Since its inception, All Elite Wrestling (AEW) had found a number of ways to differentiate itself from its chief competitor, WWE. One of those way has been the promotion’s lack of reliance on any sort of on-screen authority figure on their weekly television shows, Dynamite and Dark, or any of their pay-per-views.
Yes, the announcers have essentially intimated that company co-owner, CEO, and de-facto head booker Tony Khan makes the matches happen, but he is clearly more akin to Jack Tunney than Mr. McMahon. If his recent comments are any indication, that won’t be changing anytime soon.
Tony Khan on whether he will become an on-screen authority figure in AEW.
Khan spoke with Renee Paquette on her Oral Sessions podcast and had this to say about appearing as some sort of General Manager-esque character as well as his thoughts on how the trope should be utilized (h/t to Fightful’s Jeremy Lambert for the transcription):
“I’ve come close to doing it — I made a big exception coming out and, I thought it was the right thing to do on behalf of the company (at the Brodie Lee Tribute Show) and I wanted to pay the highest respect to him and his family. Other than that, I’ve never come out and done that in that role. Occasionally, because of the story with IMPACT, it makes sense. We have a limited amount of TV time and we have a great roster and a lot of other people to feature. The character of a general manager doesn’t need to be featured on TV. I am the general manager of a Premier League team, you don’t see me on TV very much. If there is a statement that needs to be made or you have to say something, then you do. In the case of AEW, it’s announcing matches. For me, the role of the general manager, there is not a need to be on TV. You just have to explain ‘the general manager made this match’ and it’s a device. It’s a device, not a character.”
Of course, while Khan hasn’t appeared in such a capacity on AEW television, he has shown up on IMPACT Wrestling as part of Impact and AEW’s working agreement. Those “paid advertisements”, which usually feature Khan and Tony Schiavone advertising Dynamite and landing some digs at IMPACT, are somewhat reminiscent of the appearances a pre-heel turn Vince McMahon would make for Jerry Lawler’s USWA promotion in the early 90s.
In the United States wrestling scene, the authority figure character can be traced back to then-WCW President Eric Bischoff, who stepped away from play-by-play announcing duties to join the New World Order in 1996.
About a year later, fans saw the birth of the Mr.McMahon character. Spawned from the ashes of the Montreal Screwjob, Mr. McMahon became the primary and most successful example of this trope, which is why WWE and other promotions — namely, TNA/Impact — have wasted subsequent years attempting to replicate the magic he had with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to no avail.
In recent years, however, promotions have moved away from this trope. WWE has Adam Pearce run the day-to-day operations of RAW and SmackDown (in-storyline, it appears that the networks that air those respective shows, USA Network and FOX, are in charge of roster construction) while William Regal is the respected kayfabe decisionmaker on NXT — a departure from his previous heel GM runs. IMPACT has Scott D’Amore as a babyface-leaning matchmaker who shows up every once in a while. And Ring of Honor uses an unseen board of directors to determine what the matches are.
As it stands, no company is leaning in this plot device as a focal point of their product, but for a few of them, the possibility to try again is always there. That said, it sounds like, unless something changes, that Khan and AEW won’t be as tempted to use it.