Originally published in The Kingston Whig-Standard on March 6, 2013. All rights reserved.
Daniel Covell, better known to wrestling fans worldwide as Total Nonstop Action’s superstar Christopher Daniels, practically grew up in the heart of wrestling country.
As a boy in the 1970s, he called North Carolina — specifically Fayetteville — home. In those days, that area was a synonymous with pro wrestling as Wisconsin is with cheese.
In those parts back then, Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling ruled.
“As a kid, I got the opportunity to watch the Mid-Atlantic territories, which was a part of the NWA, which then turned into WCW,” Daniels said in a telephone interview. “I got to grow up and watch Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes, and the first incarnation of the Four Horsemen, the Rock ’n’ Roll Express, the Midnight Express. Everybody that was coming through the Carolinas, I got a chance to watch live. So yeah, I was a huge fan.”
Into his teenage years, Daniels was drawn to the arts.
“First, I was trying to be an artist, until I found out I didn’t have any talent for that,” he joked.
“So I sort of passed into a theatre class, in high school, and decided to go into that as my chosen career. When I graduated, I did some children’s Theatre, I did some summer stock theatre. When I lived in Chicago, (and) I was doing children’s theatre, in between gigs, I found out about a wrestling school.”
It was a twist of fate that sent Daniels on a successful journey that has lasted into his 40s.
“I decided to try and give that a shot, just to say I did,” he said. “If I walked out, and didn’t make it, at least I could tell my kids ‘Oh, well, your dad tried this out!’”
Some of what he watched as a young wrestling fan must have rubbed off on Daniels, as the beginning of his wrestling training seemed to come relatively easily.
“It came a little bit easier to me than I thought it would,” he said, adding “because I had a frame of reference, learning how to do stuff came really quickly to me. So when I started wrestling, I was wrestling my first match three months after I started training. And that’s where you do most of your learning is wrestling in front of crowds. It was good that I got into the ring as quickly as I did.”
The early part of Daniels’ career was spent working for now defunct Windy City Wrestling. He would also spend a large portion of his career working the independent scene, eventually earning him the nickname King of the Indies.
He would also spend some time with World Wrestling Entertainment and World Championship Wrestling before finding a steady home with the upstart Ring of Honor, even competing in the main event at the company’s debut show.
Daniels, along with the likes of WWE superstars CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, are a few of the big names today who are synonymous with Ring of Honor. They are also credited with helping shine a light on smaller, independent wrestling companies.
“We’ve been very fortunate to sort of stick with it and not take no for an answer,” Daniels said about the trail the three have blazed. “And it took us a while to finally break through,” he added, paying homage to Punk and Bryan, two of the biggest names in pro wrestling today. “Those guys worked a long time to get to where they are now. They’re weeks away from their next WrestleMania.”
Daniels is diplomat when discussing how he never caught on with WWE.
“I think that they never really saw anything that they could really sink their teeth into,” he said. “Which is OK, because you know, the truth of the matter is I was never really their type of wrestler. Or when I was, or now that I am … I don’t know … I’ve already got ties to TNA, or Ring of Honor, or wherever I was, at the time.”
In wrestling, the moment is often everything.
“A lot of it was timing, but I think a lot of it was just preference,” he admitted. “You know, there was a period of time, when I was a younger guy, when I was trying to get a job there, but they were more interested in guys that were taller, and heavier. Guys that were built more like Ryback, (instead of) me. If it wasn’t for places like TNA, Japan, and Ring of Honor, I might not have had the career that I’ve had. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities, despite WWE’s reluctance to ever give me an opportunity.”
While Daniels never caught the right eye at the right time with WWE, Punk did, and Daniels couldn’t be happier for his Ring of Honor alum.
“I think it’s great, man. He rose to the top at a time where it seemed like John Cena might be the only person that WWE would give that opportunity to,” he said, when speaking of Punk’s amazing 434-day run as World Wrestling Entertainment Champion, “You know, it took him a while to sort of find his groove, but I think it’s a testament to his hard work, and his stubbornness to stick with it. And to finally break through and hold a World Heavyweight Championship for more than a calendar year … that’s a big accomplishment, especially in this day and age. It all goes back to the effort he put in to get there in the first place, and the effort he put in to stand out, and be somebody that the crowd wanted to see.”
