By Chuck Carroll

In sports, there is a next-man-up mentality. When the top guy leaves a spot opens up. The question then becomes: who takes it? Who will seize the brass ring? The person has to have the drive, the determination and the willpower to be the face of the company.

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When Adam Cole left for WWE earlier this year, the opportunity presented itself for somebody to emerge in the spotlight. Cody Rhodes has taken Ring Of Honor by storm, but he came in already as an established star. The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega also had carved out solid reputations and amassed large fan followings. So who would it be? An argument could be made for Marty Scurll whose stock has surged since taking Cole’s place in Bullet Club. But there is another emerging contender.

A man who is about as colorful and flamboyant as they come. His entrance is reminiscent of a Las Vegas show, but without the girls. Instead, Dalton Castle struts to the ring wearing a flashy cape and escorted by a gaudy duo known as The Boys. His cape illuminates the arena, and he proudly holds it open as fans shower him with streamers in an impressive explosion of color. Some would say his cape is inspired by Ric Flair, who is widely considered as one of the best wrestlers in history. But they would be wrong. Dead wrong.

You see, Castle is a former radio DJ and a big fan of classic rock. It is actually Freddie Mercury and Elton John who inspired his flashy gimmick, not Flair. You can add David Bowie to that list as well. But there is something about Flair that did inspire him: 16 world titles.

Castle could earn his first championship next Friday at ROH’s Final Battle pay-per-view when he squares off against Cody in the main event. He’s emerging as one of the most popular talents in the promotion, having seen his stock surge in the past year. His outlandish gimmick is resonating with fans, and that’s what matters most to the consummate showman.

Gimmick aside, he’s still blown away by the fact he is sharing a locker room with the likes of Tommy Dreamer and Bully Ray, whom he views as mentors. He’s imparting some of the advice and wisdom they’ve bestowed upon him as he journeys his way to the top of the ROH pecking order.

Just ahead of Final Battle, I had the opportunity to chat with Castle about his ambitions and the future he envisions for himself in the wrestling business. Does he plan on following Cole to WWE, or will he join a growing number of wrestlers carving out a name for themselves in the States and New Japan? That’s still to be determined.

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Dalton Castle Ring of Honor

Dalton Castle (Photo Credit: Ring of Honor/James Musselwhite

You have a colorful gimmick. That’s quite the robe that you come out with. And of course there are The Boys. You put that together, and you have one of the more memorable entrances in wrestling right now. Where did that all come together?

I know it didn’t happen overnight. It was a lot of trial and error. I think I just started adding things and finding stuff that felt right. For a long time, I would wear maybe an entrance jacket. Like, oh yeah, that’s cool, because I always heard you need some kind of entrance jacket. I didn’t realize until a few years in that I needed something completely different, and I needed something that I don’t think has been done before. I tried the entrance and the whole charade in Toronto one time with girls. The first time I did it, I had a jumpsuit, the cape, but I didn’t have the wings. And I had three girls who were provided for me by the promoter, a friend of mine who booked me. And we kind of worked on the thing together that night. Choreography was off, and the whole presentation just felt wrong to me.

I went home, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and I immediately went to a fabric store and started creating outfits for these boys that didn’t even exist yet. Then, the next week I did it, and I think I worked more on the entrance than I did on the actual match, which did not sit well with my opponents. The showmanship is important to me. I’m entertaining the fans who paid to get in. That’s what I’m focusing on, and if this is how I think I’m going to be able to do it, then I’m gonna put 100% of my energy into it.

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The whole get-up and presentation, was that at all inspired by Ric Flair?

Absolutely none of it comes from the wrestling world. That’s not where I took anything from. It all is from the rock world, glam rock, Freddie Mercury — yeah — 100% is one of them. David Bowie are two others. All these people I would see on stage or around these music shows or award shows, and they were just captivating, and I thought — well, why can’t I be that?

You get to main event the pay-per-view here in a couple of weeks. You’ve been with the company since 2013. Are you thinking like it’s about time, maybe it should have come sooner, or like “yeah, all my hard work has paid off”?

I don’t know if this is really a moment of things paying off for me, as it is just me taking that next step in the direction that I want to move. When I started to be a pro wrestler, I wanted to be the best. And when I started in Ring of Honor, I wanted to be the best and to work to the point where not only was I accepted and brought on the road and in the locker room and the fans accepted me. Now I’m at a point where the office looks at me with kind of… they trust me to be in a position like the main event of Final Battle, which is the biggest pay-per-view of the year. The responsibility is not lost me, and I’m real excited, and I feel really ready. I don’t think worthy is the word I’m looking for, but I 100% believe that I belong in this spot. This isn’t hard work paying off. This isn’t the end of the road for me. This isn’t where I peak. This is just the next step in the upward motion I’m moving.

Dalton Castle Ring of Honor

Dalton Castle (Photo Credit: Ring of Honor/James Musselwhite

Do you see yourself as a guy who you know will follow in the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega’s path, where you really split your time between wrestling here in the States and Japan? Or would you rather settle down with a promotion and really dominate there?

I don’t know. I absolutely think I’m working to try to build the biggest name I can for myself, and not just in a selfish manner. I love wrestling, and I love wrestling in front of [the biggest crowd] possible, and the way the Bucks and Omega have — and even Cody, my opponent — have taken this level of wrestling and Ring of Honor to a new level. I want to be another one of those game pieces who adds to the mix. I want to help elevate pro wrestling while elevating myself. So yeah, the idea of spending half my time in Japan or somewhere else in the world and half my time in Ring of Honor — I don’t know if I would call it ideal, because Ring of Honor is where my heart is, and they are the first people to give me a big stage to perform on. But being a pro wrestler and being a big star all over the world — that’s definitely a big goal.

I guess the bigger question, the layman question from a lot of fans, is would you then want to go to WWE? Do you view that as the ultimate? Or is it now like you really don’t need that type of company to become the biggest wrestling star in the world?

I think it’s true that you don’t need that. I don’t know if that’s something I want. I don’t know if that’s something I wouldn’t want. Fortunately for me, it’s not something I even need to think about. I’ve got a spot in Ring of Honor. I’ve got a really big match coming up. I’m not creatively crippled, and there’s not this yearning for something more. I mean, there’s always that yearning for something more, but I don’t feel like I’m done here with Ring of Honor just yet.

You’ve been in the business for almost 10 years. Now you’re getting the opportunity to work with guys like Bully Ray, guys like Tommy Dreamer. Do you view those guys as mentors? Do you get an opportunity to sit down and pick their brain a little bit?

One hundred percent. Those guys have a lifetime of experience, and they’re happy to teach when people are willing to listen. You might not understand what they’re talking about the second they offer up their information, but after a while you start understanding every move they make. Every decision they’re making in the ring is calculated, and they’re doing it for a reason. And they take the time, which they do if you want it, [to] help a lot of the younger guys, including myself, elevate our abilities. It’s just amazing. That’s the kind of stuff that you can’t plan for. It’s like a freebie. I’m getting paid to do what I love, and I’m kind of getting a free lesson along the way, because my co-workers are legend.

Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.

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Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.