Dan Marino, Patrick Ewing, Ted Williams. You might recognize those names as some of the greatest who never won a title in their respective sports.
Christopher Daniels looked like he was going to be wrestling’s addition to that list.
A wrestler for nearly 25 years, Daniels was part of the very first Ring of Honor show in 2002 before going on to become a cornerstone of TNA Wrestling for the better part of a decade. Throughout his career, he won countless titles and accolades, both in the singles and tag ranks. He wrestled in some of the best matches of the 21st century, and earned praise both for his in-ring abilities and his character work. Despite all of that, the one thing he had never done was win a world title.
That all changed on March 10th when Daniels beat Adam Cole for the ROH World Title at ROH’s 15th Anniversary Show. The locker room poured out to celebrate with Daniels in the middle of the ring before ROH’s ambassador, Cary Silkin, brought out the original Ring of Honor title. The Briscoes lifted Daniels up on their shoulders, and it seemed like the entire wrestling world was celebrating with him both in the arena and online. Everything had come full circle. The long quest was over.
Rolling Stone had a chance to talk to him about finally winning the world title, the release he feels no longer being the Dan Marino of pro wrestling and the latest ROH rumors.
So what was that moment like, when the ref’s hand finally came down the third time to make you the new ROH champion?
Honestly, there was a sense of release. There was a sense of accomplishment and weight being taken off my shoulders. The idea of finally winning the big one, all that really washed over me. Just the idea of reaching the pinnacle after a long dry spell.
Was it something that immediately hit you, or was there a moment in the ensuing celebration, or even later, where it really hit?
The whole thing as an experience was what really did it. There wasn’t one moment. Frankie [Kazarian] coming back into the ring, the belt being handed to me, Cary Silkin giving me the original Ring of Honor title, having the guys I respect so much in the locker room coming out and celebrating with me, Jay and Mark Briscoes putting me on their shoulders. Just the whole thing was amazing. Backstage I got an opportunity to talk to the locker room as a whole and express my feelings towards all of them and the company. Just that whole evening, I wouldn’t have taken one specific thing out of it. The whole experience was surreal and emotional and something I will always remember.
The fact that it was the 15th Anniversary show, and you were on that very first ROH show, did that make the moment even bigger for you?
Absolutely. I think that’s one of the reasons the decision was made. I think that one of the reasons that this victory for me meant so much was because of all the previous defeats. If I had won this belt in 2006 or become champion early in my career, it wouldn’t have meant the same thing. It’s very rare to see a career like mine in the business. It didn’t follow the same path that most world champions have. Look at someone like Tyler Black [Seth Rollins]. He started in the indies, came up, became Ring of Honor champion, and it was a gradual climb for him. And you look and where he’s at now in the world of professional wrestling, and it’s been a steady upward climb. For me, there were a lot more peaks and valleys. It was a really up-and-down journey for me. To finally get this victory, which is the highest pinnacle you can achieve, it was a really different path from a lot of world champions. I think part of the reason that this happened was because of the valleys that came before this particular peak.
Through this journey, whether it was in ROH or TNA, or anywhere else, was there any frustration that you had never become champion to this point?
I honestly just was kind of going along for the ride. If you start to dwell on the thing that you don’t get, you can drive yourself nuts. I honestly really only saw one or two actual moments in time that I thought to myself, well this would be a good time for me to be world champion. Those times when I could conceivably win the world championship and hold it and be the right guy at the right moment. All the other times, I just chalked it up to knowing that the company was going in another direction. I’m not going to argue that direction and we’ll see, right or wrong, how it goes.
You said that you tried not to dwell on the fact that you had never won the title. At the same time, you said there was a feeling of release once you did reach that goal. Was there at all a feeling that you were going to go down as the Dan Marino of wrestling, the greatest to never win it?
Yeah, absolutely. I’ve heard that a few different people, commentators, magazines, wherever. There are plenty of guys who had great careers who never held a world championship. And for the longest time, I thought that was going to be me as well. Circumstances changed and you never can predict how that’s going to go. I’m certainly happy to no longer be the best guy who never won it. Now my job is to make sure that I’m not the worst guy who did win it.
So how does that change your mindset? You are now the guy in Ring of Honor going forward. Even though you’re still just going out there and wrestling, there has to be some difference in your mindset.
There’s a little bit of pressure now, though it’s mainly self-imposed. I understand that a guy at my age, with my career, people could look at this and say that this is simply a reward for past work instead of an achievement for now. I have to go out there and prove that this isn’t just a gold watch for services rendered. This is something that I have to go out and earn every match I have. That’s a pressure that I’m going to put on myself to try and show that I deserve this title today, instead of because of what I did for Ring of Honor in the past.
This is an important weekend for Ring of Honor, going to Orlando for Mania Weekend and doing Supercard of Honor. Is there some extra prestige in carrying the title into a weekend like this?
