Standing Alone

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Backstage at the Charles Koch Arena
Wichita, Kansas

Inside a private dressing room near the gorilla position, a High Octane Wrestling camera crew trained their lens towards “The Luchador with Insanely Poor Oral Hygiene” Halitosis- face covered with a lucha mask and dressed in his usual black t-shirt with the letter ‘H’ in the middle with a pair of jeans on.  He huddled with his wife Laura Bergman, deep in conversation.

Halitosis tried to keep as much weight as possible off his one foot- injured during his dramatic upset win over Max Kael at Refueled Three the night before. He’d thought about bringing crutches and using them but he decided at the last moment not to because his shoulder also ached from last night’s match.

Panning across the room, the camera zoomed in on Halitosis’s two scriptwriters standing by the wall and reviewing the script for Matt the Manager’s promo one last time.

Matt the Manager sat on a nearby couch and downed a shot of Jack Daniels to calm his nerves. Off to Matt’s left, Cue-Card Guy prepared the cue cards for Matt the Manager to use.

Oblivious to Cue-Card Guy and his cue cards, Matt the Manager downed a second shot of Jack Daniels and closed his eyes.

Done with the shot, the camera man moved back over to Halitosis and Laura and focused in on conveying the nervous tension on Halitosis’s face. Tension that bordered on apprehension.

Laura’s face also projected concern.  She ran her hand through her long black hair.  “…I’ve been with you every step of your wrestling journey the past eleven years,” she said to him. “I think tonight is the night you need to do this- yourself.”

Sufficiently convinced by his wife’s counsel that his instincts were on the money, Halitosis walked to the middle of the dressing room and cleared his throat. “Can I have everyone’s attention here for a second?”

In the middle of pouring a third shot of Jack Daniels, Matt the Manager placed the bottle down on the coffee table in front of him to give Halitosis his full attention.

Both scriptwriters and Cue-Card guy also stopped what they were doing.

“Thanks.” Halitosis said, stumbling a bit over his words. “Um…so…I just want to thank you for flying here with me tonight- especially the night after a show.”

The others shared the unease Halitosis exhibited and wondered what was going on.

“So. After conferring with my wife Laura and doing a lot of soul-searching, tonight I’ve decided to bite the bullet,” continued Halitosis. “I’ve decided come hell or high water I need to do my own talking tonight- no matter how uncomfortable I am with doing so in front of a big crowd.”

Matt the Manager exhaled- seemingly relieved that he wouldn’t have to talk tonight.  He still downed the third shot of Jack Daniels though.

“That’s cool,” Cue-Card Guy said. “I’ve the promo all written out right here-“

“No.” Halitosis steeled himself knowing the camera was documenting their interaction. “I’m going to do this alone tonight.”

“Just you?” Scriptwriter #1 asked.

“Just me,” Halitosis confirmed. “This is something I have to do.”

“But-“ Scriptwriter #2 began to say.

Halitosis interrupted him, “Look, this has nothing to do with you. You’ve done nothing wrong. You guys have been awesome- you have been with me from the beginning of this journey in HOW. I’m loyal to you guys, nothing is going to change.” Halitosis glanced over at Laura for one last shot of affirmation- she gave it to him with a subtle nod of her head. “But I have to do this tonight.”

Fifteen Minutes Later
Charles Koch Arena
Wichita, Kansas
HAL-LA-TOE-SIS! (CLAP CLAP CLAP-CLAP-CLAP) HAL-LA-TOE-SIS! (CLAP CLAP CLAP-CLAP-CLAP)

The chant filled the Koch Arena- sound bouncing off the four walls of the arena and creating a deafening wall of noise greeting Halitosis returning to what had been his home- Missouri Valley Wrestling- for the past two years.

HAL-LA-TOE-SIS! (CLAP CLAP CLAP-CLAP-CLAP) HAL-LA-TOE-SIS! (CLAP CLAP CLAP-CLAP-CLAP)

Body sore as hell and walking with a noticeable limp thanks to Max Kael’s handiwork the night before, Halitosis slowly made his way to the ring closely followed by the High Octane Wrestling camera crew. He carried the bright yellow hazmat mask that HOW Hall of Fame announcer had wrestled off the head of his Hall of Fame partner Benny Newell during the match in his hand. Halitosis acknowledged and waved at the fans along the steel barricade- some waving homemade signs, some wearing replica lucha masks, many of them simply reaching out their hands looking for a slap on his way past.

