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By Mike Johnson on 2020-11-04 10:30:00

With AEW Dynamite giving All Elite Wrestling the final push to this Saturday's Full Gear PPV, All Elite Wrestling President and founder Tony Khan sat down with yesterday to give an overview of the main event matches, the passionate and split response to the Dinner Debonair, new signings and much more.  Transcription by BIlly Krotchsen.

Mike Johnson: It is Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020, which means tomorrow AEW Dynamite returns to TNT and most importantly, this Saturday Full Gear 2020 airs on pay per view, and for those of you in the United States on Bleacher Report Live. For those of you internationally, on FITE.TV.  We are sitting down with AEW President Tony Khan to talk about the pay per view and all sorts of other things AEW-related. Obviously, you have a crazy schedule in general, but this week especially you've got two live broadcasts. You are probably the most excited and the biggest cheerleader for the AEW brand for obvious reasons.  Your entire life you've been a pro wrestling fan, but when you have a crazy week like this and when you've got Fulham FC and you've got the Jacksonville Jaguard and your other businesses that you attend to, how the hell do you balance all this out and maintain that level of excitement and momentum going into big events like Full Gear?

Tony Khan: We've been planning this for a long time and I've known that Full Gear was going to be the best card we've put together yet and that's what gets me through. We're just really well prepared. Every day is a challenge but this week is going to be a lot of days and a lot of big challenges. Coming up tomorrow I think Dynamite's going to be a great show, we have a huge card, some big matches that stand on their own and some big matches that will play into Full Gear on Saturday. Then we have Full Gear on Saturday and we'll be coming back again on Wednesday with another live Dynamite following Full Gear that will be some great surprises and some great follow-up on what I know will be an amazing Full Gear pay per view. So for me, yeah it's...most weeks are pretty challenging, this week is no exception. It's definitely a lot of work in one week but I'm used to it by now, I think.

Mike Johnson: So the main event of Full Gear features AEW World Champion Jon Moxley against Eddie Kingston in an "I Quit" match. I feel like Eddie Kingston's been one of your success stories. I kind of equate him to Samuel L. Jackson where people think he kind of showed up overnight but Sam Jackson had been doing all these small acting roles for years and years of his career.

Tony Khan: Yeah!

Mike Johnson: People forget he was in Jurassic Park and Goodfellas and a lot of other things, and then suddenly he's this huge star. I kind of feel Eddie Kingston has had that same sort of journey where all of a sudden a bunch of people have spotlighted him and taken to him since he's come to AEW but he's been around for a long time. I was curious about the creative decision here and the strategy having Kingston and Moxley come in and be the headline match for this pay per view.

Tony Khan: Well I knew there was a good chance Eddie would be in this position because I booked the Casino Battle Royale for Eddie to be very strongly positioned. He came in and had a great debut against Cody and I was looking for the right spotlight after that because I wanted to bring Eddie back, and I told him as soon as he walked back through the curtain, "I want you to come back and I want you to stay here." I didn't have the idea for him right away and then it occured to me the next week that, the Lucha Brothers and the Butcher and the Blade had this great 8 man tag at Fyter Fest and we had kind of built them into a juggernaut where they've beaten The Young Bucks and FTR, the top two teams, they had come together in an eight-man match and beaten them, so I really felt like we need a mouthpiece for these four guys and also The Death Triangle was not fully operational with Pac being overseas... so many reasons why this is logical for Eddie to come in and be the leader of this group and establish himself both in the ring, he's a great wrestler, and out of the ring he's a great manager, and it's worked out great.

Then Eddie was immediately, he came in and I was booking the Casino Battle Royale, so I started it where there's kind of the three heel major factions that are all kind of butting heads where you have Archer and Jake the Snake butting heads with Team Taz butting heads with Eddie Kingston and his group and what's going to happen when all these big names collide in the Battle Royale and all that, and it was by design it was supposed to come down to Eddie and Lance Archer so that both of them would be positioned as great challengers for Moxley. We knew Lance was going to be the first up and the crowd responded to Eddie very positively, as I expected. I was doing a little bit of an experiment because I did wanna see with Lance and Eddie as the last two guys, you know, clearly two guys were positioned as top challengers, I wanted to see what the crowd thought and they're both huge important heels in this company but I saw that Eddie had this connection with this crowd and it was really interesting.

