It’s a very rare occurrence when a British wrestler achieves success in an American promotion – but it’s truly surprisingly when one manages to do so at the young age of 26.
With a World heavyweight title reign seemingly on the cards for Nick ‘Magnus’ Aldis, one-time star of Sky One’s Gladiators and now one of the hottest prospects on TNA Impact Wrestling, I speak with industry insiders, promoters and those that have worked with him in the past to explore just what exactly is the Magnus effect.
It’s Independence Day 2013, and Impact Wrestling is filming its flagship television programme in front of a raucous live crowd in Las Vegas, Nevada. Standing in the middle of the TNA ring are three of the company’s most recognisable faces – Hall of Famer Sting, Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle and former World champion and heavyweight hard-hitter Samoa Joe. These three legends of the grap-game now go by another name – the Main Event Mafia – in their quest to overthrow Aces & Eights, the faction which has dominated the promotion for the past year.
A nights’ worth of anticipation is about to come to a head, as the three grapplers in the squared circle get ready to announce who will be the fourth member to join their elite group. Speculation has been mounting throughout the show as fans have considered which former World champion it could possibly be.
They don’t have to wait long to get the answer, though, as Sting confirms the latest member to join the “family” is … Magnus.
Initially, it’s a surprise announcement, as the Main Event Mafia, by its own admission, has always comprised in the past of former World champions – the original group, formed in 2009, teamed Sting and Angle with Kevin Nash, Scott Steiner and Booker T. As fans of TNA will of course know, while Magnus has worn TNA doubles gold in the past, he has never donned the World heavyweight strap. To look at him though as he makes his way to the ring though, you wouldn’t know it. Exuding confidence, Magnus carries himself like a main event star – tailored suit, designer shades, and the swagger of a star – and takes to the microphone with the same level of confidence that first grabbed wrestling fans’ attention when he delivered his memorable “This Is England” speech alongside Joe at London’s Wembley Arena in January 2012.
Receiving a glowing public endorsement from an industry legend such as Kurt Angle and being described as “the future” of an international wrestling promotion is unquestionably an honour that veteran wrestlers around the globe would clamour for – so it’s even more surprising when you consider that Nick ‘Magnus’ Aldis is currently only 26 years of age, and hails from the unlikeliest of destinations: Kings Lynn in Norfolk.
As a young wrestling fan growing up in nearby Suffolk at around the same time as Aldis, the world of American wrestling always seemed like a distant dream to me, one that would forever remain a whimsical fantasy. But Magnus’ success so far has proved, in much the same way as Nigel McGuinness and Doug Williams did in TNA before him, that geography does not have to be a stumbling block to international stardom.
Aldis is currently succeeding though at a level that his aforementioned predecessors never quite achieved as, for the first time in his career to date, he is being positioned as a genuine breakout star – with a huge 49 points already garnered in the Bound For Glory Series, putting him head and shoulders above the other eleven combatants in the quest to challenge for Bully Ray‘s World title at the company’s biggest pay-per-view of the year. Of course, that’s not to say that Magnus will win the tournament and get the shot, but it is certainly a clear indication that, creatively and promotionally, TNA has big things in store for the Brit.
So what is it about Magnus that has led to such a quick rise to prominence? In part it has to be the connection that the performer has with the audience, honed from his time spent in front of the camera first as ‘Oblivion’ on Sky1‘s re-imagining of Gladiators, and more recently as the face of UK’s Strongest Man on Challenge TV. But there may be another surprising reason for the grappler’s success – his time spent treading the boards in front of festive audiences at Norwich Theatre Royal’s annual pantomime, as Peter Wilson, chief executive of the theatre, told me:
“Nick has been a fantastic person to work alongside on two pantomimes here at Norwich Theatre Royal. He gave 100% to both roles – the slightly-evil henchman Igor in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 2008-09 and The Genie in Aladdin in 2012-13. It was fascinating to watch Nick soak up the knowledge and technique from other actors, constantly improving his performance and stage presence during the run of a show.
He is also a great company member, giving total commitment on stage and off. Whether he’s doing media interviews or charming audiences at meet-and-greets, you can tell Nick gets a kick out of meeting people and sharing his love of performing – and wrestling.
All of us here have enjoyed watching Nick’s career grow and blossom over the last five years and we wish him well in his quest for a solo World Championship in TNA. I am sure it is only a matter of time before we see the glint of a championship belt around his waist.”
Stage presence is one thing, but Aldis is not the first grappler to have turned to acting – indeed, many have attempted to become thespians with varying levels of success. However there seems to be something unique about the grappler, an intangible quality, that is aiding his quick succession up the ladder. Carrie Dunn, author of new book Spandex: Screw Jobs and Cheap Pops (which features Magnus as the cover star) confirms this:
“Magnus has the look that US pro wrestling companies have loved for years, and he has charisma and loves to talk on the mic. He’s adept at playing the heel or being the good guy – as long as he’s allowed to chat, he can put that character over.
Even if you didn’t watch TNA, you’d know that from Gladiators. Seriously, who do you remember from the Gladiators reboot? The only ones I can recall without looking it up are Predator (because in a previous life he’d been the athlete Duane Ladejo) and Oblivion – our very own Magnus, who took on the bad guy niche so brilliantly carved out by Wolf in the original series and brought it bang up to date.
It took TNA a while to let him unleash that brash, pantomimey persona, choosing instead to make him into a stoic, silent type. But now they’ve let him do what he’s best at, and there is no question he can handle main eventing.
If you’ll let me peer behind the curtain briefly, it’s also heartening that he speaks very well of Kurt Angle and Sting, who he says have given him advice and helped him settle in; and certainly Angle speaks equally well of him. This willingness to listen to the senior pros and to get along with the roster’s elite bodes well for his longevity in US pro wrestling.”
It certainly seems that Magnus has earned respect from his fellow grapplers within TNA, which speaks volumes about his demeanour backstage. TNA president Dixie Carter has also been incredibly vocal in her support of Aldis, demonstrating that he is also popular with senior management and the company’s promoters.
Matt Burden, co-founder and promoter of London-based Future Pro Wrestling, who frequently books Magnus’ former partner Doug Williams for shows, gives his verdict:
“What sets Magnus apart is that he isn’t a ‘default wrestler’. He isn’t just a generic good-looking guy that will do the job. Where so many excel in certain areas like technical ability or physique, their promo work lets them down and vice versa. Magnus offers and delivers in spades in all areas.
He has honed his craft at TNA to the point where he simply cannot be ignored. It makes me very proud to see and hear him cutting promos as word-perfect as Christopher Daniels and having matches that garner the same kind of crowd response as the likes of AJ Styles.”
It’s clear from these glowing comments that Magnus’ continuing success owes not just to one factor, but to many different elements of his look and personality – and his dedication to honing his craft since joining the promotion five years ago. It’s still, of course, very early days in the career of the young wrestler – he is only eight years removed from his debut match against former British Invasion teammate Doug Williams, after all – but the signs are certainly there for a great deal of singles success in the very near future for the Brit.
After proving himself first as the stoic Brutus Magnus and later in impressive tag team championship pairings alongside both Williams and Samoa Joe, it looks like the time is now for the spotlight to shine firmly on the man from Norfolk. Whether he will be able to translate his current success into becoming the UK’s first TNA World heavyweight champion is still anyone’s guess – but if anyone can do it, Nick Aldis can.