Tony Khan navigating ROH acquisition, Cody Rhodes’ departure and new

Tony Khan navigating ROH acquisition, Cody Rhodes' departure and new

Tony Khan had never worked in pro wrestling prior to 2019, when he launched AEW. Now, after a successful three years with the upstart promotion, the lifelong fan of the business also owns Ring of Honor (ROH), an independent wrestling staple for 20 years.

Last Friday, Khan relaunched ROH with Supercard of Honor, an event that drew more than 2,000 fans in the Dallas metropolitan area and integrated AEW and old-school ROH storylines into the show. The main event between FTR and the Briscoes was one of the most critically acclaimed matches of the year. One day later in the same city, Cody Rhodes, a former AEW executive vice president and founding father of the promotion, returned to WWE at WrestleMania 38.

It’s been a busy and exciting time for pro wrestling and Khan himself. He also holds executive positions under his father Shahid with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham FC.

How does Khan plan on running both AEW and ROH together? What are his feelings on Rhodes leaving the company? And how does he view the future red-hot free-agent market in professional wrestling? ESPN spoke to Khan following Supercard of Honor and ahead of an AEW schedule that includes a big Rampage on Friday, featuring Jon Moxley and Wheeler Yuta, and Battle of the Belts 2 on April 15.

Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.

ESPN: What are the short-term plans for Ring of Honor?

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Khan: It’s hard to say. I am very grateful to AEW’s media partner, WarnerMedia, who allowed me to do this show. I really tried to make it a Ring of Honor show — with the Ring of Honor announce team and using a lot of people that had recently been wrestling for Ring of Honor — and then having some faces of the past, some of the great legends of Ring of Honor either appearing on video or in person as a surprise. Like the Young Bucks. Or Samoa Joe returning to Ring of Honor and signing with AEW that night.

I did utilize some resources from AEW with permission from Warner with the understanding from them that I was not going to make this an AEW show. It would be a Ring of Honor show. I was asking them to utilize some AEW resources to make this a great pay-per-view event. For Ring of Honor, it turned out to be one of the most successful events in their history.

You said that your plan, at least initially, is to book Ring of Honor yourself. How can you do that when you already have AEW, Fulham FC and the Jacksonville Jaguars on your plate?

It’s very conducive to the work I’ve done. I already do so much work in the pro wrestling world. It felt very natural to me putting Supercard together. We’re on a great run of shows. I wanted to continue that hot hand and I think we did.

Is ROH going to be weekly television? What will be the pay-per-view frequency?

WarnerMedia was really cool about me doing Supercard of Honor. I think there’s great potential in continuing Ring of Honor as a weekly series.

Would that have to be on Warner contractually? Because I was under the impression you owned ROH separately than AEW.

I do own it as a separate entity from AEW. But I also have a TV contract with Warner that I’m going to produce wrestling shows for them. I’ve been having these conversations with Warner, because I think it would make sense for everyone. And I think they’re open to it. But in the short timeline we had, what I asked for was basically an exemption for it being outside the portfolio.

Do you see ROH being developmental? Or create some kind of integration between ROH and AEW?

I’ve been having more conversations with WarnerMedia about what we can do together to grow Ring of Honor. I think it would make sense for Ring of Honor to continue as a weekly series and major events, like we just had with Supercard. I think the success of Supercard, critically and commercially, will bode very well for WarnerMedia really taking an interest in Ring of Honor, as well as AEW. I think there’s great potential to have a complementary wrestling brand.

What are your plans for former UFC fighter Paige VanZant in AEW?

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Well, she’s training as a pro wrestler, but she’s very well versed in fighting and mixed martial arts and grappling. She is a natural when it comes to the charisma and the way she carries herself like a star both on television and to the live fans. She has such a great presence. She’s developing her wrestling skills. With her potential and her presence, I think there’s a real chance she could be a force to be reckoned with in pro wrestling.

I see this all the time: Why is AEW signing so much talent? How can it possibly accommodate and properly use everyone? What are your thoughts on that?

I think people can look at it a little differently after we had the success with Ring of Honor’s Supercard, because I think we’ve taken some people that have been important in AEW and presented them again now in a new light in Ring of Honor.

For example, Tully Blanchard and Brian Cage together in Ring of Honor, and Tully Blanchard starting Tully Blanchard Enterprises with Cage and a new tag team, Kaun and Toa Liona. I think that’s a great example of how potentially there could be fluidity between the roster of AEW and Ring of Honor, which would be great for both companies.

What can you tell me about the Owen Hart Cup?

