AEW's Tony Khan Opens Up on Dynamite Anniversary, MJF, Orange Cassidy and More

The Doctor Chris Mueller@@BR_DoctorFeatured ColumnistOctober 15, 2020

Credit: All Elite Wrestling

When Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks and everyone else involved helped to make 10,000-plus sellout All In the most successful U.S. indie wrestling event in years, if not ever, the dream of a new U.S. promotion became a reality.

Setting up one show like All In was difficult, so forming an entire company would be even harder. It would take money, a TV deal, a great roster and a team of employees. This is where Tony Khan comes into the story.

As the co-owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham F.C., Khan has experience in business and sports. As a lifelong wrestling fan, he also had the passion to make All Elite Wrestling into a show he would have wanted to watch as a child.

Khan recently spoke with Bleacher Report to talk about the one-year anniversary of Dynamite.

                              

When WCW closed its doors in 2001, TNT was officially out of the wrestling business. Other networks have aired promotions like TNA Impact and Ring of Honor, but they were usually on obscure channels many fans did not have access to.

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AEW brought pro wrestling back to TNT with the debut of Dynamite on October 2, 2019. The fledgling promotion was looking to showcase new talent and veterans of the business the same way WCW did during the early years of Nitro.

Khan grew up watching pro wrestling, but unlike most kids who wanted to be Sting or Shawn Michaels, he dreamed of being the person making the show. "I've been writing shows in notebooks, Microsoft Word files and even Word Perfect going back to 1995. As a kid, I dreamed of having a wrestling show on TNT, and it felt like one of my most unrealistic dreams because there was no vacancy on TNT. After WCW folded and the assets were sold off, I still thought it was really unrealistic until I got to know the company."

While the opportunity to work with Cody and The Young Bucks on a new promotion was a great way to enter the wrestling business, it still took a lot of work to get everything to where it is today. 

"It was a long process. It was probably about a year from when I started pitching the show to when it got picked up. There were other networks interested in it, but I think we ended up at the best possible place for us. TNT is where I always wanted to go. From a marketing standpoint, there was such a great promotional push around the debut and they [TNT] were so happy with the results that we got a four-year contract extension all within the first four months. It was a very successful debut, but it was a long road to get there."

The first half of Dynamite's inaugural year was going smoothly. The company was doing well with TV ratings, and the newer stars were starting to become popular with wrestling fans who didn't know them from the independent scene. 

What nobody could have predicted was a viral pandemic that would shut down borders and make both touring and performing in front of fans impossible. This meant certain international stars became unavailable and storylines had to be adjusted. 

AEW has set up shop inside Daily's Place in Jacksonville, Florida, a venue physically connected to TIAA Bank Field, which is the Jaguars' home stadium. Even though the state has lifted restrictions on the size of live crowds, that doesn't mean Khan is rushing to sell the arena out any time soon.

"Live events have changed in the past year, more so probably than in all the previous years combined. TV rights now more than ever are the most important revenue stream. Now all of a sudden, things are possible to do legally. That doesn't mean you should try to pack the place."

"We were in this amazing place with our stories right after Revolution, and then the pandemic hit. Resetting everything since then and what we did with this year's Double or Nothing was great. I had access to a small percentage of my roster and had to book shows in a matter of minutes. When we returned and put our COVID testing procedures in place, we had a great foundation for Double or Nothing. It was hard to get anybody to look forward to anything back in May. I was widely quoted after a media call saying I thought Double or Nothing was better than WrestleMania, and I truly feel that way. I thought it was a tribute to how hard we worked during the pandemic to keep the fans' interest."

Throughout the last year, Dynamite has introduced several stars to the mainstream wrestling audience, many of whom have been working for years in other countries and on the American indie scene. 

One of the people who has made the biggest impression has been Orange Cassidy. While he is primarily known for his slacker persona, he also formerly wrestled under a mask as a member of a group called The Colony as "Fire Ant" and displayed a much different set of skills than what we have seen from him on TNT. 

He began in AEW as a comedy character who was known for never putting any effort into anything. As his popularity grew, he began to show what he was capable of, which earned him some big opportunities along the way. 

"I can talk all day about Orange Cassidy. There was stuff about his independent act that I hated and would never do on our show. Matt [Jackson] said this guy's really got something and he suggested putting him with Best Friends. I went to a PWG show and really got to know him and learn what makes him tick. I had no idea that Orange Cassidy was Fire Ant until he told me that night and I was like, 'Oh my god, you're a great wrestler.' So I said what if we hold it all back and build it up little by little to make people want to see him wrestle. After seeing his work, Jericho wanted to work with him. Chris and I put together a lot of ideas, but Chris was so generous and did so much for him because he believes in him."

Jericho and Cassidy's feud culminated in the first-ever Mimosa Mayhem match at All Out, and Cassidy picked up the biggest victory of his career when he knocked Le Champion into a vat of champagne and orange juice.

Another wrestler who had a great showing at the pay-per-view was Maxwell Jacob Friedman. Jon Moxley defended the AEW world title against MJF in a main event that was widely praised for showcasing the 24-year-old star's in-ring ability.

"MJF is somebody who was close to fully formed when he came in. He doesn't get enough credit for how good he is because he was so far along when he got here that you forget how young he is. People take him for granted as a main eventer because he is so polished at such a young age."

Even with so many established names like Cody, Jericho, the Bucks and Kenny Omega, Dynamite has still managed to feature a lot of fresh faces. In addition to Cassidy and MJF, the likes of Britt Baker, Darby Allin and everyone besides Brodie Lee in The Dark Order are getting their first tastes of fame on a national stage. 

"I can't name a person I have less in common with than Darby Allin, but I talk to him every single day, and he's a genius. He is a genius storyteller and a great filmmaker. Cody brought him to my attention, and now I work with him as closely as I work with anybody."

"I was watching Being The Elite, and I went to John Silver [of The Dark Order] and was ribbing him. He is one of the only people I rib. I called him into my office and said, 'I'm really upset with you. You've got this great personality and apparently, you choose to only show it in BTE. I want you to do that stuff on Dynamite.' So he is doing more stuff and developing his own personality, which is great. Another person who I am so proud of for the way they developed their character is Britt Baker. Her run as a heel has been outstanding, and she has gotten so much better as the year has gone on."

The pandemic has changed things for a lot of industries. Many promotions are shutting down or cutting back on talent, but AEW has continued to make hires. Notable additions in recent months include Miro, Eddie Kingston, Will Hobbs, Ivelisse and Ricky Starks.

"We bring in new people every month. We bring in people from the independent scene and a lot of times you will see those people on AEW Dark, too. Sometimes these are one-off things, but if somebody impresses us, we'll bring them back. Will Hobbs is a good example of somebody that I really took a liking to and is doing a really great job for us. We're always looking for different partnerships. We've had the AAA tag titles on the show. Kenny Omega is the AAA champion, and he's defended the title on Dynamite and Dark. Thunder Rosa defended the NWA women's title. We're always looking for ways to work with people, but I am also keeping my eye on the independent scene."

When asked about the future, Khan said, "Stay tuned because there are going to be some big announcements ahead. I think Full Gear is going to be a great pay-per-view. I think there are going to be some fun twists and turns through the rest of the year."