AEW is set to shift into Full Gear with the 2023 installment of their aptly named PPV emanating from the fabulous Forum (it’s the Kia Forum now for sponsorship purposes, but that doesn’t really roll off the tongue as nice now does it?) in Inglewood, CA. Before the stars of AEW take center stage at the Full Gear PPV, AEW President Tony Khan participated in a media briefing call to discuss all things pertaining to their November showcase.
To open up the topics of discussion, Tony Khan was asked about the legendary Sting, who will be teaming with Darby Allin and Adam Copeland, as they face Christian Cage and his cronies, Luchasaurus and Nick Wayne.
With Sting’s final retirement drawing near, questions surround the future of Darby Allin, whose career has been so closely linked to the Icon since their alliance formed back in the winter of 2020. Tony Khan had this to say about Allin’s story moving forward without the Stinger by his side: “I think it’s important to remember Darby was on fire before Sting got here, and has continued to stay on fire. I think Sting has been a great mentor to Darby and the crazy thing is… I think Darby has been an awesome person to help Sting get re-introduced after taking a lot of time away.”
Adding further to the discussions of Sting and his subsequent retirement tour, Tony Khan had this to say in regards to plotting an idea of how Sting will close out his career in AEW and what his iconic legacy means to both Khan and the company: “Well, Sting is important to everyone in AEW, and we all have different memories… I think for many people on this call and certainly everybody I know in AEW, Sting is somebody I know a lot of us have been a fan of, we’ve gotten to know him and work with him… He’s also the nicest person I’ve ever known. He’s so kind and so genuine, he’s selfless. And I’m in awe of him. Sting is somebody I think all of us should aspire to be like, really just one of the most positive and warm people I’ve ever known… He’s had three years in AEW, which has been incredible for us and I hope we’ve made it a great sendoff for him.”
Injuries to top stars in the company have been a bit of a recurring issue for Tony Khan and AEW, and he responded to the issue by saying, “I think we got some practice at that in the lockdown era, and I mentioned it earlier… Wrestling is a 52-week business. There is no offseason and it is the ultimate nonstop marathon that never ends till you quit. In the lockdown era, we had a lot of people going out with exposure or had COVID, and we didn’t want them to come in, so we changed plans from what we previously had… There’s been so many great things that have happened because of an injury or a change, but on the flip side, I can’t lie to you and say it’s been easy or that I’ve been happy about it.”
Drawing off of the question about changes due to unforeseen circumstances, Tony Khan took the opportunity to praise what he suggests to be the company’s “best run of PPVs” despite all the hurdles. Khan said, “We started the year great with Revolution and there were a lot of things I liked at Double or Nothing. And when Collision kicked in, I absolutely believe that when we went from three hours of television every week to five hours of television every week, it gives us the opportunity to tell a lot more stories and it definitely sets us up in a good position to build up to the PPVs, but not only that… It allows us to showcase great wrestling every week. It has only made the PPVs more special, and I think on the run we’ve been on since Forbidden Door in Toronto, to of course All In at Wembley, All Out, and WrestleDream… That’s my favorite run of shows we’ve done and we get the chance to extend it Saturday at Full Gear. But, it’s been through a lot of changes to get here.”
Khan was also asked about MJF, the expiration of his current AEW contract creeping up, and whether he is a new key spokesperson for the company in the absence of say Cody Rhodes and CM Punk. Khan responded, “Well, MJF is the AEW World Champion, and really a face of the company in many ways. He’s been with us from the very beginning, he was involved in the very first AEW match from start to finish, and he’s been involved in so many of our best shows and great moments in AEW. When you talk about the best homegrown stars in AEW, you gotta think MJF, he is a great champion and we’ve seen him grow as a champion. On the road to becoming a champion, we’ve seen him take a lot of shortcuts and wanting to hold on to the title by hook or by crook, only defended it when he was forced to… But now, he’s evolved into a fighting champion and a lot of this has happened since he connected to Adam Cole… I think there’s been a lot of growth there on-screen and off-screen for MJF… He’s been a great leader for AEW and somebody we can really count on as a great champion.”
A hot story going for AEW right now is the feud between “Hangman” Adam Page and Swerve Strickland, to which Tony Khan gave them praise by saying, “I can’t think of a better way for them to settle their differences than in the ring. I think that’s why last night (referring to the Page-Strickland in-ring segment on the November 15 edition of Dynamite) so close to the PPV, I told them they couldn’t touch each other, attack each other, well then the match is off and nobody wants that. So, it ended up making for a very effective segment, and I think we heard Hangman as angry as we’ve ever heard him. Swerve’s been on an incredible run, we’ve seen him get Hangman’s number with the win at WrestleDream in his hometown of Seattle… I can’t wait to see what happens this Saturday at Full Gear.”
With the Full Gear event taking place in suburban Los Angeles, Khan was asked whether he tailors his events to the markets in which they’re being held, which in this case, a large Latinx community is prevalent. Khan responded to this by saying, “Well, for the PPV audience, you got a very, the ultimate wide net you’re casting, with people watching across the world. It’s a great market for all types of fans, it’s just a great city. I love LA. It’s got such a deep history in lucha libre and for pro wrestling in general. AEW has had a lot of success here, we debuted in Los Angeles finally at the Forum here in 2022… We saw the kind of energy the Forum has hosted, going two-for-two and now I think we’re set to go three-for-three. The crowd brings so much energy, and of course, there’s a big Latin fanbase in LA, and lucha libre has had a great amount of success there, so we try our best to implement luchadors on Dynamite and planned for Full Gear.”
Tony Khan had recently posted on social media about a high-profile AEW pickup set to make their contract signing official at the Full Gear PPV, where Khan replied to the question of building publicity and interest in the company’s endeavors: “It’s something I weigh all the time, we have to announce matches, announce moments, and announce huge things like signings. Sometimes you just do what feels right and create engagement. And that’s something we’ve been able to do both on television and of course, social media. I think we created a lot of awareness about Wembley, by putting a lot of fanfare into the announcement and then putting it on television… It puts a lot of eyes on it and conversation about it. And then, there are times where I like to put a lot of people on their toes and it was fun to announce something on Collision that had a lot of people buzzing about it… And that was the Continental Classic.”
Khan was also asked about the pros and cons of running PPVs between shorter windows in terms of business and if Full Gear 2023 is on pace to break a million-dollar gate. Tony Khan had this to say: “We got a great gate, I think it’s closer to the $900,000 range right now and I think we’ve got a great chance to make a push. I think it’s gonna be one of the biggest crowds we’ve had all year and I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun. I’d definitely put the Forum up there on a very short list of favorite venues, in the world. It’s been a lot of interesting and great things off doing a lot more PPVs for us. It’s definitely been great for us, business-wise. It’s something I’ve felt confident about, studying wrestling, economics, and business trends. Really, every wrestling company that’s expanded the PPV calendar has been happy.”
TOP PHOTO: Tony Khan at AEW Dynamite, at the Liacouras Center, in Philadelphia, on Wednesday, October 25, 2023. Photo by George Tahinos, https://georgetahinos.smugmug.com