown and Mark Henry attacked fellow member The Rock, kicking him out of The Nation and effectively turning him face – much to the fans delight. In the previous month or so, The Rock had been placed more frequently in matches with upper echelon talents Steve Austin, the Undertaker, and Mankind, garnering some cheers, but not enough to outnumber the “Rocky Sucks” chants. You could tell, though, that fans wanted to cheer for this guy. His charisma was undeniable. When the nation attacked him, they did.
But this wasn’t your babyface turn of days past. While he did align with top babyface stars like Austin to let the fans know he was now a “good guy”, The Rock didn’t pander – he posed. The Rock wasn’t kissing babies, telling the fans how much he appreciated them, rescuing random babyfaces and taking them under his wing, or any of the other tired tropes of newly turned babyfaces. He was still The Rock. Of course, at the time edgy babyfaces were all the rage, so it could be seen that his character was just that: (as it would eventually become) a cool babyface. But it was not to be, quite yet.
Just a few days long of a month later at Survivor Series 1998, in what many consider to be Vince Russo’s greatest creative moment, The Rock turned on Mankind to join Mr. McMahon’s corporation. This propelled The Rock to the top of the card with a memorable feud with Mankind and a Wrestlemania main event against Austin a few months later. Many saw this short term betrayal of the fans as a necessary step on The Rock’s pathway to wrestling immortality. I, for one, agree.
Case History: The Formation of the Horsemen
The MJF “WHAT IF?” (I know, I know. I’m getting to it, but history is important, no?) involves the much rumored and talked about reformation of the Four Horsemen with an homage to their genesis. On September 29, 1985, Ric Flair had a match in a steel cage at the Omni in Atlanta against Nikita Koloff, and the babyface Flair (In fairness he was kind of a ‘tweener’ at this point, defending title against all comers, but leaning babyface) defeated the Russian threat. After Flair’s victory Ivan Koloff and Krusher Kruschev entered the cage to beat Flair down, but Flair was rescued to great cheers by the top babyface in the company, Cody’s dad, the legendary Dusty Rhodes.
The cheers turned to confusion, and then boos, as before you knew it, the Andersons, Ole and Arn, stormed the ring and attacked Dusty. Flair joined in on the attack on Dusty to the horror of the fans at ringside, who were legit trying to get in the cage to help their hero. The cage was locked by the Andersons and Flair as they attacked Dusty’s ankle, debilitating Dusty and entrenching their spot as most hated. A couple weeks later, The Andersons joined Tully Blanchard in an attack on the young friend of Dusty, Sam Houston, and soon thereafter, The Horsemen were born. Let’s put a pin in that angle for a second as we get to MJF and the Inner Circle.
MJF and the Inner Circle
It appears to the AEW fan that the payoff to the storyline between Jericho, his Inner circle, and MJF on Dynamite each week will be the Inner Circle turning on Jericho and replacing him with MJF as the leader of their diabolical faction. The Sammy Guevera friction seems more than a red herring than a direction, and indications (one of which being the fans singing Judas) that Jericho will be positioned to be outcast as a redemptive babyface, opposing the Inner Circle with MJF at the helm, but…..
Week 1: The Turn
MJF and Jericho have had their infamous Steak Dinner, their town hall fallout, and (no spoilers here) they’ve hinted at various possibilities, but it has to come to a head. Today is the day. Everyone is in the ring including MJF, Wardlow, Jericho, and the Inner Circle. It finally comes down to this. Does Jericho want Max in the Inner Circle? Does Mr. Friedman want to join the Inner Circle? Jericho agrees to a long list of MJF’s demands, and says that everything looks right and they are ready to extend an invitation to a deserving member, one that can be a huge part of the Inner Circle for years, if not decades to come. MJF is beaming. Jericho continues. Someone who is young, and ready to take the wrestling world by storm. Of course, that person is…. WARDLOW.
MJF is in shock as he turns to Wardlow. Wardlow attacks him, joined by the Inner Circle in a momentous and humiliating beatdown. Jericho has his “Flair turns on Sting in 1990” moment, slapping a fallen MJF as he yells at him with all the insults Jericho can muster. MJF should have known better, MJF isn’t ready to replace him, MJF is a flash in the pan etc. This angle closes the dynamite episode without commentary from the announcers.
Week 2: The Inner Circle runs Dynamite
Jericho, Wardlow and the Inner Circle do their victory lap, run roughshod over several matches, including a match involving Cody Rhodes, who is outnumbered by the circle and takes a beating from Wardlow, in particular. MJF is nowhere to be found.
Week 3: MJF returns
Cody teams with Dustin against Wardlow and Jake Hagar, and again Cody is outnumbered and beaten down. Matt Hardy and the Nightmare Family try to make the save, but the numbers are too great. Later in the show, Jericho has a match with Matt Hardy, and of course, as Matt starts to get an edge on Jericho, the Inner Circle interferes. This time, however, we see MJF run to the ring, in his street clothes, and brandishing a dramatic weapon, chasing off the Inner Circle. MJF has fire, MJF has charisma, and the fans go crazy. He helps Matt up and reluctantly offers his hand, but Matt is not having any of it and walks out.
