AEW President and CEO Tony Khan was interviewed on the latest episode of AEW Unrestricted and described the process of putting together the AEW shows that have been taped over the past few months. It was reported that around 22-26 matches were taped, and Khan talked about how he wanted to keep in mind the safety of the wrestlers. Khan also described Cody Rhodes’ reaction to plan soon after Cody had his match.
“I tried my best to tape the matches so that we can take care of the wrestlers. First and foremost protecting the wrestlers, you couldn’t ask people to do so many matches back-to-back-to-back,” Khan said. “Also, [we] wanted to be sensitive to people that wanted to get out and get back on the road Thursday night vs. people who are going to stay over or lived around Atlanta, and it was basically putting a taping schedule. There were a couple of different ways these shows could have aired. I knew that this could possibly be a month worth of stuff. It could be 6-8 weeks worth of stuff if we need to rely more on video packages. Thankfully, it never really came to that especially this past week’s show, I think it was one of the most action-packed shows that we’ve had in terms of awesome stuff, but as you guys know from being there and all over the shows, it was a challenging 24 hours putting it all together and going to people asking, ‘would you be comfortable doing this?’ It’s a lot a day, but everybody was really excited about it. The group of people that were there were really hungry.
“I told him I was gonna put together enough stuff to get us through. I went to him after, and he said, ‘wow, this looks awesome.’ It was a cool thing. We were really proud. Not only did we get through these but these last few weeks, we’ve put together a lot of great episodes. It was really nice moment between us. Cody is a historian of wrestling, and I think he really appreciated the DIY spirit of the whole thing. We were trying to make great shows with what we had because we were really in a tough situation.”
Khan revealed that Chris Jericho had called Khan soon after things were shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Khan discussed how he was putting his faith in the stories that he put together and how Jericho had volunteered to fly over and do commentary.
“A ton of it that day came together really late,” Khan said. “On Wednesday night, when we finished the live show, let’s be honest, we didn’t know if Chris was coming in the next day. So Chris called me after we finished the live show and said, ‘what are you doing?’ I told him we’re about to start taping matches and gonna get some sleep and just gonna tape matches, and everybody is gonna rotate. We’re gonna get enough stuff to get us through this and with great shows however we’re gonna do this. I got a plan, and I started telling him some of this stuff.
“I’m really counting on Orange Cassidy against Jimmy Havoc to pull a rating, and it’s not like outta nowhere. It’s a story. I told him these things. I’m really counting on this no DQ match and boy did Best Friends, Kip and Jimmy really deliver. And I told him what was going on with the tournament. I told him the hottest thing in wrestling right now, by the time we get through this, is gonna be Lance Archer. I told him these stories and what we’re gonna do, and he’s like this is gonna be great. Chris said, right before I got into much detail, he was like I’m coming, and I was like that’s insane because I wasn’t sure. Everyone’s on the fence. It’s a tough time. Chris said I’m gonna come, and I’m gonna do commentary on the whole thing.”
Khan admitted that Jericho was not in his plans for commentary. Khan had told wrestlers and staff that they had no obligation to come to the tapings, and he had planned for Colt Cabana and Shawn Spears to do commentary since they had experience doing it before on Dark and Dynamite.
“To be honest, I didn’t have anybody to do it, and Colt and Spears were wrestling a ton as it was, and if you talk about stuff that would have been challenging for continuity, I was gonna have Colt and Spears split it up,” Khan revealed. “I was gonna have Spear do a lot of it, and I was gonna have Colt because we had very few people there. They would have been great. Colt has been great on commentary, and Spears has been great. They’ve been great on Dark. Colt’s done some stuff and has been great on Dynamite too, but Chris is one of the greatest of all time and also now, Chris is one of the best commentators of all time.”
Khan addressed the lost revenue from not holding live events. He credits the fans as being part of their product and wishes they were there for the bigger matches that aired in front of a small crowd.
“What’s great for me is that we’ve been able to recreate an audience out there,” Khan stated. “We’ve had some semblance of an audience. By far the worst thing is losing our fans. Our fans are the best thing about our company. We talk about all the wrestlers that have been missing, but we’ve been missing all of these fans.
