Former TNA World Heavyweight Champion Austin Aries sat down with philly.com recently to discuss Samoa Joe, TNA’s relationship with Destination America and his upcoming appearance at House of Hardcore March 7 in Philadelphia.
Here’s a full transcript:
Vaughn Johnson: What were your thoughts on Samoa Joe’s departure from TNA Wrestling?
Austin Aries: That’s part of the business, man. People come, people go and at the end of the day, everybody has to do what’s right for them and their family and their situation. I’ve known Joe a long time and the guy is supremely intelligent, supremely talented so I’m sure the decision he made will work out because guys like that always seem to land on their feet.
VJ: Did you have any idea that he could possibly be on his way out?
AA: Hey, man. It could possibly happen with any of us at any time. As far as guys contracts and their deals, I don’t try to stick my nose in too much. Obviously, we all kind of have an idea of what’s going on behind the scenes, but I always feel those things are best kept behind the scenes and not out there for general consumption unless that person decides to put it out there.
VJ: It has to hurt the TNA locker room to lose a guy like Samoa Joe, does it not?
AA: Talent is talent. Anytime you lose a talented wrestler it just creates a situation where other guys have to step up and fill the void. Guys like Samoa Joe are unique in their own right and you don’t just pluck guys like that off the tree and insert them. In any situation, any locker room, any sport, you take a talented player out I’m sure it’s going to hurt, but it presents an opportunity for other guys to step up and try to fill that void.
VJ: Besides the Samoa Joe situation, what’s the atmosphere like in TNA right now in general?
AA: Things are good. I think there’s a lot of excitement with our switch over to Destination America. The feeling is that we’re with a station now that is behind us 100 percent. They know that as the TNA brand grows so does their station. They’re relatively new as far as networks go. I think there’s just a lot of excitement and optimism and we’re going to take things as they come, put ourselves in a position to be successful and know that things don’t happen overnight. As long as we’re continuing to make those incremental movements forward, things should be good.
VJ: Before the Destination America deal was officially announced, what was it like knowing that the future for TNA was uncertain?
AA: I’m sure everybody handled the situation differently. For me, there was a bit of a break in our schedule for a few months over the holidays and with the switch in the networks. Honestly, I just kind of disconnected from it. A lot of those situations are out of my control, so for me to sit and worry about it doesn’t really serve me in any way positive. I let the business end take care of the business end and I just try to focus on doing my job and things I can control. To say that it’s something you don’t think about at all — or it can’t be a little stressful as far as not knowing the future, sure. I think that’s human nature, but I think at the end of the day I just tried to block it out, let everything take its course.
VJ: What are your thoughts on the wrestling business overall right now? What are your thoughts on what is being offered on television in the United States right now?
AA: It’s hard to say. […] Maybe there needs to be something new to shake things up, but I’m also maybe a little old school in my approach where you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There’s kind of that balance between making sure that professional wrestling is staying relevant and current and changing with the times as far as what people are watching on television or, even a step further, how people are watching the things that they’re interested in. The medium changes as well.
Since I started, you went from tapes to DVDs to now i-pay-per-views. Pay-per-views have now kind of disappeared. The medium changes and technology is moving fast. I just think it’s important for the wrestling industry to stay on top of that and make sure that they’re not behind the curve as far as how the medium changes and how people want to receive their content.
VJ: You mentioned that you’re a bit of a old-school guy. Do you think that wrestling has gotten away from some of its fundamentals lately?
AA: That’s everybody’s personal opinion and it depends on what you mean by fundamentals. At the end of that day, it’s entertainment, but it’s a unique form of entertainment, so it’s kind of in it of itself. There’s nothing you can really compare professional wrestling to. I think that the excitement, the drama, the athleticism, the competition, I think those are the things as a kid that drew me to professional wrestling. It kind of encompassed everything I loved about sports and everything I loved about entertainment. I think as long as we stick with that and I think the most important aspect is having characters and performers that people can identify with, that they have a strong relationship with because I don’t think it’s so much the stories that people follow as much as they want to latch on to a character and that individual story.
As far as Impact Wrestling goes, we need guys to find their identity and try to find characters that are authentic, that people can relate to and identify with.
