A professional wrestler who mocked Dungeons & Dragons players to get at an in-ring rival found himself stirring up the wrath and ridicule of the online roleplaying community, including the stars of D&D web series Critical Role.
AEW wrestler Maxwell Jacob Friedman – also known as just MJF – fired the first shot by tweeting a selfie showing him flexing his guns in the gym, along with the caption “I don’t play dungeons and dragons”.
I don’t play dungeons and dragons. pic.twitter.com/RqIk9Nk1nh— Maxwell Jacob Friedman™️ (@The_MJF) September 17, 2019
Wrestling fans quickly noted that the tweet was aimed at MJF’s fellow AEW wrestler and opponent Bran Cutler, who has made his love of D&D part of his in-ring persona – or ‘gimmick’, in wrestling terms – including wearing a T-shirt with a d20-inspired logo and tights featuring polyhedral dice. (It’s more than a gimmick: Cutler has previously said that he and his wife are such big fans of the RPG for real that they’ve cosplayed as characters from Critical Role.)
Cutler quickly fired back at MJF with his own muscle-flexing selfie captioned “I do play Dungeons and Dragons”.
He wasn’t the only one, either. Joe Manganiello, an actor who’s appeared in films such as Magic Mike and its sequel, Spider-Man, and Justice League, and has also made several appearances roleplaying on Critical Role as Arkhan the Cruel, also expressed his love for D&D, adding his ripped cover appearance on the front of magazine Muscle & Fitness for good measure.
I do... pic.twitter.com/3Yh1lpy3Jq— JOE MANGANIELLO (@JoeManganiello) September 18, 2019
Joining the rebuttal was Matthew Mercer, Critical Role’s DM, who started with a more understanding suggestion that MJF’s misunderstanding of D&D could’ve been due to a bad first experience and suggested the wrestler try again with the right group. Mercer then suggested that MJF play with Cutler – after Cutler had picked MJF off the floor of the ring.
Sounds like you probably had a bad introduction to D&D, friend. No worries! I did too! With the right group, and a bit of trust, you’ll have the time of your life. Heck! Maybe ask @BranCutler to run a game for you after he picks you up off the mat! <3— Matthew Mercer (@matthewmercer) September 18, 2019
“Can’t wait for you to watch me beat another one of your nerd flock,” MJF replied to Mercer. “Could care less about your shitty little game or that you are a level 95 knighted dipshit.”
Plenty of others joined in to post their own buffed-up selfies alongside expressions of love for D&D, while others pointed out other high-profile fans such as Vin Diesel, Terry Crews and WWE wrestlers Ember Moon, Xavier Woods and the Big Show.
It’s worth pointing out that MJF is what’s known in wrestling as a ‘heel’ – in other words, he’s a pantomime villain in spandex. Wrestling heels often continue to stir up rivalries and bad-mouth their opponents outside of the ring on social media and the like, often making use of real-life knowledge and aspects of other wrestlers to make their feuds seem more believable. That certainly seems to be the case here, with Manganiello (who has wrestled himself on WWE show Monday Night RAW) and other commenters playing the part of the audience booing the baddie.
For what it’s worth, MJF himself is thoroughly committed to the bit, responding to one well-meaning commenter attempting to explain to non-wrestling fans that his mockery of D&D is part of a performance: “Nope. I’m not a character. This isn’t and angle. Your whole community and the game you love is trash. Deal with it.”
Nope. I’m not a character. This isn’t and angle. Your whole community and the game you love is trash. Deal with it.— Maxwell Jacob Friedman™️ (@The_MJF) September 18, 2019
Still, even with knowledge that the wrestler’s comments were part of a deliberate troll, many took issue with MJF’s use of outdated and offensive stereotypes about D&D players and tabletop gamers – something MJF said had led to him receiving “death threats” (though, again, it’s hard to tell how much of this is part of his effort to stir up trouble).
“You guys thought I got a lot of death threats before?” he tweeted. “Turns out geeks that live in their parents basement and play dungeons and dragons are VERY VIOLENT. I guess all of @BranCutler fans are terrible human beings.”
You guys thought I got a lot of death threats before?— Maxwell Jacob Friedman™️ (@The_MJF) September 18, 2019
Turns out geeks that live in their parents basement and play dungeons and dragons are VERY VIOLENT.
I guess all of @BranCutler fans are terrible human beings.
SHOCKING 🙄 #Betterthanyou
Others noted that the response of Manganiello and others did exactly the opposite, showing how far Dungeons & Dragons and tabletop gaming has come from the clichés of old.
Whichever side of the argument you fall, it seems that everyone agrees on one thing: it’ll be a pleasure to see MJF pinned in the ring.