Originally published on Fanbyte on October 15, 2021
This is becoming a regular thing for Daniel Garcia. It seems that every month, he racks up a week full of bookings that make for appointment viewing. The first that comes to mind for me would be SCI weekend in August. Then, Daniel Garcia made it to the finals of the two-night Scenic City Invitational tournament, before following that up by wrestling a 60-minute time limit draw against Wheeler YUTA for the IWTV Independent Wrestling World Championship.
In September, he had matches airing on back-to-back nights that included a Rampage bout against Darby Allin, a New Japan Strong match against Josh Alexander, and a dip into Black Label Pro to fight “Filthy” Tom Lawlor.
Garcia’s been all over the place having great matches against the best talent in the world and October 2021 brought yet another massive week. This time, matches against four of the most recognizable names in the industry: CM Punk, Alex Shelley, Minoru Suzuki, and Davey Richards.
“I think the best way to prepare for a week like that is just to stay present,” Garcia said. “I think that’s the most important part—not to psyche yourself out or get too excited or in your own head or look too far ahead of yourself. “
vs. CM Punk (AEW Rampage, taped 10/6/21, aired 10/8/21)
It’s no exaggeration to say that Garcia’s match against CM Punk from the October 8th edition of Rampage might be the biggest match in Garcia’s life. Broadcast to an audience of hundreds of thousands on national TV, Daniel Garcia started off a blockbuster week against a man who has dominated the headlines of the year simply by stepping back into the ring: CM Punk.
“If you were to tell me two months ago that I was going to be wrestling CM Punk on national TV, I probably wouldn’t have believed you,” Garcia said.
At only 23-years-old, Garcia’s exactly the kind of wrestler that would have grown up watching CM Punk. “I have his t-shirts. He’s my mom’s favorite wrestler ever.” All this made it even more meaningful for Garcia to get this opportunity. It’s one that’d been in the works since Punk returned to television in August. Even before Punk’s return match against Darby Allin, it was Daniel Garcia who had the distinct honor of being Punk’s first official physical interaction in a wrestling ring since he left the WWE in 2014.
The match itself is a cleanly structured piece of work that gives Garcia a lot to sink his teeth into. The two take their time with the feeling out process, working to find openings that the other can exploit. Punk plays the experienced veteran keeping cool against the talented young upstart. It’s only with the help of a distraction from 2point0 that Garcia got to target Punk’s leg, a plot point which quickly became the focus of the entire match.
It’s after that initial attack on the leg by Garcia and 2point0 that Garcia took the time to soak in the boos of the crowd, mocking CM Punk’s Go 2 Sleep taunt as well. A small moment, but one that speaks to how Garcia’s taken the time to grow as a wrestler on a major television platform. That comfort on TV is something that Garcia credits 2point0 for helping him learn.
“They’re teaching me a lot about TV wrestling and they’re teaching me a lot about capturing moments and saving moments,” Garcia said. “I think you could see the difference in me performing for such a live crowd on my first couple of matches on Dynamite to my last one at Rampage.”
In the end, Punk’s veteran savvy won out as he got the submission victory with the Anaconda Vice. Even then though, he needed a Piledriver to set it up to get it done, a small touch to put over how tough an opponent Garcia truly was.
“Honestly, being in the ring with him felt really natural. I didn’t feel out of place, I felt like I belonged there.”
Speaking to Sports Illustrated, Punk spoke glowingly of Garcia’s abilities in the ring. “Daniel Garcia is light-years beyond his age,” Punk said. “He’s everything I possibly want in a wrestler on a television show.”
Those are words that Garcia does not take lightly. “To be able to get that validation and that credit from somebody at his level who’s been at his level for so long, that meant a lot to me.”
vs. Alex Shelley (BEYOND Uncharted Territory, 10/7/21)
The following night, Garcia found himself in the main event of the Season 3 premiere of Beyond Wrestling’s Uncharted Territory. His opponent, indie wrestling veteran Alex Shelley, one night removed from becoming IWTV World Champion. For longtime fans of the independent circuit, this is a dream pairing. As he had proven with his feud with Lee Moriarty, Alex Shelley can take a young technical wrestler and give them the match of their life.
