JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Quite possibly the top “bad guy” or “heel” in wrestling today is Maxwell Jacob Friedman a.k.a. MJF.
MJF has propelled himself to the top of Jacksonville-based All Elite Wrestling (AEW). He’s done that through something more than wrestling ability, by using something a lot of performers don’t possess: A keen understanding of how to get an audience to hate him.
It’s his job, and few have ever done it as well as he does. At 27, the sky is the limit for the young talent. So we decided to speculate whether he compares to arguably the greatest “heel” of all time: “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
Roddy Piper became a household name in the mid-1980s when he was the antithesis of Hulk Hogan during an era called the “Rock ‘N’ Wrestling Connection.”
That was the storyline that happened right as the World Wrestling Federation (WWF... now WWE) was becoming mainstream in the United States. They did this with an overlap between WWF programming and MTV which was quickly becoming the center of pop culture in the country.
The WWF provided Hulk Hogan and Mr. T (who was at the peak of his celebrity) while the rock world provided Cindy Lauper (also at the peak of her celebrity) to be in their corner. Other performers like women’s champion Wendy Richter and manager Captain Lou Albano participated.
But to oppose them there was a group centered around Roddy Piper. Piper was extremely adept on the microphone and eventually hosted his “Piper’s Pit” segment where he would antagonize wrestlers sometimes with his mouth and other times with physical violence.
As much as Hulk Hogan was becoming an American hero, on the flip side Piper was becoming an American villain. In fact, when a Saturday morning cartoon that aired on CBS called “Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling” aired, Piper was the main villain. Millions of children tuned in each week to either see him on WWF programming or the cartoon.
Piper also appeared as the main “heel” in the first Wrestlemanias. In the first he participated in a tag-team match against Hogan and Mr. T. Then the next year he fought Mr. T in a boxing match. This was the era where Mr. T was on shows like “The A-Team” and “Different Strokes.” That means Piper got a lot of mainstream publicity during this era, publicity beyond wrestling.
That’s one area where MJF still has a ways to go in catching up with Piper. While MJF may be the hottest “heel” in wrestling, he doesn’t have the mainstream crossover Piper did. That may still come as MJF is still young and AEW (with owner Tony Khan) continues to work on brand awareness of its product which only started in 2019.
Piper had the benefit of WWF programming and Vince McMahon who turned many of his performers into household names. That business model catapulted stars like Hogan, Piper, Steve Austin, The Rock, John Cena, CM Punk and more. AEW is still working to capitalize on similar mainstream success.
On this episode, we will hear from Joe Vithayathil. He’s an anchor with KPTV in Portland, Ore. He became close friends with Piper in the final years of his life while Piper resided in Portland and started a small independent wrestling show on that TV station. Piper died in 2015.
And at the end of the show we also talk to Destiny Combat Championship Wrestling (DCCW) based in Baker County, Fla. They have a live event coming up on July 15 at the Baker County Fairgrounds.