Avoiding History: How Tony Khan Can Stop Repeating Mistakes with AEW

Tony Khan is a divisive figure in professional wrestling. While you can list his accomplishments, the failures sit neck-and-neck with the praiseworthy efforts.
SiriusXM at Super Bowl LVIII – Feb 8
SiriusXM at Super Bowl LVIII – Feb 8 / Cindy Ord/GettyImages

Tony Khan is a divisive figure in professional wrestling. While you can list his accomplishments, the failures sit neck-and-neck with the praiseworthy efforts. However, why do his supporters seem so opposed to a fair and balanced critique? Instead of understanding that a booker/promoter does not need to please, every Khan supporter's raison d'etre seems to be a steadfast guarding and worship of a product and person.

Armed with a television presence, AEW's booking should be light years ahead of where they currently reside. If you give Khan praise for assembling a strong roster, the criticism needs the same consideration. In actuality, Tony Khan, from a far, possesses the same fault that hurt other promoters. Wrestling is cyclical in so many ways, positively and negatively.

Herb Abrams and Belt Dependency

Now, some of you thought the Herb Abrams reference would refer to something long-believed but never proven. Yet, the parallel that goes underdiscussed is the overreliance of title belts. Khan paraphrases that long-famous meme of " you get a title, and you get a title." By utilizing so many championships, Khan cheapens or lessens the meaning of the title and hinders the storyline. For those who don't know Abrams ran the Universal Wrestling Federation (not the Bill Watts version) from 1990-1996. He managed to secure a million-dollar rights deal from SportsChannel America.

Along with dreadful booking, the UWF featured twelve championships. In a similar manner, AEW features nine branded titles. If you add in seven ROH championships and that takes the total up to sixteen. Under no circumstances should Tony Khan use that many titles. Championships are a payoff for a storyline. Either the face chased the heel and overcome adversity to win or the heel wins the title by nefarious means, that precipitates the chase. Unfortunately, the cloudy title picture renders the AEW World Heavyweight Championship as an afterthought.

Nick Gulas and Overpushing Favorites

Nick Gulas helped turn Tennessee-based wrestling into a profitable, exciting brand from 1949-1977. Alongside his business partner Roy Welch and booker Jerry Jarrett, NWA Mid-America became a hub for Southern wrestling. That territory sold out arenas and drew big names to captivate crowds. Things spiraled downward when Gulas decided that his son, George, needed the rocket strapped to his back. To everyone whom he wrestled, George Gulas was not a skilled wrestler. Jarrett bolted in 1977. NWA-Mid America folded four years later.

For those that want to delve into the favoritism aspect of Tony Khan, look no further than Orange Cassidy. In his defense, Cassidy is a skilled, midcard comedy act. Akin to R-Truth, Cassidy generates laughs with perosnlaity and match style. Comedy deserves a place in wrestling, in the middle of the card. Khan put Cassidy over Shibata, the Lucha Bros, Kyle Fletcher, Swerve Strickland, Jon Moxley and Claudio Castagnoli.

Every American Promoter Before 2015

For decades, female wrestlers toiled as less than for a host of promotions. If they weren't afterthoughts, promoters (WWE) objectified them in evening gown matches and diva contests. To his credit, Khan does not use body objectivity to market his female wrestler. However, he also employs a healthy women's division that he fails to book to the fullest of its potential. With world class talents and a mix of young grapplers with potential, Khan's booking stagnates and does not move storylines faster. And no, having a hardcore match does not help the case. Up and down the women's roster, you see talent spinning their collective wheels.

For example, Nyla Rose, from the first day, should have been pushed as unstoppable monster heel, decimating smaller foes. In return, a believable face would rise and defeat the monster, securing the title. Even after that loss, keep Rose strong. Unfortunately, that never came to fruition. Rose's last televised singles win was November 9, 2022, a squash versus Kayla Sparks.

Jim Crockett Expansion

Growing up in the 1980s, especially 6:05pm Eastern, on a Saturday night, World Championship Wrestling entered your home. Spotlighting the best talent from the National Wrestling Alliance, the Crockett family, became American icons. The storylines looked crisp, the rivalries amped up the weekly tension, Jim Crockett, Jr. brought a quality program each week. Unfortunately, he tried to emulate the WWF by buying Mid-South, Central States and Florida territories. Moving company HQ to Dallas from Charlotte felt like a deathknell. There was no need to leave the Southeastern United States. Those purchased promotions were struggling to stay afloat. Crockett sold majority interest to Ted Turner in November 1988, marking the pronounced end of territorial wrestling. Tony Khan purchased ROH, deciding to make it a brand and not just owning the vast library. As a result, ROH looks like a shell of what it was and fan interest seems low.

Texas Stadium and WCCW

During the mid-1980s, World Class Championship Wrestling became a national brand, despite running the majority of its shows in Texas. Owner Fritz Von Erich believed in a hard-nosed product that drew money and emotion. After an eight-year absence, WCCW ran a show from Texas Stadium, the first-ever Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions. Earlier that year, David Von Erich died in Japan. In his stead, Kerry Von Erich defeated Ric Flair in front of 32,123. The following two years saw attendance stay above twenty thousand. However, the final two years could not break 17,000 total.

AEW should do huge numbers at Wembley. Let that be the biggest show of the year and only a massive arena gig. Stop trying to fill 10,000 seat arenas. The television optics look horrendous and make the product seem second-rate. Sometimes less is way more.

Vince Russo and On-Air Role

Despite copious amounts of justified criticism, Vince Russo did change the landscape of professional wrestling. Crash TV shortened attention spans and drew millions of viewers. At the same time, towards the tail end of his run in WCW, Russo decided to step from behind the camera to become an on-camera participant. Granted, Vince McMahon did the same to success, but even that wore thin in the mid-2000s. Russo made the promotion about himself, centering self over product.

For the early run of AEW, Khan kept out of the spotlight. Now, he stands front an center, selling a mic shot gut punch and spike piledriver, even involving his father into the plans. Defenders want to say that the Elite heel turn could not be done with Khan jumping on TV. Kenny Omega is an EVP as well. Begin, start, and end the feud between Omega and the Bucks. Wrestling should be more evolved than constant authority figures. Remember how The Authority storyline sapped life out of the WWE? This feels similar.

Wanting a Better Product

If you listen to many current and former AEW employees, they hold Tony Khan, the person in high regard. Meanwhile, Tony Khan the booker/boss, appears to focus on the wrong directions. From arguing on Twitter to playing closed circuit fight film of someone you cannot feud with, AEW continues to miss the assignment. Instead of engaging the negativity, work to consistently improve the product. In all honesty, no rational human wants to see AEW fail. In fact, having a healthy second promotion, makes other promotions want to step up their own game. Internally, that direction should draw more fans. Lastly, book for the fans you want while remembering the ones you have. The indy feel seems to not resonate with the masses. AEW started as a fantastic idea. Now, the owner/booker must remember the mistakes of others and avoid them.