With their biggest show of the year, “Bound for Glory” a few short days away, it might be time to give TNA wrestling a second chance.
For years, the “other” wrestling organization has had trouble building stars, delivering satisfying payoffs, and defining its own identity. But now, they seem to have found the right mix of rising talent, established stars, and recognizable legends.
Standing in the middle of TNA’s resurgence with a smirk on his face and an appletini in his hand is one half of the “World Tag Team Champions of the World,” Christopher Daniels.
I had a chance to speak with the “Fallen Angel” in the days leading up to the big show to get his thoughts on his triple-threat title defense, TNA’s new recipe for success, and the Harlem Globetrotters…
Gordon Holmes: It certainly seems like you and your partner Frankie Kazarian have your work cut out for you at “Bound for Glory” this Sunday. Now, I’m fuzzy on the rules of a triple-threat tag, could you give us a quick refresher?
Christopher Daniels: It’s two people in the ring at one time. It can be any two guys of the teams. And basically the first person to score a pinfall wins the match for his team. The problem for a champion in that position is you don’t have to be pinned to lose your title. So, we’re at a very strong disadvantage.
Holmes: That seems ridiculously unfair. Isn’t there someone in TNA management you can complain to?
Daniels: That’s the problem; we’ve been so dominant in the past couple of months that they’ve decided to stack the deck against us. We’ve made enemies in high places. Dixie Carter (the owner of TNA wrestling) has been upset with some of the things we’ve done on “Impact” national television. But, what she can’t deny is they we’re the better team. She can’t send two guys against us, she has to send four.
Holmes: OK, I’m not going to beat around the bush here; why are you so mean to AJ Styles?
Daniels: I’m as good or better than AJ Styles, but I’ve never been given my just due because AJ Styles has been Dixie Carter’s favorite. He’s been the face of TNA ever since the very first day. All I’ve ever said to anyone is, if you give us the same opportunity I’ll do better than AJ Styles. The problem is, he’s been handed things from the very beginning. He’s been give title shots, he’s been given endorsement deals. He’s the favorite son and I’m the stepchild. And that’s why I’m upset, and Frankie Kazarian feels the same way. We’re trying to show the world that AJ Styles is a dirtbag, he’s mean and evil, he’s a bully, and people don’t like to hear that.
Holmes: But c’mon, having Claire Lynch pretend to be pregnant with his child? That’s awful.
Daniels: Well, that whole thing was a ploy from Claire Lynch and her lawyer. Our names were brought into it inadvertently. Frankie and I really had nothing to do with that.
Holmes: Uh huh…
Daniels: History will prove that Frankie and I were nothing but bastions of the truth all along.
Holmes: A likely story, Mr. Daniels.
Holmes: My problem with TNA in the past has been that you’ve got this incredible roster of talented guys from Samoa Joe to AJ to Kurt Angle, Austin Aries, Bobby Roode, Sting, of course the World Tag Team Champions of the World and so on. TNA’s got all the pieces to put on an amazing show, and yet they always seem to come up short. I always felt like there were weird payoffs to the stories or things were dragged out too long. It just never clicked for me. But now, it seems like things are coming together. You’re making new stars, established guys like Bully Ray and Jeff Hardy are stepping up, the Austin Aries X Division storyline had an amazing payoff. Has TNA finally turned the corner?
Daniels: Absolutely. I think in the last year, especially since we’ve gone live, we’ve had a lot of things fall into place for us. We’ve got a great creative unit going on. And in the last nine months with the creative team, they’ve been very open to collaboration. In the past we’ve had guys who’ve never wrestled who tried to steer the ship and they didn’t seem to have a very good grasp on how to do wrestling. Now, this creative team has guys who’ve wrestled in the past and guys who have been writing wrestling for a very long time. And, they come to us and ask for collaboration. Now, every idea we give them isn’t used, but at least they’ve heard our voices. I personally feel like Frankie Kazarian and I have turned the corner as far as performers, as far as a tag team. I feel like we’re the best team going now, I feel like we have the most entertaining matches. When we’re on the microphone, when we’re on camera, I think we’re more entertaining than anyone else when it comes to tag teams.
Holmes: It seems like you two are having more fun. Which maybe seems weird in a form of entertainment that involves kicking people in the face, but I think that kind of chemistry helps the viewer have fun too. As far as collaboration, how much of the appletinis and whatnot came from you guys?
