Total Nonstop Action wrestler Austin Aries is “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived,” at least in his own mind his anyway.
He gave himself the nickname after listening to a Weezer song of the same name in the backseat of friend’s car in California.
Every time he steps into the ring for a match, he does everything in his power to live up to that moniker.
He will do so again Oct. 20 in San Diego, Calif., when he will perform on TNA’s biggest stage, Bound For Glory, in an Ultimate X match for the X Division Championship on pay-per-view.
Aries will go up against X Division Champion Manik, Chris Sabin, Samoa Joe and Jeff Hardy.
The former TNA World Heavyweight Champion is at the highest point of his career thus far and has full intentions on taking his game to a higher level.
Most people would think that someone who calls himself the greatest man the ever lived is focused merely on himself. As Aries explains it, however, it’s more about how you treat others instead.
“It’s about trying to be a good person,” he said during a phone interview with Philly.com. “At the end of the day, I just think people walk around life and they’re so focused on themselves at the expense of everyone else around them. I think just a little compassion, a little thoughtfulness and a little selflessness goes a long way.”
The principles Aries has today were instilled in him a long time ago by his grandmother, who always taught him humility — something that doesn’t go a long way in the world of professional wrestling.
But Aries has managed to take those principles and lessons and have them carry through to his work today as one of the bright stars in the world of pro wrestling.
It took a long time and a lot of hard work before Aries could consider himself the greatest man that ever lived. Let’s start from the very beginning of Aries’ road.
Aries was born Daniel Healy Solwold Jr in Waukesha, Wisc., which is just outside of Milwaukee.
He lived in what he called a lower-middle class neighborhood and had a mostly humble childhood. Aries was the son of a hard-working father and a stay-at-home mom. He was the oldest of their four children.
Apparently, Aries wasn’t the only one that noticed the humble beginnings of the people from his neighborhood and town.
Aries told a story where a friend of his once told him, “Yeah we were kind of white trash.” Aries didn’t agree, but his friend pointed out the fact that both of Aries’ parents sported mullets.
“I was like ‘Wait a minute. That was just the style back then,’” Aries said.
“It was normal to me so I don’t look at it as any different,” he added.
Aries was a good baseball player when he was younger and even went to college play the sport.
He was in college during the famed Monday Night Wars of the mid to late 1990s, when professional wrestling was at the height of its popularity.
Everyone Aries knew was a wrestling fan. Even the fraternity guys were doing the D-Generation X crotch chop and imitating The Rock’s catchphrases.
Aries looked at the new fans as simply fair weather ones. That’s because he had been watching since the early 1980s while growing up in Waukesha.
Falling in love with wrestling
Being in Wisconsin meant that Aries was in the heart of the American Wrestling Association’s (AWA) territory, which was run by wrestling legend Verne Gagne.
“I remember it was probably 1982 seeing AWA with Buck ‘Rock n’ Roll’ Zumhofe,” Aries said. “He would come with the jump suit and a boom box over his shoulder. I remember I was taking break dancing classes at the time because that was starting to become real popular and here’s this guy with a boom box on his shoulder and I’m like ‘Man, that’s scrappy.’”
Aries also grew up on the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) that would be shown on TBS with Ric Flair and the Four Horseman, and World Class Championship Wrestling on ESPN that featured the Von Erich family and the Fabulous Freebirds.
“That was all the stuff I grew up on and I did watch WWF at the time, but to me that always seemed different,” Aries said. “It seemed like more of a dog and pony show up there where what I liked to watch was the wrasslin’.”
“I think that kind of carries over into my career now, into my style,” Aries added. “The influences I had growing up I think comes out in the way I perform and maybe that’s what helps set me apart from some of the guys who grew up watching different types of wrestling. I appreciated all of it, but what originally caught my attention was that dirty wrasslin’ with those real characters and blood and Dick Murdoch and Buzz Saywer. That was the stuff that really grabbed me as a kid and really fell in love with.”
What also carries over into his career today is some of the influences he gained while watching the AWA, including Nick Bockwinkel.
Bockwinkel was a bombastic heel that won multiple AWA World Heavyweight Championships. He always carried himself with class and dignity, and had no problem of telling all of the fans about it as well.
Aries is no way shape or form a direct copy of Bockwinkel’s work, but there are some influences taken from Bockwinkel’s persona. Aries isn’t the first to have done this. Chris Jericho has openly admitted that he based a portion of his character from 2008-10 around Bockwinkel.
“You look at him and he look like a champion,” Aries said. “When he talked, he talked like a champion. When he wrestled, he wrestled like a champion. There was a certain aura to that guy and the way he carried himself that you bought into him as a guy on top.”
