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Q&A: Tony Khan ready for All Elite Wrestling to take New York, pro wrestling by storm

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Q&A: Tony Khan ready for All Elite Wrestling to take New York, pro wrestling by storm

Tony Khan loved professional wrestling so much growing up, he mapped storylines and wrote scripts for his own imaginary company. He had wrestlers as friends and friends who worked in wrestling. Oh, and he had money, enthusiasm and entrepreneurism, too.

The son of a billionaire, Khan decided being a squared circle fan wasn’t enough — he wanted to shake up the culture and pair his modern spin with an old-school flavor and in 2019, All Elite Wrestling was born.

“If you’ve seen other wrestling and said, ‘This isn’t for me,’ give AEW a chance,” the 38-year-old Khan said. “It’s a lot less likely to insult your intelligence than other shows out there.”

Yes, that’s a direct shot at WWE, the longtime industry leader that essentially stood alone for almost two decades as the preeminent force in American wrestling.

Not anymore.

Like the challenger chasing the champion, AEW has turned from plucky upstart into the talk of the pro wrestling world. Khan said AEW’s “All Out” pay-per-view earlier this month had more than 200,000 buys, its weekly “ Dynamite ” TV show on TNT routinely tops 1 million viewers — and has defeated WWE’s flagship “Raw” in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demographic — and Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Kenny Omega, Sting and a star-studded roster will set an AEW attendance record when more than 20,000 fans are expected Wednesday night to pack Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York for its “Grand Slam” card.

AEW has fans buzzing — who’s the next surprise superstar to debut!? — and put WWE on notice that it’s a major player for talent, bragging rights, ratings and revenue that countless other promotions have failed to capture. Khan runs it all behind the scenes, adding AEW to his other job titles with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, English soccer team Fulham FC and his business ventures. He writes and structures AEW programming — which includes four weekly shows and four pay-per-views each year — and those boyhood dreams of booking for a company have come true.

“I’ve found the company has gotten stronger the more I take on,” Khan said. “And I think the fans would agree with that. The really hardcore fans would actually really agree with that. The people who know, know the more hands-on I got about everything, the company has gotten a lot stronger.”

WWE isn’t going anywhere — not with billion-dollar TV contracts and a global reach that includes a roughly $50 million payout for a Saudi Arabia show — but some of its biggest stars are leaving for AEW and the promise of fat paychecks, a lighter work schedule and five-star matches without the “ entertainment ” aspects of performing.

Khan’s funding an AEW videogame, and Mike Tyson, Snoop Dogg, Rosario Dawson and Shaquille O’Neal are among the A-listers who have appeared or wrestled on TV.

And, Khan says, AEW has already turned a profit.

“Our TNT deal is very fair. I think we’ve performed at such a high level that we’ll justify a big increase on our next deal,” he said. “We are very fortunate to have their support. The timing of that deal was great, to get that in January 2020, that is a huge revenue stream for us.”

Khan talked with The Associated Press by phone about AEW’s future as the hottest wrestling promotion in the business. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

AP: Do you have WWE’s attention? Do you feel it might finally see AEW as true competition?

Khan: I’m a big wrestling fan and I would say, objectively, AEW is the hottest wrestling company right now. So many people who watch wrestling know that AEW’s gaining ground, AEW is hitting all-time highs. It’s helping us build new fans, it’s helping people want to take the leap and check the shows out. I’m sure other wrestling companies are paying attention to that. We have great relationships with a lot of wrestling companies that know what’s going on with AEW. I think if you work in the wrestling business, you’re following what we’re doing and the success we’re having. We’re catching a lot of eyeballs outside of the world of wrestling and mainstream attention, so you better believe in the world of wrestling people are paying very close attention to it.

AP: How did AEW come out of pandemic as a healthy company?

