Nick Aldis – formerly known as Magnus – just wrestled his final match for TNA at last month’s Slammiversary, ending a six-and-a-half year run with the company that saw him rise from generic enforcer to World Champion. His departure comes during a time of turmoil for TNA, which has been rocked by rumors of canceled TV deals and an exodus of top stars, including James Storm and Austin Aries.
I had the chance to speak with Aldis about his decision to leave the company on my podcast – and he didn’t hold back, describing a “turbulent” locker room and a promotion lacking the leadership of a traditional wrestling booker. He also spoke about his final feud with James Storm (and the controversial “train tracks” angle involving his real-life fiancée, Mickie James), his new deal with Jeff Jarrett’s Global Force Wrestling and how the future of wrestling might involve unions.
What led to your decision to leave TNA?
I’ve been with TNA for six-and-a-half years, which has been incredible for me. I’ve seen a lot of changes in that time, just like you would with any company. I’ve seen a lot of resets, and all the while I’ve always somehow managed to stay the course and develop and grow as a talent. I reached what I thought was the pinnacle of my career at the end of 2013 [when he won the TNA World Title].
I came to the decision, if I’m honest with myself, about six months ago, maybe a bit before that, that I would leave the company when my contract was up. I’ve done everything that I can do, and I appreciated everything. It’s just time for me now, at 28 years old, to do something else to renew my focus and my energy. I just feel like I maxed out what I can do at TNA. Some people call it the seven-year itch, and I can totally relate to that.
You just signed with Global Force, but all of a sudden, Global Force might be involved with TNA. Will that be weird for you?
There is something I have to clear up. It’s not so much that I’m leaving TNA for GFW, that’s just a coincidence that I’m going there immediately. I had let TNA know that I was going to leave on June 30, and we left on good terms. We agreed to wrap things up the right way, and I loved the way that we did. Then Jeff showed up on TV, and I looked at him and just said, “What the hell?” I was backstage at the TV tapings, and little Kody [Angle] came running up to me and gave me a big hug. I didn’t put two-and-two together, because I thought maybe Kurt had the kids. Then I saw Jeff’s kids, and then I saw this SUV. Suddenly the window rolls down and Jeff is there. I just told him, “I don’t even want to know.” I had no idea he was going to show up, and I’m still not sure what is going on completely.
Despite that, how does it feel to be done with TNA?
You’re not going to find me saying anything but positives about my time in TNA. They have given me everything up to this point. I’ve earned it, and sometimes I’ve made my mark in spite of their decisions, but they gave me the platform and the income, and I made something of myself with them. That being said, I have to tell the truth. When I gave my notice, and had a conversation with John Gaburick – “Big,” as people like to call him – by the time we got off the phone I felt like a 100-pound weight had been lifted off my back. There was always something. Every week there was a new rumor. I do sometimes think some of it was unfair to TNA. It became en vogue to just rip on TNA. If some of those things that had been reported about TNA had been reported about, say, Ring of Honor, everyone would have just talked about how much it sucks for them. But because it was TNA, it turned into how terrible they were and how they were run by about a bunch of idiots
I hope that everything works out for them. I don’t know what the hell is going on with Global and everything, but I had to trust my gut. I’ve been in the business for 10 years. I’m a student of the game. I love the business. I feel like I’ve been involved in every facet of the business. I sat with the camera guys, and back in the truck, sitting on the headsets, just to get a feel for the whole business. I’ve really run the gauntlet of the business. My gut told me that the thing that had been missing was what Jeff had in the company – the experience as a real wrestling guy. He knows the business, and loves the business and knows talent. And I think that, for me, is the number-one thing. Jeff has a much better idea of talent and who to trust in important positions, and that might be the issue that I have with TNA right now. But I hope they haven’t reached critical mass and everything can work out.
You talk about all the rumors and how they weighed you down – what was the locker room like over the past few months?