“Bobby Heenan was also someone I was a huge fan of growing up,” Aries said of Bockwinkel’s long-time manager. “I though he was so intelligent and I think so underrated. I don’t think people understand just how good Bobby was at what he did.”
“Anyone one of the guys he managed he could have went out there and stole the spotlight from them, but he didn’t,” Aries added about Heenan. “He picked his spots and he knew when to interject himself and not to overdue. He enhanced them match, not detract from it. He really had a special skill set.”
Getting into the wrestling business
Despite being enthralled by the Monday Night Wars like everyone else, Aries had no real aspirations of becoming a professional wrestler. He was a successful baseball player and he didn’t even know where to begin to try to get a foot in the door in the industry.
“This was a little before the Internet was real popular so you couldn’t just Google wrestling schools and have a thousand things pop up,” Aries said. “There was still some secrecy and protection of how to get in the business. You had to know the right people or know somebody who knew somebody.”
Fortunately for Aries, the latter happened for him. A friend of his had moved back to the Midwest after spending time in Atlanta. That friend was being trained how to wrestle by Eddie Sharkey.
Sharkey is known for training a slew of legends and big names in the wrestling business such as the Road Warriors, Bob Backlund, “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Jesse “The Body” Ventura, the Steiner brothers, Sean Waltman (X-Pac), Barry Darsow (Demolition Smash) and Jerry Lynn.
When his friend first told Aries that he was training to be a wrestler, he didn’t believe him. The only way Aries was going to be convinced was if he saw this for himself. So he decided to drive to Minneapolis in an effort to see this with his own eyes.
Once Aries got to Sharkey’s camp, he was convinced — and hooked.
“The minute I saw the ring I knew I had to do this,” Aries said. “I was kind of searching for a path in life at the time and it found me.”
Despite having very little money, Aries worked out a payment plan with the school to begin his training.
“I started living on my buddy’s couch about a week later and never looked back,” Aries said.
Aries was trained in an old-school manner. He didn’t learn any moves or holds at first, but instead learned to have respect for the business of pro wrestling. It’s a lesson that Aries tries to instill in the young wrestlers he trains today.
“I’ve always told my students ‘I don’t care how far you make it in the industry. As long as you always treat it with respect,’” Aries said.
Once that was instilled in him, Aries was then taught the basics of pro wrestling and not much else. Since the facility was merely a garage with a very low ceiling, there wasn’t much room to suplexes let alone moves from the top rope.
He learned how to do certain moves and why to do them. What it gave him was a solid foundation for him to build his career upon.
Aries impressed Sharkey enough that he gave him the highest praise he could at the time: he called him the next Sean Waltman.
Aries has a generally small build for a wrestler. During the 1990s and almost every generation prior, there weren’t many performers like him.
Most of the star wrestlers were big, hulking guys who had muscles on top of muscles. Waltman broke into the business during this time period, but still turned heads despite his small frame.
At the time, and for a long time, Waltman was the standard to reach for wrestlers that possessed smaller builds.
Aries took Sharkey’s training and began to build a nice resume on the independent wrestling scene. Eventually, it came time for him to make the first real step forward in his career: Ring of Honor offered him a full-time deal.
Moving to Philadelphia for Ring of Honor
Aries had bounced around the Midwest during his short wrestling career. The furthest east he came was Baltimore where lived with his cousin, who played for the Baltimore Ravens.
Aries had worked for ROH on a part-time basis, but it was never anything permanent. He caught the eye of the right people eventually and was offered a full-time deal.
Aries decided to make things easier on himself and the company by packing up and moving to Philadelphia.
It made things easier for ROH because he was more accessible for the company. The move made things easier for him personally as he was within arms reach of a number of different wrestling promotions in the Northeaster United States. More promotions meant more bookings. More bookings meant more pay days.
Aries moved to Philadelphia in 2004 and lived off of Roosevelt Boulevard near the National Guard Armory, where ROH runs the bulk of its shows in the city.
Being a Midwestern guy, Aries was not ready for the mass confusion that can be Roosevelt Boulevard. Needless to say, he was not a fan.
“I remember getting my car insurance and they were like ‘Yeah, this is one of the worst intersections in America as far as the rates for insurance,’” he said. “I’m like ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’”
“I’m used to the Midwest car insurance, which is relatively low because you might have some old people driving in the wrong lane or whatever, but for the most part it’s relatively docile. That intersection was just ridiculous. I don’t know how there weren’t accidents there three or four times a day.”
