Earlier today WarnerMedia confirmed the expected: wrestling will return to TNT after an 18 year absence later this year, as the new promotion All Elite Wrestling will have a weekly program on the channel formerly known as Turner Network Television. Specifics such as a time slot, show title and format haven’t been revealed yet, but today’s announcement does support rumors that AEW would be targeting a more sports-oriented presentation than other wrestling promotions.
The official press release promises “less scripted, soapy drama, and more athleticism and real sports analytics.” It also mentions that statistics will play a prominent role in AEW, with the promotion “tracking each competitor’s wins and losses as the wrestlers pursue championships, analyzing their moves, assessing damage to their opponents, and providing insights into their winning streaks.” It also touts the freedom that wrestlers will have to “explore their characters and highlight their athletic abilities,” which wrestling fans will read as a direct response to WWE’s heavily scripted and restrictive approach to interviews and matches. The press release also calls AEW a “sports league” and refers not to a weekly show, but weekly matches—intentional stylistic choices that make the company sound more like a real sports product than other wrestling shows. This all clearly positions AEW as not just a rival to WWE, but a company hoping to establish a noticeably different product to WWE’s.
In a press release, Michael Quigley, the executive vice president for commercial operations, content strategy and monetization at TBS and TNT, said, “All Elite Wrestling is a talent-forward, fan-first league whose inclusive approach to creating high-quality athletic wrestling competitions is already making waves with fans and attracting top-tier wrestlers. It is high-adrenaline, gripping entertainment and we can’t wait to bring it to fans everywhere with this game-changing new business.”
As part of the deal, WarnerMedia’s B/R Live will be the only place in America to digitally stream AEW’s first show, Double or Nothing. The event, which will also be available on pay-per-view, is happening on Saturday, May 25, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Main evented by a rematch between Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho, the card also features Hangman Page vs. PAC, Dustin Rhodes facing off against his younger brother Cody, and the Young Bucks wrestling the Lucha Bros., Pentagon Jr. and Fenix. The Double or Nothing pre-show, The Buy-In, will be streaming live on AEW and WarnerMedia’s various social media accounts, and will feature a 21 man battle royal with unique rules.
All Elite Wrestling was founded by Tony Khan, the son of Shahid Khan, the billionaire owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars and Fulham F.C. The front office and roster are built around a core of wrestlers known as the Elite, which includes Kenny Omega, Cody and Brandi Rhodes, the Young Bucks Nick and Matt Jackson, and Adam Hangman Page. Other roster members include wrestling legend Chris Jericho, former WWE Cruiserweight champion PAC, Pentagon Jr., Fenix, Joey Janela, MJF, Dustin Rhodes, and more. It also boasts a women’s roster with such wrestlers as Allie, Bea Priestly, Kylie Ray, and others. The announce team will include WCW and WWF/WWE legend Jim Ross, Alex Marvez, and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s Exaclibur, and the referee squad also includes former WWF/WWE head referee Earl Hebner.
“Wrestling fans have wanted—and needed—something different, authentic and better for far too long,” Khan, President and CEO of AEW, says in the press release. “AEW is answering the call. AEW is about more than wrestling. It’s about a movement fueled by wrestling fans who have been underserved and perhaps even disappointed by what the industry has produced in recent years. AEW is rising to the occasion with DOUBLE OR NOTHING and today taking it a step further by partnering with WarnerMedia, which is as committed as we are to making wrestling fans the one and only priority. With WarnerMedia, AEW is poised globally to redefine wrestling as we know it today.”
TNT was a key part of Ted Turner’s media empire, a company that retained its founder’s name through various mergers until earlier this year. Turner aired pro wrestling on his networks since the ‘70s, originally on TBS, and then also on TNT starting in 1995. WCW Monday Nitro was a massive hit for TNT, competing directly with the then-WWF’s flagship show Raw. That head-to-head battle turned wrestling into a pop culture phenomenon in the late ‘90s, before WCW collapsed at the start of this century. In 2001 Turner’s executives cancelled wrestling and sold WCW to Vince McMahon, starting an 18-year stretch where there was no wrestling on any Turner channel. Wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes, the father of Cody and Dustin Rhodes, was a stalwart presence on Turner’s wrestling shows throughout the decades, as a wrestler, announcer and producer, so in a way this is a homecoming not just for the wrestling business as a whole but specifically for Rhodes’ sons.
Expect more specifics about AEW’s upcoming show to be revealed throughout the summer, perhaps with an announcement of some sort coming at Double or Nothing on May 25.