Find Out What it Means to Me

I.

“I don’t know what got into me. I just…. snapped.”

Dan Ryan looked straight ahead, talking to someone and no one at all. The living room of this rented cottage in Port Royal was nowhere near the lavish digs at home, but the all-white interior and beachfront location was relaxing.

“I had the worst headache afterward too, like when you drink too much, or when you’re subjected to a Farthington tweet-storm.”

Alaina Troy-Ryan rolled her eyes. Dan Ryan was sitting on a bar stool, his back to the kitchen island, looking thoughtfully at the floor near where his wife stood.

“Yeah, I’m not new to your temper tantrums.”

Ryan sighed. “I know, but some of these people are. Like four different fans stopped me on my way out of the restaurant last night and just said, ‘not cool, dude’.”

His wife’s eyebrows shot up. “Since when do you care what fans think?”

“Since never.” Ryan was conflicted. Is this the way to win the hearts and minds of the fans of a new place, a place he hoped would ultimately embrace him? Scratch that. He doesn’t really care about that at all. “I never cared and I still don’t. I’m just being introspective here, Alaina. Calm and intellectual as opposed to ranting and raving like a mad man. Soothing and relaxed instead of screaming and insulting.”

“I always just assumed if you didn’t insult someone within a thirty second interval, your head would explode.” Mrs. Ryan had a dry sense of humor, unlike her sister, whose snark and sarcasm would bowl you over like a battering ram.

Dan Ryan was more straight-forward. “Actually, I’ve gone more than thirty minutes before without saying anything mean.”

Alaina nodded. “Cecilia’s birthday. I remember. Too bad the birthday was longer than thirty minutes.”

“I know.” Ryan thought back to his daughter’s 12th birthday party. “That poor clown.”

“Point being”, she continued. “You yell at people like a maniac all the time. It may be new to your co-workers in High Octane Wrestling, but it’s not new. In fact, when you don’t get your way it’s pretty damn near expected. I wouldn’t say keeping your emotions in check is one of your strong points.”

Ryan nodded, then sighed. “I know, but there was something different this time. I’ve faced guys like this before, or at least, I felt like I had. They have a wacky sense of humor, the flamboyant personal style, the money of course …”

“So?” Alaina sat down in the plush living room chair, crossed one long leg over the other, and swept strands of short blonde hair out of her eyes.

“So…” Ryan continued, ignoring those legs… for now. “Usually it’s a facade. Usually you get to the ring and they come right at you, because they’ve thrown you off-guard with all of the window dressing. It’s a charade to get you to lower your defenses. I’ve seen it before, and that’s what I was ready for. But he did two things I didn’t expect.”

Alaina listened intently, leaning back in the leather chair and placing an elbow on the arm, her hand under her chin thoughtfully. She enjoyed these moments with Dan, listening to him talk out strategy, the gamesmanship of it all. “The Business” never bit her like it did her big sister; truth be told, she was a fuck-up growing up, never anything resembling an athlete, and always relied on Lindsay to bail her out of jams. It wasn’t until Alaina got out of high school, learned some hard lessons in college, and met Dan Ryan, that the thought of actually applying herself and doing something with her life became, you know, appealing.

“First….” Dan said, “he made no real effort to get back into the ring. That’s all good and well. But then, when the bell rang and the match was over, he took the title and ran as fast as he could from ringside. I didn’t expect it. I misjudged him. I expected him to want to fight, but he didn’t. He just wanted to get out of there and never have to face me again.”

Alaina is a little confused. “Why would he want to fight you? You’re bigger, stronger… he knows who you are…”

“He’s the ICON Champion”, Ryan said matter-of-factly. “What’s been his biggest beef with us? Respect. He wants us to show the proper respect. He ran. But he wants us to show respect. It’s a contradiction, and it pissed me off. So I did what I did and I said what I said.”

“You flew down to Jamaica for another show, and exploded. And you expected everybody to be just fine with that.”

Alaina’s words hung in the air for a few moments.

“I don’t care if people are fine with it.”

Alaina shrugged. “I think you do.”

Ryan’s glare was pointed. “I assure you, I don’t.”

“Well then, that’s fine. If that’s true, what’s the problem? You got angry, you hulked out, the end. What’s the big deal?”

Ryan leaned forward. “I’m pretty sure that’s what he wanted me to do.”

Alaina Troy-Ryan looked up, a flash of understanding in her eyes. “I see.”

Ryan held up a finger. He’s got a point to make.

“He’s definitely a lot smarter than he wants people to believe, and he’s definitely tougher than he seems at first glance. His response was contemplative and thoughtful, maybe a little too much so for a guy like him. It’s his strategy. He wants to paint us as irrational, unstable, a menace. There’s more to it than meets the eye. And I walked right into it. But his guard slipped for a moment there, right at the end. He showed me his hand”

Dan Ryan’s teenage daughter, Cecilia walked through behind them, heading for the kitchen to make herself some lunch.

Alaina nodded.

“Well then, what’s your next move?”

