While for some the conclusion of Full Gear 2022 seemed obvious, many were still curious if AEW would pull the trigger. After a few good years of steady buildup, would AEW finally crown MJF as World Champion and the company’s top star? Well, one pair of brass knuckles and a pinfall later, we can confirm that answer as a resounding yes. With the salt of the earth finally sitting high atop the mountain, 2023 is shaping up to be the year of Maxwell Jacob Friedman.

However, a champion is only as good as the opponents he faces, so who should be on deck for MJF’s title reign? Assembled here are a few AEW stars that, for a few different reasons, would make great challengers for MJF’s AEW Title. From old allies and enemies to other young standouts, these are the men that will most likely give MJF a run for his money.

Eddie Kingston

In terms of commanding the audience’s attention while on the microphone, few can do it as well as Eddie Kingston. From his unique voice to the gritty, often realistic nature of his promos, the man oozes charisma and relatability. His in-ring style is very much the same way, heavily predicated on old school holds and stiff offense.

He’d be a perfect foil for Maxwell, AEW’s other gifted wordsmith. Much like Kingston, MJF is a performer that doesn’t shoot for flashy moves or gif-worthy moments, but instead focuses on pure emotion. With just a few words and a well placed evil grin, MJF has brought crowds to the brink of rioting many times.

Much like Ric Flair versus Dusty Rhodes, we have the perfect representation of the common man versus an avatar for the top one percent. The promos alone are enough to get us salivating, especially given both have ample material to work with. Both men have also peppered past promos with references to their legitimate mental health issues, something that could also be worked into their feud. Both men often create extremely vocal crowd reactions separately, so combining them together is a match-up made in heaven.

Darby Allin

The concept of the Four Pillars has been a frequently mentioned idea within AEW for quite some time. The idea is that there are four talents — MJF, Jungle Boy, Sammy Guevara, and Darby Allin — who, for different reasons, all define the future of AEW. This notion was brought up around the first time MJF and Darby feuded and is still a persistent factor even now. Given that some time has passed since their match of the year candidate at Full Gear 2021, it’d be a perfect time to reignite their feud. This is especially true considering that both MJF and Darby have been through a lot since their last encounter, both racking up very impressive wins.

Alongside his mentor Sting, Darby has beaten the likes of the House of Black, the HFO, Jeff Jarrett, and even the Bullet Club. Meanwhile, MJF has picked up a win over CM Punk and, most recently, defeated Jon Moxley for the AEW Championship. Now, over one year later, both men are a little older and a little wiser, but no less hungry for the company’s top spot. Having just won the belt, MJF will likely do anything to keep it, while Darby will likely do anything to take it.

Malakai Black

MJF has been calling himself the devil as of late, but what’ll happen if he crosses paths with someone who knows the devil all too well? Many fans have argued that since arriving in AEW, the man formerly known as Aleister Black hasn’t quite lived up to his potential. Despite a very strong start, picking up back-to-back wins against Cody Rhodes, Black hasn’t been given a chance to shine in the main event scene. Even with the legitimately intimidating trio of Buddy Matthews, Brody King, and Julia Hart at his side, Black has yet to taste championship gold in AEW.

With the House of Black receiving something of a reboot recently, the time might just be right for AEW to bet on Black. With the House seemingly targeting everyone, regardless of face or heel status, MJF being a target isn’t completely impossible. MJF being forced to contend with someone who seemingly has supernatural affiliations would definitely be a change of pace for him. Given their radically different presentations and respective in-ring styles, any matchup between them would be a clash of styles for sure. The Devil of AEW might just have his manicured hands full with the man with more than a few devils on his back.

Hangman Page

If MJF is AEW’s number one villain, then Hangman page is most definitely its number one hero. Hangman’s road to the World Title, and his own redemption, is still one of the best stories AEW has told. His appeal comes largely from how his onscreen struggles — substance abuse, depression, and anxiety — are very relatable for many viewers. Through his relatability and his consistent in-ring ability, Hangman has become one of AEW’s true indispensable men, right alongside Jon Moxley.