“You go from 12,000 tickets in Newark sold and once having 10,000 people out there to now 10 people around the ring, but 10 is much better than none. Wrestling in front of your peers and reffing in front of a crowd, I think it makes a difference. I’m a big fan of the territory, the studio wrestling and the small audiences. Frankly, those are bigger audiences than what we’ve had but at least in some kind of ball park to what we’re doing, and I’m glad there were people out there to watch Cody and Darby and then Lance Archer vs. Dustin to see these matches and give it some energy, but I would have loved it if we had those matches in front of 10,000 people.”
Khan talked more about the plans that AEW had. He also said that AEW was in a good place after Revolution and how they were expected to do really good business in-between Revolution and Double or Nothing.
“In fact, those matches would have been on schedule if we done that there in Houston,” Khan said. “You mention the gates, like I said, I’ve tried to do the right thing by people. Things were going so well for us. They are going well. I’ve been counting our blessings, we’re doing really well, and the situation here is good. I’m so blessed we signed a long extension with our partners in TNT. We’ve talked a lot about what it took to put the show on, but let’s be honest with why we’re doing it. For TNT, putting on great shows is our revenue stream right now because we’re not doing the big events. In 2019, per show, the number one attendance in the world, in the wrestling business, was AEW. Now we don’t do so many shows. We’re just doing the one show a week compared to several shows a week, and we don’t do house shows, so it’s on a very small basis, but last year, we led the world in per show attendance. So we get really good crowds, and we were on our best run. The run through Revolution is the best stuff we’ve done. I love Revolution, and I loved where we were. It felt like we were on such a high. Then a couple of weeks later, obviously, the shut down happened, but like I said, we’re in a great position because we have this partnership with TNT that’s such a great partnership.
“We were on a really good run. What was happening in between Revolution and Double or Nothing, this was going to be the best run of business we’ve ever had, and we’ve lost millions and millions of dollars in live events. I don’t take it lightly, but I can’t take it out on the people that work here because it’s not their fault. We’ve really not let anybody go here as a company, and look, I’m gonna be honest, there’s gonna come a day where somebody, we’re gonna have to, but now is not the time. This is a hard time for everybody. It’s a hard time for us, but I have to look at the bigger picture. In the big picture, we’re in such good shape. We’re the second healthiest wrestling company in the world, and that’s a really great place to be. And we haven’t let a single person go to do it.”
AEW is set to alternate between live shows and taped shows, and Khan admits while they can’t take back those lost shows, they’ll still make an effort to try to go back once they are allowed to have fans back in arenas. He also talked about how AEW has not let anyone go and how they have supported some indie wrestlers. Khan assured that AEW will still take precautions to test people and maintain social distancing rules.
“And I’d love to have those millions of dollars and the gates back, but they’re not coming back. Eventually, we’ll do shows in these cities and do great, but these weeks are gone. I have to face that. We were on such a hot run where we had Rochester. It was going to be one of our most profitable shows,” Khan said. “It was Brodie Lee’s hometown. We got Matt Hardy and Brodie Lee coming in. We’re doing Blood and Guts the next week. The biggest gate. The biggest crowd. Then going into April, I was so excited. We had such good business heading into April. Again, this hot run between Revolution and Double or Nothing. We’re were gonna do Milwaukee, St. Louis, and we’re gonna get back to these great wrestling markets. I can’t wait to play these cities.
“To do Revolution just near my home, that was one of the best nights I’ve ever had. We’ll get back to great times like that, but we had a run of Milwaukee, St. Louis, Boston, Philly, Houston this past month. We’ve had none of that. We had this huge month coming up. We were gonna announce we’re doing our first shows in California in LA. Obviously, Double or Nothing to be back in the MGM Grand was so huge for all of us and it was going to be our one-year anniversary there. We’re still gonna have a great Double or Nothing. Tonight, you’re gonna learn more about the card.
“I’m really excited with what we are doing with Double or Nothing. I wish it was in front of the thousands of people, but I hope everybody will still support us and watch the show because it’s gonna be the best wrestling show you’re gonna get on PPV I promise in this climate. The best show we can do I promise. We’ve been trying to support the wrestlers and also support a lot of independent wrestlers by bringing in a lot of independent talent over the last couple of months. Trying to do the right thing and doing this show we’ve been trying to do everything responsibly for tonight’s show. We’ll be testing people upon arrival. [We’ll be] keeping people isolated and practicing social distancing backstage and around the show.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit AEW Unrestricted with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.