Better Than You Baybay: The Feud-Turned-Friendship of MJF & Adam Cole

If someone had told me earlier this year that Maxwell Jacob Friedman (MJF) would turn face, I would have laughed in theirs. Since his 2019 debut in All Elite Wrestling (AEW), MJF has consistently been the biggest heel in the company. From turning on his “best friend” Cody Rhodes, to making CM Punk bleed in a dog collar match, to knocking Bryan Danielson out with an oxygen tank, MJF has done all the dirty deeds. I can count on maybe two fingers how many matches he’s won without cheating over the past four years. Not including winning the AEW world championship back in November 2022. And that’s just in the ring; MJF is famous for his cutting insults during promos, and even attacking (or rather, hydrating) audience members. So, it’s safe to say his face-turn is one of the most surprising curveballs in wrestling this year.

I always think that heel-turns must be far easier to pull off. If you’re going rogue, all you need to do is betray an ally, insult someone’s dead dad or drug/alcohol problems, and bam, job’s a good ‘un. It often feels like more of a dramatic moment, capturing the audience’s attention, whether it be due to heartbreak or because it’s exciting to watch. But watching a bad guy decide to hang up his steel chair and decide to be a hero? How do you make that just as interesting?

Not to say there are no good face-turns in the history of wrestling, of course there are. They’re just not as iconic or memorable as heel-turns. At least, until this game-changer. As hilarious and compelling as MJF’s run as a heel has been, his recent good-guy development has made for some of the greatest wrestling segments this year so far. And this is in no small part due to his best friend, Adam Cole.

So, where did it all begin?

Maxwell Jacob Friedman and Adam Cole squaring up in the ring in their first match

Storytime (with Adam Cole, Baybay)

Back in June, after a couple of feuds had been wrapped up, MJF was doing an in-ring promo, yelling at no one in particular. Before long, Adam Cole’s music hit and he strolled right in to challenge the world champion. In this initial confrontation, it was a very classic, insult-heavy promo to set up a match between them. MJF claimed he used to look up to Cole, but now he questioned what had happened to him, insinuating he’d become ‘soft’ since his injuries. In retaliation, Cole likened MJF to a “toxic social media troll” and referred to his fiancée leaving him. For a babyface, that’s some pretty brutal stuff! Anyone going mic-to-mic with MJF in the ring has a lot to live up to, however, Adam Cole certainly matched his energy and really held his own.

After baiting him with accusations of cowardice, Cole gets MJF to agree to a match which will give Cole a title shot if he wins. This match was excellent stuff, with both men putting their all into it. Typically, MJF both cheated and attempted to cheat throughout the match. What I enjoyed greatly about MJF’s wrestling style as a heel is that, despite his continual proclivity for cheating during matches, there are moments where he does genuinely kick out of his opponent’s finisher or executes moves on them fair and square. This demonstrates his legitimacy as a wrestler; he doesn’t always have to cheat, the talent is very much there. This happens during this match when MJF kicks out of the Boom. 

It’s fair to say that Cole does win his match against MJF, as he’s a split-second away from pinning him right after executing a Panama Sunrise when the time limit on the match expires, resulting in a technical draw. Cole begs MJF for five more minutes, knowing he has the title shot in the bag. However, MJF’s characteristic cowardly behaviour surfaces once again as he staunchly denies Cole the extra time. 

Cole is understandably frustrated but determined to get that title shot. However, there is a spanner in the works when, during their next promo together, Tony Schiavone announces that MJF and Cole have been ‘randomly’ (hah) paired together for the blind tag team tournament. I think the first inkling that the two will eventually get on is when they both shout “Shut up, Schiavone!” in sync. As much as they both protest, rules are rules, and so they have to work together as a tag team.

During this segment, there is some build-up for MJF’s match against Tanahashi at Forbidden Door II. Cole once again taunts MJF for being a coward, which riles him up so much that he consolidates his pay-per-view title match against Tanahashi. On the surface, it may look like Cole is simply enjoying winding up MJF. But what I think is so interesting about this interaction is that Cole seems to be purposefully pushing MJF into this big title match for his own good. He wants MJF to be a fighting champion and believes he can be, because he knows that MJF does actually have the talent and star quality for it. Cole is pushing him to be better. Remember this for later.