To be honest, it was very turbulent. I’m sure you’re aware of the conference call that took place not too long ago. There were things said in that conference call that were a long time coming. I’m not about to throw any talent under the bus, but there were certain things that I heard in that conference call, like talent saying, “I’m disgusted by this” or, “We have a right to know.” Anyone that’s been involved with TNA knows that at times, I’ve been very outspoken. There was a point where I just sat there and thought that what everyone has to remember is that as an independent contractor in wrestling, nobody owes you a living. You don’t have a right to be guaranteed a living just because you signed a contract somewhere. Most contracts, with exceptions, can just be canceled anyways. I just kind of went, “Nobody owes you a living.” Every day that I get to put on a pair of tights and boots and get to feed my son, that’s a good day.
You said that when Jarrett left, there was a big change at TNA. Can you elaborate on that?
I think the balance left. From a creative standpoint, and from a philosophy standpoint, Jeff provided the balance of a traditional wrestling booker. He knew that there are certain things in pro wrestling that will always work, and he knows that there are some fundamental reasons that people enjoy pro wrestling. As long as you provide those elements, you’ll retain an audience. And I’m not talking about good guys and bad guys. I’m talking about the fundamental nature of booking and what makes a good worker. It’s not just saying, “This guy is the top guy.” OK, but what if his work isn’t that great? Have you thought about what you’re going to do when he’s responsible for a 20-minute match? You can’t just say that you’ll think of it later. When Jeff left, there was a constant struggle that he would have nipped in the bud. He would’ve said, “This is fine, but we have to do it in this certain way.” I think that without that balance of the wrestling guy, there were some fundamental issues in what was being produced.
Did that lead to the issues in the locker room?
There’s a fundamental problem in the wrestling business. This extends from the independents all the way up at the very top companies, WWE or New Japan or anyone else. Guys are undercutting each other. There’s less money being distributed where it needs to be distributed. There are too many people willing to come in and take the same spot for a lot less money. I’ve been a victim of it. I was one of those people that always said, “Hey, I’m in this spot now, I think we need to talk about my compensation.” Unfortunately, there are a lot of guys who have come in who were just happy to have the spot and the opportunity. They’ll do all these extra things for free. That might be great for the company, and you might be the big babyface to the office, but you’re screwing all the boys over because you’re doing it for nothing, or you’re doing it for way too cheap. Now it’s really hard for the rest of us to justify our pay. There were certain guys being given a lot of TV time because they signed ridiculously low contracts. It’s not the right thing to do, because you’ve made it hard for all of us. You can’t blame the guys paying the money, because that’s their job, getting the best services for the lowest possible price. The fact is though, you get what you pay for. And I think that’s another thing TNA is experiencing and understanding at this point. You can’t just tell people that someone is worthy of the spot, and will draw the house. You can’t just disregard years of building a relationship with the audience.
So with that mentality already ingrained in the business, how do you fix it?
It has to start with the top guys. And you’re seeing it now. Look at the departures. AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and look where they’ve ended up. The companies that make money, they know who has value. You have to develop a market value. It can’t just be created in an office. Obviously companies can stick the rocket pack on someone and help them become a major player. At the end of the day, your work and your ability and your dedication and your commitment are what develop your market value. As long as performers understand that, and that they have a market value as an individual instead of just as a brand, then it levels itself out. Sometimes it takes departures and guys going elsewhere to make that apparent.
It seems like the only way to prevent guys from taking too little would be to form a union. Would you be in support of that, and do you even think it’s feasible?
In principle, pro wrestlers would absolutely benefit from a union, but it would take a huge number of guys to shift the balance of power. And the sad reality is that the business has had decades of experience squashing any union potential. I feel a little vulnerable even talking about it in this hypothetical sense. I wrote a column in Fighting Spirit Magazine years ago about how I thought British wrestlers qualified to be a part of Equity, the U.K. performing artists’ union. Shortly after the column came out, I was contacted by someone at Equity who said they agreed with me. Even when there was an existing union available to join, nobody did. But then I heard that this guy who was known for being a con man in the business was telling the guys that he had set it up and would get them in for a fee, which pretty much sums up the business; there will always be one guy who cuts the golden goose open rather than let it lay eggs.