So Lance was a great winner for the Battle Royale and had a great title match with Mox at the anniversary show but Eddie has continuously stepped up since he arrived and when Lance was not available to work the six-man tag with Mox, Darby and Will Hobbs against Lance, Brian Cage and Ricky Starks, I pivoted late and I decided to go with Mox versus Eddie for the title. Mox thought it was a great idea and Eddie obviously, he's very game to get this title shot, again stepped up and delivered and it felt like there was a lot more meat on his bone. I wasn't expecting to go to Jon and Eddie as quickly as I did but coming out of it I felt like it was more to do and we really found a hot story. I was really proud of that and I originally thought maybe we'd go to Jon versus Eddie after Full Gear but I didn't expect to go to it on TV as soon as I did and it ended up working out for the best and now the story's been established. They've done some of the best promos in wrestling and inflicted some damage on each other, really had a great war on TV, and then we've done some great follow-up stuff to get some heat on the champ and I think it's going to be a great match. For Eddie to be in this position, main eventing a pay per view, I'm really happy for him but I have to say he deserves it. If you watched All Out you wouldn't be surprised to see Eddie in such a strong position.

Mike Johnson: Another match that has gotten a lot of attention because of the type of segments that AEW Dynamite has featured them in is MJF versus Chris Jericho. Listen, I'm originally from the theater world so I loved and I understand the production of how hard it is to get a segment like that song and dance number right, but segments like that and the Town Hall, some are critical of and say it's very different from what AEW promised it would be in the beginning as a sports-oriented product...

Tony Khan: They're very different from each other. I don't know how you can compare those two segments and say like, "These two things..." The Town Hall and the musical number, the Dinner Debonair, are apples and oranges to me. It's interesting that people take those two...I think the Town Hall is a much more conventional wrestling segment. 

Mike Johnson: Well I would agree...

Tony Khan: It takes place in the wrestling ring, you know, does that make sense? I think the Town Hall...and the Town Hall did a great number, it was the highest rated segment last Wednesday in all of wrestling and I think that it shows that there's a lot of interest in the match, because they came out with Dinner Debonair and the Town Hall posted a huge number and it was probably more what a conventional wrestling fan is looking for because look, not all wrestling is just wrestling, talking in the ring about wrestling as long as it's not somebody just stroking their own ego talking about themselves for 20 minutes, wrestlers talking in the ring talking to each other about wrestling is some of the best stuff about wrestling, and when you get MJF and Chris Jericho in the ring - these 2 great wrestlers, talking about a wrestling match, that is great wrestling.

So Dinner Debonair was a variety segment, it got people talking, absolutely as we expected, and Dinner Debonair was sandwiched in a show with so much in-ring action. Dinner Debonair took place on a show where you had Penta versus Phoenix and Wardlow versus Jungle Boy and the tag match and all these great in-ring matches, so I think that for me, they're very different segments, so it's almost like comparing apples and oranges to compare the Dinner Debonair to the Town Hall because the Town Hall I think was a pretty conventional wrestling segment in a lot of ways - wrestlers in the ring talking about wrestling and other wrestlers asking questions. And I'm not surprised that the Town Hall came back and did a good number because clearly, not only do Max and Chris traditionally move ratings in a major way, they're 2 of our biggest needle movers when it comes to ratings particularly in the demo, but to put them back in that context, where it's not the Dinner, they're back in the ring, in live action, and anything can happen and there's potential for physicality, I see that as more of what people have come to expect from a talking segment in a wrestling ring, if that makes sense.

Mike Johnson: Were you surprised at how split the reaction to the Dinner Debonair was, because it literally was, "I hate it, I love it, I hate it, I love it" in my email right after it aired. So I was curious what the expectations were internally?

Tony Khan: I expected it to be a very polarizing segment and it was very polarizing and I expected it would create a lot of conversation and then the next week, those guys would pull a big number and that's what happened. I think it worked out well to do the Town Hall segment coming off it because the Town Hall segment was probably more in the context of what people have come to expect from Max and Chris. so I thought the Town Hall was more conventional and probably that's why I thought it was, you know...obviously it did a really strong number but also made more sense to go closer to the pay per view for the next show.

Mike Johnson: Do you think that segments open the door for more sort of, unconventional style vignettes in AEW or do you prefer things to kind of stay close to the initial sports-oriented everything that's happening is happening in the ring...

Tony Khan: I thought it was pretty logical, man. I think that segment is sports-oriented. Like when I watch the ESPYs or when I watch music videos, it's not unusual to see a big athlete in a musical number, and the key thing to me was that it wasn't done in an unrealistic context because the idea that we ended up settling on to me was a very realistic idea. Chris Jericho and MJF are like two of the biggest showboats in wrestling, they're really cocky guys and of course they would love to sing their own praises and go out and do this hammy performance together because they're both egomaniacs and of course like the ambiance and the whole thing is very on brand for the two of them.