VJ: You hear Vince McMahon say that the competition is not just other wrestling promotions, but it’s all of television in general, including shows like Walking Dead and True Detective. Those shows are very successful. How can the business of wrestling compete with those shows?
AA: I don’t know that you can compete necessarily with those shows because it’s a different form of entertainment, but I think one thing wrestling can do is when wrestling was the hottest is when it was cool. It was something that people wanted to tune in and see because they enjoyed it. It was fun. It was cool. It was relevant. As far as Impact Wrestling, we need to stay hip, stay cutting edge. Maybe push the envelope a little bit, which hasn’t been done.
If you were to look at the shows that are successful now, beyond just the ones that you mentioned, but a lot of “reality shows,” people like the drama. They like the reality-based things as much as they do the Walking Dead and the scripted type of television show. I think we find that happy medium between the two because we have that luxury with what we do. There’s a lot of reality to what we do and then there’s also parts of it that we have a chance to kind of mold and strip. Finding that balance I think is the key.
Again, going back to I what was talking about earlier, finding those characters and those people that really jump off the screen and grab you and make you want to tune in to see them and follow their story.
VJ: You’re working for House of Hardcore March 7 here in Philadelphia and for a number of other independent promotions. What is it like on the independent scene right now?
AA: I pick and choose where I work outside of Impact Wrestling territory. Obviously, Tommy Dreamer has got thing going with House of Hardcore and it’s just fun to be in a locker room in that environment … maybe a little less pressure than you would have with your normal television or pay-per-view product that I’m used to doing with TNA. It’s just a chance to go out and have some fun, maybe wrestle some guys or some matches that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do.
That’s one of the beautiful things of being in a situation like I am as an independent contractor working for a company that actually allows me to be that way. It’s nice to be able to go out and do some outside projects that keeps things fun and throw a little extra money in the pocket. I think that’s one of the draws to what we’re doing in TNA … it allows the guys to do that and also spread their name and have our talent go out there in front of eyes that wouldn’t have the chance to see us otherwise live. I think that’s pretty cool.
VJ: What are you thoughts on the way Tommy Dreamer runs House of Hardcore?
AA: I just did my first show in November with them and it was great. I had a lot of fun. I think Tommy Dreamer is one of the most intelligent guys when it comes to the business aspect of what we do, mixing those elements of old school and understanding how the business model works now. He’s got a good thing going. He’s bringing in a lot of talent from all different places, creating matchups that people might not have an opportunity to see elsewhere and just really knowing how to put together a fun night of wrestling entertainment for wrestling fans.
I think that’s something that sometimes is overlooked: wrestling fans like wrestling, so give it to them and give them a reason to come back next month and want to see it again. I think Tommy Dreamer does a great job of doing that.
VJ: The WWE has its own distinct style, as done New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor. How would you describe TNA’s style of in-ring action?
AA: That’s an interesting question. I don’t know that it has a distinct style because I think the one thing we’re kind of allowed to do here is all bring our own personalities to the ring […] That allows it to be more variety with our performers and our matches and sometimes keeps things a little more fresh and less predictable as far as what you’re going to see in the ring.
You’ll maybe see some things in our promotion that maybe aren’t allowed or you’re not allowed to see in other places. I think it just creates more variety and you get more of the actual performer in that match and his style is interjecting in that wrestling match more so than the company’s style.
VJ: What are your thoughts on New Japan trying to make their way over here in the United States?
AA: At the end of the day, the more successful wrestling companies out there, the better for the wrestlers, the better for the competition, the better for the fans. If they want to bring their brand over here, I wish nothing but success to any professional wrestling company who is providing opportunities for guys to go out there and earn a living doing something they love to do. Hopefully, they come over here and give the fans another option and another flavor to go out there and try.
VJ: The current IWGP Heavyweight Champion, AJ Styles, is a former colleague of yours. What do you think of his success since he departed TNA?
AA: It’s great. Just like what we talked about Samoa Joe earlier, you got AJ Styles and his talent, the things he brings to the table he is going to be successful wherever he goes. I’ve always have felt the same way about myself. If you put me in any situation in any company in the world and I’ll find a way to be successful. There’s just certain elite talents that have that capability to do that no matter where they are.
