ST. LOUIS — Fans of professional wrestling remember the so-called Monday Night Wars of the late 1990s pitting Vince McMahon and the then-World Wrestling Federation against Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling.
The battle, which got its name from the WWF's flagship program, "Monday Night Raw," going head-to-head with "WCW Monday Nitro," ended when McMahon bought his rival in early 2001.
It also marked the last time the WWF, which was renamed World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) the next year, would have viable competition for nearly 20 years until Tony Khan, the son of billionaire businessman and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, launched All Elite Wrestling.
And if like Khan, 39, your formative years were the late 1980s and 1990s, chances are the names Hulk Hogan, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Mick Foley and Sting are familiar to you.
"One of my favorite wrestlers of all time is Sting. The first thing I recall is the WWF, and then I became a bigger fan of WCW in the early '90s because it felt like a more real sport," Khan said.
Sting, whose real name is Steve Borden, is in the middle of a multi-year contract with AEW. He’s also involved in one of the company’s top storylines as he writes the final chapter of a career that’s spanned parts of five decades.
Khan said having Sting as a part of AEW is "crazy."
"(He's) one of my childhood heroes since I was literally eight years old ... and he's still a great wrestler in the ring and he's an even better person out of the ring," Khan said.
Sting was perhaps the biggest star in the history of WCW—that organization’s equivalent to WWE’s Hulk Hogan. And every Saturday night at 6:05, professional wrestling fans would change the channel to the SuperStation TBS to find out which villain their face-painted hero would fend off.
Khan is thrilled when discussing professional wrestling’s return to TBS for the first time since March 2001.
"To have 'Wednesday Night Dynamite' every week on, of course, TBS at 7 p.m. is huge," Khan said.
Khan grew up about three hours away from St. Louis in Champaign, Illinois, and graduated with a degree in finance from the University of Illinois.
"I grew up so close to St. Louis. It's a great sports town in general, and wrestling is a great sport," Khan said, adding that AEW treats the product more like a sport as opposed to the more entertainment-focused WWE.
"We have the best athletes (and) the best matches. Wrestling fans have waited a long time to have the kind of free agency, the kind of excitement that exists around the business and the intrigue of it. Since WCW folded about 20 years ago, that really hasn't existed.
"Something AEW has brought back is that competition, that feeling that anything could happen, any wrestler could switch. That's the real life drama around the pro wrestling business that people love, and it's coming back," Khan said.
AEW's other weekly show, "Rampage," airs Friday night on TNT.