Khan: We made up a lot of market share in that time and really closed the gap between us and our competition. When we went back to packed arenas and got back to full capacity, and really now in recent months, have hit the stride we wanted to hit, we’re stronger than ever. Now all of a sudden we’re the ones who are the No. 1 wrestling show on cable. We went through nearly two years of “Dynamite,” we did 100 episodes and episode 101 was when we finally beat Raw. That was a big milestone for us. Just as important a milestone, was the number we hit, which was so strong, and just as important to us was to be No. 1 on cable for the third straight week.

AP: How can you keep such a loaded roster happy in the future?

Khan: I think that’s a good problem for any organization to have when you have a deep bench. We have a very deep bench right now. I try to rotate who wrestles on television and give TV time to different wrestlers so we have a lot of people with momentum and can switch out the matches and keep things fresh. I think that serves you well in sports, too, when you can rotate and rest people and give experience to young talent and develop people and also rest your veterans so they don’t have to go out and do it every single week.

AP: Have you been surprised by the star talent made available to AEW?

Khan: I had a lot of wrestlers that were very well-regarded in terms of the hardcore fans. But in terms of the very mainstream audience, not as many recognizable names, and I knew I’d have to really build that recognition. I didn’t expect somebody with so much recognition and as much experience wrestling on TV as Jon Moxley would become available so quickly. He has been such a great blessing for this company. He was a great champion through the pandemic. He’s still one of our most important stars today. I didn’t expect that at the time. Since then, absolutely. By making this a great home for wrestling and a place where wrestlers want to work, we’ve had so many people that want to come here, and have defected. It is more than I ever could have dreamed.

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Five things we learned from the Ravens’ 41-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals

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The Ravens had their worst performance of the season in a lopsided 41-17 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Here are five things we learned Sunday afternoon:

The Ravens cannot dwell on a humiliating defeat any more than they did on a proud victory.

The Ravens entered with a 5-1 record built on one-score victories and a single blowout. They exited as victims of a pummeling that sent them into their bye week facing serious questions about their status as an AFC contender.

We’re talking about what happened Sunday, right? Well, yes, but we could also be describing the events of Oct. 21, 2012, when the Ravens fell, 43-13, to the Houston Texans. That story ended 3 ½ months later in New Orleans, with Joe Flacco clutching a Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award.

This is not to say the Ravens are destined to win the Super Bowl because they ate a blowout in Week 7. It’s just to say that one week is one week in the NFL. It’s not unusual for an eventual champion to be embarrassed on a given Sunday. Need more recent evidence? The Tampa Bay Buccaneers fell, 38-3, to the New Orleans Saints in Week 9 last season.

This was not a disqualifying loss for the Ravens any more than their 34-6 blowout of the Los Angeles Chargers, just seven days earlier, was a certification of their AFC preeminence.

“It’s always week to week; it’s always game to game,” coach John Harbaugh said. “There never is any running narrative, it just doesn’t exist.”

Please don’t read this as an excuse for the Ravens’ performance. They tackled and covered poorly against a talented, hungry opponent that was eager to pounce on every mistake. They did not run the ball with any consistency against a defense that yielded 404 rushing yards to them in Week 17 of last season. Quarterback Lamar Jackson waited too long for plays to develop and took five sacks as a result. They were much the lesser team on their home field in an early battle for AFC North supremacy.

“This one’s going to burn a little bit,” defensive end Calais Campbell said, and you could hear from his humbled tone that he meant it.

There’s only so much use in self-flagellation, however. The Ravens, under Harbaugh, have always done a good job of treating each week as a discrete problem. Seasons rarely get away from them, and there is no reason to think this one will.

“We can’t really treat a bad loss any different than a win,” said cornerback Marlon Humphrey after one of the worst individual performances of his career. “This bye week helps us because we can kind of study into it a little bit more than usual. But you look at it, you fix your problems. You’ll probably take this one [for] two or three days, and then you kind of flush it, and you move on.”

Fans won’t take comfort from such answers, which border on cliché. But there’s a reason successful players and teams learn to think this way. What else is there but next week?

All of the Ravens’ flaws resurfaced.

