Longevity is not a word usually associated with the professional wrestling business.
Constant damage to your body and the hectic lifestyle are just a couple of the many pitfalls that can shorten a wrestler’s career.
TNA wrestler Christopher Daniels has managed to avoid both of those and has enjoyed a career that spans two decades because of it.
Daniels celebrated 20 years in the wrestling business this past April by staying relatively healthy, having a solid foundation at home and possessing another essential ingredient to having a long career of relevancy: the ability to adapt with the times.
Daniels has gone through a number of incarnations during his time in the ring and the latest version of his in-ring persona will be on display when he takes part in a tag team gauntlet match at TNA Bound For Glory Oct. 20.
The winner of the match will receive a shot at the tag team titles later in the show.
The latest incarnation of Daniels is in a self-centered, but humorous tag team called Bad Influence with Frankie Kazarian.
“It always feels good,” Daniels said of being apart of another Bound For Glory. “Me and Frankie [Kazarian] feel like we’ve been performing at a high level and to be part of the show again it feels good. It feels good that TNA puts enough confidence in our abilities to put us on their main show.”
When they joined forces with former TNA Impact Wrestling Champion Bobby Roode recently, the formed what is called the Extraordinary Gentleman’s Organization or simply EGO.
Wrestling is a me-first business for the most part and EGO exude that trait times 10, even going as far as to induct Roode into its own hall of fame on a recent episode of Impact.
The latest chapter to Daniels’ career is a stark contrast to the other characters he’s portrayed.
The egotistical superstar that people see today is a departure from the very serious cult leader that was “The Fallen Angel.”
Being a religious zealot and a cocky bad guy were vastly different from the cartoonish, mask-wearing characters of Curry Man and Suicide.
Each character has distinct qualities and varies from each other. That’s because Daniels fully invested into each of them.
Adapting to new characters and situations was nothing new for Daniels, as he had been doing it as an actor before he entered the wrestling business.
Despite growing up a wrestling fan, Daniels always felt that he was too small to ever actually be one. So he decided to pursue the dream of acting when he was in high school and even majored in theater in college.
“The acting thing was just me trying to be the center of attention and entertain,” Daniels said. “As I was growing up, I was always sort of a class clown. I always acted out. I did a little bit of theater in high school so I was always performing for my classmates and whatnot.”
He eventually moved to Chicago to pursue a career as a thespian. By the time wrestling became Daniels’ main occupation, he morphed into “The Fallen Angel.”
Daniels was enamored by the buttons Goldust pushed in the realm of sexuality and how many people could relate to it no matter their background. He began to think about what other things in life could push buttons across the board like sexuality. He came up with religion.
So he became a bit of a cult leader, someone who had a God complex who thought that God was on his side and his side only.
Like any good thespian would, Daniels fully invested into the character by wearing religious garb to get an instant reaction from a live audience, and incorporated religious talk into his promos on television.
“I understood what it took to present a character,” Daniels said. “I wasn’t shy about being in front of a camera or having a microphone in my hand or talking at a live event. I just understood how to play to the crowd so that helped me become a bit of a showman.”
Being in front of the camera as an actor is usually a lot less harmful to your body than being in front of the camera as wrestler, but Daniels has managed to avoid major injuries during his two-decade career.
“I’ve been really fortunate,” he said. “I’ve avoided injuries most of my career. I had a couple of things, but nothing that put me out for a super long time.”
“I feel like I wrestle smart,” he added. “I take care of myself in terms of the gym. I do a lot of yoga, a lot of things that are meant to help to recover quicker.”
Wrestling smart was something that was instilled in him from the day Daniels walked into the business 20 years ago.
Growing, up in North Carolina, like Daniels did, meant you watched wrestling on Saturday nights. There was only one show to watch in the area — Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling run by Jim Crockett Promotions.
Daniels fell in love with the product and loved it enough to pursue it as a career after he moved to Chicago.
Daniels was taught how to wrestle by Sam DeCero, who ran Windy City Pro Wrestling.
DeCero wrestled in the American Wrestling Association (AWA) as Super Maxx and was apart of the Maxx Brothers tag team. DeCero was trained by the “Macho Man” Randy Savage.
DeCero didn’t train his students like trainers usually did during that time period. Most trainers gave students few objectives. Chief among them were to keep their eyes and ears open and their mouths shut.
If it were a college course it would be Pro Wrestling 100: The art of bumping and doing what you are told.
What that means is for the first couple of months, and in most cases longer, the trainee is learning how to protect himself and his opponent in the ring and not much more.
DeCero, however, taught Daniels the art of storytelling and the psychology of the moves from the very beginning. You could call it Pro Wrestling 101: The art of storytelling in the ring.
Daniels got to learn how to structure a match where the wrestlers told the story of good versus evil. It was rather basic: Good guy looks good, bad guy looks bad and good guy eventually wins, but it was effective and still is until this day.
