If you missed the latest episode of Ring of Honor’s weekly TV show, you missed what might be the best wrestling promo of 2016. Christopher Daniels, one-half of the current ROH World Tag Team Champions, cut a passionate, realistic interview about what that title means to him as a 23-year wrestling veteran who has regularly sacrificed time with his wife and children in order to focus on his career. WWE has basically killed the traditional wrestling promo—almost all of their wrestlers now deliver heavily scripted monologues that lack personality and passion—and that makes Daniels’s fiery, deeply personal speech stand out more than it already would. It doesn’t just feel real in a way almost no wrestling today does, perfectly fitting Daniels’s current storyline and position within the business as he approaches his late 40s, while still reasserting his current status as a heel; it’s an homage to how wrestling used to be, a callback to the kind of promos that used to keep us glued to our TV sets on Saturday mornings and afternoons during the territorial days.
Daniels didn’t just cut this promo for the hell of it. He was promoting Ring of Honor’s latest pay-per-view, All Star Extravaganza VIII, which takes place live on Friday September 30. In the main event Daniels and his long-time tag team partner Frankie Kazarian will be defending their titles in a ladder match against two of the top tag teams in the business today, the Young Bucks and the Motor City Machine Guns. Known as Ladder War VI, this should be a brutal, death-defying match, with all six men flying off, through and into ladders while trying to win the championship and, more importantly, entertain the audience. It’s the most anticipated match on a stacked card that includes Michael Elgin challenging Adam Cole for the ROH World Championship, a grudge match between former champion Jay Lethal and New Japan superstar Tetsuya Naito, and the ROH continuation of Kamaitachi and Dragon Lee’s breathtaking series of matches from the Mexican promotion CMLL.
Paste recently talked to Christopher Daniels about that fantastic promo, his upcoming match at All Star Extravaganza, and his 23 years in the wrestling business. He showed the same passion and intelligence in our conversation as he displayed in that promo, revealing a man absolutely comfortable with whatever level of violence awaits for him on Friday night.
Paste: On last week’s Ring of Honor show you cut maybe the promo of the year. Is it hard to be that honest when you’re doing an interview like that?
Christopher Daniels: It’s not hard. It’s very rare that you’re asked to be that honest, and it wasn’t even a situation where I was asked. I just felt like it was sort of getting to that point. For me, anyway, and for this particular feud with the Bucks and the Guns. I felt like it was starting to become bigger than just the six of us. I feel like people look at Ring of Honor’s tag team division as one of the best in the world, and we’ve been struggling and fighting really hard to sort of be the centerpiece of that. I felt like this particular match merited that sort of emotion. And hopefully people feel the same way about it, that they feel like this is an epic struggle between the three teams that’s coming to a head that hopefully will be answered definitively at All Star Extravaganza.
Paste: It’s also like the most serious we’ve seen you in a number of years. I guess, again, it’s the importance of this match and this three-way feud, you think, that warranted that?
Daniels: When Frankie and I turned heel last year, I feel like we sort of got away from some of the comedy that we were doing as Bad Influence. I felt like we’ve become more serious. But this took it to a whole new level, the idea of being a ladder war, probably one of the most dangerous matches in wrestling. I felt like the time for fun and games was past.
Paste: How does your family feel about the interview?
Daniels: They haven’t seen it. They haven’t seen it. I’m sure they’ll appreciate my passion for it but they haven’t watched it.
Paste: Do they watch your work, normally?
Daniels: They do. They just haven’t seen that particular promo yet. I don’t know what they’ll say. For some of the things I said in the promo, I don’t know how they’ll feel, I don’t know if they’ll agree with me. But that was how I felt when I cut that promo. I guess we’ll have that discussion when they watch it.
Paste: It really makes the tag titles seem like the most important championship in the world. I feel like generally the tag titles are viewed as being below the main singles titles, but that promo really stresses how important they are. I know you’ve been exclusively in tags for, what, four or five years now? What do you like about tag team wrestling?
Daniels: I just appreciate the art of it. The difference between wrestling in singles and in tags, there’s just a different art to it. There’s a mentality. And one of the reasons Frankie and I are so successful as a team is that before we even started teaming together we both had an appreciation for tag team wrestling and we had similar mentalities in terms of what makes a good team. We’ve both been members of different teams in the past. Probably his most famous was him and Michael Shane. I’ve teamed with AJ Styles, with Matt Sydal, with Donovan Morgan, with Elix Skipper. We both had experience in successful tag teams and we both understood what we had to do make the team stand out, to make the team successful. And so we both sort of came into this tag team with our homework done. And I feel like that’s one of the reasons we were so successful out of the gate. The minute we started tagging we were already experienced in that respect. And the fact that we’re friends and that we’ve been traveling together for the better part of a decade. That made it easier. The chemistry that some teams struggle to find in their early years, we had before we even started.