It was also key to me that it was not something behind an invisible camera where these two guys were just having a dinner and they weren't aware they were being filmed and they just broke into a song. They were looking into the camera, they were singing to the camera, it was for the fans. Clearly they were doing it for themselves as these characters but it was very much for the benefit of the fans. So it's like to me, in their minds it was for the benefit of the fans. So to me, it's very's still a realistic segment. I don't think it's...people talk about a sports-based feel but I've seen athletes do tons of musical numbers and you know, the Super Bowl Shuffle? Was the Super Bowl Shuffle not real sports? Because that's about as real sports as I can remember. That's an era when sports felt very real and that's the throwback era that all the people complaining about are probably fondly looking back at. So, if you're going to take an honest look at it, look at all the times athletes that have sang and danced in music videos. 

Mike Johnson: All right. Saturday at Full Gear we're finally going to get to see FTR against the Young Bucks. For modern day fans this is as close to a dream match as you're going to get for tag team wrestling. Obviously two very different styles, two very different teams. Thoughts on finally having the opportunity to present a match that literally started a build before there was an AEW on social media with the back and forth between the two teams?

Tony Khan: You're right, long before there was an AEW I think everyone's wanted to see this match and we're really fortunate that we get to promote it here on Full Gear. I think it's very consistent with the strength of this card that such a long awaited dream match is going to be happening finally. I think they are the two best tag teams in the world, they've been the best two tag teams in the world for several years and both of them have a lot to prove, both on camera and frankly to the smart fans too. I think they built this match up for a long time and people are expecting something really great and I expect something really great and I think we're going to get it. So I'm very excited for FTR and The Young Bucks to finally lock up. I think it's going to be awesome.

Mike Johnson:  I wanted to ask you about something that several circles have been critical about towards the company in recent weeks. You guys had a couple of injuries of late - the Alex Reynolds issue where he was knocked out in the ring. There has been some criticism of the company. I wanted to ask you if you want to address that. I know you've had Chris Nowinski there talking to the talent about concussions and protocol in the past. Does any of this give you pause to kind of reexamine or figure out ways to maybe evolve different ways that if something unforeseen happens again there's a different way for the company to react and attack the moment in the moment? 

Tony Khan: Yeah, you know, we've been recently doing everything we can to work on our protocols and make this as safe as possible work environment. I've added another independent neurologist to the staff. We've added an independent doctor at all the shows in addition to our staff medical team and we're adding extra support. I've added a two-way feature where the referees can talk back to us if there are injuries so that the referee, you know, not all communication is going one way, and I've encouraged the referees to let us know what's going on.

Speaking of Chris - Chris is actually coming back this weekend, so Chris will be at Full Gear and I'm going to a have Chris talk to all the staff and all the talent and me. It's been over a year since Chris came and saw us last and I think it's probably overdue for Chris to come in and give us his thoughts and his critiques and it's important that we listen to that. So I'm excited to have Chris come back because I think he's the world's leading expert on head trauma. As to other injuries outside of head trauma, I think we oughta do our best there too but I think that's probably the area we're the most concerned about, being...make sure we're doing everything safe.

Mike Johnson: I do want to ask you about AEW Dark. This show continues to grow - many, many more matches. Can you break down how you see the importance of this series, you know, I almost feel like I'm waiting for the show to split in two, like there's a part 1 and a part 2 on different days, because there's so much content. Can you break down the importance of the show and how you see Dark fitting into the evolution and the addition of talent because we've seen so many talents who have come in through that show and that system and then end up signed to the company.

Tony Khan: Yeah I think it's our developmental system. Not everyone who is on the show is working in developmental but they might be working to bring up somebody in developmental and that's why I think Dark is so important to us. I think that it's a good thought and it's a thought I've shared and have considered in the past and am still considering about is there ways to maybe split it into more shows and that has nothing to do with a third hour on TNT. I mean, our main roster of Dynamite performers, we have enough depth to easily put together three very strong hours of TV week to week without dipping into a lot of the performers that you see on Dark wrestling each week.

So what's exciting to me is that we have a lot of young talent on Dark and it's a great way to develop people, it's a great way to get people more ring time that we want to push, it's a great way to get people exposure because Dark does very good viewership. Many episodes have done half a million viewers or better. This past week's episode is I think at 400,000 or more and it's a great way to get your name out there but it's really for us also a great way to put people in a position for a tryout. It's a great way to try a new gimmick with somebody, it's a great way to repackage somebody. There's just so many great things we've been able to do with the Dark tapings and I'm just really happy that we have so many great young women and men that are working with us and plying their trade on Dark and I think it's like you said, a lot of people have become very important in this company working their way up through Dark, which to me is like, you know, it's effectively our developmental show. But it's a lot more than that too because a lot of our big stars go and work on the show and they work with the younger people and help them. I think I've said like eight times in one answer, to help them develop.