The completeness of their triumph over the Chargers wiped our memories of the first five weeks a little too quickly. Yes, they found ways to win those earlier games, but they did so in spite of shoddy tackling, a declining ground game and flimsy pass defense.

All of these old enemies showed up at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

The Ravens actually started well on defense, pressuring Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow into an inaccurate first quarter and keeping rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase off the stat sheet. Then, Cincinnati tight end C.J. Uzomah left Humphrey sucking dust on a 55-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, and the troubles followed.

This was the rare game in which Humphrey was not the best Ravens cornerback on the field. In the two-minute drill before halftime, he let Chase get away from him on a crossing route; Chase not only picked up 26 yards, he made it all the way to the sideline to stop the clock. Cincinnati capitalized with a field goal to go up 13-10.

Uzomah scored again on the Bengals’ first drive of the second half after Ravens safety Chuck Clark abandoned him in hopes of jumping a sideline route. To make matters worse, DeShon Elliott missed a tackle on the 32-yard catch and run.

The afternoon reached its nadir a few minutes later when Chase beat Humphrey on a quick third-down route and wiggled out of the cornerback’s grasp on his way to an 82-yard touchdown that put the Bengals up 27-17. Humphrey briefly reopened the window for his team with an interception in the end zone at the start of the fourth quarter, but the Ravens went just 18 yards on their ensuing drive, and that was that.

“I lost that matchup, so a lot of it … is on me,” Humphrey said of his showdown with Chase.

Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser offered a broader and simpler epitaph: “We would have been OK if we had just tackled.”

Burrow finished with 416 passing yards, Chase with 201 receiving yards. Their gaudy statistical lines echoed those surrendered by the Ravens in earlier games against the Raiders, Chiefs and Colts.

“Up and down,” Campbell said of the defense. “Hot and cold. Not very consistent yet.”

The Ravens could have made life easier for their defense if they had seized the initiative on offense like they did the week before. But they are no longer capable of playing bully ball against quality resistance. It’s telling that their best running performances of the season have come against defensive horror shows such as the Chiefs and the Chargers. Jackson (12 carries, 88 yards) was their only effective runner against the Bengals, and he took significant punishment as he tried to scramble his team out of trouble. The Ravens got 29 yards on 11 carries from their running backs; it’s hard to imagine such totals if they were working with J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards instead of faded stars Devonta Freeman and Le’Veon Bell.

Jackson made some terrific downfield throws, but he also held the ball too long as he waited for chunk plays to develop, perhaps lacking faith that the Ravens could mount long drives built on more modest bites. They managed just one scoring drive longer than four minutes, meaning they never played the game on their terms.

The Bengals announced themselves as a legitimate threat to take the AFC North.

We can list the Ravens’ flaws on a never-ending crawl for the next two weeks, but the fact is they might have gotten away with their subpar performance against the 2020 Bengals. This was a more formidable foe that spent the week uttering confident words and backed them up with confident play.

Burrow knew he would face pressure, and he missed on eight of his first 13 attempts as Ravens outside linebacker Justin Houston lived in the Cincinnati backfield. The former No. 1 overall pick did not shrink from the difficulty, however. He made correct reads and accurate throws with defenders in his face, and his receivers turned quick strikes into touchdowns of 55, 32 and 82 yards (49.4% of his passing yards came after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus). The Ravens opened the door with missed tackles and poor communications. Burrow and the Bengals sprinted through it.

“This might have been his best game as a pro,” Campbell said of Burrow. “We made it hard on him early, and he made some adjustments and did what he had to do. You have to tip your hat off to him. His playmakers made plays for him, too. That team is talented.”

On the other side, the Bengals made it clear their 26th ranked defense from 2020 is a relic of the past. They covered well enough downfield to give their pass rushers, Sam Hubbard and Trey Hendrickson, time to reach Jackson, and they ate the Ravens alive at the line of scrimmage. They have stars at all three layers.

