It’s been four and a half years since SLAM! Wrestling spoke with Austin Aries. At the time he had just upset Samoa Joe for the ROH World Title. He made history again on June 13, 2009 in New York City by defeating Tyler Black and champion Jerry Lynn to become the first person to win the ROH title twice.
“I guess I have to win a belt for people to want to talk to me,” Aries quipped at the start of the interview. In truth, Aries’ hectic schedule makes it hard to find time to fit in interviews. Since our last conversation he has held the ROH Tag Titles with Roderick Strong, turned face and then heel again, formed alliances with Erik Stevens and Matt Cross, and now Rhett Titus and Kenny King, wrestled for TNA, and traveled the world.
“I’ve been around the world, got to try a lot of different things, see different places and wrestle different formats. Now I find myself back in Ring of Honor and continue to niche out my career. It is hard to sum it up. It feels like it was just yesterday but then I think about all of the matches, accomplishments and travel and go, ‘Wow, I guess that was awhile ago that we talked,'” he said, commenting on how time seems to go by faster as we get older. “There are more expectations once you reach adulthood. As a kid time slowly passes and once you hit 25 and creeping towards 30 you start going and time seems to disappear sometimes. The good thing about that is obviously I am enjoying what I am doing because if I hated it time would be dragging very slowly and that is not the case. I am appreciative of that.”
When he beat Joe for the belt, it was a surprise the fans in attendance. The surprises continued with this win as fans have been clamoring for months for Tyler Black to win the title.
“Too bad, so sad. People are just going to have to clamor for Tyler Black to get it a little longer. There was that moment where Jerry was eliminated and people realized they were going to see history and a new champion. Both Tyler and I were physically worn down and I was able to outsmart him. He has a great future ahead of him, he is a bright kid but he is still young. That night he let his emotions get the best of him and he came up a little bit short. That seems to be a running theme for Tyler Black since he tried to break out on his own. He has all the potential and tools but always comes up just a little bit short — but the fans are waiting for him to get over the hump. We will see if that is going to happen but it isn’t going to on my watch that is for sure. Being the first guy to have this belt twice means a lot because there have been so many great guys that have come through ROH, regardless of if they were champion or not. Then you talk about the guys who have held the belt, we all know what some of them have gone on to do and done while they were here and continue to do now. To be the first guy who held it twice is special and speaks volumes for the quality of A-Double.”
In an era where title changes are almost meaningless Ring of Honor has strived to keep their championship special. Aries’ win marks the 12th time the championship has changed hands in the seven and a half year history of the company. The lineage includes lengthy reigns for Samoa Joe, Bryan Danielson and Nigel McGuinness as well as names like James Gibson, Low Ki, Homicide, and C.M. Punk.
“We are a new company and as a new company, when you start the lineage of your title you want to keep that as strong and important as you can. It should be what everyone is striving for. There will always be personal issues and other storylines going on behind the scenes. Those other factors play in but everyone should be striving to be champion. The difference between ROH and other companies, a month for us is like two weeks for them because they are putting on more shows and are more visible. I like the fact that our belt has meaning, that being #1 contender has meaning. The guys work hard just to get there much less get a shot at the belt. You need that special aura and it is something that helps the company, and helps people strive to be the champion.”
Aries stresses that keeping fresh is incredibly important and has seen several revisions to his personality since he jumped into the spotlight as part of Generation Next in May 2004.
“If I turn off a DVD of my match because I am bored, I imagine there are a lot of people who are feeling the same way. I am my harshest critic. One of the most overlooked aspects of this business is what you’ve got between your ears; this really is a thinking man’s sport. You have to find a way to keep yourself coming from a new angle and direction and making sure the people are entertained and interested in what you are doing. I am in a comfort zone in Ring of Honor because I have been here awhile and know what to expect even with the changes we’ve had. I have gone some places along the way that have allowed me to go some different directions and try some new things and apply what you learn, always try to get better and smarter. I feel like I have been doing that and even now I continue to learn because every day is a new perspective.”
An example of his ability to keep evolving is his series of matches with “American Dragon” Bryan Danielson. The two have wrestled more than a dozen times in ROH since 2004.
“I don’t know if there are many other guys that you could put in the ring 12 times that could entertain you all 12 times. Bryan is a guy who can do it with a lot of people — he is that good. When you are working in front of a live crowd where the only people who are going to see it are those in the audience you might have a tendency to get complacent and you stick to what you are comfortable with instead of trying to expand your horizons a little bit and try a different game plan. Having a different game plan is a challenge I enjoy. I know it works, but sometimes you have to take chances and see if you can find new things that work as well, to keep expanding the repertoire and staying fresh.”
While Aries was older than his Generation Next counterparts, he has grown from the new kid on the block to the veteran presence in the ROH locker room. Though only 31, many younger wrestlers have taken advantage of his experience both in the business and in life to ask questions.
“Having been wrestling close to 10 years now and ROH for five, it is the place has helped me really mature as a wrestler more than anywhere else. I have always been drawn to this business, I have respect and a passion for it and I want to be an asset for the company I work for. If that means helping out wherever it may be that is what I want to do. I like taking young guys or other guys and being a filter. We all need filters in everyday life, no matter what we do we need those people we can run things by to make sure we are seeing it and thinking it the right way. I like being someone guys can do that. You may hear something 10 times but someone says something to you from a different angle it clicks, I know it has happened for me in this and other professions. If you can help guys you will be an asset and that is something everybody wants to be in the locker room.”
