Tony Khan on Opening Up ‘Forbidden Door’ & How AEW Made Him ‘Big Bang Theory’ Fan

Tony Khan

It’s shaping up to be quite the year for All Elite Wrestling as the landscape of the business continues to change. The company’s current broadcasting rights deal with Warner Bros. Discovery comes up by year’s end, leaving questions of whether AEW remains or lands elsewhere. There has also been an influx of big free-agent signings like Mercedes Moné and returns to TV including MJF.

Tony Khan remains enthusiastic about the company he founded five years ago alongside Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, and The Young Bucks. During this time the upstart hasn’t been without growing pains with the brand looking to develop a unique identity compared to what was already in the marketplace.

Summer is a pivotal time for AEW starting with Forbidden Door, a collaborative show featuring talent from New Japan Pro Wrestling, World Wonder Ring Stardom, and Mexico’s Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL) promotion. Ahead of the international event, we caught up with the boss.


MJF (Lee South)

How are you feeling about AEW after recently celebrating five years in business? 

Tony Khan: We’re excited to have celebrated our five-year anniversary as a company from the launch of our very first pay-per-view Double or Nothing in Las Vegas. I think we’ve been on a great streak of these major events. Coming up in October will be our anniversary of Wednesday night Dynamite. We have some important matches and stories happening as we approach Forbidden Door. I believe it’s a huge opportunity for us this year. We have our media rights renewal coming up at the end of 2024. The future of AEW is going to be very bright in 2025 and beyond.

You talk about the Forbidden Door. Talk about what goes into a collaborative show like this with all the logistics involved. 

It’s Forbidden Door season. That means top wrestlers from all over the world arrive to compete. New Japan Pro Wrestling, CMLL, and Stardom have been great international partners for us. This year the event will include even more international cooperation compared to the last ones. It’s a lot of fun working with these promotions. The presidents of all these promotions have visited us recently.

I had a great meeting with Hiroshi Tanahashi, the president of New Japan Pro Wrestling in Las Vegas. He even made an in-ring appearance for us while he was in town. There are a lot of logistics, travel, and all these details. It’s all going to pay off with a great pay-per-view. The television this time of year on TBS and TNT is always really exciting to see with all the international stars pouring into AEW. We’ve been including a lot of video packages on some of the international stars and our production team. Commentators also do a great job introducing these international wrestlers to the AEW fans.

Speaking of companies working together, WWE is working with TNA now. What are your thoughts on this collaboration as you’ve done something similar with TNA in the past? 

Since we launched AEW we’ve been looking to work with great wrestling companies across the planet. The relationship with New Japan Pro Wrestling developed in 2021 and built to the point where we teamed to do a co-branded event like Forbidden Door. We’re approaching the third one. It’s a whole new level of great cooperation between wrestling promotions to see the stars of CMLL and Stardom in addition to the great wrestlers from New Japan Pro Wrestling competing with AEW stars.

I’m always open to working with great wrestling promotions all over the world. It feels like the spirit of cooperation in worldwide pro wrestling is greater than it has ever been, which is a big positive. Seeing the top stars of AEW go to Tokyo and compete at Wrestle Kingdom, I think that the fans can always count on AEW and New Japan to put on great collaborations. I think this year’s Forbidden Door will be one of the strongest shows any promotion will put anywhere in the world.

A lot of people are talking about the future of Ricochet and the potential of seeing him face Will Ospreay again. What are your thoughts of him as a talent? 

If it’s okay, I’d rather not get into wrestlers that still work for someone else.

I understand. Let’s shift gears and talk about AEW’s decision to run a “Path to All In Summer Series” at the Esports Stadium Arlington. Do you see this as an experiment to see if it works? 

The City of Arlington really wanted to work with us. It created a great opportunity for us to bring AEW to one of the hottest markets in pro wrestling. The Esports Stadium in Arlington is a beautiful facility. We think it will be a great home for pro wrestling. We have rabid AEW fandom in Texas. We felt it would be an exciting time to bring AEW as part of this summer series and build these exciting shows to bring a unique feel to Saturday night Collision on TNT.

It will have its own different energy, distinct from what we do compared to Dynamite or Rampage, and potentially make this pilot program. We’re hoping for big success and to continue to bring a series of great events and continue to deliver great wrestling. And doing so with a different business model. We move around the country a lot and want to continue to do that and open up new markets and visit different cities, but there is also excitement surrounding the potential of the summer series and setting up roots in one of the greatest wrestling territories of all time.

Anthony Bowens

Anthony Bowens (Lee South)

This is Pride Month. AEW has had its fair share of stars who have been great ambassadors for the LGBTQ+ community. Bulk Bronson recently made headlines with his story. What are your thoughts on what AEW does to spotlight talent from all walks of life?  

