MR. TITO: The Most Positive Wrestling Column You’ll Read About AEW and Tony Khan

Right now, it seems as though the entire online wrestling community it attacking Tony Khan, the Elite EVPs, and All Elite Wrestling (AEW) for its handling of CM Punk, trying to dispute Wembley stadium attendance figures, and making a mockery of AEW’s recent viewership and domestic attendance numbers. I have to admit, I have been critical of AEW’s creative and talent direction at times…


What everyone should be doing is THANKING the wrestling Gods for AEW’s existence.

Yeah, I said it… And this column is NOT sarcasm…

Before we go deep into reviewing AEW as a company, you should look at their obvious contender, WWE. Since AEW’s inception, hasn’t the WWE greatly improved in terms of showcasing and pushing talent while Creative has greatly improved? Consider these WWE improvements:

(1) WWE wrestlers are getting paid more than ever, thanks to the threat of joining AEW.

(2) Roman Reigns was finally turned heel. Years upon years of them shoving Roman’s babyface character down our throats, the WWE finally switched him heel.

(3) NXT call-ups are being treated better lately. Why? Because each of them could bolt and join AEW. Hence where there is more thoughtful use of any call-up.

(4) Taking women’s wrestling seriously. Look at how much Bianca and Rhea have grown, along with other NXT call-ups who are thriving on the main WWE roster. This creates an atmosphere for a Jade Cargill to desire to join.

Without AEW, you wouldn’t have WWE improving. PERIOD. The threat of losing any talent, failing on Roman Reigns, and botching any NXT call-up is all due to the existence of a real competitor who has a REAL television deal. Sorry NWA and Impact, your TV deal or lack of television puts you at a major disadvantage. AEW is on 3 nights per week on TBS/TNT, which are available in more than 80 million households.

Let’s look at it on the flip side…

AEW is another option for any wrestlers who leave the WWE, voluntarily or involuntarily. Before 2019, there was seriously nothing. Impact Wrestling would be your best choice, other than flying to New Japan (which was a good option, if you’re willing to travel and/or live there for a while). But Impact has a bad television deal and no mainstream audience. They seriously have like under 150,000 viewers per week and I know that only because some of the AEW crossover stuff pumped their numbers to make them briefly appear on the viewership report before dropping back down. Ring of Honor was about to hit a final nail moment once COVID hit.

WWE shredded much of its audience during 2020, 2021, and 2022 and many wrestlers found much needed homes that paid well with AEW. Again, their only choices are NWA, Impact, and Japan (which isn’t for everyone). Could many of those ex-WWE stars be used better? Sure… But maybe those ex-WWE stars had reasons for their releases, too. That’s a tough reality to accept, but until someone makes the WWE pay for taking them for granted, it’s proving the WWE right on their releases unfortunately.

Everyone complains about the WWE’s Tag Team Division, or lack thereof. AEW has a pretty solid and committed tag divisions. Isn’t that what you want?

Everyone complains about the WWE’s lack of respect for guys under 6 feet tall and/or under 200 pounds. AEW regularly features those wrestlers and pushes them as top stars.

Many veterans that you love are still finding work and thriving with AEW. Chris Jericho, Sting, Christian, Jim Ross, Tony Shiavone, Arn Anderson, Dean Malenko, Diamond Dallas Page, Big Show (Paul Wight), and Mark Henry have all found something in AEW to do and to get paid. Those WWE legends contracts don’t pay much and WWE controls part of your appearances. Now, these guys can work for AEW and freely make money off their careers and good names at conventions and other appearances. Being prominently featured on AEW boosts their abilities to make more money for appearances, too.

AEW tries to feature international wrestlers, most notably from Mexico and especially Japan. Has it been perfect? No… But if it ever clicks, it presents AEW tremendous adversity that helped make WCW big in the 1990s. They just need to push and present the right talent from those regions.

Yes, Tony is struggling as a manager… But this company is about to turn just 5 years old once 2024 rolls around, but their TV show AEW is just 4 years old now. Television executives don’t just give any geek off the street prime time timeslots on TBS or TNT for nothing. This young company is drawing between 700,000 to 1 million per show, and at a much cheaper rate than what TBS/TNT is paying for NBA/NHL leagues, movie rights, or reruns of popular TV shows. I hate to hear Meltzer bragging about the 18-49 demo, but that number is somehow the trick to win over advertisers to make your show profitable.

While I wasn’t a big fan of AEW Fight Forever, the fact that they made a wrestling video game attempt is important. Have you noticed how good the past 2 WWE 2K games have been? That’s after being heavily criticized for poor attempts previously. It’s a good start to build on, as the control, graphics, framerate, and online mode could only improve on future entries.

AEW showed WWE what they were missing with CM Punk. Yes, I’m 100% aware that it ended poorly during August 2022 and August 2023. But go back to August 2021… Remember how much optimism we all had with CM Punk returning? Then on that Friday Night AEW Rampage show in Chicago, we were soooooo happy to see him back. We lost over 7 years of him as a wrestling character thanks to the WWE burning him out. But for a brief moment in time, CM Punk was happy to be there and energized AEW to have record breaking gates and PPV buys along with viewership topping 1 million again.

