Head Honcho Tony Khan Reflects on All Elite Wrestling’s ‘Best Year Ever Yet’

Tony Khan with CM Punk

Tony Khan believes 2021 was All Elite Wrestling’s best year yet. The company head runs down record-breaking pay-per-view buys, strong viewership, and expanding programming with TNT by adding Rampage as metrics. He predicts more success for the young promotion in 2022 as the flagship weekly series AEW Dynamite shifts networks to TBS starting January 5. 

“It’s awesome because we’ll still have the same tremendous penetration nationwide we’ve had from our great TV partners,” the CEO and president explained. “We also now will have significantly fewer sports timeshifts and preemptions. We will be back to primetime nationwide. There are some big benefits for this move.” 

Here Khan looks back on the historic year that was and his hopes for the future. 

Tony Khan

(Credit: AEW)

What have you learned about yourself as the head of AEW in 2021?

Tony Khan: I learned personal relationships I’ve tried to build the last several years in the wrestling business are very valuable. CM Punk had never worked for AEW until August, but I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years trying to build a good relationship with him. I really value the friendship we built. We stayed in touch pretty regularly through the pandemic. I think we built a friendship where it was pretty clear to both of us we wanted CM Punk in AEW. I don’t think it would have been possible without the personal relationship we built.

Adam Cole is the boyfriend of Dr. Britt Baker. Dr. Britt Baker is a world champion here and one of our top stars and someone I have a great relationship with. I think Adam knew he could trust me and that I was being truthful and forthcoming when it came to me wanting to have him here in AEW. It’s going to be huge for us to debut Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, and Kyle O’Reilly as a trio on Dynamite. We spent a good amount of time on TNT going head-to-head with that trio [when they were on WWE NXT]. It’s very cool they are in AEW now. 

You’ve had so many big-name acquisitions this year. With only so many spots to fill, have you become a little pickier when it comes to deciding who will be a good fit for the company?

I do think I have to be more discerning than ever in talent acquisition because we have such a strong roster. I was aggressively expanding with the launch of Rampage. We made some big signings in the past including CM Punk. Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole, Ruby Soho, Thunder Rosa, Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish, Andrade El Idolo, Malakai Black. Christian Cage and many others. We’ve also continued our partnerships with great international companies like New Japan Pro Wrestling and Lucha Libre AAA. We have a lot of great talent working, but it’s time for me to be more discerning than ever in terms of acquisitions. 

TCA19_All Elite Wrestling_2762

(Credit: Maarten de Boer)

Can we see some more talent coming into next year?

Yes. We will continue expanding the roster. Absolutely, there will be more people coming into AEW. 

Fans are so passionate about the women’s division and want more from it. How do you feel the TBS championship will play into taking more steps forward?

We had a great tournament for the title. Thunder Rosa, Ruby Soho emerged as big free agents signed. Jade Cargill is widely considered the rookie of the year. All of them represent huge strides made from how we started. We also saw some of the original talents grow so much since we began. Britt Baker was voted most improved in the world. She is on top of the world as the world champion. We’ve had wrestlers come into AEW and get a lot better since they’ve been here.

I think Tay Conti has dramatically improved. Her title match with Britt Baker from Full Gear was the best of Tay Conti’s career. She is only going to keep getting better. Penelope Ford is someone who has improved so much since AEW launched. She is one of our original women’s wrestlers. She is emblematic of how much better our women’s wrestling is than when we started. Tay’s partner Anna Jay has also improved so much. She was a rookie when she began. We’ve had a renaissance in our women’s division in recent months and the past year and I think it will continue to improve. With the TBS championship, we’re assured we’re having a great first champion. 

Speaking to talent over the years, many have said how you genuinely care for people who work for you.

I really care about the people who work here. There is a lot I am especially close with. I really care about Jon Moxley. Not just because he is a great star and a great wrestler and has been great business for us and huge box office. But because he is a human being and my friend. I don’t just care about people when they are in the ring on top making money for us. It’s 24/7, 365 that I have to be there for people, and this company has to be there for people. It can’t just be the good times. When people have issues, whether it’s substance abuse problems or family problems, or just need the time away from work. I try to accommodate the best I can in every case because it’s the right thing to do. 

What are some of the things you do to decompress and make sure you are taking care of yourself?

I try to watch a little bit of TV and exercise when I can. I try to relax when I can. I don’t get much time for it these days. I’ll be working 19 and 20 hours and then come home to get some sleep, and all I want to do is sit down to watch an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm. You just don’t have time. Probably my favorite shows ever are The Sopranos, The Larry Sanders Show, Seinfeld, Arrested Development. I really liked the last season of Arrested Development. I probably liked the fourth season more than most. I also like South Park, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Succession

What are your New Year’s resolutions?

I’m excited for AEW to go back to the West Coast. We did our original show Double or Nothing 2019 in Las Vegas. We are very optimistic that we are going to be making our return and planning for Double or Nothing. I want to continue to bring AEW to new cities and make sure we go back to the great places we haven’t been to since 2019. Make sure to keep putting on great matches on TV every week. One thing we try to do every week gives great wrestling to the fans. I really cherish this time when there are so many great wrestlers putting on great matches on a regular basis. In that sense, it’s a great time to be a fan. 

AEW Dynamite: New Year’s Smash, December 29, 8/7c, TNT

AEW Dynamite, Wednesdays, 8/7c, TBS starting January 5

AEW Rampage, Fridays, 10/9c, TNT

AEW Battle of the Belts, January 8, 8/7c, TNT