In a carefully crafted attempt to gain mainstream media attention for his wrestling company, AEW owner Tony Khan appeared during the NFL Draft wearing a neckbrace, selling the fact that Khan had been part of a wrestling angle on AEW Dynamite the night before where he had been given a piledriver by the Young Bucks, in what was the key point of a massive angle where The Elite wage war against the established order in AEW.

Khan, whose family owns the Jacksonville Jaguars, was shown multiple times during the night in the Jaguars war room during the NFL Draft Thursday night, wearing a neck brace, a move that garnered positive attention from both commentators during draft broadcasts, and on social media. On Friday, Khan appeared in a talking segment on the NFL Network, where he talked a little bit about his wrestling promotion, and when comparing AEW to WWE, said the following: 

“We are the most successful sports start-up since the AFL. There has not been a challenger brand that has gained as much market-share as AEW in many, many years. We are like the Pepsi of pro-wrestling, and we are up against a really evil juggernaut. WWE is our competitor, that is who we are facing. AEW, like the Pepsi of pro wrestling, WWE is like the Harvey Weinstein of pro-wrestling.” 

Labeling WWE as a “really evil juggernaut” and “the Harvey Weinstein of pro-wrestling” are easily the most direct shots Khan has taken at WWE since he started AEW. While Khan once was very neutral, at least publicly, about WWE, suggesting in the past that he was not against working with them and consistently saying that AEW was “not at war with anybody”, Khan has clearly shifted his public stance towards being heavily against WWE. 

The reason for the shift is likely because trying to be politically ambivalent towards WWE publicly hasn’t helped Khan in the slightest. WWE has run an active publicity campaign against AEW, dating back to Vince McMahon labeling the company as “blood and guts” in 2019 and has been trying to muscle AEW out of the market since the company’s inception. 

Trying to ignore WWE’s constant swipes and attempts to damage AEW’s reputation has only led to AEW looking relatively hapless while WWE enjoys the bounty of taking the low-road. WWE can try and coerce advertisers into being upset with the use of a pizza-cutter during a match on AEW Dynamite, attempt to tamper with AEW contracted wrestlers and have former Nick Khan client Ariel Helwani, who has morphed into WWE’s personal hatchet-man in the media, accuse Tony Khan of being a cocaine addict. None of it has really led to bad publicity for WWE, most of the attention has been heaped onto Tony Khan and AEW. 

Despite his best efforts, Khan has not been treated fairly by the media. WWE and the loyalty the company has, especially in the wrestling media, has been able to paint the picture that Khan is a clown that is out of his depth running a wrestling promotion that dares to challenge WWE. YouTube is littered with thumbnails of a confused-looking Tony Khan, as aggregators try to sell the entertainment of a supposedly ignorant wrestling promoter trying to take on mighty WWE. Websites are thrilled to run headlines that share the opinions of hacks like Eric Bischoff, who find constant criticism of Khan’s leadership of the company. 

Khan’s attempts to play nice with WWE have been a complete failure, and exposed a wrestling media sphere that was never willing to give his company a fair chance anyway. No matter what Khan did, it was going to be presented by many people, whether people under the influence of WWE’s public relations operation or simply WWE-loyal fans, as a failure of his leadership. 

So Khan has decided to come out swinging. He compared WWE, a company that is currently being sued for sex trafficking and has been mired in scandal over the last 18 months, to disgraced movie studio executive Harvey Weinstein. It was a calculated move by Khan, who took the publicity of the neck-brace angle during the NFL Draft as an opportunity to punch WWE square in the face. 

For the past several weeks, Khan, like everyone, watched as WWE did a full-fledged publicity press around WrestleMania XL, with very little acknowledgement from the media that the company was currently engaged in a major lawsuit regarding sex trafficking, and that Vince McMahon has seemingly been deleted from WWE history. Stephanie McMahon, who had disappeared from the company previously and has been named one of the corporate officers in the lawsuit from Janel Grant, even made a surprise appearance at WrestleMania. 

Paul Levesque gleefully appeared in front of the media for post-WrestleMania press conferences after both nights of the event, and hardly faced any questions that were related to the ongoing scandal that should be threatening to submarine the entire company. Meanwhile, Khan continues to face an uphill battle in getting a fair media representation of both himself and his company. 

Since Khan would never be given a fair chance anyway, he decided to throw some punches. And they landed–while Khan will surely be raked over the coals by all the usual suspects who will decry about how unprofessional his behavior was (while also largely ignoring the actual sex scandal that has enveloped WWE), Khan did at least shift some of the conversation back to the ongoing investigation that is currently taking place in WWE. 

Khan is unlikely to ever truly win a public relations war against WWE, that battle has been lost a long time ago thanks to numerous advantages WWE holds as an institution of entertainment. However, Khan and AEW trying to appease WWE hardcore fans and appeal to everyone has not been a productive method for AEW in terms of generating good publicity. It was time the gloves came off, and at least this way Khan can get some value if he is going to be treated unfairly by the media anyway.

Listen to Jesse Collings’ pro wrestling podcast: The Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast! 

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