It seems your second run with TNA has really rejuvenated your career Ė how did it help you reset yourself emotionally and how would you compare the challenges of the last year to your first run with TNA?
AA: I think that right before I came back to TNA I had made the decision to just sort of step away from wrestling. I really walked into it holding nothing back and let the chips fall where they fell. I think everything comes down to the right opportunity at the right time. Comparing my two runs in TNA is that maybe with my first run the time wasnít right and on the second time I kinda feel like theyíve gave me some rope and they will either let me climb the ladder or hang myself: so far Iíve been climbing.
Youíve reached the main event in such a short amount of time: how does it compare with what you expected when you re-signed?
AA: When I walked in I didnít really have any expectations, I just knew that I had to take everything one step at a time. This time I tried to have patience and just let my work speak for itself and let the opportunities present themselves then take advantage of them. I donít think I would have seen myself in this position only a year after being with the company but Iíve always been confident in my ability and I belong at the top of the card.
Are you surprised the fans have really embraced you?
AA: I donít really know as Iím sometimes a pretty polarizing figure, which has been said before about me, and I garner some reaction as at the end of the day thatís what we want, some sort of reaction. Negative or positive is good but if people are indifferent then they probably wonít spend money to see what you do. Facing off against a guy like Bobby Roode, who is universally disliked, makes it easier for people to get behind me.
Could you give us any indication with how far you went with applying for the WWE programme Tough Enough?
AA: I donít think I want to get too much into that but basically it was just an audition for a television show. People seem to want to heap more meaning on it than what it really was. I was dealing with a talent agency and I wasnít dealing directly with the company (WWE) as I would just go to auditions for acting, too, and I didnít get them: it may not reflect you as an actor or in this case a wrestler. It was one of those things where they asked if I would mind having my name thrown in the hat and I felt I had nothing to lose but I certainly wasnít pinning my hopes on it. As with any actor you go out for a lot of different roles and sometimes you get them, sometimes you donít.
You had left wrestling by the point you received the call from TNA: what made you decide to go back given the first run with them?
AA: I was given a second chance and it was nice to have the opportunity to go back there. At that point it was a pay day and I didnít have anything going on that week, so, why not? I had nothing to lose!
Its well known you take a lot of pride in your performances but what pride have you had with previous championships you have won and may go onto win?
AA: I donít think everyone is equipped to win titles and with whatever championships I have held I like to think it was with a certain professionalism that makes people look at it and go ďOK, this title has worth and means something.Ē Iíve had some big shoes to fill with belts in the past but all you can do is go out there and put your best foot forward. Plus every time you step out there make people feel like they are seeing the main event and hopefully we will do that at Destination X. I think Roodeís belt has a lot of worth right now and the X Division title does, too.
If you do win the World Championship at Destination X would you compete in X Division style matches as World champ? Or decide to go after bigger men like Bully Ray?
AA: Iíve always felt I would be comfortable in the ring with anybody, really. Whether it is a cruiserweight, a heavyweight, or a hard-hitting style. I bring my own style, a hybrid, of X Division wrestling to a match yet I have proved I can get in there with the Bully Rays, the Samoa Joes and now Bobby Roode. If I won the heavyweight championship the matches would be wrestled as Austin Aries style matches which I think is a win-win for everybody.
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to break into wrestling given that TNA has started Gut Check?
AA: The most important thing is where you will do your training; when you start I think youíre like an empty canvas so whatever you are told is going to stick. Biggest thing is go somewhere that has a good reputation and from there itís all about how much you want to put into it. Itís a marathon not a sprint and if you look at the guys who have persisted over the decades you will see if you have talent you will be successful.
What sort of interaction do you have with the Gut Check people?
AA: I have known some of them previously so I am always willing to give 5 or 10 minutes of my time to talk wrestling and I always enjoy a good conversation about that subject.
You have wrestled for over a decade for various companies which have allowed you to polish your act: how useful has that been in TNA? Is that an advantage over others?
AA: I like to think that it is as a lot of guys who have success have honed their craft in a lot of different places. There is a certain experience level I think you will only get from working the indie scene. So Iím thankful for all the experience and different places I have been and different wrestlers and styles Iíve worked with.
Now that IMPACT has gone live do you think that helps you think on your feet?
