newsthe rise and impending fall of aew tony khan has no one to blame but himself

The rise and impending fall of AEW: Tony Khan has no one to blame but himself

Chris Graham
tony khan aew
(© lev radin – Shutterstock)

Tony Khan got thisclose to building a pro wrestling company capable of being a solid #2 to WWE, but in the end – and the end is coming soon – he fell short because he couldn’t get out of his own way.

The jump the shark moment for his AEW, launched in 2019, came mere minutes after the company’s masterpiece of a pay-per-view, “All Out,” on Sunday in Chicago.

A rough summer riddled with injuries to top stories and discord backstage was forgotten over the nearly five hours of “All Out,” with the return of top heel MJF after a three-month absence used to position him as an anti-hero, a surprisingly top-notch tag title match elevating homegrown stars Max Caster and Anthony Bowens, and the win in the main event for the hometown guy, CM Punk, over AEW world champ Jon Moxley.

The show was one hit after another.

Then came the post-event media scrum, a concept that Khan borrowed from New Japan and UFC, to make the scripted sport seem more real.

The post-“All Out” scrum was all too real, with Punk, the new champ, his face and hair still covered in blood from an early-match blade job, lighting into “the EVPs” – not calling them out by name, but clearly pointing to Matt and Nick Jackson and Kenny Omega – for planting stories in what qualifies as the wrestling media to the effect that Punk had pressured Khan to demote Punk’s former best friend, Colt Cobana, as a receipt for the messy end to their relationship.

An aside here: we’re seeing the dirty side of how the wrestling media works exposed here. Basically, a guy calls up Dave Meltzer or Sean Ross Sapp and says, so-and-so has heat backstage, and, voila, we have ourselves a story.

That’s not how the rest of the media works. How the rest of the media works (outside of the Murdoch empire, anyway) is, one person says something, and then you check out what that person says by calling around to see what other people know, to see if there’s any there there.

About 98 percent of the reporting on the fallout from the post-“All Out” scrum has fallen into the typical wrestling journalism pattern of one-sourced reporting.

Which is how we’re reading one story saying that Punk threw the first punch, his best friend, AEW producer, Ace Steel, threw a chair and bit Omega, then we’re reading another story telling us that, actually, the Young Bucks superkicked their way into Punk’s dressing room, and Punk and Steel were just defending themselves.

Good reporting would have waited to get all the details before putting a narrative out there, but there’s really no such thing as good reporting in the wrestling media business.

Digression over.

Khan, not the media, is ultimately the one to blame here. The tensions that boiled over late Sunday had been simmering for months because his EVPs had planted stories with their buddies in the wrestling media, sure, but it was Khan who didn’t act to get things under control.

Khan, famously, has himself as the CEO, general manager and head of creative for his company, roles he assumes in addition to his other responsibilities with the Fulham club in the English Premier League and the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.

Those are a shocking number of hats to have to wear considering the number of moving parts of the hundreds of millions of dollars involved in each operation.

And he at least has backing in the EPL and NFL businesses in the form of the human infrastructure in place.

With AEW, Khan is, by and large, the infrastructure – the guy who owns the company, signs the contracts and pays the bills, schedules the games and the venues in which they will be played, coaches the players and calls the plays.

With so much on his plate, one thing that has been noticeably lacking is in the area of talent relations, something that Khan has tried to address, announcing last month additions to the talent relations team intended to provide more conduits between wrestlers and the booking team.

An all-hands meeting held last month was supposed to clear the air in that respect, but obviously fell far short, with the highlight of the meeting coming in the form of an odd pep talk from Omega in which he reportedly told the locker room that he wouldn’t have hired 80 percent of the people there had he been in charge.

That’s what Punk was addressing post-“All Out” when he suggested that the EVPs couldn’t run a Target, because the average person in management at a Target knows that you don’t spread rumors about other managers to undercut them, let their friends air dirty laundry in public, and then use staff meetings to tell everybody there that they’re just lucky to have jobs.

This is all on Khan, whose critics – popular wrestling podcaster Jim Cornette chief among them – have long dismissed Khan as being little more than a money mark, which is now becoming clear is the case.

Vince McMahon, for all his faults, and his faults are manifold, was not one to let the inmates run the asylum, and we’re seeing, plain as day, why you don’t let wrestlers like the Jacksons and Omega have measurable influence over the inner workings of a $100 million company.

Khan is a few months away from beginning negotiations on his next TV deal, and the outlook on how that was going to go, a few minutes before 11 p.m. CT Sunday night, was solid. Just looking at what WWE brings in for its “Raw” and “Smackdown” shows per year, it was a safe bet to assume that AEW would see its TV deal go from its current $40 million per year to somewhere closer to $125 million to $150 million per year, tripling, perhaps quadrupling, in annual value.

Because Khan hasn’t proven to be able to manage his house, it’s just as likely that his AEW goes the way of TNA/Impact, which for a time a decade ago was on the verge of becoming a clearcut #2 to WWE, and now is reduced to getting play on a third-rate cable network for literal chump change.

From all appearances, the end is coming today, if you can believe the reporting that has Khan and Punk working out the details of Punk’s departure from the company by the end of the day.

If that happens, AEW as we knew it a few days ago ceases to exist.

Fonzie in a leather jacket on water skis is about to jump the shark. The happy days of AEW as we knew them are no more.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris has won 17 Virginia Press Association awards for his work as an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist. Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, both published in 2019, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, Want to reach Chris? Try [email protected].