AICN ON THE MAT: The Writing Rambler takes on the self-proclaimed “Greatest Man That Ever Lived” Austin Aries!
@’s by Austin Aires!!!
WRITING RAMBLER (WR): Hey Austin how’s it going?
AUSTIN ARIES (AA): Going great, thanks.
WR: So I guess we’ll start at the beginning. You’ve been doing this for well over a decade now and for those who may not be familiar with your career or may be new to this all, how did you get your start and what really got you into wrestling?
AA: I started watching wrestling as a kid probably about 4 years old. I remember watching AWA really early on and that kind of just grabbed my imagination with all those different elements of wrestling. So I just grew up watching it. That whole AWA era with The (Four) Horseman and Dusty (Rhodes) and the Midnight Express and the Road Warriors. I just really followed wrestling and between that and playing sports, those were just really my two passions growing up. The thing was you didn’t really advertise that you were a wrestling fan growing up because not everyone thought it was cool, you know. So it was a little hidden passion of mine. And then I went off to college to play baseball and did normal things that you’re supposed to do and I wasn’t really finding my path in life, I was kind of searching for it and around 2000 I got a fateful call from a best friend of mine growing up, who was training to be a wrestler in Minneapolis. He called and told me that he was training and I was kind of in disbelief because I didn’t know there was a place you could just go to train to be a wrestler. It wasn’t something that was really advertised. The internet wasn’t as huge as it is now so it wasn’t something you could just Google. So then I met Eddie Sharkey from the wrestling circles, he trained The Road Warriors, Rick Rude and so on and so forth. So I checked it out and I saw this ratty ring sitting in Terry Fox’s garage, who is a guy who helped train me, and from the moment I saw that in the garage sitting there and saw that there was an opportunity to do this, I no longer had any questions to where my life’s path was supposed to be going. So I worked out a deal and slept on my buddy’s couch and about a week or so later I started training in the middle of 2000.
WR: Now you just mentioned growing up watching, and I think were roughly around the same age, I’m about to be 34, and I kind of grew up the same way, I mean obviously our careers took a much different path in life (laughter), but just being a huge fan of wrestling as a kid. There was that time in the 80’s with Rock and Wrestling that was huge in pop culture, and then there was a lull where it was almost awkward to say you were a fan of wrestling. It was like a private club of friends that were into it but you were scorned by most people so I totally understand what you were saying about that.
AA: Yeah and even nowadays. It was just wrestling going through the transition of having people saying it wasn’t necessarily 100% on the up and up as far as the whole “is it real or is it not real” things. That whole debate was still going on then and they were still protecting the business in that way and so I think that’s where some of that attitude came from. You know I think nowadays there’s still some people like that. Wrestling got really hot in the 90s, the Monday night wars, the NWO, at the time I was going to college and it seemed like every fair-weather wrestling fan had a “know your role” shirt on or “suck it” or whatever it was. I was like man I’ve been watching this stuff for 20 years and you’re on some type of bandwagon now. It was just hot, really hot and now it’s just back a little bit. Back and not as mainstream or pop culture or cool as it was then and I still think there’s a misunderstanding to what exactly professional wrestling is. You know were not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. From a performance standpoint it’s the most real performance art there is. There’s no more real form of entertainment than professional wrestling.
WR: Yeah and I think a lot of it, and I get into this with a lot of people sometimes when I talk to them about wrestling, is that its one of the few art forms left where you guys really go out there, entertain and give people the full value of what they’re going to see. Now not every show is going to be as great as the last show but for the most part, a lot of the guys out there are going out and putting it all on the line for the fans. I always find it cool to watch people who maybe weren’t into it or haven’t watched since they were a kid come into it fresh. That’s where I think guys like yourself, those guys who cannot only perform in the ring but also on the microphone, can help bring in new fans. How important do you think that is for you? Trying to not only reach the fans who’ve been there and “know the business” but the new fans, someone who maybe a friend brought them to the show or they’re watching a video of a match. Is that in the back of your head while you’re performing?