Daniels: That’s 1000% us, man. Everything you see, the little nuisances, the “World Tag Team Champions of the World,” the appletinis, the way we wear the belts, all that is stuff we decided to do because it made us laugh. One guy said something and it made the other guy laugh, then we said, “Well, let’s do that on television.” The creative team is basically letting us do what we think is entertaining.
Holmes: You’re having the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names this sport has ever produced. I turn on Spike TV and I see Christopher Daniels giving grief to Hulk Hogan. What’s it like to get to mix it up with someone you grew up watching?
Daniels: It’s awesome, man. That’s another thing, in the last couple of months they’ve given us an opportunity to be entertaining, not just in the ring but on the microphone. Dealing with guys like Sting, dealing with guys like Hulk Hogan and then behind the scenes dealing with guys like Eric Bischoff and Jason Hervey who are very hands-on with the way they do their stuff. It’s been a big collaboration.
Holmes: You’ve been in this business for almost twenty years now. What kind of advice do you give the new guys?
Daniels: The more that they can wrestle outside of their comfort zone, outside of their backyard…and I don’t mean literally their backyard. If they can get away from where they were trained and wrestle different wrestlers for different promoters. If they become so comfortable with themselves that they can go into a locker room and meet a wrestler for the first time and then two hours later wrestle an entertaining match with that person, that’s when they become a commodity to promoters around the world.
Holmes: If you could go back and give a young Christopher Daniels some advice, what would it be?
Daniels: That’s a good question, man. Just think more on the choices that you’re making. I feel like I did a lot right as far as working with all of the people that I did. I’m very proud that I never burnt a bridge. I never badmouthed a promoter even if I didn’t like what I did for them. I feel like I’ve conducted myself with an air of respectability that is important if you want to remain a commodity. I don’t know…don’t get hurt, maybe?
Holmes: Oh, you’ve jinxed him.
Daniels: Watch out for that flip. Don’t fall down so much.
Holmes: You worked as a character named Curry Man in Japan?
Holmes: For our readers who don’t know the legend of Curry Man, could you give us a quick synopsis?
Daniels: Curry Man is a character based on a Japanese comic book character named Curry Cook. And basically, the mask of Curry Man has a plate of curry and rice that sits atop his head. Now, Curry Man the character enjoys wrestling and he enjoys life. He loves to dance, he loves the women, he loves to make a spectacle of himself. He wears flashy colors. He calls himself the “King of Spice.” And he likes to say he’s hot, he’s spicy, and he tastes great. I myself don’t know how he tastes.
Holmes: Of course.
Daniels: But I’m sure if he was here he’d say that he tastes phenomenal.
Holmes: Now, that’s quite a departure from the Fallen Angel character you were doing in the States. What did playing such an outlandish character teach you?
Daniels: The time I spent as Curry Man taught me to not take myself so seriously and to have fun. Coming up when I did, I took wrestling very seriously. I knew it was a business and I knew the more I put into it the more I’d get out of it. Sometimes I think I took it too seriously. And once I started doing the Curry Man character and relaxing and having fun with it in terms of doing the dancing and doing the comedy of it, I learned that I could be entertaining and be a draw without taking it so seriously. It took a big burden off of my shoulders.
Holmes: You’re telling me that a masked man dancing with a plate of curry on his head can’t be serious?
Daniels: You’re not curing cancer. And if you’re having fun, the fans are having fun. It’s sort of infectious.
Holmes: That raises an interesting question in that one of the criticisms of the X Division style is that it’s more centered around amazing maneuvers than fun and storytelling. Did your time as Curry Man help you appreciate the more character-based side of the business?
Daniels: Yeah, but I think the X Division has its audience as well. The audience that appreciates athleticism and high-energy wrestling, that’s going to be their thing. For me, growing up watching guys in the NWA, guys like Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes and the Road Warriors, I felt like those guys put wrestling first. They were still characters, but in the end when it came time to wrestle, they could go. Ric Flair was wrestling 90-minute matches against guys like Barry Windham. In the last couple of years I’ve paid more attention to how I was being outside the ring as far as the character, as far as entertainment-wise.
Holmes: Your Fallen Angel character has definitely enjoyed a few added dimensions recently. Was that a conscious decision to let a little more of yourself out?
