All Elite Wrestling is set to present its first women’s main event, with Dr. Britt Baker meeting Thunder Rosa in an “Unsanctioned Lights Out” match Wednesday night on Dynamite.
AEW president and CEO Tony Khan is eager for the match to air on TNT, as Baker and Rosa have vowed to use this platform as a showcase, highlighting a vicious ending to their long-term feud.
Coming off on a highly critiqued, yet still successful Revolution pay-per-view, Khan spoke with Sports Illustrated to discuss the present and future of AEW.
Sports Illustrated: Dr. Britt Baker and Thunder Rosa are in the midst of an old-school, throwback feud. I know there are people who wanted to see Hikaru Shida in the main event, but what went into the decision to highlight Rosa and Baker on this week’s Dynamite?
Tony Khan: I’ve been planning out Dynamite’s first-ever “Lights Out” match for the past six months. Their program is one of my favorite stories we’ve ever told, and it’s had so much build and detail. We saw Thunder Rosa come into AEW from the NWA, which is a deal I made with [NWA owner] Billy Corgan. She’s been a great wrestler for us, and Britt Baker is one of our top heels. She’s wanted Rosa out of the company since her debut, which is a great story.
This is going to be a great match. It’s one of our biggest pay-per-view stipulations, but we’ve never used it like this on Dynamite. This is the right feud for it, with two of our best wrestlers, and it’s the right place to showcase them on our flagship show—and it’s the next logical step in their story.
SI: Baker and Rosa have both excelled in AEW, bringing so much depth to the programming.
TK: And when I say they are great wrestlers, I mean three-dimensional. They’re both great workers, but I’m not exclusively talking about work. The presentation of a wrestler is a 360 presentation, and they are both crossover stars. They have incredible charisma, and they’re on a short list of people that can build a great story and then deliver an amazing main event. This is going to be an insane, wild match, and all the credit goes to them for keeping their story hot for so long. Every time they lock up, there is interest.
SI: Looking back, so much happened at the Revolution pay-per-view, including the debut of Christian Cage. As a promoter, can you walk us through your mindset of choosing to tease a surprise ahead of time, as opposed to having a completely unexpected debut?
TK: We’ve had lots of different debuts, and they’ve run the gambit and the spectrum of the way they’ve come in.
We really wanted to give Christian a unique presentation, and we hadn’t done it this way before. We have such high expectations for him—he is one of the best workers in the world and one of the best minds in wrestling. He’s very motivated to come in and outwork everyone, like he’s said, and I thought this was a great vehicle to build up a lot of excitement around his arrival. Plus, with the excitement surrounding Paul Wight, it was a cool way to build Paul’s credibility as a host and a breaker-of-news.
Christian is an important free agent for us. He’s universally praised by his peers, and I feel like this fit the occasion.
SI: Paul Wight is another new addition to AEW. Could Paul’s position as a Special Olympics Global Ambassador lead to AEW being more directly involved with Special Olympics?
TK: I would love to work with Special Olympics. That would be great, and it’s something we’re going to look into.
SI: Sting was phenomenal at Revolution, delivering a performance that served as a reminder that there is no one quite like him in pro wrestling. What was the filming of the Street Fight like? And how delicate is the balance between wanting to put Sting on television each week while still keeping every appearance as special and unique as possible?
TK: There is no one like Sting in pro wrestling. He spans multiple generations as a main-event star, and he’s still as a top star on television today. Now we’ve seen he still has great stuff in the tank. Sting is signed here for years and there will be a lot more matches, which I’m really excited about. It was great for people to see the serious way we’re going to present him.
Filming was great. Everyone did such a phenomenal job on that shoot. Sting and Darby Allin have really clicked, and that’s what I was betting on. Darby had a vision for this match, and I love collaborating with him. It was a lot of fun working with them, and it was a great shoot.
SI: Revolution had more than its share of highlights, including a brilliant Kenny Omega–Jon Moxley main event and an excellent title defense from Hikaru Shida against Ryo Mizunami. There was also the lowlight with the end of the Exploding Barbed Wire Deathmatch. What were your biggest takeaways from Revolution?
TK: My biggest takeaways from the pay-per-view is the wrestlers worked very, very hard and that we have a lot of interest in the product right now.
I know, from following the wrestling business my whole life, that there have been a lot of companies that have had rough moments in a show or had not everything go perfectly in a show. It’s all about how you respond to it. You also can’t afford to have a string of bad shows. I think our last pay-per-view, Full Gear, was excellent, and there were a lot of great moments at Revolution. We’ve got to do great shows moving forward, like we did with Dynamite last week, and we can’t wait to build up to Double or Nothing.
SI: The crossover with Impact Wrestling has been beneficial for both AEW and Impact. Do you ever worry that it does more for Impact than for AEW?
TK: It’s good for wrestling fans. I make sure we come off strong every time we’re on their TV. WWE had a similar relationship with the USWA and SMW in the ’90s. It’s beneficial for us, too. I just signed Ethan Page from them. I’m excited about that, and we have the most exciting roster in the world.
SI: What is your take on NXT’s reported move to Tuesday nights?
TK: I’ve heard the rumors they might move, and that would be O.K. with us. There is a lot of great wrestling on, and it’s been fun having the competition, but there is still plenty of great competition. It’s been good having both shows for the fans. If they move nights, then the fans that like both shows can watch them both live.
SI: What do you enjoy most about the weekly infomercials with Tony Schiavone? Tony had been away from wrestling for so long, but his renaissance has been so much fun to watch.
TK: My favorite of all the shows Conrad [Thompson] does is the one with Tony. That’s the one I always keep up with. I like the shows with Eric [Bischoff], and I like Eric a lot, and Conrad does a good show with Bruce [Prichard], who I don’t know at all, but I always liked the one with Tony.
From listening, it seemed like Tony had fallen back in love with wrestling. Tony has said before that his biggest regret was leaving the WWF. He called Vince McMahon and asked for his job back but didn’t get it. Then he was in WCW until the end, and he called Vince again in March of 2001. He asked for a job, and again, they didn’t give it to him. He did the infamous one show in Impact, and then he didn’t do anything in wrestling for years. He was working with Georgia basketball, and I saw him at a game. He talked with me about how he could have done more, and it sounded like he could have been valuable for WWE.
I thought he’d be so valuable for us. In addition to the commentary, I really like him as an interviewer. He would do that back on Thunder, too. Outside of Gene Okerlund, he’s my favorite interviewer. Now he’s working on Elevation with Paul Wight. Tony is such a big part of our presentation, and I really enjoy doing the Impact paid ads with him.
SI: There is already a great deal of excitement and anticipation in AEW, but perhaps none bigger than this. When will we see Kenny Omega challenge Kota Ibushi for the IWGP world heavyweight championship?
TK: We shall see. You never know what’s going to happen, and people have been genuinely excited to see wrestlers from different companies show up on Dynamite. It needs to happen under the right circumstances, and we shall see what those are.