Christopher Daniels first came to my attention in 2002 as part of a tag team called Triple X. Triple X was a part of Sports Entertainment Extreme, the brainchild of Vince Russo, a man who was known to eschew the traditional, simple storytelling of professional wrestling in favour of trashy, sensationalist storylines and an over-reliance of sex appeal. It’s an odd way to be introduced to the man who, for me, would come to define professional wrestling at its purest.
To Christopher Daniels, wrestling seemed to be a form of athletic expression. In it, he would innovate with endlessly inventive acrobatic spectacle while keeping grounded to the roots of professional wrestling as a simulation of combat with a deep and precise technical game. He has an arsenal of moves second to none that exemplifies everything that makes in-ring action the most vital part of any wrestling show. Something that certain outlets (no, not just that one) have forgotten.
Time has allowed my selective, rose-coloured memory to blank out Russo’s contributions to Triple X, but in essence, they billed themselves as the next step in professional wrestling’s evolution, declaring their own style the dominant form of pro-wrestling and signing the death warrant of the old form. Once again, this is totally at odds with how I view Daniels. As an embracer of the new and a vanguard of the old.
He and his stablemates, Low-Ki and Elix Skipper, would make a hell of an impact (no pun intended) on the early days of TNA, helping to put the North American high-flying style on the map. From there, he would split from the team and go on to rule the TNA X Division as the roster’s most dastardly heel. The X Division was TNA’s USP, a brand of action that you could get nowhere else, that had such alumni in it as Samoa Joe, Austin Aries and AJ Styles. Daniels ruled that division with an iron fist when it was producing some of the most exciting wrestling action in the world.
For a brief, shining moment TNA was the hardcore fan’s salvation in a world where WWE no longer had any mainstream competition, and the X-Division was what those fans came to see. Occasionally, it would even usurp World Title matches in PPV events. None of this would have been possible without Daniels. To it, he brought a sense of storytelling and character too few of the more athletically focused members were contributing. He added a narrative edge that not only made the matches physically impressive but also emotionally engaging.
Becoming the champion of that division would be a big step for The Fallen Angel. He would be the longest reigning champion at the time (at the time of writing, he still holds the record for the third-longest reign in the division) and feuded with almost everyone on that roster. But it was his triple threat match with Samoa Joe and AJ Styles that is still considered to be the X-Division’s magnum opus. It was so good there was a rematch four years later, only this time it was for the World Heavyweight Championship.
Daniels lost that match and would leave TNA having had a handful of world title shots but never becoming champion. This, for more than a decade, has been the tragedy of Christopher Daniels. As one of the most charismatic, professional and awe-inspiring performers in the company, Daniels should have been seen as a main-eventer. Unfortunately, that is not the path TNA chose to walk.
Instead of investing in the talent they already had under contract and creating stars that would make their brand unique, TNA chose to chase marquee performers from other companies. Near retirement age athletes who couldn’t keep up with the younger talent but were booked to go over them anyway. They filled the company’s main events with familiar stars whose personas were inseparable from their previous companies and dragged those reputations over TNA’s locker room, crowding out the other performers and making TNA all but indistinguishable from those failed promotions that came before it.
In the other brand with which Daniels is synonymous, Ring of Honor, Daniels would be more of a headlining name, but even then, not by much. For years he would be more known for his tag-team runs with Frankie Kazarian as The Addiction or as a lead member of The Prophecy stable. He would have more title shots here but to no avail either.
You see, Daniels is the embodiment of the phrase ‘Not the Guy’. No matter his work rate, how much his inclusion makes matches and stories work, how good his character or promos are, no one has ever pulled the trigger on him as a main-event draw. There have been plenty of guys like him before, amazing in-ring talent that will just not get the push fans like me clamour for. Rick Rude, Dean Malenko, Lance Storm, all were capable of having the match of the night on any card they were on, but wrestling companies often believe the least important thing in wrestling … is the actual wrestling. No company so far has seen fit to make Daniels, ‘The Guy’.
That was until March 10, 2017. Daniels and his fellow ROH legacy veterans competed in the first-ever Decade of Excellence tournament, a tournament for those who have played a vital part in ROH’s ascension to the top of the indie totem pole. The tournament was host to talents like Jay Lethal, Alex Shelley and the Briscoe brothers. Daniels beat Mark Briscoe in the opening round and his brother Jay in the final.
But wasn’t over there. The prize for this tournament was a shot at the ROH World Championship. To finish off what he had started, Daniels had to face Adam Cole at the ROH 15th Anniversary Show. It would be a tough battle. The story was an epic one invoking ideas of destiny, mortality and sacrifice. In one of his career-best promos, Daniels talked about being a terrible family man, eschewing his responsibilities in favour of his obsessive chase for World Championship, only to fail time, after time, after time. Now, at 45, he knew his time was running out and he could see the end of his career coming up fast.
That was the least of his worries, though. Daniels’ tag team partner Frankie Kazarian turned on him at the end of last year to join Cole’s stable, the diabolical Bullet Club. The turn became a swerve, however, as Kazarian duped Cole to secure the title for his long-time friend and partner.
The Fallen Angel, Christopher Daniels, finally captured a title that he has eluded him for a decade and a half, ever since participating in the first match for the ROH World Championship, all the way back on July 27, 2002 against Doug Williams, Brian Kendrick and eventual winner, Low-Ki. It was a fitting way to thank such a trailblazer in the industry and such a generous and selfless performer. It reminded me of Jerry Lynn’s win in 2009, himself 46 at the time and facing saying goodbye to the squared circle.
Lynn’s reign lasted only 71 days, just over two months. I want Daniels to have better. I want him to be the last champion if necessary, and take it into the next decade and the decade after that. But I’m just a fan. Hell, I’m a massively biased fanboy. I’m not a promoter, let alone a God. I can’t imbue him with the power to keep wrestling when he’s 60.
What does this mean for Daniels now? Will his time as champion propel him into the mainstream like it did Kevin Owens or Seth Rollins? Will he end up on NXT as an old veteran looking for one last shot at the big time, going out in a blaze of glory? Or will he use this as an opportunity to put over his colleagues, as he has done time and time again? Is WWE fame, perhaps even a WrestleMania moment in his sights? Is that even an ambition for him, or does he want nothing to do with that sort of spotlight? Like I said, I’m just a fan. I don’t know the man, or can claim to understand the inner machinations of his brain. But whatever his ambitions are, I hope he realises them. It’s what he deserves after giving the fans, and his fellow wrestlers, so much of his extensive genius.
One thing is for certain, though. He is no longer the best wrestler in the world to have never held a major world championship. He is now one of the best wrestlers that ever has.