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Grappling with ideas

In his PR shots, the wrestler Christopher Daniels ó a/k/a the Fallen Angel ó bears more than a passing resemblance to a Chippendales dancer. Before he was a wrestler, Daniels, 33, was in the theater ó he played Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Vladimir in Waiting for Godot. As a child, he had an artistic bent. Today, after 10 years in the ring, Daniels describes his role as analogous to that of a musical conductor. " Youíre conducting an orchestra, but instead of people playing instruments, theyíre playing their emotions, " he says. " It can be very cathartic for them. "

The Fallen Angel doesnít talk much like a professional wrestler. There is very little in the way of Roaarr! about him, a complete lack of Grrr! Speaking from his home in Los Angeles, he sounds remarkably thoughtful, even a little pedantic. By the time he starts declaring things like, " Humility is not the best character trait for the professional wrestler " and " There is a stereotype of the wrestler as a hulking giant with a limited vocabulary, " you find yourself toying with the idea of having a go at Daniels yourself. How bad could it be?

Actually, pretty bad.

Danielsís signature move ó his " finisher " ó is a little number called Last Rites, or, in the parlance of the industry, " an inverted swinging face-breaker. " Eight years in the making, Last Rites consists of the Angel grabbing his opponent by the head and bending it back, swinging his body violently around to the left, and slamming the whole ensemble down onto the mat. Daniels has promised to give me a personal demonstration of the move when he comes to town next month. " But donít operate any heavy machinery afterwards, " he quips.

As well as being one of the most accomplished wrestlers in the world, Daniels is also one of the sportís most prized spokesmen. For the past year, he has competed in ó and become a standard-bearer for ó Ring of Honor, a year-old wrestling circuit out of Philadelphia that is supposedly on the verge of revolutionizing the game. " This is wrestling for people who donít like wrestling, " says Mike G., a wrestling promoter. " This is not that bullshit you see on TV. "

According to Ring of Honor acolytes, mass-market outfits like World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly WWF) ó with their " over-produced, Hollywood-written, immature story lines " ó have given the sport a bad name. " I watched a [WWE] bout the other night, " Mike G. says. " Itís offensive to me. I turned it off. " The fighting that takes place in the Ring of Honor, on the other hand, is more " sophisticated, " more " athletic, " more " scientific. " As such, the argument goes, the sport attracts a better class of spectator.

" Wrestling is low on the totem pole. As a fan, you are immediately lumped in with the Neanderthals, " Mike G. says. " Now, all of a sudden, itís become hip to be a wrestling fan again. You look into the crowd ó youíve still got your loudmouths, of course ó but you see girls, you see older fans. This is totally different. Itís wrestling, but within a context that intelligent wrestling fans can enjoy. "

Maybe so, but Ring of Honor still contains its share of show biz. The fighters come with names like Spanky and Samoa Joe. Fallen Angel, one of the best-loved villains in the game, will defrock himself in the ring, revealing those Chippendales-quality abs, eliciting a chorus of boos and catcalls from the cheap seats. As the well-toned face-breaker himself says, " Itís all about garnering a certain response from the crowd. " Then thereís the actual wrestling, which is about as natural as Pamela Andersonís bra size, right?

Actually, Mike G. is full of stories about blood on the mat, about scars you could slot a quarter into. The Fallen Angel once fell on his head and lost the feeling in his left arm for a month. " These matches can get pretty brutal, " Mike G. says. " The hits are, as we say in this business, stiff. Those karate chops, those kicks, you can hear the thud. This is the real thing. " There is a momentís pause. " Or as real as professional wrestling can get. "

On June 14, at 7:30 p.m., Daniels and other Ring of Honor stars will perform at the National Guard Armory, 450 Concord Avenue, in Cambridge. Tickets are $15 to $30. Call (215) 891-9404.

Issue Date: May 30 - June 5, 2003
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