A storyline between Hangman and MJF wouldn’t be particularly hard to justify, especially with their built in history. Back during the inaugural Double or Nothing in 2019, MJF had some rather snide comments for Hangman. During the presentation of the AEW Title belt, MJF saw fit to compare Hangman to Seabiscuit. He noted how, much like a racing horse, Hangman needed to be put down and noted he wasn’t fit to be the face of the company. Both men have gone onto define AEW, especially in its current form, so a matchup between them would be very welcome. It also helps that in the three years since that promo, both men have grown in terms of both in-ring skill and overall popularity.

Sammy Guevara

It’s not unfair to say that Sammy Guevara hasn’t made a lot of friends, especially the last few years. His juvenile behaviors online and backstage have made him a moderately controversial figure. That being said, his in-ring skill has never once been in question, easily able to provide AEW with endlessly gif-worthy moments. Just look at his mind-blowing cutter to Cody Rhodes from the top of a ladder in early 2022 for evidence of that.

Additionally, he already has built in history with MJF that’d make any championship program a breeze in terms of booking. Given their previous drama during their tenure in Jericho’s Inner Circle, both men are still the furthest thing from friends. What could help their potential feud is Sammy’s status as one of the few people who can match MJF in terms of smarminess. It doesn’t hurt that, during their previous one-on-one encounter, MJF cheated to score the win over Guevara. With that history in mind, and with MJF now sitting comfortably atop the throne of AEW, it might be time to reignite this feud.

Jungle Boy Jack Perry

"Jungle Boy" Jack Perry has certainly been busy over the last few months dealing with the two headed nightmare of Christian Cage and Luchasaurus. More than likely, Perry will have a one-on-one encounter with Christian once the latter has healed from his injuries. However, once Christian is in his rearview mirror, it might just be time for Perry to set his sights on singles gold. More specifically, the AEW World Title belt that is currently in the possession of a man he knows fairly well.

Since the formative days of AEW, both MJF and Perry have crossed paths more than a few times. In their encounters, they’ve been able to match each other tit-for-tat in terms of agility and ring awareness, making for some great matchups. Both men have been referred to as two of the four pillars of AEW, right alongside Darby Allin and Sammy Guevara. With AEW looking to cement Perry as a legitimate main event talent, a program with MJF would be just the ticket.

Wardlow

With Wardlow’s TNT Title reign in the rear view mirrors, it might be time for Mr. Mayhem to set his sights on a bigger prize — a prize that currently sits atop the shoulder of his sadistic former employer Maxwell Jacob Friedman, the AEW World Championship. Since his arrival in AEW, Wardlow was presented mostly as MJF’s right hand man, muscle, and frequent tag team partner. However, after recurrent abuse from his boss, Wardlow finally decided that he’d had all he could stand and he couldn’t stand no more. Following weeks of hoops, obstacles, and a small island nation’s worth of security guards, Wardlow finally got his hands on MJF.

After powerbombing his former employer into oblivion and earning his All Elite status, Wardlow was finally free. Specifically, free to conduct his powerbomb symphony and claim the TNT Championship from Scorpio Sky, subsequently going on a massive winning streak. With Wardlow looking to bounce back following his loss to Samoa Joe, AEW’s top prize would be a prime target. Also, few AEW competitors know MJF, and just what he’s capable of, as well as Wardlow does, giving him a mild advantage. However, MJF is always a man with a plan, so we’re sure he’d love to put Mr. Mayhem through the ringer once again.

Bryan Danielson

Since his arrival at All Out 2021, Bryan Danielson has never failed to give 110% to All Elite Wrestling. From his epic 30-minute bout with Kenny Omega to his back-to-back classics with Hangman Page, The American Dragon has done a lot in a short timespan. Frankly, you could send Bryan Danielson out to the ring with a broom and he’d make it look like a main eventer. With Danielson adamant that his full-time career is drawing to a close, the time is ripe for one final championship run. The setup for their feud could actually be quite simple, especially given William Regal’s recent betrayal of Jon Moxley.

Regal and Danielson have been friends for years, with Regal’s teachings serving as a major backbone for Danielson’s career. Without Regal’s counsel and old school grit, we might not have the Bryan Danielson that we know and love today. This respect was made abundantly clear when Danielson got in the middle of Regal and Moxley on the post-Full Gear "Dynamite." With Regal seemingly serving as MJF’s new mentor and confidant, one can only wonder how this’ll affect his standing with Danielson. Regardless of the time or the place, the American Dragon versus the Salt of the Earth would be a bona fide main event for sure.