He has taken his experience into training the next generation of pro wrestling. He taught the ROH wrestling school for two years, producing ROH rising stars like Grizzly Redwood, Ernie Osiris, “Sugarfoot” Alex Payne and Rhett Titus. He also opened his own school in Minnesota in 2008.
“I am proud of those guys because they take the right attitude and approach to what they want to do. It is important to me that the guys that I trained carry themselves the right way. They have done everything that has been asked of them and really been busting their butts for a couple of years now and are really talented with a great future. The new school is bare basics. The economy right now is the shits and I don’t know when it is going to get better so we have tried to make it reasonably priced. It is lead by Terry Fox, who I trained under, and myself, and called ‘The Foundation’ because that is what I believe in teaching. The basics and how to have fundamentals and a fundamental attitude and conduct yourself the right way to get what you want out of the business. Everyone has different goals and visions but if you don’t start out with the right foundation to build your house on you are not going to get very far. I have seen a lot of guys who have been taught to do moves but never the basic fundamentals of what this business is about and how you should carry yourself. To me that is the most important thing. If you don’t have that as you go out and try and forge your career you are not going to get very far. We’ve got a couple of guys working three days a week. It is nothing flashy but it is how I was trained and I am doing pretty well for myself, so I want to pass that on.”
On screen on ROH he has a very “stable” history. Starting off with Alex Shelley, Jack Evans and Roderick Strong as “Generation Next”, he later started “The Resilience” with Erick Stevens and Matt Cross. He currently is aligned with Kenny King and Rhett Titus.
“That has happened throughout the history of wrestling. I remember very vividly as a youngster Lex Luger coming from Florida to the NWA and saying, ‘I want to be a Horseman.’ Just by speaking the word Horseman you were somebody. You can associate yourself with greatness and people will perceive you as being great as well. Just getting to work closely with guys, the chance to watch them more, point things out and vice versa. Even though Roderick Strong and I broke into ROH at the same time we helped each other in different areas. Because I was a little bit older, maybe I took that kind of mentor role. We tagged together for awhile, so it was easy to do that because we were always together.
“With Eric and Matt the timing of that didn’t work out and come to fruition like any of us hoped which is unfortunate. I’ve got Rhett and Kenny now. Some people think Kenny King is the hot new guy on the indy scene but he has been wrestling for awhile. We all know he came from Tough Enough and it is easy to judge that but he has shown that this is what he wants to do and has continued to go down the road and get better. He is a smart guy with a lot of potential. It may help him to hang out with A-Double a little bit but on the flip side being the guy who can find talent that go on to be successful, everyone is a winner.”
ROH itself has grown and undergone many changes during Aries’ tenure. They have branched out into new areas, run shows Wrestlemania weekend, ran pre-taped pay per view events, and currently have a weekly TV show on HD Net. There have been hurdles along the way but Aries feels ROH is stronger for it.
“You go back to Vince McMahon taking a risk with Wrestlemania 1 and 2. You have to take calculated risks to grow and hope they work out, and if they don’t, that the damage is minimal and you learn something from the process. I don’t think Ring of Honor has gone out of its way to take any risks that are reckless. Everything has taken a natural progression. There have been mistakes made, but this is the first time anyone has been doing some of these things. The pay per view thing was what it was. Good in some aspects but not as beneficial as we had hoped in other areas. It doesn’t mean we won’t go back to that format or something slightly different. Right now the focus is on the HDNet show, continuing to build relations there and see where that takes us.”
A big change within the company is the firing of original booker Gabe Sapolsky in October 2008, who was replaced by Adam Pearce.
“I don’t know that there has been a huge difference. People can judge for themselves. I don’t want to get to much into behind-the-scene things. At the end of the day the guys come to work and do their job. In baseball, teams you have managerial switches and owner changes and all sorts of things. The focus on the changes in this company have been more about being on TV, solidifying some of our main markets and an influx of new talents. Obviously different managers running a team have different styles and that is just the way it is going to be. But the players come to play ball and do their job. I have been on the team for awhile and am going to try to help ease the transition and be an asset where I can for the company.”
Ring of Honor returns to Toronto tonight and Saturday with one of their flagship events — Death Before Dishonor weekend. Aries was excited to return north of the border, even if he has to defend his title against three challengers — Tyler Black and former champions Jerry Lynn and Nigel McGuinness.
“Free health care! As much as I don’t like Canadians, you are doing something right there. Toronto is a good market, I think if there is one city that the United States would snatch it is Toronto. I am a little dismayed that there are going to be heaps of trash around the Ted Reeve Arena because they can’t figure out their contract disputes and get their trash men back working. Toronto is a great market with fans that are hungry for great wrestling and that is what we provide. I am going to be making history once again by defending the belt three times in one night. No one else is doing it like A-Double. I am speaking to my legal council though because I am upset that I have to face three men in this title match. You want to talk about the prestige of the title and lineage of world belts, I don’t think making a champ have to defend it against three guys where the other guys don’t even have to pin the champion to win is the type of situation that a champion should find himself in. I might wrestle this match under protest. It will be a good card, a big weekend with special guests galore. We have the greatest of all time possible, myself A-Double along with Ric Flair, Bret Hart, Lance Storm and a whole cast of superstars. It will be a big weekend.”
Jason Clevett waited a long time for this interview, and has four years to come up with more questions for his next Austin Aries interview.