Nick Aldis Featured Image

The world is experiencing an unprecedented situation currently, as the coronavirus pandemic has forced many events, industries to press pause on all activity. Except for a couple of companies, pro wrestling has also been stopped, and wrestling fans are currently unable to get a fresh batch of content from a variety of companies like they had been getting so regularly. Billy Corgan’s NWA was building towards their big Crockett Cup pay-per-view in April but became one of the first companies to announce the cancellation of many of their upcoming shows with a video message from their World Champion Nick Aldis on March 16th.

Recently, Aldis took the time to speak with SteelChair Magazine in a tell-all interview that will come out in three parts. In part one of our conversation with the “Real World’s Champion,” Aldis discusses when and how NWA decided to cancel their events due to the coronavirus, empty arena shows, his in-ring style, his infamous match with Ricky Morton, and much, much more!

How long had the discussions between yourself, Billy (Corgan), and Dave (Lagana) been going on in regards to how the company was going to respond to the coronavirus?

“Well, I will say in terms of the wrestling business, we were probably ahead of the curve as far as being prepared for this simply because Billy, at the best of times, is kind of a germophobe anyway. He’s very, very cautious about getting sick, and he doesn’t really like shaking hands. He will begrudgingly shake hands at certain wrestling events because he respects the business and understands it’s the protocol and everything. So he kind of makes that exception from time to time, but typically, he’s a guy that doesn’t want to shake hands and doesn’t want to be anywhere near someone who’s sick. For him, it’s from his main career because if he gets sick, he can’t perform, and there is a lot riding on that.

So I think compared to most, he was already taking it seriously before others were, and that’s not to say others weren’t taking it seriously, but I remember us having conversations about this in early January. We were talking about cancelling Crockett Cup and the tapings and stuff in February, and it was more of a case of strategising when we were going to announce it. Also, just making sure we had all of our ducks in a row because the thing you have to remember is that you’re kind of at the whim of the government and the other institutions. There was a great example of this with WrestleCon because they wanted to cancel way earlier, but because they had to wait until it was officially a nationwide emergency, the venue was not going to refund them because they were worried about this virus. They (WrestleCon) did the right thing, exposing Marriott for being greedy.

Two weeks before we made the video of me announcing the cancellation of the shows like the Crockett Cup, I remember suggesting that we reach out to the arena directly because they’ve been really good to us. It’s a brand new arena, and obviously, we have a great relationship with GPB Studios in Atlanta, and because we were doing the show in Atlanta, it was a big arena and stuff. We’ve developed a good relationship with the city of Atlanta in general. So between all those things, we had the ability to cancel before others because the venues we were working with basically told us not to worry about it and that they’d reschedule it for us whenever we needed to and that they’d refund the people’s money. We were fortunate in that respect that the partners that we were working with were very understanding and were willing to do the right thing. And that’s why we were able to get it out before others.

However, I do empathise with AEW and WWE because they are earning a rights fee for their television, so they have an obligation to provide content. I don’t know, obviously, none of us does, apart from the people involved in it on that level, we don’t know what kind of wording is in their contracts with these networks about stuff like their failure to provide content. I can empathise with them, especially for AEW, as we’re talking about a new company. It’s pretty clear Tony Khan has (laughs), a fairly healthy amount of resources, but it’s still a new company. Nobody wants to be in a situation where they’re in real financial trouble this early on, and with WWE, you’re talking about the real possibility of them reaching critical mass because they are so big, they require a significant amount of revenue to stay operational. Obviously, take away live events and potentially their ability to produce television, they’d basically freeze. So I empathise with everyone.”

Was the fact you guys tape a large chunk of your episodes in one go a benefit?

“Oh, sure. My only wish had been we had just taped prior to all this stuff taking place because we would have at least had weeks of original content to put out at an opportune moment with everybody being home and people needing more content to consume. We have one full episode of Powerrr left that we haven’t broadcast yet, and fortunately, it was a Super Powerrr, so it was like a feature-length episode of like an hour and a half. We will air it, but we won’t air it in its current form because obviously, it was a go-home show for the pay-per-view, which we may postpone or may not do. Nobody knows at this point. We felt that it didn’t make much sense to put it out as is, but we do want to put out the content. Like, there is a tag match with me and Tom against Brody King and Marty. That’s a match we think a lot of people would enjoy, and one they were excited to see.

There’s a lot of other stuff, but again, because so much of it was geared towards the PPV, it’s just a case of figuring out the right time to put that out, and the context into which to release it. It will come, but probably in bite-sized segments, where we put them out sort of individually. So, for example, we released the empty arena match between Tim Storm and Jocephus back in 2018, and Dave put together a nice little package ahead of it, recapping their build-up to that match, so you got a nice hours worth of one story being told in its entirety. So that’s probably what you’ll see with some of these other segments from Powerrr and the Super Powerrr’s. We also did these great Powerrr Surge shows, which, if you’ve ever seen the HBO boxing face to face things where there are two guys and a moderator in the middle. We have some of those too. There is one with Marty and me, which is really good, but it’s gearing up to the Crockett Cup, so it’s figuring out how to release that without it feeling like a disappointment because the conclusion is not coming.

