Fabian Aichner is set for a one-on-one encounter with Finn Balor Wednesday night on NXT on USA.
Though the match was only announced a week ago, Aichner has been dreaming of a moment to show the wrestling world what he is capable of ever since he arrived in the United States to wrestle in 2016. Regardless of whether he wins the match or if a loss is better suited to further the storyline between Balor and WALTER, this marks a significant opportunity for Aichner to impress the wrestling audience.
Born and raised in Italy, Aichner is a member of Imperium, a faction that also includes WALTER, Marcel Barthel and Alexander Wolfe, best known for its work in NXT UK. He is the product of the European wrestling scene, learning his craft from European wrestling legend Steve Wright, the father of former WCW star “Das Wunderkind” Alex Wright. Only 29, the talented Aichner has the potential to emerge as one of WWE’s top talents over the next decade.
Aichner spoke with Sports Illustrated in advance of Wednesday’s match against Balor, reflecting upon his past and discussing his hunger to make a lasting impression in pro wrestling.
Justin Barrasso: You have wrestled for the past nine years, a stretch of time that has included numerous big matches. But this Wednesday’s singles match against Finn Balor is an incredible opportunity to showcase your skills to those inside WWE, as well as the audience watching.
Can you touch on the enormity of this opportunity? And do you have anything special in store, like your double jump moonsault?
Fabian Aichner: Finn is one of the biggest stars in WWE. It’s a crazy opportunity for me to step in the ring with him. I’ve been thinking back to the man that trained me, Alex Wright, and how he told me, ‘There are only so many opportunities you’re going to get. Take advantage of them because you might not get them again.’ That’s how I’m looking at the match against Finn. It’s a big opportunity to show what I can against one of the biggest WWE superstars. I’ll bring my “A” game, for sure, and people are going to have to tune in to see what I have in store.
JB: You have certainly paid your dues to reach where you are now in NXT. You mentioned training with “Das Wunderkind” Alex Wright, who starred in WCW, but I thought you also learned from his father, European wrestling legend Steve Wright. What have they meant to your career?
FA: I learned from both. The way it happened was after I came across wrestling watching TV. I saw five minutes of a SmackDown episode and I was hooked. I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life. Growing up in a very small village in Italy, I needed to look for a wrestling school. I didn’t know where to go or how to get started. I found out about Alex Wright’s wrestling school, The Wright Stuff, in Germany. It was a four-hour drive every single time I wanted to get in the ring, but I was willing to go through that.
The first few training sessions were with Alex, and then Steve started joining in, so I learned from both. Steve is a European legend, so that was awesome. He taught me a few holds that I plan to use on Finn.
JB: That’s the beauty of pro wrestling—you’ve learned from Alex Wright and Triple H, who worked a singles match with one another at WCW’s signature Starrcade pay-per-view in 1994.
FA: It’s pretty cool. To be able to come up in the wrestling business with Alex, learning all the basics of pro wrestling, and now working with Triple H, who I’ve looked up to since I started watching wrestling, it’s crazy. Wrestling writes the best stories. People ask many times who is my favorite wrestler. For me, it’s a tie between Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels. The fact that Marcel and I are working with Shawn Michaels, the greatest of all-time, in the Performance Center, it doesn’t get any better than that.
JB: In addition to sharpening your teeth working for All Star in the UK doing camp and town shows, you grabbed people’s attention by your hunger and desire to compete in WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic in 2016. WWE wanted talent that weighed 205 pounds or less. How much weight did you cut to make the tournament, and why was being part of it such a priority?
FA: I had been trying to add muscle to my look, then I got an invitation to the Cruiserweight Classic. Since I was trying to put on size, I was closer to 235. And then I found out about the weight limit, so I went on a crazy diet. It was the hardest thing, by far, I’ve ever done. I lost 30 pounds in a short period of time, training four hours every single day to make the weight. I even took my scales from Europe to the hotel room in the States.
The morning of the tournament, I woke up at 201 pounds. Then I stepped on the scale for the official weighing at the Performance Center, and it was 203 pounds. I look at the match with Finn just like I looked at that opportunity, which was a [Cruiserweight Classic] match against Jack Gallagher. I always believe that hard work pays off, and I knew, back then, that my hard work was going to pay off.
The match went great, the feedback was very good, and I decided to join WWE shortly after that. I look at the match against Finn exactly the same way. I’ve been working hard for this, and I’m aware of who I’m in the ring with, and I definitely won’t let this opportunity slip through my fingers.
JB: To me, you have had such a natural progression and build throughout your career. Your breakout moment took place in a match from September 2017 against Kassius Ohno, showing off both your strength and agility. Was that the moment you felt you belonged in NXT?
FA: Absolutely. As soon you get signed, the goal should be to get on TV as quickly as possible. That was certainly my goal. I wanted people to see me. I knew NXT was the biggest platform, by far, I’d ever been on, and that was the time to make a name for myself and my opportunity to get a head start at NXT. That match with Kassius Ohno showed off what I could do in that ring, showing people what they might not have expected out of me. There is nothing I would change about that match. It got me right to where I am right now.
JB: Teaming with Marcel Barthel has proven to be a really dynamic pairing. Did you two first meet after signing with WWE? And, since signing, you two have teamed together and worked singles matches against one another, which has helped turn you two into a perfect match for each other in the ring. Has working against him helped you work with him?
FA: We started the same day in WWE, but we’d never met before that. We’d worked for a lot of the same promotions in Germany and England, but we somehow never ran into each other.
The night before we started at WWE, he sent me an email saying there was a rental car booked for both of us. I picked him up, and I remember it vividly. I believe everything happens for a reason. When I pulled up to the hotel, I thought to myself, ‘There’s got to be a reason this guy is coming into my life right now.’ So we drove to the Performance Center and we were best buds by the time we got there.
We trained together in the Performance Center, and when we finally had a match, the chemistry in the ring clicked. We found even more respect for each other, too. To form a tag team was the next logical step, and it’s been a natural fit. The chemistry on-screen is undeniable, and it’s a perfect fit with WALTER and Alexander Wolfe.
JB: Italy has been devastated by COVID-19. Is your family safe back home? And has it been difficult for you to work amidst this pandemic?
FA: It’s been a difficult situation, Italy was declared a ‘red zone.’ I’ve been in contact with my family and friends. Thankfully, they’re all OK. Even if I wanted to get there, I couldn’t because they closed the borders down. I talked to my family. They weren’t allowed from one village to the other one, which is only five minutes away. It got crazy. I talked to them recently, and thankfully everybody is OK. I really do hope we get this thing under control and we can get rid of it, once and for all, very soon.
JB: Is it hard for you to work under these conditions?
FA: It’s kind of like Groundhog Day being in this quarantine. That’s why I look forward to this match so much. I miss the action, I miss being in the ring. As far as workouts go, you just have to get creative. I’ve been doing the ‘deck of cards’ workout on the rooftop of my garage. I ordered some resistance bands to keep myself fit and I’ve been rope jumping a lot.
I like the fact that WWE is still entertaining the fans, giving a little break during these crazy times. Being given the opportunity to entertain the people, I’ll give it my all.
JB: NXT is not the only wrestling show on tonight, as AEW airs directly against your show. Why should viewers make sure they are watching your work?
FA: If you don’t watch our match, you will regret it. It is going to be a really good one.