Tony Khan discusses alleged contract tampering by WWE, 'war' between them, WWE contacting NJPW, Bloomberg-AEW story

Originally published at Tony Khan discusses alleged contract tampering by WWE, 'war' between them, WWE contacting NJPW, Bloomberg-AEW story

AEW President Tony Khan deep dives into multiple topics. 

Heading into the 2022 installment of AEW All Out, it was reported by both PWInsider and Fightful Select that there was a talent meeting held and AEW President Tony Khan said Megha Parekh, Chief Legal Officer, sent an email to WWE’s Stephanie McMahon and Nick Khan saying not to tamper with AEW talent. 

As a part of Super Bowl LVII Radio Row, Tony Khan returned to The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz and dove into the alleged tampering by WWE. Khan reiterated that he cannot confirm that independently, but a lot of staff and wrestlers of AEW have told him about the tampering. 

I can’t really comment on what their (WWE) internal struggles, internal strife’s are because I don’t work there and I’m not there. I can only speak to the challenges we’ve had and I got a lot of wrestlers come to me and allege that WWE reached out to them to tamper with their contracts and ask them to break their contracts. I can’t confirm that specifically. I can only tell you what the wrestlers have come to me and said. But I’ve had multiple wrestlers and staff report that to me. It was very disturbing, and I’ve had to go out and try to put on good shows despite this alleged tampering, stuff like that. But frankly, I don’t think it’s stopped us because the quality of the product and the quality of the shows is at an all-time high right now.

Further speaking about the dynamic between AEW and WWE, Khan described it as a ‘war’. He expressed that the two companies ‘hate’ each other and it makes for good TV. 

He went on to state that the original business plan for AEW was to create a free agent market and said that is definitely a real thing present day. 

The wrestling business is very dirty. I can’t speak to the fight business but certainly, I think it’s more organized than the fight business, as far as there’s two, I think, well-organized promotions competing with each other. Again, I don’t know if these things have happened. I only know what people have come to me and alleged. But, I do know it’s a real war between AEW and WWE and the fans are interested in it and that was part of the original business model of AEW was I knew wrestling fans, frankly, are very interested in wrestling free agency and wrestling wars and I believe we could create a free agent market that is definitely a real thing now and that would be a big part of the story. I think wrestling fans, at the end of the day, that a lot of what happens in wrestling shows is sometimes story and that’s why people like watching the shows. They like stories and the exciting matches and especially, the combination of the two when the stories lead to exciting matches and vice versa. Now, what’s interesting is the story that is the most real, the most intense and the most hatred in all of pro wrestling is that between the two wrestling promotions. I think we truly, truly hate each other and I think it makes for really exciting TV and it makes for an exciting wrestling war.

In 2021, Khan reacted to the report that WWE CEO Nick Khan got in contact with New Japan Pro-Wrestling about establishing a partnership. 

Tony looked back on that and recalled contacting NJPW after he saw the initial story and they confirmed that WWE reached out to form a relationship. Tony said NJPW executives told him that they do not trust WWE and wanted to continue working with AEW. 

I’ll give you a good example (of the hatred between our two companies). About two years ago, there was a rumor I read on the internet that my business partner, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, had gotten a phone call from Nick Khan about switching over to work with them and I was really just getting started with New Japan. We only had been working together a short time and that also had been, frankly, a tumultuous relationship. But, it was getting pretty good and to this day, it is an amazing partnership and I called the New Japan executives and said, ‘Is this true? Did WWE call you and try to get you to turn on me?’ And they said, ‘Yeah’ and I said, ‘Okay, well are we still doing the stuff we have planned?’ Because at the time, we had a match set up for Wednesday night Dynamite where there was gonna be a New Japan Title match in AEW. It was the first of many of those such matches and they told me, ‘No, we don’t trust them. We wanna work with you and we wanna stay with you’ and ever since, our relationship has been incredibly positive and it gave me motivation to say, okay, again, I don’t know if that’s true or not. I only know what my business partner alleged to me and what I read on the internet and they were both the same thing so, following up on that, if that’s the case, I know they’re out there to get me, I know they’re out there to hurt AEW’s relationships with our business partners if that’s the case allegedly and you know, it made me want to work that much harder to make AEW stronger and then that probably ended up being the biggest year for growth we’ve ever had.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg released their profile on All Elite Wrestling. Khan is very happy with the feedback from the article and said he’s never had more interest in AEW from a partnership, sponsorship or licensing standpoint. 