It’s certainly big for me. There are a ton of eyes on the product, and of course eyes on professional wrestling as a whole that weekend. But coming off of a weekend like we had in Vegas, including a title switch, there are going to be a lot of eyes on how I perform. Again, there’s that pressure of being one of the top matches on a show that’s going to be well-attended and have the eyes of the ROH fanbase on it. It’s a formidable task that’s ahead of me, but one that I look forward to undertaking.
For the first time in several years, Supercard of Honor is going to be broadcast live on iPPV. Do you think your title win contributed to the buzz to make that worthwhile for the company?
I think that the buzz overall for the company is why they’re doing it. I’d like to think that part of it is because I was the world champ. But honestly, I think that there was a clamoring to be able to watch this show overall. Ring of Honor has rarely been a one match show. There’s so much great talent. Me vs. Dalton Castle is a great match, but Adam Cole is wrestling Marty Scurll, and the Young Bucks are facing The Hardys in a ladder match. Frankie Kazarian is wrestling Punishment Martinez and the six-man tag titles are on the line and the whole card is going to be great. I think that’s what our fanbase has come to expect. Being able to put this show on iPPV is just us rewarding our fans for their support. We want to give them the best experience we can with Ring of Honor. If we can make this show available live, it’s a great treat for the fans that have supported us for so long.
In addition to you winning the ROH title, this past month has been a pretty wild one for Ring of Honor. The Hardys came in and won the tag titles, Bully Ray has joined the company, talent is coming and going, and more partnerships are being formed. What’s it like to be in the locker room right now with all these changes?
It’s a great time right now. You mentioned the Hardys and Bully Ray. You’re talking about three guys who have been able to do everything that they wanted in professional wrestling. They chose to come to Ring of Honor at this point in their careers when they could have done anything they wanted. I think that’s a testament of Ring of Honor as a whole, to become a destination that is desired by guys who still have passion in their hearts for professional wrestling. The company has excited these guys enough for them to come here. It excited Cody Rhodes to come here in that same respect. It’s a testament of the work of the guys over the past 15 years who have made ROH’s reputation one of a worldwide force in wrestling. I continue to say that this is the best wrestling on the planet. The additions to our roster like this reinforces that idea.
At the same time, there is a section of the fanbase that is a little concerned with the addition of these older veterans, and feel it might change the atmosphere around ROH. Do you feel that’s a fair concern at all?
I can understand people thinking that these guys are established stars, are they taking a spot away from a wrestler who is trying to make his way up the card? Yeah, I can understand that mentality. At the same time, you look at the younger guys on the card, and you realize that they should be clamoring for the opportunity to wrestle guys who have the experience of a Bully Ray or a Matt and Jeff Hardy. Because that’s how you learn. You can only become as good as the guys you are wrestling. If you wrestle someone at the level of these guys, it pushes you to become a better wrestler. Those experiences force us all to become wrestlers. You don’t know how long any of them are going to be with Ring of Honor. Hopefully they’ll be here as long as they want, but these opportunities to learn from guys like this are extremely valuable. I for one, if I had the opportunity to wrestle Matt and Jeff or Bully Ray, even with 24 years in, I’d look at that as an opportunity to become better and learn.
Even as a long-time vet, and now a champion, do you still go into each match thinking you can learn something from it?
Absolutely. I don’t want to become complacent. I’m constantly trying to figure out ways to get better and improve what I bring to the table so I can stay relevant in professional wrestling. It’s such a “what have you done for me lately” atmosphere in pro wrestling as a whole. I’m continually trying to keep up with the guys who are striving to get to the top. I’m always looking to become better and working with guys who are younger than me always pushes me to stay at a certain level.
I do have to ask about the rumors that have popped up about ROH and WWE recently. Have you heard any of that talk, and what was your take on it?
The truth is, I can’t imagine a situation where the rumors of WWE possibly purchasing ROH is true. I can see a possibility of working together in terms of the tape library. So many guys are there now that came through ROH, so the possibility of using the tape library to accentuate content on their network makes sense. Or even if it’s a matter of working together to put on a co-promoted show. I just can’t see a situation where it benefits Sinclair to sell ROH outright. Not with the business model that we have in place at Ring of Honor. So I don’t see it happening the way people have suggested. But I mean, this is a 47 year old pro wrestler, and not a business guy or a guy who makes the decisions on that level, so I could be completely wrong, but I don’t think that’s the case.
You’ve reached this pinnacle, you won the ROH title, which had to have been one of the last things to check off your list. What’s left on that list?
Honestly, the one thing now is to have a title reign that is exemplary of what Ring of Honor is. Like I said, I don’t want to be the worst guy that has ever won it. I want to go out there and have a title reign the likes of Bryan Danielson or Samoa Joe or Austin Aries or Tyler Black. It would be awesome if that was the case. I just have to take each title defense one by one and build that legacy until it matches or exceeds those guys. That’s really the one thing on my plate right now that there is to do. I don’t want to be a guy who won it and lost it right away, I don’t want to be a guy where it feels like it’s a fluke that he won it in the first place. I want it to be comparable to the guys who came before me.