Nick Aldis: From Gladiators To Britain's First World Champion In 100 Years

Aldis tells The Sportsman about his rise from teenage Bret Hart fan to world champion
07:00, 27 Jun 2023

Nick Aldis was always going to make it. The Impact Wrestling star has actually 'made it' several times over. First emerging in front of mainstream audiences as Oblivion on Sky’s 2008 revival of Gladiators, the Norfolk man has walked a unique road. He parlayed that success into a stint hosting Britain’s Strongest Man before realising the dream of every UK wrestler in becoming the first man from our shores to reign as world champion in 100 years.

Now a three-time world ruler, Aldis bids to add a fourth when he faces Impact World Champion Alex Shelley at Slammiversary on July 15 in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. It’s the latest in a long line of high-profile challenges the 36-year-old has faced. As Aldis tells The Sportsman in an all-encompassing exclusive chat, he usually overcomes his challenges.

What made you decide to become a pro wrestler?

It's a real testament to the quality of WWF’s marketing that I knew who all the wrestlers were and I didn't even watch. We didn't have Sky as a kid, but I had the toys. We would get the annuals and the computer games.

As I got older, friends of mine were actually watching it. Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart was my hero. I had to follow whatever Bret was doing. Then the Attitude Era started to take shape, and there was a massive surge of popularity. 

I loved sports but in my teens I wasn't getting the same satisfaction from playing sports as I had before. There was part of me that was missing something with a bit more attitude, a bit more personality. It occurred to me that wrestling is the perfect way to combine sports and theatrics. I realised I’m not just a fan of this, I want to do this.

You began training as a teenager. What was that like?

The Knight family were very old school. I'm very lucky that was my introduction into the business, because it was very much “If you're gonna come into our business you have to prove you deserve it.”

It wasn't “Everyone can try it, holding each other's hand singing Kumbaya” like it is now. If you're gonna be part of our brotherhood, you have to prove you respect the business enough to withstand some punishment. I puked on my first day! It was the middle of summer, it was hot, there was no air conditioning. They were making us do all sorts of drills. Sprints, fireman's carries, squats, push ups, sit ups. 

It's too easy to get into the business now. It's not about taking liberties with people and hurting them. It's about making sure that guys respect what they're getting into and are actually willing to do the work. You have to present yourself as an athlete.

This is not a hobby. Wrestling has been my full time occupation for my entire adult life. When I see people doing stuff that denigrates the business, because “My friends on the internet think it's funny,”. They all think it's okay. No, it's not okay. Because you're making it harder for people to take it seriously. 

What people want is to suspend their disbelief. To feel like they are following something that they can take seriously.

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How did you get picked up for the Sky Gladiators revival in 2008?

I was wrestling full time for Brian Dixon, who recently passed away but was one of the most important figures in the history of British wrestling. Friends of mine, the UK Pitbulls were signed on with a couple of acting agencies. They got a casting brief through for this part and they sent it to me because they said that I might be a good fit. I got it. It was a live action stunt show at the Birmingham NEC, a Mad Max sort of thing, guys doing crazy motorcycle stunts. I was playing the part of the guy who was running this game. 

The guy who wrote and directed that thing had an agency which sometimes got stuff for wrestlers, bigger athletic guys. He called me out of the blue and said, “Can you swim?”. I said, “Yeah, actually I swam in the national championships in high school.” He was like, “Are you afraid of heights?” “I'm not afraid of heights. These are weird questions!” He goes, “You remember Gladiators? They’re bringing it back. Your audition’s next week.”

Fifty of us went to the auditions in London. There were guys who I recognised from magazines, TV shows and films. I thought I’ll never get this, but we'll have fun anyway. Fuck it, I'm just gonna go for it.

I was wrestling full time for All Star. My cardio was fantastic and the first thing they had us do was this crazy obstacle course. There were a lot of big, juiced-up meathead types. They fell by the wayside because they had no cardio, they were just collapsing. Suddenly we're looking around going, “I have a one in five chance.” 

Then they got cameras out and said, “Okay, talk!” I had a go-to promo that I did on the holiday camps. I did it and they're going “Wow, great!” Then they set up this mock entranceway and said, “Make an entrance, make it big!” I grabbed a bottle of water and ripped off Triple H and did a big water spit. A lot of these meatheads just came out and screamed and flexed. 

Richard Wolff, who was head of Sky One at the time, was like “You need to focus on this guy”. He understood, he'd been over to America. He was the guy responsible for bringing 24 and Lost and a lot of big American shows to Sky One. He’d been paying attention to wrestling. It was the most fun I've ever had. It springboarded me and gave me everything.

You struck gold after joining Impact Wrestling, or TNA as it was known, when you paired with Doug Williams in the British Invasion. What was it like working with Doug?

I owe a great deal to Doug. He’s done so much for me. He was the guy who got me booked on different shows. I got booked for Brian Dixon, which then led to the acting, to Gladiators then to TNA. 

TNA were like “We’re gonna put you in a tag team, we're gonna bring in Doug Williams, you guys are gonna be the British Invasion” I was just like, “Yes!”

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You did something no British wrestler had done in a century when you became world champion, defeating Jeff Hardy for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship. How did it feel to achieve that dream?

It was very gratifying, especially when you consider the fact that I was beating Jeff Hardy. These are guys who I grew up watching. When I was formulating the idea of, “I think I might want to do this”, Jeff Hardy was the guy I was watching on TV. Such a monumental star in the business. 

I wasn't really ready for it, truth be told. But obviously you don't say that! The thing that was amazing to me was how significant it was to British fans. I remember coming back to the UK and doing an impromptu appearance in London at a fan party. It was just massive, it was completely sold out. It was overwhelming. 

There was this perception of a glass ceiling that a British guy won't ever be world champion. They might have the secondary title. That was told to me at TNA! I won't say who but someone who was in charge of creative said a British guy can never be world champion. It's nice to think that I broke a glass ceiling.

You mentioned not feeling ready at the time. You left and helped put the National Wrestling Alliance back on the map, reigning twice as their champion. Now you’re back in Impact, preparing to face World Champion Alex Shelley at Slammiversary. Did your NWA experience help prepare you to become Impact World Champion?

100%. What I was able to do with a championship that was meaningless, with a brand that was on life support. Fast forward to being part of arguably the most important non-WWE show of the modern era, All In. To be the true main event of that show with Cody was a testament to what I'd been able to do with that championship. Harley Race always taught me and Dory Funk said,  the key to being a great champion is that when somebody beats you, it's their ultimate moment. If you can do that then you were a great champion. 

Slammiversary is full circle with me and Alex Shelley. He helped me a lot when I first came into TNA. But I've really ascended. Being in the main event, carrying a show and having the pressure of representing the entire company is something that he is not particularly accustomed to. I am very used to it. I'm the challenger, but I feel like the favourite. If he beats me it's a really significant moment for him, even though he's the champion. This will be the true test of his credibility as world champion.

What advice would you give to those who want to follow in your footsteps and become the next British world champion?

What are you doing that makes you different? That makes you valuable? Irrespective of where you come from, to be world champion it's not just about size, or how you speak. You have to be this really crafted, perfect version of whatever it is you bring to the table.

I see so many wrestlers get emotional about what fans say. Don't give people that much power over you. You're in charge, control them. Create this aura around yourself, “This is who I am. If you don't like it, I don't really care. I'm the best version of this that money can buy”. That's how you become a world champion.

Watch Impact Wrestling Slammiversary live on 15th July on 

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