Christopher Daniels Interview
Now in his 20th year in professional wrestling, TNA star Christopher Daniels has travelled the world, worked his way up from the independent scene to perform in pay-per-view main events… and single-handedly brought the Appletini to a whole new audience. On the eve of his tag team title elimination match as Slammiversary in Boston, we sat down with the Fallen Angel to talk about career longevity, TNA’s Pay-Per-View schedule, the wrestler he’d like to work with most and the dream of being World Champion. Oh, and the small matter of a TNA Versus WWE cross promotion event…
“When guys find their stride it’s because they’re playing as close to themselves as they can…”
I’m inteviewing Christopher Daniels as he approaches a pretty big milestone in his career. This Sunday’s Slammiversary event from TNA will be the first Pay-Per-View Daniels has competed in since marking his 20th anniversary in wrestling. When asked to think back to starting out in his career and recalling if he imagined still being an active competitor 20 years on, he’s in a reflective mood. “I mean, we all hope that we have those long careers,” he explains. “But I had no idea what I’d be doing 20 years after I started, to be honest with you. I mean I hoped I’d be successful. But it starts to creep up on you, the years that you’re in it. All of a sudden you realise you’ve been in it for a good portion of your life.”
Indeed since making his debut in April of 1993 in Windy City Wrestling, it’s been a long journey for the Michigan-born Daniels. “I’ve been real fortunate, especially the last couple of years with TNA and especially tagging with Frankie – things have been going really well so I’m just going to carry on doing it,” he said.
“I’ve been real fortunate that the bulk of my career has been full time. It was full-time for me starting in ’99 – the middle of ’99 was when it became my full-time career versus having a job and wrestling on the weekends. For the better part of 14 of those 20 years, this is how I’ve earned my living, which is sort of the goal. You know, I wasn’t sure how successful I was going to be – I don’t think anyone is when they first get in – but the goal was to earn my living doing what I like to do, and so far that’s what I’m doing now. 14 years plus.”
With a theatre training background and ambitions to be an actor, I asked if the move from performing on stage to in the ring wasn’t that big a sidestep after all. “It’s a physical sidestep for sure,” he replied. “But I think one of the things having a theatre background helped me was in terms of projecting to the audience and being aware that not everybody there is close. You’ve got to project to the back row. When you’re on television, you’re playing towards the camera, but at the live events, you’re playing to everybody that’s in the arena. You need to be able to sort of reach the back row with your story, as well as the front row. It really taught me to play to the bulk of the crowd and to make everyone accessible to the stories and the emotions you’re telling.”
It’s a story that’s definitely reaching wrestling fans. His partnership with fellow Bad Influence member Frankie Kazarian has provided some of the most memorable moments in recent TNA history, and after a little prodding, modestly accepts the compliment. “We’re doing real well,” he accepts. “We’re fortunate that they’ve given us the ball and let us run with it. I think it’s like any success story in terms of wrestling, when guys find their stride it’s because they’re playing as close to themselves as they can. The truth of it is what you see on television is the way Frankie and I are in everyday life: we act up, we’re snarky, smartass guys. Behind the scenes, when we’re travelling in a car together, when we’re in the locker room before to go out to wrestle – we’re basically playing ourselves. That cliché of turning it up to 11 – that’s basically what we’re doing. We’ve been real fortunate that it found an audience, both with our fan base and with the creative team in TNA.”
It’s that same creative team that allows Daniels and Kazarian to bring ideas to the table for pushing their heel characters in new directions – most notably seen during a recent UK tour where the pair came to the ring, Braveheart-style, with kilts and blue face paint – much to the annoyance of the English crowd. “That was a Frankie idea,” admits Daniels. “A lot of the Throwback Thursdays (where he and Kazarian mimic wrestlers of the past) and the things that we’ve done, they really have come from one of us going “So do we have the guts to do this?” and the other one saying “Of course we do”. That was one of Frankie’s gems. Once one of those things come around, we’ll brainstorm, we’ll kick it back and forth and think how we can make it as entertaining as we can. So far we’ve been very fortunate that all of our shenanigans and antics have found an audience.”
“One of the things we try to do is be one step ahead of the curve in terms of what people expect to see. The Throwback Thursday thing, it’s one of the things we’ve done that has been just surprising for the crowd. So much of the stuff that we’ve done is stuff that Frankie and I decided we’d surprise everybody with. We’ve been real lucky that it’s all gotten over really well and we can continue to do that sort of stuff.” Indeed Daniel’s is the only wrestler in history to come to the ring sipping on a Appletini cocktail whilst the majority of his audience take gulps of beer from plastic cups. Moreover, their recent parody of teams like the Road Warriors (secretly sincere tributes born out of respect for the older stars, admits Daniels), have made for incredibly entertaining TV.
