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WWE president Nick Khan bringing SummerSlam to his hometown

Updated June 19, 2021 - 5:49 pm

A fight at a Kinko’s copy shop over a silly insult hurled at a customer by an employee indirectly led to a Bonanza High School and UNLV graduate becoming one of the most successful power brokers in the world of sports.

Now Nick Khan is the president and chief revenue officer of WWE, which is bringing the sports entertaiment company’s biggest show of 2021 back to this hometown.

Then he was a young attorney, who had grown up a boxing fan when the sport was in its heyday in Las Vegas and later had gotten to know legendary boxing training Freddie Roach, spending his free time hanging around Roach’s Wild Card Boxing gym in Hollywood.

One day, he got a call from Roach. The trainer and former pro boxer, who is 5 feet, 8 inches tall and has Parkinson’s disease, had been in a fight at Kinko’s. Roach’s side of the story is that a 6-6 customer was berating an employee, who fired back with a snarky comment.

Roach laughed, which further enraged the customer. At this point, the customer backed Roach into a corner and swung.

Roach countered with a left hook and knocked him out in one punch, prompting a multimillion-dollar lawsuit.

Khan represented him and won the case, leading Roach to ask Khan to represent one of his young fighters in a contract dispute.

It was Manny Pacquiao.

That put Khan was on the fast track in the sports business world. He eventually launched a sports and news broadcaster division at an agency that soon merged with International Creative Management in 2006.

At ICM, Khan’s list of clients became a who’s who in the broadcasting world. He moved on to powerhouse Creative Artists Agency in 2012, working his way to Co-Head of Television.

WWE was a client, and Khan joined the company during the pandemic last summer.

Coming full circle

SummerSlam will take place at Allegiant Stadium on Aug. 21. Tickets went on sale Friday for the full-capacity event, which usually plays second-fiddle to WrestleMania on the WWE calendar. This year, however, WrestleMania attendance was limited to 25,000 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa over two nights.

So Khan and WWE turned their attention to Allegiant Stadium for what will be one of the first full-scale events in the new stadium.

Las Vegas hasn’t always been the strongest market for WWE, but Khan says their standard Monday night cards may not be best suited for such a strong tourist town. SummerSlam is the kind of event avid pro wrestling fans travel to from around the country.

It doesn’t hurt to be the hometown of one of the key decision-makers.

“I’m biased, but I think the work ethic in Las Vegas is extremely strong, so for the hard-working people to be sidelined for that amount of time” had to be hard to take, Khan said.

So when someone in WWE suggested having a big event in a city that could use a boost in tourism, Khan immediately thought of Las Vegas. “Certainly, it will get there on its own, but if we can help accelerate that for a weekend and bring some excitement that helps with that, it meant a lot to us.”

It will mean a lot to Khan to be back home. After graduating from Bonanza in 1992, he attended UNLV. He worked his way through school bussing and waiting tables at Cafe Michelle at Flamingo and Maryland.

“I’m the same person I was when I was bussing tables in Las Vegas,” he said. “You’re working really hard, you’re trying to make money and trying to have the customer leave satisfied with a smile on their face. This is the same skill set.

“Ultimately, it’s a service business, and it’s incumbent on us to service our fans and be good to our colleagues, while talking straight to each other, which I think is an important quality of this company.”

Khan would have considered attending law school at UNLV, but it opened in 1998, a year after he finished his undergrad. So he found himself studying law in southern California and eventually went to work as a lawyer in 2000.

“There’s only one boss at this company, and that’s Vince McMahon,” Khan said. “I’m here to help him grow the business, hone the business and help develop new revenue streams for the business.”

A good fit

Bringing a massive show to Las Vegas and Allegiant Stadium certainly fits that mission statement, especially since SummerSlam is usually more of an arena event than a stadium show.

“Ultimately, we wanted to do the first big sports event with fans at Allegiant Stadium,” he said. “It was important to us as a company, and we want to do even more in Vegas.”

That’s now possible with the advent of Allegiant Stadium, which Khan believes combines with T-Mobile Arena to make Las Vegas a premier sports destination.

“How annoying and underwhelming was going to the Silver Bowl?” Khan remembers, referring to the facility that was later renamed Sam Boyd Stadium. “It was so brutal that it wasn’t even part of the conversation.

“The last five to seven years you’ve seen this sort of surge in Las Vegas in the sports space. It was sort of aggravating growing up when people would only associate our town with gambling and dancers. You would try to convince them it was so much more than that.

“The restaurants all come in during the late ’90s, now you see sports and the way it’s done in Las Vegas. I’m really proud of all of it and happy it’s happening for the city.”

Not bad for a self-professed average student who grew up just a few miles away from Allegiant Stadium, often being sent to watch TV with his sister when they would annoy their Iranian-immigrant parents.

She is a successful television writer, producer and director who told Time magazine back in 2016 that she and Nick idolized former WWF star The Iron Sheik growing up.

Now Khan is running the company and bringing the big show to Las Vegas.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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