AEW founder and president Tony Khan was a recent guest on Wrestling Observer Radio. Below are some highlights, which include Khan talking about how AEW became a reality.
How did all of this get going?
It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do. It’s something I’ve thought about for years. I’ve kinda had a formula in mind as things have evolved in the business, the climate has become such that I think it could support a second major national promotion with great production values and top stars. I think that’s what we’re gonna offer. I think there’s a real demand for it. So far it’s been very well received.
Was it a combination of talent that you knew was gonna be available or just the timing that you were gonna do wrestling?
We didn’t have to do it. It was just a great opportunity. I knew that if I got all the talent that would be available in this short window of time that I would be able to put together a roster that would attract a lot of media interest. I didn’t have to do it but if it came together it was a great opportunity, and it came together and it’s been awesome. I think it’s gonna be a great business and I think it’s gonna be good for the industry, for the wrestling business. The wrestling fans and the wrestlers. It could be a golden age for wrestling. It already is in a lot of ways, I think in terms of work rate. I don’t think it is the golden age in terms of the number of total people domestically, at least, that are engaged with the product. I think we can get more people watching wrestling. We can get people that used to watch wrestling, watching wrestling again. I think we can get people that never watched wrestling before, to watch wrestling for the first time by presenting a really compelling sports based product that stresses the competition, emphasizes wins & losses, and treats the fans, competitors, and the product with respect.
What products did you watch growing up?
Growing up I would watch WWF, WCW, ECW, Smokey Mountain. I was a huge fan of Mid-South. Memphis, Continental, New Japan, All Japan, Michinoku Pro, and all kinds of different stuff. I really think that now more than ever there’s so much talent out there that you can build a great roster incorporating people from all over the world. I think there are a lot of people that have been waiting to see these people on a big stage. And there are a lot of other people that have maybe heard of some of these really interesting young wrestlers like Sammy Guevara or MJF. It’s going to be a big draw to have huge name stars like Jericho, Cody, Omega, and the Young Bucks out there pulling them in.
Do you have ideas of what you want to be doing with championship divisions?
I’m really excited about what we’re going to do with the tag team division. I really think tag team wrestling has a chance to make a HUGE come back and I think we have a chance to be a really big part of it. The Young Bucks are one of the all time great tag teams and we brought out Best Friends, SCU, Lucha Brothers and a lot more to come. I think we are really going to put an emphasis on that. I’m also really excited about what we’re going to do with our women’s division. Our women’s division, I compared it to the WCW cruiserweight division. This is what I’ve told people and they’ve gotten really excited about this. Similar to how the WCW cruiserweight division had a lot of luchadores, our women’s division is going to have a lot of talent from all over the world. International flavor, yes. But also the best of the best no matter where they are from. We are all pretty pumped about the women’s division.
Regarding the Double or Nothing PPV on May 25th:
I’ve seen every wrestling PPV ever, and I can tell you this is gonna be one of the best wrestling PPV’s ever. We’ve got the best wrestling roster in the world right now. I think as far as the stars we have, as far as work rate, and the crop of stars for the future we’re building – the young talent, it’s going to be great.
Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it:
We really don’t want to make the same mistakes that some of the other companies have made in the past. We don’t want this to be a thing where every talented wrestler in the world comes in and gets a guaranteed big deal. There’s so many great people out there and unfortunately, economically, I don’t think even with another company coming, you still can’t take every talented person. You have to be discerning. I think we have to choose wisely and pick the best people and make sure we aren’t wasting people. We don’t want to sign people for the sake of having them on our roster. We have to have a plan for everybody and I really think we are going to develop some stars.
Do you have an idea of how many dates a year do you want to run?
I do. We have a business plan and a couple of different models that we think are sustainable. I don’t want to run the talent into the ground. At the pace these guys wrestle I want the fans to buy a ticket and know that they’re going to get really great matches and the guys are going to deliver. The work rate on our shows is going to be above everybody else. I’m not going to do that by having the guys wrestle hundreds of times a year. It just doesn’t make sense. But I do think as we go on, say 2020, we will run more shows than we will this year. The schedule will pick up and we’ll be doing more shows domestically and eventually internationally. There’s more to come for sure. I don’t want to spoil any surprises.
How much did the big names help when you’re doing some of these deals (television)?
Tremendous. Thats what the networks want to see. The top stars, young stars, and established stars. We have a roster of people that everybody knows can deliver great matches. On the production side we have great people. Keith Mitchell is a legend in the wrestling business, and the crew he brings. The experience Keith and his team have.
Without spoiling things, do you have an idea of when you would like to have a tv deal done?
Yes. We will be making announcements. Again, it’s a recurring theme of not spoiling surprises. We will get to that stuff soon.
In your childhood, who were the guys who drew you to be a wrestling fan?
At age 6: Hulk Hogan, Mega Powers, late 80’s – early 90’s WWF PPV’s from the video stores. NWA WCW shows. Everything I could get from the video stores. There was a Bruiser Brody compilation. At age 7-8 a lot of the Turner Home Video stuff. At age 11 I got on the internet. It wasn’t Google yet. But got on a search engine like Yahoo and looked up “is wrestling fake?” The RSPW FAQ came up. I learned so many things like questions I never even thought of. Who were real brothers in real life and who weren’t. A lot of the insider terms. So much of it made sense and a lot of it was consistent from what I had read in Pro Wrestling Illustrated and The Wrestler. I hooked it up pretty quickly and made a bunch of friends online. There was a great community of people back then and I stay in touch with a lot of those people to this day.