Tony Khan on NXT’s Move to Tuesdays, AEW Competing with NXT, First House Show, TNT, Shaq, & More

PWInsider held a recent interview with AEW CEO Tony Khan and some of the topics discussed included NXT’s move to Tuesdays, lessons learned from competing with NXT, AEW’s upcoming first-ever house show event, TNT not being happy with non-advertised surprise debuts, Shaquille O’Neal, and more.

On the topic of if NXT moving to Tuesdays will lead to changes to the goals and direction for AEW Dynamite, Khan stated:

“That’s a great question. I have a stacked show planned for this week and I have another stacked show planned for next week when we’re unopposed by a wrestling competition. We’ll have some stories this week that are going to be very interesting and are going to lead people, my hope is, wanting to come back and watch next week’s show. I believe there might be some wrestling fans who might have not watched the show before and are going to want to come check it out in the next couple of weeks. So I think having Mike Tyson on the show this week is a great way to bring some attention to the wrestlers and our big matches and big stories this week and we’re going to have a really, really strong card the next couple of weeks. We have a great roster and there’s no reason we shouldn’t have great cards every week. We’ve consistently been doing big matches every Wednesday and I think now’s a great time to pour some gasoline on the whole situation and create a blaze.”

On the topic of the lessons learned from AEW competing head-to-head with WWE’s NXT brand, Khan stated:

“I think it’s a great, great question but I think it would be a better question to ask me after this week. We’re opposed one more week, tomorrow’s a big deal and I think we get through tomorrow and next time I’d love to answer this question because I’ve learned a lot from this competition. I’ll be honest, the low point for us was definitely December 2019, and you talk about us being opposed/unopposed – we were unopposed January 1st, we were opposed by a clip show. And the show we did on January 1st , 2020 was the show that really changed things for us. The pandemic changed the world, but before we all knew what the pandemic was, January 1st, 2020 – we changed our own destiny. We went out and did the best show we could possibly do that night and took advantage of no new competition – no new matches, just a clip show. Cody and Darby tore down the house and they had a story that kept going throughout 2020. Moxley and Trent had a great match on the show, that led to Jericho offering Moxley the car and a huge step in the story of Moxley being offered a spot in the Inner Circle, that of course led to Revolution and Jon winning the championship from Chris. We had a great 4 way women’s match, planting the seeds, I remember being backstage with Britt that day – Kenny had mentioned around the holidays that Britt should turn, and I felt the same way – I talked to Britt that day and she went out that night knowing that’s where she was going and had a great 4 way match and they pulled a great number too. The main event was Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks on the same team and they were wrestling the Lucha Brothers and PAC before they became known as the death triangle. That match was really important also, that match did a great number and that show did a great number. We changed our own destiny that night and never looked back. We’ve changed a lot – I feel like we’ve come out stronger for it and we’ve done very well for ourselves the week’s we’ve gone head to head, but I’ve also learned a lot from the weeks we’ve been effectively unopposed, such as the one I just mentioned, or say the week after All Out where Brodie Lee and Dustin Rhodes tore the house down in the TNT Title match and did a great audience for that show in September of 2020.”

On the topic of AEW’s upcoming first-ever house show event called The House Always Wins, Khan stated:

“I am open to doing more house shows. This is an experiment, it felt like a great week for us to do it where we have the whole crew available to us and we got a really good house for Dynamite this week, we have a great crowd, and with the recent sales of Dynamite, tickets have trended really well, Revolution did very well, the weather’s been great, the fans have been great, we wanted to do something special for our fans here in Jacksonville. The fans in Jacksonville have been heard around the world and what they’ve done through the pandemic has been really special because we started doing shows here in August, and week in and week out the fans here are so supportive and not only have they have they helped the wrestlers and the matches and AEW, us, our show, but fans around the world have enjoyed the show more because of the people in Jacksonville. There’s people all over America, Canada, England, Europe, TNT Africa, and all the great places we’re at, in South America, it’s like…we’ve been able to take advantage of the great support we’ve had from the fans in Jacksonville. There’s moments like when Darby won the TNT Title from Cody at Full Gear, when the Young Bucks won the tag team titles that night at Full Gear from FTR, at Winter Is Coming when Kenny won the title in not the cleanest fashion at all from Mox and when Sting debuted the crowd being there was such a huge, important part of it, having well over 1,000 fans. Of course, the Brodie Lee memorial show. Thank you so much to all the fans who were there who were heard around the world and the chants for Brodie, the support all night, we had over 1,000 people again for that. They’re a real wrestling crowd and they’ve helped through the pandemic and nobody else in America had that. Nobody else in America consistently had that support of 1,000 people give or take, recently with vaccines we’ve expanded to 20% capacity outdoor shows to 25%, done close to 1,300 people for Revolution and the Brodie memorial and shows like that, it’s just been great support and I knew these fans would support a house show and the economics of wrestling really changed and the cost of putting on shows is higher than it used to be and we have a lot of top talent that already work their asses off on Dynamite, Elevation and Dark for us, but this is a week where we have a really big crew in town, we were going to do a really good number for Dynamite and it felt like we could just stay here in our base and there would be a lot of fans that would want to come here and see the show. So it made a lot of sense and we’re on pace to do a great house and again have over 1,000 people at Daily’s Place on Friday. For some of the young wrestlers, in particular to me, this is a great chance for them, some of them haven’t had a chance to wrestle in front of a crowd before the pandemic and really through the pandemic the opportunity to do so has been very limited, so it’s a great chance for some of our young wrestlers – Jade Cargill, Dante Martin, Cesar Bononi, among others, to get experience in front of live crowds. For many of our veterans, they love doing it, it’s fun, it’s a big perk of the job for them.”

On the topic of Chris Jericho’s recent comments about TNT not wanting AEW’s big surprise debuts to be unadvertised for ratings reasons, Khan stated:

“It’s a mixed bag..I wouldn’t say that’s exactly how it happened. Some of that, maybe through different..point being, I don’t think that’s exactly how the conversation…I know, because I was the one who had it, that’s not exactly how the conversation with TNT went but there’s a balance between announcing things in advance like we’ve done with Mike Tyson coming in for this week or with Paul Wight coming in, telling fans in advance when something’s coming or surprises that came out of nowhere like when Sting showed up. And I think that’s a great balance to have and I think we’ll be doing both. So with Mike we announced in advance but I would never, and let me make it clear, TNT never said, “Don’t do surprises.” They thought that was great and they’ve had a huge reaction to Sting and in doing the announcement with Paul they were excited to do one with a press release and it was a great strategy, we did a great number and it was a huge interest and it built huge search traffic and it built a lot of buzz and now Paul is a big part of our family and for everybody that’s been involved in Elevation, he’s brought a lot more eyeballs on Elevation, it’s been a huge, huge success for us. We just did by far our best month ever on YouTube, the views for Elevation have been a huge success but also, that’s only one part of what Paul does here, on screen is that. Behind the scenes, he’s been a huge, huge presence, mentoring young talent, giving notes to all the wrestlers on Elevation on their matches, on what he thinks they can improve or what he thinks they should keep doing and where their strong points are. And also, I don’t want people to think…Paul’s going to, Paul’s going to wrestle [laughs]. I really think this was a great way for Paul to come in because you’re going to get…there’s a little bit of that mob mentality in all things now, and wrestling is no exception, and for Paul to come in this way – Elevation, he’s elevating young talent, he’s added tons of value for the young wrestlers, he’s put thousands and thousands of new eyeballs on young wrestlers that are going to be making new fans and it’s a great opportunity for them, he’s mentoring them on the show, he’s not taking anybody’s spot, he’s adding value to the young wrestlers. If anybody says that Paul Wight came in and took some young guy’s spot and is holding back the young wrestlers, that is crap. That is the opposite of what is happening, that is not the case and that would be an example of that backwards mentality that some people have. You have to actually look at how people are being utilized and in Paul’s case, he’s helping elevate the talent. Now there will come a time when it’ll make a lot of sense for Paul to get involved in a wrestling storyline. He’s one of the most recognizable athletes in the world, he’s one of the most recognizable big men in the world and he’s going to have a huge, huge, huge presence here but the way he’s come in, the way he’s helped elevate the talent, and the way that young wrestlers are benefiting from Paul being here, nobody can deny.”