AA: To me those are the most important fans to grab. Obviously we rely on our core fan base. That’s what keeps wrestling going, those fans who are going to tune in whether they like the product, whether they don’t like the product, they’re always going to support wrestling because it’s what they’re into. We never want to exclude those people but what we want to do is make sure we include all those people who maybe grew up watching as a kid, or maybe they watched with their grandma and grandpa but they haven’t watched in 15 years. Maybe they remember Hulk Hogan with Rock and Wrestling. All those types of people, we want to bring them back into the fold and show them what wrestling is doing Thursday nights on Spike television. You know, a lot of people aren’t even aware there’s a second wrestling company necessarily despite that we are touring the world with some of the best talent with the best fans in wrestling. So I know for our company the name of the game is visibility and bringing those old wrestling fans back. You know I started working with a personal trainer down here whose a great guy, a sports science guy, really smart working on professional athletes and stuff . He used to love wrestling and he doesn’t really watch it anymore. And through training with me now he has a reason to watch every Thursday. Now his wife watches, as well as his brother and his wife, and even his sister watches and they don’t judge the show or give star ratings for each match. They don’t know what qualifies as a 3 or 5 star match, they just watch for the entertainment value. They watch for the characters and the storylines, the buildup and then that payoff, which is the conflict in the ring and that’s what appeals to them. So yeah, we’ve got to keep focusing on “non-wrestling fans” and let them know “hey this stuff is kind of cool” it can be entertaining and it can be a great way to just blow off some steam at the end of a hard day’s work.
WR: Now like you said there are some fans out there that don’t even know there’s more than one wrestling organization or that TNA is out there. Would you say there is a big difference between the TNA product and the WWE product? Is it something about the guys that are there or is it more production? Any type of big differences you see?
AA: Yeah I just, I think they both have a different feel and that’s because creatively they are put on by much different creative teams. I think also WWE has been doing this a long time and they have really kind of refined it and they have a definite style. They’re mindful about having public shares of their company, they’re mindful about their investors, they’re mindful about the younger audiences. They’ve just really fine-tuned their style to be theirs and to be unique to themselves. I think what TNA brings to the table, which is nice, is we are a little less restricted in that area. The talents are allowed a little more freedom and liberty to express themselves and who they are. To me that have always been the key to when wrestling has been the most successful. It is when there are characters that are authentic. When characters are just extensions of who people really are. Those are the guys who have always been the most successful. We have a little tight knit group there. I think we’re a little bit friendlier behind the scenes with one another and I think that helps us bring the best out of each other. Plus, there’s not as much worrying about keeping your spots and the politics. It’s just “let’s go out there and put out the best product”. We’re going to push the envelope a little physically with what we do in the ring, well push the envelope a little with what we do behind the cameras and so forth. What’s most important is that we find our own distinct style that differs from what else is out there so that people really do have alternative choices like I did growing up when it comes to wrestling. You know, you had the Crocket NWA wrestling and the AWA wrestling that I was watching was way different than the WWF stuff that was put out at the same time. Even as a kid I knew there was a difference watching them. So it’s important to have that for people to give them the whole spectrum of the wrestling entertainment world.
WR: Yeah I definitely agree. As a fan sometimes you can see with the WWE that they hit that wall or that ceiling where they say “ Ohh we can’t go this far anymore because they’re trying to play it safe for one reason or another. So it is nice to turn a Thursday night and just see you guys doing what you do best without that complete restriction sometimes. It definitely does give a fresh take on that.
AA: Exactly! And as an artist or an entertainer it’s nice to have a little more creative leeway when you go out there. I’m really the most proud in my career that I’ve been able to maintain a level of control over the creative process of my character. So a lot of things you see out there, those are things that I’m saying, coming from my heart and my mind and not just what some writer wrote.
WR: Now speaking about your character. You definitely have charisma and a great presence on the microphone. Like you said, it’s kind of yourself amped up. You have a real confidence in the ring. Now obviously you need that to an extent to get over in the ring. Do you think there’s a line for some people between confidence and cockiness? We see that sometimes, where people will be loved by the fans but then it almost gets to be too much. It can take its toll on the person and not just with the fans but even in their own career. You’ve been pretty good at balancing that. Do you have any thoughts on what that balance should be like in real life as well?
