To date, the TNA X-Division Championship has been vacated four times. Twice due to injury to the champion, once due to the controversial way in which it was won, and once because travel issues prevented the champion from defending the belt. Next Sunday, X-Division champion Austin Aries will make wrestling history when he voluntarily surrenders the title for the opportunity to challenge Bobby Roode for the World Heavyweight championship at Destination X. On a media conference call last week, Aries talked about what that decision means for him and for the X-Division.
“There will always be debates as to where the X-Division should fall within the company,” he said. “Is it more of a secondary title, is it more of a special attraction? If you look at five years ago, there were so many top calibre superstars that were in the X-Division, so I think that made it more competitive.”
“(In the past year or so), it didn’t necessarily have the same level of competition that it did historically. Some guys got injured, some left. Over the next few weeks, you’re going so see some new faces, and perhaps some old faces, and I think that’s going to inject something into the X-Divison. There’s a lot of things on the horizon that the fans should be excited about, and hopefully someone will step up to the plate like I did a year ago.”
The view of the company seems to be now to use the X-Division as a space to introduce new, younger stars, and to identify stars that can ultimately become contenders in the heavyweight division. That’s the path that Aries has taken since he returned to the company last year.
“They’ve kind of defined it now as more or less a cruiserweight division. I think you’re going to more opportunities for the young, hungry guys that wouldn’t necessarily get a chance to step right in with the heavyweights to prove themselves. Now, guys will get to go out there and use their abilities to wow people, and then ultimately the cream will rise to the top, and those guys will have their chance to step out into other things.”
Which is not unlike what Aries has done in the past year.
After returning to the company in May of last year (his original run with TNA lasted from 2005 through 2007), his success simply couldn’t be contained to the X-Division. With his compelling promos and incredible in-ring work, fans saw him as a shining star in the company worthy of a bigger platform. Ultimately the creative team agreed, and started putting him in matches against larger opponents, including programs with Bully Ray and Samoa Joe. His feud with Ray was a particular highlight, and Aries felt it earned him the credibility to be in the ring with the bigger (in name and in stature) stars.
“I knew it was going to be a physical test, I knew it was going to be a mental test, and I think I passed both,” he assessed. “Bully Ray isn’t a guy who’s going to blow a lot of smoke. Whether you like it or you don’t, he’s always going to give you his honest opinion. It was important for me that after that match, he had respect for me, and I like to think that he did. We had a very physical match, and I think the result was a very entertaining match.”
He is confident that he can repeat the same results against Roode this Sunday at the pay-per-view.
“I’m looking forward to getting in the ring with a guy the calibre of Bobby Roode, I think we’re going to bring out the best in each other.”
Aries is grateful for the opportunity to find out. Especially since it wasn’t that long ago that he was thinking of leaving the business entirely.
“Right before I came back to TNA, I’d made a decision to step away from wrestling. That decision helped me gain some perspective, and when this new opportunity presented itself, I came in with an attitude of putting everything I had into it and letting the chips fall where they fell. I didn’t have any expectations. I just knew I had the opportunity, and was going to take everything one step at a time. I don’t think I would have foreseen myself where I am after only a year back in the company. I’ve always been confident of my abilities, and am glad I’ve been getting opportunities to prove my talent and prove that I belong at the top of the card.”
On paper, the card has the potential to be stellar. Other than Roode-Aries, matches already announced include a Last Man Standing match between AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels, a Bound for Glory match between Kurt Angle and Samoa Joe whose past matches have been among the company’s best, and an Ultimate X match to crown a new X-Division champion. Aries agrees that it is a strong card, but is focused simply on one thing on the show.
“My match. Oh, you mean what match am I looking forward to other than my match? I’d have to say … my match.”
“Seriously, if you look at the card, I think it’s going to be great from top to bottom. Especially at the top. I think it’s my chance to prove what I say I am, whether it’s the ‘Greatest Man that Ever Lived’ or that ‘pound for pound, I’m the most complete package in professional wrestling’, well this is my time to put up or shut up. I’m looking forward to the opportunity, and hopefully I’ll deliver.”
TNA Destination X takes place on Sunday, July 8 on pay-per-view.
Bob Kapur has a copy of every X-Files script, collects X-men comics, and has read the biography of Malcolm X. E-mail him your X-rated stories at [email protected].