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March 09, 2016

Christopher Daniels opens up about his role in Ring of Honor, NXT and coming back to Philly

Wrestling Ring of Honor
030916_ringofhonor_ROH Ring of Honor/for PhillyVoice

Christopher Daniels hits a cross body block off the top rope during a match in Ring of Honor.

Christopher Daniels wears many hats now in Ring of Honor, his new permanent wrestling home. The “Fallen Angel” is 45-years old, but he wrestles like he’s still in his 20s with his quickness, agility and knack for storytelling throughout a match that have drawn the appreciation of wrestling fans worldwide through the years.

Ring of Honor returns to Philly on Saturday night at the 2300 Arena, and Daniels will participate in a Triple Threat Match with his partner, Frankie Kazarian, against two of the hottest tag teams in professional wrestling today, the Young Bucks [Nick and Matt Jackson] and the Machine Guns [Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin]. But he’ll also be helping out the other talent throughout the card because Daniels has taken on a sort of “agent” role he says in order to teach today’s crop of wrestlers to become the best they can be. It’s something Daniels takes seriously, and you’ll see why.

Daniels spoke with PhillyVoice ahead of Ring of Honor coming back to its old stomping grounds this weekend.

PhillyVoice: Ring of Honor is coming back to Philly this weekend, and I wanted to start out by asking what coming back to the birthplace of ROH means to you personally and professionally?

Christopher Daniels: Well, first of all, the fact that Ring of Honor started in Philly literally blocks away from where we’re gonna be Saturday night – Ring of Honor, there is, I feel, a strong fan base and they’ve always supported us even when we were at the Murphy Recreational Center. So, the chance to wrestle in front of the Philadelphia fans, to me, it just proves that Ring of Honor is doing something right. You know, we always like to come and wrestle in front of that fan base and just sort of show our appreciation for their support over the years.

As far as Philadelphia wrestling goes, I think the Arena itself is sort of synonymous with it, and the opportunity for us to go there and put on the shows we’ve been doing the last couple years, it means a lot for us to be able to go there and get the support that we get and sort of add to the history of Philadelphia wrestling.

PV: You and your tag team partner, Frankie Kazarian, are scheduled to face the Young Bucks and Machine Guns in a Triple Threat Tag Team match on Saturday night. Are you expecting to steal the show?

CD: It’s tough to say you’re going to steal the show when you have such a talented roster as Ring of Honor [does], but we certainly have the table set to be the show stealer. If there’s a more popular tag team right now in the world of wrestling than the Young Bucks, I don’t know who it is. The reformation of the Machine Guns definitely will have a lot of focus on the next couple matches. I feel like Frankie and I are sort of the main antagonists in the company right now. As far as a team that’s going out there and trying to be the people that are the number one road block to the World Tag Team Championship, I feel like we’re doing a really good job at this point of being the team that people really hate, and that’s really awesome. It’s tough in Ring of Honor – as talented as everyone is – sometimes it’s hard to make the fans really feel a visceral emotion like hate towards you. They really appreciate your work, and they love the athleticism of pro wrestling, but sometimes the Ring of Honor fans don’t really remember what it’s like to really dislike somebody and I feel like me and Frankie right now are in that boat where we’re really disliked by the fan base of Ring of Honor, which is awesome.

PV: It seems like in today’s wrestling, that’s really hard to do. So, when you can get the fans to hate you as a heel, it feels like a bonus to your job out there.

CD: Yeah, and especially in that company, too. The style of wrestling lends itself to the appreciation of the hardcore fan. They understand what it takes to get to Ring of Honor. You can’t help but appreciate it. That’s something I’ve dealt with my whole career – trying to be the bad guy in Ring of Honor – and they appreciate the fact that you’ve worked for 20+ years, you know, they respect you. Sometimes it’s hard to forget that respect and just go out and boo the bad guys and cheer the good guys. I feel like Frankie and I at this point are getting past the respect they have for us and getting to genuine dislike. We’ve accomplished something that’s not easy to accomplish, especially in Ring of Honor and with the roster we have.

PV: Moving to the guys that you used to have five-star classics with in Samoa Joe, Austin Aries, James Storm and AJ Styles that are now with NXT and WWE respectively, did you ever consider going to NXT after leaving TNA? Was there ever an offer on the table by WWE?

