Nick Aldis and Cody Rhodes basked in a crescendo of cheers Sept. 1 from a sold-out crowd at Chicago’s Sears Centre Arena for more than 30 seconds before locking up at the All In pay-per-view.
Aldis had held the NWA World Heavyweight Championship belt for 226 days heading into the match, while Rhodes – the promoter behind the landmark independent wrestling show – sought the same title held decades prior by his father, Dusty Rhodes.
“It was almost like an out-of-body experience,” Aldis recalled of the crowd’s anticipation of the match. “I remember sort of taking a look around and just thinking, “This is a moment.’”
Aldis lost the title that night, but he considers the opportunity to represent the NWA belt on such a stage as a career-defining moment. He would recapture the belt from Rhodes at NWA 70 the next month in Nashville, Tenn.
And he’ll defend the belt once more against Ring of Honor superstar Marty Scurll at The Crockett Cup on April 27 at Cabarrus Arena & Events Center in Concord.
The event pays homage to the NWA’s tag team tournament from 1986 to 1988 that fielded the likes of Sting and Lex Luger and The Road Warriors. Some of the teams competing in the 2019 tournament include The Briscoes, The Rock ‘n Roll Express, as well as Kojima and Nagata.
“We want this to be an event that unites generations of fans,” Aldis said.
Aldis took time prior to Easter weekend to answer some questions about the upcoming show and his career.
Tell me about your match at The Crockett Cup.
I’m defending the title against Marty Scurll, “The Villain” from Ring of Honor.
The match is unique because Marty is a top star in his own right, but we also started in the business together. We’ve been friends for 15 years. The match is 15 years in the making.
We’ve known each other and supported each other. Our careers are very close. I think that we’re only a couple of years apart in age. For a long time, I was sort of like his big brother because I had some opportunities early on in my career. Wherever I went, I tried to open the door for him.
Over the course of the last three or four years, he’s reinvented himself and become a huge star. He’s one of the most popular wrestlers in the business. I always knew it was there. A lot of the time, it just takes a certain thing to happen or a certain spark or a certain moment. With him, it was finding this villain character.
He just so happens to be one of my closest friends who used to ride with me in the car every week to wrestling school in England.
We can’t talk about NWA without bringing up some old-school NWA legends like Dusty Rhodes and Arn Anderson. Did you grow up with NWA or did you discover it later on?
I was born in 1986 in England, so obviously that was really the heyday of Jim Crockett Promotions and Mid Atlantic Championship Wrestling. It was also the heart of this boom period of Rock ‘n’ Wrestling in the 1980s with Hulk Hogan and the WWF. That was really what I was exposed to first, like a lot of people internationally. The NWA was more confined to the States and certainly more confined to the South.
But over time, what happened was the quality of the NWA and the performers actually set the tone for what became modern wrestling in the 1990s and even into today. They had a faster pace, more athletic, gritty kind of style.
Over time, they influenced the next generation of stars.
Obviously, you can’t talk about the NWA, Jim Crockett Promotions and the Carolinas without talking about Ric Flair. He absolutely is the greatest of all time. He is Elvis. There’s nobody like him. There never will be again. He has influenced more performers in our business than probably anyone in history. He’s even influenced people in pop culture. He’s got his fingerprints on everything from pro athletes to hip-hop artists. The Carolinas, the Mid Atlantic and the NWA – that was where he made his mark and really where you saw the absolute best.
To this day, I do a lot of tape study of the sort of peak heyday of Jim Crockett Promotions in the 1980s and Ric Flair, Ricky Steamboat, Magnum T.A., Arn Anderson, Dusty Rhodes, The Midnight Express, The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express. It stands the test of time, whereas a lot of wrestling from that era really doesn’t. But those guys really set the tone for what is modern pro wrestling.
Wrestling podcaster Conrad Thompson described it well when he said the WWF was for kids – and I love me some Hulk Hogan – but the NWA was more of an adult product.
Absolutely. Jim Cornette, who will be at The Crockett Cup, described it as the NWA was the Boston Celtics and the WWF was the Harlem Globetrotters. That’s a fair assessment. One was purely showbiz and unabashed about it, and one had a sports aura.
