wrestling / News

Tony Khan Says AEW Won’t Over-Rely on Mike Tyson or Shaq, Talks Using Legends on TV

November 19, 2020 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Tony Khan AEW

Tony Khan may have brought Mike Tyson into AEW earlier this year with plans for more down the line, but he’s not going to be making him a centerpiece of the promotion. Khan spoke with Sporting News for a new interview and discussed Tyson’s appearance opposite Chris Jericho earlier this year along with Jade Cargill teasing the arrival of Shaquille O’Neal in the company, plus more. You can check out the highlights below:

On finding the balance between booking legends and not over-emphasizing them: “I remember when Vader was 399 pounds, and he was a guy that wouldn’t lose matches but he wasn’t in the main events. And then all of a sudden he was the pushed heel — he’s 449 pounds. Now, what happened? You could tell they were really motivated about Vader suddenly, who was working with Sting. So in 1991 Harley Race came in as Lex Luger’s manager, and then he also in ’92 became Vader’s manager. Harley Race is a great name from wrestling. When I went back and rented tapes, I could see Harley Race on the old WrestleManias or defending the title against Ric Flair at Starrcade ’83, and he kind of tied old wrestling to new wrestling for me.

“He never overshadowed Lex Luger. He never overshadowed Big Van Vader, but he was a great complement to their act, and he legitimized them. I think that’s what Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson, Taz, Jake Roberts, some of our managers have done for us in those roles. The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express were used a little differently in the role of the legendary tag team that represents — in that story when you have the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express as kind of angels on the shoulder and Arn and Tully kind of the devils on the shoulder, looking back at great tag team wrestling and the two different ways to do it — almost like the Young Bucks in the FaceApp with Ricky and Robert or putting FTR in the FaceApp with Arn and Tully.

“So we’ve tried to do it in a way that enhances our current wrestlers. We were using Greg Valentine in the dog collar match to put over the stakes and the brutality of the dog collar match based on his experiences. So we use these these legendary wrestlers in a way where we revere them and respect their history, and the people that respect them will be excited to see them — but where they also help enhance our current stars and build our show for tomorrow.”

SN: You clearly haven’t been afraid to use wrestling legends in your programs and made it work, but something that’s drawn a little bit of criticism has been using outside-wrestling personalities or stars to further the stories, like Mike Tyson or the rumored arrival of Shaq. Do you, as an executive, as a fan, ever get nervous of what the backlash might be from the fan who maybe watched certain companies rely too much on stars from the outside?

On if he’s worried about backlash from bringing in non-wrestlers like Mike Tyson and Shaq: “I don’t think anybody has to worry that it’s gonna be 75-80 minutes of Shaq every Wednesday night, or two hours of Mike Tyson every Wednesday night — that’s not what we’re going for. But I do think their appearances definitely add some mainstream interest, and hopefully bring in new viewers. And I think the wrestling fans want new viewers — the wrestling fans want it to be cool to be a wrestling fan.

“I was in high school in the late ’90s and into 2000, I graduated in 2001, and I went to a school where it was 8 through 12. In eighth grade, I was the biggest wrestling fan in the world, trading tapes, wearing Japanese wrestling shirts, wearing my Taz shirt when he was in ECW, and everybody knew me as a wrestling fan — that was not a cool thing to be and I was not cool. And I got a lot cooler as wrestling happened to get a lot cooler. It’s funny how it worked. All of a sudden, in ’98, my sophomore year, people wanted to talk to me about wrestling, people wanted to learn about it. On Tuesday morning, people would come up to me and ask me about what they saw last night: “Why does he not like him? Who’s this guy? What’s the deal?” And it just got to be more and more like that to the point where my senior year, so many people in school were watching wrestling. And when I started, it was almost nobody. I want it to be like that again. I think we can make it that way again.

“I think Mike Tyson played a big part in that. We saw this year with “The Last Dance” that sports nostalgia is a very real thing — things that were big in the late ’90s, or the year 2000, that some of those things have still never been matched, and there’s still nobody like those people. Just like there was nobody like Michael Jordan and the story of “The Last Dance,” there’s really never been another boxer like Mike Tyson who can capture the public imagination. Hopefully when Mike gets out of there with Roy Jones Jr., I’d love to do stuff with Mike again — he’s a good friend, and he’s always been very good to me, and I have a lot of respect for him, and I hope Mike comes out of this fight OK. Similar to Michael Jordan, I think there’s a mystique around Mike Tyson where nobody has ever replicated it, and it’s been over 20 years since he was in his peak, and still nobody can touch that mystique. So I think he has that.

“Similar to both of them, I don’t think there’s ever been another big man in my lifetime that’s captured the imagination of America the way Shaq did — and he’s a very different basketball player than Michael Jordan. In a similar era, and then he played really later in the next era with Shaq and Kobe. Shaq’s also a friend, and he’s a great person, and I am excited about the possibility of working with him, too. I think both Shaq and Mike are one of a kind, in very different ways. But for each of them in their sport, there’ll never be another like them. And that’s why I think they still have a lot of interest right around them.”