It’s been a long, winding road for Milwaukee’s own Austin Aries to get back to Turner Hall. A 17-year veteran of the pro wrestling wars, having won world titles in promotions like Ring of Honor and TNA, Aries seemingly reached the pinnacle of the industry when he signed with WWE in early 2016. However, his stay in the world’s biggest wrestling promotion was a short one, and he left in July of last year. Since then, though, his profile has increased, becoming a featured player in several promotions across the globe. He’s even back in TNA (now called Impact Wrestling) and ROH, where he’s once again Impact World Champion and contending for the ROH TV Title. He’s also found the time to write and release his first book, Food Fight: My Plant-Powered Journey From The Bingo Halls To The Big Time, an autobiography that doubles as a pitch for adopting the vegan lifestyle he’s slowly grown into over his wrestling career.
This Friday, Aries brings his championship hardware, as well as his book, to Turner Hall as a feature performer for Chicago-based promotion Zelo Pro, as he takes on Bryce Benjamin and Mondo Lucha favorite Isaias Velasquez in a triple threat match. The stacked card also features Colt Cabana, DJ Z, Robbie E, Arik Cannon, Chelsea Green, Delilah Doom, and a main event for the Zelo Pro Women’s Championship between Kylie Rae and Tessa Blanchard (the daughter of Four Horseman Tully Blanchard). Aries spoke to Milwaukee Record about his homecoming, his current collection of championships, and his new book.
Milwaukee Record: It seems like, based on your current “belt collector” gimmick, that you’ve been really busy since leaving WWE last July. How many different companies have you been working for?
Austin Aries: Oh, man, I don’t know if I could count, but yeah, I’d say that since the end of November last year, starting with the House of Hardcore, between doing House of Hardcore Shows, going over and doing World Series Wrestling in Australia, IPW:UK, Defiant over in the UK, obviously now with Impact, doing some joint shows with some other promotions in Canada…yeah man, it’s been keeping me pretty busy. It’s nice to be as busy as you wanna be, and it’s nice that whenever I need to take a weekend off, I can do that. But for the most part, it’s been pretty steady since the end of November. And it will continue that way for the next month or so, and then I think this summer I’m gonna dial it back just a little bit and enjoy the summer, let my body recover from this crazy travel schedule, and then we’ll see what’s in front of me.
MR: You had sent out a tweet in October that said in the next six weeks you were gonna be earning more money than you did in your last four months with WWE. It seems like that’s a big talking point in wrestling right now, that people can do as well as they want on the indies without necessarily going “big time” because there are so many opportunities. Are you seeing a big change in that since before you signed with WWE and then coming out of it?
AA: Yeah, I think right now, and this is my seventeenth year doing this, I think right now from a financial standpoint it’s as healthy as it’s ever been. There’s more money available and there’s more money in more places available. Technology’s really shrunk the globe, right? And now I’m getting an opportunity to travel all over the world because people now can watch content from all over the globe instantaneously, and it’s creating a demand for guys all over. So we’re in this really unique time in wrestling and it’s cool, where guys have their own platforms through social media. They’ve gotta build their brand, build their character, build their value, and they don’t necessarily need one single promotion to do it. When you look at it from a promotional standpoint, promotions don’t necessarily need a cable television show to get their product out there. So that’s kinda cool! It gives everybody an opportunity, and there’s this expanding fanbase that wants to see pro wrestlers pro wrestling, and there’s good money out there for guys who wanna work hard and invest in themselves.
MR: Do you ever run into any companies…I don’t know if I wanna say “fighting” over you necessarily, but growing up watching wrestling in the ’80s and then going through the era when WWE and WCW were competitive, the idea of a name showing up on multiple different shows is something that I’m still getting used to. For example, you’re the Impact World Champion right now, but you’ve been showing up on Ring of Honor shows, and they’re like #2 and #3 in the country. Are they cooler now sharing guys? Is it even considered “sharing?”
AA: I think right now, the places I’m working, I’m trying to encourage the mindset of everybody kind of working together, or at least not working against each other, right? That would be counter-productive. And with a really vibrant and healthy pro wrestling scene, why fight? Why fight over crumbs, when if we work together we can make a lot bigger pie, and we can all eat a nice slice? Why split the fanbase, and why insult their intelligence? They’re following independent wrestling outside of WWE and they’re following the wrestling scene as a whole. So with my situation, I’m trying to keep as much flexibility as I can. I’m an independent contractor; it’s a beautiful thing! And right now I’m able to go out there and do some unique things that I think that hopefully moving forward become a lot more prevalent in wrestling because it does create unique and exciting match-ups and some unpredictability that I think wrestling can use.
MR: How did the “belt collector” idea come about, that you’re just grabbing titles everywhere?
