AEW’s Tony Khan on hiring Black talent: “It’s something that’s really important to me”

Khan was asked about his relationships with friendly companies like New Japan Pro Wrestling and companies like WWE:

“This week when I heard from WWE directly, they contacted me and asked if I would give them access, give them videos [and] if I would ask some of the wrestlers in AEW to send in tribute videos for John Cena’s 20th anniversary. I thought that was a very nice thing. It sounded like a nice event, classy thing, and I have no problem helping out. And that was the kind of thing it’s not going to hurt us. And I’m happy to do the right thing and be a good Samaritan when it’s called for. So those videos were on Monday. And then we had our big show Wednesday. And they had the number one show on cable and satellite Monday and we had the number one show on cable and satellite Wednesday. So right now is a strong time for the wrestling business. And like you said, man, it’s the first time in two decades where there’s been this kind of competition in pro wrestling where there are multiple companies, two companies in North America putting up these numbers. And it really does have that kind of throwback feel when they’re doing it on their network. And it’s the same one they were on back in the day on Mondays and then we’re doing it now wrestling on Wednesdays on TBS, Fridays on TNT. You know TBS and TNT used to show WCW in the 90s. And now, here we are back on WCW’s old networks. AEW has built a great audience. And with cable having changed the landscape of viewership it’s very different. But you know, media rights have actually gone way up. And now it is the best time in the history of pro wrestling to be in pro wrestling TV and run a top promotion. And it’s worked out really well. And that’s honestly why I got into the business when I did because I thought it was a great time to run a business.”

Khan was asked about AEW hiring black talent and his commitment to diversity on his shows. He was asked about his decision to hire names like Keith Lee, Swerve Strickland, Jade Cargill, Stokely Hathaway, and Athena.

Khan said. “It’s something that’s really important to me.” 

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Khan pointed out that a lot of names like Keith Lee weren’t available until this year. He said, “Well, every single person you named pretty much was not available when AEW started. Those are all free agent acquisitions, except for Jade, who we’ve trained and is one of the very few wrestlers that has trained from the ground up in AEW because primarily, the general rule of thumb is we signed people with experience in wrestling. We don’t train people from the ground up, and Jade is the exception of any rules. What a great wrestler she is. I think virtually every other wrestler you named — Keith Lee, Swerve Strickland, Athena, Stokely Hathaway — These are people that were not available to us. They were under contract elsewhere. I would have killed to have these people in AEW before and now I’m thrilled they’re all here as a part of AEW. But I also in that time, tried to develop talent through a grassroots system. And I was using AEW Dark and still continue to this day to develop wrestlers on AEW Dark on YouTube. They aren’t always on television. And these people weren’t even coming in to be showcased on AEW Dark. They were coming in for tryouts, for developmental work. But great examples of this are Powerhouse Hobbs, Max Caster, and Anthony Bowens at first separately as individual wrestlers actually trained at the same school and never teamed before. Now they are The Acclaimed, one of the pushed acts on television… Red Velvet is a great example of that also. So Hobbs, Red Velvet, Caster and Bowens individually they were all tryout wrestlers on AEW Dark. I was trying to build a better roster and a more diverse roster, frankly, and the best wrestlers at that time were not available to build a diverse roster. Keith Lee, Swerve Strickland, Athena, Stokely Hathaway, the best manager in wrestling. These were not people that were available to us. So I would have killed to have them and when they we got released, I thought it was crazy. Every one of those people getting out of their contract getting released, being on the street, looking to wrestle work for us. It was crazy to me. And I’m so happy that we’re all here.”

Khan added, “I’ve always wanted to build a really diverse roster and through a combination of free agents getting available that I never would have thought would be available to us without their contract expiring, some of them got released. And the other ones that we’ve built up that have been great stars have helped us build a more diverse better roster than we started with.” 

Click below to hear the entire interview.

If you use any portion of the quotes from this article please credit The Ringer Wrestling Show with a h/t to WrestlingNews.co for the transcription.

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