“Well, at first, it was really about building a relationship before it was about dollars and cents or appearances, and the pandemic was unique, in many ways and it’s a great tragedy,” Khan said. “It did afford a lot of Americans and people around the world with some time on their hands, and it was unusual for me to have any time on my hands, but I spent more time at home.
“And I was working and finding different ways to work from home, and one thing I had done was connect with friends, and text people, and try to reach out to people I hadn’t talked to in a while, and build relationships and rebuild relationships. And with Punk, we just talked a lot in the pandemic and became friends.
“We’re talking about wrestling, talking about ideas, and he was watching Dynamite through the pandemic. And at first, really, we didn’t have an audience. We were keeping the show going, and instead of doing an empty arena, I took all the out of work wrestlers and wrestlers who weren’t appearing on the show, and I brought a lot of independent people in who didn’t have anything else really going and put them at ringside as the crowd. And then we were running outdoor shows.”
Khan has called Punk’s debut “the biggest thing AEW has done.” He revealed what Punk had asked Khan prior to his debut.
“We both knew the perfect way for him to come back was in a packed arena, and it would be an unforgettable moment,” Khan stated. “It was something we planned out, and he asked about the United Center and I called them with my head of live events. We were the only two people that knew I was calling them and managed to keep that booking a secret for a really long time, that I had the United Center booked.
“And then when it was time to announce the event, I went back to Punk with the idea of The First Dance, which he loved, but it was really his idea to come to the United Center, and then it put the challenge on me to find a way to create a special event to reintroduce him to the wrestling world.
“And that’s how we did it all and really, it wasn’t as much for either of us about money and dates and all that stuff because I think we really wanted to work together for a long time and had a lot of time to get all the X’s and O’s and all the T’s and I’s cross and dotted. So it’s been a really good relationship, I think, and he changed our business. He’s done so much for AEW in the short time has been here already.”
Khan is well known for his pro wrestling fandom and his near encyclopedic knowledge of the business. Hood asked Khan what wrestling looks like at it’s best.
“I don’t think there’s one perfect wrestling show, and I watch all different kinds of wrestling products,” Khan noted. “Through the ’80s, wrestling looked different all over the country. In the territory, through the ’70s and ’80s, they’re all different versions of wrestling, and they were good stuff, different places. Whether it was the Crockett’s in the Carolina’s, Georgia Championship Wrestling, Championship Wrestling from Florida, Mid South Wrestling, World Class Championship Wrestling in Texas, there’s all these great shows, and I’m a huge fan of Memphis wrestling as well.
“And then a lot of the Memphis wrestling influence spread to the Mid South area when Jim Cornette, the Midnight Express, The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, Bill Dundee and a bunch of others from Memphis migrated to the Mid South area working for Bill Watts, and that really strengthen that show. You see companies change and transform their identity, and I think AEW now is a very different company from when we started. Wrestling, it ebbs and flows. It’s at its best when the fans are really excited about it, and the so called Attitude Era, the Monday Night Wars, that’s maybe the all-time peak for business revenues.
“And now we live in a world where business is more efficient, and the TV business and streaming is much more efficient. There are new revenue streams, there are new ways to capture fans, and even though that linear TV audiences isn’t as big as what it was, there are all kinds of business opportunities that didn’t exist 20 years ago, where we can really heat the business up. But the most important thing is perception and the fans caring about the show, caring about who wins and loses and caring about the matches and the wrestlers. We have that right now, and so what it looks like, I think, is fairly subjective. As long as the people really believe in it, care about it and we have that happening right now.”
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit Tuesday Wrestling Tuesday with Jonathan Hood with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.