It’s a sunny day in central London, and Magnus, aka Nick Aldis, has returned to his home country. Part of the British Invasion, he’s better known to the casual UK television viewer as Oblivion, the loud-mouthed villain from Sky One’s Gladiators, and as such he’s very used to having a high media profile.
“I have freedom now,” he says. “I’m not encouraged to be controversial – but I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck! It’s a relaxed environment here.”
Indeed, it was that particular showcase that got him signed to TNA – but he came very close to not getting that role at all.
“I went to the auditions for Gladiators with no intention of getting it – I almost didn’t even go,” he says. “I didn’t think I’d be big enough, actually. I was only 21, and I just didn’t think I was filled out enough.”
When he arrived at the audition, he found he was competing against lots of faces he recognised from muscle magazines, and lots of alpha males trying to grab the producers’ attention. “It was testosterone central, and I’m not good with that,” he admits. “I’m quite competitive, but I’ve never enjoyed that kind of grr, grr, showing off – and all the producers there were female. So of course that made it ten times worse. There was so much posturing and gesturing all day. It was tiresome. After about 20 minutes I thought, ‘I’m so over this, I just want to go.’”
But once the cameras were switched on, it was a different story. “All these guys who were so full of bravado and had so much personality, as soon as they had a camera on them just turned into five-year-old kids at the nativity play. I thought, ‘I actually have a chance now.’ So then I took it more seriously!”
He filmed two series of Gladiators, and in between them he signed for TNA. He hadn’t done any serious wrestling in a year. “I wasn’t really allowed to [wrestle while on Gladiators]. Although I did do a few. Well, you know, I had a load of foam hands to sell, and action figures! I made sure that I knew who I was working with, that it was safe and it was a controlled environment – where the action was minimal.”
Once he finished panto season at Christmas 2008, it was straight into a TNA schedule. “They flew me out to Nashville for one day, because that was the one day I had free [between filming Gladiators and panto] – and then I had to go straight back to London. I literally did not have a day off,” he recalls. “There are these vignettes where I’m running the stairs, and I look like hell. I flew in that day, I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, I wasn’t tan, I was tired, I was in a hoodie and trackies. And that was that. They started airing through December, and the first thing I did was that tour. I’d only been in the business for a couple of years anyway, but my first match was at the MEN Arena! I was not good. I didn’t have time to be nervous.”
Doug Williams, Magnus’s British Invasion colleague, also featured on that tour, but there were no plans to tag them together at that point. “Wrestling’s weird,” he grins. “If something’s been done before, people are inclined to see it again. I know a lot of people had the same suggestion, including fans – when they saw us on the tour, they were like, ‘Are they going to tag you guys together? That’d be great!’ I don’t know if that influenced the office, but I’m sure it had something to do with it.”
Magnus, Williams and Rob Terry combined to form the British Invasion, and instantly became characters the American crowds loved to hate – and they think that’s largely because of their nationality. “American people’s perception of British people is that we’re hoity-toity, chicken shit, not good athletes,” says Magnus. “They think American people are best at everything. To have Doug, who’s such a great wrestler, me, who’s a great character, and Rob, who’s so jacked…I’m one of the bigger guys, but Rob is mind-blowing. If nobody knew where we were from, and we just walked out there in jeans and sunglasses, and they said we were from New York City or LA, people would have believed it. I think that’s why we got so much heat, they looked at us and thought, “Well, that’s not fair! They’re not American! How can they be better?” We played off that. The perception is the hardest thing to overcome and we’re still battling that.”
As Brutus Magnus, he had failed to make the impact he’d hoped for when he debuted in TNA. “Certainly my first gimmick was not successful,” he admits. “I stood out in Gladiators by not being this stoic serious gladiator character, I stood out by being a brash, idiot, over-the-top pro wrestler. Then when I went into brash, idiotic over-the-top pro wrestling, they wanted me to be a stoic, boring gladiator!”
It wasn’t only Magnus who was confused. “Kurt [Angle] was one of the first guys who said to me, ‘Why aren’t you doing your Oblivion stuff? I thought that was what you were coming here to do?’”
Angle had first seen his new young colleague perform on Gladiators while doing media work in the UK, and was an instant fan. Magnus admits that there can be some politicking in the locker room, with divisions between the established wrestlers and the new boys, but he pays handsome tribute to the support of Angle and Sting: “Kurt and Sting are the two guys who have been very good to me and very keen to help lay the foundations of the guys of the future. The same can’t be said of everybody.”
Angle has gone on record as saying that Magnus could be TNA’s first British world champion, which he describes as “very humbling – I was blown away by that.” He beams. “I hope I can prove him right.”