Daniels: It was. When I first started doing the Fallen Angel character I thought it was going to touch a lot of people because most everybody has a strong sense of their place in religion. But in hindsight, it was more of a character I was playing versus a character that I actually was. I thought that was the downfall of the Fallen Angel character, so to speak. Me being me now, being somewhat of a smart ass, that’s more of who I am. It’s me amplified.
Holmes: Who do you think will be the next big thing in TNA? And you can’t pick yourself or AJ or Aries or Kazarian. Who on the lower rung should we keep an eye out for?
Daniels: I think Kenny King is going to be somebody to see once the focus is back on the X Division. I feel like Kenny deserves the spotlight. I think Sonjay Dutt is finally going to get an opportunity to shine once he gets back from his shoulder injury. And he’s someone who has a lot of character, he just hasn’t been able to show it. And then Xema (Ion), of course. He’s a great character, he’s a great athlete. He’s very young, but he has a lot of experience. It’s a matter of giving him an opportunity to show that side of him.
Holmes: Wrestling has been out of the closet as far as being entertainment for almost 30 years now. However, non-fans still feel the need to ask, “Is it fake?” I know wrestlers hate the term “fake” because pro wrestling really hurts. My question here is; why do you think people still feel the need to ask that question?
Daniels: I think it’s the same mentality as magic. I think people understand that magic and illusions are exactly that, they’re illusions. But until they know the trick, they’re not completely satisfied. And I think that’s the power of pro wrestling. Like you’ve said, people have known it’s entertainment for many years, but our power is if we can get people to question just for a moment. That’s where you lose yourself. It’s hard for people in this day and age to come into any form of entertainment and have that…what’s the word?
Holmes: Suspension of disbelief?
Daniels: Yes! Especially in this day and age with the internet, people want to be backstage and know the secrets. If we can just get people to forget and enjoy the show as it is, rather than try to pick it apart and analyze it, that’s the power. The best wrestlers in the world are the ones who get people to forget their preconceived notion of what wrestling is.
Holmes: It’s weird, because people never get on the Harlem Globetrotters for that.
Daniels: (Laughs) Yeah, they’re not trying to look up the Generals’ win/loss record.
Holmes: Nobody questions the refereeing when they get hit with a bucket of water.
Daniels: Why aren’t those guys being drafted?
Holmes: You’re a father…um…as you well know. What do your kids think of Dad going out and doing horrible things to AJ Styles?
Daniels: They worry sometimes. They understand what Daddy does and they understand with Uncle AJ and Uncle Frankie what our relationship is. I get yelled at for not winning all my matches, but I tell them that I’m doing my best. They get upset when Uncle AJ or Uncle Samoa Joe hit me too hard. These things happen. I try to make them understand that in the end it’s entertainment and in the end Daddy’s going to come home and be 100% as best he can. They haven’t really seen behind the curtains 100% yet. They have met a lot of the wrestlers; my daughter has met a lot of the Knockouts (TNA’s women’s division). She wants to be a Knockout when she grows up. I told her that’s not going to happen.
Holmes: (Laughs) Good dad.
Holmes: Alright, “Bound for Glory” is this Sunday. I will be planted on my couch in front of a TV watching it. Why should everyone else tune in?
Daniels: We have the hungriest locker room in the world. We’re still growing. We want people to know about us. We want people to know that we have the most talented locker room. And, this is our big event, “Bound for Glory” is our Super Bowl. We’ll lay it all on the line.
Holmes: Your main event is Austin Aries against Jeff Hardy…
Daniels: We’ve got a guy who has become a skyrocket in the last year as far as Austin Aries. He’s become the World champion out of nowhere, and he’s out to prove that he’s better than someone like Jeff Hardy who’s been to the dance, who’s done just about everything in professional wrestling.
Holmes: And the World Tag Team Title defense?
Daniels: You’ve got the best tag team in the world today, Christopher Daniels and Kazarian defending their titles against two of the best teams in the business. Kurt Angle and AJ Styles are two former World champions, a dream team and then Chavo Guerrero and Hernandez are two great wrestlers in their own right.
Holmes: Alright, I’m psyched. But I’ve got a favor to ask you.
Holmes: You’ve got to go easy on my boy AJ.
Daniels: Well, there are three other guys I can beat up in that match, so I’m fine with that. I’ll spread it out evenly.
Watch TNA’s “Bound for Glory” this Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 7:30 p.m. ET on Pay Per View.
Any Questions? Drop me a line on Twitter: @gordonholmes