"A Double" (better known as Austin Aries) is one of the most dynamic workers in the pro wrestling business today. The TNA standout, deemed ‘'the best worker in the business'' by Kurt Angle, has found major success in TNA by winning the TNA World Heavyweight Championship, the X-Division Championship, and the Tag Team Championship; and those accomplishments led to Aries being the fifth TNA Triple Crown Winner in the promotion.
Aries was born in Wisconsin, but now resides in Florida.
With Aries having numerous interests and projects outside of the wrestling world, we caught up with the workhorse and spoke about everything from working as a referee, balancing time between his full-time job and music, Suicide, Christy Hemme, wrestling Vince McMahon, and his take on the Green Bay Packers in the upcoming NFL season.
Without further ado, here is our interview with "The Greatest Man That Ever Lived:"
When was the first time you were hooked on pro wrestling? Growing up, was there a mentor or someone you were watching and knew this was what you wanted to do with the rest of your life?
"I started watching wrestling when I was 4 years old. AWA -- I grew up in the Milwaukee area, so AWA was on TV a lot on the weekends and that was the first wrestling I really saw. You had guys like Buck "Rock n' Roll" Zumhofe, Ken Patera, Road Warriors were there for a little bit... guys like Nick Bockwinkle and Ray Stevens. There was never a moment where I said I wanted to do this for a living, that thing never crossed my mind. I didn't even know how to go about that. It wasn't like today where's the Internet, find out where there's wrestling schools, find the information that you want. It was a lot more protected back then. Wrestlers were more protected, and it was a tightknit fraternity -- and you kind of had to know somebody. When I finally did run across the opportunity, the moment I saw that ring setup in that little garage, I knew that's what I wanted to do."
Can you describe to me your first match, and if it went the way you wanted it to go or if there were even some disappointments?
"I always set the bar high for myself. I'm my biggest fan and my harshest critic. I think even within a month of training, they were pushing me to have my first match because some felt I was a natural. I knew just because I watched for so long and couple with the athleticism I had as an athlete, I caught on to things really quick. I kept putting it off. I wanted to walk out there for the first time with that confidence to know that in my first match, people were going to turn some heads. I waited about six months before I had my first match because I didn't want to be thrown out there until I felt comfortable and ready. I wanted to make a good first impression. Even now, shooting back into the music scene, it's even something I've talked with my band members about. We're not taking gigs until we're ready."
Can you agree that Austin Aries brings that same persona similar to The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin and CM Punk that blurs the lines between a face and a heel?
"I think that's an impressive list that you threw me in, so I appreciate that. I think what it is that they know who they are, and they're comfortable going out there and being an extension of themself. If you look at life, nobody walks through life being a good guy everyday they wake up and on the flipside, nobody walks around being an asshole everyday, either. There's always shades of grey. I think that instead of trying to portray a persona, I think those guys you mentioned, the most success they've had was when they were extensions of themselves. Maybe they're dialed up to a 12, instead of the 6 that they walk around in their everyday life just like myself, but that's just being comfortable with who you are and letting the fans decide what side of the fence you're going to fall on for them. Some people gravitate towards me and identify with me, and other people don't. I think there's something special there, because it's authentic -- I'm not trying to go out there and please everybody, I'm just going out there to be myself and let people decide if that's something they like or they don't like."
You almost retired in 2011. Do you ever have flashes where you think about retirement, or retiring sooner rather than later?
"I don't really like to use the word ‘retirement' and at the time, I never really told anybody I was retiring, I never made a big proclamation I was retiring. I just simply decided to stop taking bookings. I just felt that, at that time for me personally, transitioning my energy and my resources into something else would be good for me ...take a step back from the wrestling, because I thought I was spinning my wheels a little bit. I didn't want to be "Randy The Ram," for a better analogy. So, I decided at that point, it was just good for me to take a step back and reevaluate. On a weekend not really having any bookings or schedule, I got a call from TNA and they offered me an opportunity to come down for one match for this X-Division showcase. I'm grateful for that opportunity and that small crack they left the door open and kick it wide open. As for retirement, I don't really think about that. I said as long as I'm healthy and happy, I'll keep doing it. If there's ever a time or a point where I think I should step away, it will be pretty obvious to me."
If you weren't a wrestler, would you embark in the things you're doing on the side on a full-time basis, like cooking or being a musician?
"Quite possibly. I've been grateful that wrestling now has been a vehicle that's allowing me to do some of those other things and allowing me to discover those other passions I have outside of wrestling. The mantra that everybody tells you is go to college and get a regular job, and I'd be miserable for 40, 60 years until you retire. There's nothing I could have thought of that would make me happy on a day-to-day basis and there were roadblocks, and I was really trying to find my path ... and then wrestling found me. I was lucky in that regard."
A week and a half ago on Impact, you pretty much granted Bobby Roode a victory over MVP. How is it working as a referee? Was it a lot more fun than you imagined?
"When I first started training, one of the things that I taught is that you learn all of the different facets. Of course, I always wanted to be a wrestler, but I learned how to set up the ring, how to tear down the ring, how to referee, how to ring-announce... you want to be able to wear as many hats as possible. Especially at a smaller level, because it makes you more valuable to a promotion...you can do a lot of different things.
I enjoy refereeing, I think people overlook the importance of a good referee. It's not an easy job. There are a lot of things that they have to make sure and that they're responsible for. It's not easy, especially television -- there are a lot of other things going on. I enjoy being out there, I try to make sure that people aren't watching me, which can be hard because I'm a natural entertainer. In this match especially, I know there was a couple of times when the "Austin Aries" chant broke out and as opposed to looking out to the crowd and soak up that duration, I wanted to keep my eyes focused as the action. That's where it belonged."