We are working on a bunch of original content, I mean, I’m in Virginia with my son, but I have a place in Tennessee, and it’s right next door to Dave. So before I left Tennessee when things started getting more serious, we made a point to set up Dave’s camera equipment and everything and we did hours and hours of sit-down interviews basically recapping everything we’ve done up until now. Going right back to the very beginning of the NWA concept, the Ten Pounds of Gold series, and the matches with Tim. ALL IN with Cody, our first PPV with the Cody rematch, Marty, and all that kind of stuff. So we have a bunch of stuff in the can, so we’ll start making some nice long-form kind of doc pieces, once we can get some other people on camera, but again, that’s kind of down to circumstances permitting as and when travel eases up. We’re not gonna take any risks of anybody getting sick for the sake of this stuff. We’re doing what we can with the resources and the sensibilities that are required at the moment.”

You’ve actually got me excited to want to see that content now because it sounds very interesting.

“Yeah, I think it will be very good. That’s kind of our bread and butter. I mean, WWE has always been very good at that stuff, but we were the first ones to really do it in real-time, so to speak, where we were doing it for stuff that was happening now rather than doing it retroactively, which is what WWE tend to be doing. They tend to make these really nice cinematic pieces, but they are usually about stuff that has happened in the past. I feel like we have kind of pioneered in pro wrestling at least, doing it for current, for the real-time events. And you know, it’s not throwing shade, and it’s not a dig at anyone, but it’s pretty obvious watching other shows, you can see they’ve borrowed a lot of our techniques.”

You actually recently put out a kind of joke tweet, but also a kind of honest tweet saying that “We were doing the empty building stuff before it was cool.”

“(Laughs) Well, yeah, that was one we did by design because we felt it had more effect, you know. We had talked about doing that one (Aldis and Marty promo) with an audience there, and it’s much harder without an audience, but I felt Marty, and I had the ability to carry it with our verbal skills. And it seemed to get a really positive response, and we did that in an empty building by choice, for effect. But you could see in the following weeks that there were similar segments produced elsewhere that seemed to be very coincidental timing (laughs). But we take that as a big compliment because we pride ourselves on being innovators in the space.”

NWA has a real special vibe in terms of the intimate connection with the live crowd, not to say other companies don’t rely on the crowd. But because of that fact, could you imagine doing what AEW and WWE are doing with the empty arena shows?

“No, not really. If we had an obligation and we were paid to do it, then I’m sure we would find a way as long as it wasn’t completely irresponsible. But to me, the audience has always been the other element of the show for television viewers, and I feel that’s an art that’s been overlooked and lost in television wrestling for the last couple of decades. It used to be the audience was a part of the show, in a sense that so much of the show was based around the guys’ acts with the audience. The catchphrases or the moments, and really letting the audience reaction be the sort of soundtrack to the movie you were trying to make for the people at home.

Then somewhere along the way, I feel like it sort of shifted, and it became like the audience sitting there and watching while the wrestlers do their stuff. We planned all of this ahead of time, and this is what we’re doing, and if you guys want to cheer or boo, that’s up to you. You felt like the audience was no longer steering the show anymore. It was pretty obvious that this show has been decided ahead of time, and whatever the audience is saying, doesn’t really matter. We wanted to make a show where the audience was as important or as integral to the viewing experience for people at home, as the wrestlers, or any of the other talent. I think you can see that with the podium interviews. To me, I look forward to interviews more than matches. I can’t wait to go out and cut promos at the podium because I know that I’m going to get a reaction, and I’m going to be taking the people on a ride.”

I mean, you always do a great job of reacting to them by saying stuff like “The adults are talking” or “Shut up fat boy.”

“Yeah, right, right. One of the best things (Eric) Bischoff said, one of the key takeaways I learned from Eric was, “What are they not doing?” That was his philosophy. What’s the market leader not doing? This idea of trying to be competitive – I hate the idea of a new wrestling company starts off, and they instantly have to hate all the other wrestling companies, and they have to try and throw shade at them and bury them. Look, that can be fun for the audience, and if it’s working on a marketing level, you know in terms of picking a side, and selling merchandise and stuff. Overall, though, it’s just silly. Our philosophy is like when we say we don’t do scripted promos, and we actually interact with our audience, and we kind of go off of what they say, and we will react at the moment. That’s not us throwing shade at a show that decides to be one hundred percent scripted. It’s just our way of saying, “This is why you should watch our show” because it’s different.