AA: You know, it is definitely a balance. There’s times where I’ve stepped over the confidence line into cockiness and back and forth. You just do need to balance it. When I walk out there I expect myself to be the best performer on the show. I’ve always felt that way since my first match. That’s just the mentality you have to take out there if I want to perform on the level that I expect out of myself. I think all the greats, in any industry, any sport, any entertainer or professional, they have that. They have the confidence that when they walk out there they are going to do a great job. That they go above and beyond what anyone else can produce. So you have to carry that, it’s an attitude. You know I’m in a big man’s game and I’m not a big man so I’ve got to make sure I bring the biggest personality, that I have the most confidence. I’ve worked really hard over a long number of years to develop that confidence. You know earlier in my career, sure I’d walk out there with it but that was a little more acting, that wasn’t true confidence. You know, when you’re green and you’re fighting your way through it you’re just learning on the job. But now, after doing this I feel like a complete performer, I feel I can walk out there in any situation with any opponent, with any job at hand and do it at a level that very few can. Sure that can be a polarizing attitude and I’ve always kind of been that way. People have always had a strong opinion of me one way or another and that doesn’t really bother me. As long as they have an opinion, because that means they care.
WR: Now you were saying about being in a big man’s game. Nowadays, and it’s not every fan, but you have the fans who follow along and read the dirt sheets and then you have your casual fans, but it seems like the fans in general are starting to gravitate towards the “pure wrestler”. They are looking towards the guys who “have it all” and not just the giant guys who look cool. Sure you’ll always have some of that but you see with guys like C.M. Punk, what Daniel Bryan is doing now, yourself. Fans are gravitating towards that and that seems to be where “wrestling culture” is going as well. People are recognizing that you need more than just a good build. Do you think that’s helpful to you? That the fans as a whole are changing and recognizing that?
AA: I think for some of the fans it’s a subconscious thing and they don’t know why they like some performers. But the bottom line is there are no size requirements or restrictions for talent. The guys you mentioned, myself included, we bring a certain level of talent in that ring with what we do. There’s a certain excitement level we can produce within the context of a wrestling match or with a microphone in our hand, an authenticity of that character that people expect. All those things that I’m talking about you don’t measure those with a measuring stick or by any measure. It’s impossible. So from an aesthetic standpoint, sure there’s value in a certain standpoint from the way a guy looks or their stature but that’s only one part of it. I think what they’re finding is that people are gravitating towards those who entertain them the most on screen. And that has really nothing and very little to do with the size of them. While an imposing specimen will always be a spectacle and a sight to see and will always have a place in the professional wrestling world, it’s in fact the talent that carries them and that comes in all shapes and sizes.
WR: Now we were speaking about the fans. Do you think wrestling would be in a better place if the fans weren’t so connected as they are today? I mean it’s definitely changed the product, it changes the way you market, it just changes everything from production to how TV comes across compared to how it used to be when you had fans watching Saturday mornings for their wrestling fix and maybe seeing a pay per view here and there. Does it affect the way you perform as well or do you just go out and do what you do in the ring?
AA: You know, I think the main thing that has changed is the level of feedback we are able to get. Obviously with the internet, with the people who follow closely, those who write about it or the dirt sheet writers who think they have the credentials to critique, which I disagree with. I don’t think you can offer an opinion or a critique into 4 or 5 things that went right or wrong in a match or a certain level of expertise in that field just by watching it and talking to your friends about it for a number of years. That doesn’t really qualify as expertise. I do think that connection a slippery slope. The interaction we have today with the fans is great. It brings them closer to their live action heroes that they admire. What it can do if were not careful is overexposing ourselves to those people. Then it loses that mystique that I know wrestlers had for me when I was growing up. You didn’t take photos, you didn’t have meet and greets at various times, you didn’t get to interact with them on twitter and these sort of things so I think if we harness this technology and this type of closeness and openness with these core fans to the product I think we can use it as a service. We just need to be mindful to take it all and put it in its rightful place. To not give out too much and to keep some of that mystery to ourselves.
WR: Yeah there’s just really so much connection now. I think on twitter last week you were complaining about the traffic up here in NY and I’m laughing because I’m in this area here in NJ and I’m agreeing with you on your sentiments and just having that direct action instantly. It’s just this constant nonstop connection.