For most of the last decade-plus, Daniels has called TNA (a.k.a. Impact Wrestling) home. TNA is a privately held professional wrestling promotion founded by Jeff Jarrett and Jerry Jarrett and now owned by Panda Energy International CEO Robert Carter. Carter’s daughter, Dixie, is president.
Daniels, who will be in action at TNA’s Lockdown pay-per-view on Sunday at 8 p.m., is one of its founding members and has been embroiled in countless key storylines over the years. For his part, Daniels is proud of what TNA has accomplished as a heavy underdog.
“The fact that we came from such a waxed business plan in terms of the Wednesday pay-per-views, and while we were doing that, people were already sounding the death bell for the company, you know, after a year. But the fact that we’ve taken these tall steps forward … each step might not have been huge, but they were still steps forward … whether it was going from Nashville to Orlando, or going from FOX Sportsnet to SpikeTV. Going from Saturday (late) night to Thursday night (prime time). Going from (a) taped (multiple week program) to live (every week). These are all steps forward that we’ve taken, and it’s a testament to the hard work of guys like AJ (Styles), Samoa Joe, James Storm, Bobby Roode, and me and Frankie Kazarian. We’re just lucky to have been there, pretty much, right from the beginning, and helping build this company from the ground up.
Daniels also heaped praise on Dixie Carter.
“You know, she’s given a lot of people opportunities that they may not have had, if it wasn’t for TNA,” he said. “And the fact that she came around, and helped TNA last, it’s a big deal for a lot of us. Those of us who have never had that opportunity with WWE, we’re on a nationally televised wrestling promotion, and we’re living our dream.”
Daniels, who in just a few weeks will celebrate his 43rd birthday, is a bit of a rarity in the business. Pro wrestling, while scripted, is a very physically demanding sport, one that sees many guys have short careers. Few wrestle full-time, on TV, into their mid-lives. Daniels credits his ever-evolving fitness routine for helping with his longevity.
“A lot of it has to do with trying to stay ahead of the curve, in terms of physical fitness,” he said. “I try different things, and I try to play to my strengths. I know what my strengths are, so try to keep, in terms of stamina, and speed, that’s sort of my game when it comes to wrestling. Now, I’m not looking to get bigger, or heavier. I’m content with being the size that I am, as long as I can stay in good shape, and keep my stamina up, those are my goals.”
Daniels rhymed off some the various workouts and routines he’s tried in recent years. “I’ve given everything a try, from P90X, to Insanity, to DDP Yoga. There’s a lot of different things that I’ll try, to sort of add years to my career. And because I’m in my 40s, I know that it will be harder for me to recuperate from my injuries.”
At the end of the day, though, Daniels says, he is simply more intelligent at this stage in his career. And while he has been involved in some of Impact Wrestling’s riskest matches, dubbed Ultimate X, a match that sees competitors scale ring ropes cross-crossed nearly 10 feet above the ring, he hasn’t missed signifigant time with an injury.
“I’ve learned to wrestle a lot smarter over the last decade, and I’ve just been very fortunate to avoid that ill-timed injury. You know, I’ve had a couple of bumps, and some things that have taken me out of the ring for short periods of time, but nothing really major, and I’ve been really lucky.
“I would be lying if I said that I didn’t have aches, and pains, and bruises, after 20 years,” he said, “but that has a lot to do, also, with how hard I work in the gym, how I recuperate, how I try to take care of myself. I try to do a lot of stuff that prevents those types of injuries, that wear-and-tear, and try to get my work out to where it keeps me in good shape, and keeps me in good ring-shape.”
Daniels, himself, was taken aback at the suggestion that the average length of a professional wrestler’s career is in the four- to six-year range, given his longevity.
“It feels like it has gone on forever,” Daniels added with a laugh, when speaking of his own career. And the longevity of his career is not lost on him. “There is something to be said for someone who can keep a job (in professional wrestling) for over a decade. It’s all about ‘what have you done lately?’ ”
And it’s not hard to point to what Daniels has been doing right. He is part of the highly entertaining tag team Bad Intentions, with his tag team partner Kazarian, and has found himself in many entertaining feuds, including a long-time series with his friend Styles.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have been linked with him throughout the course of my career, and very proud of all of the matches that we’ve had,” Daniels said of his long time friend Styles. “I think that when you look at his career, and my career, I think we’re always going to be mentioned with the same penance. I think that he’s one of the best that TNA’s ever had.”
And it’s hard to argue that Daniels, himself, isn’t one of the best ever.