The following is a column and reflects the view of the author.
There’s a lot you can say, and has been said, about the character of UFC president Dana White, but one thing you can usually count on is that he’s honest when a big fight doesn’t deliver.
When then-middleweight champion Anderson Silva listlessly defeated Demian Maia at April 2010’s UFC 112 and completely embarrassed the company in front of their new Abu Dhabi investors and hosts as a result, White famously ripped the fight, ripped Silva, and said he would make it up to fans. Eleven years later, we’re still waiting on what that make good is, but that’s beside the point.
Following AEW Revolution Sunday and The Grand Finale Explosion That Wasn’t, Tony Khan needed to be a little more like Dana White.
Anyone reading this saw what didn’t happen following Kenny Omega’s win over Jon Moxley in the exploding barbed wire deathmatch that main evented the show. After a way too long heel beatdown, Eddie Kingston ran out to protect his old rival and pal. After failing to get Moxley out of there before the final round of, ahem, explosions, he covered up Moxley in a true act of friendship.
As Goldberg-esque flares went up from the ring posts and a few poofs could be seen and heard from outside the ring, Kingston laid on top of Moxley for what felt like an hour, selling as if he had withstood a massive blast protecting a fellow soldier during war. The aftermath was even worse. (I'd share a link, but DMCA requests on Twitter are resulting in some of those specific GIFs being pulled down. Weird, huh?)
Womp womp isn’t a strong enough description for the emotional letdown and instant mocking on social media from all corners of the wrestling world immediately followed. It was AEW's Shockmaster moment at a point when the moment called for anything but.
As is the case after big shows and to his credit, Khan spoke to the media and when asked about what happened, he played it off as that Omega wasn’t a good bomb maker and that his plan ultimately failed, pointing to a crude crayon drawing he released of the setup before the show as proof.
Then, Khan said this:
“But at the end, I don’t know what people really wanted unless you wanted us to actually explode the guys at the end. There’s only so much you can do.”
Again, womp womp isn’t a strong enough description for that statement.
Khan, a veteran of pro sports where placating fans goes hand-in-hand with revenue generation, needed to have a better answer. Slyly chiding fans for having expectations of something he hyped up so heavily is pretty rich, even in pro wrestling.
Of course, fans weren’t expecting someone to actually be killed or even severely injured, but there is zero chance anyone involved wanted that last scene to play out as it did, effectively negating the match, the Kingston moment, and even the PPV itself for some.
There’s where the White mentality comes in. As UFC really began its rise in the TUF era, one of White’s then-charming personality traits was that he was a fight fan “like us.” While he dished out the classic pre-show hyperbole any promoter did, he didn’t piss on your shoes and tell you it was raining if something didn’t land like it was supposed to. Even today, that hasn't really changed with him.
In those situations, White is as visibly annoyed as the fans he serves -- a living, breathing conduit of the frustration they have watching at home, making them feel as if they have a proxy who would actually do something about the situation even if "it" was a shrug behind closed doors.
The easiest thing for Khan to do Sunday was simply say, “It didn’t land like we wanted to. We need to make it right.” He didn’t need to bury anyone, but to essentially blow the situation off like he did in the press conference was jarring. By not admitting that things went askew and leaning into the explanation they way he did, he made it worse and more of a joke than a valid complaint from those that bought the show.
Khan has been a pro wrestling fan for decades and having heard him speak a lot, there is little to no chance he would accept such an explanation from a company he followed and loved. So why is it suddenly different when he is behind the big desk?
For the paying public, both those in attendance and watching on PPV, Khan has to make it right. Hopefully, fans aren't waiting eleven years before that happens.