During a recent PWTorch.com audio show, Wade Keller detailed the issues between MJF and Tony Khan. MJF has said in interviews that he is tired of seeing the ex-WWE stars coming in and making more money than him and he wants to be paid as a top guy. Keller says his sources backed up what MJF has said publicly and privately.
Keller said that the issues between MJF and Tony Khan have been brewing for a couple of months. On his no-show at the meet and greet on Saturday, Keller said, "the way it was portrayed to us is MJF was in no place to be in public. He was in a bad place. And so it just seemed if not mutually agreed upon [it was] pretty obvious to everybody that it would be good for him to not make a public appearance yesterday. So that kind of got things rolling...I've been learning stuff behind the scenes off record and on background for a while and pieced together some more details as this story went along. This weekend was circled, I was told, as a weekend that people in AEW were hoping that Tony and MJF could sit down and hash out their differences. There was just hope that cooler heads would prevail. Tony Khan on social media can come across sometimes as defensive. But his demeanor otherwise, at least from anything anybody's seen that I've talked to is pretty calm, cool, collected...MJF is a little different. MJF gets really worked up. And by all accounts, he's been so worked up that he just became sort of withdrawn and bitter to observers and people who have been around him or observed him at Dynamite lately."
Keller discussed some of the tension behind the scenes between both sides:
"For the better part of two months, there has been tension between MJF and Tony Khan and initially appeared to be sparked by MJF not going through AEW's PR department to schedule an interview that he did with Ariel Helwani in early April. Now, back at that time, I was told that the interview would have been approved had MJF gone through proper channels...and he didn't and he was reprimanded for it because it was bypassing standard protocol. A key source in AEW though indicates Tony Khan wasn't all that upset about the situation. It was just something he felt he needed to bring up to MJF, like, 'Hey, don't do that next time...' Now, other sources indicate that the conversation didn't go well, because from there, it veered into MJF expressing his bitterness over his contract status, and that it was a breaking point in their relationship. MJF has since made it clear that he's unhappy that he wasn't given an early contract renegotiation offer. His current deal expires in just over 18 months at the very start of 2024, January 1, in fact. MJF signed an original starter contract with AEW that was in the range of probably dozens of other early signees who have been with AEW ever since. Some have been cut, some have stayed in the lower cards, some have moved to the mid-card, a couple maybe moved to the upper card. Nobody's moved higher than MJF, among those on those starter deals. And by a starter deal, a very broad loose range is like $40,000 to $70,000. Like, you can make a living but you know, it's a starter deal. And some might not even be making $40,000. And I know there's some people who are just on a per date basis. But this was among the people who started signing starter contracts, people without a lot of leverage and any national TV exposure. And Tony was at a point where he's handing out a bunch of contracts and wanted to see who would be good and who wouldn't be, you know, who we wanted to stick with and who we wouldn't. And so a lot of money goes out to a lot of people when you get that starter contract. And the idea for Tony is, you know, when they come to the ones who deserve it, will get a raise. By the way, MJF was given a raise once since he signed with AEW. So he's making substantially more than the starter contract, like hundreds of thousands of dollars but it is modest compared to the contracts of more than a half a dozen free agent signings AEW has made over the past year...Christian, Mark Henry, Malakai Black, Adam Cole, Bryan Danielson, CM Punk. There's six right there. And I know I'm leaving off a few more...All of them are making more than MJF right now. Like I'm told that with confidence. So yes, he got a substantial raise percentage-wise, but it's modest compared to the contracts of more than half a dozen free agents just in the last year that AEW paid, including wrestlers nowhere near his stature as a top tier main event star and ratings draw. I think everybody would agree Bryan Danielson and CM Punk deserve more than MJF. You would argue Adam Cole should probably be in the ballpark. And if he's paid more, it's not like a huge deal but MJF has been way more valuable to AEW than Adam Cole...if you look at Christian, Malakai Black, Mark Henry... I mean, he's obviously worth more and has been worth more to the company, and he's just not getting paid near what they're getting paid in, in most cases, actually many cases. In many cases, those wrestlers are getting paid four or five times more than him...So, you know, MJF is by all accounts is kind of fuming over this. He felt that his work, his professionalism, his rapport and friendship with Tony Kahn would have led to Tony renegotiating his deal, when there was about two years left. And by the time January 1 2022 came around, yes, he got a new contract and a raise...But MJF was thinking, 'Hey, come on, Tony, approach me, get me on the level of some of these people that you keep bringing in. I'm doing great work, and I'm drawing great ratings.' And when Tony didn't do that MJF the way he handled it was to get very angry privately and then it kind of exploded. And I think Tony was caught off guard by how angry MJF was getting..."
Keller pointed out that MJF's segments do better than most but his pay doesn't reflect that. He said, "there's probably a dozen people making more than him and maybe more than that and some are making way more than him who are pushed less than him."
Keller added, "So MJF was touting WWE on air over AEW during promos on Dynamite. He was drawing attention to his contract expiration date. And it was seen as part of a storyline to generate heel heat as a pro-WWE guy. And it also was sort of like I thought building towards a moment that he and Tony had planned out that late in 2023 there'd be the sweepstakes for MJF and like Bret Hart with Vince McMahon on Raw, MJF would reveal he's staying at AEW and that could even be around the time of a babyface turn for him."
"Over time, it changed. Fiction became reality in a sense, and it changed into him a legitimate grievance with Khan for not approaching him sooner with a serious offer of a substantial raise to put him at least on par with virtually every other wrestler in the company who was drawing top ratings and being featured consistently in top Pay Per View matches but being paid in most cases, like I said, four to five times more than him. Observers behind the scenes in AEW indicate MJF's gone from a demeanor that indicated a passion and an enthusiasm for his job and toward AEW in general, to be more withdrawn and disgruntled. He still showed up and he still did his job on-air, but he was all business and nothing more."
Keller continued, "MJF and Tony Khan were really close as recently as late last year. MJF was one of those wrestlers Khan would have long phone conversations with about ideas for storylines and matches. At some point, that relationship fractured and the real reason might be as simple as MJF feeling disrespected that Tony didn't approach him with the new contract offer sooner. It's possible something else triggered or amplified this the situation but that hasn't been even hinted at in reports elsewhere or from our sources, but some people are wondering that - is there something else we don't know about?"
Keller said that because this is pro wrestling, some have been suspicious that this is an elaborate work but his sources are not considering that as a possibility but there's always the possibility that a new deal can be worked out, and then this situation can be used in a storyline.
MJF has not publicly said anything in a few days. His last tweet was him touting his recent quarter-hour segment that drew 1,126,000 viewers and 515,000 viewers in the 18-49 demo.
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