Coming into Total Nonstop Action (TNA) with a strong following in his native United Kingdom, Nick Aldis – with his shredded physique, chiseled jaw, young age, and dedication to the craft – was second to none. Not only did Aldis have notoriety from being on the show Gladiators in the UK, he also had been a full-time wrestler since 2005.
That's a common misconception about Aldis, as he wasn't signed to the IMPACT roster because of his popularity on a foreign country's television show, but because of his look and passion for the industry.
"A lot of people in TNA didn't even realize that I was already a wrestler before I did Gladiators, a lot of people just assumed that just because I did Gladiators, Dixie [Carter] just saw me on that show and said 'Hey, do you want to be a wrestler?'" said Aldis. "That wasn't the case at all, I've been a full-time wrestler, my first year in the business, I wrestled like six days a week. I don't how many of these weekend warrior, Indy heroes are wrestling six days a week."
In his first few years with the promotion, Aldis got to work with some of TNA's finest athletes. He feels that experience helped him improve his in-ring skills and ability to understand the audience.
"When I first got to TNA, at least the first few years, I got to work quite a lot with Beer Money as part of the British Invasion so getting not only to tag with Doug Williams – who is excellent in the ring – but also getting to work with Bobby Roode, who, to me, is the perfect pro wrestler. And James [Storm] who has so many good qualities, especially on the mic and [he] is a very good entertainer. That really forced me to step up my game and that I have to find my place among these three talents because you can see what this guy brings, what this guy brings, and what this guy brings so I have to bring something."
Later on, as a singles competitor, Aldis climbed the TNA ladder, becoming one of the company's more heavily featured superstars. The quality of exposure went up, and so did the quality of the wrestlers Aldis worked with.
"Anytime I got to work with Jeff Hardy was just a breeze because I understood how good he is," said Aldis. "As a heel – I prefer to work as a heel but I can do both -- working with a guy like Jeff is exactly what you want, a guy who can not only can sell beautifully and just react so well to what you're doing, but he's also so popular with the fans and it just makes your job so easy and so enjoyable and I've learned so much from being in there with Jeff. But also, how Jeff does all these little things to keep himself fresh and keep himself current."
Said Aldis: "Being in there with Kurt [Angle], what a machine. I know people have said that a million times but he really is. There have been times I've been in there with him and I'm thinking that I need a rest and Kurt is just getting started. You realize you gotta bring it if you're gonna be in there with Kurt Angle because to him, a switch flips in his mind and he's back to that Olympic mode."
Working with Angle led to the former 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist writing in Aldis' new book The Superstar Body: Real-World Techniques for Achieving Your Goals. The book centers around Aldis' desire to educate fans on what wrestlers' jobs require of them and how some are able to maintain great physiques.
"Kurt wrote some really amazing stuff, if you're a fan of Kurt Angle, you should get this book just to read Kurt's insight into his mental preparation, how he approaches training and how he's been able to try and stay healthy despite all his injuries and health problems. It's really remarkable what he contributed to the book so I'm very grateful to him for that."Throughout his run in TNA, Aldis encountered several polarizing personalities in and out of the ring, including Eric Bischoff, Hulk Hogan, and Dixie Carter. But it was an exchange with former writer Vince Russo that almost made Aldis reconsider his commitment to the company – and became a harbinger of things to come.
"I remember Vince [Russo] specifically saying to me 'What? You want to be World Champion or something?' and me saying 'Yeah' and he's like 'That will never happen, you're a Brit.' I remember I almost quit then and there because what's the of the point of being there?"Aldis says he actually finds Russo entertaining and somebody "I enjoy having a beer with." He harbors no resentment toward Russo today, softening any hard feelings he may have had after he won the TNA World Heavyweight championship in December 2013. With that win, Aldis became the third Englishman to hold a World Heavyweight championship, but he was recognized by TNA as the first.
It was an uncertain and sometimes frustrating backstage environment that eventually led to Aldis' departure. From World Heavyweight Champion to Tag Team Champion to feuding in the mid card, Aldis sort of became TNA's version of a Swiss army knife -- being a useful commodity in a bevy of roles.
"It's a blessing and a curse, you become a victim of your own success," said Aldis. "When you prove that you can make chicken salad out of chicken s**t, unfortunately, if you become well known for doing that, you're handed more of that."
Even in his final storyline with TNA against James Storm -- which Aldis' real-life spouse Mickie James was involved in -- it became one of the most harshly criticized skits in recent memory.
"We hated it, we all hated it. When it was pitched to us, we all tried desperately to change it to something else but the guy in charge wasn't having anything to do with it and was convinced it would be great. That's just a perfect example of one of the reasons why I left, we all said that was a bad idea and we all gave what I thought were good alternatives and were basically told 'do what we tell you.'"Instead of dealing with TNA, Aldis took a self-proclaimed "risk" and signed with former TNA founder Jeff Jarrett's new promotion, Global Force Wrestling. Aldis says that the allure of "being a part of something different" is what attracted him to GFW, despite not having the stability a TNA contract would offer.
In his brief stint with GFW – where he is the current GFW Global Champion – Aldis enjoys the camaraderie between everybody in the promotion. While GFW is still looking for its own stability as a televised product, Aldis has high praise for everybody from the talent to the people in charge.
"The structure of GFW is completely different, it's very much to me how I always imagined a wrestling company should be. You know, it's very much like everyone is on the same page, everyone is treated with respect and there's no ego when it comes to the people in charge. There's Jeff [Jarrett], there's Scott D'Amore, Kevin Sullivan, and Keith Mitchell is at TV's, Sonjay [Dutt] has a big role and wears a lot of hats in GFW. No one there is walking around like 'I'm the big boss, everyone has to respect me and if you get on the wrong side of me, you're gonna pay, I'm gonna bury you.' There's none of that."Currently recovering from elbow surgery, Aldis' return to the ring will likely happen in early 2016. Currently a champion with GFW and a mainstay on the independents, Aldis has a vision for himself as he continues to wrestle -- something he's been doing for nearly 15 years.
Nothing is set in stone at the moment, and if the right opportunity presented itself, Aldis would love to take his talents to a grander stage. He even has a dream match in mind with fellow Englishman Wade Barrett. Both men attended the same wrestling school at the same time many years ago, and Aldis would love to see that story told.
"There's a story there, we wrestled each other once upon a time back when I was 18 and he was 24, 25, or something," said Aldis. "Now we're both adults at our careers, we've done what we've done, grew up in two different parts. It'd be an interesting story to tell, to be able to document our early lives and come back around to where we are now in our prime."
Just 29 years old, Aldis is at an age wrestlers usually enter their prime.
As evidenced by the likes of James Storm and Samoa Joe, the WWE does not discriminate against former TNA talent. Both names have successfully entered the NXT arena and will continue to do so. A WWE run for Aldis is a dream, but not something he's waiting around for.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't envision myself at WWE. I think everybody from my generation in the UK thought of that because that was the show, it was the only thing we got on TV. So of course, I've thought about that and how it would feel to walk out in NXT, or Monday Night RAW or SmackDown and that's a cool feeling. But at the same time, that's an opportunity that may or may not come to me and you can't spend your life waiting around for that. I have to work in the belief that the right things happen with the right energy and the right belief system and that's sort of the way I've always lived my life."For the audio of this interview, you can listen to it here.
[Featured Image via Global Force Wrestling]