“Alex Shelley, he wrestles a very specific style,” Garcia said. “Almost like a hybrid, technical, but also super indie style.”
Early in the match, there was a brief moment where Shelley and Garcia spilled out of the ropes after an intense struggle. Garcia gave Shelley an icy stare to intimidate him, and Shelley simply responded by kissing Garcia on the forehead. Moments later, after getting back the advantage, Garcia returned the favor.
“You try to be intense with these stare downs, trying to intimidate your opponent, and all of a sudden the crowd just starts chanting ‘Kiss!’ And sometimes you got to give the crowd what they want, you got to give your opponent a little kiss on the forehead.”
Outside of that brief moment of respite though, the match is filled with struggle. Garcia and Shelley make wrestling look like a game of inches where only the most capable and technically sound worker can walk away with the victory. To that end, Garcia again utilized leg work to try and stunt Shelley’s progress.
As with much in wrestling though, it’s a small thing that ends up spelling Garcia’s doom. Garcia locked in his Deathshooter submission, a Sharphooter variation that sees him lean way back for additional pressure. Unfortunately, Garcia leaning back on the hold put him within Shelley’s reach and Shelley was able to switch it into the Border City Stretch. Garcia held on for a few more minutes before Shelley was able to get the hold back on for the submission victory in one of the best US indie matches of the year.
“Alex is somebody who set the blueprint for what modern day wrestling is to a lot of people in my age group and a lot of my peers,” Garcia said of his opponent. “He’s somebody who I don’t think gets a lot of the credit that he should get. He’s been talented for years, and he’s retired from wrestling, and he came back, and he’s somehow just as good. He’s an anomaly of a wrestler.”
vs. Minoru Suzuki (West Coast Pro No Leaf Clover 10/8/21)
That Friday night, just hours after his match with CM Punk aired on TNT, Daniel Garcia found himself across the ring from Minoru Suzuki. The Japanese pro wrestling legend is in the middle of an extended tour of the United States that has seen him compete against a variety of talent that includes Jon Moxley, Homicide, Jonathan Gresham, and more.
“Out of all the things I’ve done these past couple of months, crazy things—main eventing the United Center, Jon Moxley, CM Punk, being the first person to touch CM Punk in seven years—the craziest one to me is still wrestling Minoru Suzuki.”
Minoru Suzuki has been a mainstay in the Japanese wrestling scene for decades now, but his profile has only grown with the rise of New Japan Pro Wrestling through the 2010s. His featured position in the promotion has inspired a whole new generation of talents to unearth his work from decades past to truly appreciate his contribution to wrestling.
“I just watch his matches for enjoyment,” says Garcia. “It’s not really something I have to study tape on, I’ve been watching him for years.”
As for the match itself, if you’ve seen any of Suzuki’s matches since coming to the United States, then nothing here is going to surprise you. There’s some early mat work where Garcia does a decent job holding his own, there’s the expected strike offs, but Suzuki’s confident and relaxed demeanor never wavered for a moment through the entire runtime. Even when Suzuki called Garcia a young boy in the middle of the match, Red Death pushed onward, trying to show exactly what he’s capable of. Garcia maintained his poise and carried himself well throughout the entire match, making the most of the opportunities he had in the ring.
Despite Suzuki’s verbal insult in the ring, he showed some respect to Garcia after the match with a shared fist bump, much to the delight of the crowd.
“I think by the end I was able to earn his respect with the mutual fist bump, because I don’t think that’s something he does frequently with a lot of people. I think that’s pretty rare to get something like that out of him. So, to get that meant a lot to me.”
vs. Davey Richards (ESW 4th and Gold, 10/10/21)
To cap off his stacked week, Daniel Garcia returned to his hometown of Buffalo, New York to defend the ESW Heavyweight Championship against Davey Richards. It’s the first time that Garcia’s wrestled in his own hometown since December 2019, long before the pandemic began taking its toll on the North American wrestling scene.