Aldis Powerrr promo

You know, an action movie can provide explosions, car chases, guns, and helicopters, but it may be a little lacking in intense dialogue or witty banter or whatever. But if two different movies get released on the same weekend, they don’t sit there and make snide comments about each other’s movies, you know (laughs). So we’re basically saying if you like some of these elements of pro wrestling, that to me were the real, pure elements of pro wrestling that you’re maybe not getting anymore because it’s all a bit sterilised or the in-ring action is lacking in credibility, maybe you want to check out the NWA.”

You’re basically just saying come watch us if you want the alternative.

“Yes, a true alternative. Absolutely.”

It’s interesting you talk about the crowd dictating the show because Hulk Hogan recently put out an Instagram video where he discusses adapting to the crowd in his WrestleMania 18 match with The Rock and him coming from an era that was used to doing that.

“Yeah, my whole thing is, we’re telling a story in every sense of the word from the beginning until the end. Not just in the ring, not just before the match. Nothing irritates me more when you see these super intense, personal feuds, and then they do a bunch of cooperative spots. Like, I’m sorry, you guys don’t hate each other. Stop trying to tell me you guys hate each other because you did 30 minutes of stuff that obviously required cooperation. So to me, I’ve always thought of booking the same way as I think of a match. An angle goes through the same life cycle as a match does. You have a good strong start that kind of gets everyone’s attention and makes them go, “Oooo, this is going to be something.” Then you get into the meat and potatoes of it, you have some back and forth, and you have some jockeying for position, and then you might get into where it gets a bit more personal and violent, and then you take it home with a massive conclusion. It all has to fit together.

I feel like a lot of time when I see angles and promos and stuff, you can tell which guys are interested in that stuff, and which guys are paying lip service to the mandatory entertainment side of this so that they can go and have a five-star match. To me, and without trying to toot my own horn, Cody and I at ALL IN was a perfect example of how to get the mix of all of it. There is no way when people first thought of ALL IN, and what that show was supposed to represent, there is no way anyone was thinking Nick Aldis and Cody Rhodes wrestling for this old belt was going to be the takeaway match and the true main event of that show. But we made it that because we reminded everyone that when it fits together properly, and you have two professionals that truly understand the requirement to take the audience on a ride and also understanding the fragility of the emotional investment. Once people have emotionally invested in your angle, it’s such a rare thing to be able to get them to do, that you have to treat that with respect and treat it very carefully.

I’ve been involved in many angles where the people didn’t give a shit, and you’re trying desperately to make them give a shit, but once you know they do give a shit, then it’s a case of treating them with respect and seeing it through in a way that makes these people go away and remember this forever. And that’s the way that I looked at the stuff with Cody, Marty, and even the rivalry with Tim Storm. We took a guy that no one had heard of, and we made that his angle. Yeah, he’s a nice guy, but no one’s ever really heard of him. If you give this guy a chance, you’re gonna fall in love with him, and everybody did. So by the time we get to the first episode of Powerrr, that’s the choice we made for the main event. We could have brought in a big star for me to wrestle in that first show, and a lot of people would have done that.”

For most people, that would have been the move to go with the big name.

“Yeah, exactly, and that would have been fine. But I think it was Dave who said, “I want to do you and Tim because I want it to be a full-circle thing.” I think he also knew something I hadn’t really thought of, and that was the people that had bought tickets to be there, they had been following us from the beginning. In their world, Tim Storm was a major deal. So that resonated with the people at home because they went, “God, people love this guy.” Then at the end, when I pin him, and he can never wrestle for the belt again, another angle that was borrowed fairly quickly afterwards, those tears were real. You know, people connected with that emotion. It was like, “God damn, I love this guy, and I got taken on a ride.” I’ve always said to guys when they ask me for advice, styles and fads come and go, moves – you know, it’s become fashionable to kick each other in the head a bunch of times. Ultimately, though, even the most hardened fans got into this because they like being taken on a ride, and all they really want is for a chance to suspend their disbelief.

So once I shifted my focus from wanting to have a good match, so I don’t get buried on the internet to I just want to take people on a ride – like, I’m never going to be as agile as PAC or AJ Styles. You have to be self-aware of what you bring to the table. I know that I can take people on a ride. Once I’ve got the audience’s trust, which is definitely what I feel like I have more than ever, the trust of my audience, and the trust of a wider audience. Since the Cody stuff and even before, at this point, most fans that are familiar with me, if they see my name attached to an angle or show, they know they are going to get a certain level of quality.”

Yeah, and I’m one of those fans.