CD: I honestly didn’t think there was any interest from WWE. It was 2014 when I left TNA, and I sort of assumed – because I’ve spoken so many of my friends who tried to get into NXT and were told they were a little too old, and the people I’m talking about are younger than me – so I just basically assumed that it might be a little too late in the game for me to start with NXT. That may not be the case in terms of being a trainer, but at that point, I didn’t feel like I was ready to give up doing the in-ring part of it. I felt like it was more of a natural fit for me to go to Ring of Honor, especially in the last couple of months having signed a contract with them, I feel like it’s just more of a fit for what I want to do right now. Being able to be in the ring and still wrestling, in addition to helping out behind the scenes and sort of helping shape the younger talent, I feel like that certainly is more in line with what I want to do. That was the opportunity that I wanted to take.

PV: Do you still keep in touch with a lot of your friends from TNA that have gone to NXT?

CD: I texted [Samoa] Joe and AJ [Styles] the last couple months just to let them know that even though they’ve moved on, I’m proud of all the stuff that they’ve done and I’m happy they’re doing so well. And I wanted to let them know we’re still supporting them even though we’re different rosters and different locker rooms, they’re still my friends. And I’m happy things are going so well for them in NXT and WWE.

PV: Seeing Daniel Bryan retire early due to his repeated concussions must have been really hard for you to see that, especially being one of his good friends. You had a severe neck injury years ago but relatively have remained healthy since. Have you dealt with anything that made you think about the possibility of retiring from the ring earlier than you wanted?

CD: The neck injury was serious back in the day, but nothing that made me consider retirement. I never had concussions the way Bryan has, either. So, I’ve been really fortunate in that respect. When I hurt my neck in 2001, it certainly set me back and made me think, but since that time I’ve been very fortunate. I don’t want to say I changed my style, because I didn’t really change it, but I was very much more aware of the risk-taking and I feel like I’ve wrestled a smart style since then. Very rarely have I ever undertaken anything that I wasn’t sure I’d be okay to do. And that’s not to say that Bryan didn’t, but for me, I feel like a lot of it for him was that he was under such a heavy schedule that that certainly contributed to him retiring as early as he did. Accidents do happen, and I know a couple of the concussions that he had, there’s no defense for it. It just happens. As hard as we train – and we try to be very safe – and especially those guys that are working at least five times a week, of course they’re working safe and they’re working smart. But, I mean, just the law of averages, after a while it just sort of catches up to you and I think that’s what happened with Bryan. I’ve been very fortunate to sort of avoid that and my schedule is certainly a lot lighter than his, and I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to keep going up into my – I’m almost 46 – that’s one of the reasons I feel like I’ve been kept healthy.

PV: You mentioned earlier how you’ve taken a bigger role in Ring of Honor. Does that include trying to get young talent to change their style if you feel that it’s unsafe?

CD: There hasn’t been a situation that’s arisen where I’ve had to tell guys to change their style. I feel like what I’m better at is just telling guys to be smart ahead of time and not reacting to the injury. If I feel like guys are being dangerous with themselves or with their opponent, I’ll pull them aside and let them know we’re all in this for the long haul. So, for the sake of one spot or one match, it’s not worth it to potentially injure yourself or your opponent. That’s just common sense, but sometimes you just get so caught up, especially guys who are trying to make a name for themselves. They want to push the envelope and they want to be noticed and make an impact. You have to sort of pull them away from that edge and tell them it’s not worth it. It’s better to be long-term than to make a short splash for whatever reason. There hasn’t been anything so far in Ring of Honor where I’ve had to tell guys, ‘This is gonna hurt you. This is bad in the long run.’ As athletic and acrobatic as those guys are, I feel like they’re still working within the limits that they set for themselves and nobody’s really going out there recklessly – and in this day and age, people are well aware of the dangers of that sort of stuff, and so they’re very cautious, even though it may not seem like it to the naked eye, it seems like they’re out there risking their lives – they’ve got control that they’re exerting over themselves.

PV: That brings me to the entire landscape of pro wrestling. With WWE, NXT, TNA, Ring of Honor and Lucha Underground, there’s so much wrestling for the fans to see in today’s world, not including the various independent promotions that are becoming more and more relevant with YouTube and internet pay-per-views.

CD: I think the professional wrestling industry is very healthy. There’s plenty of options. With the advent of things like Lucha Underground and a lot more of the independent promotions becoming relevant, it just widens the choices that the wrestling fan has. I think Lucha Underground has been one of those things that has caught the eye of a lot of the wrestling fans, and there are some that find that Lucha Underground really isn’t their cup of tea, but the truth of the matter is that if it hadn’t become such a force on television the way that it has and people didn’t know about it, it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. But, it is a big deal. It’s another place for guys to work. Despite the different business plan that they have where their television show is episodic rather than a live event market, it’s still a place where guys are getting an opportunity to go out there and make a name for themselves in pro wrestling and make a living doing what they love to do.