For AJ, I think it was a nice opportunity for him to step outside of a comfort zone that he had settled into and maybe for some fans who hadn’t had a chance to really experience what AJ Styles was all about, put him in a new setting and see AJ and remember why he was one of the top talents in the world.
VJ: Where is the room for improvement that you see for TNA?
AA: I think the name of the game, and this hasn’t really changed, and I think even more so now, with being on a new network and a network that’s also maybe a bit in its infancy stage, is brand recognition. We just need to get the word out there that there is more wrestling on television, that there is more products to be seen and get the Impact Wrestling and get the TNA name out there, and then let our wrestlers and our talent just speak for itself.
The name of the game is always just more brand recognition, brand awareness, getting the name out there. Again, that goes to knowing where and how to advertisement these days because the medium changes. Where in the old days it might have been prudent to have commercials running during certain television shows or newspaper ads or radio ads, today the medium has changed and those things might not be the best bang for your buck. On our end, it’s about, without having this limitless budget, where do we spend our money the most wisely to make sure that we’re getting the name of TNA Impact Wrestling out there to the most eyes.
VJ: How tough is it knowing that you work hard every night, but the lack of brand recognition and awareness is still an issue?
AA: I think it comes down to focusing on things you can control. My job is to go out there and whatever I’m given, go out there and do the best I can with it, and worry about that aspect. If someday I get hire to work in the PR advertisement department, then I’ll worry about those types of things. I can do my own on my social media platforms, spreading the word that way, going out and doing these outside shows, these independent shows so that people can experience what a TNA wrestler brings to the table. In case they haven’t seen or heard of Austin Aries before, it gives them an opportunity to see that.
The nice thing is too is that I think we’re in a nice place where the company is open to all of the input from the talent. They respect the fact that a lot of the guys that lace up the boots are also very intelligent when it comes to understanding the wrestling business, how to promote it, and I really feel like there’s an open communication both ways because I think at this point we want good ideas to help the company and I don’t think we really care where they come. It’s a team effort. I think people are excited to kind of work together to grow this. I don’t know how other locker rooms are, other companies, but from things I hear, the camaraderie and the team effort we’ve going on right now in TNA is something that we can build on and something that when people come there they really appreciate.
VJ: How much has things changed in TNA since Destination America come on board in your eyes?
AA: I think the most noticeable change, at least that I’ve seen, is around the advertising that I’ve seen for our product that I’m seeing Destination America put out there. I’m seeing a lot of commercials on other networks and stations I hadn’t seen previously. I think that they know the more they promote TNA Impact Wrestling they’re also promoting Destination America. We’re kind of tied at the hip at that point — the more that we grow, the more that the station grows. I just think that first and foremost, I see a real effort to make sure that we’re the focal point of that station right now and they’re 100 percent behind us.
This is a process. We’ve got a multi-year contract with Destination America and everything that I’ve been seeing, everything that I’ve been hearing is that the numbers are great … they’re extremely happy with the demographics that they’re trying to reach and they’re excited to be pushing forward and keep getting behind us. I think in the next couple of years I think we’re just going to continue to see more and more upward trends.
VJ: What is like knowing that you’ve made out better on your second run in TNA than you did in your initial run?
AA: I think everything is just right time, right place. The second time around when I came back, I came in with the right mental attitude, I came in physically where I wanted to be, probably a little more polished and confident in exactly who I was as a performer, and just put it all out there. Luckily for me, some opportunities came along that I was able to take advantage of. I don’t think it was ever a question of talent per say as much as it was being prepared for the right opportunity at the right time and taking advantage of it.
Luckily for me, I have that opportunity sitting in front of me and it’s been a very successful few years for me. Hopefully, it’s going to continue.
VJ: What’s next in the future for Mr. Aries?
AA: Another nice thing with my job is that it allows me to travel a lot. It kind of allows me to locate and live where I want. I’m getting ready to head out to the City of Angels, getting read to head out to Los Angeles, which is a place I’ve been fond of for a long time. A lot of opportunity out there in the entertainment industry, the music industry and as someone who follows a plant-based diet, it’s very comforting knowing that there’s hundreds and hundreds of choices of vegan food within a 20-mile radius.
Within the next month or so, I’m going to be heading out to L.A. and get settled out there and just having fun and get my hands in some different projects while I’m also competing on Destination America.