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As Impact Wrestling looks toward the future, it turns to a past champion in Eddie Edwards to serve as the present face of the company.

Edwards won Impact’s vacant world title at the Slammiversary pay-per-view on July 18. He was the last one standing in a five-way elimination match that included Rich Swann, the newly returned Eric Young, Trey and one of wrestling’s brightest rising stars, Ace Austin. The decision was made among Impact’s power brokers that there would be no better representative, especially with an influx of new talent in the company, than Edwards, the 19-year wrestling vet from Peabody, Mass.

The 36-year-old Eric Maher, better known as “Die Hard” Eddie Edwards, is universally respected throughout wrestling. His journey began during his junior year of high school, when he borrowed money from his younger brother and asked his mother for a lift to Walter “Killer” Kowalski’s wrestling school a few miles outside of Boston.

“I remember walking up those old stairs to the second floor, hearing every step and every creak, and opening the double doors to the gym,” said Edwards. “There was a wooden floor, and I could hear people bumping and I could hear people screaming. Walter was sitting to the side, watching, in his chair. It was a sight to behold.”

The legendary Kowalski, who passed away in 2008, broke into the business in the 1940s, generations before Edwards. But just like Kowalski evolved throughout his career, transitioning from Tarzan Kowalski to Killer Kowalski, a name that remains a part of wrestling’s storied history, Edwards has constantly changed throughout his career. Formerly a tag team specialist with Davey Richards in The Wolves, he also played the plucky underdog, leading to his first Impact world title when he defeated Bobby Lashley in October 2016. Edwards has since transitioned into a brawler, a style that will be effective for him as he hits his late 30s and continues to wrestle a variety of opponents.

As a former Ring of Honor champion and now a two-time holder of Impact’s top title, Edwards has certainly enjoyed success in the United States. But one of the most meaningful stretches of his career occurred largely off-camera thousands of miles away from home.

Edwards trained and lived at Pro Wrestling Noah’s dojo in Japan in 2005, receiving an unforgettable indoctrination to wrestling.

“The building was in Ariake, just outside of Tokyo,” said Edwards. “I admired the guys that went over to train in Japan, like Chris Jericho and Eddie Guerrero, and I always had a love for Japanese wrestling. I wanted to model my career in the same way. I’d heard how hard the training was, but I wanted to go for it.”

At the age of 21, Edwards quickly realized that his time in Japan was not a vacation. In fact, he feared that the trip was a serious indication that he was not cut out to be a pro wrestler.

“I constantly questioned myself during training,” admitted Edwards. “It’s easy to have a lot of doubt in pro wrestling, and I am my own worst critic, so that tested my love for wrestling and Japan.”

In the United States, pro wrestling is built more around the bumps and the psychology. But training in Japan, Edwards learned, was all about the calisthenics.

Each day started with a warmup routine of 300 pushups, followed by 300 sit-ups, then neck bridges, a painful endeavor designed to strengthen the neck, and then bridges to focus on the gluteus muscles and hamstrings. Then came 50 jumping squats and 300 free squats, all for the right to step into the ring to start training.

“I was like, ‘F---, I don’t know if I can do this,’” said Edwards. “My neck was killing and my abs were cramping up. And that’s before even going in the ring.

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“But it changed me as a human being. They taught me so much about respect for the business and the veterans that came before us. That’s something I still carry with me.”

There is an air of confidence in Edwards’ work, and it stems from his time in Japan. He returned to Noah three years ago and became the first-ever foreigner to win the prestigious GHC Heavyweight Championship when he defeated Katsuhiko Nakajima in August 2017.

“That was the top goal in my life for so long, and I did it,” said Edwards. “If I can do it there, I can do it anywhere.”

The time spent in Japan transformed Edwards into a more complete performer, one ready for the responsibility of hoisting Impact Wrestling atop his shoulders. Edwards has his first title defense on Tuesday, as he wrestles The Rascalz’s Trey, another important piece in Impact’s future, in the first of his weekly open challenges.

“I want to carry the company and take us to the next level,” said Edwards. “I know what being a champion is all about, I know what it entails. I want to be the guy the company and everyone in the back can rely on.”

Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson, who are among the new talent to arrive in Impact, provided backup to Edwards at Slammiversary, but that story appeared to pivot last Tuesday on Impact! when the Good Brothers had their own storyline. Edwards was asked if he will be working with Gallows and Anderson.

“Let’s wait and see,” said Edwards, who could headline a pay-per-view against Anderson if the company decides to move in that direction. “They have a lot on their plate, and I’m focused on the belt. We’ll see where it goes.”

Edwards received a rare second chance after Sami Callihan’s misplaced swing with a baseball bat nearly cost him his vision (“It was a few centimeters away from my right eye,” said Edwards). That horrific spot took place over two years ago, and his career and personal life now only look forward. Edwards and his wife, Impact’s Alisha Edwards, adopted their three-year-old niece this past February, adding even more joy to their household. And now, nearly two decades after learning at the hands of Walter Kowalski, Edwards continues to personify his “Die Hard” nickname.

“That’s the way I carry myself, and it’s been that way for my entire career,” said Edwards. “I’m not going to give up, I’ll fight through injuries, I have a die hard mentality. That nickname has defined my career.”

Time will tell if Impact should have acted more boldly and put the belt on Ace Austin after previous champion Tessa Blanchard had her contract terminated following a dispute with the company. Instead, that spot was handed to Edwards, who plans on changing the company’s narrative by bringing stability and credibility to Impact.

“I’ve stayed with Impact for a reason,” said Edwards. “I believe in what we do, I believe in the locker room. I’ve never felt more confident in myself or my company. We’re going to keep coming at you.

“I want to help this company succeed. There is a lot of momentum, and I’m going to do everything I can to ride with it and create some special moments along the way.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.