This Sunday at TNA's Bound For Glory pay-per-view event, tag champs Christopher Daniels and Kazarian will defend in a triple threat match against AJ Styles & Kurt Angle, and Chavo Guerrero Jr. & Hernandez.
"The Fallen Angel" -- approaching 20 years in the pro wrestling game -- has had a very interesting road in the business. My colleague Jimi Kee and I had a chance to speak with Daniels:
I know you have a busy weekend ahead, so let’s get right into it.
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I’m actually packing for this weekend you’re talking about, sir. It is a busy weekend and I appreciate your forthrightness, so let’s get to it!
Can you tell us a little bit about how you began your career in professional wrestling?
I was born a small child on a sharecropper’s farm in North Carolina…that’s not true. Actually I grew up in North Carolina, and I was a big fan of the Mid-Atlantic promotion; I grew up watching guys like Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, The Road Warriors, you know, watching actual wrestling happen. And then fast forward to after I graduated college, I lived in Chicago and I always joked with my girlfriend at the time that if this acting thing, which is what I got my degree in college in, I could always be a professional wrestler. Well she found a school in Chicago, Windy City Pro Wrestling, she found the school, made the appointment for me to meet the owner, his name was Sam DeCero, and I went in and talked to him for a short bit of time and my wife says I came out with stars in my eyes. She said I was hypnotized and I decided I was going to give it a shot. I felt like if I went to that wrestling school and failed, at least I could tell my kids, “Hey guys I tried this for a short period of time, it didn’t work out.” But as it happened, because I was such a fan way back in the day, I had a really good frame of reference for my training. I started my training in January of 1993, I had my first match in April of 1993 and the rest is history.
You were a prominent figure in the beginning of the ‘X Division’ in TNA. What made that division special then and where do you see it going now?
Well I think that at the time there wasn’t anything like the ‘X Division’ on television. You just had ECW and WCW sort of close down in the last year or two before TNA came to prominence. And so WCW and ECW, those were the places where you would see guys like Taka Michinoku or Rey Mysterio, Psicosis, or the cruiserweights from WCW; that is where you saw that fast-paced hybrid of Japanese style and Mexican style of Lucha Libre. Once those two companies closed, there wasn’t really an outlet for that style, that fast-paced athletic style. And so, when TNA came around at the middle of 2002, they put emphasis on guys like Low-Ki and Jerry Lynn and A.J. Styles and the Amazing Red. It was different from what you were seeing in the WWE at that time. That was the main difference and because TNA was sort of marketed as the alternative to the WWE, you actually saw the difference in the style of WWE and the style of the ‘X Division’ wrestlers. And now, 10 years later, you’ve got guys like Zema Ion, guys like Doug Williams, guys like Sonjay Dutt, Kenny King, Mason Andrews. ... You’ve got guys that are trying to carry the torch that A.J. lit, that Jerry Lynn lit back in 2002, and these guys are trying to make their name and still trying to push the envelope as far as what constitutes an ‘X Division’ style, that hybrid style that I talked about. ... That Japanese, Mexican, high-flying, high-athletic, high-energy style.”
You mention A.J. Styles. You guys have had a storied history in TNA. What is it about the two of you that makes you both gravitate towards each other in the business?
I don’t know. Ever since A.J. and I met back in 2001, we wrestled at the NWA 53rd anniversary show and not soon after that we wrestled again at the APW ‘King of the Indies’ tournament. I feel like those two matches put us both on the map in terms of what we could do if given a chance to wrestle each other. And so, from those two matches and the birth of Ring of Honor and the birth of TNA, where we had an opportunity to work with each other there as well, I feel like the independent promoters felt like they were going to get their money’s worth if they booked that match. So we wrestled each other all over the United States, we wrestled each other overseas, we wrestled each other in Australia, we wrestled each other in Ireland and England -- so many different places. And now almost 11 or 12 years later, I don’t think there’s another person in this world that I’ve had as many matches with as I’ve had with A.J. and I feel like to this day, despite the fact that we’ve wrestled each other so many times, we both have such pride in our work and our work ethic that we go out there and try to make it different. We try to make each match new and different for the fans who may have been following us for this long, who may have had a chance to see us wrestle each other in Ring of Honor back in 2002 or watched us wrestle for the ‘X Division’ title in 2005 when I had it. It’s us trying to show the world that we’re still growing, still improving as wrestlers and when we face off against each other we try and show the world that we still are two of the best in the world.
You bring up a good point about keeping things new and fresh. You’ve always been someone who’s been able to re-invent yourself as a character. With few talents in the business that are able to that, someone like C.M. Punk comes to mind, how do you find your success in doing so?
