“We’re about to enter another golden era for professional wrestling.”
Optimism and confidence stand out when speaking about wrestling’s immediate future with Tony Khan. Essentially a newcomer to the industry despite possessing a position of power, Khan’s love affair with the squared circle is lifelong even if his official role within the sport remains in its infancy.
Through conversations relating to wrestling’s storied past, it’s obvious that’s Khan’s standing at All Elite Wrestling — President and CEO — is one born out of passion rather than business.
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A wrestling fanatic since childhood, Khan has brought to life the dreams he held as a youngster and now he stands on the frontline as the grapple business prepares for its latest company rivalry.
In just over two years, AEW has turned the wrestling landscape upside down. Since the demise of WCW, which Khan largely blames on the January 4th 1999 episode of Nitro, many promoters have held wild beliefs that they can provide a sound alternative to WWE. All have failed.
Armed with the financial clout and desire to build a wrestling brand, Khan is the latest, and he wasn’t put off despite what had occurred before his big move.
“I fully believed that AEW was going to work so no one would've persuaded me otherwise,” said Khan exclusively to DAZN when asked if anyone had told him that entering the wrestling business was a bad idea, considering the lack of success endured by others.
“There’s another interview that I did and it’s clear that my father thought it was a bad idea, but I always knew I had the drive, desire and knowledge to make it work. I back myself in a big way in these situations and I like to think that I’ve built up the business acumen to make AEW the best wrestling company in the world.
"When you have that fire inside you to make something work then why would you listen to anyone else?”
After launching stones via catapult for the pilot stages of their impressive rise, AEW came armed with bazookas, grenades and pardon the pun, dynamite, last month when they delivered their third annual All Out show.
Already eagerly anticipated due to the in-ring return of CM Punk, the PPV, arguably the finest of wrestling’s modern era, delivered beyond all expectations with a series of happenings that placed AEW on the consciousness of mainstream audiences.
An extraordinary cage match between The Young Bucks and The Lucha Brothers raised the bar for that gimmick that may never be surpassed. Chris Jericho and MJF brought closure to their lengthy feud. And following Kenny Omega’s win against Christain Cage, AEW brought the sold-out arena to their feet with two incredible debuts as Adam Cole and Bryan Danielson emerged following successful spells under the WWE’s leadership.
In one night, over three enjoyable hours, AEW removed any doubts that they were serious players in the wrestling world. Punk and Danielson, mainstays of the Connecticut main event scene, combined with Cole, who reportedly resisted WWE’s pleas to remain with them, and they were all now part of AEW’s thriving roster.
“Do you remember Bash at the Beach 96?” asks Khan, imploring me to recall the high point of WCW when Hulk Hogan assisted Kevin Nash and Scott Hall to form the New World Order in one of wrestling’s most memorable moments. “That’s what I wanted at All Out, but I also wanted to go one step further.
“You’ve already this great show with great action and then Adam Cole comes out and you think he’s there to take on The Elite. Instead, he joins the group the way Hogan turned heel. Is that the close to the show? No but it would’ve been a good ending regardless.
"[Then] here comes Bryan Danielson. One of the best wrestlers there’s ever been and he’s here in AEW. Cole and Danielson in one segment. That was pretty cool.”
With AEW’s rapid progress during the late summer/early autumn of 2021 gathering incredible pace, such goings on were not unnoticed by WWE. Their Summerslam extravaganza in Las Vegas took place bang in the middle of their new rival’s initial flirt with Punk, Cole, and Danielson and they responded by thrusting Brock Lesnar into a mega feud with the outstanding Roman Reigns as well as putting championship gold back on their returning women's ace Becky Lynch.
"Is Khan of the opinion that this was reactive booking following AEW’s aggressive recruitment?
“I can’t say for sure what’s on their minds," he admitted. "Summerslam is a big deal for those guys over there so maybe they had it long in their plans that it would be the place that Brock and Becky returned.
"We’ve got to keep doing what we’ve been doing so far and that’s trying to give people, our fans, the best possible wrestling product we can. That’s what drives us. We can’t base our product on what WWE are doing. How can that ever work?
“Do they see us as rivals or competition? They say we’re not, but I've heard that AEW shows are on monitors in the Gorilla position over there, so I take that as a compliment if they’re watching us whilst trying to run their own show.
"I also admire them for that because trying to run a show whilst watching another show is something else. I put everything into producing our shows so there’s no way I'd be watching something else whilst trying to get on with things.”
With the seeds of a prosperous age for wrestling now planted, it’s highly unlikely that Khan will slow down in doing all he can to enhance the profile and legacy of AEW.
A famed multi-tasker due to his input in other areas of the family business such as the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham FC, Khan’s focus can stretch to multiple projects but the direction of AEW is a consistent feature on his immediate priority list.
"I think wrestling fans should strap in for a big ride,” beamed Khan. “We’re not there yet but I feel it’s close. Things are happening and I don’t think it’s going to be too long before wrestling fans are going to feel what I felt in the late 1990’s when WWE and WCW went at trying to provide the best entertainment possible.
“I feel like we’ve come so far in the brief time we’ve been around but there’s still a lot more to come and that’s what we are trying to work on all of the time. We arrived with some short-term goals relating to talent and TV deals, and now we can aim bigger because we still have a lot to achieve.
"There are long term goals for AEW but we also must be ready for change in the blink of an eye. Look how we reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m proud of how well we coped with that and that’s further evidence of just how prepared we are as a company.”