HAL-LA-TOE-SIS! (CLAP CLAP CLAP-CLAP-CLAP) HAL-LA-TOE-SIS! (CLAP CLAP CLAP-CLAP-CLAP)

On the video screen on the south end of the arena, the film clip from High Octane Wrestling’s Refueled Three played the fateful final moments of his match against Max Kael. The crowd lowered their volume accordingly while the video played.

Hobbling deliberately down the aisle, Halitosis held up the hazmat mask with a bemused smile on his face while thinking back to the night about and the absurd spectacle of Hoffman ripping the mask off of Benny’s head during the match.

He soon returned to the here and now when the Wichita fans erupted en masse while watching the video replay of his battle with Max.   Turning and looking up at the video screen, the video shows Max falling backwards like he’d just been sucker punched after getting nailed with the Lethal Breath of Death.

REPLAY-Max Kael vs. Halitosis from Refueled Three
The crowd jump to their feet and their roars grow louder as Halitosis ascends the turnbuckle. He motions for his finisher. Halitosis leaps and goes for a high angle senton.

As Halitosis hits it, Max wraps his arms and legs around Halitosis in a crucifix pin and pins.

1

Halitosis squirms

2

Halitosis rotates and shifts his weight, reversing the pin on Max.

1

2

3!

DING DING DING!

Brian McVay: HERE IS YOUR WINNER…………………… HALITOOOOOOOSISSSSSS!

Joe Hoffman: I DON’T BELIEVE IT! I DON’T BELIEVE IT! CALL IT THE UPSET OF THE ENTIRE TOURNAMENT!

Benny Newell: WHA—–HOW? THERE SHOULDA BEEN A DQ WITH HIS BREATH!

By the time the video ended, Halitosis had arrived at the ring and thrown the hazmat mask over the top rope. He gingerly climbed through the ropes, taking great care to protect not only his injured foot but his sore shoulder- also some of Max’s handiwork from the night before.

The chant starts back up. HAL-LA-TOE-SIS! (CLAP CLAP CLAP-CLAP-CLAP) HAL-LA-TOE-SIS! (CLAP CLAP CLAP-CLAP-CLAP)

Meeting him inside the ring was a very familiar face- former HOW World Champion Ray McAvay. McAvay held the title for thirteen days, winning the belt at War Games 2016 and then losing it shortly thereafter to Brian Hollywood.

Halitosis offered the hazmat mask to McAvay as a token of goodwill- and perhaps self-protection. McAvay burst out laughing and clapped his hands. He politely declined.   Both men then embraced in the center of the ring and McAvay raised Halitosis’s good arm into the air.

The HOW camera crew made sure to film the fans inside the Koch Center as they expressed their appreciation with another standing ovation.

“Thanks a lot everyone,” Halitosis said after former HOW and longtime MVW ring announcer Kimber Marshall handed him a microphone and the camera crew got back in position. “Thank you so much. I want everyone in the crowd here tonight and especially the men and women in the dressing room backstage to know this- no matter what happens on June 14th, win or lose, world title or no title, I will never forget where I came from and I will always be one of you.”

Again, the four thousand people inside the Charles Koch Arena rose up to their feet in response and chanted: HAL-LA-TOE-SIS! (CLAP CLAP CLAP-CLAP-CLAP) HAL-LA-TOE-SIS! (CLAP CLAP CLAP-CLAP-CLAP)

McAvay observed the tightness around Halitosis’s mouth that cloaked the nervousness and anxiety boiling inside of him. Bluntly put, public speaking was not the luchador’s thing. The awkward initial public offerings withstanding (ie…an ill-conceived music video and the Rocky Four-like training footage from Siberia that did not do Halitosis any favors), circumstances had forced him to change tacks when it came to cutting promos. He never dreamed in a million years that he’d be in this position- wrestling for the HOW World Title in just the fifth match of his High Octane Wrestling career.