Based on seven weeks of evidence, nothing about the Bengals screams fluke. Their defense is the best in the AFC North (yes, they have outplayed the Steelers). Burrow and Chase are gifted enough to punish any opponent. Their self-belief is growing. Remember, Jackson and the Ravens took off faster than anyone expected in 2019. Could this blowout be tinder for the Bengals?

“I think it was a big statement,” Burrow said.

The Ravens cannot afford to lose Patrick Mekari.

Harbaugh offered no postgame update on his right tackle, who left the game with an ankle injury before halftime.

The Ravens had spent the first six weeks playing catch-up on the offensive line after Ronnie Stanley went down with an ankle injury that turned out to be season-ending. Mekari’s play on the right side was a legitimate bright spot in that effort. He came in with the second-best pass-blocking grade among the team’s starting linemen, according to Pro Football Focus, and Harbaugh has praised him unreservedly.

The Ravens love Mekari for his willingness to step into any breach. With him excelling at right tackle and Alejandro Villanueva looking more comfortable at his familiar spot on the left, the loss of Stanley felt less catastrophic than it probably should have.

Mekari’s injury might turn out to be minor, and it came at the right time, with the Ravens going into their bye week. But it reminded us how thin they really are at tackle. Tyre Phillips, who has rarely excelled as a pass blocker on the outside, stepped in for Mekari, and Cincinnati’s best pass rushers, Hubbard and Hendrickson, rolled up pressures against him and Villanueva. Practice-squad call-up David Sharpe was one more turned ankle from playing significant snaps.

Do not be surprised if Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta tries to pick up a tackle before the Nov. 2 trade deadline, though the leaguewide supply is thin.

Even in a bad loss, we saw evidence the Ravens have found the right formula at inside linebacker.

It was just Patrick Queen’s luck that he played one of the better games of his career in an ugly performance for the defense.

The Ravens stuck to their plan from the Chargers game, using the second-year linebacker as a complement to veteran Josh Bynes. Queen played 27 defensive snaps and earned the highest grade of any Ravens defender, according to Pro Football Focus. Early in the game, he moved decisively to fill a gap and dropped Bengals running back Joe Mixon for a loss. The 2020 first-round pick avoided the glaring mistakes that haunted many of his teammates.

Bynes also played well, contributing six tackles as the Ravens held Mixon (12 carries, 59 yards) in check for most of the game.

The Ravens trust Bynes to bring order to the middle of their defense, and they hope Queen will rebuild his confidence and run free to the ball playing the WILL spot. This wasn’t the scenario they envisioned heading into Week 1, but it’s a logical attempt at trying to make the best of a disappointing start to Queen’s career.

Week 9

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Nov. 7, 1 p.m.

TV: Chs. 45, 5

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

©2021 Baltimore Sun. Visit baltimoresun.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Ravens coach John Harbaugh on defense’s ‘biggest problem,’ Patrick Mekari’s ankle injury and more | NOTES

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The Ravens’ biggest problem on defense this season hasn’t changed. If they can’t tackle, they can’t succeed.

Tackling woes again plagued the Ravens in their 41-17 loss Sunday to the Bengals, with Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow amassing nearly half of his career-high 416 passing yards after the catch, according to Pro Football Focus. Running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine also ripped off fourth-quarter touchdowns against a defense that couldn’t bring them down.

As the Ravens enter their bye week on a low note, their defensive fundamentals are under the microscope. That has been the case seemingly all season, even after spirited wins.

“The biggest problem we have on defense right now, in terms of big plays, is not getting guys on the ground, whether it’s been underneath slant routes or screen routes or, in one case, we got the screen-and-go,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday, referring to Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah’s 32-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the third quarter Sunday when he slipped past safety DeShon Elliott in the open field.

When the Ravens return in Week 9 for their home game against the Minnesota Vikings, there will be little letup for the defense. Running back Dalvin Cook averaged a broken tackle every 9.5 carries last season, according to Pro Football Reference, though his elusiveness has slipped this season. Wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who starred alongside Bengals rookie Ja’Marr Chase at LSU, is ninth in the NFL with 542 receiving yards.

