On a recent edition of Le Batard and Friends – South Beach Sessions, Dan Le Batard sat down with AEW President Tony Khan and asked him a few questions regarding WWE. Khan discussed the WWE cuts and explained the reasoning behind them.
“Well, they had a really big roster, and they’ve chosen to try to maximize their profit margins by letting talent go to reduce the amount of cost they have due to talent,” Khan explained. “They had a lot of really good people, and they’re making choices about why people have value to them. I can’t say what number they’re trying to hit, but they’re definitely trying to hit a number there. I think it’s about profitability, and they’re making choices, I’m sure they don’t necessarily want to make, but they’ve let good people go in the process, absolutely.”
Vince McMahon has said that AEW is not their competition, and he and WWE President Nick Khan have noted that everything is competition. Le Batard questioned why Khan would not take a shot at WWE, and Khan talked about the challenges of WCW, the last time WWE had serious competition.
“My predecessor in many ways, we ran the companies very differently, but the last time anybody sat in my seat and was really successful competing with WWE was my friend Eric Bischoff, who was the president of WCW,” Khan said. “Now, we had very different lives and different roles, in some ways, but Eric faced different challenges and what he did is so impressive, and it’s different because he took over a company that already existed, WCW.
“He didn’t own it, but he ran it day to day, and he answered to Ted Turner and Ted Turner was not a hands-on boss. And with all due respect, and seriously, Ted Turner is one of the most important people in the history of the wrestling business. Part of my business plan, when I launched this going to the president of TNT and TBS and going in to the offices with all their executives , was, I told them, if Ted had been 1% as hands on or capable as I am to run a wrestling business, WCW never would have gone out of business.
“But they didn’t really have that strong management from the top. Eric was a great president for the company. He wasn’t the owner. He still answered. There was a disconnect in the business. That was a challenge he faced that I don’t face because I am me. As the owner, the CEO and the person running day to day, the president, I have probably a lot more under one hood.”
Khan continued as he pointed out what Bischoff would do on Nitro that he felt was detrimental to WCW. He noted that this is what he tries to avoid because that’s not who he is.
“The other thing is creatively, Eric was trying to grow a business that was really underperforming and losing money, and he made it, for a time, very profitable,” Khan stated. “He went out and spent a lot of money, but he did a lot of great things, and I guess I have a different outlook because Eric went out and said a lot of stuff that turned a lot of people off, I think, because he was so anti WWE, WWF. He was so anti WWF.
“They beat WWF into your head so much that. The people who don’t even work there, you can’t get them to say WWF. If it hadn’t been beaten in their head, you don’t say that. He was so anti WWF, and if you were a fan of both shows as a kid, and I really liked both shows as a kid, it was hard sometimes because Eric was trashing people you liked. There’s not as much upside for me to go out and do that because I think there’s a lot of people that like those shows, and there’s good stuff there that I like.
“That’s not ever really what I’ve been about. I support all wrestling. I’ll call out stuff I don’t like. no matter where it is, but in general, I’ve been open to work with different people. I try not to be so negative, and I think that’s part of why we’ve been successful. And if Eric could go back and do it again, and maybe not be so anti WWF, I think he might.”
Khan spoke more on WWE, and he talked about how a company like AEW was inevitable with how WWE ran its business and how things were playing out in wrestling. He also discussed the first few months of Dynamite and the work he did to adjust to errors.
“I think I can actually put them over and give them some credit here because they can’t keep every wrestler under their thumb. They just couldn’t do it, and they tried to sign so many people and had cast such a wide net for so long that, inevitably, somebody with money and connections was going to be able to come in and start a wrestling business,” Khan explained. “The disconnect would be they were probably going to have to pass it off to somebody else to run the business. One of the real things I had going here, when we launched this company, was all the institutional knowledge I’d built up over the years. Dynamite is a show I’ve been writing on paper for over 26 years, and Rampage is a show I conceived over 10 years ago.
“I’ve been wanting to do this my whole life and just needed somebody to believe in me, which was TNT / Warner Media. And I don’t think it was really possible to stop me in this case because I would have found a media partner. I would have found wrestlers who wanted to work with me, and I would have been able to launch a show. And I think the first few months of the show, let’s say the first three months of the show, a lot of things I would go back and do over again, but I think we would all say that about the first three months we were doing anything. And a big lesson I learned at the end of 2019, that I made as my new year’s resolution, when we turned the company around, and we haven’t looked back, is that I was gonna, as much as possible, try to get my hands around everything and try to be more organized, basically try to keep on top of everything, especially the booking.
“I didn’t like the way we ended 2019 from a writing, story, structure standpoint, and I was determined that everything we did in 2020 was going to be better than it was. And if you watch the show, it’s amazing, but through the pandemic, I actually think the show got better. And then when we came back with fans, the show is now as good as it’s ever been because I think in terms of the stories, the structure, we got into a really strong place, got really organized during the pandemic. It allowed me to go out and build a lot of wrestling relationships, talk to people I didn’t get to know and become a better more organized wrestling booker.”
Khan continued as he pointed out what many successful wrestling companies have in common. He also spoke on how things fell into place to make AEW happen.
“With all the things at AEW’s disposal, the great talent, the money, the TV relationships, I’d like to think that I can be a very capable CEO / booker, which is really the hallmark of most enduring successful wrestling companies,” Khan pointed out. “There’s been one supreme commander at the top who runs a company and negotiates the contracts, negotiates the TV deals, and the arenas, and figures out who’s wrestling who and books the matches.
“Whether it was Vince, or Fritz Von Erich, Bill Watts, Eddie Graham, so many others, that has been the way it’s been done traditionally and been successful, but there was really nobody else doing that besides Vince for a long time. I don’t think that it’s anything they did. They couldn’t keep every wrestler under contract. Eventually, I was going to be able to build a really strong roster. I think it happened faster than I would have expected, but I do think it’s hard to keep somebody down.
“To think that it would have been so easy to stop AEW from happening or stop a competitor from rising, I just don’t think anybody had really put all the pieces in place. And it’s crazy that it went 20 years, but I think about it every day how fortunate I am that nobody did it. I think about WCW all the time. As a fan, man, it’s hard to watch these shows. At the end, I wish this hadn’t happened, but the truth is, I’m really glad it happened because if WCW had never gone out of business, we wouldn’t be here. So that’s how I look at.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Le Batard and Friends – South Beach Sessions and provide a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription