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By Mike Johnson on 2021-02-23 11:59:00

Mike Johnson: The online world gasped last week when Brian Cage powerbombed Sting, giving the circumstances of Sting announcing his initial retirement in WWE. Thoughts on that spot and the reaction it got, cause certain people are concerned that Sting as his age is taking bumps of that magnitude given issues he has had in the past.  

 Tony Khan: He's been cleared, he's been fully cleared. He's been training with Darby and sparring partners and he's been fully cleared to wrestle. In his training, one thing he's done to get ready with his sparring partners is a powerbomb. In terms of getting ready for this, I was more than fine with it and in fact called it. At that point when he's taking them in training, it's time for the live crowd. So he was completely cleared to do it and wanted to do it and he wanted to get out there and wrestle. Sting is going to be on Dynamite tomorrow looking for payback and all bets are off now. Sting's cleared to wrestle and he wants to wrestle and this is how he wanted to end his wrestling career in-ring was in AEW and come in and go out the way he always wanted to go out with great matches. 

He's been preparing for this and I expect Sting to have a great performance on March 7th. He has very high expectations for this match and his comeback here, and I do too. I thought Brian did a great job with the powerbomb and certainly got people talking about the match in a very positive way and created conversation about, "Is Sting going to be OK? Is this all right?" Well that was the idea, we're trying to create that conversation but the most important thing is he is OK and he walked through the curtain...that's not going to be an easy moment, it took a lot out of him but at the same time, he came out of it in one piece and it's what he wanted.

Mike Johnson: The last time I saw pro wrestling live was last year's Revolution, it's the last time I saw anybody. I got off a plane at LaGuardia airport, went home and I haven't really seen another person since outside of immediate family.  The last year has not been easy for anyone. When you look back at how you've brought the company through all this, what was the most important lesson that you learned and what will you take out of this time period when we get out of the black cloud and we return to whatever the new normal is?

Tony Khan: Flexibility has been the number one thing. Things have changed, people are unavailable, you have to make up a new story, some great things have come of it. The biggest pay per view this company has done, the biggest pay per view any company besides WWE has done in the past two decades is our pay per view Double or Nothing from this past year 2020 and it was not only bigger than the stuff since WCW went out of business, it was significantly bigger than the pay per views WCW did in its last year. I'll be honest - everything on the show was completely hot shot. It was a hot shot pay per view and it was a huge hit. The only angle that had a lot of steam behind it was Cody vs Archer which was again a hotshotted thing for a hot shotted belt that was created through a pandemic. The TNT Title is an important title in the world of wrestling and it was something on paper through the pandemic that we needed to get through the pandemic that's going to help the company and gave us life blood through the month of April. 

I've said over and over in other interviews that I'm very proud of the May 6th Dynamite cause that pay per view, every match got made then, basically, that week. Whether it was Moxley vs Brodie Lee, the Darby vs Team Taz story that's still going on today, MJF vs Jungle Boy, which is such a classic match. So many stories got started in that night and I look back and that pay per view is very near and dear to my heart but since then there have been so many times where somebody is unavailable, not just because of Covid frankly, but now because of COVID, we have to be really careful and anytime anybody has a sore throat or anything, in the past wrestlers used to have the mindset that they would gut it out, people wouldn't even tell people if they were sick, but now you have to. There's no shame in it and if you have a sore throat, a cold, especially a fever, you just can't travel right now and we don't want you to. 

So changing the shows on the fly, normally is not ideal, but for us sometimes we had to be creative and do things and I'm really proud of things that have come from those situations. Moxley vs Eddie Kingston, the way we ended up was something I always wanted to do and I was clearly building towards it, when Lance and Eddie Kingston were the two guys at the end of the battle royal at All Out. But when Lance wasn't available for big matches, Eddie stepped in and Eddie did a great job and now Lance is right back where I believe he should have been the whole time, main eventing consistently every week and he's going to be main eventing another great match tomorrow night but Eddie stepped up when we needed somebody to come in and that ended up being huge for Eddie. 

We added a lot of new talent and I brought in all these extras to come sit at ringside. I realized all these indy workers were out of work. So first of all, they would love the check to come sit in the crowd for Dynamite but also, we could really find our pick of some of the top independent talent out there, look for new stars. Will Hobbs is a great example of somebody who started with us this year on this new version of Dark that has emerged through the pandemic. It's basically our developmental system. Early on in the early days when there were full, packed houses, 2019 and early pre-pandemic 2020, we would bring people in for a tryout on Dark sometimes, but not anything remotely like what we do now. We used to do 2 or 3 Dark matches, and now it's 17, 18, 19 matches sometimes and no fewer than a dozen and getting to look at lots of different people and signing people that have really stepped up for us and are a major part of AEW now. So that speaks to the flexibility and building out effectively a developmental system through the pandemic that also allowed us to have spectators. We're just trying to get through this thing however we can. 

I think building pod seating and giving the fans a way to attend a live show through being flexible and creative has made it so that there is still a live wrestling experience in the United States that you can come in safely and see a show, and now hopefully things will be getting better, but I'm proud of the fact that it's been that way for a while now. In September with All Out or November with Full Gear and all these Dynamites since then, we've had fans there. Or that Brodie Lee's memorial show we were able to have 1,100 or something people there, like a real wrestling crowd and celebrate his life with fans and real pops and real fans chanting Brodie and for him and his family. I'm just proud we were able to do that with real fans cause a lot of great moments we've had during the pandemic wouldn't have been possible without fans in seats, and again fans in seats wouldn't be possible if we weren't trying to be flexible and creative. So flexibility and creativity, and compassion too, because a lot of times people haven't been available for things. Even Jon Moxley wasn't available to come to Fyter Fest when Renee got Covid and that's fine. I'd be an idiot to not be flexible for him, but there's other people too. He's the highest profile example but a lot of our stars have been unavailable at times to come and make it, and with stars you're always going to make exceptions and do things for them, but in this case it's not an exception. I will do that for anybody in AEW if they're not available or they don't feel comfortable traveling, don't worry about it, don't come and we'll get you back to where you were when you come back. That's another reason I haven't done mass layoffs or anything like that, when the bottom line has been affected by the pandemic because I believe in flexibility and compassion.

Mike Johnson: Well I thank you so much for being flexible with us and staying a couple of extra minutes. AEW has a packed schedule: tonight  - AEW Dark, tomorrow - AEW Dynamite with Lance Archer vs Rey Fenix, this Sunday - Riho against Thunder Rosa on, next Wednesday after Dark - Shaq enters the ring on Dynamite and March 7th - AEW presents an exploding barbed-wire death match and a whole lot more on AEW Revolution. I look forward to talking to you about it down the line when the time is upon us and the constellations correctly align again. Fans can follow AEW on Twitter @AEW or the official AEW Website, and you can follow the AEW President @TonyKhan on Twitter. Thank you so much for the time.

Tony Khan: Thank you Mike, it was great catching up with you man.

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