CHICAGO — All Elite Wrestling founder and CEO Tony Khan says his love for professional wrestling dates back to a long-defunct WGN Sports show.
Khan founded AEW in 2019, which offers an alternative to mainstream wrestling. Just last weekend, the company produced its most significant show since its infancy, ‘All In,’ which saw more than 81,000 fans pack Wembley Stadium in London.
Now, the company looks to build on the success of ‘All In’ with two big shows at the United Center: ‘AEW: Collision’ on Saturday night and pay-per-view ‘All Out,’ on Sunday night.
“Chicago is a great home for AEW,” Khan said. “It’s part of the launch of AEW. It’s a home to me personally, and we’re always going to bring AEW to Chicago.”
A long-time wrestling fan, the University of Illinois alum recalled watching the sport on WGN. Produced by World Championship Wrestling, ‘WCW Pro Chicago’ featured the voice of Chicagoland, WGN sportscaster Jack Brickhouse, and wrestling commentator Tony Schiavone as hosts. Upon Brickhouse’s departure, wrestling legend Larry Zbyszko stepped in as co-host.
“They went around different places in Chicago,” Khan said of the WGN wrestling show that initially aired in the early 1990s. “It is part of wrestling lore, and I really enjoyed that show. It was a localized program. Something fun on WGN for the fans, and I always thought that was great.”
Full-circle moments are commonplace in the art of professional wrestling, where a four-sided ring is its canvas. Schiavone now works in a senior producer role for AEW, in addition to duties on-air as a play-by-play commentator.
Working with wrestling legends he watched as a kid, Khan now runs shows at Chicago arenas that helped author some of sports most extraordinary moments. Engrained in the now 40-year-old’s memory is watching the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago Bulls on WGN (Khan will host Bulls great and NBA Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman Saturday night at the United Center).
Khan says one of the more significant memories of his youth also involved watching ‘Bozo the Clown’ and ‘Bozo Buckets’ on WGN.
“I grew up watching Bozo the Clown, and I knew I was running late for school if I saw ‘Bozo Buckets,’ but I saw it more times than I probably should have,” he said.
Khan would eventually meet the Chicago icon at the Shedd Aquarium, even getting an autograph from Bozo on his program.
“I said, ‘I watch you all the time on WGN,” Khan revealed. “And he said, ‘Oh, that’s the best place to watch. He was very nice.”
Added Khan: “WGN…it’s a big part of my childhood, and for many people growing up around Chicago, it’s part of their life and part of their childhood, and probably part of their whole life.”
It’s Chicago that Khan calls home to some of the most loyal and passionate wrestling fans. It’s one of the reasons why AEW produces multiple shows a year across the area.
“It makes for great crowds, and to be honest, everybody in the whole country likes watching wrestling shows emanating from Chicago because everyone knows the fans are awesome,” Khan said. “I really love the excitement and the passion of Chicago sports. It definitely carries over to wrestling fans here.”
Whatever the misconceptions surrounding Khan, he says the one thing that rings true is his love for professional wrestling. On the heels of the company’s highest-grossing event, the best promoters know to strike when the proverbial iron is hot, and Khan is no different.
“It’s a great and exciting time for the business,” Khan said of wrestling’s latest boom period. “So for anybody who has not watched it in a long time or who hasn’t seen (AEW) before, it’s a great time to jump back in because, certainly, we’ve got a lot of momentum in AEW right now.”
Watch AEW Wrestling across Warner Bros. Discovery broadcast channels TBS and TNT: AEW Dynamite on Wednesdays at 7 p.m., AEW Rampage on Fridays at 9 p.m., and AEW Collision on Saturdays at 7 p.m.
AEW ‘All Out’ from the United Center begins Sunday at 6 p.m. Gates open at 5 p.m. Click here to purchase tickets.