“Thank you for coming here so soon after the match you had with Max Kael last night,” McAvay graciously told him. “I know from personal experience that when you’re in the ring with Max it’s not just about winning or losing a match – it’s usually just trying to survive the match.”

Halitosis gave him a knowing nod. “Let’s just say Max performed as advertised at Refueled Three,” he confirmed, trying to roll his sore shoulder to loosen the muscles a bit. “He didn’t disappoint me.”

“But,” spoke up McAvay, “the fact is you took a ton of punishment from Max and kept getting back up and kept coming at him. I thought it took you a while to get into the match. But once you did, I thought you did a lot of good stuff against him. Max left himself wide open trying to hit a big move and you caught him with your ‘breath of death’ at the most opportune time.” McAvay patted Halitosis on the shoulder…

“OW!” Halitosis exclaimed, recoiling from the sudden sharp influx of pain shooting through his body.

…the wrong shoulder and walked around him. “But while I’ve got you here, I just have one thing to ask of you.”

Halitosis rubbed his aching shoulder and winced.

“I want you to do something for me,” continued McAvay, telling Halitosis with iron certainty, “I want you to finish the job that I couldn’t get done in June 2016, Darin Zion couldn’t do at the final HOW show in July 2016, and that Scott Stevens wouldn’t do.”

Halitosis noted the emergence of an edge in the tone of McAvay’s voice. He knew the loss to Mr. Executive, especially losing the title to Hollywood, stuck in McAvay’s craw for the longest time after HOW shut down…and probably still did. McAvay felt he had Hollywood pinned in the ring and the match dead to rights- that is, until Scott Stevens came out and pulled the referee out of the ring. The match went downhill from there and Hollywood ended up winning the match.

To make matters worse, Stevens viciously attacked McAvay and spiked him several times onto a steel chair with piledrivers resulting in a neck injury from the attack. But Ray managed to come back at the final HOW show before the three year hiatus and send Stevens down to defeat in a wild match that saw both Dawn McGill (then Ray’s wife) and Scott’s wife Lisa Barbosa-Stevens got involved. McAvay would eventually have surgery in January 2018 as a result to fix the injury and still occasionally rubs the back of his neck where the scar from the incident remains as an unpleasant reminder of what happened.

“I want you take down Brian Hollywood,” McAvay declared with not a little bitterness creeping into his voice. “And to help you with doing so, I’m willing to send down the Les Miserables…ALL of them…to Tampa, Florida to back you up, to give you support, most of all- to make sure Brian Hollywood does not leave Refueled Four with the HOW World Title belt.” McAvay poked the air with his right index finger while making his points.

Halitosis sensed some regret on McAvay’s part. Actually, he could sense a lot of regret.   Ray had been contacted and offered a spot to return to High Octane Wrestling some months back and he turned it down. Instead, McAvay (and McGill) recommended Halitosis get the shot. Thus, the door opened up for Halitosis to walk through and seize his opportunity. Now, McAvay found himself on the outside looking in while Halitosis held the golden ticket in his hand- the same golden ticket that McAvay had cashed in himself at War Games three years ago to win the World title.

“Take him out,” implored McAvay. “Take the son of a bitch out.”

As McAvay’s words echoed throughout the arena, Halitosis wanted nothing more than to just walk back to the back and avoid the issue that McAvay had brought to him. A few awkward seconds passed by. Halitosis struggled to find an adequate response to one of his best friends in the wrestling business so he did the next best thing.

He stalled for time.

“Ray,” Halitosis began. “I think we both can agree on this- neither of us would be standing right here in this ring at this particular moment of time if it weren’t for one person.” He paused and nodded at Ray.  “You know who I’m talking about.”

Ray knew where he was going with this and nodded back. “I know.”

“Dawn McGill.” Halitosis walked back and forth while the crowd applauded. “That’s right. Dawn McGill put a lot of hard work and time turning the two of us into…” Halitosis does the air quotes thing with his hands. “…credible wrestlers.   She deserves so much credit for helping both of our careers and allowing us to do what we’re able to do now.”

