Some of the best ideas that came to be over the course of "Being the Elite's" two-year, 100-plus episode run have emerged from a group of tight-knit friends joking around to pass time on the road. Brothers Matt and Nick Jackson, the masterminds behind the hit YouTube show, don't formally plan out future episodes in writers meetings or brainstorming sessions; they simply draw inspiration from real life situations, and whatever entertains them has often played into an even more entertaining skit for their fans.
So when Matt found himself chuckling at the banter between travel buddies Frankie Kazarian, Christopher Daniels and Scorpio Sky for the better part of a year, as they headed from town to town, he knew it had to take place in front of a larger audience.
"Matt had the idea one day, because this actually happened, we started burying the town we were in," Kazarian, one third of the group now known as SoCal Uncensored in Ring of Honor, said in an interview with ESPN. "Especially if we're in a bad part of town or there's traffic or anything in the van on the ride there. Matt had the idea, 'We need to film you guys doing that.' We started and it blew up."
The shtick has become something greater than a skit or a punchline for all three guys, and shouts of "SCU" have become one of the most identifiable calling cards of both "Being the Elite" and every appearance the trio makes for Ring of Honor.
They have the patter and their roles down to a T. Each scene on "Being the Elite" opens with an establishing shot of the town SoCal Uncensored happens to be wrestling in, the camera pans to Scorpio, who in a disgusted tone recites his signature line, "This is the worst town I've ever been in!" Kazarian then goes off on a rant about everything that makes the town worse than the group's beloved Southern California before Daniels ends the segment belting their most quotable line.
"[What] started with us standing behind a vehicle and unloading luggage talking about the town turned into us going to Madison Square Garden, the Alamo, the Grand Ole Opry, landmark places, and cutting promos on towns in front of tourists and getting real weird looks and burying them," Kazarian said. "People really took to that and thought it was really entertaining and just kind of ballooned from there."
"SCU!" chants have grown considerably over the course of the year, and SoCal Uncensored has channeled that energy and excitement into becoming one of the most popular tag teams in Ring of Honor. Kazarian and Daniels knew the group had a chance to succeed when it formed a year ago, but neither of them could've expected where that success would come from.
The plan to form SoCal Uncensored was not as spur of the moment as Matt Jackson's idea for their recurring skit, to be clear. Daniels and Kazarian, who have known each other for almost 20 years and teamed for nearly seven of them, scouted talent to try and find a third member to join them to compete for ROH's new six-man tag team titles, which debuted in 2016. Hiromu Takahashi, New Japan's dynamo junior light heavyweight, initially served in that role before he returned to Japan full time at the end of his excursion.
Daniels, Kazarian and the Young Bucks were pushing ROH management "for a long time" to sign longtime independent journeyman Scorpio Sky. Daniels saw what Scorpio Sky was capable of in a four-on-four tag team match against the Bullet Club in Philadelphia. Afterward, the Young Bucks raved about Scorpio Sky to Daniels.
"After that match, I went and said, 'Scorpio's that third guy,'" Daniels told ESPN.
"We knew it would work in the same way that Chris Daniels and I knew it'd work when we became a tag team back in early 2012," Kazarian said. "Even knowing it would work and the chemistry was there, none of us could've predicted it would've blown up the way it has."
Kazarian, Daniels and Scorpio Sky debuted as a group at ROH Final Battle 2017 after the Young Bucks and Adam Page successfully defended their ROH world six-man tag team championships. Scorpio Sky joined Kazarian and Daniels in attacking the trio, aligning themselves as a team. New York's Hammerstein Ballroom booed ROH's new heel faction.
"We figured we'd be the antagonists, the bad guys," Daniels said. "But along the way, the mood started to change for us. People started to get behind us. Slowly but surely it got hard to fight the trend of people cheering for us."
Daniels and Kazarian are selfless pros, willing and capable of playing whatever role has been asked of them since they entered the business in the '90s. Ultimately, they're at their best when given the creative freedom to showcase their personalities. The duo thrived as Bad Influence for TNA when they formed in 2012, instantly hitting it off and eventually winning the TNA tag titles on two separate occasions.
Daniels and Kazarian were struggling to find that same kind of synergy in ROH with fewer opportunities for character work and most attention focused on matches. Acting as straitlaced heels wasn't connecting with fans, but what they were doing through their comedic work on "Being the Elite" became undeniable. ROH management could no longer separate the characters SCU had created on BTE from the characters they displayed on ROH television every week, thanks to fan reactions.
"The nature of Ring of Honor's television is that there's a lot less backstage, there's a lot less in-ring character work because the main focus of Ring of Honor has always been the in-ring action, so there really wasn't a platform for that part of myself and Frankie," Daniels said. "I feel like us being a part of BTE is what finally got us back in that same sort of groove. It's the most fun I've had since [Bad Influence]."
