This past week was eventful for AEW. The company welcomes new Japanese professional wrestling star Katsuyori Shibata back to its programming Dynamite, in addition to an appearance by the great Rick Ross. On top of that, Chris Jericho called out Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, who was ringside on the show, and Jeff Jarrett was introduced as the company’s new CEO.
AEW will look to carry their momentum into Friday Night Live Rampantwhich will feature boxing legend Mike Tyson on commentary for the Orange Cassidy-Shibata match with the All-Atlantic Championship on the line.
“It’s going to be a great night of wrestling, and it’s only fitting that we have a great champion in Mike Tyson back in Atlantic City, where he has a lot of history, to help call the All-Atlantic Championship match between Orange Cassidy and Shibata.” says Tony Hahn, who is AEW’s CEO, General Manager and Head of Creative. “This is a dream match for both fighters.
“The entire AEW roster has a lot of respect for Shibata and this is a match he’s really wanted since he bravely returned to the ring. It’s going to be a great match and I’m very excited that Mike Tyson will be on commentary in a big way, live Rampant on TNT.
While it may initially seem like a distraction to have a guest celebrity on the talk during the title match, it’s also a chance for the company to showcase two wrestling stars to an even wider audience. Tyson, a longtime wrestling fan with a healthy respect for the work of Magnificent George, has a knack for being unpredictable and can surprise listeners with his knowledge.
“Mike has been a part of AEW before, but never on commentary,” says Khan. “He is a historian and a man who loves fighting and fighting. He won so many big fights in Atlantic City. He also watches AEW, he’s a fan and knows all about us, and having him on commentary is a great opportunity for us.”
Speaking with Sports IllustratedKhan discussed the events that unfolded this past week in AEW and shared some additional insight on some of the company’s most notable topics.
Sports Illustrated: Shibata’s return is one of the the most inspiring stories in all of pro wrestling. How did the relationship between Shibata and AEW form?
Tony Hahn: There was interest from all three parties – AEW, New Japan Pro-Wrestling and Shibata. I’m a huge fan of Shibata and have a great relationship with the New Japan Pro-Wrestling office. When we started working together earlier this year to promote Forbidden door, they mentioned to me that Shibata was a huge AEW fan — and that he was very interested in fighting for AEW. This excited me a lot. He is one of the best wrestlers of this century and also an amazing comeback story. I’m so excited that the next step in his return is to come here and fight for the AEW All-Atlantic Championship. He also wants to fight Bryan Danielson. If he wins the belt from Orange Cassidy then this could be a title match.
SI: This week Dynamite also features a major celebrity in Rick Ross. Was the goal to create a star-studded show while broadcasting against the World Series?
TK: on Wednesday Dynamite faced an NBA game and a World Series game that ended up scoreless, so I knew we had to make our show stand out from the competition. Rick Ross is a pro wrestling fan and he’s an AEW fan and he’s been a fantastic addition to Dynamite. What a transition from seeing Shibata and Orange Cassidy in the ring to going backstage with Rick Ross, Swerve Strickland and Tony Schiavone. It was a great moment, especially when Keith Lee came in. Rick Ross fits AEW like a glove.
SI: On Wednesday’s topic Dynamite, you brought back a former Ring of Honor champion in Colt Cabana to challenge Chris Jericho for the ROH title. Cabana was champion with CM Punk. There is speculation that Cabana’s return to the screen is a sign that Punk will not be returning to AEW. Is there any truth to this, or was this match solely focused on the Jericho/ROH storyline?
TK: Chris Jericho has wrestled a number of former Ring of Honor Champions, competing against a number of ROH’s biggest stars such as Claudio Castagnoli, Bryan Danielson, Dalton Castle, Bandido and now Colt Cabana. It’s been an exciting series of matches against some great wrestlers who have storied history in Ring of Honor, and we see the stars of ROH trying to stop Jericho from defiling that title.
SI: After mentioning Punk, Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks appeared in a video package and on social media. Considering their images have been all over AEW television and social media, are these three close to returning to AEW programming?
TK: I can’t comment on that.
SI: Hiring Jeff Jarrett is important for AEW. His new position as director of business development will focus on live events. Does this mean we’ll see an emphasis on AEW live events in 2023?
TK: yes It makes a lot of sense for AEW to expand our live calendar into 2023 and beyond. There are many places in the US and around the world where AEW is very popular and this is a strategic opportunity for expansion. We also have a ring of honor. There are many exciting opportunities for us in live events, and Jeff has such a wealth of experience as a third-generation professional wrestling businessman. He has extensive experience in a number of areas including live event promotions and international distribution. His insight and knowledge are very valuable and I am excited to have Jeff join our great team.
SI: AEW has a working relationship with Pro Wrestling NOAH, and you’re sending Sting and Darby Allyn to their show in January to work in a six-man tag team with The Great Muta. WWE is now Send off Shinsuke Nakamura of NOAH to fight with Muta. Is it true that NOAH sought your approval before agreeing to the WWE deal?
TK: yes I have no problem with Nakamura working with them. It’s totally cool with us. It’s about Muta. It’s great that wrestlers from all over the world can come together and pay tribute to Muta.
SI: Your track record speaks for itself that you do what’s best for professional wrestling, so this decision is not surprising. Before we wrap up, what are you most excited about on Friday night? Rampant?
TK: Excited to have “Iron” Mike Tyson on commentary. It’s a great night to join us live and it’s a great night to watch us on TNT.
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