Christopher Daniels should be winding down what has been an illustrious, two decade-plus professional wrestling career that has taken him around the world and even to parts unknown.
He is, after all, 44 years old, which in wrestling years, is certainly up there.
But don’t tell that Daniels, whose real name is Daniel Covell. He’s much too busy and motivated to listen.
Daniels is back home with Ring of Honor following a lengthy and very successful run with Total Nonstop Action that unceremonious ended earlier this year.
And while the ever optimistic Michigan native is as happy as ever, he admits the TNA departure was a bitter pill to swallow after nearly a decade of working for the struggling company.
“I think that they just decided to go with a different crew, which is sort of hard to understand because I felt like Frankie and I were getting over as a team and we were very entertaining and our wrestling was still good,” Daniels said, referring to his current tag-team partner Frankie Kazarian, collectively known as Bad Influence. Kazarian and Daniels will team on Saturday to face Roderick Strong and Jimmy Jacobs at ROH’s All-Star Extravaganza in Toronto at the Mattamy Athletic Centre (a.k.a. Maple Leaf Gardens). “But they still decided to go with other guys. When our contracts expired, they told us that they couldn’t afford to keep us for the small amount that they wanted to use us,” Daniels added, the frustration clear in his voice. “They didn’t have plans for us, so keeping us under contract for doing nothing would’ve been ridiculous. They let me go, my contract expired in April and Frankie’s contract expired in June, so we were free and clear by then.”
The departures of Daniels and Kazarian were two of a number of longtime TNA stars who’ve seen their careers with the company come to an end in the last number of months as the 12-year-old company has struggled to stay afloat and secure a new television deal.
For Daniels, watching some of the major players with TNA disappear was an eye opener.
“I think the big one was AJ (Styles) though. Hulk (Hogan) was Hulk and Sting did a lot for the company and was there for a long time, but I think AJ was the one that really sort of opened my eyes and I sort of saw a difference in the way things were going to get done. And part of me looked at it like, ‘Well, heck, if they’re going to get rid of AJ, they never cared about me a tenth as much as they cared about AJ and they were willing to let him go.’ I’d hoped against hope that that wasn’t going to be what happened but it was.”
To his surprise, TNA owner Dixie Carter wasn’t even aware of Daniels’ departure.
“Dixie didn’t even know about it,” Daniels revealed. “I was told on a Saturday, I (sent) her an email on the Sunday and she emailed me back Monday and said she had no idea.”
It was another former TNA star, and his close friend, AJ Styles, who put Daniels’ mind at ease following his departure from the company.
“That’s sorta something that AJ was telling me the first couple of months when he left TNA, he was sort of surviving and thriving on the independents and when my contract came up and I told him that I was not going to return to TNA, he basically said it was a good thing for me then because there was going to be places for me to go, opportunities for me to go out and sort of remind people that I’m still pretty darned good at this stuff,” Daniels said.
After spending nearly a decade working for TNA and on TV, Daniels returned to the independent scene to find that not much had changed in that regard during his time away.
“It’s the same sort of idea, just a lot of the names, a lot of the guys have changed,” he said, before noting that there is one major new player in the picture, Tommy Dreamer and his House of Hardcore promotion.
“There are people like Tommy Dreamer, who’s taking a crack at running his own show with House of Hardcore,” Daniels said. “And Tommy’s got probably the best experience in terms of seeing it from all sides of anybody running shows on the independent scenes. He’s seen it from WWE, he’s seen it from ECW, he’s seen it from the inside of TNA, so for him, I feel like he knows exactly what he wants to do and what he doesn’t want to do in terms of overreaching or overspending or anything. He still wants the shows to be fun, he still wants the shows to be profitable, and he wants the market that he’s running to not get get overrun or swamped with what he’s doing. He’s doing a really smart business model.”
Daniels has also noted an increase in independent promotions running.
“There are a lot of guys that weren’t running 10 years ago that are running now. That’s part of the difference now. It’s just different names, but certainly the game sort of remains the same.”
Following his departure from TNA, Daniels fulfilled another of his passions and dreams when he had his own comic book published, something he is extremely proud of.
“I was very lucky, first of all to work with Art Baltazar and Franco (Aureliani), those guys who do Tiny Titans for DC and Itty Bitty Hellboy for Dark Horse (Comics),” he said. “I was real lucky. They’ve got such credibility in the comic book world that any project that they decide to do automatically has a little weight to it, a little prestige to it. It was cool. They were very open to the idea of me writing a script and incorporating Frankie and myself with their characters that they created through the Aw Yeah Comics, their self-published stories.”
That project turned out to be Christopher Daniels & Kazarian Wrestle Aw Yeah Comics, an issue featuring Daniels and Kazarian. Daniels says he couldn’t be happier.
“Everybody’s been very positive about the book itself and hopefully it’s not the last thing that I do with those guys.”
A follow-up is in the offing, Daniels revealed.
“I wrote the sequel and it’s ready to go,” he said. “It’s just a matter of Art and Franco, like I said, they’re so in demand right now it’s just a matter of their schedules opening up and being able to do it. The fact that I sent it to them and they liked it, if I can impress those two guys, I feel like I’ve done something in terms of the merit in terms of the story. I’m very happy with the result so far and hopefully the next one gets as much publicity and push as the first one did.”
If all that weren’t enough, Daniels also made his return to the promotion he calls his wrestling home, Ring of Honor.
“I’ve had four different debuts for that company and every time I go away, I go away not because I want to but because I have to,” he said. “But every time I come back, it’s definitely because I want to come back. One of the things that I want to find in pro wrestling at this point, is that challenge: can I still wrestler at that certain level, can I still perform at that top level? And you go into a locker room like Ring of Honor where you’re with guys like Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish and Michael Elgin — these younger guys that are coming up and having great success so early on in their careers.
“Then you throw someone like me in that mix. It means a lot to me to be able to go in there and work with these guys and have good, entertaining matches with them. That’s sort of the thing that drives me now, being able to get in there and get in front of the Ring of Honor crowd, which is one of the most hardcore wrestling fan bases around. For me to be sort of relevant to them, it’s still a big deal to me so I look forward to every show I do for those guys. I definitely feel like it’s the place that I want to be at this point.”
Asked what he has left to achieve at this stage in his career, Daniels is reflective.
“There are things that I never did, there are things that I still think we can do. I’ve never been a world champion and I’d certainly like an opportunity to be a world champion before I’m done doing this stuff.”
Daniels also feels he has work to do with his current partner and friend Kazarian.
“I feel like Frankie Kazarian and I left TNA without really doing everything that we could do as a team. I feel like there is a lot that Frankie and I can do as a team and he and I definitely are looking forward to trying to become the Ring of Honor tag-team champions. Who knows what else we can do? It’s just a matter of getting those opportunities. I’m not looking at this in terms of winding down at this point. I still have goals and I still and I still want to be the top guy in the places where I’m at. And I know Frankie still feels the same way.”
Ring of Honor All Star Extravaganza VI
Where: Mattamy Athletic Centre, Maple Leaf Gardens
When: Saturday, Sept. 6
What time: 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: At the door or ticket master.ca