Tony Khan talks AEW coming 'full circle', why he spread out Jon Moxley vs. Chris Jericho rematch, Joshua vs. Usyk 2 pick

8 min read
Tony-Khan-040721-AllEliteWrestling-FTR All Elite Wrestling

Things were going pretty well for All Elite Wrestling heading into June. 

Their biggest star, CM Punk, had just won the AEW Heavyweight title, and top stars Bryan Danielson, Jon Moxley, Chris Jericho, and Adam Cole, were having fantastic matches.

Then injuries to Punk, Danielson, and Cole hit, which put them out of action. After that, wrestling fans thought AEW was in trouble, but Moxley and Jericho picked up the slack along with FTR, Britt Baker, and Wardlow.

Danielson recently returned to action, Cole came back last week to cut a promo, and Punk is set to come back shortly. 

On Wednesday's AEW Dynamite, titled "Quake by the Lake," Moxley defends his interim AEW Heavyweight title in a rematch against Jericho. Ahead of the show, AEW CEO and owner Tony Khan talks about the last couple of months for AEW, changes in the competition, and who wins the Aug. 20 rematch between Oleksandr Usyk and Anthony Joshua. 

(Editor's note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.)

DAZN: You guys have had a lot of big names out, and some have returned since Double or Nothing in May. How would you characterize everything going on in the company from our last chat at Forbidden Door (at the end of June) to what we're going to see on Wednesday?

Tony Khan: We've come full circle because, at the start of June, we were in such an exciting place. We did one of the best shows in the history of our company, the LA Forum Dynamite was such a huge event, and it was wildly successful. We knew Bryan Danielson might be out for a bit. But we just got Bryan Danielson back recently. Of course, that night CM Punk got hurt and he's been out since. We've had Adam Cole and a lot of AEW stars out, and we're only now getting to where a lot of the big names are coming back. Bryan Danielson is back in action, and his last match had a shocking ending. That kept people wondering what's next for Bryan Danielson in the ring. But we have so many great stars that have been away from AEW. What we've been able to do this summer is really special. A lot of plans changed going into Forbidden Door. That's why things were a little over the place going into the show. 

We've had seven weeks, where six out of the seven weeks. AEW Dynamite has been the number one show on Wednesdays. Rampage last week, back in the top five, our best number in awhile. As the roster gets stronger, Dynamite will continue getting stronger. But also Rampage is going to get stronger and stronger as more and more of the top stars are back. I'm excited to have a consistent all-star lineup. It was a successful summer, largely because the wrestlers and the staff, and most of all, the fans stepped up and kept AEW Dynamite number one through the summer.

DAZN: At DAZN, we're a subscriber base business. People view us on only subscriptions. People view you guys based on only ratings. Do you feel too many people make a big deal out of ratings?

TK: I don't know. I think it's important. It seems like a metric that wrestling fans have followed for decades to track promotion success. It didn't really become a thing that was widely publicized and disseminated not just among wrestling fans but even by media covering wrestling. There's been a lot more interest in it since the Monday Night Wars of the '90s. It's a metric that stuck with us, and people have used to track the success of promotions. I think the ranking is what's emblematic of what's happening in TV at that time and place. In the current cable and satellite universe, there's a ton of money in rights fees. It's brought a lot of interest to the pro wrestling business, and I've been able to leverage it into building a pretty big business over the last few years.

Our competition, WWE, has done a great job building their TV business and generating huge revenues through multiple TV properties. No company besides them has ever generated hundreds of millions of dollars through TV and pay-per-view, as we have done in our relationship with Warner Brothers Discovery and the pay-per-view business we built for AEW. AEW is doing something special, and it's only possible because of the wrestling fans around the world who've supported the business over the last few years. 