AA: It wasn’t really an idea. It just kind of happened. If I’m being honest, there wasn’t any game plan or anything. You’re always gonna go out and try to be successful, and if you’re going to wrestle for a promotion, you’d like to be in contention for the title, because it means you’re an important part of what’s going on there. Where I’m at, I’m always trying to be an important part of whatever I’m doing, so obviously, I can have a lot greater influence being “the man,” so to speak. And being the champion and representing the company, I think for a lot of these promotions, is a mutually beneficial situation where for me as the champion, as it became two, three, four, now six different championships, it has become a “thing,” where that was never the intention! But it’s also now helped some of these promotions get a little more recognition, get a little more in the spotlight, and maybe people haven’t heard of IPW:UK, or Defiant, or World Series Wrestling. If you haven’t heard of these promotions, maybe now with me being on Impact Wrestling and showing up at Ring of Honor, people might say, “Oh, let me check these guys out and see what they’re about,” and now you’ve found some more pro wrestling that you kinda like, or found some new guys you hadn’t heard of.
And that’s really what the idea is, you know? Does it help me, in a selfish manner? It’s put me in a spotlight. I can walk around with my six titles, sure! But bigger picture, this I think is something kinda cool for wrestling in general, and helps the promotions as much as it helps me.
MR: For sure, and I’m sure your presence is going to give a lot of juice to Zelo Pro this weekend as well. This is your first show with them, right?
AA: Yeah, this’ll be my first time. I’m always excited to be able to come back to the Midwest and especially Wisconsin and Milwaukee, my home territory. It always means a lot of family and friends come out, and I always feel a little extra responsibility to go out and deliver.
MR: You’re gonna be facing a guy who’s pretty familiar with Turner Hall in Isaias Velazquez, who works on the annual Mondo Lucha shows there. Have you faced him or your other opponent, Bryce Benjamin, before?
AA: I wanna say I’ve been in the ring with Bryce Benjamin before, but that goes back a decade plus, and I couldn’t remember the exact match. But I know we’ve crossed paths back in the day. But, y’know, any time you’ve got three guys in there it just changes the dynamic. You gotta keep your head on a swivel, and you can’t just prepare for one style. And coming in with my reputation, with all this hardware, these championship belts, I know that puts a huge target on my back. So these guys are definitely gonna try to defeat me, and use that as a springboard for their career, and I actually hope to use that to my advantage, and hopefully make them compete against themselves, and forget they’re competing against me!
MR: In Ring of Honor, you’ve been targeting the TV Title, and fellow Milwaukeean Silas Young is currently the champ. Has it occurred to you that Ring of Honor might be getting a Milwaukee vs. Milwaukee feud?
AA: Absolutely! You know, when I looked at the landscape of Ring of Honor, and decided where I wanted to make my Impact, bad pun intended, the Television Championship is something I’ve never held there. I’ve been the World Champion twice, I’ve been the World Tag Team Champion there, but I felt, hey, if I’m your Television Champion, it’s doing something I’ve never done there, but also now you’re forced to put me on your television. And frankly, as Impact World Champion I’d love to force them to feature me on their television. I think that would be kinda cool. I know Silas very well, we come from a similar background in Milwaukee, and have trained with and been helped along by some of the same people, so we’ll see! It’d be kinda cool if he would accept my challenge, and why not do it in the Midwest? Why not do it somewhere close to home? My schedule’s busy, but I can always make time to collect another belt.
MR: How’s the book (Food Fight: My Plant-Powered Journey From The Bingo Halls To The Big Time) doing? I assume promoting it’s still a big part of your schedule.
AA: Yeah, the book sales are going well. A lot of that is because as I’m getting to travel around the country and the globe, that’s been what’s selling the book more than anything else. People have a chance to have a little conversation with me, buy the book, maybe get an autograph. I’m starting to get a lot of good responses from people who have read it. I talked to a woman recently who, with her family, went vegan about six months ago after reading the book, and she’s lost over fifty pounds, she’s off a medication or two. I don’t need to give it a hard sell because one, that pushes people away, but two, I believe enough in the results that if you just try a little bit, and you keep an open mind, you’ll see and feel the results, and you’ll adopt it more and more on your own. I don’t need to shove people into the pool.
I’ll have some at Turner Hall on Friday, so if people wanna stop by and snap a picture with all the belts, and grab a copy of Food Fight, talk a little about health and nutrition, they can do that. The cool thing is, y’know, we’re in Milwaukee and Turner Hall, but it’s an all-ages show. You can bring your kids, it’s family-friendly, and it’s just a good night of entertainment.
MR: There seems to be more great vegan and vegetarian options in Milwaukee than ever now. It really has become quite a movement.
AA: Yeah! I’ve been taking this journey for seventeen years, the same year I started wrestling, and to see it progress, and to see how it is kind of popular now, and you’re seeing the mainstream jump on it, you’re seeing corporate America jump on it…you hope they don’t compromise it, but people are really starting to recognize the benefits. And yeah, Comet Cafe is a spot that I enjoy in Milwaukee. Riverwest Co-op has really good breakfast food. There’s a lot of really good spots. And as I travel around, big city and small city alike, you’re starting to see these cafes and little shops pop up that cater more toward just more mindful, a more plant-based lifestyle. And it’s a great thing.