Austin Aries speaks out on NXT, competing against Daniel Bryan and his showdown with Baron Corbin at TakeOver: Dallas
The NXT Universe was shocked when General Manager William Regal announced former world champion and longtime independent standout Austin Aries as his latest free agent signing. Fans were just as stunned when Baron Corbin cut Aries’ arrival short with a brutal attack that brought the CFE Arena in Orlando to complete silence.
Though A-Double didn’t get a chance to address the world on WWE Network, he did sit down with WWE.com to talk about his 15-year journey to WWE, his time spent on the independent circuit battling against the likes of Samoa Joe, Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins, and his NXT in-ring debut at TakeOver: Dallas, where he’ll take on the furious Lone Wolf.
WWE.COM: Why is now the right time for Austin Aries to come to WWE and NXT?
AUSTIN ARIES: Frankly, it’s the only thing I haven’t done in my career. I’ve accomplished every goal I’ve set out to. I’ve traveled the world, I’ve competed in just about every promotion there is. The last mountain to climb was the one that resides in the WWE Universe. I’m excited to get that opportunity. The NXT brand is as hot as any brand in wrestling, and I’m excited to be a part of it.
WWE.COM: How did the opportunity for you to come to NXT present itself?
ARIES: I became a free agent in the middle of last year. I was seeing what all my options were and had a lot of different opportunities on the table. But from the moment I became a free agent, the WWE opportunity was the one I wanted. Obviously, there were strong plays made by some other companies, but in the end, when WWE offered me an opportunity, I could not turn it down.
WWE.COM: What made NXT the place for you?
ARIES: I think it’s a mix of things. First of all, as a brand, it’s developed so much over the last couple years. It’s touring outside of Florida. It’s touring internationally. There’s a certain energy to NXT, because there’s a mixture of young guys just starting their career who are hungry. Then, you have established guys like Samoa Joe and Finn Bálor, who have walked the same paths that I’ve walked, now trying to prove themselves on the biggest stage. I’m someone who’s been very passionate about the business and love to pass on the things that I’ve learned to the guys coming up. I think I’ll have the opportunity to do that.
I look at is as an opportunity for Austin Aries to grow as a performer, while helping some of the younger NXT guys grow, too.
WWE.COM: When you first broke out on the national scene in 2004, it was because you broke Samoa Joe’s record-setting 645-day reign as Ring of Honor Champion. What did that title do for you?
ARIES: At the time, I understood the opportunity I was being presented. I knew that, as much respect as I had for Samoa Joe and what he did, it was important to me that he respected me as the guy who could continue that legacy. That was on my mind. I took it very seriously. I knew I could probably never match what he did, in terms of the length of his run. What I wanted to do was turn it into a true world title. I defended it in six or seven different countries during my reign, trying to do something unique and different that hadn’t been done before.
WWE.COM: You also competed extensively against Daniel Bryan, including a 76-minute 2-out-of-3 Falls Match. What was that like?
ARIES: Funny story about that. Still being relatively new, I was really proud of the accomplishment of being in the ring with someone like Daniel. I walked back through the curtain after the match, very proud of myself and excited to get feedback from my colleagues. I got back to the locker room and not one person was there. They probably decided to go hit the bar around the 45-minute mark. There was nobody left.
WWE.COM: How did you react?
ARIES: Let’s be honest, we’re all wrestling fans, but 76 minutes is a long time to watch anything. The great thing about ROH at that time was that you had guys like Daniel Bryan and Samoa Joe. For me, I was finally getting to test myself against guys who were as good and better than me, which helped me grow as a performer.
WWE.COM: When guys like you, Bryan and Joe were traveling the independents, did you ever talk about taking over WWE? Did you think that this would ever happen?
ARIES: I’m sure some guys did. I’ll be honest, in 2004, before my big break with ROH, I did some work with WWE, a few dark matches and had some discussions. They told me that for what they were looking for, I was a little too small. Maybe not understanding the process of how this game works and knowing that I was done growing, I decided that all I really wanted to do was wrestling for my career. When that door [with WWE] closed on me, I accepted that and said I was going to keep wrestling for my career.
WWE.COM: You mentioned being a smaller competitor, but you’ve had a lot of success competing against heavyweights, and have been a heavyweight champion. What does it take to be successful at the high levels you have reached?
ARIES: The beautiful thing about this art form is that it’s a blank canvas. You get to paint whatever picture you want. For me, from day one, I don’t think I realized that I was considered undersized, but I knew I was good. I had certain tools in my toolbox that other guys didn’t have, like agility, quickness and explosiveness. Really, what makes or breaks guys in this industry is what’s in between your ears. Being a lifelong fan of this sport, I had a lot of knowledge that I didn’t realize I had, just from watching. There were a lot of nuanced things, which are hard to teach sometimes, that I had.
WWE.COM: How did your ring style develop?