Ryan leaned back with a confident, thoughtful nod. “I get my shit together and focus. He’s the ICON Champion for a reason.”

“And you..” Alaina leaned forward again. “..are who you are for a reason.”

Ryan returned the sentiment with a smirk. “Yep.”

Alaina caught something.

“You admire him.” She seemed…. Surprised? Impressed? “Don’t you?”

Ryan makes a face. “Admire is a strong word. I have to beat him. That’s all that matters.”

“Well then, there you go.” Alaina got up, hands on her hips. “What’s the next move?”

“Well, first of all”, Ryan stood. “Stop hanging out with Eric so much? He eats a lot, and he riles me up. My concentration and my bank account are suffering for it.”

Alaina took on a more ‘I don’t know about that’ expression and posture.

“I don’t know. You’re a big boy. Are you sure you aren’t just an asshole?”

At this, Cecilia, ever the eavesdropper, pipes up.

“Yeah dad, remember the clown?”

Dan and Alaina both turned to their daughter, Alaina with a big smile on her face. Dan rolled his eyes, turning to walk away.

II.

A storm rolled in from over the horizon. Dan Ryan stood on the roof deck of this home on the beach. The grass hut styled roof of the deck was ruffling from the wind starting to pick up, and Ryan squinted, looking out as the waves crashed on the beach a few hundred yards away.

A fitting metaphor.

There’s a storm rolling in.

It already rolled in, actually. It rolled in the moment Eric Dane signed a High Octane Wrestling contract. This was an odd pair. Eric Dane, he of the DEFIANT persuasion, signing a deal with a company once the sworn enemy of DEFIANCE.

But this was no grudge made good, let’s be honest.

Eric Dane was coming for blood. He never forgot. Everyone who ever worked with Eric knew this. Once you were in his cross-hairs, you had permanent residence. Eric Dane doesn’t make up. He smiles and plots. It’s his nature.

Dan Ryan, not so much. As long as you steer clear of his family, the man is a robot. This war, this grudge, it isn’t the first time he’s come to the aid of a friend for a battle that wasn’t initially his to fight. But to fight, under any circumstance, is what he lives for. The fight is enough. The challenge is enough.

The opportunity to sign with one of the few top wrestling companies left in the world he’d never competed with — that’ll do for motivation.

It’s a fine line to walk, knowing who you are, what you’ve done, what you’re all about, and respecting the legacy of a company proud of its past and rebuilding its future. Too cocky, and you lack respect. Too respectful, and you lack confidence. Show weakness, and your time is over before it even begins.

Somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot, isn’t it?

There’s even more going on here though. He managed to convince Lindsay to come along. It’s been a long time since the Queen of the Ring heard boos. For most of the last decade, she had been one of the most accomplished and most popular professional wrestlers in the world. She was a big get for High Octane, and they proudly proclaimed her signing to the surprise and delight of the wrestling fandom.

He knew Lindsay wasn’t comfortable with this. She’s spent the last few years hating Eric Dane’s guts. Beating up a guy like Halitosis isn’t her style either. Sneak attacks and snarky promos. He could see her pushing her way through it. They’re family. That’s why she’s here. She’s gonna fight. She’s gonna make an impact. But he can’t ask this of her forever.

And then there’s MJ.

She’s good. She’s got the talent you’d expect from the daughter of Eli Flair, but she’s young, and Dan wasn’t so sure she really knew what she’d gotten herself into. She saw it as an opportunity, a way to get the juices flowing after stagnating, and she was right. But when Scott Stevens said on radio that the Best Alliance had never been in a War Games, she was the one member he was right about.

Thunder claps in the distance, the rain is starting now. Dan Ryan shakes his head.

It all started out so simply. Lee Best was choosing them to be his squad, more or less. The idea of the Best Alliance wasn’t a new one. This time, it would be formed so that Lee Best could make a point. But for Dan Ryan, it was just a chance to crack some skulls. That and another chance to sign with a company full of tradition and prestige, and compete at the highest level, maybe add some more gold to the trophy case.

Again, it’s a fine line.

High Octane is well respected, and deservedly so. The title histories stretch back well over a decade. When Dan was winning championships in other corners of the business, they were banging out shows and selling out arenas. Their Hall of Fame was…. is… a showcase of some of the biggest names on this side of the game.

But then, Dan made it personal.

His eyes narrow, deep in thought.

The beating they put on Max Kael and Halitosis was therapeutic, and he was fine. Then, dinner with Eric happened.

“He was so lucky. Did you see the way he ran off? He knew you had him. Everybody knew. It’s all anyone is talking about.”

It riled him up. He started getting angry. Then he got angrier. Then he was punching a tree in his backyard. Then he was breaking drawers in his kitchen and screaming for fucking hammers.

Then he flew down here, sat on the beach and exploded.

That’s not what he came here for, to get sidetracked this way. An unrelenting focus, determination and knack as a counter-puncher were the things that made him the legend that some say he is — not running into a company like a bull in a china shop. Dan mentioned this to Lindsay and he got that trademark snarkiness.

