Even After All These Years, Daniels Stays Hungry in TNA's X Division
In an exclusive interview with FanHouse, Daniels reflected on his impressive career, the future of TNA's distinctive X Division, and a jaw-dropping match where fans actually chanted "Please don't die." He also discussed how he's been able to stay active all these years and what it's like to go head-to-head with WWE.
FanHouse: You started in, what, 1993? So did you ever think you'd still be doing this 17 years later?
Christopher Daniels: Well, it's weird. It's funny that I never really look at myself as that much of a veteran, do you know what I mean? I still feel like I'm a guy that's trying to make that break on to the top levels. So I never look at myself as somebody who's made it, or somebody that's achieved all he wants to achieve. I still kind of look at myself as a young lion, which is kind of ridiculous, but that's how I feel about my career in terms of still trying to learn stuff and get better and keep trying to achieve. So I never really thought about the longevity of it until maybe like a year or two ago, and now I'm looking at my career in terms of, like my next big goal is to make it to 20 years. Once I've been doing this for 20 years, I'll take assessment of where I'm at and see what I want to keep doing, but right now I don't look at my career in terms of, 'Oh it's coming to a close' or 'Oh it's closer to the end than it is to the beginning,' that type of thing. I just keep plugging along, you know? I'm like the Energizer bunny of wrestling.
Well what was it like when you had that realization, like you said, when you noticed 'Wow, I've been doing this for a long time'?
In promos or on television, I say, 'OK I've got the most experience,' like my thing has always been that I'm the most experienced guy in the ring a lot of the time, expecially when it comes to wrestling in the X Division. Usually my strength in that sense is that the experience that I've got is usually more than the guy I'm wrestling, and then, when you look at it in terms of numbers, I start looking at, you know in 2008 it was 15 years, and I was like 'Oh, well I've been in this for 15 years' and then, slowly but surely I started realizing, wow these numbers are starting to creep up.
Do guys in the back start looking at you more and saying, 'Hey you're the veteran, if I want somebody for advice I'm going to go to you'?
Well it's funny, I've actually had this conversation with guys like Brother Ray (of Team 3D) and Brother Devon, I think that I'm one of the few guys in wrestling where the young guys look at me like a veteran, and the veterans look at me like a young guy. I've had that experience, but at the same time, I'm still sort of coming up in terms of where I'm at in my own career. So it's weird, I don't know if there's anybody else in wrestling that's had that much experience and is still sort of making their way up, rather than coasting on their laurels, you know what I mean?
But in terms of the guys who you almost look at as my peers, guys like The Motor City Machine Guns and Kazarian and [Amazing] Red, the guys that I'm paired with in terms of wrestling, yeah they look to me as somebody to, I guess get advice from or somebody who's been where they wanna go, then yeah they come to me for advice and things like that. You know, I haven't been the guy who'd always gotten advice from the guys ahead of me, I feel like it's sort of my job to help too and give back and try to be that type of leader to the younger guys.
And you haven't slowed down one bit. What's been the secret to your success?
You know what, I've literally been one of the luckiest guys in terms of the amount of injuries I've had in my career. It's been real few, knock on wood. And then in terms of the breaks that I've caught, I've also been very lucky. I was lucky to get involved with TNA early on, and having been with TNA almost from the beginning, I feel like there's almost like a tenure there, and I feel that's helped me in terms of when I'm in a certain spot or when they're looking for people to sort of be the guy to carry the ball in certain instances, they go to me because I've had that experience in that company for the last almost eight years now.
I've been lucky to wrestle the guys like A.J. [Styles] and [Samoa] Joe at the times in my career when I did, you know, the fact that TNA has spotlighted the X Division for such a long time, like WWE hasn't really featured guys with my strengths and my size, that type of thing, so I mean I've been lucky in the sense that TNA has given us that platform to perform on and the spotlight's been on us in the X Division. So I've been in a better spot here than I might have been if I were with WWE.
What's that dynamic been like, especially early on in your career where you, and this has happened to so many other guys, say 'OK, you wanna be in wrestling but you're not big enough'?
