Since returning to TNA Impact Wrestling in 2011, Christopher Daniels has emerged as one of the top performers of the promotion.
Now the Fallen Angel is gearing up to face his longtime friend AJ Styles in a Last Man Standing match on Sunday, July 8 at the Destination X pay-per-view from Universal Studios Orlando.
The two rivals have met numerous times in the past, including at the same event last year.
“AJ is one of the best in the world,” Daniels said. “We have great chemistry together that the challenge for us after so many years of wrestling each other is somehow keeping it fresh. This particular match is a Last Man Standing match, so it will make that a little bit easier because it’s a completely different mindset. As far as getting in the ring with someone the caliber of AJ, I’m never bored with it. There is always the challenge to make it great and make it different for the fans. That is what I appreciate it.”
The match-up may be the same, but the TNA star believes there is more of a story and added intensity this time around.
“The truth of the matter is last year I was sort of treading water when the match came around,” Daniels said. “It didn’t seem like the company had a lot of plans for me or at least the plans that they had for me beginning with that match. There wasn’t a whole lot going on for me before Destination X.
“Now that we have had this sort of thing going on for pretty much the whole year, I feel like I am in a better position with the company. I feel like I contributed more this year than in the last. With the previous match, it was just a marquee matchup. It was a technical exhibition style match. This one is going to have a little bit more blood behind it.”
The back story leading into Destination X on July 8 has all the elements of a daytime soap opera or an episode of “Maury.” Each week on television Daniels was getting under the skin of Styles by creating speculation that Styles and TNA President Dixie Carter were having an affair. It was revealed that Styles and Carter’s secret was that they were helping a mutual friend battle her addictions. On the recent Impact Wrestling, viewers were shocked to find out that the friend, Claire Lynch, was pregnant with Styles’ baby. The program has drawn mixed reaction from the audience, but Daniels feels fans shouldn’t rush to judgment.
“As far as the story goes, we are right on track where we want to go,” Daniels said. “I think people who are upset with the storyline are assuming that they know the end or where this is going, and they don’t. So I just tell people who are upset to just wait and see what happens. I know there was a lot of speculation about the introduction of Claire, but that wasn’t a last minute decision. It’s something we thought about for a while. You just need to see where it goes. This is something that has been thought out. If the people give it the same amount of chance that we put into it, the amount of effort we put into it, I think they are going to be happy with the end result.”
The veteran is honored to be spotlighted in such a high profile way.
“I think it shows a lot of trust on her part to put me in that position,” Daniels said. “It means a lot to me that the company and Dixie both have that trust in my abilities and effort to put me in that position where you have the president of the company interacting back-and-forth with me on the microphone. I’m very happy for it. It’s a great opportunity for me. I feel like so far I have done the best with it that I could. I think it has showed in what we have done.”
Daniels believes TNA has always been about giving opportunity. The recent X Division tournament is an example of that, introducing new stars and welcoming back others to the audience. X Division standout Austin Aries is also getting his chance to shine in the main event of the upcoming PPV against Bobby Roode.
“Austin Aries right now is on the top of his game,” Daniels said. “Everything he seems to be doing has been coming up aces, and he has parlayed that into a world title shot. If you watch even last week, we saw the appearance of Sonjay Dutt on our shows. I feel like he is going to be somebody in the next couple of months we will be talking about how good he is and start to show back up on our television. Rubix, Mason Andrews and Rashad Cameron, those guys last week also had opportunity and hit home runs in my opinion. I think they did great.
“Even in defeat, I think Rubix and Mason Andrews were great and hope they get an opportunity with the company to continue. Another good thing about Destination X is we always give X Division guys an opportunity. Last year where we had guys like Kid Kash returning to the company based on his performance at Destination X. I hope these guys get the same opportunity and if they do, I think they are going to do great things with it.”
Daniels is currently one half of the tag team champions with his partner in crime Frankie Kazarian, but he wouldn’t mind returning to the X Division.
“I don’t think that is a step down at all,” Daniels said. “I think I have proven I can wrestle with X Division wrestlers and heavyweight contenders. The tag team I have going on with Frankie Kazarian proves that I am one of the best in TNA when it comes to tag team wrestling. So it doesn’t matter where the company puts me, I’m going to excel no matter what. I feel like right now we just won the tag team championships, so I want to take the time to sort of build a long reign with Frankie and show the world that we are on the same caliber of teams like the Motor City Machine Guns and Beer Money. I feel like, given opportunity, in a year people are going to be saying Daniels and Kazarian are just as good as those teams I just mentioned.
“This is the first opportunity where I had really been able to put something long-term together with one of my best friends. When I was put together with Triple X, I didn’t really know Elix [Skipper] that well. Low Ki and I knew each other, but we had never tagged together. It was because of our schedules in Japan that we never really got to bloom into the tag team I knew we could have. It’s the same thing with me and AJ, when were tag team champions.
“We were only together for six months. I don’t know if people remember that or recognize how short a time we were put together. If we were given the opportunity to last as long as Beer Money did, I feel like we could have been talked about in that same breath. However, I feel like this opportunity I have with Frankie that the company realizes the chemistry we have together, that we can wrestle any two wrestlers you put in the ring with us. We can be the new tag team for this company and bring tag team wrestling back to prominence for TNA.”
The champion relishes in his current role on Impact Wrestling, especially, considering the show has been airing live during the summer months.
