AEW Owner Tony Khan on Luring CM Punk Back to Wrestling, and Just How Much He Cares About TV Ratings

“I expected we would reach these heights, but I wasn’t ever so sure we’d do it this quickly,” Khan tells TheWrap

Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for WarnerMedia

On Wednesday, All Elite Wrestling will celebrate the two-year anniversary of its TNT debut with flagship show “AEW: Dynamite.” On Tuesday, we chatted up owner Tony Khan on everything from TV ratings to how he lured CM Punk back to professional wrestling — and a few things in between.

We know which one you’re really here for, so without further adieu…

“From the beginning, I really wanted CM Punk to return to pro wrestling. That was one of my goals and something I believed would really move the needle for AEW — and it has. But when we first launched, it was a start-up company, of course, and he had been out of it for a while, and he wanted to watch closely with a fairly skeptical eye — but a fair eye,” Khan told TheWrap. “He wanted to see what was to come, because he heard this before: that somebody was gonna start a wrestling company, somebody with a lot of financial resources, maybe even a great TV partner. And we put it all together, quicker and better than anybody else had in the past 20 years, but I think it was still a start-up (to Punk).”

“He watched real closely and we stayed in touch, and it was very gratifying when I heard back from him that he really had enjoyed the shows and liked the direction we’d gone. The more we talked, the more I thought it might be possible. He sounds like somebody interested. He sounds like somebody that likes AEW. And I know we were building a good relationship and I like him very much,” Khan continued. “I just thought there was a good chance that maybe he would want to come back for us. Thankfully, when live touring resumed and we were able to pack arenas again around the country, he was interested in coming back. And it’s changed our business and helped us reach new heights.”

Those new heights, which Khan told us he “expected” to reach, but not “this quickly,” include record-setting live attendance and Nielsen ratings. On that latter subject, which is a favorite for wrestling fans to debate each week on social media, we asked Khan to set the record straight on what measurement they care about, and just how much they care.

“The (18-49) demo is the number that we are measured by, and that’s the chart that we receive from our partners at TNT,” Khan said. “I have a meeting with TNT executives every week and we go through the ratings. We used to just go through the ratings for ‘Dynamite,’ but now we also go through the ratings for ‘Rampage’ and look at patterns. The main thing we tend to look at is 18-49. We’ll look at different splits, by gender and different demographics, but absolutely the 18-49 overall is the bread and butter number that we always look at at the start of the meeting.”

Those meetings have probably been pretty enjoyable lately. Not only did the swift growth of “Dynamite’s” popularity previously punt WWE’s “NXT” off Wednesday nights, the two-hour AEW series has been No. 1 on cable since the spring.

And while Friday’s “AEW: Rampage” has since come back down to Earth, the series premiere and subsequent introduction of CM Punk got off to a hot ratings start. The combination of Punk and the debuts of former WWE stars Bryan Danielson and Adam Cole led “AEW: Dynamite” to top WWE’s “Raw” for the first time ever among adults 18-49.

Khan, who is co-owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars with his father, auto parts magnate Shahid Khan, has certainly not closed the checkbook since bringing in his Big 3. Add in Andrade El Idolo, Jon Moxley, Mark Henry, Matt Hardy, Miro, Malakai Black, Paul Wight and Ruby Soho, to name just a few, and AEW has a whole roster full of fairly recent WWE stars. So how does Khan avoid All Elite Wrestling just becoming the enemy?

“You avoid [becoming WWE] by only signing the best people. I believe we have the best roster in all of wrestling right now,” Khan said. “I really do believe that.”

He really does.

“AEW: Dynamite” celebrates its two-year anniversary Wednesday night starting at 8/7c on TNT. “AEW: Rampage” airs Friday nights at 10 p.m. on TNT.