Christopher Daniels: The Ring General
I want to start out, not about wrestling, but about comic books. Talk to me about comic books; why are they cool, and what do you do with them?
I can’t remember a time in my life where I wasn’t reading comic books. It was one of my first, I guess, vices as a kid. And at first, I was just trying to read everything I could. I would go to the convenience store and check out the spinner rack and just pick up all the Marvel comics that I could. And I had them in a box under my bed, and then I actually had a dresser drawer that I had converted into a little comic book placeholder. And then somewhere down the line, I want to say right around the time that Chris Claremont and John Byrne started doing Uncanny X-Men, I went from a guy that was just picking up books and throwing them on the floor and keeping them wherever to the guy that was collecting and putting them in bags and drawers and putting them in boxes and trying to get complete runs. And so, probably since eighth grade, I’ve been collecting comic books. And so, now that I’m older, I appreciate more the writing rather than the art, ‘cause back then, the art was what really made it collectible. It was guys like John Byrne and George Perez and Todd McFarlane—those guys, their art became valuable, especially the smaller-run stuff that they did or the stuff that sort of surprised everybody. Then, once they got famous, everybody was going back trying to get their early work. As I’m older now, I appreciate the writing as well. I’m a big fan of guys like Brian Michael Bendis, who writes Infamous Iron Man and Jessica Jones. I pick up all this stuff, and I guess it’s my escapism—my ability to sort of forget about how heavy the weights were at the gym today or my kids and their schoolwork or stuff like that—that’s my escape.
Can you talk about the comic books that you’ve written?
Well, a couple years ago, Frankie and myself met Art Baltazar and Franco, the award-winning cartoonist that worked on stuff for DC like Tiny Titans and Superman Family Adventures. They did Itty Bitty Hellboy and Itty Bitty Mask for Dark Horse. They’re doing Itty Bitty Archie for Archie Comics. These guys are tremendous comic book creators, and a couple years ago, I wrote a comic book using their characters Action Cat and Adventure Bug, and I wrote Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian Wrestle AW YEAH COMICS! We released that in 2014. And my mentality for writing that book was to try and get something at the merchandise tables at the wrestling shows that I was at that was aimed for that 8-, 10- [and] 12-year-old kid. A lot of the fan base that we aim to please on pro wrestling shows [is] usually that 18- to 34-year-old male. But there’re a lott of kids at these shows, too, and there’s not a lot of merchandise that speaks to them. So I wrote this book with that in mind, hopefully getting something that we can bring to the kids at these pro wrestling shows. After the success of Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian Wrestle AW YEAH COMICS!, I wrote a sequel, and the first part of that, AW YEAH COMICS Team Up #1, we just released in February; it’s available at AwYeahComics.com and at live Ring of Honor events throughout the U.S. and at ROHWrestling.com—and [it’s] just a continued story of Frankie and myself interacting with Action Cat and Adventure Bug and all the AW YEAH COMICS characters.
Is this something you ever saw yourself doing as a kid? You know, maybe the first time you got the acid-free paper and bags to put your comics in? Did you ever think people would be collecting your comics?
Yeah, I guess it was one of those things that you have that sort of seed in the back of your mind like, “Oh, maybe this is something I can do one day.” But it wasn’t until I met Art and Franco and saw their characters [that]the bug bit me to write something. And I say this all the time: I tip my hat to comic book writers that are doing it monthly, because I feel fortunate that I had what I think were two good ideas in terms of the books that I wrote, and I’m just fortunate enough to have those printed and available as comics and be able to say that I wrote a comic book. But I mean, if you put a gun to my head and said, “Well, we need a monthly book; every 30 days out of you,” I don’t know what I would do. So I think it’s incredible that guys like Brian Bendis and Dan Slott can do this month in and month out, and for some of them, they’re doing anywhere from two to five books a month.
Do you see any connection creatively between wrestling and comics, or are they two totally different areas for you?
