Does AEW Have A Tony Khan Problem?

For almost as long as there have been owners of professional wrestling companies, there have been owners that will use that platform to feature themselves, and there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that. Much like the rest of the genre, how an owner appears on-screen depends on the context and is very subjective, in terms of how effective it might or might not be to the audience. In some cases, a well-known figure head gives the fans someone to look to for authority and to make the tough decisions. For example, Bill Watts, a marginal in-ring technician, was without a doubt a big star in his heyday and his role in Mid-South wrestling kept things fair around the promotion. Watts had credibility with his audience because of the previous years of success he had. Watts was someone those in attendance could trust.

Along the same lines, sometimes owners have put themselves on television as villains, a fitting protagonist for the working class hero to challenge in the ring. Critics can say what they want, but Vince McMahon was not only a tremendous performer, but arguably the biggest heel during the biggest boom period in the history of the industry. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin would’ve been a major draw one way or the other, he has that level of talent, but the argument could be made that he wouldn’t have become the biggest star in the history of the industry without Vince to generate the heat for the storyline.

Of course, when the direction of a sport can be manipulated, it’s very easy for those with the pencil to slip into the habit of putting themselves in the spotlight too often. While Vince was a huge heel that saw big success in the late-90s, the heel authority figure was one of the most overused and stale acts in the WWE for the past 5-6 years. Eric Bischoff was great in his role as a snarky heel for a period of time until he overplayed his hand and then fans changed the channel. Again, when the story can be written by those involved, it’s a slippery slope, and nepotism in the wrestling business is nothing new. Verne Gagne put himself over for his own championship when he was in his 50s. Somehow his son Greg, a decent athlete, but not exactly on the level of BockWinkel, was pushed as a featured star throughout the AWA’s existence. Let’s not forget, Ed Leslie had roughly a dozen gimmicks and kept a job for years just because he was friends with the right people, brother.

Since its inception more than a year and a half ago, All Elite Wrestling is sometimes painted with the brush of nepotism, but as far as the roster, I don’t think that’s really the case. The company was founded because of group of friends agreed to sign with the same organization when they looked to negotiate new contracts so it wasn’t a political power play, but rather a group that put their star power together to attempt to get a new project off the group. Since those athletes had to help assemble the rest of the roster, it shouldn’t be surprising they chose competitors that they were familiar with from their work on the independent scene. AEW isn’t perfect, and it would be unfair to expect it to be, but with the recent headlines the company made with the Sting signing and the Impact deal, a different problem might be on the horizon.

Does AEW have a Tony Khan problem?

We will discuss this scenario, but for those that want to automatically assume that this is a pet project for the son of the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, it was actually important for him to get his face out there to the fans for the launch of the company. As trivial as it might sound, letting the wrestling public know that a billionaire family is behind All Elite let them know that this project had the funding and the resources to have a chance in the sports entertainment business. Since WCW folded, there have been many ham-handed attempts to be “the next big company in wrestling” only for it to fall exponentially short of that goal. Dixie Carter’s Total Nonstop Action group might be the most well-known in the past two decades, but there was an alphabet soup list of organizations that were in that category. Some yo-yo tried to run Main Event Championship Wrestling at the ECW Arena in 2001, which amounted to a one-off show with a lot of bounced checks to the wrestlers. XWF was in the conversation for a cup of coffee until Vince re-signed Hulk Hogan at the time and that was the conclusion of the project.

Still, within recent months Tony Khan’s name was used more often on television, which in itself is fine because it makes sense to have someone to theoretically sanction challenges on Dynamite, but the past few weeks have seem Khan become more visible on television, prompting some to suspect that it’s only a matter of time before he’s involved in a full-fledged storyline as a regular character on the show. The fact that Khan is most public at a time when AEW garnered its most buzz over the past few weeks with Sting’s debut and the crossover with Impact is a little odd.

In my opinion, the red flag was the promo that aired with Khan and Tony Schiavone this week on Impact, which featured a segment with Kenny Omega. Khan introduced the promo with the “advertisement paid for,” a throwback to the NWO of the late-90s, and went on to suggest that he might buy Impact. This promo definitely had a heel tone to it, and depending on what the goal was, it was actually well-done, but should Khan present himself as a heel to the wrestling public? Khan as a snarky wealthy businessman might not be a negative as far as a persona, but that wouldn’t fit this particular narrative. Kenny Omega is the heel champion, If anything, you would expect Khan to want to maintain the integrity of the AEW championship for the fans. Realistically, there aren’t enough Impact viewers for Khan to try to cast himself as a heel to the Impact audience, but then a baby face to AEW fans.

Right now, Tony Khan and AEW as a whole have built up a certain level of goodwill with the fans because the formation of All Elite has given them a true alternative in pro wrestling for the first time in twenty years. All Elite isn’t the place that released WWE wrestlers go because they need a job, but rather the place they choose to go because it’s seen as the place for opportunity. Tony Khan as the impartial matchmaker, similar to Dana White in the UFC, is probably the most effective role for him at least at this point. I’m not sure if there’s any upside for a potential heel Khan, especially if he would try to be a heel that claims to be better than the fans because of his well-known wealthy family. So far, the audience appreciates the fact that Khan took a chance on pro wrestling and made the industry much better for everyone involved with the existence of AEW. That being said, there’s a fine line between appreciation and resentment, especially with the jaded nature of most wrestling fans. The passion that Khan brings to the table could easily be seen as him using his position as the owner to “play wrestler” if he’s seen too often on television.

So, does AEW have a Tony Khan problem?

No, at least not yet, and they won’t unless Khan gives himself more TV time than the wrestlers he’s paying. Again, All Elite isn’t perfect, but those that somehow cheer for its failure are completely misguided. As mentioned, for the time in twenty years, the pro wrestling industry has legitimate options in the United States, and among the many reasons for that is because Tony Khan put his money on the line to launch AEW. As I’ve said many times before, success for AEW isn’t competition with the WWE, but rather profitability is the ultimate measure of success from a business prospective. The extension of the TNT deal earlier this year made AEW profitable, which already makes it more successful in its first year in existence than Dixie Carter was in for 15 years of TNA in the industry.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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