When he wasn’t trying to avoid the perils of Roosevelt Boulevard, he was making a name for himself in the surging wrestling promotion.
It wasn’t long where he earned the ROH World Championship, when he ended the long reign of Samoa Joe on Dec. 26, 2004 in Philadelphia.
Aries is still the only man in the promotion’s 11-year history to have won the world title twice. He defeated Jerry Lynn on June 3, 2009 in New York.
“Ring of Honor is where I really applied my trade for a number of years,” Aries said. “It was a company that at one time I was very passionate about. I thought there was a lot of potential there to really do something great within the industry.”
“If you look back at the talents who were also there from that 2004-2007 time, there was a lot of great talent there,” Aries added. “I was really focused and I was really behind that company. When things kind of shifted directions there and the energy kind of changed, I knew that wasn’t going to be a place where I was going to make a career long-term.”
Aries still carries a piece of Philadelphia with him until this very day. When he moved to the city, he got a new cell phone number that included a 215 area code. He still has that number.
“I moved around so much so figured I just keep something the same so I kept the same number,” Aries said.
“It was a good time,” Aries added. “It was definitely kind to me while I was there.”
In between his title reigns, Aries made few stops in pro wrestling. Chief among them was his stint in TNA.
Total Nonstop Acton
About a year after winning his first ROH world title, Aries was offered to become a regular on the TNA roster. He accepted and became a member of the promotion’s famous X Division.
Aries had marginal success in TNA, but ultimately left the company after a few disagreements and bad timing.
“I’ve always been a guy that marches to the beat of his own drum,” Aries said. “It’s always been important to me to have some control over my destiny and to make sure I’m doing things that stays true to who I am. Sometimes it’s cost me in the short term, but I think in the long run it’s paid off for me and I think my success in TNA the second time around is proof of that.”
After a second stint and a second world title in ROH, Aries made his return to TNA in 2011. The circumstances were much different this time around as he, along with TNA, had matured since his first run.
Aries said he was a more rounded and polished performer in the ring and it helped him impress the people in charge of the company at the time.
“I knew exactly who I was when I walked in there the second time and I was going to put my best foot forward and let the chips fell where they fell,” Aries said. “I didn’t need anybody to tell me who Austin Aries was. I knew. I think the first time around I didn’t 100 percent know and I don’t think the people around didn’t know either.”
“I think the company was in a better place, little more established and they were ready for me the second time around,” Aries added.
Aries’ growth allowed him to stand out on the TNA roster. His growth also allowed him to earn the biggest achievement of his career to date as he won the TNA World Heavyweight Championship on July 8, 2012.
The greatest man that ever lived had arrived.
“I’m so grateful to get that second opportunity to come back to TNA.” Aries said. “The faith they showed in me once I got there, I think that they understood that I always brought a certain level of talent to the table that maybe a lot of guys don’t.”
“For me, it was about being in the right position and having the right people around me that believed in me and supported me and giving me those opportunities,” he added. “So to get that opportunity from TNA is great. I’m grateful for it. And I want to repaying that faith by going out there and put on excellent performances and help that company grow and get bigger.”
Helping the company grow may be easier said than done. Reports have been swirling for months of the financial and organizational turmoil TNA has endured.
With the financial burden of taking its television tapings on the road to the release of some young talents, TNA has not received a lot of positive attention in 2013.
As a performer, Aries said that he isn’t worried about any of the negative attention the company receives.
“I think it’s the same as it’s always been,” Aries said about the status of TNA Impact Wrestling. “The internet media sites need to draw up some controversy. They need to get clicks on their web sites. They have to have a catchy phrase and it seems like a lot of times it seems like they’re waiting for TNA to fail. They’re almost rooting it so they can go ‘Ah-ha, I told you so.’”
“All businesses, especially businesses that are growing, go through different growing pains and this company is no different,” Aries added. “We’re continually trying to assess what we need to do to take those next steps up the ladder and to get bigger and better. I don’t think anybody in the locker room misunderstands what that process is. I think it’s the people on the outside whom are trying to over-analyze without really knowing everything and all the information. And they’re also trying to drum up a good story.”
“I’m not worried about the demise of TNA, Aries said. “I don’t think any of my colleagues feel that way. I think that we understand how the business works, we understand the ebbs and flows and we just concentrate and focus on putting the best performances out there.”
Although Aries has reached a high level of success in his wrestling career, he still carries with him the lessons and principles he was taught growing up in Waukesha.
The principles of hard work, dedication and selflessness still make up who he is today, and it all goes into being the greatest man that ever lived.