If you are a student of history then you know that it often repeats itself because we humans are as faulty as a day one copy of Aliens: Colonial Marines or Battlefield 2042.
You probably already know the infamous trials and tribulations of WCW. How it went from the prestigious pinnacle of sports entertainment to a crapfest that tried to bring back The Ultimate Warrior versus Hulk Hogan, had Ed Ferrara parading around as the vile Jim Ross parody Oklahoma and David Arquette winning the WCW World Heavyweight championship. How under the once inspired leadership of Eric Bischoff and others WCW became a bloated adult daycare where wrestlers were paid Brinks truck loads of money to hardly wrestle, to hardly care, to stay home and sit on their asses or not to sign with the WWE. How the federation dominated the front page of wrestling magazines, websites, and newsletters with outrageous behind the scenes feuds and controversies because of lack of leadership, focus and a slew of embarrassing champagne, Viagra and Buff Bagwell’s mom on a pole matches.
Sound familiar? It should. It is what AEW has become.
Since its inception AEW has been one big clusterf–k behind the scenes as a wrestling promotion, a brand and a business. It was like that long before CM Punk arrived on the scene and will continue to be now that he is gone. His departure doesn’t change things. Whose fault is all of this? One person, the head honcho: Tony Khan himself.
Khan has allowed employees to run roughshod all over AEW, a brand estimated to be worth a billion dollars. He has permitted employees to remain with the company after assaulting people in the workplace. He has permitted employees to take to AEW and Time Warner’s own airwaves to air their grievances against the company itself and other employees. He has permitted employees to trash each other and the company publicly on social media as well.
Like WCW, another adult daycare back in the day, the inmates are running the asylum and to make matters worse it is the wrong inmates who are allowed to do so. Blinded by friendships and fan boy crushes, Khan has placed his faith and his trust in all the wrong people. He clearly cannot separate business from those friendships.
In my career as an editor and a publisher I have had to terminate friends. I have had to sanction friends. I have had to candidly criticize friends. It can be uncomfortable. It can be difficult. It can be awkward but if I didn’t I would be dishonest and unprofessional. It would be irresponsible not to do what needs to be done and say with needs to be said, in a civil and diplomatic way, naturally. I have even butted heads, disagreed with my wife and she with me in meeting rooms and board rooms when we worked for the same high profile company years ago.
Truthfully, we went home without any animosity or any fallout because we respected and understood why we disagreed with each other on a professional basis and not on a personal basis. We could make that separation. Khan cannot and that is what is preventing AEW from reaching the next level. It is what keeps their cable ratings stagnant or on a decline depending on which show you are talking about. It is what’s causing AEW’s popularity to nosedive in North America, especially when it comes to weekly live show ticket sales.
The honeymoon phase is over for AEW. It is time the company stopped being a club house, a fraternity or sorority, grew up and became a real corporation with standards, policies and EVPs who behave like real EVPs in every sense of the word. A company that doesn’t allow talent to work injured. A company that has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to not only workplace violence but also abuse and harassment which includes employees airing dirty laundry, company business and assassinating the character of other employees on television, social media and to the media at large.
These things would get you a final warning or immediate termination at any other company.
One of AEW’s most important partners is Discovery Time-Warner. Can you imagine working there and reading story after story, incident after incident? How could you view the brand with any kind of seriousness with all that childishness going on?
Last week, AEW held one of its most successful shows ever: All In. It was phenomenal not only from a financial point of view but also when it came to the quality of the product. I even said so here. It was one of the best shows and one of the most memorable shows of the year. But whatever strides and goodwill that came out of All In was ruined by yet even more internal controversy.
It all began when news surfaced that a meeting between Punk and The Elite to iron out their differences and bury the hatchet was cancelled by The Elite. Then, coincidentally, CM Punk’s travel arrangements by AEW were so screwed up that he had to take the Tube (subway) to his hotel. Was it any wonder that when a spiteful, immature and unprofessional Jack Perry called Punk and others out live on the show for not allowing him to work with real glass in the past, that Punk confronted him backstage after his match on the pre-show was over?
