Tony Khan On AEW Success, Cody Rhodes Talks AEW Creative, & More

AEW President, CEO, General Manager & Head of Creative Tony Khan and the company were just profiled by Forbes for their Daily Cover feature. The piece, done by Forbes’ wealth team writer Hank Tucker, includes a photo shoot with Khan and several wrestlers, which was done before Hikaru Shida dropped the AEW Women’s World Title to Britt Baker, and before Darby Allin dropped the AEW TNT Title to Miro.

Khan commented on competing with WWE. “I don’t want to be the next ‘blank’ wrestling company of the past—fill in the blank,” Khan said of promotions WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon vanquished over the years. “We love wrestling of the past, wrestling of the present and wrestling of the future… That’s what gives us a great chance to retain and gain audience share.”

Khan also said he’s not worried about WWE, but he would rather recreate the heyday of the WCW vs. WWE Monday Night Wars than have a choke hold on pro wrestling like McMahon has for 20 years. Khan touted how AEW’s fans are satisfied, and TNT is satisfied.

“There’s no reason why there only needs to be one wrestling company,” Khan said. “The wrestling business is hotter now than it’s been in a long time.”

The article referred to Khan as a “skinny stats geek who operates more with a smile than a scowl,” and noted how he moderated internet wrestling message boards as a teen growing up in Chicago, and was known to dress for Halloween as WWE Hall of Famer Randy Savage, well into adulthood. As a fan, Khan was waiting for the chance to re-imagine the pro wrestling that he loved. The “Dynamite” name was picked by Khan more than 20 years ago as he sketched out potential episodes in his junior high notebook. Khan was also a fan of WCW, and said he’s glad WCW failed because it led to AEW succeeding.

“I’m glad that WCW failed because it created a vacancy for us to come in and succeed,” Khan said, “but it made it a fairly bleak period for the wrestling business.”

It was noted that Khan started with AEW with a major investment from his father, billionaire Shahid Khan, which was reported to be up to $100 million. The first three months of AEW Dynamite airing on TNT were successful enough to secure a four-year, $175 million deal with WarnerMedia. Tony said his faather encouraged his passion for pro wrestling, even if he didn’t quite understand it. Shahid’s first investment into Tony’s obsession was a father-son trip to Philadelphia in August 1996 to watch ECW at the legendary ECW Arena, a reward for 13 year old Tony after he agreed to take the entrance exam and enroll in the University of Illinois Laboratory High School.

“My dad couldn’t believe what he was seeing,” Khan said of the trip to ECW. “He was like, ‘This is a mix between an underground rock show and a cult.’”

It was noted that Tony continued watching WWE while at the University of Illinois, and then as he worked at a biofuels company. His father followed his own dream of NFL ownership and through other ventures, amassed an estimated $8 billion fortune. By 2018, Tony knew former WWE stars like Chris Jericho and Cody Rhodes would be free agents by the end of the year, and he would have a chance to lay the groundwork for AEW, if he just had tens of millions of dollars. Shahid reluctantly agreed with Tony’s idea.

Shahid told Forbes that he did not think AEW was a good idea at first, but he knew he was leaving Tony and his sister a lot of money, and felt like they should “blow some of that” money while he was still alive. “I absolutely didn’t think this was a good idea,” Shahid said. “But I told Tony, ‘Look, when I’m dead and gone, I’m going to be leaving you and your sister a lot of money. Why don’t you blow some of that while I’m alive?’”

Forbes noted that the $43.75 million AEW received from TNT in 2020 made up the largest share of its revenue. Khan said he expects AEW’s wrestling division to be profitable this year as pay-per-view numbers are growing along with ticket sales, plus revenue from the new TV deal with WarnerMedia for Rampage, which will premiere in August. It was also revealed that AEW’s eight-figure investment in video game development will keep the company in the red and not profitable for now.

AEW Executive Vice President Cody Rhodes was also interviewed for the piece. Cody first met Tony at a Jacksonville Jaguars NFL game in 2018. Cody said he’d heard pitches for pro wrestling companies before, but not in the owner’s suite of a NFL stadium. Tony then flew an associate to Japan, where Cody was working for NJPW. Cody’s contract with Tony was finalized at that time. He was promised that a check would be in the mail the next day, if he signed, and it was. Cody said his new boss is all walk.

“It’s really special to see how commanding he is without being demanding,” Cody said. “Wrestlers are all talk. He’s all walk.”

Cody noted how AEW does not have a writer’s room like WWE, and claimed AEW’s in-ring promos are not scripted. “It’s not written as if it’s a soap opera,” Cody said. “Tony hired some of the best wrestlers in the world and he doesn’t change who they are.”