Friday's Final Battle pay-per-view is the biggest night for SCU since the group formed a year ago at the same event, in the same building. Kazarian and Scorpio Sky defend their ROH tag team titles against the Young Bucks and Briscoes in a Ladder War match; ROH's last three-team Ladder War match, at 2016's All Star Extravaganza, left Daniels and Kazarian in the hospital after one of the wildest, bloodiest affairs in modern tag team wrestling. Kazarian, who ended that match by being driven through a table headfirst via one of the Young Bucks' signature maneuvers, knows the bar has been set high.
"I think it's gonna be pretty unpredictable," said Kazarian, who calls his last Ladder War match his favorite at ROH. "Insanity. Chaos."
"I'm a little disappointed I'm not in it because I know there's a recipe for a classic to be had," said Daniels, who left 2016's match in a bloody heap.
Meanwhile, Daniels will take on Bullet Club (and BTE) staple Marty Scurll, with the former's career and the latter's No. 1 contendership for the ROH world title on the line. The storyline of the feud has blended with reality, as Daniels faces the very real deadline of his contract running out after this month. Daniels is far from alone.
The latest BTE episodes have made light of the fact that the contracts of the Young Bucks, Cody, Kenny Omega and Adam Page are all expiring over the next couple of months. The BTE crew are all teasing what the future could bring. In their ongoing storylines, they're all being closely monitored by WWE, a possibility that genuinely exists for all parties in real life. One rumor has Cody and the Young Bucks teaming up with a major financial backer to create their own promotion, with the expectation of it being like their sold-out independent All In show on a full-time basis.
Kazarian, who himself is a free agent after this month, would expect a hypothetical Cody-Bucks-led promotion to thrive.
"Based on that weekend and the vibe not only at All In, but the vibe of Starrcast, I 100 percent could see something like that being successful," Kazarian said. "There are so many people that are ready for that. Something else to sink their teeth into, another product that they're invested in the characters, invested in the wrestlers -- 11,000-plus people proved it that night. I think that may just be the tip of the iceberg of what's to come in 2019 and beyond."
Daniels, who competed against Stephen Amell at All In in what Kazarian calls "the best celebrity match there's ever been in the business," also believes All In could be sustainable as its own promotion.
"If it was presented to the fan base that now you have this opportunity to go on this journey with these guys for a longer period of time, I feel like a lot of them would, pardon the pun, go 'All In' on the journey as well," Daniels said. "It's certainly possible that the fan base would support All In as its own entity."
Regardless of what the future holds (for now), Kazarian and Daniels agree this run as part of SCU is the most fun they've had in their well-traveled, up-and-down careers -- but they also know it could be over as soon as the clock hits midnight on Jan. 1. Daniels said he and Kazarian were told by ROH management that their contracts weren't going to be renewed, and as Final Battle approaches, that stance hasn't changed. The Elite crew has stated that wherever they end up it will be together, but Kazarian and Daniels plan to focus on their own futures.
"What I think of first is, 'What's best for me, what's best for my family?' Not to sound self-serving or self-righteous at all, but you kind of have to be in this business," Kazarian said. "At the same time, I really love what I've built at Ring of Honor, and I really love what we've built with SCU, and I love doing stuff with 'Being the Elite.' All these things factor in, but first and foremost, as an independent contractor, you have to do what's best for yourself financially, emotionally, spiritually. At the end of the day, you look out for yourself."
There also have been rumors of Daniels joining the WWE Performance Center as a coach, gossip that "Being the Elite" has only helped spread over the past couple of months, but even as he turns 49 years old next year with a wife and two children back home, he still plans to continue wrestling through his next contract.
"I haven't decided to hang up my boots yet, so whatever happens, I want to continue wrestling until I decide it's time for me to stop," said Daniels, who plans to pursue a backstage and commentating role when that time comes. "I haven't put an end date on when the in-ring part of my career is going to be finished. It's hard to put those plans in any sort of motion until I know for sure it's time for me to walk away from the performance side of it."
Daniels said he would've preferred his contract situation not be made public, but admits "the idea that this could be my last Ring of Honor match added a level of gravitas to this match." The same can be said for Kazarian and the Young Bucks, with their tag team title match, and Cody, who faces Jay Lethal for the ROH world title in the main event of Final Battle.
Kazarian realizes it's just another example of how much the wrestling business has evolved as we approach 2019, and thanks to the popularity of SCU and BTE, he and Daniels are right in the thick of it.
"It's incredible how much the business has changed in the 20-plus years that I've been in it, really in the past five to 10 years, and I'm really happy to be at the forefront of that and to be involved and included," Kazarian said. "Definitely not the way I would've predicted 20 years into my career going, but certainly I welcome it."