AEW World Heavyweight Championship Contenders
On August 27, 2023, Maxwell Jacob Friedman will defend the AEW World Heavyweight Championship against Adam Cole in the main event of All In.
I already wrote about how I felt about the idea of MJF and Adam Cole breaking up at All In and how I think it would be pre-mature. I think that main event should end a bit like WWF Summerslam 92 ended. Both men shake hands, hug, pyro, big celebration. Let friendship and the celebration of professional wrestling reign at the end of the night instead of a heat segment. It’s nearing the end of summer. We’ve had our fill of heat. Give us a respite. One beautiful moment to end a magnificent event in front of over 80,000 paid fans.
It’s possible that the entire thing I’m about to write is meaningless (okay it’s usually meaningless a week after but this is a fantasy moment) after All In if AEW President Tony Khan does pull the trigger on a heel turn for Adam Cole and he defeats MJF for the AEW World Heavyweight Championship. Unless it’s a short reign back to MJF, it defeats the purpose of this. I am writing this under the impression that MJF wins and needs to move on to new AEW World Heavyweight Championship contenders. At first glance it might not feel like there’s a lot of top heels for AEW.
In 2023, All Elite Wrestling has been building up several top contender heels. Some of these could be for television defences. Some might be better for a pay per view. But Maxwell Jacob Friedman won’t be short of potential matchups with one I choose to be the man to take him down. Quite note: No Jon Moxley vs. MJF. We’ve seen it twice. It’s exhausted.
Honourable Mention: CM Punk
It felt like the most obvious pick for All Out 2023 did it not? The “Real World Champion” CM Punk facing MJF for the actual AEW World Heavyweight Championship in Chicago. At one point the original plan for All Out 2022 was MJF as a heel facing CM Punk for the title for MJF to win. That got changed due to MJF’s break after Double or Nothing for him to return at All Out 2022 instead. When Punk returned from the Brawl Out, he was carrying a bag which eventually he revealed to be his copy of the AEW World Heavyweight Championship belt. Punk spraypainted an X on it and we were off to the races… sort of. MJF hasn’t once acknowledged that there’s a wrestler on AEW Collision proclaiming himself the real world champion. He doesn’t seem to care one bit. There’s no program here it feels. MJF was on AEW Collision and all he cared was to try to become AEW World Tag Team Champion with Adam Cole against FTR. CM Punk now looks no different to the belt mutants in the crowd carrying a replica belt they have no rank for.
If AEW decides to do the program, of course that’s your best program for MJF. But it doesn’t seem like MJF cares what CM Punk is claiming. And if he doesn’t care, why should we care? So he doesn’t make the list.
Ah, Roderick Strong. For decades people have been yelling at Roderick to get a personality. Be less wooden. He’s a great professional wrestler but there hasn’t been much beyond that. That was fine in Ring of Honor or behind Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly in NXT, but in AEW? You need something more. And finally! We got more. Roderick Strong is the most annoying man alive. The most annoying friend. The hanger on that wants the attention of his best friend. Nobody more annoying. He’s got a neck brace on for a neck injury I don’t even remember how it happened. He hurt himself lightly kicking a car. He just wants attention damnit!
Now aligning with The Kingdom, Adam Cole’s old ROH faction, Roddy is furious that Adam Cole has fallen for MJF and become his new friend. How can he trust the devil? Roddy isn’t wrong, but he’s going at it the completely wrong way. And that makes the best kind of heels. I don’t think Roderick Strong is a pay per view contender for MJF, especially since he doesn’t have the wins. But coming out of All In, he has to challenge MJF at some point. And that can work into a future match with Adam Cole, which could be pay per view worthy. It’ll be interesting to see which side Kyle O’Reilly goes with when he returns, since he has an argument for either.
Rush as a champion in All Elite Wrestling is something I would love to see. If I can’t get him beating Orange Cassidy for the International Championship or Darby Allin for the TNT Championship (which I assume he wins at All Out on September 3, 2023) then I want to see him going full bull horns directly at Maxwell Jacob Friedman. It wouldn’t take much to heat him up and with Rush demanding LFI to be killers going forward, it wouldn’t be hard for him to push his way into a top spot in AEW. I can see MJF and Rush having fantastic chemistry. Max might face stronger opponents than Rush, but won’t face anyone as relentless as him.
Christian Cage prefers his targets fatherless, but once he’s done with the AEW TNT Championship, he should be moving up the ranks. Until his old friend Adam Copeland makes a decision on his wrestling career, Cage should set his targets on the AEW World Heavyweight Championship. By my money, Christian is the top heel in AEW right now along with Jon Moxley and Don Callis. You can do it on television or pay per view, but Cage is exactly the type of worker Maxwell Jacob Friedman works to be. Smart enough to outwrestle you, and tenacious enough to out daredevil you too. This would be a mat classic for the championship. And if Copeland does make an appearance? You can have him in a turtleneck with Christian against Better Than You Bay Bay.
Cage’s partner at All In against Sting and Darby Allin has some loose ends to clean up with AR Fox (HELL OF WAR II PLEASE) and Keith Lee (the feud that never ended that needs to end or else people won’t shut up about it) but his work since Double or Nothing has been some of the best in All Elite Wrestling. He’s revealing every bit of potential I thought he had back when I was a fan of Killshot in Lucha Underground. The promos, the in-ring work, the fact he’s upgraded on his physique to look like a threat. Swerve Strickland would be a great choice to face Maxwell Jacob Friedman for the AEW World Heavyweight Championship at Full Gear. Should he win? Not up to me. If it was up to me? I would heavily consider it. But there’s one other person I would consider just slightly more.
The Switchblade. King Switch. Jay White entered AEW in April of this year to reunite with Juice Robinson and form Bullet Club Gold. At All In he will be teaming with Juice and Callis Family member Konosuke Takeshita to face Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi, and Hangman Page in a trios match. I am of the perspective that this should be the springboard for Jay White to move into being a top singles contender for the AEW World Heavyweight Championship. Give him the pinfall win, let him build on that with bigger wins, and face Maxwell Jacob Friedman either at Full Gear or Revolution 2024. Jay can play on Adam Cole’s previous history in Bullet Club against MJF (also The Gunns were once aligned with MJF in The Firm), and also play on the fact that everything MJF has recently accomplished in AEW, Jay White did in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Jay White is the perfect top heel for All Elite Wrestling, and the perfect choice to defeat a babyface MJF to become AEW World Heavyweight Champion. Having him raise the title in a calendar year would cement him as a top performer in AEW, and would allow MJF to continue his story with Adam Cole to instead focus on the AEW World Tag Team Championship again.
It also allows Jay White to circle back to his history with Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi, and especially Hangman Page. Page and Jay once feuded for the NJPW United States Championship, and with their current places in their career, I think it could be the best program AEW could do in 2024 for the championship. A Double or Nothing 2024 with Hangman Page vs. Jay White and Better Than You Bay Bay going for the AEW Tag Team Championship? That’s an all timer potential event.
I’m sure someone is wondering why isn’t Adam Cole the contender. They probably didn’t read me saying that I don’t want them to feud yet. Once MJF is no longer AEW World Heavyweight Champion, him and Cole can go after the Tag Team Championship, which they should win. It’s from that, and only that, when you’ve exhausted their friendship, that you can start looking into a heel turn and program.
But hey, who knows. All In on Sunday, All Out next week, and Grand Slam on September 20, 2023. A lot can change by then. Either way, All Elite Wrestling has assembled a murderer’s row of heel AEW World Heavyweight Championship contenders.