Paste: How do you avoid growing stagnant when you team with the same partner for so long?
Daniels: Just knowing that complacency breeds mediocrity. Knowing that if we do the same old thing at a certain point everybody’s going to see everything that we’ve done, and that will be it. We constantly are trying to push ourselves. We’re constantly trying to work as hard as the guys we’re working against. That’s the challenge, too, in Ring of Honor, with so many talented tag teams and so many successful and decorated teams, to be able to go in there with any of those guys, whether it’s the Briscoes or ReDRagon or War Machine or Kenny King and Rhett Titus, those are the teams that aren’t even in Ladder War, and those are the guys that are top notch teams that at any point we could go and have a main event style match with.
Paste: Talking about Ladder Wars, you’ve got two of the best teams in the world going in there with you, the Motor City Machine Guns and the Young Bucks. Let’s talk about those teams. What do you have to look out for when you’re in the ring with a team like the Young Bucks?
Daniels: The thing about the Young Bucks is that they’ve sort of turned their own success into this movement. They don’t really follow a format or play by a set of rules, they just go out there and feel everything, so it’s hard to gauge a game plan for them. It’s like watching somebody play jazz, they just feel it. It’s hard sometimes to grasp what their game plan is by watching them. Both of them are very successful in terms of high-flying. Both are very powerful in terms of their kicks. There’s no weak link, there’s no obvious game plan for them. Either one of them can be dangerous at any moment. It’s hard to fight what you’re not sure of.
Paste: I know you have a long history with Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin of the Machine Guns. How is wrestling them in 2016 compared to, say, when you would’ve first faced them 10 years ago or so?
Daniels: They’re enjoying a resurgence now that they’ve gotten back together. With all the success that they’ve had since they got back together in Ring of Honor, I feel like they’ve got a confidence in them that they might not have had five years ago. One of the things that I think is in their favor is that, despite the fact that they haven’t tagged together up until recently, both guys enjoying singles success and tag team success (with Shelley teaming with Kushida in New Japan), they both were still on the hunt to be innovative and add to their repertoire. When they got back together all the new stuff that they had learned, when added to basically their greatest hits, it’s like a whole new ballgame. They can sort of go into their repertoire deep or they can do all this new stuff they’ve been doing. Either way they’re still a very formidable tag team.
Paste: So this promises to be a brutal match. They don’t call it a war for nothing. When you’re already thinking about your history in the business and how it might be winding down, as you mention in that great promo, how does a match like this impact that future, you think?
Daniels: Honestly I don’t think about it. I don’t worry about it. This isn’t the first time I’ve gone into a match that isn’t specifically just wrestling. I’ve gone into cage matches, I’ve gone into Ultimate X, and I’ve said this before: I know exactly what I’ve signed up for, and I’m not afraid of anything in front of me, and I’m willing to do anything and whatever it takes to come out with my hand raised. Knowing that I’m going in thinking that any minute could be the last match of my career, maybe Alex and Sabin and the Bucks should think about how far someone is willing to go if they know that they’ve got nothing left to lose. Know what I mean? I’m not too worried about it. I’m not worried about getting hurt. I’m not worried about the next day. I’m worried about winning that match. And we’ll see how it all ends out.
Paste: Is there anything in your career you still hope to accomplish? Perhaps without Frankie by your side? Anything in the singles world?
Daniels: Well, obviously, never having held a world championship, that’s always on my mind. I’d love an opportunity to be world champion. And honestly I’d love an opportunity for Frankie Kazarian to be world champion as well. We’re both world class athletes and could be the Ring of Honor World Champion if we wanted to it. It’s just a matter of that opportunity presenting itself. Right now, the mentality of where we are as a team, that’s sort of front and center. I’ve never said that I don’t want that world championship, and I’ve never said I’ve given up hope on having it, either. Of course that’s something that I would hold out hope that I could have that opportunity to be.
Paste: It’s crazy to think that you’ve never won one. You’ve been such a world class wrestler for so long.
Daniels: I’ve had opportunities. It’s not like I haven’t been given opportunities. It’s just the times weren’t right and it just didn’t fall my way. But that also means I still have something left to do and that drives me to continue doing what I want to do. That’s why I’m not rushing into retirement any time soon. It may be close by, but I’m not going gently into that dark night, if you will.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s wrestling, comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.