Daniels was a fast learner as it took him only three months before he took part in his first match. Wrestlers who were given the Pro Wrestling 100 class weren’t told how to work a match. They were simply sent to the ring and told to listen to their opponent, who was going to tell them when and where to get beat up next.
Daniels, on the other hand, was telling a story from the get-go as he was instantly booked into the middle of the WCPW card, not the lowest possible rung.
“When it came to put matches together, [DeCero] had sort of a text book so to speak,” Daniels said. “Basically, it was the idea of good guys versus bad guys and what part of the match goes to who. I learned a format of how to put a match together. My first couple of matches was literally wrestling 101. There was no deviating from that formula.”
“It wasn’t until I became comfortable with that formula that I started sort of tweaking it to tell stories in different ways,” Daniels added.
Daniels ‘ rapid improvement paid off as he won the WCPW light-heavyweight title in only his third match in the promotion. Daniels not only learned how to work in the ring during his first year, he learned how to look like a champion as well.
“I was fortunate to be in the situation where the locker room that Windy City had at the time, I improved quickly to the point that Sam starting using me and putting me in the middle of the card rather than a guy that got beat up all the time,” Daniels said.
“Because of that, I had to learn how to tell some telling wrestling stories rather than do squash matches that first year,” he added.
Daniels managed to catch the eye of Jim Cornette, who was looking to bring new talent into the World Wrestling Federation (now WWE).
Cornette got him into the WWF’s Funkin’ Dojo ran by Dory Funk, Jr. That experience parlayed into his first televised match against Taka Michinoku on WWF’s Shotgun Saturday Night.
From there, Daniels’ career took off as he was soon booked all over the world from England to Japan. He earned a chance to work full-time in the United States when was offered a contract from the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling (WCW).
Daniels enjoyed marginal success, but was suddenly without a job when Vince McMahon purchased WCW in 2001. He wasn’t on the WWF’s radar at the time so Daniels was forced to look for work elsewhere.
Fortunately for him, a lot of the people that were behind the scenes at WCW, namely Jeremy Borash and Bob Ryder, went to work for a new promotion based out of Nashville, Tenn. that was run by the father-son tandem of Jerry and Jeff Jarrett — TNA.
“That sort of helped open the door for me in TNA,” Daniels said. “They made the opportunities happen for me.”
Daniels has been with the promotion off and on ever since. He’s been there through good times and through some rough times. The rough times have happened recently than the good.
Reports are swirling about the company’s current status and future, but Daniels has put on tunnel vision and said his, along with the locker room’s focus is on the promotion’s premier event Bound For Glory.
“It’s a wait-and-see attitude,” Daniels said. “Whatever speculation you see on the Internet, none of that has been confirmed or denied by the company. It’s just a matter of us trying to see what happens in the couple of weeks.”
“With Bound For Glory on our horizon, that’s where our main focus is at,” Daniels added. There’s really nothing we can do about anything else. It’s just a matter of showing up and do the best we can as far as putting the shows together.”
Although Daniels’ talent alone was enough to help him stick around and remain relevant for this long in the wrestling business, a lot of it probably wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for his wife.
After all, she’s part of the reason why he’s in the wrestling business to begin with.
While Daniels was living in Chicago, Daniels told his wife one day in that if his acting career didn’t pan out, he could always become a professional wrestler, but did so in a tongue-in-cheek manner.
His wife took him seriously, however, and found a wrestling school for him in Chicago that school turned out to be the one run by DeCero.
When Daniels met the territorial star for the first time, his wife noticed that he had a stargazed look in his eyes. She knew where his heart was. It wasn’t with acting. It was with wrestling. The rest, as they say, is history.
One of the toughest things a professional wrestler has to deal with is maintaining a marriage. With a hectic road schedule, that means more time away from home.
Those problems have yet to befall Daniels during his long career because of the support he receives from his wife.
When Daniels began to receive more bookings for wrestling matches more around the world after appearing on WWF television, wrestling shifted from a side gig he did opposite of his job working in Disney theme parks to his full-time occupation.
Meanwhile, Daniels’ wife took care of home base so that he could focus on advancing his career.
“Her taking care of the house took a lot of pressure off me, but it also gave me something to work towards,” Daniels said. “I had to go out and earn the money to support the family so it lit a fire under me to hustle and get booked where I could.”
All of those things have Daniels believing he can stay in the ring for at least another five years. Despite being north of 40 years old, he has no intention on ending his wrestling career any time soon.
“I don’t see any signs of stopping,” Daniels said. “I’m in the best shape of my life right now. I’m wrestling smarter. I tell guys the things I’m doing in the ring right now I could do five days a week if I had to.”
“I love wrestling,” he added. “I love the traveling and I look forward to going out on the road and wrestling every week. My goal was to get to 20 years and I’ve already gotten to that. The next big milestone for me would be 25.”