ARIES: It was always important for me not to be pigeonholed as a cruiserweight-style wrestler. So, when I started developing my repertoire, I wanted to be well-rounded, I wanted to take guys to the mat, I wanted to be able to fly in the air, I wanted to strike. Listen, I have to wrestle a high-risk style. I have to use everything I have. I don’t have the advantage of being 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds. I throw my body around. I show a lot of heart and determination. I’m very stubborn and I don’t like to lose. Those are the traits that have propelled me to where I am today. There has never been a moment or a match that I didn’t think I could win, using all the tools I have.
WWE.COM: When you were in the arena before your NXT debut, what was going through your mind?
ARIES: Trying not to pull a Shockmaster and tripping on my way out? That was the first thing. [Laughs]
I was excited. I’ve been working hard at this for 15 years. I knew this was a new opportunity, and the greatest opportunity I’ve had to date. I’ve always wanted to be a guy, that from the moment you see me, I make an impression. I’m a difference-maker. Early in my career, I had my debut match after a couple months of training. I kept pushing it back, telling my trainers that I wanted people to see that there was something different about Austin Aries. I wanted to have that confidence for my very first match, so people would notice.
I’ve kept that mindset my whole career. This was a new opportunity. I was going to be exposed to a whole bunch of fans who didn’t know who Austin Aries was. Even if it was just saying a few words — which I didn’t get to do, thanks to Baron Corbin — that’s all it was. I wanted to make an impression.
WWE.COM: When you walked out there and the crowd exploded, what did it mean to you?
ARIES: It’s a small feeling of validation. Over the years, you hear, “If you haven’t done it with WWE, it doesn’t really count.” I’ve always dismissed that notion, because some of the hardest fans to please are the ones I’ve been pleasing for the last 15 years. To see there is that crossover and you’ve left an impression on people, to walk out on the WWE stage and people are excited you’re there, you can’t help but smile and feel like you’ve been doing things right. But as excited as they are, I’m just getting started.
WWE.COM: Unfortunately, your debut was cut short by Baron Corbin. What’s your impression of The Lone Wolf?
ARIES: I’ve dealt with guys like Baron Corbin my whole life. Guys who simply think because they’re bigger than you in stature, they’re stronger than you. Being physically gifted, having nothing they’ve had to go out and earn [they think] it makes them better than you, that they deserve more than you and should be handed opportunities. A lot of them have. If you’re 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds, you’re handed things in life. I’ve had to prove myself, because people have doubted and questioned me.
WWE.COM: Can you blame Baron Corbin for what he did?
ARIES: I’m not mad at Baron Corbin. If I was going to try and make an impression or make sure people noticed me, I’d go out and attack Austin Aries, too, because people are going to talk about me. Now, people are talking about Baron Corbin. I hope he enjoys it and understands who he picked a fight with. He’ll have to step in the ring with me in Dallas, and prove to me and everyone else that he’s on my level, not the other way around. I’ve been doing this a long time. I’ve faced the best. I’ve faced Hall of Famers. Baron Corbin has yet to have a cup of coffee in this industry. Come Dallas, he’s going to finally get to test himself and see what level he’s at. Is he a B-plus player? Is he at the A-level? I know this, he’s not at the A-Double level, and I’ll prove that at TakeOver: Dallas.
WWE.COM: You couldn’t have possibly picked a bigger stage to make your NXT in-ring debut. Heading into WrestleMania 32 Week and NXT TakeOver: Dallas, how are you feeling?
ARIES: It’s funny, everything is ebbs and flows. When you’ve been doing this for 15 years, there are peaks and valleys. I haven’t felt this motivated, this invigorated, or had this kind of fire lit under my a** in a while. The fact that I have a few weeks to prepare myself for this is exciting. I’m working hard every day. I want to come in there in the best shape of my life, mentally and physically.
I always feel that the bigger the stage, the brighter the spotlight, the better I perform. I have a mentality that every time I walk through that curtain, I’m the main event. I’m going to take that mentality to Dallas and show the people who don’t know who Austin Aries is what I’m all about. I’m going to show the people that do know me that I haven’t changed. I’m looking forward to it. I hope Baron Corbin’s ready for what’s coming to him.
WWE.COM: Beyond TakeOver: Dallas, what are your goals in NXT and WWE?
ARIES: I can give you the cliché “I want to be NXT Champion,” but I think anyone in NXT wants that. Looking beyond that, I could say that I want to be WWE World Heavyweight Champion, but that’s the reason most of us get in this industry.
You have to understand something about Austin Aries. I always set the bar higher. I set the bar high for myself, higher than anyone can expect. When it’s all said and done, I want to be Austin Aries, WWE Hall of Famer. That’s a lofty goal. As they say, shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll hit the stars. I don’t have a lot of time to waste. Everything from here on out is geared toward that goal.
WWE.COM: As April 1 approaches, what should the WWE Universe know about Austin Aries?
ARIES: Very simply, this: Every time Austin Aries is on your screen, he’s going to give you everything he has and use everything at his disposal. I call myself “The Greatest Man That Ever Lived.” Yeah, it’s a catchy moniker, but it’s also the way I try to live my life. I place an expectation on myself to exceed. I’m my biggest fan and my harshest critic. Just know that every time I step out there, I’m giving you everything I have to make sure your money’s well spent and that you remember the name Austin Aries.