That’s really what we’ve done in the last couple of years with the “Ten Pounds of Gold” series, my rivalry with Cody Rhodes last year and going forward into this year. It’s really been about trying to reintroduce some of the sports element of sports entertainment. We’re not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. We’re not trying to insult anyone’s intelligence. But we’re trying to present it in a more serious, sports-oriented way.
If you check out any of our “Ten Pounds of Gold” series, it has a very strong sort of “HBO Boxing” or “HBO 24/7” kind of feel to it. We create anticipation to one big title match. We try to create that big-fight feel, which is something the NWA was really known for.
You mentioned Cody. What was it like to play such a huge role in a landmark event like All In?
[Smashing Pumpkins frontman] Billy Corgan bought the NWA, contacted me and said, ‘This is what I want to do: I want to sort of revamp and reintroduce this brand, and you’re the right guy to help me do it.’
I understood what he meant. Right away, we formed this “Ten Pounds of Gold” series. Let’s look at UFC and what boxing are doing. They create anticipation with really well done artistic videos to build up to one key match.
The WWE is an enormous business. They’re gigantic, but what they are has always transcended pro wrestling. They’re just a giant entertainment corporation. Everyone else has to be different from them. So many people have tried and failed to replicate that model, which is not the right approach, because you’re talking about three generations of promoters, tons of resources and money, and trust with sponsors, TV networks and all the way down the line.
We went back to kind of brass tacks almost and thought about what’s the basis of a good promotion or promoter. It’s to create interest in one big night and to get people to pay to see it. And we just did it with a modern-day delivery system. Ultimately, the goal is to create these big moments.
When I took on the challenge, I made a promise to myself that I’m going to make this championship mean something again. By the time I’m done with this, it’s going to be presented on a stage that can be compared to its heyday.
Obviously, with All In, the Sears Centre is sold out. 11,000 people are on their feet before we even touched. Cody and I, with Cody’s history, popularity and lineage – everything just sort of fell into place and people just sort of latched onto the rivalry.
It was a defining moment of my career, because I did what I said I was going to do. I presented the championship on a level that can be compared to any NWA title match – Flair and Dusty, Flair and Steamboat.
And we did it again six weeks later in Nashville at NWA 70.
You won the title back from Cody at NWA 70. How big of a career highlight was that?
It’s definitely my proudest thing as far as my body of work, because it was two out of three falls.
All In was this incredible moment for the entire business. It was an incredible moment for all of us involved with it, but it was sort of a community almost. It was a community thing in the sense that Cody and I arguably became sort of the standalone match and moment of that event, but the event sold out based on itself. It was greater than the sum of its parts.
Whereas, our first standalone event under the new NWA with Billy Corgan at the helm was NWA 70. It was a capacity crowd at a very historic venue in Nashville. We did a really good box office and we delivered.
Every now and then, you come across someone in this line of work who you just have this intangible chemistry with. Cody and I have that because we just understand each other. We are genuinely competitive with each other.
I have some of that with Marty. We are much closer and have a longer history than Cody and I do, but there’s a genuine competitiveness with the real sort of difference-makers in this business. You have to let a little bit of that seep into your work in the ring because then the audience begins to really sense it.
Everything we’ve been able to do has just been because I believe in what I’m saying and what I’m doing. We all do.
You’re the face of the NWA and you’ve competed against the face of the new AEW promotion (Cody Rhodes), “The Villain” from Ring of Honor and many of WWE’s top guys. You’ve accumulated quite the resume.
It’s fortunate timing but at the end of the day, it’s like the old adage, it takes 10 years to become an overnight success. I came to the United States 10 years ago. I started wrestling even before that. Over the course of my career, I’ve been fortunate enough to share the ring with a number of people who have gone on to become huge stars. That’s validation for me, as well.
I’m 32. I’m just starting to sort of hit my stride. That’s great because now I have this body of work behind me. Like you said, I have a pretty decent little resume. I’m one of two people to make Sting submit. I’ve got victories over Kurt Angle, Samoa Joe, Jeff Hardy, AJ Styles.
