Tony Khan Interview: AEW Working With Talents, Being A Fan As A Kid, & More

AEW President & CEO Tony Khan recently spoke with AL.com to promote tonight’s AEW Dynamite on TNT and revealed the 4 wrestlers that would be on his Mount Rushmore of pro wrestling – AEW World Champion Chris Jericho, along with WWE Hall of Famers Ric Flair, Bret Hart, and Steve Austin.

Khan also talked about being a big fan of pro wrestling as a kid, especially Southern wrestling. He was asked about which wrestlers he liked as a kid.

“When I first really got into wrestling, my favorite wrestlers at first were Ric Flair and the Macho Man, Randy Savage,” Khan revealed. “But the first time I saw wrestling was Hulk Hogan on ‘The A-Team,’ and I didn’t really know what wrestling was, and then I saw Hulk Hogan on WWF TV when I was a kid and that was the first time I’d seen pro wrestling. Then I learned about other pro wrestling, like WCW and then later when I was like 13, I got really into ECW, I started trading tapes with people through the dial-up internet, junior-high up into high-school.

“I was trading tapes on like AOL and message boards, with some people I still keep in touch with today. As I got into high school, Steve Austin and Bret Hart and Chris Jericho were probably my three favorite wrestlers, and I have the fortune now to work with Chris very closely. He’s AEW champion, and I know Steve Austin and Bret Hart and they’re both great people, so it’s kind of awesome.”

Khan was also asked about Southern wrestling’s greatest contribution to the overall picture of pro wrestling.

“What a great, amazing question, as someone who loves Southern wrestling and is a true fan of it,” Khan said. “Southern wrestling has represented a great alternative to what was often the most widely available national wrestling product. And Southern wrestling, and I’m speaking broadly about a bunch of different companies here, whether it be Continental in Alabama, while the UWF was running out of Houston and New Orleans and then you had the Lawler-Jarrett company in Memphis, you had a bunch of things happening at once. And then on of course Turner’s TBS that later became TNT also carried WCW, which was based in Atlanta. It was a nationally based show, but was kind of always associated with wrestling in the Southeast.

“There’s some minds, people like Dusty Rhodes and ‘Hot Stuff’ Eddie Gilbert, who were very influential creatively, and came up with ideas which to this day are the way people like to do and execute things behind the scenes. And really just the rapid-fire, fast paced style shows. There’s a famous thing that happened on Memphis television called the Tupelo concession stand brawl, and we did a concourse brawl and that was not totally dissimilar from that. And I think those are awesome concepts. Some of the coolest ideas ever came out of Southern wrestling. I love Southern wrestling.”

Regarding talents in AEW, Khan was asked how much AEW is involved in crafting their personas, mainly newer talents as someone like Jericho arrives with a fully-formed persona.

“It depends,” Khan said. “I think we’re really involved in the presentation of whoever it comes in, whether it’s a complete overhaul … I think we have a big say, like I have a big say, in what the presentation’s going to be. I think what’s great is when we work with people who have so much experience and knowledge, like Chris is brilliant. And I’ve sat with Chris and with Cody and people and we’ve had really interesting talks about how AEW can help develop a unique presentation for them.

“Like the Chris you see at AEW is a very different Chris than we’ve ever seen before. This super rock-star champion with the entourage he has, which is called the Inner Circle, which is a new thing that we’ve kind of developed here since we’ve started our TV show, ‘Dynamite.’ The Inner Circle’s gotten over pretty big. So yeah, it’s a different presentation. And Cody, since he had gone out on his own, and started wrestling on independents had tweaked his presentation and developed some amazing stuff. But I think since he’s gotten in AEW, Cody’s presentation is off the charts as well.

“And wrestlers like Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks, they also, like you said, had some fully formed wrestling skill sets and brilliant minds for wrestling, but when they came in their presentation at AEW’s a unique presentation too. We’ve developed a lot of new acts like the Jurassic Express, for example, is something new we created in AEW. They were individual wrestlers that we put together, and something that’s been really fun for the guys themselves, first and foremost, most also for the fans and families who come to the shows.”

Khan was also asked how TV consumption is moving so heavily towards streaming, and how that is impacting weekly pro wrestling programming on cable. Khan said the change has been very positive for AEW.

“It’s been very positive for us, because in an era when it’s really hard to draw people 18 to 49 to television, wrestling is one of the best ways to do that. TNT, to be consistently in the top three, top five, top 10 with us, I think they’re really happy with that, and we’ve done a good job for them,” Khan said.