“I appreciate that, and that’s really all that you can hope for. You know, opportunities are not always down to you. Take WWE for example, I’ve never had an opportunity there, and I never really got a straight answer as to why. I can’t spend my life worrying about it. I just keep going forward, making sure that whenever my name is attached to something that people will trust that they will get their money’s worth.”

You definitely do that. Also, in regards to your in-ring style, that was actually a later question I had. I don’t want to sound overly negative and like an old guy, but as I get older, I appreciate performers like yourself a lot more as opposed to seeing ten superkicks in one match. Your match with Ricky Morton, you told a story, and the crowd was going nuts.

“Yeah, and I even made a post about this because I knew there was going to be some pushback on that match, you know as far as people saying there is so much talent and the guy in his sixties is wrestling for the belt, and the World Champ is going to sell for him. So that’s why I wanted to get ahead of it because I wanted that match. Like, this may be pretentious, but I don’t give a shit if somebody thinks it is because I kind of looked at it the same way actors look at movies, and they go, “One for them and one for me.” If me losing to Cody in the middle of the ring at ALL IN and helping facilitate this huge moment in wrestling is one for them. Me getting to wrestle Ricky Morton in an NWA ring, in a studio setting with a good traditional “wrasslin” crowd, and without trying to give away too much of how the sausage is made, pretty much calling it all in the ring. Just going on feel, which is absolutely what we did, and I think we had one or two things that we knew.”

It was believable, too, because you acknowledged that it was an older Ricky Morton.

“I tried to work the match in a way that, you know, he didn’t slam me, and he didn’t clothesline me and beat me up. He was crafty, and he had ways and means of outmanoeuvring me. But that story behind that match – so I was actually supposed to wrestle someone else. Somebody was supposed to come in as a surprise. A guy who has been around, a former WWE and TNA guy, been around. Circumstances occurred that prevented that from happening, basically last minute. We had this idea for a feature-length show, and we had sort of twenty minutes at the end locked out for me and this guy having a title match. Then we thought, “Okay, we could bring in this guy or that guy,” and then I was like, “What about Ricky Morton?” Who knows how long they’re going to keep going. They’d been in the tag team scene and had their big moment with the belts, so we kind of knew they were coming towards the end of their run as far as being on the show all the time.

I said, “This is as much of a request for me personally as a something to have on my wrestling bucket list, but I don’t think I’m being totally self-indulgent when I ask for this either because I think the audience will dig the idea. Because it’s so out of the blue, but it’s also a throwback to when he (Morton) wrestled Flair.” I felt like we had earned the trust of our audience at that point where we thought they wouldn’t immediately think that there is no way Morton’s winning. We thought we might have them enough, where they think, “You never know with these guys,” they might get that Rocky moment. All I need as the World Champion is for people to have a slither of doubt, and again, not to put myself over, but I’ve been able to do it in local markets with completely unknown guys.

I’ve been able to set the circumstances up in such a way that by the end of the match, the people in the building have been biting on everything. I’ve had people come up to me afterwards saying, “I know it doesn’t make any sense, but I genuinely thought that guy might win.” And that’s all we needed with Ricky.”

You did a Ric Flair, so to speak.

“Yeah. I’ve based my entire work with the NWA off of Flair and Harley. Obviously, its very kind when guys like Meltzer and stuff have even sort of compared me to the two, and I think Dave may have even thrown in a bit of Dory Funk Jr. That’s what I am going for. I’m trying to be this hybrid of the swagger of Flair, maybe not to the crazy comedic level, and the sort of rugged and believability of Harley, again, not quite to that level because I’m a bit more smooth and refined. But somewhere between the two, and that’s what I’ve been going for.”

That’s quite evident in your work, and I like seeing a bit of Flair in you because it’s not like you’re a copy, you’re still Nick Aldis.

“Every great wrestler in history has basically done the same thing by borrowing elements. Hogan borrowed from Austin Idol, who was my manager for a little while. He got ‘Hulkamania’ from ‘Idolmania’. He got the cupping the ear from Idol, and then he borrowed a few things from Billy Graham. Flair’s openly said he got the “Wooo” from Jerry Lee Lewis, the chops from Wahoo or Terry Funk, and the strut from Buddy Rodgers, but he did it his own way.

So it’s like, you take stuff that works, and you make it your own because it’s like when they talk about movies and TV shows, and there are essentially seven stories. I feel like the same principle kind of exists in pro wrestling because there is essentially a handful of characters that really connect on that level. So all the characters are different blends of those characteristics. You know, larger than life, charismatic, people’s champion, or dark brooding bad guy. It’s all variables of those things but to different levels.”

Stay tuned for part 2!

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By Humza Hussain

Humza Hussain is SteelChair Magazine's Interviews editor. He has been a lifelong professional wrestling fan and has conducted interviews with names such as DDP, Aleister Black, and Bayley. He also writes film news, reviews, and interviews!

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