Ahead of Saturday’s Full Gear show, Tony Khan held his usual media call prior to the pay-per-view. This will be the third Full Gear PPV and one of its most stacked cards. During the call, Khan fielded questions about this being the time for Hangman Page to win the AEW World Championship, his thoughts on Eddie Kingston and Lio Rush, and Being The Elite storylines that make it to TV.
AEW’s relationship with NJPW
I was able to ask Khan two questions. Best Friends have joined CHAOS and KENTA says he wants to GTS CM Punk. We’ve seen KENTA, Satoshi Kojima (who I mistakenly left out of my question), Yuji Nagata, and Rocky Romero wrestle in an AEW ring. I asked Khan what the relationship with NJPW heading into 2022 and is there a possibility of AEW wrestlers competing at Wrestle Kingdom, New Year Dash, or later in the year in the G1 Climax Tournament.
“It’s a great relationship, I really enjoy working with New Japan. It changed a lot since AEW first started off, I think they were pretty pissed off with me. (laughs) And then as wrestling went on, I think they saw that I really wasn’t trying to stop them from doing anything and I actually made a lot of friendly gestures along the way.
“Like, Chris Jericho — I was very open with Chris Jericho working in New Japan and then when he was working in the Tokyo Dome in January 2020 — I even cleared the stipulation that we put together. Chris was basically the go-between between me and them at that point.
“That we would — in fact, it would be an AEW Eliminator title match with Tanahashi versus Jericho, not unlike some of the matches we do on Dynamite, where it’s ‘hey, if you beat the champ, you get a shot at the title.’ That’s what we said; if you beat Chris, you can come to AEW and get a shot at our title.
“So, I think it added a lot of interest to their show and to that match and that was great. And also, I had been pretty open about Jon Moxley wrestling there and I cleared dates time after time for Jon to work there.
“And so, I think they saw it was a good relationship and I have a good reputation for being an honest person. So even though I kind of came out of left field because I was a new player in the game, I think I raised their antenna early and made them pretty nervous. And the more I built a reputation in the sport, I think they wanted to work with me. And so now, I talk to them on a regular basis and we put matches together and wrestlers from AEW go there.
“As you said it yourself in the question, you named all the people that have come through from New Japan to AEW. You’ve given a good list to start with of a number of people and there’s more I think in there and more to come. So, there’s a lot of things we can do. And I’m a fan of a lot of their stuff.
“I was really pleased how many fans love the Roppongi Vice theme last night because I felt really strongly they should come out to the Roppongi Vice theme. I thought for the fans that do like both shows and watch both shows, people remember the Trent and Rocky theme, so if Orange and Rocky are coming out, it makes a lot of sense. Plus, I mean it doesn’t hurt in terms of building anticipation for Trent to come back — which I’m looking forward to, I’m a big Trent fan.
“And look, with New Japan, it’s a good relationship and that’s why I was so amused when the ‘story of the day’ on a weekend in the summer was this story that kept getting buzz — that was clearly getting signal buzzed by some PR person — that New Japan would work with WWE, which was comical to me because I was doing all this stuff with New Japan and I had all these plans with New Japan.
“And I knew Nagata was going to be coming to Dynamite and we were doing the stuff with KENTA and had other plans in the future. And this was before we had even worked out Suzuki coming in — and I’m not sure if you mentioned Kojima, I didn’t hear you mention his name, but you might’ve. Kojima is another great wrestler that’s come in for us and worked a pay-per-view at ALL OUT and had a great match with Mox.
“So, I really like working with them and I have a close relationship with them and that’s why I was close to a live show and I thought it would be a fun promo to cut to get some buzz on the show, talking about the fact that we have the partnership with New Japan and I’ve been reading all these stories that New Japan and WWE are about to start this deal and if that’s the case, it’s news to me because I had just reunited Roppongi Vice on Elevation and you know, Nagata was going to be coming in and we had all these plans with the US Title with Mox.