AA: I think everybody amps it up another half a notch because were live. Not that we never did before as we all want to go out and be our most professional but now there is no safety net. I love being live and I hope it continues beyond summer as itís a step in the right direction for TNA.
AWM: Out of the current Ring of Honor roster who would you most like to see in TNA and wrestle against?
Guys that come to mind are guys that Iíve trained with like Rhett Titus and Kenny King who I think are a great tag team. Theyíve worked very hard to get to the point that they are at plus I helped train Rhett so thereís a little favouritism there. Another one of my traineeís, Grizzly Redwood, I think would be a great addition to any roster as heís a unique character that not a lot of guys in the business can fill that role and heís a nice guy and a hard worker. So, right off the top of my mind those are the guys Iíd go to bat for.
AWM: Do you think anyone will better your X Division Championship for how long it lasted?
AA: I donít know itís crazy when I start to think about how long Iíve had this thing. Itís unfortunate in terms of injuries and departures when it comes to numbers for more competition for me. I think that is something that will change which means any future X Division champ will have a hard time keeping the belt for as long and again ďOption CĒ is that this belt will become a real hot commodity every time Destination X rolls around: everyoneís going to be gunning for this belt and it will have more importance that it does now. That will make it harder to keep around peoples waists.
Could you tell us about your X title run? You beat the previous record for length set by Chris Daniels and now youíre vacating it: how does that feel instead of losing it?
AA: Yeah itís going to leave me with some bragging rights to say that no one beat me for the championship as I relinquished it which is pretty rare. That was an opportunity that was presented in front of me so to wrestle Roode at Destination X was something I had to seriously consider. I tried to make the best decision that would leave me in a better position as well as the championship. As far as being the longest reigning X Division Champion itís pretty remarkable due to all the men who have held it over the years but when you look back say 5 years there really was a lot of competition and I came in just as they were rebooting the division. That gave me a leg up as I am a little more experienced and have a reputation before me and some of the guys I would have liked to face were either injured or not here. My run has done great things for me but I feel I have done all I can do with it and its time for me to step up.
In your two runs with TNA are there any moments that stand out for you personally?
AA: Honestly, that second time and securing the contract was a big moment for me: when I came back there were no promises. So winning that and the X title stand out but when I wrestle Roode at Destination X that will be the biggest.
How does it feel to work alongside wrestling icons like Hulk Hogan and Sting?
AA: It can be surreal at times if you let that inner child think about it. I told a friend last week the 10 year old me would be giddy if he knew Hulk Hogan was telling me how great I am in a wrestling ring. Guys like Hogan and Kurt Angle have done so much in this business and it means so much so when you get compliments off them because it means a lot more from them than from others.
Now you are leaving the X Division do you feel TNA still need to put the division in main events and push it?
AA: There will always be debate where the X Division should fit in the company if itís meant to be a secondary or special attraction title. The important thing is to keep bringing strong talent in and if it remains a way for that talent to get a foot up the ladder I think the title will still be an important thing to the company.
Is there another wrestler who you would like to see as Ďthe face of the Divisioní?
AA: Again, itís injuries as I think Chris Sabin was ready to step things up when he got hurt. I think Jesse Sorensen was a guy on that same track till his injury so itís left the division a little bit thin, more so with me stepping out. In the next couple of weeks youíre going to see a lot of new and old faces and I think that will make it exciting and hopefully a guy will step up to the plate much like I did a year ago.
During that first TNA run you were attached to Kevin Nash who was seen as a hindrance for the X Division: what is your opinion of him?
AA: For me, personally, I have nothing but fond memories of Kevin when we did the Paparazzi Productions thing. I think Kevinís a really great guy, a smart business guy when it comes to what we do. I felt nothing but positive vibes from him, the other guys involved would agree. Those skits were one of the most fun things I have done in wrestling, just a bunch of guys going out and having fun. There was always this perception that Nash didnít like smaller guys or he used the thing to better just himself but I never sensed that as I felt in a couple of situations he had our backs because he wanted the company to do the best they could for us.
Whatís your opinion on when you worked with Bully Ray?
