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Tony Khan on his role in managing tensions backstage at AEW

TBS’s AEW Dynamite Los Angeles Debut After Party Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images for Warner Bros. Discovery

It doesn’t matter if you’re Team CM Punk or Team Elite when it comes to the behind-the-scenes drama that’s been a staple of AEW since last summer. Even if you’re among those us weary observers who don’t have a side and just want it to stop but can’t entirely look away, at some point you’ve thought, “What is Tony Khan doing to address this?”

As we’ve seen in the past, the AEW owner, president & booker can’t or won’t get into the specifics of that — which (along with the fact the drama hasn’t gone away) is a big part of why the question persists.

While talking to Khan about this weekend’s big All In PPV in London’s Wembley Stadium, The Hollywood Reporter gave it another shot.

Here’s the full question from Georg Szalai and Khan’s answer as published in THR’s Aug. 23 article:

GS: This next one is probably the trickiest question I have for you. Similar to Hollywood, wrestling is a business of stars. That also means big personalities and at times clashes of personalities and their opinions and interests. There has been much talk in the wrestling business about the dislike and disagreements between some of your big stars, especially CM Punk and members of The Elite (Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks, Hangman Page) that led to a reported physical altercation last year. Some are concerned about what that means for locker room morale and AEW overall. These stars will all be in London after their infamous run-in last year. How do you see your role in managing such tensions? Do you leave these things to the wrestlers to sort out or do you give any guidance or step in and draw a line?

TK: The most important thing to me as the CEO is the wrestling fans. I’m a huge wrestling fan, and I try to think like a wrestling fan. I want the best wrestlers here in AEW. I want the best roster. And there may be some of them that don’t get along with each other backstage or on TV. It’s not ideal, but it’s a reality, and I can’t make everyone get along. I’m not sure it’s necessarily even in the best interest of pro wrestling for everybody t get along. But ideally, everybody is going to be able to focus on their matches and putting on the best shows for the fans. And I think that’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve had really strong ratings. So even though … wrestlers backstage hate each other and don’t want to be friends with each other, I think we all agree this is a really exciting time for the company. And it’s a really exciting time for the wrestling business and for the wrestling fans.

There are a lot of people around here who think they’re the best. And I think a lot of them have a valid claim that they’re the best. And what I’m trying to do is to create an environment where everybody can go out and prove it multiple times per week and create a platform where the fans can decide who the best wrestlers are, what the best rivalries are, what the best matches are. As long as I can keep the top talent in AEW, we will have the best matches and the best big events. The lineup of wrestlers competing on AEW All In is the strongest group of talent we’ve ever assembled on one show, it features some of the biggest matches in the history of this company, and I think it’s going to be one of the greatest days ever in pro wrestling this Sunday.

It’s not an answer that’s going to change many minds. Identifying first and foremost as a wrestling fan... that’s often part of the criticism leveled at Tony — on this and other issues pertaining to his wrestling brands.

He also gets in a little bit of the “actually, it can be good for business when wrestlers hate each other” answer he got flak for last fall. For that to be true, the wrestlers fans believe hate each other have to be willing to work together. At least in the case of The Elite, TK hasn’t convinced everyone backstage to set aside their differences for the sake of the box office.

Then it’s right back into promoter mode, which is the reason why he’s doing the interview but also doesn’t answer the question.

What should he have said? There’s probably nothing he could have said that would completely alleviate concerns of more backstage flare-ups, but pointing to the expanded Talent Relations structure they announced last year wouldn’t be bad PR (although it would call attention to the fact someone with a manager title in that department is currently banned from one of AEW’s show by a talent), or maybe an update on how they’ve adjusted that since Brawl Out or the launch of Collision.

Let us know what you would have liked to hear in response to THR’s question, or if you think there’s any satisfactory answer Khan could give at this point, in the comments below.

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