“For me personally, the fact that we are live, and that they have put me in the final segment the last couple of times, it’s a lot of pressure,” Daniels said. “It’s good pressure. It’s something I look forward to and something I am trying to excel at. I feel like when they put that microphone in my hand at the last possible second, I believe I have delivered. I plan on continuing to deliver. I want to keep being that guy for TNA. If we continue to be live after the summer, I feel like the company has proven we can do it. It’s just another step forward for the company.”
Another move TNA has made is in its presentation of its backstage segments. The production team has traded the traditional for a more candid and edgy look.
“Guys like Eric [Bischoff] and Jason Hervey have come to us with a more fresh and on-the-fly way of doing it, rather than just giving us a script,” Daniels said. “I feel like it has helped us sharpen our skills. I’ll be walking backstage, and all of a sudden, Jason will come up to me with a camera asking questions. You are answering right off the top of your head, and it’s a more realistic feeling. It’s a more honest answer that you are giving. It’s definitely different...There is a must-see sort of mentality to our television shows.
“The fact that we are going live and doing so much reality based or hidden camera based, there is an idea that the fans have to tune in. It’s not a matter of when we were taped where they could read spoilers on the Internet. They have to watch and see how it rolls. They are getting surprised and caught off guard with what we are doing. I think it’s awesome.”
The live aspect of Impact Wrestling has allowed the promotion to increase its online presence and social network visibility. Daniels, who will celebrate his 20th year in the business in 2013, believes the Internet can be a double-edged sword when it comes to its impact on the business.
“Since the advent of the Internet, the desire to see the curtain pulled back has grown,” Daniels said. “It has certainly become easier to see behind the scenes and know what is going on. It has hurt wrestling in the sense that if more fans were interested in getting caught up in the story rather than trying to understand why things are being done and knowing the story before the story is told, they would enjoy the wrestling more.
“Having said that, because of the Internet, I feel like fans have much more of a choice of what they can watch. If they hear about a match or something going on in a federation, they can go on YouTube or wherever and find it. It is so much more accessible and at their fingertips. They can look at different wrestlers or style of wrestling. They can watch matches from Japan or Mexico or independents here in the U.S. That is the positive impact of the Internet because it has made wrestling more accessible to the fans.
“For the wrestlers, it makes the job a little bit harder. It puts pressure on us to be one step ahead of what the wrestling public knows and try to keep the mind of telling the story without giving away the story.”
The most scrutiny can be found on Twitter these days, where a wrestler’s thoughts in 140 characters or less can lead to various interpretations. For Daniels, it’s the same pressure for anybody who is a public figure.
“When I’m tweeting, me personally, I try to be entertaining,” Daniels said. “I try not to be offensive. I try to be controversial every once and a while. I understand a lot of my followers are younger kids and are impressionable. I feel like that is the burden of being in the public eye. You can’t just say exactly what you feel. You sort of have to temperate with a bit of maturity. That’s fine with me. I have no problem taking the burden of having some common sense about what I put on the Internet.
“We basically had a meeting saying, ‘Use your common sense everybody.’ We are not kids. We are adults, and I feel like a good amount of us have acted like adults on the Internet. Every once in a while somebody may get caught up in the moment and tweet something, but I think it’s very rare to see guys back peddle what they said. I know I’ve been very cautious about the things I’ve said. I try to be aware of things I know people are going to read. Once you put it out there, you can’t take it back. I’m very aware of the things I say, and I know the rest of the company has their mindset on that as well.”
Changing with the times is critical to any grappler who wants a long career in pro wrestling. Despite his longevity in the business, the veteran believes he is still learning.
“I’m always going to Bully Ray for advice,” Daniels said. “With that said, there is a difference between quantity and quality of experience. I feel like I am learning stuff from him, Kurt Angle and Jeff Hardy. I have become close with Ken [Anderson]. I have talked to him about certain things, and he has a different perspective on the business than I do. The things that he has done are different from the things I have done. It’s very informative to talk to him and get ideas from him as well.”
TNA celebrated its 10-year anniversary in June, and Daniels is thankful to be part of the company during its continued evolution.
“As a performer, I enjoyed when we took Impact out on the road,” Daniels said. “It freshens up the product on television. This is not a knock on the [Universal Studios Orlando] Impact Zone crowd at all. Especially since we have gone live, I feel like the live crowd has been very supportive and strong for television. The best presentation of our product to me was when we taped outside the Impact Zone, just for the variety of it. I looked how Slammiversary looked on television and thought that if we could look like that every week, that would be a big step forward.
“I also like the idea of cutting down the amount of pay-per-views just so we have more time to build up some of the stuff. These are things that logistically have to be looked at. Those are decisions that are made by Dixie, by Eric, by Hulk and by Spike TV and the pay-per-view companies who look at the viability of the ideas. I think there are positives to it, but we just have to see.”
• Christopher Daniels battles AJ Styles in a Last Man Standing match 8 p.m. [EST] Sunday, July 8 at the Destination X pay-per-view in Universal Studios Orlando. Austin Aries challenges Bobby Roode for the TNA heavyweight championship. Kurt Angle faces Samoa Joe in a Bound For Glory Series match. The event will also include a tournament final Ultimate X match to crown a new X Division champion.
• “TNA Impact Wrestling” is live throughout the summer on Spike TV at 8 p.m. EST Thursdays from Universal Studios Orlando.
• Follow Daniels on Twitter: @facdaniels or visit his website at www.fallenangelchristopherdaniels.com.
• Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN, http://twitter.com/#!/smFISHMAN, where I post links and information. Opinions expressed reflect no other entity. I can also be found tweeting incessantly during wrestling shows weekly.