AEW President, CEO, General Manager and Chief Creative Officer Tony Khan recently spoke with The Ringer’s Ian Douglass and discussed his pro wrestling fandom and experience in e-wrestling/e-fed at Internet when I was younger. Here are the highlights:
Khan entered the world of e-wrestling in 1995, became instantly addicted, compiled lists of fantasy wrestlers with his friends and wrote weekly wrestling shows, and as just a col… electronic warfare contributor explored some of the hallmarks established at the time. but they successfully moved to AEW decades later:
“In 1995 I started doing an electronic wrestling show called Saturday Night Dynamite, and then it moved over the next few years. At one point it was Monday night, but at one point it was also Wednesday at night Dynamite. Then I used that name Dynamite for many years, and it had always been a constant. I relaunched the promotion with new territory, new fighters and new stories every several years. I wanted to try something different. The one thing that always it was the same was that the weekly show was always called Dynamite.”
Khan negotiated a deal with his parents the following year, somewhat less consequential than the deal he would make with them more than two decades later to launch AEW and turn Dynamite into a true wrestling television series:
“My parents made me take the high school entrance test as an entrance exam to show that I could get into the University of Illinois Laboratory High School, which was one of the most competitive public schools in the country Khan said. “My graduating class had the number 1 ACT test average in America. It was a smaller school; there were 56 kids in my graduating class, and I took the test and did well enough to get in- hi. Now my parents wanted me to go, which is not what they said when I did. I felt like it was a real bait and switch and I was quite upset. I didn’t want to go and I remember my mom I was crying about it in a McDonald’s parking lot. I can even remember which McDonald’s it was.”
“My parents basically told me that if I went to school, they would give me anything I wanted, so if I told them what I really wanted, I would get it and then go to school and it would be a win for everyone.” , Khan said. “I ended up getting the one thing I really wanted, which was to go to Philadelphia for the ECW Arena show, and it was headlined by Sabu vs. Rob Van Dam, and it was also the Chris Jericho’s last weekend in ECW before leaving for WCW. Jericho had a match on Friday night at the local show at the Lulu Temple against Sabu, and on Saturday night at the ECW Arena against 2 Cold Scorpio, with Rob Van Dam vs. Sabu in the main event in a match of bunk bed. For me, it was a very important night in my life because Chris Jericho became such a big part of AEW, and this was a big weekend for Chris Jericho because he went to the next step of the incredible career he has had over 30 years in wrestling. at the top in some of the biggest promotions.”
Khan wore wrestling shirts when he went to school in 1996:
“When I went to school in ’96, wrestling was a very big part of my identity. I wore an orange Taz ECW shirt to school several times a week,” Khan said. “Other days, I’d probably wear my Antonio Inoki Peace Festival shirt that I got from a tape dealer. Probably three or four days a week, I’d wear this Taz shirt, or that Peace Festival shirt Inoki’s Peace, or a Darth Vader t-shirt and a Happy Gilmore t-shirt. It was like my whole wardrobe at the time when I was 13 in terms of t-shirts.”
The fight underwent a series of changes that pushed it to the forefront of pop culture while Khan was in high school, and that improved his social standing among his peers:
“In ’96 it wasn’t cool to watch wrestling, but in ’98 and ’99 everybody started watching it and all of a sudden it was a cool thing, and I got in on the ground floor,” he explained Khan. “People started asking me questions during the Monday Night Wars and the Attitude Era about what was going on and who these guys were. On Tuesday mornings, people would ask me why something was happening , or what the deal was with what I was going through. I really enjoyed it, and as I went through puberty and matured, I think the wrestling business went through its own crazy growth while I went through mine “.
Khan continued his e-wrestling hobby as the 90s gave way to the 2000s and then the 2010s, no matter where his life took him, whether it was the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, or the world of legitimate business, and like him. continued to script, time, and ship over 1,000 wrestling shows for his small audience of e-wrestling fans, while adding more content to the mix that would one day take form tangible:
“It was probably around 2011 when I wanted to do more wrestling matches every week, so in my fantasy wrestling league I created a second show,” Khan said. “Amazingly, that was Rampage. I actually had a third show that never came to fruition, but it was kind of fun and it was called Tuesday Night Tag Team Fights. I had these different shows, but Dynamite and Rampage they were always the main shows. I’ve done Dynamite since 1995 and Rampage since 2011.”