“I still try to be somebody you could actively root against.”
In fact, when pressed on which wrestlers influenced him the most growing up, the list is a virtual hall of fame. “Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, the Road Warriors, back before the NWA became WCW, that early time, right around the time of the first Starrcade – that was what I was growing up watching,” he recalls. “I grew up watching the guys whose in-ring work was the most important thing. That’s affected my career. I’m very cognisant of the fact that, in spite of this being sports entertainment, at the end of the day it’s still wrestling. So I’ve been very aware of putting that first and foremost. The last couple of years, having said that, I’ve been putting an emphasis on the character, how I am as a character, how I am on the microphone, trying to play a character that the people can get against and rally against. And I think that being with Frankie has helped in that sense.”
As a high-profile comicbook fan, I asked how reading stories of superheroes and villains crossed over into the character he adopts in the ring. For Daniels, the link is clear: “We are telling stories, and I mean at the end of the day wrestling is good versus evil – it’s a morality play, and we’re doing it in front of the fans. It doesn’t matter how colourful you are, or how entertaining you are in the story – if it’s good versus evil, I’m very aware of trying to be somebody that, whether or not you laugh or enjoy my antics, I still try to be somebody you could actively root against, versus the cool heel that, the too cool for school kind of bad guy.” So no danger of a Steve Austin-style heel-to-face turn any time soon then? “I personally think I’m better suited as a heel, but I’m also a team player. If something came around and it made sense, I would certainly do whatever the company wanted me to do. Just as a personal preference, I feel like it’s easier for me and my work lends itself to me being the villain.”
Apart from the times he pulled double-duty and also wrestled as Suicide, the masked wrestler that originated in the TNA Impact! video game back in 2008? “Those days are way behind me now so I don’t have to worry about those,” he quickly says. Continuing, he adds: “It was a challenge: working under a mask certainly has it’s challenges. That was one of those times that I was certainly doing one for the team. Frankie and I both had our time under the hood and now the company have decided to let a third party play that game, so we’ll see where it takes him.”
“Frankie and I both had our time under the hood and now the company have decided to let a third party play that game”
Many wrestling fans were surprised to see an uncredited Daniels training in the Barry W. Blaustein 1999 documentary Beyond The Mat. When asked what he thinks of the feature length look inside the world of pro wrestling, he reflects for a moment before replying. “I think they picked their subject, and they did it pretty well. Especially the try-out matches that Mike Modest and Tony Jones had, you know, that was a pretty accurate account of those guys trying to get their foot in the door. I think it’s become sort of the thing now for guys to take their own stories and tell them their own way. I mean Nigel McGuinness is a perfect example of that with his Last of the McGuinness documentary. Having known Nigel for a long time, having shared locker rooms with him both in Ring of Honor and TNA, I know he’s an interesting guy, I wish him a lot of success with what he’s doing now in Ring of Honor. He’s a perfect example of guys that aren’t waiting for documentary film makers to shoot them as their subject. They’re telling their own stories – Colt Cobana and his Wrestling Road Diaries is another example of that. Guys are doing it themselves, getting their stories told and getting it out there to the fans in the ways that they know how – the way that’s best for them.”
“I don’t think there’s anybody in the company that doesn’t aspire to be World Champion at some point…”
There’s a genuine sense of camaraderie and pride in his fellow wrestlers achievements when you talk to Daniels away from the ring – a pride that is equally shared on the work he and Kazarian have put into enhancing the value of the TNA tag titles. “Frankie and I have been deeply entrenched in the saga of the tag team titles for the last year and a half. You know it’s been our goal to be the number one team, not just in TNA but in the world. I think we’ve put a lot of emphasis on those titles to the point where other teams are coming around and making a play for those championships. I’m proud of the work Frankie and I have done.” Rightly so. This brings us very nicely to the four team elimination match at Slammiversary, where Kazarian and Daniels face Aries and Roode, Chavo and Hernandez and James Storm and new partner Gunner for the tag titles.
“Gunner… he is the wild card, he is the dark horse,” Daniels concedes. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with Gunner in the past in a singles capacity, and I know he’s very talented and very strong. How James and he gel as a team is really the big question. Are they going to be a real team like Frankie and I, or are they going to be like two singles guys working on the same side? That’s a question that will be answered at the Pay-Per-View. I think it’s about time for us to regain our championship and keep the emphasis on the tag team titles like we’ve always wanted.”
