For Christopher Daniels, wrestling in the main event on the first Ring of Honor show against Low-Ki and Bryan Danielson was just another show.
They had worked together on the independent scene many times before. It was just another match. Another date to fill the bustling indy wrestler’s schedule.
But in hindsight, the trio’s top billing on the Era of Honor Begins, a card that also featured Eddie Guerrero versus Super Crazy, showed that ROH co-founders Gabe Sapolsky and Rob Feinstein were making a statement and not “piggy backing” off the success of others.
“They were going to make their own stars,” Daniels said. “They weren’t going to build ROH off the reputation of someone like Eddie Guerrero or Super Crazy.”
And that model has contributed to the company’s 15 year journey, which culminates Friday when its 15th anniversary show emanates from Sam’s Town Live in Las Vegas.
It’s at that show that Daniels will challenge Adam Cole for the ROH World championship, in a bout that doubles as an “opportunity to sort of bring the story of Christopher Daniels in ROH full circle.”
Daniels landed the match after defeating Jay Briscoe in the finals of the Decade of Excellence tournament. But what is yet to be determined, Daniels said, is “whether or not this is the feel good story of a guy who has worked as long as he has to finally earn the one who escaped his grasp… [or] despite all of his talent, he never could win the big one.”
“A lot is riding on that one match for me … It’s something that I’ve been thinking about ever since the match with Jay Briscoe in Atlanta,” said Daniels, who has not challenged for the belt since 2011.
However, if he walks away the victor, it won’t be his first taste of ROH gold. Over the years, he has held the ROH World tag team championships with three different partners — Matt Sydal, Donovan Morgan and, most recently, Frankie Kazarian. While he has the utmost respect for Morgan and Sydal, Daniels said, the tandem of Kazarian and himself is “all us.”
“It’s our creation and our friendship on display, basically,” Daniels said. “So tagging with Frankie is probably not the best [tag team from my time] in ROH, [but] over my career [as a whole].”
BEFORE RING OF HONOR
While his name has become synonymous with ROH over the years, the Fallen Angel also had a taste of life with WWE in the late 1990s when he was offered the opportunity to train at Dory Funk Jr.’s Funkin’ Dojo.
“There was an opportunity a couple years after that, where I was given the opportunity — given the choice — of trying to go to Memphis and sign a development deal with WWF, or sign a contract I was offered at WCW,” Daniels said. “At the time, I felt WCW was better for me and my family in the sense that it was an actual contract … I didn’t convey that feeling to WWF.”
Daniels said that at that time, WCW “was the chance to be on television,” which would allow him to “get good momentum going as a character,” that could later turn into interest from then-WWF.
While he was working with WWF, a near-opportunity presented itself for the Fallen Angel, according to Bruce Prichard. On a recent podcast, Prichard said that Daniels was suggested as the person behind the “higher power” of the Corporate Ministry during the Attitude Era. But Daniels said the idea was never pitched to him directly.
“Bruce has known me for a long time … If he liked my work and he pitched me for this opportunity, I appreciate that,” Daniels said. “At same time, I realize why it was turned down.”
The era, and especially The Undertaker’s entourage at the time, was engrossed with “all these established superstars,” according to Daniels.
“To say that the intellect or the boss behind those guys was an unknown cruiserweight, I can understand why that was turned down,” Daniels said, “[But it’s] cool to think Bruce mentioned my name.”
Though Daniels had “plenty of dark matches” with WWE and played the part of Los Conquistadores as needed, his endeavors with the sports entertainment giant never went beyond that.
“In the end, at that point, they never saw anything that they felt that they wanted to invest in,” Daniels said, “and I completely understand that. The mentality that they had then, it’s a lot different than they have now.”
However, he noted that if the current “thought process” in WWE had surfaced when he left TNA in 2010, WWE “might have looked at me in a different light.”
RETURN TO ROH
Despite his career-long association with Ring of Honor, Daniels parted ways in 2004 (to return roughly one year later), 2007 (coming back in 2010) and 2011 (returning in 2014). The Fallen Angel solidified himself as a mainstay in TNA’s X-Division, as well as appearing in CHIKARA.
Through his tenure with ROH, Daniels has worked against Samoa Joe, Eddie Edwards and ReDRagon, among a multitude of others. But for the former ROH World Television champion to pick just one of those to define his career is next to impossible.
“It’s hard to pick out of everything. There are so many great matches and great feuds that I had … Putting all those together is the definition of my career,” Daniels said.
Through the company’s decade-and-a-half existence, Daniels said the biggest change has been the business model. The “spirit of the locker room” has remained the same.
“[We still want to] break out and make ourselves relevant on the pro wrestling scene,” Daniels said. “For lot of guys … [ROH is their] first opportunity to break out onto a national spotlight.”
Initially, the ROH concept was “meant to be seen on VHS and DVD,” according to Daniels.
“Now that we’re with Sinclair, it’s more of an episodic television feel,” Daniels said of the company, which Sinclair Broadcast Group purchased in 2011.
It’s more the medium, or how the product is being distributed, that has changed. Going forward, the four-time ROH World tag team champion would like to see that trend continue.
“I would love the spotlight of ROH to be elevated just by more and more television exposure,” Daniels said. “I would love for the opportunity for ROH to be seen one specific day, one specific time on the syndicated channels, or… getting a show on a cable network, or to get two hours.”
Because of the “diverse group of athletes” on the ROH roster, Daniels said it would “behoove” the company to have more television and an opportunity to showcase its talent. He also tossed around the idea of an ROH-style network, similar to the WWE Network, that could spotlight 15 years’ worth of content.
ROH 15TH ANNIVERSARY SHOW
Friday, Mar 10, 2017 6:00pm PST at Sam’s Town Live, Las Vegas
– ROH World title: Adam Cole (c) vs Christopher Daniels
– ROH tag titles: Matt & Jeff Hardy (c) vs Young Bucks vs Roppongi Vice
– ROH TV title: Marty Scurll (c) vs Lio Rush
– ROH Six-Man tag titles: The Kingdom (c) vs Dalton Castle & the Boys
– Jay Lethal vs Bobby Fish
– Bully Ray & Briscoes vs War Machine & Davey Boy Smith Jr.