“Until we get [tackling] fixed, we’ll be a very mediocre defense, generally speaking,” Harbaugh said. “Our guys understand that. … When we play really good defense, we’re tackling. And that’s got to get done. And there’s a lot of reasons for that. Sometimes they’re not pushing to the right zone, so there’s more space in there than there should be. Other times, we take a bad angle. Sometimes a guy’s not covered.

“There’s different reasons for it, but the results are uniformly not good. And you’re a consistent, good defense when you consistently do all the little things well. And when we start doing all the little things well, then we’re going to be a better defense.”

Mekari hurting

Harbaugh declined to comment on right tackle Patrick Mekari’s condition, saying only that he has an ankle injury. The NFL Network reported Monday that Mekari, who was hurt in the second quarter, suffered a high-ankle sprain and is “seeking more feedback.” High-ankle sprains generally take at least a month to recover from.

Mekari is the Ravens’ highest-rated tackle, according to PFF, and played every offensive snap from Week 2, when he took over after Alejandro Villanueva moved to left tackle, to Week 6. Harbaugh said last week that he “couldn’t ask for a better player there [at right tackle] right now.”

With Ronnie Stanley (ankle) sidelined for the season, the team will likely turn once more to Tyre Phillips, who started at left guard in Week 1 before suffering a minor knee injury. He replaced Mekari on Sunday and struggled against Cincinnati’s pass rush.

“We’ll just see where it goes,” Harbaugh said of Mekari’s injury.

Extra points

  • Harbaugh called the Ravens’ performance Sunday “our worst game of the season, worst game in a long time.” But he stressed that the team is not even at the midpoint of a long season. “We’ve got 10 games left,” he said. “We need to keep growing as a football team and building on what we’ve done and what we haven’t done and make the strongest run we can for the next 10 weeks, and that’s what we’re planning on doing.”
  • After Ravens running backs combined for 29 rushing yards on 11 carries Sunday, Harbaugh was asked about the position’s struggles on the ground. “We just have to block better, scheme better, run better,” he said. “There are specifics in there in terms of schemes, and every play stands on its own. But we can’t go through all — how many run plays have we had this year that haven’t been successful? You can go through every one of them and you get the specific answer.”
  • Defensive lineman Derek Wolfe (hip/back) is “very close” to returning to practice, Harbaugh said. Wolfe has yet to play this season after suffering an injury in training camp. “This week, next week, hopefully, and we’ll see,” he said.

©2021 Baltimore Sun. Visit baltimoresun.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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Patriots-Chargers injury report: Devin McCourty not listed, 15 limited Wednesday

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Oct. 28—The Patriots listed 15 players on their initial practice report Wednesday — and that meant good news in New England.

Why?

Veteran safety Devin McCourty, who missed the second half of last Sunday’s game with an abdomen injury, was not listed. As a full participant in Wednesday’s padded practice, McCourty should be expected to play this weekend at the Chargers.

None of his teammates were absent Wednesday, including rookie corner Shaun Wade, who had missed the last three weeks with a concussion. Pats linebacker Dont’a Hightower has also recovered from the hurt elbow that contributed to him missing Sunday’s win over the Jets. He’s now only limited because of an ankle injury.

The Patriots’ complete injury report is below. The Chargers’ will be released later Wednesday evening.

Limited

C David Andrews (ankle)

LB Ja’Whaun Bentley (ribs)

WR Kendrick Bourne (shoulder)

DT Carl Davis (hand)

S Kyle Dugger (neck)

K Nick Folk (left knee)

DT Davon Godchaux (finger)

LB Dont’a Hightower (ankle)

LB Brandon King (thigh)

G Shaq Mason (abdomen)

TE Jonnu Smith (shoulder)

LB Josh Uche (shoulder)

LB Kyle Van Noy (groin)

CB Shaun Wade (concussion)

DE Deatrich Wise (knee)

(c)2021 the Boston Herald Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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