AA: (laughter) Hey, I lived in Philly so to me, New York, New Jersey, Philly, it’s all one. They all drive the same. And it just gets worse as you go that direction because then you have tunnels and bridges and there’s no way to get around it. I grew up in Atlanta, lived in the Northeast and now I’m in Florida and they all have problems when it comes to the roads but New York takes the cake so far.
WR: We live in this age now where little thoughts like that can be shared with each other without having had any other interaction before. Fans can follow along. So it’s just a completely different world now for wrestling.
AA: Yeah. It helps humanize us in a way which is cool but you don’t want to lose that mystique and that aura that we once had and were shrouded by as performers. Sure we can show “hey were normal people too” with real opinions and worries but we want to keep that pedestal we sit on, so to speak.
WR: Okay so getting back to in the ring. A year ago you were the heavyweight champion. A lot has changed in the past year. Some fans are not too happy about that. Is that frustrating for you? I mean you can see with your ring work you give 100% whether you’re doing an X Division match or you’re headlining a PPV and the fans appreciate that. But is that frustrating to be put in that spotlight and then have to step back and now a year later head into Bound for Glory for an Ultimate X match instead of as champion? It’s like we’ve seen two different worlds in TNA over the past year.
AA: Yeah, you know I mean you can get frustrated if you dwell on those types of things. So for me it’s important to remind myself to focus and put my energies on the things that I can control. You know I definitely think whatever opportunities that are put on my plate; I’ll make the most of them. Whatever area the company needs to use me in, whatever facets they see appropriate. I think they know that they can give me the ball and I’ll run with it. I’d love to be headlining Bound for Glory this year. I’d love to be wrestling in the world heavyweight championship match like I was last year but you know that’s not how the year went for me. So my focus is doing what I need to do to get back into that spot, you know I think going out there this year in the Ultimate X match for the X division championship and putting on a stellar performance is going to hopefully catapult me back in the direction I want to be heading, which is to the world championship.
WR: Now in the past I’ve heard you say that 10-20 years down the road you don’t want to end up like Randy the Ram, Mickey Rourke’s character from THE WRESTLER. It was a great comment to just say flat out,” that’s not what I want to end up like, I want something more”. Even though it was a caricature from a movie, the sad thing is a lot of guys do end up like that especially wrestlers from the past. Is that something that’s always in the back of your head? Not saying you’re looking for a way out but nowadays guys have a lot more opportunity than wrestlers did in the past to go try movies or commentary, TV shows etc. Is that something you’re looking for as your career progresses?
AA: Yeah, you know I have a lot of interests outside of wrestling. So if for whatever reason I had to hop off the professional wrestling train and hop on a different track, I’d be okay with that. That being said, I love this industry. I love the performing part of it, I love the behind the scenes things as well so as I start slowing down in the ring or if opportunities present themselves where I could be an asset to the company behind the scenes, that will be something I’m always open to. I love perfecting the psychology of the professional wrestling product and the entertainment portion of it. So I could see myself going into other facets later in my career, whether it be announcing or managing, which I think is just a lost art in the world of professional wrestling. Or like I said, if I just want to change courses there’s some other areas in my life that I definitely could see myself going if I had to change directions.
WR: Now being that you mentioned managers being a lost art form, I remember as a kid watching Bobby Heenan and I think as I grew up I wanted to be Bobby Heenan more than I did one of the wrestlers in the matches. The guy just blew me away with how entertaining he was and as I got older and learned to appreciate what he was actually doing as an artist and in the background with his performance it just still amazes me how good he was. It really is a lost art, the whole idea of having a good manager is gone and it’s sad that we don’t have that anymore.
AA: I’ve always said that in my opinion, Bobby Heenan is in the top 10 performers of all time. You could even go top 5 depending on who you’d want to include. For me, he’s one of my favorite performers in the history of wrestling, no question. The guy could do everything and he could do it better than the guy he was managing most of the time. That’s what people don’t realize. If you go back and watch when he was actually wrestling, the guy could go in the ring. He could move. He was really skilled and a really special talent and also smart enough to understand that you can’t try to outshine the guys you’re managing and he picked their spots and he picked them so well. He made so much money for a lot of guys who maybe wouldn’t have made that money without him, because the feud in the 80s was Hulk Hogan vs Bobby Heenan. It was never about Hogan vs. any certain person it was whoever was in Heenan’s stable. So maybe if the right character came along, and, who knows, maybe I’m that guy that will transition out of being an in ring guy in the next decade or so and find myself in that position. I would love the type of opportunity to bring all the types of things that Bobby Heenan brought to the table into the world of professional wrestling.