I feel like wrestling and comic books are similar in terms of the types of stories that they tell. I mean, wrestling and comic books are two art forms that are . . . continuously evolving, you know—the stories are continuously going on 365 days a year. I mean, every Monday night there’s a new wrestling show. Every month, there’s a new comic book. And it’s telling the stories, the ongoing stories of these characters. And I think those are the two art forms [where], there’s not anything like it anywhere else. You’ve got seasons for television shows and seasons for professional sports, and characters in movies come out once every two or three years, but I mean, every month, every week, there’s new wrestling, there’s new comic books, and these characters are going through new and different adventures, interacting with different characters throughout their universe. I think that’s one of the reasons why comic books and wrestling sort of have that unique crossover audience, because they tell their stories in that same way, and both are telling stories of good and evil and heroic characters and villainous characters sort of trying to [show] me their way through their own universes, and I think that’s one of the reasons why it appealed to me so much.
Tell me a little bit about what has kept you passionate about wrestling all these years.
Well, I think the heart of it for me [is that] I’ve always been a performer; I’ve always wanted to perform. Going back to high school when I was trying to be an actor, going through in high school and college and getting my degree in theater, I always wanted to perform in some way. And I didn’t realize it growing up, but I was watching probably the most physical form of acting and athleticism that there is in professional wrestling. Once I graduated college and moved to Chicago to try and break into the theater scene up there, right around that time I had told my wife, “Oh, you know, if this acting thing doesn’t work out, I can be a pro wrestler, ha ha,” you know, just sort of tongue in cheek, and she found a wrestling school that was 30 minutes from our house and made an appointment for me to meet the guy that ran the school. I went in and met the guy, and my wife said I came out with, like, a glazed look in my eyes like I was hypnotized. And at that point, I was struggling in the acting scene; it was tough to sort of break in and find paid work. So I decided to take a couple of months away from the acting scene to try the wrestling thing, honestly, at that point, just to say I did. I wasn’t sure what I could do or how it would be, but to be able to say, “Oh, yeah, I did this, I tried it”; even if I washed out and failed at it, I could say I did it. But because I grew up watching it, I feel like I had a frame of reference that helped me sort of learn how to do everything quickly. I started training in January of ’93, and I had my first match in April of ’93, and once that happened, that’s where the learning began. You know, you learn wrestling in front of crowds, learning what works and what doesn’t work, and that was the bulk of my education in professional wrestling; [it] happened on the road in front of live audiences. For me, I think, even after 24 years, just the idea of being able to get up in front of the crowd and perform and do something that I enjoy and something that I grew up loving [is exciting.] I remember the feeling I had when I watched wrestling as a kid, and that’s what I’m trying to pass on. If I can make someone in the audience feel the same way that I did as a kid, then I feel like I’m doing a good job.
Can you tell me a little bit about what makes a Ring General, and that persona?
Well, a lot of it has to do with just being the most experienced guy, more often than not, in the ring. There was a period of time where—I guess, somehow along the way, I don’t know how it happened—all of a sudden, a lot of the locker rooms that I was in, I was the most experienced guy. And so, after a while, it seemed like everybody treated me a certain way—almost, not reverential, but sort of. I had earned the respect of the people that I shared a locker room with. And along the way, I realized that this was a persona that I could bring into the ring, the idea that, with all the experience that I had, the idea of being a master strategist, like bringing a game plan into the ring with me and knowing how to manipulate the pieces on the board, whether those pieces were my opponent or the referee or the fans or the commentator, even—just trying to figure out what best game plan I could go into the ring with, and then also offset the fact that a lot of times, I’m wrestling guys that are anywhere from 5 to 15 years younger than me; so, in a realistic situation, these guys are gonna be possibly faster than me, possibly stronger than me, possibly having more stamina than me. But the one thing that they won’t have is more experience than me, and that is the mentality of being the Ring General: knowing how to offset the physical attributes that they may have better than me, but being able to use the mental game against them in that sense.