I’ve never had this kind of support and interest in AEW on a business level, sponsorship and licensing since this Bloomberg story came out about AEW last week… I think it is the best coverage we’ve had in the business world and I think it really raised a lot of eyebrows and I’ve never had more interest in partnership and sponsorship and licensing for AEW.

POST Wrestling has weekly audio and written coverage of Dynamite and Rampage. To check out the latest Rewind-A-Dynamite podcast, click here

If the quotes in this article are used, please credit ‘The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz’ with an H/T to POST Wrestling for the transcriptions. 

I love weirdos saying TK is being overdramatic calling it a war and they and WWE don’t like each other when literally the first thing Hunter did when he took over was try to steal away Tony’s contracted talents he had a in with.

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That’s because some fans are tribal idiots. They blindly defend one company and will find anything they can to criticize the other (and to be clear, this is a shot at both sides). Personally I love the wrestling war. Wrestling hasn’t been this exciting since the WWF/WCW days.

I was actually thinking about this the other day. Look at Cody and Brian Danielson just a year or so ago. Both were in their respective companies, and both were a tad on the stale side. Fast forward to today, both are killing it because they jumped ship. That doesn’t happen when the #2 promotion is TNA, this is one of many positives we see in a wrestling war. The fans are the winners here, unfortunately some buy in to just one company too hard and are too tribal to enjoy it.

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Yup. The WWE loyalists will claim it’s not a war unless they get a “win” (i.e. re-signing Cody, or a dip in AEW ratings). And it’s not that long ago that some AEW fans were saying “there is no war” and that WWE was “punching down”, all while Cody was smashing a very Triple H looking throne with a very Triple H looking sledgehammer.

Cheering for – and making excuses for – an organization instead of just watching what you enjoy makes you a hypocrite and, quite frankly, an idiot. If I don’t like something that WWE or AEW does, I’m not going to pretend that I do just because of brand loyalty.

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As Andy Roddick said about Roger Federer - it’s not a rivalry unless he starts winning

Of course Tony will position it like a war. He’s running behind. Anytime he can drum up interest he will.

It was almost a war at one point and was headed that way.

Then for a bunch of reasons one company got hot and the other cooled off.

AEW can barely sell 5,000 tickets let alone 50,000. They can’t pop a rating even with the world champ in a match.

It’s not a war. They used to sell out day 1. Not they can’t even sell out half.

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Just like HHH said when AEW destroyed NXT, it’s a marathon not a race :joy:

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I see what you are saying, when it comes to metrics I agree AEW is nowhere near WWE, but when it comes to the eye test they are definitely on the same level.

When you put on a typical edition of Dynamite, it has the same “feel” of a Raw or SD when it comes to the overall look of the show. AEW gives the perception that it is at the same level as WWE compared so say Impact which looks like its taped in a collage gym (which is accurate as they film in the collage gym 5min away from my house lol).

My point is that while it may not be a “war” in the sense WCW/WWF was a war as AEW is not a threat to WWE going out of business, it’s definitely helping the wrestlers in terms of bargaining power, and it gives the fans a comparable to watch that feels at a similar level in North America. Sure nothing AEW does at the moment will touch a Mania or their other stadium shows, but the average WWE show and average AEW feel the same.

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It wasn’t a “war” for WCW in 1990-1993.
It wasn’t a “war” for WWF in 1994-1997.
It wasn’t. “war” for ECW for their entire existence.

Momentum always shifts over time. To count AEW out from being competitive now is absolutely ridiculous.

It’s like saying Pepsi Co is a failure because Coke has a bigger market share. Or Wendy’s isn’t in a war with McDonald’s.

AEW is fighting for TV rights, audiences and talent. It’s a war.