It’s just trying different things. I’ve been fortunate in the past year, year and a half where I’ve had a lot of support from the creative team here in TNA. Guys like Eric Bischoff and Jason Hervey have been very instrumental in giving me an opportunity to try different things. You know, when you’ve got that confidence from the supportive guys like that in high places, it gives me more of a confidence to try different things and to try and experiment with stuff and so far I’ve had a lot of success experimenting with these things. For example, the glove I wear to the ring, or carrying an ‘appletini’ around backstage or wearing a scarf as I do. Just these little character nuances that I’m trying to get as a whole piece of this character that you see now as Christopher Daniels. Because I’ve got this good relationship with the creative team, I feel like I’m willing to try and risk myself more. And if I get told “Hey, that doesn’t work,” I’m fine with that. But at least I had the opportunity to try. And when you’ve got that freedom, and you’ve got that creative confidence to try new things, that’s when I think you’re going to hit on certain things. Not every pitch I swing at is going over the fence, but you’re going to miss every shot you don’t take. So I’ve been very confident in the last couple months to try different things because I knew that at least I’ll get an opportunity to be seen to, to be heard and I’ve gone from there.
Before we switch gears here … “Appletini”… where did you get the idea? Where did it come from?
That actually all came from an idea from a promo we did at ‘Slammiversary’ where Frankie (Kazarian) and I raised a toast to our team, and I thought to myself, “Well, what drink could I have that would be instantly recognizable and instantly get some sort of reaction from the fans and the first thing I thought of was the ‘appletini.’ A lot of people mention it was a big deal in the television show “Scrubs." I was a big fan of that show, but I don’t recall specifically thinking, “Oh, it worked for Zach Braff, so I’ll do it!” It was just something that I thought I’d give a try and I had the opportunity to keep doing it, keep having a reason to have an ‘appletini’ in my hand, whether it was backstage or walking to the ring. The more I did that, the more it caught on and now I’m at the point where I go to live events and people are always asking me if they can buy me an ‘appletini.’ "Where’s my ‘appletini’ today?” On Twitter, everyone’s asking about ‘appletinis.’ It’s become one of those little character nuances that I added and thought I would give it a try, and low and behold here it stuck.
You were part of TNA during the early days and now obviously part of its current product. What is the most important thing for TNA to do to continue to grow and take it to the next level so to speak?
I just think it’s a matter of getting more eyes on the product. I think our locker room is the best locker room in the world. I feel like we’ve got the most talent, but if people aren’t watching, and they’re not aware that this show is going on then it doesn’t matter. It’s like if a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it actually make a noise? So I just feel like we’re doing the best we can to get the word out that TNA is available to everybody, we’re only 10 years old, so a lot of casual fans aren’t aware that there’s another wrestling product other than the WWE. So it’s our job to let everybody know that there’s a place where guys like Kurt Angle, A.J. Styles, Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian, Austin Aries, Jeff Hardy, Bully Ray, all these guys, whether they’re stars from the past in WWE or stars that are homegrown like Bobby Roode and James Storm in our company, you know it’s up to us to go out there and try and let everybody know and make everybody aware that there is an alternative to WWE. Like doing this interview with you, doing interviews in the past week. I must have done 30 interviews regarding ‘Bound For Glory,’ and hopefully if I can get five new fans from reading about me in the newspaper or hearing these interviews that I do on podcasts or radio stations. ... If we can get those fans to watch our product just that one time, I think that if they’re real wrestling fans they’re going to stick with the product and the word of mouth is going to spread sooner rather than later and we will have that audience that we desire.
How do you feel the transition has gone since TNA went live on Thursday nights?
I think it’s been great, man. I think we sort of got pushed up against the wall in terms of we were surprised we were going live. There wasn’t a whole lot of turnaround from the announcement to actually going live, so there wasn’t a whole lot of preparation, it was just a matter of “Here we go!” But as far as we, the performers, are concerned, I mean we would do pay-per-view live once a month for the last seven years. So going live every week, there was a little bit of an added pressure, but it wasn’t something we weren’t familiar with already. We just needed to hit our marks; we knew what we had to do.
With a lot of talk in the wrestling world today surrounding the next generation of stars, how do you feel about TNA’s ‘Gut Check’ program?
It’s up to those kids that come in to do ‘Gut Check,’ it’s up to them to be 100 percent and be ready for the opportunity to join the TNA roster. So sometimes they are and sometimes they’re not. To me, as someone who wants to be on television for two hours straight, I look at the opportunity that’s given to some of these guys and I think to myself, “They’re taking time away from me.” So I mean, if they’re going to take time away from me, they better be ready to step up and be a part of TNA from that moment forward you know. So, that to me, if there’s a problem with (Gut Check), it’s that we got to make sure that these guys we’re giving the opportunity to, they’re ready to go. Sometimes they are and sometimes they’re not, but it falls on them. Once they’re given the opportunity, they have to sort of seal the deal. Some have it and some don’t at this point.