Things escalated from there and if Punk physically attacked Perry backstage, well, he deserved to be terminated. However, one has to remember a few things. One, there wouldn’t have been a situation in the first place if Perry hadn’t said what he said. Secondly, The Elite and their pals have seemingly harassed Punk for eons, which included mocking him as part of a televised match when he was away from the company. In all honesty, the trouble has been going on for months and months and Punk didn’t say a word until he finally exploded at the now infamous All Out media scrum.
In all fairness though, Punk had done the same here and there. He is guilty of much of the same like taking shots at Adam Page in front of a live crowd but we have to remember he wasn’t an EVP with the company. He didn’t hold or have the power to humiliate, ridicule and harass other employees with impunity. Just something else that employees, especially EVPs, in other companies would be investigated and possibly terminated for. Harassment, which also goes to workplace safety, should always be treated very seriously. It is shameful that Khan allows that kind of workplace environment to exist in the first place and he hasn’t disciplined his employees for the very least, harassing others.
Unless their options were extremely limited what talent would voluntarily step into that minefield of a company when you can go work in Japan, for Impact or even the ever-growing NWA? Not only will you be booked sporadically unless you are a top tier star but you will have to deal with the working environment that is AEW where not only do cliques battle to maintain their position in the company and those Brinks trucks pulling up to their doorsteps but also for their control and influence over the owner as well?
To make the All In controversy even worse, Khan made a public statement on live television which was clearly written and prepared by his legal counsel.
Khan said: “I’ve been going to wrestling shows for over 30 years. I’ve been producing them on this network for nearly four years. Never in all that time have I ever felt, until last Sunday, that my security, my safety, my life was in danger at a wrestling show.”
Khan was not only summarily ridiculed by the live crowd but by others on social media.
Khan’s ill-timed statement sparked even more questions like:
If Khan feared for his life and the safety of his staff as he says why did he allow CM Punk to wrestle his match? Why wasn’t Punk immediately escorted from the premises by security?
If Khan truly cares so deeply for the safety of his staff why does he permit such a workplace environment to exist at AEW where employees do things like publicly slander and harass their fellow employees in the first place and why has that environment existed for so long?
If Khan wants a positive environment why did he tell The Hollywood Reporter: “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 to get along.”
He can’t make everyone get along? Think about that. The owner of a company worth a billion dollars, the person who personally signs their paychecks and sets company policy, says he cannot make people work together or settle or set aside their personal differences while under his employ. Instead, he creates a new wrestling show to separate the sides, camps. What kind of leadership is that? No wonder his employees continue to just do whatever they want to whomever they want.
Like Charlton Heston said in The Planet of the Apes: It’s a madhouse! A madhouse!
Then there is the issue of Khan saying he feared for his life. Seriously?
I have been attending wrestling shows for more years than I am willing to admit and I have never feared for my life. Though there were some close calls. Once I had to climb over a guardrail to a metal walkway as The Dudley Boys fought all the way up and down our risers at an ECW show. Another time, Big Boss Man twirled his nightstick, lost control of it and it flew by us hitting someone else in the crowd at Maple Leaf Gardens. As I sat watching Sting battle Vader at CNE Stadium after it has been out of commission for years, the rigging looked like it would collapse any minute from above. Seriously?
If history continues to repeat itself, I wouldn’t be surprised to see HHH on AEW Dynamite confirming the sale of the company to WWE, a select number of AEW wrestlers becoming involved in an Invasion 2.0 angle and Sting deciding to go back to Impact Wrestling rather than sign with WWE. I sincerely hope not as AEW has so much promise and so much talent on display even though it has one of the most bloated rosters I have ever seen.
What it is lacking from a booking point of view is focus and consistency. What it is lacking from a professional point of view is leadership and professionalism. If Khan cannot provide the kind of leadership required to manage the asylum he created and allows to exist then perhaps he needs to find people who can as he has just let one of the biggest stars in the business today slip right through his fingers and he has nobody to blame but himself.
TOP PHOTO: Tony Khan shouldn’t be all smiles. AEW photo