Whereas some wrestlers are merely performing gimmicks, Christopher Daniels’ 24 year run reads like the CV of a serious method actor. After a career that’s included stints as a Machiavellian cult leader, a depressive superhero, and the living embodiment of curry, Daniels’s latest role of grizzled veteran is the one that merits Oscar-worthy applause.
The performance started in the lead-up to Ring of Honor’s Ladder Wars VI match this past September, in which Daniels—who has a theater degree—cut a legendarily intense promo about how his advanced age (he turns 46 on the March 24) made him a ruthless and unpredictable adversary. Act II came in January, when our sullen hero won the “Decade of Excellence” tournament for a shot at the ROH World Title. With the grand finale set for this Friday’s 15th Anniversary show against champion Adam Cole (Bay bay!), the Daniels narrative hits peak potency courtesy of a brand-new promo.
If you didn’t believe that Daniels was in the twilight of his career, you’ll now feel that heavy finality. This is not your father’s wrestling promo, and with Mick Foley levels of believability, Daniels moves the story forward with a minimalist plot and heaps of commitment. Gone is the scrappy older guy moving like a wounded animal; this is a man who is broken physically and mentally, a heap of a soul holding together torn nerves and broken bones with dreams he never let himself obtain. Daniels doesn’t just tip-toe around a full mental break—he readily embraces his shortcomings and fears, tearfully raging against that ever-fading light behind the satin curtains. Daniels approaches the end of his career with the same grit and fearlessness that made Logan such a stirring rumination on old age and optimism.
This isn’t just promotional gimmickry, but a tone that’s far too rare within this industry. One of the ways wrestling is perpetually behind other sports is how it displays emotions. Pitchers, tight ends and power forwards alike all get to cry to demonstrate passion and devotion. There have been emotional moments in wrestling in the past, but few have felt this unguarded, powerful or personal. Few have felt this believable. Wrestling’s emotional maturity usually goes about as far as “bad guys scheme and good guys make threats.” What some would see as Daniels’s moment of weakness is a profound source of strength, and not just for what it does in legitimizing wrestling as a complicated and nuanced experience for its participants. The Fallen Angel’s vulnerabilities show us that even as wrestling remains a mostly regressive territory, masculinity doesn’t have to be defined by bravado and big words—that there’s room to buck cultural expectations and truly engage with fans. Daniels is a man because he embraces reality so unabashedly, and by digging into his weakness he finds a real sense of purpose that is both genuine and essential to wrestling’s continued evolution.
For everything he’s done in his career—in the ring and on the mic—Daniels is more than deserving of his opportunity to scale the ROH mountaintop. But no matter whose hand is raised this Friday in Las Vegas, Daniels’s integrity and creative risk-taking are a gift and a textbook for future wrestlers, those who want to challenge themselves and achieve new heights of fan interaction.
Take a bow, good sir.
Chris Coplan is a former writer and editor for Consequence of Sound. He’s on Twitter @CCoplan.