I think people are starting to realize that wrestling is an art form. I think what fits inside the term “professional wrestling” is a little bit wider. It’s not cut and dry. There’s so many different styles of wrestling and so many different styles of actual wrestlers themselves that it’s a much broader term. There’s a lot of differences between the current stars as opposed to 30-40 years ago, where there might have been two or three different types of wrestlers. There’s so many different types now and so many different things that are working on a national level that I think it’s a much more interesting time to watch professional wrestling. You know, the advent of really strong tag teams in Ring of Honor, the different types of characters – not just Ring of Honor – but TNA, WWE, Lucha Underground [has]. I mean there’s so many different styles, so many different characters out there that I feel like it’s a good time to be a professional wrestling fan. You basically have a buffet of wrestling that you can pick and choose from and follow your favorite characters and follow your favorite wrestlers and get the best wrestling in the world from so many different avenues.

PV: I left out New Japan Pro Wrestling earlier, which is now on in America every week on AXS TV, and now that they have Jim Ross as their commentator, it seems like they’re making a push to gain some steam in the United States now.

CD: Absolutely. The last year and a half has been a great growth period for them in terms of their fan base in the States. I think that’s one of the benefits of being partnered with them in Ring of Honor, you know, there’s a lot of our stars going over there and there’s a lot of their stars coming here. It’s a true talent exchange. We’ve really had a lot of success with the Japanese wrestlers coming here and being embraced by our fan base. And then guys like Michael Elgin and the Briscoes getting a chance to go over to New Japan and succeeding there. I think it’s a great opportunity and certainly widens the spotlight on both companies globally.

PV: I’ve been watching you perform for years and it seems like you never miss a beat in the ring. Is it easier now or harder as you get older to continue to perform at the level you have been for years?

CD: I understand that I’m getting up there [in age], and this certainly is a young man’s game. But I think part of the challenge for me – and a lot of that is pride – I challenge myself to try to be able to keep up with guys that are anywhere from five to 15 years younger than me. That’s the challenge that I have – still being relevant and still being able to go in there with guys that are younger with me and physically can do more. How do I compete with that? And the answer to me has always been my experience. I know what I do well. I know how to feature guys that are younger than me as my opponents. I know how to tell interesting stories with that dichotomy. The fact that I’m, comparatively speaking, so much older but so much more experienced, as well. I think that’s one of the things that’s interesting – especially with this new character, the ring general that I am – that I feel is it’s not just a character, it’s real life. That’s what I’m doing. I’m relying on my experience to remain at the top. And there are still physical aspects to it and that’s something that I’m pushing every day in trying to keep up with these guys physically, but at the same time using my experience to sort of fill in the blanks and in conjunction with my physicality, being able to make a relevant character and an entertaining performer.

PV: You mentioned earlier the bigger role you’ve taken on within Ring of Honor as a mentor and helping teach the younger talent. Do you want to talk a little bit about some of the other things you do behind the scenes?

CD: It would be easy to say I’m an agent, but it doesn’t really encompass what I’m doing. I try to help creatively. I try to, I guess, fine tune things. I’m not on the booking committee, but I certainly get a chance to talk to the guys that are doing the booking and give my two cents and try to fine tune. I think one of the things that is very positive about Ring of Honor is that the guys that are involved in terms of creating are very open to suggestions and they want to hear opinions. A lot of times we sit and kick ideas back and forth and there’s not an ego about that. It’s just the experience of bringing the ideas to the table and sort of seeing which one works and I think that’s one of the reasons that we’re being successful right now. Nobody’s got a real ego about whose idea is working or anything like that. It’s just a matter of what works best and in my experience, I’m certainly willing to see the point of someone who has a better plan at the top. And that’s one of the reasons I feel that our success is right now.

In addition to helping out creatively, I’m also helping guys out in terms of my experience with wrestling television matches and sort of working within the confines of TV and the time constraints. Trying to get the most out of six, eight, ten minutes, depending on how long these matches get to be, you know, just trying to whittle down to the essence rather than guys just going out and doing stuff for the sake of doing it. You know, trying to get to the essence of the match and the essence of the guys’ characters and trying to sort of get rid of the dilution of it and trying to get to the important stuff. I try to help guys figure out what that is for each one of them and get the most out of it.

PV: That certainly doesn’t sound easy.

