The last time we spoke, pro wrestler Chris Daniels was in Chicago as a part of the Ring of Honor promotion. We talked about wrestling, comic-books and whether he was a geek or a nerd. But that was over 2 years ago, and now Daniels is back as a member of TNA Wrestling, the Nashville-based promotion that some will say is the remaining major competition to the WWE. The company earns the distinction by boasting a roster with names like Hulk Hogan, Kurt Angle and "The Icon" Sting.
TNA is bringing its brand of wrestling to the Sears Center in Hoffman Estates on Thursday, March 14th, for a live broadcast of IMPACT WRESTLING LIVE, and Chris Daniels will be there as one-half of the "Best Tag Team in the Biz-Ness". Whether he and his tag-team partner Frankie Kazarian will be appearing as TNA Tag Team champions will depend on the results of the triple threat match that they'll competing in at the LOCKDOWN PPV on Sunday, March 10th in San Antonio, TX. They'll be facing off against current champs Bobby Roode & Austin Aries and fellow challengers Hernandez & Chavo Guerrero for the belts.
In advance of his return, I spoke with Daniels from his home in California. This time we talked about the challenges TNA has competing with the WWE; what it's like to work with names like Hulk Hogan and Kurt Angle; and what advice he has for young athletes who want to pursue a career in pro wrestling:
Geek To Me: How have you been?
Chris Daniels: I’ve been great man. Living the dream, like many of us. The success of TNA, of Impact Wrestling, is our success. All is well right now.
Geek To Me: The last time I had a chance to talk to you guys was a while back, for Bound for Glory...
Chris Daniels: It’s been a long time since we’ve been back up in the Midwest, unfortunately, the Chicago area.
Geek To Me: What took you guys so long? Come on!
Chris Daniels: It wasn’t up to me man. If it was I would have been there a lot longer. I’ve got ties in Chicago. I was trained there. I’ve got a lot of family and friends. One of my favorite comic book shops, Challengers, is in Chicago. And I don’t get a chance to visit them as much as I should because of the schedule. Now that we’re coming out to Chicago on the 14th, all those birds are going to be killed with one stone.
Geek To Me: Cool. There are two big things, coming up. The return of TNA to Chicago and you’ve got a match coming up at Lockdown, right?
Chris Daniels: March 10th is Lockdown in San Antonio. As you know, myself and Frankie Kazarian, we are the "Best Tag Team in the Biz-Ness", we’re deep in the hunt for the World Tag Team Championship, being held by Bobby Roode and Austin Aries. And hopefully, when they announce who the #1 Contenders are for those belts, it’ll be myself and Francois. Hopefully we’ll be wrestling for the tag titles at Lockdown. (Note: the match was annnounced after our interview - Elliott)
Geek To Me: You’ve been a singles competitor, and a tag team partner. What are some of the challenges in working in each category, you would say?
Chris Daniels: Well, I feel that most of my success comes, as a singles wrestler, because you only have yourself to blame - and yourself to credit - when you succeed you’re your biggest supporter and when you fail you’re the reason.
But, the truth of the matter is, I’ve also been very successful in tag teams because my mentality is - if you as an individual can put the team ahead of the one - the needs of the individual - that’s the key to succeed.
And I’ve been very fortunate to find someone who is like-minded like myself in Frankie, who understands that if we put all of our efforts into making the team the #1 priority, we’ll get success. We’ve been very fortunate in the last year and a half to sort of rise to prominence in TNA - and professional wrestling - as a duo. We’ve brought a lot of eyes back to TNA - and a lot of attention back to the tag team scene, with our success.
Geek To Me: TNA also has the challenge of distinguishing itself as a brand. Everyone knows about the superpower that is the WWE. You also have the indie scene (ROH, Chikara, Windy City Pro). TNA straddles the two worlds there. What do you think are some of the challenges that TNA faces to make itself a distinguished brand, that can compete with the WWE?
Chris Daniels: Well I think a lot of it has to do with just awareness of the brand, like you said. So many people, especially lapsed wrestling fans from the boom back in the late 90’s - early 2000’s, a lot of wrestling fans sort of went away. And they aren’t really aware that there is another brand now, now that WCW closed and ECW closed. A lot of people went away right after that, and they’re not really aware that there’s another brand out, other than the WWE, just sort of enjoy professional wrestling.
And the truth of the matter is sometimes it’s hard to be different from the WWE when you’re trying to gain those same viewers. Sometimes there’s a tendency to sort of follow in the footsteps of the WWE. And so it’s sort of a fine line where you want to be recognizable as professional wrestling but you also want to set yourself apart from what some people consider the standard of professional wrestling, which is the WWE.
So I think the challenge for us as individuals is try to stand out. Try to get people talking. Try to get that word of mouth out about our product. Not just ourselves but the entire roster as a whole. Trying to get people talking about the differences in our talent. The differences in terms of the stories we’re telling in the ring. Trying to get some buzz about the things that we’re doing.
Geek To Me: It’s not like TNA is lightweight. You’ve got some big names over there. You’ve got Kurt Angle, Sting, Hulk Hogan. Icons in the business. What’s it like being in the locker room with the likes of a Hulk Hogan the day of a house show or a pay-per-view?
Chris Daniels: It’s great, man. I respect the guys immensely. All the roster does. And when you’re standing shoulder to shoulder with these guys, in the trenches, going to the house shows, going to live events, going to TV, going to Pay-Per-views, and you see someone like Kurt Angle who has had immeasurable success in professional wrestling as a whole, going out there and doing his best to try and make people aware of the product, trying to make the product stand out, you can’t help but give 110% in that same respect.
