“The UFC has been doing pro wrestling better than pro wrestling has been doing pro wrestling,” declared newly-crowned National Wrestling Alliance Worlds heavyweight champion Nick Aldis.
As professional wrestling turns its back on ingredients once instrumental in its success, the octagon has adopted those same tried-and-true components, Aldis told Arm Drag Takedown with Pollo Del Mar. He blames “charlatans” hawking opinions as “information and news” for pushing sports entertainment off-course.
“[Wrestling] got hoodwinked into thinking the most important thing in our business was the match in the ring,” Aldis said on the weekly pro wrestling-themed podcast.
Emphasis in today’s pro wrestling falls too heavily on producing matches laced with high spots and heavy offense, opined the Docking, England native. Ultimately, he suggested, grapplers can only deliver so many big moves before audiences become desensitized. What lingers far longer, he said, are the ways fans connect with wrestlers on a deeper level.
“I got into this to tell stories and to get people invested into characters and emotion,” said Aldis. “I wanted to be an entertainer! I wanted to be able to indulge in all the things pro wrestling provides which ‘real sports’ don’t.”
Had his sole desire been delivering the in-ring clinics now dominating in the industry — “Low-hanging fruit,” the reigning champ said -- he would have pursued a career in one of several “real sports” at which he excelled. However, like many viewers, the 31-year-old grappler was drawn to professional wrestling’s storytelling and larger-than-life personas.
This was once the backbone of professional wrestling, said Aldis. These elements also fueled excitement for the eventual clashes between its superstars. In large part, the British battler declared, such facets have waned in wrestling today. Ironically, he noted, the UFC has adopted these to great success.
“Essentially, if you changed the final outcome of the UFC builds with an NWA Worlds championship match from the 1980s,” he stated, “The whole lot of it leading up to that is very much the same.”
In the ‘80s, Aldis explained, wrestling spent significant time and effort “building anticipation for one match” – be that a specific pay-per-view confrontation or match for a television special. Weekly broadcasts were spent “solidifying a feud between two guys in a very authentic way,” he asserted, allowing fans to invest in characters and the story, leading to genuine interest in big matches.
“The reality was, if you wanted to see these two guys go at it, without interference or in the full match, you either had to buy a ticket or you had to tune into this pay-per-view or this special,” he noted of the formula pro wrestling used well into the ‘90s.
“That’s essentially what UFC’s model is,” Aldis stated. “They put out imbeddeds, they put out smaller cards on free TV, but everything else they put out is press conferences, interviews, profile pieces, all of which is leading to the fight. The fight is the attraction.”
LISTEN: Nick Aldis Talks NWA, Comparison to UFC, Life with Mickie James
Boxing takes a similar approach, he said. Showcasing the competitors outside the ring, be that in training or by exploring their personal lives, what the matches mean to the individuals or similar, builds buzz even among casual fans, Aldis said: “That’s storytelling!”
Looking to these “industry leaders,” Aldis pointed out the NWA is taking a similar path on its journey to reasserting itself as a globally-recognized pro wrestling powerhouse. In fact, a strong reason he was drawn to the company, Aldis said, was philosophic agreement with the promotion’s brain trust on how to reinvigorate the NWA’s iconic heritage.
The current excessive “availability of content” has certainly changed the pro wrestling landscape, Aldis admitted. With matches from around the world available 24-hours-a-day on any mobile device, the former Impact Wrestling World champion is “unsure” how a new or emerging promotion “can penetrate that marketplace with any significance” by exclusively providing more matches.
To that end, Billy Corgan and Dave Lagana – respectively the rock star/pro wrestling enthusiast and former World Wrestling Entertainment employee behind the NWA’s rebirth -- have opted to “produce and build and tell people’s stories.” Said Aldis: “I think a perfect example of that is the Ten Pounds of Gold.”
Through the promotion’s regular YouTube releases, the NWA touches upon the company’s storied history, occasionally reminding people of the championship’s lineage extending back to greats like Harley Race, Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes. More importantly, said Aldis, the web series introduces fans to the personalities and performers shaping the company today.
“We’re basically embracing every element of [NWA], good and bad, and letting people enjoy that story,” shared Aldis. “There’s a compelling story in everything.”
For example, when the lead singer for Grammy-winning band The Smashing Pumpkins acquired the NWA early in 2017, Tim Storm held the Worlds championship. “Let’s call a spade a spade,” said Aldis, noting how little followers of mainstream professional wrestling knew about the long-time indie-wrestling veteran. Aldis also acknowledged how far off most fans’ radar the NWA title itself had fallen.
An “unknown” champion for a company which “hadn’t really been considered in the upper echelon of wrestling promotions” for many years might have seemed insurmountable to many, Aldis admitted. For Corgan and Lagana, it was an opportunity.
“Dave and Billy, as the managing editor and executive producer, took that story and instead of pretend certain elements of it some people might look at as ‘negative’ didn’t exist, they, in fact, embraced that and made it a compelling part of the story,” he said. “In fact, that’s the part people have been most interested in.”
Centering around Storm, early episodes of Ten Pounds of Gold introduced the 52-year-old high school history teacher from Texas. Soon, Aldis said, audiences were “rooting for” Storm because of “what a nice guy he is,” his passion for pro wrestling and what the NWA title legacy means to him.
“You can find the elements of people’s real lives and make them into a compelling story, if you know how to do it right,” Aldis said of the emotional investment fans had for the then-champ by the time he took the belt from Storm at a Combat Zone Wrestling show Dec. 9.
WATCH: Nick Aldis & Austin Idol on Ten Pounds of Gold
Going forward, of course, Ten Pounds of Gold will heavily focus on Aldis and his transition to being the new NWA Worlds champion. Rather than portraying a construct of a writing team somewhere behind-the-scenes, he says fans will soon realize he is just as polarizing in his real-life as any character created for him.
“Love me or hate me, I don’t care,” he said boldly, “Just pay attention.”
Also set to play a key role as the NWA further builds momentum heading into 2018, he assured, is new manager Austin Idol. Of course, “The International Heartthrob” is no stranger to those familiar with wrestling history.
A well-known regional player in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Idol is perhaps best known for his decade-long feud with Memphis favorite Jerry Lawler. The two were bitter rivals in territories throughout the U.S. South prior to “The King” jumping to then-World Wrestling Federation in the ‘90s.
“Some through his own, personal decisions and some of it through circumstances, he never broke the mainstream, national stage,” said Aldis, noting “at the time, there wasn’t necessarily a need” for his recently-acquired mentor to do so.
“In-ring, he did great work for a heavyweight of that era. His promos were on the money. His work was great. Obviously he had a great physique,” he said of Idol, “He presents a package which, if you put it in a different set of circumstances, he’s up there with Hogan and anybody else.”
Though “in the long-term standing of things, perhaps he is not as well-regarded as maybe he deserves to be,” that could change very soon for Idol, Aldis opined. As the NWA prepares to introduce Idol to “a whole new generation of fans,” he feels the manager is poised to become “the breakout star of 2018.”
Idol is only one of many individuals the pro wrestling world will come to love, the champ promises, as “buzz” grows around NWA and its competitors in the new year. Hinting at the obligatory “big things ahead,” Aldis said the company’s focus on “authentic characters that make you care” is the “formula that’s going to work for us” as the past melds with the future.
“We’re all very happy with the long and storied history of the NWA leading up to now,” he concluded, “Ultimately, all of that tapestry is part of who we are today, who we’ll be tomorrow and next year and ten years from now.”
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NWA World Champ Nick Aldis talks The Ten Pounds of Gold, Billy Corgan/Dave Lagana, More.