On the topic of the difficulties of being a booker and the future hour of AEW programming, Khan stated:

“It’s very difficult, that’s why you can’t take for granted the value of new property like Elevation and being able to have over a million fans watch the first episode and consistently having these big audiences, close to a million, for a show that features a lot of our wrestlers and gives them a chance to go out and have great matches there too. But for Dynamite, it’s really a challenge every week, absolutely, with such a great roster, but it’s a good challenge. I mean, you want to have depth on the roster where injuries or anything else that can happen, you’re always set with great people here at every show. If anybody ever gets sick or gets hurt, we’ve always been able to step up with great replacements and consistently at times we’ve been able to use that to our advantage. If someone is out for any reason, we put a new opponent in there and turn it into a new, great story. Eddie Kingston benefited, I think. Look, Eddie Kingston was going to get to wrestle Mox anyway, it was going that way, I think it was very obvious when I put Eddie and Lance as the final 2 guys in the battle royal, that I had plans for both of them. But it wasn’t supposed to be Eddie versus Mox yet, when Lance and Brian, both completely separately at home, got sick. That was a great example of being able to have a deep roster and make a change. Going forward, I’m really excited about the 3rd hour on TNT that’s going to launch this year in 2021. That’s another reason why I’ve put together such a deep roster because in addition to Dynamite and our YouTube shows, Dark and Dark Elevation, we’re going to have another hour on TNT where I want to have the top stars and I don’t intend for that to be a backseat hour. I think it’s going to be every bit as strong as Dynamite. I want it to be one of our flagship shows.”

On the topic of AEW’s plans to improve in 2021, Khan stated:

“Well thanks for saying that. I guess I would like to see us make some new wrestling fans. I think there are a lot of wrestling fans who like AEW, and I think among the world of wrestling fans, we have a chance to continue building an audience and getting fans to check out the show now because we won’t be opposed by another wrestling show next week. I think we’ll have some new fans coming in then I really hope, checking us out, and I hope to make some new wrestling fans in general, fans of AEW and then they can check out other companies and find what they like in wrestling, and find the wrestlers and the moves and the stories they like, and I just want to make new fans of wrestling. I think there are a lot of fans of wrestling and we can still make AEW fans watching our show, so I think I’ve always been focused on getting a bigger piece of the wrestling pie and I hope we can also make some new fans of wrestling and I have a feeling that anyone’s that made it this deep into this interview is probably a really big wrestling fan, probably might have checked the show out already and that’s why I like to do interviews with you, Mike, and with the wrestling journalists, to talk to the hardcore wrestling fans and tell them I really think about you, I really care about your opinion and I really care about what you think about wrestling and your opinions. We all are the same and your ideas matter and to the people that aren’t listening to this, there’s people that might not know most wrestling sites like PWInsider or they’ve never watched wrestling, those are the people I also want to get to.”

On the topic of Shaquille O’Neal’s disappearing act during the March 3rd episode of Dynamite, Khan stated:

“He disappeared because he wants to come back. I said this the other day, and quotes get pulled without context and I’m sure this one, an aggregator might take this one and pull it without context but I said Shaq’s the greatest celebrity wrestler ever when you look at all the factors. His performance was huge, he did box office for us, he pulled the ratings in such a massive way and pulled one of the biggest quarter hours we’ve seen, not just since the pandemic but ever for AEW. He generated a mass amount of mainstream interest, absolutely brought in people who hadn’t seen the show before but moreover, the amount of respect, the level of respect he showed to the craft of wrestling, to the wrestlers,he spent months getting ready for his match, he was the opposite…I can’t say enough about him, I’d be underselling if I said he was the opposite of greedy, he was the opposite of trying to look after himself, he gave back to the business and he was so respectful to the other wrestlers. He went around to every single person and said to them, “I have so much respect for what the wrestlers do. I just wanted to make everybody look good and I didn’t want to embarrass anybody with my performance and what I was doing out here and I hope I did OK.” He was just so great. I’ve never seen anybody non-wrestler, let alone one of the biggest stars in the world come in and act the way he did, and he did it all as a friend. That’s the amazing part and he came and he was so kind and on top of it all, before he went out, he’s like, “Great, I’d like to come back,” and I was like, “I would kill to have you back, that is amazing. What do you want to do?” He’s like, “Well, this ambulance, just when you load it up, I’ll be gone. Then nobody knows where I went and I’ll come back.” and I was like, “Sure, that’s great …

I was in his trailer and he told me he’s fine going into the ambulance, he was going to do everything…he had worked so hard on all this, but then when it came time to show the ambulance, when they go and look inside it, “I don’t want to be there, I want to be gone, I left the ambulance, nobody knows where I am, I’m going to leave and some day I’ll come back,” and pun intended, that was a slam dunk idea, a brilliant idea and people are still talking about it, which proves it was a great idea.”