Both men faced towards the back towards the dressing room thinking McGill was probably back there somewhere. Then much to everyone’s surprise, Dawn suddenly appeared on stage with something that resembled a cheap b-movie knock off of a robot with a bulky and cumbersome costume and a face piece that resembled a motorcycle helmet painted dark gray.

Or in other words, he’s ‘The New Age Cybertronic Criminally Insane Rogue Sentient Robot Wrestling Machine’ Ultratron-5.1.

McGill wore white contact lens that covered up her eyeballs to pull off the illusion that she was under the sway and control of the New Age Cybertronic Criminally Insane Rogue Sentient Robot Wrestling Machine. She wore a black halter-style wrestling top with a black mini-skirt and black knee high boots. McGill also lookd straight forward with a blank expression on her face.

For his part, Ultratron 5.1 tried his best to look menacing. McAvay ignored him and touched his heart with his right fist.

“Thank you, Dawn,” he said pointing at her.

“Yes. Thank you,” chimed in Halitosis.

Slowly raising a microphone up to her mouth, an expressionless Dawn responded in a cold, emotionless voice: “I must help Ultratron-5.1 take over the world.”

Ultratron-5.1 busted out some maniacal laughter. The crappy, cheap robot knock off…er…New Age Cybertronic Criminally Insane Rogue Sentient Robot Wrestling Machine stuck his hand forward in a balled up fist and then extended the middle finger.

“OOOOOOOOOHHH,” said the crowd in unison, shocked at the blatant show of disrespect from the New Age Cybertronic Criminally Insane Rogue Sentient Robot Wrestling Machine.

McAvay and Halitosis both feigned shock and hurt feelings over the obscene gesture.

“Good one, Boba Fett,” McAvay cracked, making fun of Ultratron-5.1’s cut rate priced robot costume that resembled the look of the bounty hunter from Star Wars. “By the way, he called and wants his outfit back.”

The Wichita fans laughed at the joke. But the New Age Cybertronic Criminally Insane Rogue Sentient Robot Wrestling Machine was not amused. He balled up both hands into a fist, extended them both out and delivered a twin flipping of the bird.

“I must help Ultratron-5.1 take over the world,” McGill said again.

Then Ultratron delivered his parting shot- the bras d’honneur… arm extended in an L-shape…fist pointing upwards…other hand gripping the biceps of the bent arm and emphatically raised to a vertical position.

Ultratron-5.1 turned and snapped his fingers to signal he was ready to leave.  He brushed by McGill on the way to the back.

McGill broke character for a second, winked and flashed a quick and sneaky thumbs up at the pair, and followed Ultratron-5.1 to the back.

That left McAvay and Halitosis alone in the ring.  Stalling tactics exhausted, time had run out for Halitosis. Time to face the music.

He whirled around and blurted to McAvay. “Ray. Thank you for your offer. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me over the years, man. But I’m sorry, I can’t do that. I can’t ‘take’ Brian Hollywood out.”

McAvay stood in place and did not respond. Halitosis drew a deep breath and continued.

“I know in your heart of hearts the depths of just how much you despise Brian Hollywood. I know how much you despise everything that Brian Hollywood stands for.  I know how much it still chafes at you that he won the belt from you. But your battle with Brian Hollywood took place three years ago. I cannot fight that fight for you now.” Halitosis half-turned away from him. “I know you have absolutely no respect for Brian Hollywood. But the problem is, I do.

Halitosis paused and let the random murmurs out in the crowd run its course.

“You see, say what you will about Brian and the way he won the title from you, the fact remains he was the final HOW champion before the company went dark and the title was vacated. Hollywood believes he’s never lost the title. He feels wronged that he’s had to go through this tournament to reclaim what he never lost in the ring. Right?”

Halitosis turned to the crowd and extended his arm out as if he was actually asking them the question.