Well, I mean, I've fought that for such a long time, and, I knew there wasn't ... the funny thing is, there's no way you can get any taller, and I've always tried to try and build up and try and get bigger. But at a certain point, I realized that the bigger that I got, it was going to start to hold me back in terms of what I could do in the ring. And so I sort of reconciled myself that I needed to be a certain weight and just stay in good shape and work more on my endurance and my agility rather than trying to gain 30 pounds, you know, where I felt like it would be a detriment.
Then once I realized I could only be a certain size and a certain weight, you realize you play to your strengths, and so I just stayed flexible, tried to stay agile, tried to keep my speed and stamina up, so that the types of matches where I can best perform are those X Division style matches, the style where you're going a little faster, you're going a little quicker. Like I said, TNA has given us that platform to perform on, so I've been lucky in that respect.
What are your thoughts about where the X Division is right now, where it's still an important part of the company, but it's not spotlighted as much as it once was?
Well, I think that's gonna change. I can tell you, having had discussions with Eric Bischoff behind the scenes, I think he realizes that the X Division has been an important part of TNA and can be again an important part of TNA, and I think he realizes that instead of focusing on one division or the other, we're gonna put the spotlight on every division we have -- the tag division, the X Division, and the heavyweights. For a two-hour show, we've got enough time now to give each one of those divisions, and the guys that are the integral parts of those divisions, the opportunity to shine.
There was a perfect statement from him last Monday night, the fact that TNA, the heart of TNA isn't necessarily X Division, but the adrenaline of TNA is the X Division. So I feel like we're going to become more spotlighted, maybe more than we have in the last year or so, and that's to our benefit and benefit to guys like Kazarian and Brian Kendrick, the Guns, and Generation Me. I feel like we're gonna get more of a chance than we have in the last month or two.
What do you think about the changes to Monday night and going head-to-head now with the competition?
I'm all for it man, I think it's a great opportunity for us. I actually was asked this question in an interview recently, the fact that WWE is focusing all their efforts now towards WrestleMania and they've got so many great programs going on, so many great matches to focus on, they asked me if this was the right time to be head-to-head with WWE. And my response was, well I think it's the perfect time, because despite the fact that they've got so many great programs and great matches on the pay-per-view this month, 95 percent of the people that I've talked to have said that the better product in-ring was on our show Monday night (March 8). And I think the more that we put out that product, the more we put an effort out and get the people involved, the more they say the better in-ring product is TNA, slowly but surely you're going to see those ratings turn around, you're going to see more people watching us.
Were you disappointed in the rating for the first Monday night show?
No. Of course you want a bigger number, but I don't look at this as the end of the battle. The goal wasn't just to get the good rating on the first show, the goal is to build the rating up and you have to start somewhere. So this isn't the end of us being on Monday nights, it wasn't like when we got these ratings they decided 'Oh you know what, well that's a failure.' It's not a failure. It's a place to begin from. It's a starting point. Everybody in the back is looking at this as a place to progress from. We're committed to making that move, and moving onwards and upwards from here.
So you've been there almost since the beginning of TNA. What's this entire ride been like for you, with so many twists and turns that have gone on with TNA over the years?
I'm just real happy that the company has put so much effort into me as a performer. I always said that I'd be loyal to a company until they gave me a reason not to be loyal, and that hasn't happened for me in the last eight years. They've given me every reason to stick around, every reason to be happy that I've put my efforts into TNA. I feel like the investment that I've put into TNA, the investment that they've put into me, we've both sort of come out the better for it, and I look forward to that continuing for the next couple years.
Now, the Destination X pay-per-view is coming up on March 21. You're going to be a big part of that. Even though you're not going to be in the Ultimate X match, you've been in one of those matches before. What's the different dynamic for that one and how do you approach something like that? Because there is so many expectations for a match like that, and it is such a different kind of match.
Yeah, it's one of those things, I tell people all the time, you train all your career to be a good wrestler and then you get in these matches where there's not just the wrestling but there's this element of almost stunt-work that you're expected to do. And so the trick is just to try to find something fresh, something new to do with basically the stage that you've been given, in terms of the trusses, the cables, you're always looking for something different, something that hasn't been done. And it gets tough for every time they have another match, another match, it's always one more thing that you've done or tried.