See, that’s what most people don’t realize… The latter half of the 2010s were ROUGH for Pro Wrestling fans. TNA became Impact and made zero impact on pro wrestling. Ring of Honor began to die and Sinclair Corporation neglected them. WWE lost John Cena to Hollywood and shoved an inexperienced Roman Reigns down our throats as a babyface. Wrestling was so bad that we over-valued NXT as a great brand simply because it was an alternative to the main roster WWE. Then, AEW arrives and changes the entire narrative of the wrestling business and forces WWE to change itself.

I know, it’s easy to get frustrated by the Elite… They probably shouldn’t be Executive Vice Presidents for Omega and the Bucks. But those guys were stars in their own rights and made it big OUTSIDE of the WWE. That’s more of an accomplishment than many others can say, as other wrestlers refuse to leave their WWE comfort zone to make it elsewhere. Cody left the WWE and made a name for himself, while Bucks/Omega could never arrange a full run in WWE but made it on their own. They packed an arena of over 10,000 fans together at 2018’s All In event, which help spur the creation of AEW.

Look, Omega and the Bucks can only sign the contracts that they are offered… Tony Khan could have offered them less money and removing their EVP titles, but he didn’t. Why? Because those wrestlers were the horses that he rode in on and together, they’ve had decent success together. CM Punk has always been there, but the Bucks have consistently been there (besides a brief suspension) and so has Omega, besides the injury time-off (and suspension). They’ve been there to help draw 800,000+ viewers, people in arenas (even though it fluctuates), and were a part of the Wembley Show even before CM Punk made his 2023 return.

Yes, Tony is making mistakes… But the company still makes money, still has a firm TV deal in place, and they are about to potentially start streaming on MAX (formerly HBO Max) which has about 76 million subscribers (much more than Peacock). Tony is about to cross 5 years in the wrasslin’ business total for his career… Compare to that Vince McMahon, who was still working for his dad by his 5th year in 1974 with 8 more years before he took over the WWE company. With Eric Bischoff, he was just finishing up with AWA as an announcer in 1991 before joining WCW as an announcer that same year. He wouldn’t become an executive until 1993, and that was a difficult year for him. Tony is making mistakes on the fly and we’re all seeing it in real time with social media and streaming replay videos, which is something that Vince and Eric didn’t quite have in their early tenures.

Look at who AEW made into stars… MJF and Jade Cargill. MJF wrestled places previously, but in AEW, he’s left a mark and will likely catapult himself into a bigger AEW contract or be a big free agent signing for WWE in 2024-2025. Fact is that AEW took a chance on him and he’s now a household name. Ditto with Jade Cargill. Yes, she has been green, but they booked her as a female Bill Goldberg and it worked. They gave her the platform that maybe WWE wasn’t quite ready to offer her unless she spent months, if not years, in their developmental system. Now, WWE will inherit what AEW made. WWE could have signed both wrestlers, but didn’t… They went to AEW instead and became stars in spite of WWE.

Let’s be honest about CM Punk… He has a pattern of behavior about always being disgruntled backstage, even when times are going great. Fact is that when Kevin Nash went unscripted on CM Punk just after SummerSlam 2011 (“Waffle House” comment), CM Punk didn’t seek revenge or fight anybody. Why? Because he had fear of Kevin Nash, Vince McMahon, and Triple H. Punk kept his mouth shut and kept working until he left the company. In AEW when the Elite trolls got under his skin, he acted way differently even though he’s supposed to be 7 years older and supposedly wiser or mature. Nope, he got into fist fights with the Young Bucks and Jack Perry, cut an unscripted promo multiple times on Adam Page, and went ballistic at the All Out 2022 Media Scrum. If he truly lunged at Tony Khan, as some reports suggest he did, then that’s even more concerning especially at AEW’s biggest show ever.

Speaking of that biggest show for AEW ever, Wembley stadium… Whether the number is 80,000 or 70,000, it’s still a ton of people who attended that live AEW event. Yes, I know Tony bragged about 90,000 as some rich kid without much discipline would do, but 70,000 is still an amazing number to attend a wrestling event. Geesh… If he would have only drawn like 20,000, then we could make fun of Tony and AEW. But for 70,000 people? Come on… Get over yourselves, and the WWE has only drawn near that amount of bodies just a handful of times.

Things could be much, much worse in AEW… They could be losing money, but they’re not. They’ve made money, other than 1 year where the video game expenses became excessive. They’ve made wrestlers money, both in the WWE as competition but also any castaways who had issues getting into WWE or retaining a job there. By being legitimate competition, they’ve pushed WWE to be better.

And could you imagine AEW without freakin’ COVID-19 ruining their television shows without live audiences during the first year on television? Nobody gives them credit for that disaster happening to them during their 2nd year of existence and 1st year on television.

In short, give AEW credit… They’ve had a bumpy ride for the past 5 years, but they forced much needed CHANGE and CHOICE in the wrestling industry. They forced WWE to change itself but also gave fans an alternative to watch and follow if they are burned out on WWE. Could it be better? Yes… But I’d rather watch wrestling during the 2020s than I would the 2010s. Much better now thanks to competition from Tony Khan’s AEW.

See, I can write positive columns on AEW…

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