In one of the best stories in wrestling over the last year, 24-year veteran Christopher Daniels has struggled to come to grips with the twilight of his career. From his passionate promo about the Ring of Honor World Tag Team titles before last year’s brutal Ladder War match, to his even more passionate comments on how much it would mean to finally win the Ring of Honor World title at the company’s recent 15th Anniversary pay-per-view, Daniels has blurred the lines between life and TV while making wrestling championships feel more important than they have in years. In the process, he won his very first singles world championship, defeating Adam Cole at that PPV earlier this month.
“I feel like there’s a weight off my shoulders,” Daniels says today of his title win. “Now that I have it, I realize that whole time, even when I said I’m okay without it, I was lying to myself. I always wanted it.”
If any recent champion truly deserved the suddenly ubiquitous “you deserve it” chant, it’s Daniels, who’s wrestled for almost every major promotion in the world since debuting in 1993. Formerly synonymous with TNA, Daniels has worked for Ring of Honor off and on since the company was founded in 2002—he actually main evented its very first show in a match against Low Ki and Bryan Danielson (aka WWE’s Daniel Bryan). He’s held titles across the world, but he’s never held a promotion’s biggest belt until right now. It’s an honor Daniels doesn’t take lightly.
“The name ‘Ring of Honor’ means quality professional wrestling,” he says. “To me [being the World Champion] means the company sees you as a viable person to represent the name overall. When people talk about ROH the first person they think about is the World Champion, so for me to hold that championship and represent the company as a whole, I feel like it’s the confidence of the promotion itself and all the guys in the locker room that I’m sort of carrying on my back and representing. It’s a place of prestige.”
Now that he’s realized his dream, Daniels has a new goal: to hold on to that title as long as possible. Ring of Honor has a history of lengthy title reigns, from Samoa Joe and Bryan Danielson through Jay Lethal. It’s been a tumultuous few months for the championship, though, with it changing hands four times since Lethal lost it to Cole last June. Daniels intends to restore some stability to the title, not just for his own satisfaction, but to insure the title remains one of the most prestigious in the business.
Daniels’s first major title defense comes this Saturday at Supercard of Honor XI in Lakeland, Fla., against Dalton Castle, perhaps the most popular wrestler in ROH today. Daniels acknowledges that he might not have the full support of the fans behind him this time, but he’s still excited to start his title reign off in style.
“A lot of people ask me, now that I’ve won a world championship, are there any goals left that I still have on my bucket list, so to speak,” Daniels says. “And the one that I have is to build a great title reign. I want to prove that I’m a deserving world champion at this point in my career, and that means I have to go out and wrestle guys like Dalton Castle and beat them in great wrestling matches.
“Dalton, right now, is riding a wave of popularity. He’s certainly talented, one of the top rising stars that Ring of Honor’s focusing on. So for me this is the first step in building a title reign that is comparable to the people that came before me. As much as I respect Dalton and like him as a person, I have to go out there and be better than him in this wrestling ring, so that’s my plan.”
If Daniels successfully defends his title against Castle this weekend, speculation will immediately begin on who his next challenger will be. With the recent report that WWE has been in talks with Ring of Honor owner Sinclair Broadcasting Group about buying the promotion, though, the question becomes more complicated. One might even start to wonder if Christopher Daniels, who won his first Ring of Honor World Championship 15 years after headlining the company’s very first show, could possibly be the last Ring of Honor World Champion.
Daniels claims no insider knowledge of the situation, but severely doubts that Ring of Honor’s days are numbered. “I hear the rumors,” he says. “I can’t imagine a scenario where purchasing Ring of Honor outright benefits Sinclair in the long run. My opinion is, Sinclair bought Ring of Honor for a specific purpose and with a long term plan. It’s more than just money in one set sum for them. There’s potential for them to make money for many years if they stick with it. This is just me as a wrestler who doesn’t make those decisions, or know the entirety of the facts, but I feel like a full-on purchase of ROH by WWE doesn’t necessarily benefit Sinclair as much as the current business plan for Ring of Honor does. I could see a possibility of maybe using our tape library to benefit the guys who have come through here who are now there, or if it’s a matter of co-promoting a show, or a partnership in the same way Evolve now has a partnership with them. But I can’t imagine a full on purchase. I don’t think I’m the last [ROH World Champion.]”
No matter what happens at Supercard of Honor, or what the future holds for the entire promotion, one fact will remain true: Christopher Daniels won Ring of Honor’s top title. As far as history is concerned, he’ll always be a world champion.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s wrestling, comedy and games sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.