The MMA Hour’s Ariel Helwani interviewed AEW President Tony Khan last week. During the course of the 77 minute conversation, Khan refused to answer questions about several hot topics such as the backstage brawl at All Out between CM Punk and The Elite, MJF’s contract controversy from earlier this year, and potential interest in signing free agent (at the time) Bray Wyatt.
On yesterday’s edition of his show, Helwani criticized Khan for going over the top promoting the AEW product during their interview without giving Helwani any substantive answers in return:
“Whatever I’m gonna say here is gonna piss off the AEW super marks. But I’ll just say this, one of the most frustrating, and to a degree, not-so-fun interviews of my career. Because, as you may have seen, he didn’t want to answer anything.”
“Now look, you’re gonna come on and promote X, Y, and Z, great, and I’ll play that dance with you. And I did, at the beginning. But you got to give us something. To not even tell me how you were feeling...give me something. Don’t just say, ‘Not gonna talk about it. Not gonna talk about it. Doesn’t serve me. Doesn’t serve me.’”
“That’s not the way you do it...Look at some of the great promoters over the last 30 years. There’s a way of giving us the answer, even though it’s not the answer I want, but you’re giving us some sort of answer, something to chew on, as opposed to just shutting it all down. Not very enjoyable.”
“The enjoyment of getting to talk to the guy who founded this great property that has done a lot of great things in three years fizzled out rather quickly when I realized the only answers he’s gonna give me are these long drawn-out answers promoting all this stuff and going on these tangents about Chris Jericho and this and that...”
Helwani’s criticism of Khan is completely warranted. In the case of the Punk/Elite situation, it sounds like there are legal issues that have everyone keeping a tight lid at the moment. Fair enough. But the point in the interview where I was shaking my head the most was when Khan refused to even answer the question of how he felt watching Cody Rhodes during his return to WWE.
Cody’s return to WWE happened over six months ago! It’s not even a hot topic anymore, especially with Rhodes injured and away from pro wrestling at the moment. Tony certainly could have provided an honest response about how it felt watching Cody back in WWE that wouldn’t violate whatever apparent agreement he has with Cody to not get into details on why their business relationship came to an end.
Instead, Khan said he wouldn’t answer the question because it didn’t serve him well to do that. Khan’s admission that he’s trying to dodge potentially difficult topics brings into question how much fans can trust anything that comes out of his mouth as anything more than promotional gobbledygook with no substance to it. That’s a big problem. Helwani is spot on with his dance partner metaphor; Khan needs to find a better approach for addressing the most pressing questions that come from the media.
Unfortunately, Helwani is so caught up in his frustration that he ends up making it about himself:
“This is me just shooting right here. I feel like Tony Khan doesn’t trust me. I feel like he doesn’t really like me. And I feel like he came in there with his guard super up, and didn’t want to give me any sort of morsel, because he thought that if he opened the door a little bit, I would ask X, Y, and Z.”
No, Ariel, Tony Khan has been refusing to answer these questions with every member of the media. It’s not a personal slight against you. I listened to the entire 77+ minute interview and Khan seemed to genuinely believe it was a good chat. He’s just oblivious about how bad it looks when he completely shuts down specific questions like the ones you asked.
Helwani then shoves his head up his own ass and almost undermines his entire argument when he attacks a portion of pro wrestling fans who think AEW has a better product than WWE:
“If you are saying right now with a straight face that the AEW product is better than the WWE product, you’re just a liar. You’re just an absolute liar. There’s no if, ands, or buts. The WWE product is infinitely better, infinitely more interesting, and there’s a freakin’ brawl happening backstage each and every week it seems. Meanwhile it’s all kumbaya on the [WWE] side of things. Like, if you’re gonna be a superfan be a superfan, but also tell it like it is. Six months ago wasn’t the case...but right this second, if you’re gonna sit here and say that it’s a better product, you’re an absolute liar.”
Several months ago, there was no doubt in my mind that AEW had a better product than WWE. But now that Vince McMahon is gone, WWE has made clear improvements. Meanwhile, AEW is getting bogged down with way too many titles and top stories falling apart thanks to backstage drama. As a result, there is now some doubt in my mind about which company is putting on the better product.
If I could only watch one wrestling show each week, though, I would choose AEW Dynamite over Raw or SmackDown (or Rampage, if that even needs to be said about a clear B-show). I consistently enjoy Dynamite every single week, even though it’s not reaching the high points as frequently as it used to. Raw always has that three hour running time holding it back, while SmackDown varies depending on whether Roman Reigns is booked on the show. It’s worth noting that WWE’s recent PPV events under the new regime have all been good to great.
Naming my preferred wrestling show as Dynamite doesn’t necessarily mean I think the AEW product is better than WWE right now. As I said earlier, there is some doubt in my mind about it. I don’t have a particularly strong feeling about which product is better right now, and can see arguments in either direction.
That’s my honest answer if someone asked me which product I think is better. I suppose Helwani isn’t calling me an “absolute liar” because I’m not declaring that AEW is the superior product. But I am not willing to say the WWE product is better than AEW right now, so I must be brushing up really close to that line where Ariel thinks I’m a liar and a super mark. And if that’s what he thinks, then he’s a damn fool. If anyone comes off like a liar or a mark, it’s the guy who confidently declares that one product is “infinitely” better than the other right now. Ideally, though, nobody in the media should be using that derogatory term to talk down to wrestling fans (Helwani also used the phrase “the crazy marks” during another part of this discussion).
One of the things that being part of the Cageside community over the last 11 years has helped me do is open my eyes to other viewpoints and opinions about pro wrestling that disagree from my own. There are definitely wrestling fans out there who genuinely believe AEW has a better product than WWE right now. There are definitely wrestling fans out there who genuinely believe that WWE has a better product than AEW right now. Neither of these opinions are absurd on its face. The way folks go about arguing each side can tell you if they are the type of fan who blindly defends their team under any circumstances or actually uses critical thinking to compare and contrast. Some folks fall into the former bucket and just can’t be reasoned with, but those folks are a small subset of wrestling fandom.
By belittling a portion of AEW fans as liars and marks just because they hold a different opinion than him, Helwani opens himself up more to questions about his own ties to WWE, such as his working relationship with their partner BT Sport or his recent voiceover spot at Extreme Rules.
I don’t believe those ties had any influence on his criticism of Khan. But after hearing his ignorant rant labeling some AEW fans as liars and marks, it’s easy to conclude that he’s not the most impartial observer to deliver the aforementioned criticism of Tony Khan’s refusal to answer important questions in the media. And that’s too bad, because Khan’s need to learn and improve should ideally be the only focus of this story.