Frankie Kazarian didn't have much to prove when his more than a decade-long run with TNA ended. As a five-time X-Division champion, Kazarian became one of the names most closely associated with that groundbreaking title, alongside such names as AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Jay Lethal and Chris Sabin.
But the work he did in his last three years with the company, teaming up with Christopher Daniels, became the most career-defining stretch of his time in the world of professional wrestling. When they left TNA in 2014, Kazarian, then 37, and Daniels, 44, didn't need to prove much else in the wrestling business. Their continued passion for the business pushed them towards Ring of Honor, though, and the past three years of their respective careers have more than validated the move.
Kazarian and Daniels have done some of the best work of their careers over the past 12 months in particular. They began their second ROH tag team title reign in Dearborn, Michigan, last May, which culminated in one of the most highly recognized matches of 2016 -- Ladder War VI at All-Star Extravaganza in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Most recently, Kazarian got to do something no one else has ever gotten a chance to. He got to feel the love and hate one gets from inside the polarizing entity that is the Bullet Club after appearing to turn on his best friend, and then turned those expectations upside down in telling a story for the ages by revealing his ruse and helping Daniels become ROH world champion.
Ahead of the first of four shows on the co-branded Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling War of the Worlds tour, Kazarian sat down with ESPN.com to catch up with the 'Heavy Metal Rebel'.
ESPN.com: So what has the past year, in particular, of your career been like? You, collectively with Christopher Daniels, have done some pretty tremendous things here in Ring of Honor.
Frankie Kazarian: It's been great. The last time we were here in the Ted Reeve Arena, we had just won the tag team titles for the second time. We had a great run, culminating with an insane ladder match with The Young Bucks, which I'm very, very proud of, but also left me a little worse for wear physically.
And after that, early this year we developed a [storyline] that infiltrated The Bullet Club that also helped Christopher Daniels win a much-deserved world title. And it's been a fun ride -- I honestly don't know a time that I've had more fun in the wrestling business.
Going back to Ladder War VI for a moment. You said it took a toll on your body -- was it something where you guys went out there with the intention of literally just leaving every single part of you out in the ring?
FK: Yeah, you always hear, at least I've always heard, the announcers when they call these types of matches -- cage matches and ladder matches over the years -- they say these guys will never be the same again. That sounds like just a cliché or cool little buzz word, but it's honestly true. We went out there and just threw caution to the wind, and you kind of go nuts, you kind of go into a state of temporary insanity. You know, with those guys, and with Chris as my partner -- people you trust -- it's easy to do.
A lot of thought and lot of passion was put into that match. I've got a couple of scars on the front and back of my head, but battle scars are cool. Zero complaints about that.
You talked about appreciating being able to work with the Young Bucks, and you guys have had some incredible matches, not just that one, but six-mans and all sorts of different combinations. What was it like for you, at least a short period of time, to actually throw on the Bullet Club T-shirt?
FK: Well, for me it was cool because it was a fresh angle, and it was one that really got everybody. In 2017 it's not easy to fool the sophisticated wrestling fan or journalist. And people bought in; people bought in until the minute I did the reveal. I had, when I joined the Bullet Club, I had everything from "Welcome aboard friend Frankie, good to have you" to "You son of a bitch, how could you do this to Chris Daniels -- we hate you".
And even walking to the ring that night when Chris ultimately won the belt, people throwing many F-bombs my way, and really cursing my name. So it was just cool to feel that passion from both sides, and just to know where we were going with it and the reveal and everything, it worked out so perfectly. Again, just one of the more fun angles I've been a part of in a 19-year career.
So, tonight was the start of the War of the Worlds tour. I think it definitely speaks to the work that you and Chris have been putting in, but also the appreciation that fans have, that you're in there in the main event alongside Hiroshi Tanahashi against The Elite. What does this kind of match mean to you?
FK: I look forward to every match, but I'd be lying if I said I look forward to them all equally. This one, the minute I heard it was announced, I was psyched, just looking at who my partners are and looking at who my opponents are. On any night I would be thrilled. The fact that this is kicking off the War of the Worlds loop, I'm psyched, and I'm glad it's happening here in Toronto. This is always a great crowd for us.
Wrestling The Elite, the hottest act in professional wrestling right now, alongside the Ring of Honor world champion, my best friend, and alongside Tanahashi, one of the biggest stars ever from New Japan Pro Wrestling. You couldn't ask for a better scenario. And I know there's probably a lot of expectation; the bar is going to be raised by all the other matches previous to us, but we're going to kick the door in and we're going to blow the roof off this place.
Stepping away from wrestling for a moment, you've actually got your own comic book with you and Chris as characters, with appearances by a number of other wrestlers including the Young Bucks. How did that all come together?
FK: We're big comic book fans, Christopher Daniels and myself. Chris is a much bigger fan than I am, massive fan, big Marvel guy, walking encyclopedia. He and I are friends with Art [Baltazar] and Franco [Aureliani] who do Aw Yeah Comics. We met them at a Comic Con years ago, and literally in passing we said, "You guys should do a story on The Addiction." And they go, "That's a great idea." So Chris wrote a story, gave it to them, and we had a comic book. Chris recently wrote the second one, and that just came out a few months ago, and now fans can get those.
And it's really cool. We've got to go to a lot of Comic Cons all over the world. Not only selling ourselves as pro wrestlers, but as comic book stars and comic book heroes now. And it's really cool; it's especially cool for Chris. For him, being able to say he's written comic books is a big bucket list thing for him. It's cool. I like to consider him and I renaissance men. I don't like to be limited to just being called a wrestler.
Speaking of branching out and doing different things outside of wrestling, your band VexTëmper just released its first album. How do you take all these things you're involved in, your wrestling career, your music career, and sort of weave them all together? How do you have time in a day to get it all done?
FK: You make time. For me, on the band thing, we've been together as a band for four or five years. But really in the last year, the last two years, we've started doing gigs. Last winter we wrote and recorded the album and had it mixed and mastered and got it released a month ago -- really going full force with it. And it's one of those things, we find time during the week when we're all home; all the guys in my band have family obligations and career obligations as well. But I make time to do a lot of the PR work myself, and a lot of the logos, and the marketing, and the CD production, and all that stuff. I'm a part of all of that.
It's just something I've very passionate about, so I make the time. We've had to turn down a lot of gigs because rock shows happen on the weekend, and that's when I do my day job, unfortunately. So I'm just trying to find that happy balance between the two. So far it's been great. I'm very fortunate to have the built-in wrestling fan base that I can kind of shove my album down their throats and say, "Hey, listen to this." A lot of bands just starting off don't have that luxury. So I've very cognizant of that, and I do use that to my advantage, and it's helped us. I've gotten some great feedback on the album, and I just love it. I love playing rock and roll as much as I love being in the ring.
You have accomplished quite a bit in the ring over the course of your career, and especially in this current run in Ring of Honor -- tag team titles, everything you've done with Christopher Daniels and working against The Bullet Club. What do you feel like you have left to accomplish?
FK: I want to rule the world. I want there to be one kingdom, and I want me to be the king of that. (Laughs.)
No man, I take things as they come. I've been in this almost 19 years, and I've accomplished more than I've ever dreamed of. I've wrestled for every major wrestling company on planet Earth. I've been around the world several times. I'm having fun, I'm still wrestling and competing at a high level, and I'm in there with the top talent in the world, still holding my own.
I do have visions of things I want to do, but there's not that one specific goal. I've accomplished a great deal, and a great deal more than I honestly thought. So I'm having fun, and whatever opportunities come my way, I make the most out of it.