The conversation turns to the wide range of wrestlers Daniels has worked with over the years. I mention a memorable three way match between him, Steve Corino and Rhino in ECW, through to a Shotgun Saturday Night match with Darren “Droz” Drozdov and a fantastic NWA No Limits Wrestling match with CM Punk that’s thankfully been caught on a fans camcorder (Daniels won). But when it comes to a wrestler he’s yet to work with, but would love to, the answer comes quickly. “I think the one guy that I haven’t had a chance to work with that’s still working is Chris Jericho. He’s the perfect blend of athleticism and his character. He was neither just one or the other – he was a good mix. He could entertain you, he’s great on the microphone When the rubber hit the road and it was time to wrestle, he could carry the end of his match as well. I don’t know if we’ll ever get a chance to share a locker room and work against each other, that’s something that I’ve always held out hope for.”
“I think the one guy that I haven’t had a chance to work with that’s still working is Chris Jericho”
Of course if Dixie Carter’s recent comments about a cross-promotional WWE and TNA event come true, TNA’s Daniels and WWE’s Jericho could do just that. In theory, at least. “I’m not sure if it’ll ever happen – I’d certainly be up for it though. There’d be a lot of attention drawn an event like that. It’s just a case of both companies putting their ego aside and giving the fans something they’re not going to see at any other time. Will it happen?” He pauses. “I think a lot of things would have to change. A lot of things, like the mentality high up would have to change, but never say never. You look at the times when the NWA Champion was wrestling in WWF rings. You had the AWA and NWA World Champs wrestling each other. It happened a long time ago when the walls between companies weren’t quite so high. You always hope that something might change in the future when the walls between those companies might be a little easier to traverse.” We talk of The Rock N’ Roll Express and Heavenly Bodies trading the Smoky Mountain Wrestling tag titles in a WWF ring, and how unique that was for me to see being in a country where access to anything other than the WWF product was virtually non-existent. “It happens a lot overseas,” agrees Daniels. “There’s a lot of cross promotion between companies like NOAH and New Japan and All Japan. It’s highly improbable, but it certainly isn’t impossible.”
Our quick virtual trip to Japan takes us back to the United Kingdom. “I’ll take this opportunity to say thanks to the fans in the UK – you guys are great. Our last trip over was really successful and Frankie and I had a great time. We know that a lot of support for TNA as a whole comes from the United Kingdom and we’ll reward you with a great show on Sunday.” With a setup like that, it’d be practically sacrilege to not push some British talent like Magnus and Rockstar Spud whilst talking to Daniels. So I do just that.
“I’m a big fan of Spud’s work,” he reveals. “Actually I’m a big fan of everyone who took part in British Boot Camp. I think all four of those guys, Marty, the Blossom Twins and Spud have a lot of talent. I would love an opportunity to work with Spud – I think he’s great – and it’s a matter of opportunity coming his way hopefully soon.”
Speaking of time, I ask if the move to four PPV’s a year helps from a storytelling perspective, and allows the wrestlers on the roster the time they need to build storylines and develop characters. “Absolutely man, we’ve definitely got more time to build to bigger matches. When you look at what’s going on with Bully Ray and Sting, all that period of time we’ve had to build that match. We’ll see from buy-rates and the amount of eyes on the product, we’ll if the time we’ve had between Lockdown and this Pay-Per-View has benefited us at all. We’ll see how the experiment is going in the next couple of weeks.”
“There’s a lot of parallels between myself and our current champ Bully Ray…”
With the reference to the impending World Title match at Slammiversary, talk turns to Chris Daniels as a future world champion. “I don’t think there’s anybody in the company that doesn’t aspire to be World Champion at some point,” Daniels confirms. “I’ve got a lot of attention on my career right now, and there’s a lot of parallels between myself and our current champ Bully Ray. We’ve both sort of reinvented ourselves over the course of the last couple of years. It’s benefited him, it’s definitely shot him to the top and I don’t see any reason why I couldn’t follow suit. That’s still the goal. It’s the one thing that’s eluded me. I’ve never really been in a position to have any long-term chances at the World Championship, but it’s definitely something I still strive for. It’s not even when the teaming with Frankie is over with. I believe we could both have chances at being World Champion and still continue being part of the team, it’s just a matter of the opportunity coming up. All I can do is be in the best shape I can be in, be the most prepared I can and hopefully the creative team will decide it’s time for my opportunity.” As one of the most consistent performers in wrestling, it’s surely just a question of time before TNA entrust him with just that.
So as the interview draws to a close, I ask how he’ll spend the time between then and Slammiversary. “A lot of physical work,” Daniels says. “Hitting the gym and getting my mindset right for the show itself. I’m doing a lot of promotion and a lot of interviews. It’s a matter of trying to get the word out – the fans that don’t know about it, we’re trying to get the word out to them, and the fans that do know, we’re telling them they’re in for a big show.”
TNA Slammiversary airs on Sunday 2nd June 2013 at 8PM ET / 5PM PT on Pay-Per-View and online at TNAondemand.com. UK viewers can watch Slammiversary at 10PM on Wednesday 5th June on Challenge Late Zone.