Week 4: MJF and Cody
Everyone is buzzing about MJF, and the main event is Wardlow and Jericho vs. Cody and QT Marshall; at this point Cody has a very short list of people who he trusts, and QT is one of them. In brutal fashion, the Inner Circle attacks QT in the parking lot before the match, and he is taken away in an ambulance. Cody agrees to a handicap match.
In the match, Cody is hopelessly outnumbered… until we see MJF sprinting through Daily’s Place to the ringside area, as he pounds the mat in support of Cody and tries to get the fans riled up in support of him. Cody is more dismayed than pleased at this and when MJF can’t help himself and gets on the ring apron and asks for a tag, Cody turns away and takes the beating instead. When the referee is busy after Brandi hops on the ring apron, MJF hits Jericho with his ring, enabling Cody to get the win.
Unlike the week before with Matt Hardy, MJF does not offer his hand to shake Cody’s. It is obvious to him that Cody will not accept, so he looks at his hand, and looks at Cody and walks out. Cody stands tall to close the show.
Week 5: MJF Speaks.
The show opens with MJF on the microphone. He says it’s been quite a month. He’s learned a lot, and he has had time to reflect, and he’d like to call out Cody, because he has something he needs to tell him. When Cody comes out, of course he is dubious, but he is listening. Max apologizes for past betrayals. He’s young, he went for the gold, grabbed the diamond ring, and made a huge mistake. All the idolatry of Cody wasn’t just a set up, it was real. And even though he thought it right at the time, he has had time to think about his betrayal, since he was betrayed by Wardlow in much the same manner. He is truly sorry. Cody doesn’t have to accept, he just wants him to hear it, but he does have an offer.
MJF proposes once and for all: Cody and MJF vs. Wardlow and Jericho. The Inner Circle come out on the stage to watch and react. MJF then turns to them and asks Jericho for a stipulation should Cody accept; If they win, the Inner Circle is disbanded, if they lose, then MJF has to retire forever. At his young age, this is quite the sacrifice, and Jericho is tired of MJF ruining his plans, so he agrees. MJF turns to Cody. Cody declines. He just doesn’t trust Max. The Inner Circle laughs and walks away.
MJF offers Cody one more caveat, only HE, MJF, can free Cody of the stipulation established a year ago where Cody can NEVER contend for the world title. What if MJF tore up the contract and freed him of that limitation? The crowd says yes, the announcers say yes. This is an incredible turn of events. Reluctantly, Cody says no and leaves.
MJF is crushed, but is strong in his resolve to destroy the Inner Circle. As Cody watches from the stage, MJF says that Cody will never change his mind, but HE has. MJF takes the contract out of his pocket, and tears it up. Cody is now free to challenge for the world title whenever he wants, and doesn’t have to team with him. He just wants to right a wrong. A resolved yet respectful MJF walks by a flabbergasted Cody on the stage and makes his exit, their eyes meeting briefly.
It is announced that next week on PPV (or even Dynamite) MJF will make his in-ring return against Chris Jericho in a steel cage match. MJF gives a promo stating that even though there’s no retirement or disbanding stipulation, this is the match he wants. If he destroys the head of the snake, the snake will die. He is resolved to do this himself.
Later on in the show, Brandi defeats Anna Jay, and the Dark Order surrounds the ring. Cody comes out and is holding his own in a wild brawl, but Brandi is surrounded by other Dark Order members and is in certain danger. MJF appears, destroying the DO members surrounding Brandi, and carries the injured Brandi to Cody who is now alone in the ring. MJF leaves without meeting the curious and grateful gaze of Cody.
Week 6: The Turn
The much talked about cage match between MJF and Jericho takes place, and it is a brutal affair. Blood, intensity, and anger fuel every action in this hard fought battle. MJF is about to lose when he suddenly sees Cody outside the ring, hitting the ring apron, rattling the cage, and cheering on MJF. Inspired, MJF digs down deep and pulls out a victory, redeeming himself in this feud. At the three count, Cody starts to walk away. Almost instantly, the Inner Circle enters the cage and attack MJF. Cody looks over his shoulder from the stage and sees Max getting a beat down from the Inner Circle. The man who rescued him, rescued his wife, and has shown redemption needed his help… and now Cody can’t resist.
Cody enters the cage with weapon in hand, chasing out the Inner Circle, and goes to check on MJF. He lifts MJF to his feet and MJF slowly looks up, meets Cody’s gaze and smiles. Not a good smile, but that evil MJF smile. Before Cody knows how to react, FTR and Shawn Spears suddenly appear in the ring and attack Cody. Tully Blanchard locks the cage from the outside, and MJF joins the attack on Cody. They lay him out and hold him down as MJF goes to the top rope and lands on Cody’s ankle. Cody is writhing in pain as fans boo this shocking betrayal. In the final moments, MJF, Spears, Tully, and FTR signal four fingers up in the air. The Horsemen are back.
MJF is now the most hated man in all of wrestling. Fans, much like Cody, were fooled. Wardlow is elevated. The Four Horsemen have been reborn in a way that calls back how they were formed initially by attacking a Rhodes. Cody loses the “can never contend for world title” stipulation, and the Inner Circle is reset, perhaps for a turn on Jericho soon for “dropping the ball.” More importantly, we have a fresh and revitalized Cody vs. MJF/Horsemen feud, which perhaps begs for a reformation of The Elite to settle.