But I think the positive to all of our guys is that everybody always comes in with something fresh, something new, they've always got something in their heads that hasn't been done before. The guys that are involved in these matches when we sort of pool our resources and figure stuff out, we come up with really good stuff I feel. Each match that we've had has been different and has stood out for the time that it's gone on. I think that the Guns and Generation Me are gonna do that too, they're gonna come up with some fresh ideas and perform to the top of their abilities.
There was one Ultimate X match a few years ago that you were involved in, and it was the one where you were standing up on top of one of the steel posts. You're 15, 20 feet up, and you did the big dive towards the middle. What's going through your head right before you do that?
Uh ... well. [laughs, at a loss for words] Honestly, I was so focused on keeping my balance when I was standing up there I didn't think of anything else. It turned out good, but 'Please don't die' was being chanted at that point. I remember thinking, 'Well, I hope not.'
Did you come up with that or was that something that was pitched to you ahead of time?
No, that was me. That was me. That was my idea. [laughs] The first time I did it too was a tag match with me and A.J. [Styles], and when I told A.J. what I planned on doing, he sort of looked at me and shook his head like, [chuckles] 'OK...'
How do you come up with something like that, considering there is no safety net in this. Is it just you have that much trust in yourself to do something like that?
Yeah definitely. I had it in my head that I was gonna try that, and I sort of looked it over and figured the logistics of 'Would I be able to stand on that thing?' and 'Would I be able to make the dive without plummeting to my doom?' Yeah, I thought it out, it wasn't something that came up on the fly. It had been in my head for a little bit, and I was lucky it came out the way it did.
Since you have been with TNA for so long, and especially with some of the true fans so passionate about it, do you take things personally when you hear people go off on rants for whatever reason about 'Oh I can't believe they did this' or 'Oh I can't believe they did that.' How do you react to stuff you might see or hear or read?
I feel like everybody's got an opinion and everybody's gonna find faults. Not everybody is gonna be pleased with the things that we do. But it's funny that the fans that are the most vocal and the most negative are gonna be the ones that stick around because they wanna see where it goes from there. So I respect the opinions of the people. Especially when it comes to the Internet, I found that the two worst things you can do in terms of the criticism you read on the Internet is believe it all 100 percent or disregard it 100 percent. You can't do either one. So when I read that stuff, I take it for what it's worth, I take it with a grain of salt. If they have a valid point, I may keep it in the back of my head, but I certainly don't subscribe to it 100 percent.
What do you do to challenge yourself? Because, like you said, you have been doing this for a while, but you still obviously feel you have goals to accomplish. What challenges you and what goals do you have for your wrestling career?
At some point I'd like to try and become world heavyweight champion. I feel like that's the big thing that's eluded me this career, but above and beyond that I still want to get an opportunity to work with some of the best in the company we have now. With the progress that we're making now and the new guys that are coming in to the company, getting an opportunity to work with guys like Shannon Moore, Rob Van Dam, Jeff Hardy again, these are things that I'm looking forward to and wanna do.
How much wrestling do you watch, whether it be with TNA or with other promotions, whichever they might be?
I sort of filter through it, if I'm watching friends of mine or people that I'm close to. In WWE, I'll watch their stuff. I've been watching a lot of their NXT show to be honest with you because I'm real interested to see what they're doing with Daniel Bryan (a.k.a. Bryan Danielson). Obviously I'll watch all of our stuff, whether it's backstage at the tapings or after it's shown on telvision. I try to keep up with all of our stuff to see how everyone is doing in the ring.
Did you ever talk to Daniel Bryan to say 'Hey, you should come over to TNA' or did you ever talk to anybody from TNA management about him?
Yeah we talked about him a long time, but nothing ever really materialized. There was a point in time where Daniel didn't really wanna come, didn't really wanna do any TV. He wanted to sort of stick with Ring of Honor, and he was happy with the freedom he was afforded. When it came time for him, he made the decision that he wanted to make that commitment to a company, you know, he's had such ties with Shawn Michaels and William Regal, it seemed like no matter what we tried to do as far as TNA, I think his mind was set on giving the WWE a go. I wish it would have been the other way around, I wish we could have had him come to TNA, but he did what he thought was best for his career, and I'm happy that he's enjoying the success on a national level.
For more on TNA Wrestling star Christopher Daniels, check out his profile page here and see his sponsor Eruption Clothing here. You can follow him on Twitter @FACDaniels.