It’s Pride Month, and there are so many representing. I think one of my favorite moments in AEW was in Chicago when Harley Cameron came on to Anthony Bowens. I’d been around wrestling fans since I was a small kid and unfortunately been in the crowd when I was a child and seen crowds say some not nice things.

It was really refreshing in Chicago to see the crowd embrace Anthony Bowens with a very positive chant. When Anthony Bowens declared, “I’m gay.” The crowd chanted, “He’s gay.” I thought it was great because the crowd loves Anthony Bowens and the way they said it, they meant it positively. I thought it was a neat thing. It also showed me how wrestling crowds changed for the better over the years.

I spoke to Paul Walter Hauser a few weeks ago. Are you open to working with him again? 

Yes. I want Paul to come back. He is a really good friend of mine. I met Paul in LA many years ago. He is a great person. Paul and his agent Ryan are two of my really close friends. I like Paul a lot. He is always welcome in AEW to do anything. I have so much respect for Paul Walter.

I love how you’ll tie in whatever is before AEW shows and even after in your social media posts. What are some of your favorite lead-ins? Are you a Big Bang Theory fan? 

I’ve become a Big Bang Theory fan because of the lead-in. The show is tremendous. I hadn’t seen the show before we moved AEW Dynamite to TBS. I’m a huge Star Wars fan. There are a lot of those movies that lead to our shows. My all-time favorite was probably Revenge of the Sith. For the ending, I was doing a post before Rampage began one night. Something like, Darth Sidious just found Anakin Skywalker’s charred remains following the Duel on Mustafar, which means Revenge of the Sith is almost over and it’s time for Friday night Rampage. That’s a good one. The Accountant is certainly one of our most legendary lead-ins. I love the movie. I think I share too many similarities with Ben Affleck’s character sometimes. I love that lead-in. I also love U.S. Soccer.

Timeless Toni Storm

“Timeless” Toni Storm (Ricky Havlik)

What are some movies and TV shows you’ve drawn inspiration from for storylines and characters? 

All About Eve and Sunset Boulevard changed the course of AEW. Those are two of my favorites. If you’ve seen them, you know what I’m talking about. With “Timeless” Toni Storm, I took a lot of influence from those when I wanted to make her a character and lead off with her. We have a great tie-in with Turner Classic Movies. One influence came at the start of the lockdown. There were a few days before we had to do our show during the lockdown, which I think was March 18, 2020. I had a lot of time to watch other shows and what others did during these situations.

I watched the late-night shows where they were using Zoom. I watched Stephen Colbert do his show and was great and had great jokes but something felt weird without an audience. I watched Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show, he had a production team and crew and mic’d up and laughing at jokes. It sounded like a comedy club. It felt more natural than anything I’d seen on the talk shows. That inspired me during the lockdown era in AEW because I put the wrestlers around the ring so there would be an audience. People cheering and making noises like we’re used to. It changed the show compared to the arena show and resembled the territory shows I grew up on. There were less than a hundred people at Techwood studio for Saturday’s TBS wrestling. There was also Memphis TV and another studio show. I think we did the best shows when it came to the lockdown wrestling.

MJF recently came back to TV. What does it mean to him back in the fold and commit long-term to AEW? 

It’s really great. It means a lot to have MJF in AEW. He has been a great world champion and one of our biggest stars. Having MJF on Wednesday nights every week on TBS is a big deal. He was in an altercation with Rush last week. One of our top international stars and a brutal pro wrestler. Rush will be in action tonight surely beating the hell out of some poor kid from Iowa. I know MJF will be in the arena tonight, so something to keep an eye on. MJF is one of our greatest stars. We’re happy to have MJF back in AEW I believe permanently.

With All In in London on the horizon, anything you can tease about the card you’re working on heading into August? 

Absolutely, I’m very excited for this show. It will be so great for AEW to return to Wembley Stadium. I’m more excited this year. I can not wait for this show. I would put this one with the great nights of my life along with Revolution this year. That’s how good 2024 has been. I think we’ll have our best show ever in Wembley this year. We already had it up to this point in Revolution. I thought top-to-bottom it was the best event we ever did, culminating in the greatest moment in AEW history. Sting’s retirement and walking into the sunset as a champion on top of his game. Having him reclaim his spot on top in wrestling after a comeback nobody thought was possible. That was probably my favorite moment in the business. I think Wembley will be great though. Certainly, last year’s Wembley All In and Revolution have been my two favorite memories in wrestling to this point. I think this year’s will be even better than last year.

AEW Forbidden Door, June 30, 8/7c, Pay-Per-View 

AEW Dynamite, Wednesdays, 8/7c, TBS

AEW Rampage, Fridays, 8/7c, TNT 

AEW Collision, Saturdays, 8/7c, TBS