Khan is quick to point out the differences between typical fantasy sports and fantasy wrestling leagues, along with the increased sense of connection and ownership associated with the latter, while also being careful to caution people who think that their e-wrestling experience is enough to prepare them to handle a real professional wrestling product, even if e-wrestling buyers have written over 1,000 e-wrestling shows like him:
“In e-wrestling, you have ideas and you try things. I was a very young kid; I’m not saying it made an impact, or that you can go straight from that to the wrestling business, but it was definitely a fun way of getting your reps,” Khan said. “There are a lot of young coaches in the football business, and you’re not going to use fantasy football to make decisions in the NFL, I can tell you that firsthand. But growing up, a lot of people in the NFL played fantasy football. fantasy. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s honestly a lot different than fantasy wrestling. When you’re doing a wrestling show, there’s a lot more involved in putting together storylines and angles from week to week, and stringing things together rather than establishing a fantasy programming. There’s actually a lot more involved in a fantasy wrestling league.”
Khan credits his time in e-wrestling with being able to condition him to write shows that speak to his sensibilities as a fight fan, even when the other fans he was writing for were just filling arenas of your imagination:
“There was a guy who died years later who was in the fantasy wrestling league I was in with my regular e-wrestling friend, and I remember he said it very well,” Khan began. “He said we were only writing for an audience of each other, but somehow we were writing for 10,000 fans or 5,000 fans who were in the arenas at these imaginary shows. Somehow you still can knowing when things are over or not with fans, which is funny because they’re not real! But he was right! My other friend and I had never articulated that before, but he was right. It spoke to me.” .
Khan has been inundated with direct comments from fans on a daily basis since the fans got very real when AEW launched in 2019:
“That’s been the biggest difference: connecting with real people and seeing what they like, and balancing that with what I want to do. But frankly, I want to do it because I want to have a great promotion that the fans want to see,” he said. said Khan. “I’m a big wrestling fan and I want other wrestling fans to like it. I think I share tastes with a lot of our fans because I also like the shows. A lot of the things they like, I like too they like it, and if some of the things we put on the air don’t come out perfect, I’d probably agree with them that it hasn’t been perfect. I like to stay on the pulse of the online wrestling community.”
Khan believes he is fortunate to have gained a lot of experience interacting with talent and staff at other athletic companies (the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, Fulham FC) to combine with the backup skills he picked up in the world of e-wrestling. The marriage of the two sets of experience served him well as he fully immersed himself in the world of real professional wrestling:
“My experiences in professional sports, working in the NFL and particularly as Fulham’s director of football, I’ve seen that the difference between being a fan and working in the industry is that you have to be a person, and also that the people. are the key factor,” Khan explained. “Just telling people what to do is very different to real life when you’re dealing with real human people and trying to get them to do things in a way that makes them feel good about it, whether it’s football or You also have all these people with great ideas, but there are a lot of ideas that you can’t do, either because they’re not logistically possible, or people are already involved in something else, so it doesn’t fit the schedule. Other times it’s things you wouldn’t want to do. A lot of it comes down to trusting your instincts.”
How e-wrestling prepared him for the reality that you simply can’t please all the people all the time:
“It starts to make sense very quickly when you sit down and write samples that you can’t please everyone,” Khan said. “You can’t get everyone you want on the show every week unless you’re doing 37-hour shows. Also, not everyone is going to win every week. That’s not how it works.”
Khan will continue to produce a steady menu of wrestling content, even if some of his detractors insist his output is hard to swallow:
“At the end of the day, I would say it’s really about connecting with your fans and finding different ways to serve them what they like,” Khan said. “There are people who might not like it the most, but if they saw it in the right presentation, they might like it. I’m just trying to put our best foot forward and try to create a home for all the best things in wrestling.”
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