Powell’s Blog: It didn’t have to be this way


By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)

Tony Khan’s social media approach to Tuesday’s head-to-head battle between AEW Dynamite and the NXT television show was something else. Khan went on the offensive on Tuesday morning with tweets in which he brought up Vince McMahon’s misdeeds and used a “Bald Asshole” image directed at Paul Levesque and/or Shawn Michaels.

Khan continued to take aim at the WWE brass on Wednesday by stating that Shawn Michaels “blew whatever chance he had at winning” the booker of the year award due to Tuesday’s NXT television show. And bots.

Yes, he’s back on the bots kick, insinuating that they were used to beef up the NXT television show rating on Cagematch.net. With all due respect to a website that I consider to be a great resource, who gives a shit? And that reminds me, is Tony ever going to release that bots report he commissioned? Has Tony ever used bots? I digress.

As much as I appreciate a good Curb Your Enthusiasm reference, Khan’s tweets served as a reminder that things could have been different. It made me ponder what things would be like today had Khan taken a different approach to the promotional war from the start. What if Tony Khan had publicly killed WWE with kindness?

Rather than publicly complain about his rival’s promotional tactics, what if Khan had publicly no-sold them? What if he had cited his longtime pro wrestling fandom while encouraging his fellow fans to watch and enjoy both products? What if he had gone so far as to say that he hopes fans would watch his show live and record the competition on nights when the shows run head-to head?

Whenever the subject of WWE’s promotional tactics were brought up, what if Khan had simply downplayed his ire while stating that as a student of the game, he fully expected it based on the company’s history? Although not direct competition, the bombastic Dana White of all people actually took this approach by publicly laughing off Vince McMahon trying to steal his play-by-play voice and labeling MMA as barbaric. White never sold it and was even complimentary when I and others from the media asked him about McMahon well over a decade before the TKO merger.

I’m not suggesting that Khan biting his tongue would have changed much regarding the actual relationship between the two companies. It would not have led to Khan being added to WWE’s corporate holiday card list, let alone some sort of Super Bowl of Pro Wrestling co-promotional event between the two companies. In fact, I doubt it would have changed a single thing when it comes to the cutthroat approach that WWE takes with any company it views as a competition.

But it could have made a major difference with pro wrestling fans.

Look, I get it, Paul Heyman made ECW the face of rebellion in pro wrestling by firing shots at WWE and WCW. Heyman’s approach worked at a third promotion level because it came at a time when the WWE and WCW products were abysmal. I also understand that WWE and WCW taking jabs at one another during the Monday Night War generated a lot of interest.

So I can see why Khan would think that going on the offensive would be a formula for success. After all, WWE was creatively in a rotten place under McMahon’s lead when Khan launched AEW. There was an appetite amongst many fans for something new. But that all changed when Paul Levesque rose to creative prominence and the WWE product started to improve.

Khan’s messaging draws a line in the sand. It comes off like he wants fans to choose between AEW and WWE. As a challenger brand, this is a dangerous approach to take when the top brand is thriving.

The masses enjoy WWE based on the company’s improved television ratings, packed houses, and record-breaking premium live event numbers. So when Khan takes jabs at WWE now, he’s turning off fans who genuinely enjoy what WWE is giving them. And plenty of metrics show that there a lot more of those fans than there are AEW fans.

Many pro wrestling fans embraced Khan initially because it felt like he was one of them. He seemed like a nice guy super fan who truly loves pro wrestling and had the funding to give them a strong alternative. That nice guy image is fading because of his inability to turn the other cheek publicly.

It’s not the sexiest approach. It doesn’t lead to the gratification of making headlines. Sycophants in his company can’t pat him on the back for sticking it to the competition. And the hardcore AEW base fans wouldn’t have a reason to retweet Khan in droves.

But here’s the thing. The ridiculous tribalism that exists today amongst far too many fans wouldn’t be nearly as bad had he attempted to extinguish it as opposed to fanning the flames. Tribalism is not cause of all of AEW’s woes, but it’s clearly not helping anymore. These antics play to the base that AEW has and turn off not only WWE fans, but also fans who just want to enjoy pro wrestling regardless of the name on the company logo.

We’ll never know how different things would be today had Khan taken a different approach from the beginning. But there’s no time like the present for him to end the public vitriol and take a more fan friendly approach.

AEW has a hardcore base audience and those fans are not going anywhere. It’s time for Khan to stop playing to them so aggressively and focus more on winning over the pro wrestling fans that he and his company not connecting with.


Readers Comments (13)

  1. Well written and agree 100%

  2. If Tony Khan was a functional adult who had hired wrestling people to run his company, AEW would be in a much better position today.

    He’s got Jim Ross, Arn Anderson, Dustin Rhodes, Edge, Christian, etc. right now and he’s had Jake Roberts, Tully Blanchard, Cody Rhodes and others before, yet he insists on being a world class dork on Twitter and books the shows like he’s doing a TEW fed in his basement like he did when he’s a teen.

    An old school, sports like presentation updated for the 21st century, with logical booking and people that casual fans could at least potentially view as stars would have had a real chance to compete with what WWE was putting out there 4 years ago. Instead, we’ve got the same boring midgets that sold 400 tickets every few months in PWG, a guy who worked with the draw in Japan, and a wannabe tough guy who sticks skewers in his head as the people with influence and the most protected champion is someone that 80% of people on the street could easily beat the shit out of.

    There’s still time to right the ship, but it will never happen with a coked up trust fund twat who is hated by most Fulham and Jaguars fans (whose teams he ruined when he was more involved in running them) who bought himself some real life action figures that will tell him whatever he wants to hear as long as the absurdly large checks keep cashing.

