BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — It’s a word he doesn’t like to use, but Daniel Garcia says the opportunity to fight for the ROH Pure Championship in front of a hometown crowd is “surreal.”
In his five years of in-ring action, the soon-to-be 24-year-old professional wrestler has become a star, taking on opponents for the world to see on All Elite Wrestling (AEW)’s flagship show, Dynamite, which airs weekly on TBS.
And on Wednesday night, this Buffalo native has a title shot in what he says will be the biggest match of his career, thus far. Live from the KeyBank Center, Garcia will take on a familiar opponent, Wheeler Yuta, as part of AEW’s debut in Buffalo.
“To be able to wrestle for such an important title in front of a city where people are so important, where my family, who went to Ring of Honor shows with me growing up, get to be there and watch it live, it’s really special to me and it’s really important. And I hope it’s special for a lot of other people, too.”
Of course, friends and family are going to want to see this. In past programs, Garcia’s had the opportunity to grab complimentary tickets for four or five people at a time. But being home in an arena that’s hosted names like Triple H and Chris Jericho, he was able to get “20-something” for this special occasion.
Garcia is no stranger to travel. In the years leading up to his status with one of professional wrestling’s biggest companies, the workhorse wrestled both at home and much further, sometimes heading over the border for matches in places like Toronto and Fort Erie — opportunities he says really got the ball rolling for him.
And the work he’s put in has paid off, with Garcia earning two 2021 IWTV Match of the Year nominations for bouts against Yuta and another local favorite, Kevin Blackwood.
(Author’s note: I was there for the second one. It was incredible.)
“I think Kevin Blackwood is probably the best independent wrestler in the world right now,” Garcia said.
The title he’ll battle Yuta for on Wednesday is one of great history and lineage, Garcia says, previously being held by names like Bryan Danielson, AJ Styles and Nigel McGuinness, the latter two of whom currently work for rival promotion World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).
But Danielson, a 41-year-old veteran of the industry, is someone Garcia’s able to bump elbows with on a regular basis, learning from him and working together in AEW programs.
In fact, Garcia’s been able to work with a lot of his childhood heroes. And remember, the man’s only 23. Growing up, Garcia watched the return of Hulk Hogan as “Mr. America” and saw performances by legends like the late Eddie Guerrero.
As he got older, Garcia’s horizons expanded as he took in influences from a variety of companies and styles, including that of Danielson. The impact of Japanese wrestling on Garcia was very apparent in my conversation with him, with him mentioning names like Minoru Suzuki and Kazuchika Okada.
The wide span of influences continues today with his work in AEW, getting opportunities to grow, thanks to people like Arn Anderson and Kenny Omega, who may move quite differently in the ring, but edify a wrestling product that fosters a melting pot of styles.
So, which indie wrestlers, along with Blackwood, does Garcia want to see make it big? Two of the names that stand out in his mind are Fred Yehi and Bryan Keith.
“He’s amazing…When he comes out, he feels like a superstar,” Garcia said of the latter.
And what about the people he still wants to wrestle?
“This question has gotten really hard for me lately because I’ve wrestled all my childhood heroes,” Garcia said.
For anywhere, New Japan’s Hiromu Takahashi is his pick.
“I love his style. I love his flair,” Garcia says.
But in terms of his AEW colleagues, that would be Ricky Starks, a man he shared high praise for.
“I think Ricky Starks is the future, transcendent person of pro wrestling,” he said. “I think he’s gonna be bigger than pro wrestling.”
No matter how far or how often he travels though, Garcia hasn’t forgotten about his roots. In fact, he still lives right here in the Queen City. And when his fellow wrestlers come to town, there’s a wing spot he always points them toward.
“Gabriel’s Gate had wings one day that almost made me cry, and I’m not lying…The wings were so good, it really almost brought a tear to my eye,” Garcia said.
For anyone coming into town with some time to spend, Garcia also recommends checking out Canalside, and just the waterfront in general, a place he likes to rollerblade in his spare time.
“It’ll be really nice for people to see the waterfront and the beauty that Buffalo has to offer,” Garcia said.
Before the big title match, Garcia doesn’t know if he’ll be more relaxed or nervous, but he says he’s excited to see what his mindset is like going in.
“We’ve got some special stuff planned. I can’t say what it is yet. But it’s not gonna be a big moment just for me, it’s gonna be a big moment for the city,” Garcia said. “Not a lot of people from Buffalo, I feel like, make it out to do amazing things in the public eye, and I hope this inspires a lot of people that they can.”
You can watch Garcia wrestle on AEW Dynamite Wednesday night at 8 p.m. For tickets to the show at KeyBank Center, click or tap here.