I guess this storyline with James Storm was your last with TNA. What’s it been like watching him and your fiancée, Mickie James, doing their angle, including the infamous train tracks segment a few weeks ago?
My favorite thing I’ve ever did, as far as an angle, was the story with Bram. Tom is legitimately my best friend. I pushed for them to give him an opportunity, and he absolutely killed it. He’s a great talent, and he’d be great anywhere he wants to be. I pushed for that angle – and this goes back to the philosophy that me and Jeff share – because most of us, the talent, have interesting enough stories in real life that you can document them, and turn them into great angles and compelling stories that make it believable. This is a one-take business. You have to make it believable, that’s how you make the audience care. So I pitched an angle where Tom can be jealous that he went off in one direction and I came to TNA. His direction didn’t work out for him and here I am, and I’ve been champion and started a family with Mickie.
Then we introduced the stuff with Mickie, which I always resisted. They had tried to get us to do stuff before, and we always just said that it felt forced, so we turned it down. The whole angle ended up being an artistic success. I would’ve liked to do the Bram angle for longer, but they told me they wanted all angles to wrap up within a couple months. Sometimes in TNA you can be a victim of your own success. I just wanted to make sure that we didn’t go straight from this angle into just another angle with me and Mickie. Then, sure enough, fast-forward to the bell-to-bell show and I’m told that James is going to come down and you’re going to get into a program with James.
We still made it good. We had a lot of input on it at the beginning. We had a great in-ring where Mickie had announced that she was going to go home. James came and convinced her to stay and we had packed loads of subtle nuance into it. I thought it could be really good. We kept it going, we were dragging it out as long as we could. Suddenly we get word that they want to do that train thing. Some of it, unfortunately, tied into the fact that they knew I wasn’t going to stay. So that was kind of an issue. But nonetheless, when the train thing came about – I’m trying to be as positive as I can, but this was one situation where there wasn’t a single person I talked to, apart from the guy whose idea it was, that didn’t say, “What the hell is that?” I’ve always been of the mindset that if you don’t like something, don’t just say no, come up with an alternative. We must have pitched God knows how many different alternatives, that included implied violence, or a girl, or different ways to get the same job done. We were just told, “No, this is going to be great.” I think that segment speaks for itself. It went from being Sons of Anarchy to Days of Our Lives. We made the best of it after that. It was almost irrelevant at that point, because of the way it panned out. I’m very proud of the way the match turned out though. I couldn’t ask for a better way to wrap up business.
While GFW will be one thing you do, what else do you have planned for the immediate future?
I have a fitness book that’s due for imminent release. I wish I could tell you the exact release date, but it should be any day. The book is called The Superstar Body. It’s my real-world techniques on how to have the kind of body that you associate with not necessarily bodybuilders, but movie stars and wrestlers, MMA guys. The premise of the book is that you don’t have to live like a monk and do plain chicken breast and rice. This is what works for me in the real world, with a demanding job and a baby at home, and I still go out and drink beer with my friends. Not only that, this is how my buddy who is a Muscle and Fitness model does it, and this is how Kurt Angle does it, this is how Rob Terry does it. I have input from loads of different guys. So for anyone who is interested in getting in shape, it’s not just me describing my philosophies. It’s also input from all these other guys and girls.
I’ve got a renewed energy though. Especially since I’m so close with Jeff. Jeff is a very open guy, and I just got off the phone with him, and I’m excited. I feel like I’m part of something. It’s a startup, and there’s still a lot to form, but it’s forming. I’m also very much a free agent. While I’m with Global Force, I’m available. But the reality is that when Jeff described it to me, I knew I was in. There’s a lot of moving parts, and there’s going to be more to come very soon.