You'll be competing in your second Lethal Lockdown match this Sunday. What can you tell us about competing in there?
"It's crowded. There's eight guys in a ring, there's no apron because of the way our cage is set up. It's a challenge and it's a whole different element. You have to approach the match differently, there's obviously some elements of danger involved, we're going to have weapons coming down from the ceiling like we did last year. You got the cage that doesn't feel good when you get thrown in there. I think all those different elements get the fans excited, because it is something different."
You said you never really got off the ground in your TNA World Heavyweight Championship run. Is it about doing something different or being more comfortable or just a difference with the second time around?
"I was considered comfortable running around with the ball, but when the ball gets slapped out of your hands, there's really not much you can do about it. I can only control so much as a wrestler and as a performer, I'm very confident that if I had gotten the opportunity and kept the world heavyweight championship, I could have had a very successful run and would have added a whole different flavor to Impact Wrestling. There we so many fresh match-ups that people hadn't seen when you're talking about me and AJ Styles, me and Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe and myself -- the times that we've had in the ring, Magnus, Gunnar, James Storm...there were so many guys that the fans hadn't seen me in the ring with. I'm a guy that prides myself on going out there and putting on a great wrestling match. I was really looking forward to that opportunity and unfortunately, it just didn't come to fruition."
About Kurt Angle... he called you the best performer in the business. Was that something that felt surreal for you? Out of all the competition out there, a legend such as Angle said that the best guy out there is Austin Aries?
"You take that as high as a praise as you can. I don't know if there's anything to say about Kurt Angle that hasn't been said. I think he's going down as one of the greatest performers of all-time. When we got to talk a little bit and got to know each other, and he said a lot of complimentary things about me, it really meant a lot. We all try to give each other positive reinforcement, but a guy like Angle doesn't throw it around too loosely. When guys like Angle or even Sting came up to me and said they liked my match, I was like ‘Wow, Sting even watched my match?' Those guys don't need to do that to anybody. But I think that's the reason why those guys are valuable parts of the locker room."
Can you describe to me what it was like working as Suicide for one night?
"My biggest challenge was trying not to give it away. I'm a guy with distinct mannerisms, in the way I move in the ring and I'm also left-handed, which would have given it away. So, I kind of really concentrated on not being Austin Aries. In my head, I was pretending that I was Low Ki, which made it a little bit easier. The other part too, is not many guys worked in a mask before. That's a whole other ballgame, as far as restricting your breathing a little bit; if the mask gets tugged a little bit, there goes your sight. Guys who do that on a consistent basis, I have a lot of respect for."
The controversial episode that happened last year in with Christy Hemme, was that the most difficult situation you had to deal with in your career or do you feel like it was completely blown out of proportion?
"I think the whole thing was blown out of proportion. In no way, shape or form, and I will reject this with every last breath I have in my body, was there sexual harassment that happened on that television. What you have is social media and some people creating a situation out of nothing, and unfortunately in this day and age, corporations feel like they have to bow down to any public pressure. I was demonized. But, unfortunately the situations were what they were. I'm sure if Christy and I had to do things over, we'd both do it differently, and I'll just leave it at that."
You're a TNA Triple Crown champion. Are there any goals left for you to accomplish in your career? Can you hang up your boots tomorrow and say you'd leave a happy man?
"Yeah, I mean if for some reason my career ended tomorrow, I would be very satisfied with what I was able to do. Wrestling's been very good to me... it's allowed me to travel the world. It's allowed me to make a living doing something that I don't really consider being a job.
With that being said, you're always setting new goals for yourself, so I still feel like I've got a lot of years left in me, I'm just starting to hit my prime. I'm a young 35, I take good care of myself, so I'm thinking I've got another decade in me and I've got a lot of things I could accomplish in 10 years."
If you can wrestle one guy every night for the rest of your career, who would it be?
"Man, that is a tough question. There are so many different ways to answer it. Sometimes I say, well, it'd be Vince McMahon. Personally, I always thought Vince was a very underrated performer with what he did in the ring. A guy who didn't have anything to prove went out there and put his body on the line. That's why he has the respect of the people that work for him. I thought he was underrated in the ring.
I'll always answer it like this: No matter who it would be, as long as Bobby Heenan was walking down ringside as my manager, I would be stoked. He is one of my all-time favorites, one of the most underrated performers of all-time, a true hall of famer in my mind, made money for so many guys as a mouthpiece. And if you go back and watch some of his action in the ring, he was a hell of a wrestler. Without knowing, I probably emulated him a lot.
A guy like Bobby Roode, we've always had a lot of chemistry...Samoa Joe was another guy. Those are the two guys at the top of my head right now. We could make magic every time."
I'm a big Green Bay Packers fan, just like you. Are we going to make a big off-season acquisition...buy or sell?
"Well, it depends on what you say on big. I'm going to go buy. I think they're going to make some kind of moves to strengthen up the defense. It might not be the highest paid guy out there, but I think they're going to make a couple of moves, which if you know Ted Thompson's mantra, if they were to sign two mitten-bubble free agents, that's more than they've done in the last five or six years."
Will they win more than 11 games?
"I think I'm going to sell that one. I think 11 might be right. I think 11's enough to win the division, because the Bears just signed Jay Cutler for seven years, which means they'll be mediocre for the next seven years. The Lions never bothered me, and the Vikings are still the Vikings."