And also to be critical of the fact they’re only averaging 5K per show, etc, is ignoring the landscape of North American wrestling for the last twenty three years.

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Don’t disagree with this - but I think what I’m saying is that the gap, which was once narrowing is widening more than ever.

They used to be able to draw a much larger audience, so I don’t buy that the landscape of wrestling has changed. They were literally doing this like a year ago. They were also nearing the television rating gaps and generating a lot of the buzz as well.

Clearly, things have changed in the last year and not everything is their fault. It all started I think when Cody, left and a lot of momentum shifted. Since then, they haven’t really had a big free agent signing, and even some of the bigger names that have come out like Sasha Banks haven’t signed with them. There’s also a lot more rumours about people going back to WWE like FTR - none really the other way. This clearly of momentum shift that has been occurring over the last year that is undeniable.

I think people are gonna point to the fact that MJF was allowed to be a heel when he could’ve been a big baby face. They could’ve made Wardlow into a big star, but for some reason it didn’t happen. There’s not really anyone on the roster feel super hot right now and even guys like to Takeshita they job out so often that you can’t take them seriously as a true title contender.

The trajectory a year ago was that they were heading in the same direction as WCW or WWE becoming a little bit more mainstream and generating a lot of buzz and large audiences right now, they are much more like ECW with a very small, vocal audience that loves them but really not a major player in the same regards that they were before.

Can this change? Of course it can – they would need a super hot baby face I think to generate interest again. It’s easier said than done though. However, it also doesn’t help that WWE has had one of their hottest storyline built in years, and are generating record ratings and huge audiences.

I’ll leave you with this. A year ago they were major WWE stars that we all thought would go to AEW and some did. That doesn’t exist right now –
none of the major WWE stars would go there and even ones who left recently didnt. Also, there was virtually nobody from aEW that would come to WWE until. Cody left. You’re starting to see more and more people tease that they want to do that.

Clearly relative to a year ago, one company is up and one company is down. That part is undeniable.

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I don’t disagree that AEW has lost momentum in some ways over the last year - and to a degree buzz has shifted from one company to another. But there are a variety of factors that could change that trajectory quickly or even slowly.

I’m just saying that what you said could easily have been applied to WWF at countless times in the 90’s. One show had Hogan, Hall, Nash, Savage, Sting, Flair, and the hottest storyline in the business, while on the other channel you’d have smaller crowds, less buzz, and a much more shallow roster. Yet, things changed and grew.

WWE has gained a ton of momentum in the last year. But in 2019-2021 they would have done whatever they could have to gain what AEW had going for it.

There are peaks and valleys. Things will change. AEW had an owner who doesn’t seem happy to be viewed as a number two, nor will be happy with complacency. So while a ton of shit gets thrown at the wall - eventually something will stick and catch on.

Also, contractually, nobody was able to leave AEW likely for the first two to three years - that’s why you’re seeing what to saw with Cody, and possibly others. But it’ll always be a two way street. WWE, only has so many spots and not everyone who jumps would be able to be positioned as a Cody. People will be unsatisfied and leave for greener pastures always - and that means people going to a WWE.

Guys like Moxley and Brian seem to be living their best versions of themselves in an AEW and outside of the WWE system.

Yup don’t disagree.

I guess the examples I was using outside of Cody, were Dragon Lee, and Sasha not signing the other way.

I mean, some of it is probably the AEW has a lot of those guys so you can be more unique in WWE, and of course we’ll see what happens with Jay White, but that could also be a big signing. Logic would indicate he goes to AEW with his history and those guys there, but if he goes to WWE, you have to stop and think why.

FTR is big as well - that recent Dax tease may not mean anything, but if they do end up going back, it’s a bit of a strong message that they didn’t really love their time in AEW if they’re heading back right away.

Tony’s not a dumb guy. They were really hurt by what happened with Punk and what happened with Regal didn’t help having a guy come over and essentially in a few months leave in the middle of a big story line because he liked the other guys better.

