Tony Khan launched All Elite Wrestling in 2019, and it is now the biggest competitor to WWE.
Khan has pulled this off thanks to weekly TV shows, sold-out pay-per-views, and working over 80 hours a week.
Khan tells Insider about AEW's success, and the recent firing of one of his biggest stars, CM Punk.
It's a pretty good bet that Tony Khan is working right now.
Yes, the 40-year-old businessman is riding on the success of his billionaire father, Shahid Khan, as an executive on sports teams that his father owns, like the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL and the Premier League soccer club Fulham.
But Khan is doing everything in his power to dispel any notion that he's a nepo baby.
That's certainly the case when it comes to his greatest passion: being the owner and CEO of All Elite Wrestling (AEW).
A fanatic of pro wrestling since he was a kid, Khan loves it even as an adult, recalling watching wrestling in his office in Jacksonville, Florida, while plowing through analytics on the Jaguars' next opponent.
In 2019, he took his fandom to the next level when he convinced his father to front him the money to launch AEW. The result has been a worthwhile one as AEW has gradually grown in popularity to compete with the biggest wrestling company in the world, WWE.
Khan has pulled this off by running three weekly television shows — "Dynamite" on Wednesdays, "Rampage" on Fridays, and "Collision" on Saturdays — plus sold-out pay-per-view events. The one he did in August, "All In," at London's famed Wembley Stadium, broke attendance records.
But we'll let Khan tell you about it. If there's one thing he's taken from the wrestling business, it's the art of self-promotion.
Whether it's the undrafted players he's signed for the Jaguars, the moves he's made for Fulham, or being the "iron man" of AEW — he's never missed a show in four years — Khan has no shame in bragging.
However, unlike WWE founder and executive chairman Vince McMahon, when Khan does it, it doesn't come off as egotistical, but genuine joy.
Perhaps it's his baby-faced aura. When Insider speaks to him over a Zoom call, he's clean-shaven, wearing a Jaguars polo shirt, and is fully engaged with his big brown eyes and bigger grin. He seems like a guy who is living his best life.
Yet, that doesn't mean he's not dealing with challenges. At the record-breaking "All In" pay-per-view in August, a backstage altercation between wrestlers Jack Perry and CM Punk prior to the opening match almost derailed the entire show. There are also unsubstantiated reports that Punk made a beeline for Khan.
The incident led to Khan firing Punk, a beloved wrestler whom Khan brought out of retirement to come to AEW in 2021, a week later. You could see the distress the decision caused Khan when he addressed Punk's hometown crowd in Chicago with a passionate explanation about why he did it before an episode of "Collision" on September 2.
Here, Khan talks to Insider about how he goes about juggling all his jobs, his hopes of getting his AEW stars to branch out beyond wrestling (one even wants to climb Mount Everest), and what it was like telling the AEW fans that CM Punk was fired.
You do so much. With the NFL season starting, how much of your day-to-day is AEW?
I have worked 80 to 100 hours a week for a very long time. I just love the stuff I do so much. I wouldn't want to do anything other than football and wrestling. Wrestling was a hobby of mine for a long time, it was my vice. Now, I don't have much of a vice because I'm doing both.
But a lot of the work I do in the NFL, we have a huge staff. When we started the analytics department, it was just me and now there's a bunch of people and it's grown and grown, so I don't have to be in the office anywhere near 80 hours a week anymore.
I still give my reports during the week; I've done this week already. There's a lot of work in the transfer world for Fulham. And then there's a lot happening with AEW, with the ratings being up.
So what do you do to relax these days?
I don't. I'll watch a lot of English football.
So even when you're taking a break, you're not. Does that at all have to do with you trying to prove that even though your father owns the teams you work for, and helped you financially to launch AEW, you have put in the work?
No one works harder than my dad, and I'm honestly very lucky because he's the hardest-working person I've ever seen. And here I am, I get to work on the stuff I love. But I've worked hard to get to a position where I can work on things I love all the time.
But someone can love something and not put in 80-hour weeks...
80 hours is nothing. That was before "Collision." Before that, 80 hours was a good week. I'm way past that now.