So yeah, I think it's a great vehicle for us and it will continue to be a great vehicle for us. I think there is some merit to having another show, another developmental show that would probably take place as part of the same tapings and there is some merit to possibly splitting Dark into two shows, but again that would have nothing to do with our third hour on TNT, that would be dividing Dark into another streaming show rather than have that be anything that has to do with our third hour on TNT that is coming in 2021.

Mike Johnson: So I know we're starting to run out of time here so I'll hit you with some quick ones. There's been some rumors about some new talent signed. Have there been any new talents that have been signed that you can give clarity on? There's a couple of names that I've heard but I'd rather see if you're willing to volunteer the information as opposed to me playing Law & Order interrogation room, so have there been any new talents signed?

Tony Khan: I have signed some new talent. I have not said the names of some of them yet. There are a number of people who signed a contract that are not widely known that they've been signed to contracts. You can try to scoop me on some of them if you'd like.

Mike Johnson: All right, I will say right now in the Northeast, the word on the street amongst independent talents is that Max Caster and Anthony Bowens are signing or did sign with the company.

Tony Khan: Yes, I did sign Max Caster and Anthony Bowens. They debuted against the Best Friends as a tag team on Dark. I am packaging them as a team, I really like Max and Anthony a lot and you'll see them again tonight on Dark in another tag match and they are going to be known as The Acclaimed and I really like them. I think Max has got something really special in that entrance that we're working on. I think it was not totally smoothed out last week and it's still not totally smoothed out tonight but it will be. Tonight's [entran on Dark] is going to be better than last week's and it will continue to get better and Max will rap them into the ring. Anthony is an amazing athlete, he's a great talent, he's got a great charisma and together I think they're a great team. So they've trained together and they hadn't been a tag team until I packaged them as one but I am excited about Max and Anthony so that is true, they are The Acclaimed.

Mike Johnson: The third name that's floating around and I haven't heard 100% on this but given her work last week against Serena Deeb - Leyla Hirsch. Obviously she's back on Dark this week, what is her status officially with the company?

Tony Khan: I really like Leyla. I think there's a good chance Leyla could be here with us. I can't comment until she and I have worked it out but I'd really like Leyla to come back. She and I talked after the show and she loves being in AEW and I expect there's a good chance she'll stay with us. I'm sure Leyla will have offers but I think she's got a good offer here and I think there's a good chance she's goning to be staying with us based on our last conversation.

Mike Johnson: Any clarity on what this game announcement is coming next week? Can we get a hint on anything regarding this game announcement?

Tony Khan: I can't say much but it's going to be really great and I'm excited. Kenny Omega is a genius in this space and he's taken a lot of personal involvement into it and I'm really excited about what our team, Nick Sobek and Kenny, and the group they're working with have put together. 

Mike Johnson: All right well Kenny's going to be facing Adam Page on Saturday at Full Gear and this is a story that AEW has been developing for many, many months. Last question - thoughts on that match and we'll finish on why should everybody make sure they're watching Full Gear on Saturday?

Tony Khan: It's a match we've built up for over a year since the beginning of the Hangman/Kenny partnership. This is a culmination of some of the best TV matches and pay per view matches of not just the past year but of the past decade and I think it's going to be as good as any match on the card, probably the best match on the card, has the potential to be...and it could very well shape the future of the company. These are two of our biggest stars, they were our greatest tag team, and now this is our biggest rivalry. And the fact is the tournament is a culmination of some great TV too, so I just think that the Hangman and Kenny match is so much to be excited about and I think it's going to be one of our best.

Mike Johnson: All right. Well I want to thank you for sitting down with us, Tony. I look forward to when we get a chance to do it again.  Tomorrow will be AEW Dynamite with the go home show for Full Gear which is this Saturday. We didn't even get a chance to talk about it but Cody will also be defending the TNT Title against Darby Allin in a rematch from Fyter Fest in 2019, so you're going to get to see those two collide as well. But I want to thank everybody for their support of We'll have full coverage of Full Gear this Saturday and Tony, obviously you have full invitation anytime you want to come back and talk AEW.

Tony Khan: Thanks Mike! I appreciate it.

AEW Full Gear emanates this Saturday from Jacksonville, Florida on PPV, Bleacher Report Live and for international fans, FITE.TV.


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