Looking back, what would you tell readers who may not be that familiar with wrestling or your work, “Hey, this is what you should check out.”
Well, I think for me, personally, I feel like when someone looks at the bulk of my career, the two guys that I’m most associated with in terms of my in-ring rivals are AJ Styles and Samoa Joe. You know, for a very long period of time, we were the top talent of TNA that were homegrown. I mean, there were plenty of guys that came through TNA that had made their name elsewhere—you know, guys like Kurt Angle and Christian and Booker T and Team 3D—but as far as the guys that came from TNA specifically or made their name there, I think people automatically sort of look at myself and AJ and Joe. And so, for a good period of time, if it was me versus Joe or me versus AJ or any combination of the three of us, I felt like people sort of connected us with TNA as homegrown guys. And so, you can look back anywhere from 2005 to 2012 and look up any kind of AJ Styles/Christopher Daniels or AJ Styles/Samoa Joe or Samoa Joe/Christopher Daniels [matchups], and find three guys that were out there trying to build a company and build their own brand to the best of their abilities. If you’re gonna talk about a tag team, especially rivals for myself and Frankie Kazarian, now that we’ve been a tag team almost five years, you know, the number one team that I feel we have in terms of a longtime feud would have to be the Young Bucks. Over the past couple years, our interactions with them in Ring of Honor, in House of Hardcore [and] across the U.S. in terms of different independent stuff, we’ve really gone out there, and I feel like we’ve entertained and told some great stories.
Can you talk to me a little bit about Adam Cole, who you’re supposed to be facing—well, either Adam Cole or Bobby Fish—in Las Vegas?
I’ll talk about Adam Cole just because he’s the champion at this point. You know, here’s a guy that has found success relatively early in his career, at least compared to me, in terms of being the world champion. I mean, he’s the first three-time Ring of Honor World Champion, and certainly one of the best in the world at this point. And the one thing that I think is probably his greatest strength is his own confidence in himself. I mean, the way he carries himself, it’s almost like, before you even wrestled him, he’s convinced you that he’s better than you. The results speak for themselves, the fact that he’s the first guy to hold that belt three different times. And the fact that he’s got victories over guys like Jay Briscoe and Jay Lethal and some of the best that Ring of Honor has to offer. And I go into that match knowing that, over the course of my career, I’ve never beaten Adam Cole. And so that’s something that weighs on me as well, something that I have to overcome, knowing that the few times that he and I have faced off, each time he’s gotten his hand raised. So, as a master strategist, these are the things that I have to take into account as I’m working out a gameplan to face him in Las Vegas.
You’ve had a historic career with two organizations, TNA and ROH. I don’t think there’re many people who have had that kind of opportunity to be involved in two organizations from the start and get them out there and identified. What do you think you have left to prove at this point?
Well, a lot of it is really trying to prove it to myself in the sense of, can I still wrestle at that top level—can I wrestle at the world championship level after 24 years? You know, wear and tear and injuries and everything aside, can I still be the top guy at Ring of Honor at this point? That’s something that I think about every time I wrestle someone in Ring of Honor. You look across the roster of Ring of Honor, and like I said, [you see] some of the best in the world. And all these guys are anywhere, like I said, from 5 to 15 years younger than me, and these are my opponents on any given night. So the challenge for me is to be able to go in there and turn it up so that I can hang with these guys and compete with that top level where being a World Champion might be the end result. So that, to me, is what I’m still out there trying to prove to myself and to the fan base: that I still belong, that I’m still as good as any of these guys and that I can be World Champion.
Thanks to everybody that reads this or listens to this, and I appreciate all the support. We wouldn’t be—we, as Ring of Honor, and me, myself personally—I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for fans that supported me wherever I went, and Ring of Honor is the same way. We’re 15 years’ strong as a company because the fan base supported us for that long. So it’s because of them that we’re still around and still entertaining and still putting out great wrestling, and we thank them every time we put a show on.