“Right. Hollywood’s managed to survive the equivalent of three title defenses just to get to Refueled Four. To me, that’s an impressive accomplishment. In my case, I don’t think there was a person on the planet who expected me to get out of the first weekend. For Hollywood, everything was riding on each match. No one thought I had a chance in hell of defeating Scottywood, much less defeating Max Kael. So I didn’t have the same pressure on me that Brian carried through this tournament. And now, here we are. Hollywood, the last champion of HOW, versus me in the title match. So let’s call it what it is, Brian Hollywood is defending his title at Refueled Four against Halitosis.”

Then he turned and looked out into the crowd.

“My singular focus for the next two and a half weeks is to do everything in my power to see what I’ve started over the past few weeks all the way through to the end. That’s right, I’m going to finish what I’ve started and I’m going to get the job done at Refueled Four.” Halitosis pointed to Ray. “That’s what I’ll do for you Ray.” Then he pointed to the dressing room. “And I’m going to do it for each and every person in that dressing room backstage.” Halitosis then pointed to the ceiling. “And I’m going to do it for each and every wrestler I’ve encountered over the past eleven years of barnstorming all across the country and wrestling in every type of venue you can think of who will never have the opportunity that I have at Refueled Four to wrestle for the HOW title. So Brian Hollywood, while I will absolutely give you your props and all the respect in the world for reaching the finals of the tournament and defending the title you feel you never should have lost, that’s where my respect stops.”

Halitosis seemed not to hear the resulting applause from the Wichita faithful. While the crowd rose up again and cheered him on, he mentally lined up the bullet points of what he wanted to say in his head and hoped to God he’d get it right. McAvay sensed now would be a good time to take a few steps back to the ropes and let Halitosis have the floor all to himself.

“You see Brian,” Halitosis went on, taking short steps back and forth as he spoke, “leaving the arena last night and catching a red-eye flight to Wichita gave me a lot of time to do some thinking. I know full well I’ve caught lightning in a bottle here. I understand that I am on the verge of doing something that I don’t believe anyone else has ever done in High Octane Wrestling in winning the World title in just my fifth HOW match. But I also understand that I’ve worked eleven years, eleven long years of blood, sweat, and tears, starting at the very bottom rung of the minor leagues of professional wrestling, working on my craft, honing my skills, and moving up the ladder step by step. That was my apprenticeship. That was my wrestling school 101. That was me learning the hard way through hard knocks at every step of my wrestling education. I’ve won a lot of matches over the years. I’ve lost of matches over the years, too. All of it has prepared me for this very moment.”

He adjusted the lucha mask and let the last sentence sit there and percolate for a few seconds.

“Brian, you fancy yourself as someone who sees every possible outcome and prepares for every possible contingency. The fact of the matter, there’s no way in hell in your calculations would have considered a scintilla of a chance that I would be there at the end. There’s no way in your exhaustive and meticulous preparations you could have imagined for a split second that a wrestler such as me would have survived the gauntlet of David Black, Scottywood, and Max Kael to make it to the finals. There’s no way all of your contingency plans would have figured on a two star wrestler with ordinary skill and limited ability being one of the final two people standing at the end of the tournament. And yet, here I am. Still standing. The last person anyone thought would be here. The Cinderella Man lacing up his boots on June fourteenth at Refueled Four for a chance at winning the HOW World Title. Will that be the night when the clock strikes midnight? Or will it be the night I win the World title? This is the moment of truth. This is my opportunity of a lifetime to do something that no one else has ever pulled off before. I- of all people- know that given my limited wrestling abilities that there’s a good chance I might not ever be in this position ever again. Brian? Do you know what that means? That means this makes me a very dangerous opponent.”

Halitosis moved towards the main camera and went to the ropes at the front of the ring.

“A very dangerous opponent. An opponent who knows he has to throw caution to the wind and go for it. An opponent with nothing to lose and the HOW World title to gain. So Brian, listen good because I’m going to tell you the same thing I told Scottywood and Max Kael. Underestimate me at your peril. You may have more talent but I’m not just going to lay down and let you walk to the title. I’m not going to be a momentary speed bump on your way to your coronation. You’re going to have to bring your best because I promise you this much- if I do my job inside that ring on June fourteenth, you’re going to have to be great in order to win. One mistake is all I need Brian. Just one mistake. Because Brian, for me, victory is always just…

…one…

…breath…

…away.”

 

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