Ace Austin is one of pro wrestling’s rising stars, and he looks to take the next step of his climb by winning the X Division Championship at Impact Wrestling’s Sacrifice show Saturday evening.
Challenging reigning champ TJP, the bout has potential to be the match of the night. Austin—who is 24-year-old Austin Highley—already had one run with the X Division gold, and this marks another chance to show his value to Impact.
Austin is currently showcasing his versatility working with Madman Fulton, as the two have combined to create one of the industry’s most compelling tandems. His style and approach are a product of the persistence, resilience and tenacity taught by the Wild Samoans, where he began training in 2014.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated, Austin discussed his climb to stardom and the match with TJP, while also addressing rumors that Sammy Guevara chose not to wrestle him in Impact.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Sports Illustrated: You were extremely close to winning the world title this past summer at Slammiversary, a match that ended up being won by Eddie Edwards. Has it been an adjustment to move away from the world title scene, or is it easier knowing you will eventually re-establish yourself in that picture?
Ace Austin: Right after Slammiversary, I jumped into the tag title picture with Madman Fulton. I was so confident the world title was going to be mine at Slammiversary. Coming off a run where I was so successful, on the independents and in Impact, that was difficult, but I want to make everything I do special.
SI: Wins and losses represent a unique aspect of pro wrestling. There was serious talk about making you the world champion, but ultimately, that is not a decision you make. If given that opportunity, are you ready to carry Impact as world champion?
AA: 100%, and I was ready at Slammiversary. I was ready to become the youngest world champion in the history of this company, and that’s something I am still pursuing. But there was one good thing that came out of my loss at Slammiversary. I call myself “The Inevitable”, and that means it is only a matter of time before I am world champion. So it is inevitable that this eventually happens.
SI: The inevitable inevitably occurs, especially in your case, with the amount of work you have put into your look and in-ring performances. Is it your work ethic that has given you such a tremendous confidence in the ring?
AA: It’s all about my confidence. Now as a young person coming into wrestling, you say very little and spend your time proving yourself. That’s what I did for the first four years of my career—stay humble and keep my mouth shut, then light it up once the lights come on. When I became X Division Champion in 2019, that’s when I was able to really show that confidence. That mentality, that constant confidence, is vital for me.
SI: Confidence and creativity are on display with you and Madman Fulton, who is also an incredible talent. From watching your work together, it is clear you have both committed to make this pairing and partnership distinct.
AA: I’m glad you said that. I have spent so much time working on this, and I refuse to do it in a cookie-cutter way. No matter what the directions say, I choose to do this in a way no one has ever done this before. At the beginning of my career, I didn’t know how to harness that. Now I’ve found way of exuding that.
SI: Creatively, what have you enjoyed most about working with Fulton?
AA: The way it’s been so organic. Viewers got to watch us become a team in real-time. Fulton had some tag experience, I had next to none, but the fact that we’ve thrived under pressure is a testament to our work. It’s all felt so natural to me, and we’ve continued to grow together. It was a situation we were both unsure about at first, so we focused on telling our story in as real a way as possible to connect with people.
SI: You’ve often been compared to AJ Styles, the first-ever X Division Champion. Styles is one of the greatest ever. Is that comparison overwhelming?
AA: I’m constantly compared to AJ Styles, and I’m compared to the best because I am the best. But it’s like your earlier question. I’m compared to him, but I am not in his shadow. I’m creating something special my own way.
SI: I know TJP is infuriating on social media, but the reason he is with Impact is due to his work in the ring—and with your history, he is a critical part of your story in Impact. What excites you most about the story behind this match?
AA: I’m so, so glad you brought this up. My career coming full circle with this X Division title match. This is where I first made my stamp on the industry when I became X Division Champion in 2019. That was my launching point after the independents. Then when I first started with Impact, I was undefeated for months, until TJP returned. He beat me in two or three minutes, ended my undefeated streak, and then he tapped me out in the rematch. He was that first real obstacle for me. His work is so smooth and so great, so this is a monumental matchup for me at Sacrifice. It’s the culmination of my Impact career thus far, and it’s going to allow me to get my wheels back on track to becoming the face of this company.
SI: A big part of Impact’s programming is the current crossover with AEW and New Japan. There were reports that AEW star Sammy Guevara opted not to work with Impact, allegedly balking at losing a match to you. As far as you know, is there any truth to this? And will you and Sammy eventually meet in the ring?
AA: We never really know the full situation. All I know is that the public is excited to witness an encounter between myself and Sammy Guevara. That encounter is inevitable. I’m disappointed that it hasn’t happened yet, but that time will come.
SI: I know you are proud of your roots in Pennsylvania, and you still work at the Hot Topic store back home. That job pre-dates your time in pro wrestling, and it is also a pretty accurate representation of your loyalty to those that support you.
AA: They’ve been so good to me. I’ve never had a reason to leave. They’ve always been so supportive, and it’s coming up on 10 years with the company.
And I’m very proud of being trained by the Wild Samoans in Pennsylvania. I still remember my first day, officially, of training, which was May 27, 2014, under the great Samu, and my debut was the next April. Shortly after that is when I started spending time in New Jersey in the CZW Dojo. I’m extremely proud to represent where I come from.
SI: Sacrifice is a such a great opportunity for you to show why you belong as a premier name discussed in the industry’s present and future. What motivates you most about Sacrifice?
AA: This my chance to make history. This is the life I’ve always wanted to live in wrestling, having success and making history. I am a reason to watch Impact Wrestling every week, and with all this crossover stuff going on, Sacrifice is a chance for me to make a statement that none of it moves forward without Ace Austin.