  3. STILL love the WWE sheep that constantly refer to Khan as a “coked up” guy, while the show they watch is company that for mega-years was owned and is now still run by a man who has MANY sexual assault allegations, including rape, of which he paid off EVERY SINGLE WOMAN…liberal hypocritical way of thinking there regarding what THEY do. Also, the “OMG HE WAS BORN INTO A FAMILY WITH MONEY!” as if a, those people would have been SO upset if they were born into a very wealthy family, and b, as if its someone’s choice as to what family they are born to, is also liberal-minded way of idiotic thinking.
    That being said, I agree with the overall thought of the column…Khan just needed to say, “I was told “they” don’t consider us competition, so I’m sure tonights NXT show will be just the normal type show” and went silent.

  4. Louder for the people in the back.

  5. Jason, you have to admit one thing. Good old Tony Khan really is a thin-skinned little rascal, ain’t he?

  6. Speaking strictly as a fan who was intrigued when AEW debuted to see what an alternative to the formulaic WWE could look like…

    There was a time when I enjoyed the product. Yes, throughout the four years of its existence there have been elements of their show that don’t interest me in the least. But WWE has many of the same things in their shows. My hope was that over time AEW would learn to improve their storyline development and make a better all around product.
    For me, AEW has failed to improve their product. Wrestlers that were helping their cause for a while have been irrelevant for so long, you wonder if they’re even part of the company. Think Adam Page, Wardlow, and Britt Baker. Others that should be regulars in the title picture are hardly on tv- Malakai Black, Andrade, and Miro are just three examples. Having so many factions is akin to having a battle royal on a WWE premium event pre-show. Even MJF hasn’t been as entertaining in recent weeks, and I have enjoyed his work as much as anything in AEW.

    Bottom line is this. Instead of looking across the way at the competition, it would behoove Tony Khan to focus more on making his product better. What he has failed to realize is that more is not always better. You don’t have to squeeze in 87 segment announcements in fifteen seconds. If you do it right, you can produce eight or nine quality segments in a two hour show. That is what makes people want to watch. AEW’s roster has more than enough talent to fill three shows a week and still have the ability to rotate in new players every three months. Actually they have too many signed. Stop writing shows that feel like an episode of WCW Thunder from 2000. And quit trying to be WWE- there’s already one of those, and it was for sale just a few months ago.

  7. Tony books for the Asexual crowd. Every other storyline is a bromance, or hurt feelings, or sensitivities. He only books for himself, not for any kind of mainstream audience that would go out of their way to watch chaotic nonsense. I can’t be sympathetic for a son of a billionaire who gets to live out his fantasies of watching grown men act like grade school idiots. Since these are all his ideas, It says more than enough about how he sees life, and that is why he should just be funding the company and let anyone else be the idea person.

  8. Agree with a lot of what you are saying, but I don’t understand this notion that tribalism in wrestling is something new. It’s not. It’s louder and more toxic thanks to social media, but it’s always been there. It was just more confined to message boards and personal communication, Fans took sides during the Monday Night War. Growing up in Colorado, my neighbors were AWA purists who hated the cartoon WWF.

    And in Tony’s defense, WWE’s MO has always been to put everyone else out of business. This continued in 2019 when they locked up (then fired) all the talent they could, and immediately counter-programmed AEW with NXT.

    But you’re 100% right Tony hasn’t done himself any favors with his actions.

    • Social media has definitely amplified it. It existed with WWE and WCW to some extent, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it is now, at least based on my experience. I didn’t get delusional emails or letters (remember those!) when I was critical of those companies during my Torch years. I’d bump into the same readers at Raw and Nitro and recognized a lot of fans who attended both shows. Things took a turn when WCW’s quality dipped and a lot of fans just stopped going to their shows. Growing up during the early years of the WWF national expansion, most of the territories tried to position themselves as the hometown team. Heck, the AWA was the hometown team in my area. I’m sure some fans bought in, but the fans I knew just watched everything and didn’t have that sense of devotion that exists today.

      All of that said, I continue to hope/believe that the majority of fans are actually like that now, but it’s the tribal fans who make the most noise. It’s similar to politics in that most people seem to want something in the middle and are not aligned with the vocal extremist nut cases on both sides of the aisle.

    • One more thing. As a student of the game, Tony was well aware of the games that WWE plays. He should not be surprised by this and he should have been mentally prepared to deal with it. The more he shows that they are getting to him, the more they are going to fuck with him. So many people I speak with in wrestling have made similar points.

      • Agree. Not to mention he shouldn’t feed the trolls. Can you imagine Vince McMahon or Triple H arguing on Twitter with a guy with 30 followers?

  9. VERY well said.

    This is what I posted earlier over at CageSideSeats (link included on my name):

    He really needs to log off. Period.

    His whole line of complaint smacks of narcissism. It’s not that there was suspected contract tampering — “but how dare they do it while I’m at my mother’s bedside!”

    He wants us to believe that any of the negativity or toxicity aimed at him is part of some coordinated effort. Dude — when you act like a prick online, you are going to attract bullies and haters. Particularly when they know how easy it is to get under your skin.

    He also needs to start accepting the job of being a CEO. He wants us all to blame Stamford for discussions with his talent — but how much of that was talent being fed up with his childish shit and horrible management style? I’m not talking just about the Elite/Punk debacle, but all of the little failures that allowed things like Brawl Out to explode. Yes, there are many people in that locker room who love the culture, and many professionals who are there to do their jobs. Most of those would be professional wherever they were. What they don’t have is a culture that keeps high-flying egos in check: Guevara, Page, Jacksons, etc.

    He needs to give it a rest.

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