Orange Cassidy

It’s admittedly a bit hard to describe just why "Freshly Squeezed" Orange Cassidy has the widespread appeal that he does. Quite frankly, a man wrestling in denim with his hands in his pockets sounds like the stupidest gimmick on god’s green earth. However, due the simulation we all live in clearly malfunctioning, Orange Cassidy is one of modern pro wrestling’s best. Easily able to shift being comedy and legitimate in-ring athleticism on a dime is no easy task, yet Cassidy is able to with ease. From belters with the likes of PAC to high concept encounters like his Mimosa Mayhem match with Chris Jericho, there’s very little the man can’t do.

His routine, a wrestler who doesn’t care until it’s go time, would clash perfectly with MJF’s snobby one percenter gimmick. With MJF’s ability to draw fiery passion out of all his opponents, this would serve as an excellent test of Cassidy. Could he maintain his cool composure against MJF, a man known for his ability to worm his way under people’s skin? Additionally, this would provide an opportunity for Danhausen, an ally of Cassidy’s, to annoy MJF — something we’d all love to see.

Keith Lee

MJF has rise to the top with the power of an unstoppable force, so it only makes sense he should smash into an immovable object. Few wrestlers have been able to turn heads over the last few years quite as effectively as Keith Lee. Possessing size, strength, agility, and a sizable vocabulary, Lee has produced several meme-worthy moments in both WWE and AEW. His dominance in WWE’s development territory led him to being the first man to hold both the NXT Title and the North American Title at the same time. Following his WWE release, he made his way over to AEW wherein he captured tag team gold alongside Isaiah "Swerve" Scott.

With their partnership residing somewhere in limbo right now, a singles push is definitely on the table for Lee. MJF will need a good supply of opponents who can properly challenge him and Lee is a perfect candidate. Considering MJF’s cowardly demeanor, we can already picture him attempting to avoid Lee’s dominant power moves such as the Spirit Bomb. A heel-David versus a babyface-Goliath would be an oddity in terms of storytelling for sure, but definitely main event worthy. Plus, we feel confident in assuming that most wrestling fans would like to see MJF potentially get thrown into the sun.

Max Caster

If you’ve followed MJF’s career for a long time, then you’ll know that he’s a graduate of Create A Pro Wrestling. CAP, run by Brian Myers (formerly Curt Hawkins) and Pat Buck, has helped produce some true gems within modern wrestling. Not only were they MJF’s teachers but they were also Max Caster’s as well, helping give the future Acclaimed member his start. Originally a part of the Shook Crew, alongside Bobby Orlando and Bryce Donovan, Caster quickly began flexing his unique lyrical creativity.

What began as a throwaway tag team pairing with Anthony Bowens slowly but surely evolved into one of AEW’s top acts. One need only look at the countless "Scissor me Daddy Ass" signs and t-shirts present in the crowd for evidence of that. Considering his in-ring skill and limitless charisma, Caster would be an interesting opponent for MJF, especially considering their history. Their time spent together at CAP could factor into a potential storyline for them, with both having attained ample success since their respective graduations. Additionally, any chance to hear Caster’s disses towards his former schoolmate would make for some stellar prime time television.

Kenny Omega

With MJF out to prove himself as AEW’s golden boy, a certain Cleaner might just take umbrage with that. From humble indie beginnings to the Tokyo Dome to serving as one of modern wrestling’s flag bearers, Kenny Omega has had quite the journey. Loved by some and loathed by others, just about everyone has an opinion on the "Best Bout Machine." Omega can best be described as an anime character come to life, especially when it comes to his inhuman endurance. His trilogy of hard hitting matches with Kazuchika Okada in New Japan Pro-Wrestling have become modern classics for a reason. Simply put, when Kenny Omega’s music hits, there’s a palpable sense of pomp and circumstance — the sense that you’re watching someone special.

That same sentiment can also be applied to MJF, in that every time he comes out, the energy around his appearance is palpable. Style wise, both men are as different as it gets, with Omega focusing on workrate and MJF focusing on storytelling. Combine the two of them together, however, and we might just have another modern classic on our hands. Few challengers would allow MJF to define his still-evolving legacy in pro wrestling more than Kenny Omega.