Adam Cole taunting MJF in the ring

A Match Made in Heaven

Initially, MJF and Cole reject the idea of working as a team. Their partnership starts off as one born out of necessity, with Cole seemingly stringing MJF along. He brags to his friend Roderick Strong that he’s just making MJF believe they’re friends for now, but will betray him when they no longer have to be a team. However, something shifts in their dynamic along the way. Cole ends up genuinely enjoying spending time with MJF and starts to consider him an actual friend.

Throughout the tag tournament, there is a series of sitcom-esque VTs of MJF and Cole that are absolute television gold. They go for meals together, drink together, go trampolining together, and even play dodgeball against a bunch of kids together. I always looked forward to watching these segments every time they popped up on Dynamite—it’s goofy moments like this that make wrestling fun! It’s not supposed to be serious all the time—it is a form of entertainment after all. As well as being fun, these little slice-of-life clips really helped to build MJF and Cole’s on-screen chemistry and sell their blooming friendship.

After a little while, it was clear that the friendship was no longer a performance. MJF admitted, during a promo, that he had never had a friend before, but that he’d found one in the unlikeliest of places with Adam Cole (a collective “aww” ensues.) It’s common opinion that MJF’s promos and character have always been exceedingly strong since he debuted, but what I love is the nuance he brings to his persona. Yes, he’s great at being the mean, cowardly heel with an ego bigger than the Big Burberry Belt. But when he shows a hint of vulnerability, of MJF’s loneliness behind the devil mask, that longing to be loved—these layers are what really build and sell his character. All villains have to have a backstory and motivation, after all!

AEW have done a great job of capitalising on the hugely popular MJF/Adam Cole pairing. And so, it came as no surprise when they won the tag tournament against Daniel Garcia and Sammy Guevara. Their Double Clothesline finisher got over so fast, with the crowd going wild for it during every match. By this point, they felt pretty established as a tag team, but not quite on the same page, morality-wise. I mean, MJF had softened, sure, but he was still firmly in the heel category, whereas Cole had been a pretty solid face the whole time. I think the pivotal moment for this was their tag title match against FTR.

Winning the tournament was a great victory, followed by a gutting defeat against FTR. After spending a few minutes alone in the ring, Cole managed to kick out of FTR’s attempted pins a few times. MJF was tagged in again and managed to hold his own against Dax Harwood. However, seeing Cole about to get caught in the Shatter Machine, MJF intercepted it and put himself in the firing line instead. Unfortunately, he then got pinned in a surprise roll-up after countering the Shatter Machine.

Seeing MJF sacrifice himself to save his teammate was enough of a pleasantly surprising swerve, but the immediate aftermath of the match was when we saw further change. MJF actually took responsibility for losing the tag match, blaming himself for getting pinned and feeling guilty about it. It wasn’t even just about the belts—he felt bad because he’d let his best friend down. Cole’s reaction was even more wholesome; he put the world championship belt on MJF and hyped him up, showing what he’s worth and convincing him that he is a good wrestler despite this one loss. That’s what friends are for, to pick you up when you’re down.

Adam Cole encouraging his Better Than You Baybay team mate MJF in the ring

Now, They’re All In

All In at Wembley Arena, London, was one of the biggest wrestling events in history. For MJF and Adam Cole in particular, it was a big night. They had not one, but two matches on the card: a tag match for the Ring of Honour (ROH) tag belts, and the long-awaited rematch between the two of them for the Triple B. I was extremely lucky to go to All In myself and see these matches in person, and boy, was the crowd hyped for Better Than You Baybay!

The opening match was MJF and Cole vs. Aussie Open, the then-current ROH tag champs. It was quite the warm-up match, considering how talented both tag teams are. MJF even got to do his hyped-up Kangaroo Kick, a move that should be utterly ridiculous, but he somehow makes it look great. When Better Than You Baybay got the pin and won the ROH belts, the overwhelming celebration in the arena was palpable. Having actual tag belts consolidated their partnership, and I must say, made me breathe a sigh of relief. I mean, if they were tag champions, they couldn’t split up in the main event now, right? They had to stay together!