“It was really cool to get in front of that crowd again, a crowd who hasn’t seen me in a long time. And a crowd that since the last time I’ve seen them, I’ve accomplished a lot. So I kind of got a hero’s welcome, it felt like. It meant a lot to me.”
This was a rematch from their first encounter at AAW Destination Chicago, where Garcia successfully defeated Richards. Despite that, neither Garcia nor Richards allowed themselves to get caught in the mental trap of trying to top their previous encounter.
“I have my stuff that I like to do, Davey has his stuff that he likes to do. At the end of the day, we’re just going to get there and do what we like to do,” Garcia said. “We’re not going to waver, we’re not going to change for a different audience, I don’t think. We’re just going to go in there and wrestle the way that we like to wrestle.”
The match itself is a decent affair built around mostly technical exchanges and counter wrestling. It’s a very solid bout, cleanly worked if nothing else. It never quite kicks into a second gear and the abrupt nature of the finish keeps it just shy of their first match up for me personally, but is still an easy enough watch for the Daniel Garcia completists of the world.
But for Garcia, every match is an opportunity to learn and grow. Any time he steps into the ring, he’s given a chance to sharpen his craft even further, and he’s grateful to be able to do it with those who have paved the path for him.
“Wrestling Davey Richards is always a great learning experience for me. He’s somebody who I really admire and look up to in a lot of ways.”
“I want to be the best wrestler in the world, that’s my goal.”
Daniel Garcia is in the middle of one of the most prolific and high-quality years that any wrestler in the North American indie scene has had in a long time. This batch of matches is just the latest in what’s been a year filled with great success from one of the most exciting young wrestlers in the world today. What makes these four opponents especially significant, however, is that they each presented Garcia with the opportunity to work with a much more seasoned veteran. Garcia has mentioned in the past that many independent wrestlers simply don’t get the chance to work with more experienced workers because anyone with enough experience to pass on their knowledge is probably already signed to a major contract.
“I feel like now I’m finally getting these opportunities to learn from these different wrestlers who have experience that I could never learn from before,” Garcia said. “I feel like over this past weekend, I’ve had a crash course in almost every single style of professional wrestling.”
As a regular part of AEW television, Garcia now has access to a locker room filled with veteran experience that can help mold him into the wrestler he wants to be. Whether it’s the technical expertise of Dean Malenko or the independent wrestling know-how of Eddie Kingston, there is a wealth of first-hand experience just waiting to be absorbed.
“I want to be the best wrestler in the world, that’s my goal. And I feel like AEW’s the place where I can become that. It’s a place where I can learn from all these different minds and all these different people from every single generation. It’s not just you do this one style and you have to wrestle this one way. You can learn from basically any style that you want to learn from, you can get that in the AEW locker room.”
As for what’s next for Garcia, it seems that the sky is the limit. Just one week after wrestling four of the most important matches of his life, Garcia joins the AEW locker room for a double header of TV tapings in Miami, Florida. Although Garcia hasn’t been officially announced for either card, there’s really no telling what he might do at these shows.
“You never know where I’m going to pop up. I think that me and 2point0 have done a really good job of staying shocking and staying surprising. I think that we’re causing a lot of havoc in that locker room.”
Daniel Garcia wants to be best wrestler in the world. After the year that’s he’s had, it’s entirely possible that he has the capacity to do so. Given the time and the opportunity, Garcia can very well achieve the greatness that he so desires. He’s already made so much of the multitude of chances he’s been given so far. One can only imagine what he might achieve down the line.
“I really think that I have the potential right now to be a major player in AEW in the very near future,” Garcia said. “I feel like they handed me the ball and I just keep running with it. I haven’t dropped it yet, and I don’t plan on dropping it any time soon.”