DAZN: You guys have a big show, Quake By The Lake, on Wednesday with a big rematch between Jon Moxley and Chris Jericho for the Interim AEW Heavyweight title. One of the things you guys do is you don't do an overabundance of rematches. DAZN has a big trilogy fight coming up on Sept. 17 between Canelo Alvarez and Gennadiy Golovkin. They will be meeting three times spread out over five years. You're doing this rematch for the first time in almost two-and-a-half years. What’s the decision-making process about spreading out rematches like that?

TK: Jon Moxley vs. Chris Jericho was the main event of the first ever Revolution pay-per-view. I think what we've seen from Jon Moxley and Chris Jericho since then, they've been two of the top wrestlers in AEW. Right now, this is the best we've seen. 2022, both of them came back. They were both out for health reasons, totally different reasons, respectively. But they both came back separately in the best condition they've been in since they joined AEW, and they're both more dangerous and better than they've been here. They're two of the top stars. They were the first two world champions in the history of the company. We have the two of them fighting for that same belt, the interim world championship. Whoever is the interim world champion when CM Punk comes back is going to be in line for a big unification match, and I'm excited about that. 

But also, I don't want everything to be a rematch because sometimes, in this case, you can save them, where it really means something, a rematch from one of our big pay-per-view events. But they're not just being thrown together. They've been the guys in my opinion, for the summer that helped us get through this summer more so than anybody with Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley. 

DAZN: I know you are a huge boxing fan and were at the first Anthony Joshua-Andy Ruiz fight. Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk meet on Aug. 20 in Saudi Arabia. Does AJ regain the gold?

TK: I do think a focused Anthony Joshua can regain the championship, but I'm not an expert and not an oddsmaker. But I really do like Anthony Joshua, and I think it would be great if he did win the title back and be great to the sport.

DAZN: Would you view 2022 as your hardest year as a promoter because of all the injuries, and then what's happened with your competition with Vince McMahon (gone) and with Paul Levesque (now in charge)?

TK: I wouldn't compare that to the stuff we were going through in 2020 (with the pandemic and the passing of Brodie Lee). That was horrible. But with the pandemic and shows being shut down, no live fans, having to figure out ways around that. Brody getting sick. So your original question was, what was the hardest year? Yeah, that was for a multitude of reasons. Like I was saying, I don't think those are all necessarily bad things. The wrestling business is benefiting, I think in a lot of ways from changes. You asked about it with the injuries. Well, we've responded pretty well to those, and people that have been out for a variety of reasons are all starting to come back. There's a lot of light at the end of the tunnel, and we're getting close to the end of that tunnel in many ways.

Now the competition changing, I think that's a good thing in some ways. If you like good wrestling, you're just more likely to want to see it because our competitor has been doing better shows recently than they had been doing, I think. I watch them pretty often, and I think they've been better. It seems like that's the consensus among people who watch them. I do think in general, if it's gonna get more people watching wrestling, that's probably not gonna hurt any wrestling company. And we stand to gain the most in many ways because if you're a big wrestling fan, and if you've been away and you like good wrestling, you might be saying, ‘Where are Chris Jericho and Bryan Danielson? CM Punk’s back?' So as we get to an exciting point of a lot of people coming back to the company, but a lot of new fans also, I think hopefully they want to embrace the new wrestlers in AEW and also a lot of the big names in AEW that you'll be able to see on a regular basis, people that are on the show every week and have been going all summer like Chris Jericho and Jon Moxley. Then again, whenever CM Punk is back, there's a big setup for an undisputed championship to be crowned. 

I think if you're a fan of good wrestling, it'd be a great time to step back in and check it out because right now, there's a lot of good wrestling on TV, including Wednesday's on TBS and Fridays on TNT.

DAZN: Does that make you work harder to see what you're going up against and what the competition is? Does that make you work harder, or are you that guy that just focuses on what you're doing, steer the course, and whatever they're doing, they're doing?

TK: I think I've been working as hard as I possibly can this whole time. It can give you good ideas for yourself. But overall, I just tried to follow what's happening in wrestling, and I love wrestling and try to work as hard on it as I can every week.

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