Fulham’s owners Shahid and Khan have started a wrestling revolution – and two of their biggest stars are tipping the UK to be pivotal to its success.
The Khans, who own the Championship club and NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, delved into the glitzy world of professional wrestling earlier this year with the launch of AEW – All Elite Wrestling.
The company is spearheaded by wrestlers Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega and tag team The Young Bucks - brothers Matt and Nick Jackson - who spoke exclusively with The Independent this week.
The group have already made major waves in the scene that has been dominated almost exclusively by WWE for decades.
Some marquee signings, including former WWE stars Chris Jericho and John Moxley – the latter known as Dean Ambrose – have supplemented a stellar line-up that has already been selling out arenas in the States.
Their maiden pay-per-view, Double or Nothing, featuring the popular tag team, was a triumph last month, with All Out expected to do similar on 31 August.
They’ve proved to be hit on this side of the pond, too, and the Jackson brothers insisted that the UK will be a fundamental part of the company’s future.
With a weekly television deal with ITV already in place and a marquee event set to be staged in the UK soon, it is clear the company are wasting no time in proving that claim.
“We’ve had a large fan-base in the UK for years,” said Matt, 34, who has teamed with his brother, five years his junior, as an established part of the independent wrestling scene for 15 years.
“Nick and I have seen the explosion. We’ve been coming to the UK for years now.
“We understand the importance of connecting with the UK fans and we know how passionate they are – I don’t know that there’s a hotter crowd than a good crowd in the UK.
“They sing along – literally! The crowd is singing, it reminds me of their soccer matches and it is one of my favourite places to work, so they’re going to play a pivotal role in us growing as a company.
“The Khans are popular over there with Fulham FC and, I think, right away we have our foot in the door – we’re definitely looking to come there and present AEW.”
It seems almost certain that any event held on these shores would prove an instant hit.
A major wrestling company hasn’t staged a top-level pay-per-view event in the UK of that kind since WWE staged Summerslam at Wembley Stadium in London in 1992.
While WWE, WCW, Impact Wrestling and scores of independent companies have staged popular shows here in the intervening years, its clear that the interest in AEW would be altogether different – and not just in terms of attendance.
But while WWE’s British fans have clamoured for a pay-per-view in the UK for over 25 years, it appears AEW will satiate that demand in far swifter order.
California-born Nick said: “I don’t want to put out too many spoilers, but we might have already thought of the name for one event!
Matt added more in saying: “We already have a working title, if that tells you anything – I can’t take credit for it because a fan gave me the idea!
“I presented it in the group chat and everybody immediately gave it the thumbs up.
“Going over there is a big priority for us; we know there is a large fan-base there and that they want to see All Elite Wrestling.
“We don’t have anything confirmed yet, but I can almost guarantee that we’ll eventually be there.”
The ITV deal and its importance can’t be understated – particularly in light of the change to how fans will watch WWE in future. 2020 will see WWE move to BT Sport, ending a 30-year stay on Sky Sports.
AEW netted a multi-year deal with ITV however, bringing US wrestling to free-to-air television in the UK on a regular basis for the first time.
While it’s obvious that this aligns with their UK focus by design more than coincidence, the overwhelming reaction to the news left even Nick surprised.
I wasn’t too familiar with how the television networks work over there,” he added.
“So when we found out that Tony had just signed the deal with ITV, we mentioned it to Marty [Scurll – British independent wrestler] and he was like ‘oh my god – you guys don’t understand how big a deal this is’
“He went to explain how many households get ITV and what the numbers were, and we were blown away.
“So we didn’t even realise how big it was until then – we couldn’t believe it.”
Come The Young Bucks and AEW’s debut on ITV, the rapid rise of this upstart company will have reached yet another milestone.
To match the ascent of their first 12 months will take some doing, but Matt – who joins his brother, Rhodes and Omega as some of the company’s creative forces - was adamant their aims are no less ambitious.
He said: “My hope is that we’re regularly on television, pulling in good ratings and have developed an even larger fan-base where more casual fans are AEW fans.
“Right now we have that cult following, we have the ‘smarter’ fans, but it’s time to appease the children, to reach families and get everyone on board.
“I believe the product will be something that everybody can watch. Our show will be edgier, but but I think kids will want to watch Nick and I hop around the right in bright colours like we did with The Rockers.
“I think there’s going to be something for everyone.”
AEW All Out takes place in Chicago on August 31st – for more details on upcoming news and events visit allelitewrestling.com
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