I’ve said it so many times now, that I’ve become predictable, but I think it bears repeating: I always want to see the “good guys” succeed. Austin Aries is one of the “good guys.”
Whether his actions in the ring make you want to pat him on the back or smash your chair into his skull—and I’ve seen fans attempt both— “A-Double” is one of the most genuine and honest guys you will ever meet, inside or outside of the ring. That’s why I’m really hoping this new opportunity to wrestle for TNA heading into the Destination X pay-per-view next month will be so much more than a one-time comeback or a final goodbye.
For a long time, Austin has referred to himself as “The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived.” He has taken such pride in his body of work as a wrestler and his overall presentation as a performer. He also makes no bones in talking about how wrestlers are almost never paid as much as they should be for the tremendous physical sacrifices they make. Some might call him bitter, but his critics must remember that Aries has spent much of his adult life making those sacrifices.
I’ll never forget the first time I met Aries. It was at a bar after one of the South Philadelphia ROH TV tapings a few years back, and I was there with fellow PRO WRESTLING ILLUSTRATED writer Jeff Ruoss, former NWA champion Adam Pearce (then a high-level ROH executive), and several younger roster members. As we sat around with our beers and talked about the incredible card we had just seen, in walked Austin, replete with elbow-patched “professor” sportcoat, and pipe sticking out of his pocket. He seemed so reserved compared to the man who had been out at ringside only two hours earlier, screaming in the face of some young fan that was making a very un-PG-like hand gesture. And as he walked around the bar, red wine in hand, embracing his colleagues with hugs and introducing himself to those of us he did not know, it struck me so much that here was a man who carried himself like a major star, but never lost his humility.
A few months later, Austin was a guest on my Internet podcast. At the time he spoke of all the opportunities out there for him as his successful tenure with ROH came to a close. At the time, I felt Austin was destined to catch on somewhere—anywhere—in a prominent role, whether as a wrestler each week on WWE or as the face of any number of other television projects. As I listened to the certainty and determination with which he spoke, I just knew Austin Aries was going to be a bigger name some way.
I’m sure that’s why he has been struggling for so long with which path he wants to take. I think in the back of his head, Austin always figured his talent in the ring would land him a spot with WWE someday, in spite of his modest size. When it was announced that WWE was casting independent wrestlers for the return of its Tough Enough program, Aries seemed like such a natural I that I figured it was only a matter of time until we saw it happen. For reasons I can’t really reveal—mostly because I don’t understand them myself—“A-Double” never made it to the show as I’d expected.
With diminishing hope of eventually catching on in WWE, and Austin’s own reluctance to continue beating up his body for little compensation, retirement seemed imminent. I can now look back so proudly on getting to catch up with Austin in the Philadelphia area last April at the ECWA Super 8 tournament for what I thought then might be the last time ever. Other than a few commitments with Dragon-Gate USA and EVOLVE, the tourney was really about all he had left at the time, and it was nice to see Austin Aries the performer bring his career full circle from a 2004 Super 8 event that helped him achieve some notoriety. I also relished sitting and talking with my friend for hours … knowing it could be my last opportunity.
When I got an e-mail the other day telling me Austin would appear on Impact Wrestling, I was elated for him. Aries has been working for so long to better himself that I was left baffled when it seemed there really might not be that happy storybook ending to Austin Aries’ tale.
In TNA, “A-Double” has the chance to remind wrestling fans around the world why he was once considered one of the top men in his profession, and to show the whole locker room just how brilliant of a guy he really is.
Will this stint in TNA result in just a few more matches, and a chance to get to say goodbye on an international stage? Or could it be the beginning of a rebirth that will place him back to the same level as peers such as AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and Christopher Daniels, as I think he deserves? Who knows? I do think that if TNA rewards him for all of the hard work I know he will give, we might actually be in for a new chapter in the Austin Aries story—potentially the best chapter yet.