You know, I'm the only person who has never missed an AEW show. We had a referee that had never missed a show until a few weeks ago. He missed a "Collision," so now I'm the one. And, God bless this guy, he made hundreds of shows. "Dynamite" alone, we've done 206 episodes, so that's not counting "Rampage," "Collision," and all the pay-per-views. So now I'm the iron man. But what else am I going to do?
Do what you love, man. "All In" at Wembley was such a success. Do you feel the UK is fertile ground for pro wrestling? Could we see a "Dynamite" or one of the other weekly shows going over there once in a while?
We'll think about that, but I want to keep the biggest focus on "All In." We will return there August 25, 2024, to Wembley Stadium.
So when you go there, you just want it to be "All In" at Wembley?
It's such a special place. I remember standing outside Wembley Stadium with a bunch of the guys; we were walking out of the show, and Oje Hart was with us — Owen Hart's son. In the shadow of Wembley Stadium, as we all walked out, he said: "Pro wrestling took everything from me and I hate it, yet here I am and AEW feels like home to me." It's a moment I'll never forget. It was so perfect to happen there. At Wembley.
The Owen Hart tournament is not just a once-a-year thing, it's really special. They are a part of our crew. To have Christian Cage, Jeff Jarrett, Dustin Rhodes, people who were really close to Owen Hart, it means a lot to people here to continue that legacy.
It sounds like you got into wrestling through seeing Hulk Hogan in episodes of "The A-Team," Sgt. Slaughter doing the intro to "G.I. Joe" episodes... I was a big WWF fan as a kid and didn't know what WCW was until I saw movies like "Over the Top" and "Road House" that starred Terry Funk. Do you think about how to get AEW talent out in pop culture beyond wrestling fandom?
Wow, that's a really cool question. And, yes, that's how I got into wrestling. And I think all the time how we can do more of that.
I always love when people come up to Orange Cassidy and Kris Statlander and talk about how they saw them on an episode of "Floor Is Lava" on Netflix. And you have Chris Jericho being in a bunch of movies. And a number of wrestlers have done music — Brody King is a musician, Darby Allin has worked with a number of musicians. We've brought hip-hop stars like Rick Ross into AEW.
The biggest celebrity crossover has to be when we brought Shaq in. If I were a kid today seeing someone like him do AEW, that would have gotten me into wrestling.
I really am focused on getting AEW stars involved in projects outside of wrestling as much as possible. Darby Allin is actually talking to me about climbing Mount Everest.
Yeah. Darby wants to be the first pro wrestler to climb Mount Everest.
That sounds like a series right there.
Yeah, I think we got something there.
What is your take on the WWE/UFC merger?
It is fascinating. It will be interesting to see what happens in the world of sports, combat sports, and pro wrestling. I love pro wrestling, it's an amazing business. I think there are a lot of really exciting things happening with sports media rights.
I have to ask about the firing of CM Punk. This is a guy you brought out of retirement. You were a huge fan of his. How has it been since "All In," dealing with the decision you had to make?
I can't talk about that. Please ask me another question.
Let me ask this: "Collision" and "All Out" were in Chicago the weekend Punk was fired. That's Punk's hometown but also, Illinois is your home state. What was it like walking out to the top of the ramp and essentially pouring your heart out to that crowd, your fans, as to why you had to fire CM Punk?
Chicago is home to my family. I grew up in Champaign. I've been going to the United Center since it was first built when I was 11. My family was at the show, countless friends, everyone I grew up with. It meant a lot to go out and speak to the fans and be able to put on a great show.
But I'm very curious. Why address the crowd at the top of the ramp and not in the center of the ring?
[Long pause.] You can't see everybody's face from the center of the ring. You have to choose one side of the crowd to face when you're in the ring. And I wanted to be able to see everybody. I felt like, I'm not a wrestler and I don't need to be in the ring, and for this moment, I thought I would just sit down and talk to everybody. That's why I brought out a chair.
And when I was done and walked backstage, the first person I saw was Ricky Steamboat and he said, "That was great, you turned the crowd. You turned them around. That's so hard to do, and you did it." I felt I at least owed that much to the wrestlers and the fans, to go out there and talk to everybody.
AEW's "Dynamite" airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on TBS; "Rampage" airs Fridays at 10 p.m. on TNT; "Collision" airs Saturdays at 8 p.m. on TNT.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Read the original article on Insider