And you can’t just mention those guys, you gotta mention guys like Bully Ray and Devon, the guys who used to be the Dudley Boys, they’ve both had career resurgences in TNA. They’re doing some of the best work of their careers, not just in the ring but also behind the scenes. They’re very hands on, in terms of trying to make our product better. Not just visually, not just in the ring, but also behind the scenes trying to build up brand awareness. Trying to get more people involved, to get people aware of what TNA is doing.
Geek To Me: D'Lo Brown still back there behind the scenes?
Chris Daniels: D'Lo Brown is also there, someone who is very influential behind the scenes, not just at television tapings but also on the road. He’s very influential in terms of the talent that we sign, and bring to TNA and put on our television show.
Geek To Me: I saw him the last time you guys were in Chicago. He’s a great guy. I asked him to do the head shake thing for me. (laughs)
Chris Daniels: Oh yeah, his neck still works that way.
Geek To Me: You’ve been in wrestling for a while, you consider yourself a veteran-
Chris Daniels: Yeah, actually- so twenty years, I’ve been in it for a little bit. I’ve done it for a couple years (laughs).
Geek To Me: So what do you think about the next up-and-coming generation?
Chris Daniels: I can’t help but applaud it, man. They feel the same way about professional wrestling, at least the ones you can recognize that have this in their blood, that make this a priority. Versus the guys that are doing it on the weekends, just doing it for a laugh, doing it to pass the time. It doesn’t take long to figure out the guys who are in it for real, and the guys that are just sort of playing and pretending.
And those guys that are in it for real, for the long haul, I can’t help but respect them. Because they were me, 20, 15 years ago. Trying to make a name. Trying to stand out from the crowd. I mean, it’s very tough, especially on the independent scene, just to sort of stand out, and catch the attention of TNA, of Ring of Honor, of WWE. And the only thing I can tell those guys is the more often you work, the more often you ply your trade, the more likely you are to be seen.
When you become comfortable enough to travel anywhere and everywhere, wrestle anyone and everyone, and get that reputation for being able to work with anyone at any time, that’s when you become a commodity to these promoters. When you get comfortable enough with yourself, to know that you can fly in, two hours after you land you meet someone for the first time, you go out and have a good match with that person. When you’re that comfortable with your own product, with your own work rate - so to speak - that’s when you become valuable. That’s when people start vying for you, to ply your trade in their wrestling match.
Geek To Me: Any other tips you’d like to give a kid who wants to get into pro-wrestling?
Chris Daniels: First of all I tell a guy “finish school.” Have something to fall back on. Because just like acting, or professional sports, or rock and roll, I mean the chance that you’re gonna make money or be successful at this are very slim, just because there are so many people vying for so few spots. So I say finish school, get educated, so you have something to fall back on just in case.
Now, if you’re willing to get into this, if you’re willing to out in the time and effort, find a school that’s reputable. You want to find a school that has that pedigree, guys that have gone on and done things. For example, Team 3D, the Dudley Boys, those guys have a school around the Orlando area, and those guys have been all over the world. They’ve been professionals in WWE, ECW, TNA, and so they know what it takes to wrestle at that top level.
Who do you want to learn from? Guys that have been there and done that? Or guys who have never made it there? Another school is Lance Storm’s, up in Canada. He’s got a great school. He’s also been there and done that. So he can speak with experience on what it takes to get to that top level. He knows what it takes to be seen and heard by those guys, so he can properly guide you in the right direction. Find a school that has that pedigree, that has guys that have walked where you wanna walk.
And then, basically get ready for hard work. I mean, I’m twenty years in the business, I still watch tapes. I still watch matches on Youtube. I’m trying to learn. I watch my old stuff to see what I used to do that worked, that didn’t work. You never stop learning. I found that most of the stuff I’ve learned has been in the trenches, on the road. At wrestling school you learn how to do stuff, but once you’re performing in front of wrestling fans, in front of those live crowds, that’s where you learn when you do stuff, why you do stuff to tell a proper story, an entertaining story, to go out and give wrestling fans their money’s worth in terms of entertainment.
Understand that even on a day when you’re not wrestling you’re still working. Every day that I’m not wrestling I try to make sure that my job is to go to the gym, and try and better myself , whether it’s physically lifting weights, or mentally by sitting down watching stuff, and trying to think of different things or different ways to be entertaining, to stand out and get people to talk about the things that you’re doing in the ring. It’s all part of that game. Part of improving and never resting on your laurels.
Geek To Me: Finally, what would you like to say about the IOC dropping wrestling from the 2020 Olympics?
Chris Daniels: I think it’s a rash decision. If you take a step back and look at wrestling, in terms of its place in the games and how long it’s been a sport in the Olympics, first some of the sports they decided to keep, it’s sort of ludicrous.
As much support as wrestling has had in the last couple days, since the announcement of this, I’d be very surprised if the Olympic Committee followed through with this. I know this is still sort of in the talking stages. I know it’s going to be at the next games, 2016, and they’re talking about taking it out for the 2020 games.
I’d be surprised if they followed through after all the support of guys like Kurt Angle, Gerald Briscoe, guys that never made it as far as Kurt did in the amateur ranks, but still went through it. Those guys have an appreciation for the sport.
Guys like AJ Styles and Shane Helms, those guys had backgrounds in amateur wrestling and it’s near and dear to their hearts. That sport guided them into professional wrestling. I know that they feel very, very strong about it. As one who dabbled in it back in high school, I don’t have the ties to it like Kurt or AJ or Shane, it’s sort of silly to say that it doesn’t belong in the Olympics.
Geek To Me: Thanks for taking the time to talk!
TNA LOCKDOWN AIRS ON PAY-PER-VIEW SUNDAY, MARCH 10TH
TNA IMPACT LIVE AIRS ON SPIKE TV THURSDAY, MARCH 14TH