(Competing against the likes of top guys in other promotions) is one of the ways we’ve been able to prove the NWA is back. Our intention is to continue to remind people the real world’s championship is the NWA World Championship.
Do you like coming to the Charlotte area?
I love Charlotte. It’s a very cool city with a cool vibe. The climate is nice. I’m in Richmond, Virginia. So we’ve been there a few times. I’ve been to Winston-Salem a few times because they do WrestleCade there. That’s a real fun little town.
The interesting thing is since I’ve been doing my thing with the NWA, there’s really a noticeable difference with the way fans interact with me in the Carolinas. It’s sort of a generational thing that’s in people’s DNA there that they appreciate and respect the NWA and what we stand for.
For me, it’s always very nice to go anywhere in the Charlotte-metro area or the Carolinas, have people shake my hand and tell me they appreciate the work we’re doing.
Hearing grandparents tell kids, ‘That’s the real world championship. That’s the one that Dusty Rhodes had, Dory Funk Jr. had, Harley Race had,’ that’s a really cool feeling. That’s why we never changed the belt. That belt will always be the NWA championship.
Tag team wrestling is the draw with The Crockett Cup. You’ve won tag team titles before at TNA. What are the keys to winning tag team titles?
It’s continuity. It’s cohesiveness as a unit. There’s such an art to tag team wrestling that’s so different.
That was something that was so synonymous with Jim Crockett Promotions. They were known as a tag team territory. When you go back and watch guys like The Midnight Express, The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express or Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, there’s an unspoken communication and bond between them where they work as one.
There are a lot of different rules that can manipulated and bent for tag team wrestling like the five count during a tag to switch in and out. When guys really understand the nuances and differences, those are the two that end up standing out and making a difference.
I was fortunate enough to be in a couple of really successful tag teams, the British Invasion with Doug Williams and then with Samoa Joe. Samoa Joe and I held tag titles in Japan and TNA.
How do I incorporate what Joe does and what I do and blend it together and make it as one? That’s what good tag teams do. That’s what the winners of The Crockett Cup will have to do.
I’m not going to go into your personal life, but I’m a big Mickie James fan. She seems to have a really good attitude about business. What’s it like being married to another professional wrestler?
She’s a veteran. Ultimately, her success is no accident. That’s the reality. She’s been doing this for 20 years.
As far as I’m concerned, I’ve been fortunate enough to be around her because she’s so accomplished. She does have a very good mind for this. She is an asset. I think that the WWE understood that, which is one of the reasons they brought her back, because I think she’ll contribute to this business long after she’s hung up the boots. I’m obviously proud of her for what she’s done and what she’ll continue to be able to do.
She hasn’t lost a step. We had a son together. He’s four and a half now. She worked really hard to get back into shape and get back in the ring and perform at a high level. She is performing at the highest level she can.
Take me through how you prepare for a show like this one. What do you to clear your mind?
Fortunately, Easter is this weekend, so I have this weekend off, which is nice. It means that I’m able to just make sure my body is healed and doing lots of recovery.
Obviously, I train every day to be able to push myself but I also have time to let my body recover. You’re always dealing with little nagging injuries. No one is ever 100 percent in our line of work.
It’s making sure I’m getting plenty of sleep. I’m relaxed. I’m not letting things stress me out. I’m hitting the hot tub every day.
The process close to the time for a big show like this – I will go down to Charlotte the day before so that I can stay at a hotel and don’t have to be dad that night and don’t have to get up at 6 a.m. when my son, Donovan, gets up and wants his breakfast. You need to peak later, so I try to make sure I’m doing some sort of training later at night than I usually would. It’s just a case of having anything that can be a distraction taken care of ahead of time – just getting to the building nice and early, seeing everything, taking it all in, being one with the arena and then finding my quiet place.
I listen to music quite a bit and then just start to visualize everything. Eventually, it comes together and I get to a point where I’m at a peak state. Then I just stop thinking because you can overthink this. You really can. You get to a point where once you sort of got it in your mind, ‘all right this is what I want to achieve,’ then you just kind of find this blank space. Then obviously, the adrenaline and the people just take over, you go through the curtain and you’re a different guy.