I’m very excited for it. There’s going to be a men’s tournament and a women’s tournament. It will culminate in the finals at Double or Nothing in Las Vegas at T-Mobile on May 29 on pay-per-view.

How much will Owen Hart’s widow, Martha Hart, be involved?

She is involved. She signed off on this. We’ve been talking to her for two years now. We talked to her throughout the pandemic and we agreed that when people could return for live events and Martha Hart herself could attend it, we would do it. So, Martha herself will definitely be at the finals in Las Vegas. She has been great to work with. It’s been a pleasure to make that connection between AEW and the Owen Hart Foundation. Martha is a very discerning, educated woman. She doesn’t do anything without doing a lot of research. She wanted to make sure this was an event worthy of carrying Owen’s name.

AEW released a statement when Cody Rhodes left the company. There have been developments since then, including his return to WWE at WrestleMania. Were you surprised he went to WWE?

Cody Rhodes returned to WWE at WrestleMania 38. Marc Raimondi/ESPN

No. It’s a binary decision. He wasn’t going to be here and based on the conversations we were having — he never outright told me — but it was obvious that was what was happening.

How do you feel about it as he was one of the guys you initially spoke to about starting AEW?

Not anything I want to comment on. Like I’ve said, I appreciate the things Cody and his wife, Brandi Rhodes, did in AEW and I saw Cody show up in WWE. Like I said before he showed up there, it’s all still true: I still like him and wish him the best. I’m appreciative of the stuff he did in AEW. We spent hundreds and hundreds of hours together and know each other very well. I think we parted on very good terms.

The Monday Night Wars in the 1990s was a super hot period of time where guys went back and forth between WWF and WCW as free agents. Do you envision that happening now?

We’ve been seeing a lot of people that were huge stars around the world in many promotions come to AEW and one of those major promotions is WWE. I think we’ve had great stars come in from WWE, Ring of Honor and New Japan and other places over the years.

We just had Samoa Joe come to AEW and he’s one of the biggest wrestling stars in the world. Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole. Jeff Hardy is one of the most popular wrestlers ever. Many others have come to us by choice and a lot of other people have been let go from WWE, that had their contracts terminated. Toni Storm, I guess asked for her release and came here by choice. She just debuted in AEW last week. There have been other names like Ruby Soho, Malakai Black, Andrade El Idolo and a number of others who got let go. Keith Lee, Swerve Strickland.

It’s not anything unusual to see stars coming from other promotions, including WWE, into AEW. I think it is now a little different to see a star from AEW go onto WWE television. I think as the years go by — we’re a young promotion — it was bound to happen sooner or later. And now it has.

AEW CEO Tony Khan is excited about the possibilities of fluid movement of superstars between AEW and Ring of Honor. AEW

As far as free agency and that talent movement, I think AEW is at a point now where some contracts are expiring. Is that something you’re prepared for, that there maybe some bidding wars for guys like MJF or maybe even Kenny Omega? Are you expecting bidding wars in the future?

Yeah, I am. We have a lot of great wrestlers here. I expect there probably will be down the road interest in some of them, because we’re putting on such strong shows. I think there’s bound to be free-agent movement. On both sides of the competition. I think it’s great for the wrestlers.

Will there be a Blood & Guts match this year?

Yeah. I’d say to expect Blood & Guts this summer.

Will there be a Stadium Stampede this year?

That I’ll have to get back to you on. I’ve thought about it. It’s a very different wrestling world now than it was during the pandemic. I think it’s a great match, a signature match for us that people really enjoyed. But some of the reasons we presented that match were because of the challenges that existed in the world because of the pandemic, as far as presenting sporting events with live fans. That doesn’t really exist in this live-event pandemic.

If you could sign any combat sports person to wrestle for AEW, who would it be?

Great question. I’m not as familiar with MMA box office as the wrestling box office. I’m thinking Conor McGregor or Floyd Mayweather, probably, are the two biggest draws, I think. I don’t know for sure. I’d probably say one of those two. They’re both huge stars.

AEW is doing a big show next month in Las Vegas, Double or Nothing on pay-per-view. Any integration with the UFC?

I asked them to come. I don’t know. We’d have to see. If we could find a way to make that work, I think it would be great.

I’m just excited to be out there for the week. Hopefully I can see UFC president Dana White and UFC chief business officer Hunter Campbell in Vegas. It’s always great to have them here in Jacksonville for UFC 273 this weekend. This will be the first time I’ve gotten to go back to Vegas since the pandemic started. When I’m out there, they’re definitely people l look up. The only people I’m racing to talk to when I’m out there are Dana and Hunter. It used to be Jon Moxley and his wife Renee Paquette, but they moved to Cincinnati.

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