AA: I enjoyed it, I knew it would be a physical test, I knew it was going to be a mental test and I like to think I passed both of those. Bully Ray is not a guy who will blow smoke up your ass; heís going to tell you exactly how it is. You know you will get an honest opinion with him and it was more important than anything that when we had that match I knew he had respect for me. I thought we had a great match, we pushed each other and the match was very entertaining.
Do you have any special preparations before big matches?
AA: Er, peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a cup of coffee on the day? The flavours play off against each other really well. Probably go to the gym, a good stretch, nothing too special: I have a routine I stick to. With big matches itís too easy to get too hyped too soon so the biggest thing is to remain loose and focus on what my job is.
Youíve been critical of ROH, what is it about the company that changed to make you negative towards it?
AA: I donít want to really, erm, talk about other companies on this conference call. Letís just say that the people who first ran that place once they left ROH it caused things to change. I think that the original vision and energy is not what it once was. If you look back at the different talents they once had youíll just shake your head and say ďWow, they had a lot of talent, once!Ē but that energy and passion they had which was different from other companies is something Iím not sure still exists.
There is a new emphasis on reality television in TNA: what are your thoughts on this?
AA: Itís a slippery slope, you know, because there are elements of what we do that can have the curtain pulled back a bit and there are real life situations that if we wanted to do our fans would be interested but you only want to pull the curtain back so far. I think we will take it slow and not put a product out there that feels over produced. We want to feel that what comes out of a performerís mouth is theirs and is real. Just let the talent shine, give them some instruction but let the talent fill in the blanks and with us trying to touch closer to home and reality I think people will appreciate it.
How do you feel about the growing influence of social media websites?
AA: Obviously itís been huge as to how to stay connected with the world because of things like twitter, @AustinAries in case youíre interested, or facebook. I think we have to be careful not to rely on it too much, we want to keep fans in the loop but we want to make sure that with the fans who donít use these things arenít put off and make them feel they can still get involved.
Do you feel your current run in TNA is vilification for those promoters who wouldnít get behind you in the past?
AA: Iím not going to say that I donít walk around with a chip on my shoulder as I think I have my whole life but to be honest itís nice to get an opportunity and feel your taking advantage of it. Maybe showing some people and places what you can do when given a chance and my second time in TNA has given me the chance to prove some of what Iíve said. If youíre not stirring the pot then youíre not doing something right.
Would you tell us about your route into wrestling and training?
AA: The things I learned the most was respect for the business and the basics. My trainers, Eddie Sharkey and Terry Fox, were old school and very carnie. I got a glimpse of the old guard of wrestling so really what was hammered home was basics and respect. Those are the two most important things to have a foundation to build on like a house and if you donít have them the house collapses.
Who influenced your work?
AA: Jerry Lynn comes to mind and Sean Waltman. Small wrestlers and I grew up watching Crockett Promotions so they influenced me like the Horsemen who were on there. Later you have the Eddie Guerreros and Dean Malenkos, guys that were believable as they were guys that did it with conviction.
How important do you think it is to do PPVís internationally?
AA: Itís been talked about; the live shows in England are just amazing with the energy. As part of our growth it is certainly something we want to explore and should do.
Other than your match what are you looking forward to at Destination X?
AA: Well other than my match I say my match! AJ vs. Daniels in Last Man Standing: I donít see how that canít be good. Then obviously crowning a new X Division champion, which will be a big moment. The whole card will be great from top to bottom, especially the top.
Are you tired of Orlando?
AA: Iím not tired, its only 90 minutes way from my home which is nice but for growth we should take it on the road. But to take us on the road is the next step to a company that will grow in the eyes of the fans.
You have headlined shows elsewhere so what does it mean to you to main event your first TNA PPV?
AA: To make that leap from not having a job here a year ago to main eventing a pay-per-view it a great feeling. I have main evented over the years so itís the same mindset just a few more eyes and cameras watching. Iím looking forward to wrestling a guy the calibre of Bobby Roode and itís my chance to shut up or put up.
Austin Aries will wrestle TNA World Champion Booby Roode live at the Destination X PPV on July 8th in the U.S.(Other countries check www.impactwrestling.com for PPV listings) Destination X is on Challenge TV on Wednesday July 11th at 10pm and that TNA Xplosion is on Challenge every Wednesday at 10pm (except on PPV weeks when it moves to midnight on Tuesday).