The title match between MJF and Cole had a much different vibe this time around. For starters, they weren’t enemies anymore, and MJF had given Cole the match out of respect for him as opposed to annoyance. Throughout the match itself, both wrestlers felt very evenly matched, which I always appreciate, as it feels like a genuine struggle to see who will come out on top. For the first part of the match, it was obvious that MJF was holding back out of not wanting to hurt his friend. To anger him and spur him on to fight a good fight, Cole tore off MJF’s ‘Better Than You Baybay’ shirt that they were both wearing. This continued the ongoing theme of Cole purposefully pushing MJF’s buttons to make him a better wrestler. From this point onwards, MJF stopped pulling his punches, and the match was elevated to the next level.

One of my favourite parts was when MJF hyped himself up, with the crowd cheering him on, to do a Tope Suicida against Cole. He executed it wonderfully and looked surprised with himself as the crowd whooped for him. It’s amusing how MJF is now the longest-running AEW world champion and puts on such bravado, claiming he’s “better than you”, yet when it comes down to it, he doesn’t truly believe he can pull off certain moves or win against certain wrestlers. It just goes to show that it is all an act, and it’s great seeing MJF letting the mask slip a little as a face.

The ironic Double Clothesline on each other was another great moment in their title match. As well as being a nice nod to their tag team finisher move, it showed how MJF and Cole were both of equal ability and strength within the story of the match. Furthermore, the time limit of their match expired once again, resulting in a draw. This time, though, when Cole demanded five more minutes, MJF accepted enthusiastically, insisting they keep going until they have a winner. This demonstrated his character development since his friendship with Cole; now, he believes that he can win, but also, that Cole deserves his respect in a fair fight.

During this time, there was a highly entertaining moment where the referee got knocked down. In wrestling, this is always the cue for a cheating spot, so MJF went to grab a steel chair. However, he couldn’t bring himself to hit Cole with it, so instead settled for lying down with the chair around his own neck, trying to frame Cole for cheating. It was a nice, funny little moment during an intense main event, and both wrestlers put on a brilliant performance for it. 

Later in the match, MJF considered cheating again with his Dynamite Diamond Ring but was intercepted by Roderick Strong with a low blow. Cole did capitalise on this, and he would have got the pin if the ref didn’t take too long to do the three-count. However, he was clearly unhappy with Roddy’s interference; if Cole was gonna win, he was gonna win it clean. This is proven further when Cole has the chance to hit MJF with the Triple B, but chooses not to. MJF pins him shortly after, winning the match cleanly.

Even after losing and expressing bitterness at this, Cole refuses to hit MJF with the belt when given the opportunity whilst Roddy cheers on. Instead, the best friends hug it out in the middle of the ring, and Cole celebrates MJF’s victory as the confetti falls. It was an outstanding match, with a relatively simple yet effective set of wrestling moves, and perfect story beats that got the audience super invested.

Adam Cole celebrating his Better Than You Baybay partner MJF's victory at All In

The Future of Better Than You Baybay

It’s been a few months since the title match at All In, and MJF and Adam Cole have had a few ROH tag title matches, all of which have been successful title defences. Unfortunately, Cole suffered an ankle injury in late September while running in to cheer MJF on during his match against Samoa Joe, and he hasn’t been cleared to wrestle since. In spite of this, he’s still made a few on-screen appearances with MJF, and the ROH tag belts have been defended by both MJF alone in a handicap match and, most recently, by MJF and Samoa Joe in a surprising pair-up. Hopefully, this doesn’t cause too much drama between our boys! I imagine Better Than You Baybay has a lot of steam left yet. 

Although wrestling is silly and fun, and a story above all else, it’s also really nice to see such a prominent friendship between two men on-screen that is so unapologetically loving and affectionate. Having men hug, kiss, and say “I love you” in their friendships is rare to see in the media, especially in such a macho industry. It doesn’t ever make them look weaker; in fact, MJF’s character development and willingness to be vulnerable in front of an audience have made fans love him even more! Plus, regardless of all this, he’s still our scumbag. 

I can’t wait to see more of Better Than You Baybay, and see where the story goes for both MJF and Adam Cole next!

Written by Robin Moon

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CM Punk/Triple H in the photo known as "the cold day in hell".

CM Punk: 5 Fantasy Feuds For His WWE Return

Randy Orton stares out another opponent

Top 5 Randy Orton Moments