WR: Yeah I definitely think wrestling is sorely lacking it. Now as we were speaking about life after and outside of the ring, I know you are extremely passionate about your lifestyle as a Vegan. I was laughing this past week on impact Mike Tenay was talking about Jeff Hardy’s fitness app and you threw in something about “they need to have a Vascular Vegan app”. It was a nice quick line on air, but is that something you would like to get into? You see people like DDP doing his yoga training and Trish Stratus has her own yoga program as well. Being that it seems like a good market to get into and that there’s a ton of fans who could benefit from it is that something you’d like to get into? Just helping people with their health, giving your own advice, maybe a book or something like that?
AA: Those are definitely all things I’ve thought about or are in the process of starting to move forward with. I’ve got a treatment for a TV show that I feel very strongly about and it would be related to peoples diets and helping them get information to let them make healthy lifestyle choices. I’m currently kind of shopping that around to some different areas to see if anyone is interested there. I have for friends and family done the exact thing where I go in their house and go through their kitchen and talk to them about the choices we have as consumers and the type of foods we buy and put in our bodies. Just how we really have to take that power and put it back I our own hands and stop relying on the corporations to do right by us because that’s not what their bottom line is about. Their bottom line is to make money and they will compromise the quality of whatever products they need to in order to make a little more at the bottom line. What that costs us long-term, with all our sicknesses, cancers, diseases and ailments that we just consider now to be common really aren’t common. They’re uncommon and a lot of things are related right back to what we eat every day. So it is something that I’m passionate about. It’s definitely something that the platform of professional wrestling has provided me and I would love to use that to help reach out to those people who want that information and want to improve their lifestyle, who want to improve their eating habits and just don’t know where to start. There’s a whole sea of misinformation out there that’s being sent to you every day by these huge corporations who are making these millions and billions of dollars and it’s hard to sift through all that and find the truth. So yeah, I would probably like to do a book maybe somewhere down the line. I was even exploring the idea of opening up a vegan café here in Florida where I’m living, just cause there seems to be a market for it in this area. Those are all areas I’m very interested in and will continue to move forward and try to find ways that I can use my wrestling notoriety to help spread this message that I’m equally as passionate about.
WR: I guess just to wrap it up; you’ve got Bound for Glory right around the corner on October 20th. You’ve got the Ultimate X match. What can fans expect from the match and what the future holds for Austin Aries?
AA: Yeah. Obviously Bound for Glory is our biggest PPV of the year. The Ultimate X match for anyone who may not be familiar is just basically 4 trusses on each of the ring posts. They’re scaled up about 20 feet and attached to them in the shape of an X are 2 ring ropes and hanging from that will be the X division championship. So the first guy to scale that, shimmy down those ropes and somehow unhook that championship belt is the new champion. As far as what people can expect? Expect the unexpected. It’s a real live wire match, a high wire match, it’s got all elements of excitement and stunts. Honestly, I’m getting a little nervous just thinking about it and talking about it now (laughter). Honestly there is an added risk for all 4 performers. It’s taking place outside of our usual element and it’s something unique to TNA wrestling. Obviously I’m excited for it because it’s something different and I know the 4 guys going into that ring are going to leave it all there and put on the best performance we can. And when it’s all over, bold prediction, even though this is not my forte, I’m going to walk out of there new X division champion.
WR: Well I wish you the best of luck. Have a safe match for you and all of the guys involved. We definitely appreciate talking with you today and hopefully we’ll be able to speak with you again in the future. Just good luck with it all, you put a lot of passion into what you do and your success is definitely well deserved.
AA: Thanks. Definitely appreciate you taking the time to speak with me today and help get the info about Impact Wrestling out there.
WR: You Can Catch Austin Aries and all the stars of TNA wrestling this Sunday at Bound for Glory on PPV and Thursday nights on Spike TV.
You can follow The Writing Rambler on his blog here and follow on Twitter @Writing_Rambler !
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