Photo courtesy of TNA Wrestling.
----Code word for ticket contest: Impact----
By Scott Schlaufman
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As a fan who once sat in the seats of arenas in North Carolina watching wrestlers such as Ric Flair, Sting, Magnum T.A. and tag teams like the Rock 'n' Roll Express, "The Fallen Angel" Christopher Daniels knows the value of a live event.
"Those matches for me, that's what made me love wrestling so much, is watching these guys live and in color, do their thing," Daniels, a wrestler for Nashville-based Total Nonstop Action Wrestling said by phone Tuesday.
"I think people need to understand is that the best way to enjoy professional wrestling is live. You get a certain sense of it when you're watching it on television but it's a completely different feel when you get to watch your favorite wrestlers perform live."
It's an experience that Daniels hopes to bring to Fargo Dec. 1 when TNA Wrestling makes a stop at the Venue at the Hub on its Impact Wrestling World Tour.
In tow with Daniels will be nationally recognized performers such as Jeff Hardy and Rob Van Dam, who both held top titles at World Wrestling Entertainment, Bully Ray and Devon, who once made famous Dudley Boys tag team, and womens wrestler Tara, who was a top female performer at WWE under the name "Victoria."
Alongside those who made their names in other promotions are the wrestlers like Daniels, who helped build TNA from a small promotion that ran weekly in the Tennessee State Fairgrounds arena 10 years ago to its current product, which airs every Thursday night on Spike TV.
The core group of TNA originals includes wrestlers such as A.J. Styles, Robert Roode and "The Cowboy" James Storm, all of whom are scheduled to appear at the Fargo event. More recent additions to the roster, such as former TNA Heavyweight Champion Austin Aries, Zema Ion and female wrestler ODB are also scheduled to appear.
For someone like Daniels, who's seen the company grow, it's been a rewarding journey.
"It's been very gratifying to know that your hard work is paying off," he said. "When we were in the Asylum in Nashville and we were doing the weekly pay-per-views, you heard the scuttlebutt that we weren't going to last a year, that it wasn't going to last, we weren't going to catch hold or anything and it was a short term thing. None of us believed that, though, we never got the impression backstage that 'oh, we're just going to run through somebody's money and then they'll close down and we'll have to find other work.' We were out to go put the best product we could."
As a result, the company gained interest from the larger stars in other promotions, such as Kurt Angle and Christian Cage, who made the jump from WWE to TNA, and later from bonafide legends Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan.
"Our hard work laid the foundation, and then these guys came in, Kurt Angle and Christian Cage, guys who contributed so much to the growth of TNA but if it wasn't for the foundation that was laid by guys that started off in the Asylum (in Nashville), you wouldn't have had those people interested in making TNA something. So when Kurt Angle came around, it was because he saw the stuff we were doing and he wanted to be a part of a growing federation, same thing with Christian Cage, same thing with Hulk Hogan, same thing with Bubba Ray and Devon. They wouldn't have come over here if there wasn't the potential to be something big."
Despite the growth, Daniels said the goal is still the same â€” provide a good show.
"We come out, we give the people their money's worth and that's what we want. Our company grew basically through the hard work and word-of-mouth. If we go out there and we phone it in, that word-of-mouth hurts us, and we know that, so we go out there and put out our 100 percent every night we go out to the house shows. "When we go out to these live events, we're trying to get that word-of-mouth and get people to understand that we're putting our best effort out, no matter where we are, whether the cameras are rolling or not."
A large part of the experience lies in fan interaction.
Higher priced ticket holders will get a chance to do a meet and greet before the show and the company is known for having action figure signings, in-ring photos following the event, and simply putting fans close enough for a high five from their favorite star.
"We try to get everybody to at least interact with some of the roster in some way, shape or form," Daniels said. "We try to go that extra mile to make the live events memorable."
Additionally, Daniels said that unlike the television production, which contains interviews and commercials, the focus at a live show is about the wrestling.
"You're not going to go out there and see a debate, you're not going to go out there and see staged vignettes, you're going to see the actual in-ring action and that's what people pay money to see, and I think TNA's roster is the best roster in professional wrestling and we go out and we prove it every night with the live events," he said.
Daniels recognizes that not all fans may be familiar with the TNA product and may be more familiar with WWE, but encourages fans to give their company a try.
"If they're fans of wrestling at all, the best wrestling in the world is done at the TNA events, whether it's on television, pay-per-view, or the live events, we're the best wrestling in the world," he said. "I think we're the most talented roster from top to bottom and you're going to see high flying action, you're going to see guys who are willing to put their lives on the line to entertain, and you're going to see stuff that's not your mainstream, not your normal 9-to-5 style wrestling.
"You're going to see guys out there trying to make names for themselves and trying to make memorable evenings for these crowds."