I would think anyone he signs from now on he’s not let that be an option. However, he does need to focus on creating a new big star because they sort of dropped the ball with Wardlow. MJF had that chance, but they’ve gone heel with him and to be honest it’s getting a little stale. I’m not sure he has a viable challenger yet outside of the usual guys so either they need to create someone or bring someone in that’s going to be a big deal

Serious question (and sorry to quote you in two different posts!), what are the facts and/or reputable rumors around this? I’ve just seen the comments like this one but seem to have missed any real context.

Strickland was approached and it became public knowledge. There is a belief Triple H contacted multiple people.

There is also the belief that guys like Andrade and Black attempted to get out of their contracts over the same period.

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I think people will be the world is not black and white and don’t realize there are shades of gray.

All of those guys mentioned were stars in NXT under Triple H. It stands to reason that before they left, and even after they left, they probably kept in touch a little bit with him given he was a fan and probably a friend of theirs.

It’s very similar to that where you have to think the same thing goes on with FTR, probably edge and Christian, etc. It’s not like they don’t talk to the people from the other company especially those they are friends and close with.

So you have to think the seeds for this will probably be planted informally more than a formal contract offer. But if Triple H is in contact with Malachi and Andrade, even to the point of texting occasionally, you have to think when he’s in charge and he knows they aren’t super happy with your current position that feelers can be put out informally

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Thanks.

Based on that story, i can’t get too worked up over that. Maybe it’s considered “dirty pool,” but it’s such an incestuous business that sending a text to a guy isn’t even a blip on the radar to me. Now if he was throwing out contract terms or directly asking guys to breach, that’s a different story.

But back to the original point, the fact there is serious competing interest over the same talent does seem to confirm the narrative that it’s a “war” (overblown term, but it works) more than refute it.

A lot will hinge on the next TV deal. If AEW gets big money it changes the landscape a lot. If they don’t then other than Tony funding it at a loss it will be harder and harder to match salaries.

It’s also just really crowded in AEW for smaller action wrestlers who aren’t great promos but deliver in ring. Couple that with Nick Wayne coming in and you can see why guys like Dragon Lee might think WWE is better.

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I think the next 12 months are incredibly critical to AEW. I agree with you. Several very important potential deals and potentials coming up…

  • TV deal. Do WBD open up the bank to them? What does WWE’s ultimate landing spot change for AEW. If WWE ends up with Comcast, does FOX look towards aquiring AEW TV? All potential game changers.

  • AEW Video game sales. The importance of making new fans through a game can never be understated. WCW vs. NWO World Tour and No Mercy are both likely for a ton of new or renewed fans, a generation ago. AEW’s game by all reports is attempting to capture the spirit of those games so casual players can jump in and get into it and the product.

  • CM Punk and the Elite. Do issues get resolved, and money gets made?

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When you look at the MNW was interesting is that it was all ebbs and flow

It started bc WCW took WWE talent like Hogan and Savage and Hall and Nash.

It swung back when a WCW talent got hot (Austin) in WWE and exploded and then all the talent started coming in (ie Radicals, Jericho)

So it wasn’t his consistent back-and-forth it was people going to the hotter company

It’ll be interesting when this plays out to look back and see whether Cody Rhodes leaving was the impetus for the change to everyone going to AEW to everyone leaving

It’s a “war” because for 20 years WWE had 90 per cent of the wrestling market and AEW has taken some of that and may take more.

And I don’t know where you’re getting the ticket numbers from. Seattle and Portland were big numbers. Winnipeg is going to be a big number.

This is WWE’s hot season with no NFL, they always do better business.

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The numbers I’m getting are from various sources. Yes they have the occasional big show (ie Winnipeg and Toronto). However they dropped the ball huge in Toronto booking that venue.

Overall it seems their average is 3-5k which is down from the peak interest of the brand. Even the latest PPVs aren’t selling out whereas before it was hour 1 sell outs.

I think the lack of NFL isn’t the big reason. It’s a factor but WWE is hotter.

Just look at this forum. Usually it’s 90 percent AEW and 10 percent WWE discussion historically

Lately it’s all Sami and Cody chatter and some talk about AEW quality of matches. However little on excitement for Bryan Vs MJF etc. it’s much closer to 50/50