CD: It’s different for everybody. In the end, all of my advice is based on my opinion. I try to tell guys up front that I don’t know everything. I wish I did, but I don’t. And all I can give is my opinion and my reasoning as to why I think my opinion works. Certainly I give guys the option, you know, this is what I think works. But in the end, it’s their match. And there are times when I tell guys go and do it this way, I wouldn’t do it like that, and if it works, then great. If it doesn’t, great, that’s why I didn’t think it would work. But, I mean, I’ve gone out and given guys my opinion and found out that they didn’t listen and it ended up working for them. And I think that’s part of the process I’m going through, too. You know, I’m a guy that was trained in the 1990s. Sometimes it’s hard to sort of let go of the idea of what you thought was right and it’s changed and wrestling has grown and evolved. It’s tough at times to admit it’s changing. What worked ten years ago might not work today. That’s something I’m going through as a performer and as someone who’s trying to help build the company and build the singular talent within the company, understanding and realizing that I don’t know everything. That’s something I try to let these guys know. My opinion is such, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right. So much of the stuff that we learn is through trial and error. The good thing is that a lot of these guys take my opinions and use what works for them, and that’s all I could really ask for. For them to at least consider my opinion and use it if they think it works, and if it doesn’t, like I said, I don’t know it all.

PV: When you look at TNA, which you helped put on the map, do you have any strong feelings about the company, whether it’s good or bad, given that you left the company a couple years ago?

CD: I know they’re going through a tumultuous time right now with the changes in their television home the last two years. I’ve always held out hope that would all settle down and more people could focus on the actual guys in the ring. I feel like that’s always been one of their strong suits is the people that they put in the ring. A lot of my friends are still wrestling there and I wish them the best and I hope that whatever troubles that TNA may suffer behind the scenes, I hope that they can get past all that and focus again on building TNA as a brand with the talent they’ve got in the ring. I can’t really comment with any sort of intelligence on what they’re going through. All I can tell you is what I see from the outside. I don’t know what struggles, or what would end the struggles that they’re going through. The one thing that’s always been a positive for them is their in-ring talent. It’s just a matter of being able to focus creatively and building your brand and your talent.

PV: I read today that you’re playing the character Deacon at the WaterWorld Stunt Show at Universal Studios in Hollywood. Is that right?

CD: Yes, sir. That’s correct. I just started doing that last month.

PV: Is that kind of a stepping stone to acting when you’re retired from the ring or are you just doing that for fun?

CD: It’s actually really a lot of fun. My degree from college is in Theater. And my goal before I got into wrestling was acting. So, I mean, I’ve always sort of flirted with it. Living in California, it’s very close. I realize at heart, I am a performer. And even when I’m done wrestling, I still want to perform in some way, shape or form. So this was something that I had the opportunity to audition for and I got the role. This is a very stunt-heavy show, so this is an avenue for me to get in to start work in acting and I’m working with a lot of great stunt coordinators and a lot of great performers and hopefully – now that I’m just doing Ring of Honor, and my schedule for them is sort of set, I don’t want to say I have a lot of free time, but I mean, I have a lot of dates that I can sort of commit to this WaterWorld show – sort of build my résumé back up in terms of the acting world. That was the plan. I’m sure it’s something I can do once I’m done wrestling. It’s a very strenuous show, but I’m not having a problem keeping up with it. If I can continue to work there and work with these great stunt coordinators and performers, if it opens doors for me on other sets in some way, shape or form, you know, that’s a positive. And hopefully that’s sort of the plan in addition to continuing to work with Ring of Honor either in the ring or behind the scenes to sort of branch out in acting and start working and build my résumé while I’m out here in California as well.

It’s one of the longest running shows at Universal and one of the highest rated as well. I’ve realized that they’re in the 20th year of the show and it’s one of the most popular attractions of the park. It’s very cool to be a part of that and contribute to the history of the show. It’s a lot of fun. So far, everybody’s enjoying what I’m doing there, so if they enjoy it as much as I do, it’s a win-win for everyone.

PV: What are you looking forward to the most when you return to Philly this weekend?

CD: Just watching the Arena fill up. When the doors are closed and then seeing the doors open and the people filter in, you start to feel that electricity live and feel that temperature start to rise. And you know that the people are in for a good show. That’s one of the great things about working at the Arena. It’s such an intimate atmosphere. The last couple years, with all the upgrades they’ve done to the Arena, it certainly looks made for television and there’s a great energy from that crowd. To come in and wrestle in front of them and just watching the Arena fill up with some of the most hardcore wrestling fans in the world is what I’ll be looking forward to the most.

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