“And I knew that we had talked about what I was setting up with Mox vs. Lance [Archer] with the Texas Death Match, which was going to lead to Lance vs. Tanahashi for them. So, we had been working together pretty close, so I asked them if they wanted me to do this promo (Romero extending the invitation for Best Friends to join CHAOS on Okada’s behalf) because it would be good buzz for New Japan and AEW and they thought it was hilarious. So, that’s how that happened.
“So yeah, it’s a great relationship and I really like working with them. They have a great history and a lot of our wrestlers have great history there and they also have a lot of great wrestlers on their own, so it’s a great thing we have going.”
The importance of the TBS Women’s Championship
Switching gears, I also asked Khan about the new TBS Championship and if it will be seen as equal to the AEW Women’s Championship or as a secondary title.
“I think that you should think of the TNT and TBS Championship as sibling championships. I think that the TNT Championship is one of the most important championships in wrestling and it’s been defended in huge matches. And at times, we’ve done massive ratings and some of the biggest ratings we’ve ever done on Dynamite are for TNT title matches.
“You can look back and we’ve had some monster ratings for matches like Brodie Lee vs. Dustin Rhodes for the TNT title right after ALL OUT 2020, Cody [Rhodes] and Brodie in the dog collar match — which did a great number — and Darby [Allin] vs. Brian Cage did a really good number. Darby vs. Matt Hardy, Falls Count Anywhere for the TNT Title was one of the biggest numbers we’ve ever done. So, I think the TNT Title has a great history and has done some really big numbers.
“Our women’s championship, again, Dr. Britt Baker is a great champion and whoever wins the TBS Championship, you know I think, we have a Number One contender, Tay Conti now, that’s in line, you know, to wrestle for the World Title.
“The way I did the TBS bracket was ‘ok, let’s take the top five and you had number 2,3,4,5’ — so you had Jade Cargill, Thunder Rosa, Nyla Rose, and Kris Statlander — I gave them what we would do in seeding in the NFL or in a lot of sports tournaments: you would take the top seed and give them a bye.
“So, as we were building Tay Conti, I think is — by the way, talking about our women’s division; it’s not on the subject of the TBS Championship, is Tay Conti wrestling for the Women’s Championship and I have to say Tay Conti is one of the most improved wrestlers in the world and I always thought that she was a great prospect, and for years, have really admired her.
“She’s one of the people I was really shocked we were able to hire because it was somebody I was surprised got let go. When she got fired, I wanted to snap her up quickly. I’m a big fan of Tay Conti. I think she’s a great Number One contender and I’m very excited for the Tay Conti vs. Britt Baker match. Britt’s been a great, great champion for us and Tay is a great Number One contender.
“So, the TBS Championship, I chose the rest of the top five — who are also top contenders down the line — gave them the first-round bye and took, to me, the next eight and built a 12-woman field and now we’re into kind of — I don’t want to upset the NCAA, I will not call it the Elite Eight (laughs) — but we’re in this really great eight final women and really excited for the quarterfinals of the TBS Championship tournament and I think it would help a lot — I’m a huge believer in the TNT Championship, I really love the title.
“I think [current TNT Champion] Sammy [Guevara] is one of the pillars of the company and will have great matches to come. And I think if you think of it as the sibling championship, that it’ll probably be treated very similarly.”
Khan covered a lot of ground in answering just those two questions alone. Although he didn’t reveal whether or not any AEW wrestlers will show up in NJPW as soon as Wrestle Kingdom or New Year Dash, it doesn’t seem to be out of the realm of possibility. It’s certainly more feasible than it was two years ago. Of course, quarantine could affect if wrestlers go over in early 2022 or maybe later in the year for something like G1.
The TNT Championship has been a very protected title since its inception, with just five wrestlers having carried it. Each title defense has been important as opposed to having a match just for the sake of having a match has been important in keeping the prestige. If the TBS Championship is treated the same way, then it will be a very important title for the women.
Full Gear is on Saturday, Nov. 13. Stay tuned to Daily DDT for continuing coverage.