Austin Aries, relaxed and pleasant while cooking a vegetarian lunch at his Largo, Fla., home, still can’t help cutting a couple of promos on certain pet peeves.
“If you really do some studies into cattle farming methods and meat production, you’d have real problems arguing the benefits to my health,” says Aries during a recent phone call, explaining how he totally went vegetarian in 2001, six months after he began training for pro wrestling.
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A few minutes later, he’s using words like “ruse” and “hypocrisy” while railing against the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) before quickly digressing and returning the conversation to the squared circle.
Of course, some of his TSA issues have involved lugging a large gold belt signifying him as the Total Nonstop Action World Heavyweight Champion through assorted metal detectors, so it’s clear from chatting with him that life is going his way.
Aries, who beat Bobby Roode for the title on July 8 during the Destination X pay-per-view, will be at MCU Park in Brooklyn for a TNA show Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Now 34, he has gone from the fringes of pro wrestling relevance to one of the key spots in the industry in a year-and-a-half. He parted ways with Ring of Honor in late 2010 and made his return to TNA Wrestling in June 2011, with just about no one thinking he’d crack the company’s upper echelon -- except himself.
“When I think about it, the progression in the last 18 months, I have always been confident that I could be in this position. I don’t know if surreal is the word,” Aries says, repeating a word in the reporter’s question. “It’s more like ‘finally,’ that the hard work, the moments of doubts, in the end all those things work themselves out.”
One could argue that Aries’ success has been as much about the business finding its way as Aries reaching his peak as a performer. Aries -- all 5-foot-9, 210 pounds of him -- agreed that the pro wrestling landscape, in which the ingredients for success have sometimes seemed as rigid as the minimum height requirements for carnival rides, is currently in his favor.
“I think at the end of the day this is the entertainment business,” Aries says. “There is definitely an athletic, physical nature to it, but it’s about entertainment. In the history of wrestling you’ve had people of all shapes and sizes... The major companies are seeing that talent is talent, and whatever talent you want to utilize that can make money you’ll use, regardless.
“You see it now along the lines of guys like the Daniel Bryans, the CM Punks. You had it with guys like Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Sean Waltman, HBK, going back to Jerry Lynn, who I always loved watching. There’s a long list of guys who didn’t meet the hulking 6-foot-4, 270-pound idea of what a wrestler is.”
These days Aries is sharing mic time with one of those guys who did fit the stereotype, Hulk Hogan, and is loving every minute of it.
That’s been great,” Aries says. “That’s maybe when the word surreal comes in. That’s where my mom calls and says, ‘Did you ever think that when you were little and playing with those rubber wrestling dolls that you’d be in the ring with Hulk Hogan?’ When you have those moments you go back into your childhood. Who knew how many years ago that you’d be doing this?
“He’s been in the business so long and has been so successful, and knows how to make money. I’m trying to suck up as much knowledge as I can from guys like him, guys like Sting. He’s always willing to help the young guys out. When you see guys like him helping out the younger guys, it makes us want to go out there and work hard.”
To that end, he takes issue with critics who have long complained about the company having a glass ceiling.
“I think it’s important to say that things you’ve might have heard are coming from people who are disconnected with what’s actually going on with the promotion,” Aries says. “When you’re talking about ‘names’ versus homegrown talent, there needs to be balance.
“You need Jeff Hardy, Hulk Hogan, Kurt Angle, guys like that to put homegrown guys on the map... When you give a Bobby Roode a guy like that you raise his pedigree. It’s all about balance. You see it in successful companies, sports teams. It’s putting guys in the right place to be successful. We’re doing a good job of that, and we’re seeing guys running with it and taking advantage of that opportunity.”
Aries is enjoying his opportunity -- enough to laugh it off when TSA agents see his title belt and say he looks too small to be a wrestling champ.
“I’m thinking, ‘You don’t sound smart enough to be a TSA agent,’ Aries says. “But we’re all making a living, so we all must be doing something right.”