“Peer pressure? Really? So your friends made you do it? If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”

That’s not the point though. Eric has his own way of dealing with things. That’s fine. It’s served him well. But Dan Ryan has his own way of handling high pressure situations, and it’s time to get back to it.

Farthington is airheaded, but he’s a savant almost.

Maybe the draw was a blessing in disguise. It’s given Dan Ryan time to look into things a little more deeply, to think about the best way to handle a guy like this — to get back to doing things his way. Stomping in and shitting on the carpet, as Cecilworth would say, isn’t gonna make it happen. No, it’ll take a more nuanced approach.

After all, it’s only been two months and here we are in the main event, a match in a cage for one of the more prestigious active titles in the sport. This isn’t a joke.

It’s time to take this just a bit more cautiously.

III.

Sitting in the exact same spot from six days ago, in the same chair, under the same palm tree, Dan Ryan is taking in the beach view, the scent that comes after a Summer storm in the air. The sound of the surf keeps a steady time, with the orange glow from the sunset illuminating the water.

The show he came down here for is over — an afternoon show over in Kingston — and tomorrow it’s back to Tampa for REFUELED VI on Friday.

DAN RYAN:
I think we’re starting to understand each other, Farthington. Or at least, I’m beginning to understand you.

I’ll admit it.

I’m gonna offer you something of an olive branch. I’m gonna offer you what you want — respect.

I haven’t been watching you these last six years. I’m sure that isn’t too surprising. It’s not meant as an insult either. I’ve just been busy. You’ve been busy too. Not everyone needs to be a fan of either of us. You’ve been working. I’ve been working. I’m not spending my free time watching someone else wrestling when I’ve got my own life to live and my own career to be concerned with.

But I didn’t come in to this cold.

I did some leg work. And I remembered you. That much is true. I remember the day we signed you. I fell for your dopey Dudley Moore from Arthur act back then too. You took a beating, then you pulled it together and won the tag team titles with a stiff. It was very impressive. The part we’ve left out of both of our history lessons is that I offered you a long term contract and you passed. Fair enough. We parted ways in business. So be it. You went off to find your own way in this business and I continued down my path.

No hard feelings. Why would there be?

And I heard your name pop up over the years. Was I happy to hear that you were doing well? Yeah, of course I was.

People talked. But I don’t really know what your journey entailed. I wasn’t watching. Don’t take it personally. I’d heard enough and seen enough tape in the weeks before starting with HOW to know you’d done your work over the years.

And here’s the thing, this scenario has happened to me over and over throughout my career. Many times I’ve been asked to come in as an enforcer of sorts, or as an outside force to wake up a roster, and almost every single time it’s the same thing. ‘You may be hot shit where you come from, but here…..’ or ‘You come in here like you own the place….’ or ‘You expect it to be handed to you just because….’ blah blah blah. It’s always a variation on the same theme. That’s just the way the business works.

People are territorial. Wrestlers are no different.

You know what I do?

I walk in and punch people in the face. Then, I see who flinches, who drops, and who comes back with a punch of their own. I force them to take notice, whether they like it or not. Handed to me? Never. Taken? Absolutely.

So yes, quite literally, I walked right up to you and punched you in the face.

No, I don’t think that was all I had to do. I didn’t then. I don’t now. I just wanted to see what you’d do. All I want is for someone to take the shot, then come back and hit me with one of their own. That’s all. I want a fight. I want a challenge. Eric has his grudge. I have my need to prove that I’m the best.

And you?

What do you need?

Money? No. You’ve got plenty of that. A championship? You’ve already got it. Friendship? Is that why you’re with Mike Best? For friendship? Is it respect that you need? Yeah, I think so. I think that’s it in a nutshell. You want respect from all of us — from me, from Lee Best, from his son. You want that belt you’re holding, of course. It matters, as all championships should matter. Any time you hold a company’s gold, it damn well matters — but more than being champion, you want to be spoken about among the greatest champions of all time. You want the respect. And that’s where you were hurt. We came in like a hurricane, people you respect, and we didn’t respect you back. I get it.

So here’s our disconnect, Cecilworth.

My journey has been different from yours.

My journey involved fighting for my life in company after company, sometimes bleeding out in the ring, sometimes breaking bones — mine or my opponent’s, sometimes losing and mostly winning. That’s how I earned the right to be where I am. So don’t talk to me about earning your right. I’ve earned more stripes than most, and I don’t believe you when you spout off about how you own the trademark on HOW’s legacy anyway. You don’t get to be a company’s white knight just by saying it. Do you already know how I got here? I have pretty good reason to believe you do. You were always in my corner, you said, right?

Ryan shrugs and holds his hands palms up for a brief moment.

But hey — how you do your business — that’s your prerogative. You have an entertaining aura around you — everyone thinks you’re hilarious, absolutely. You do your job well, and you go out of your way to meet with people to sell tickets. As a businessman, that approach is admirable. I threw some shit against the wall to get under your skin, so you threw some shit back. It’s okay.

But what I’ve found in my experience is, when you go to the ring and handle your business there, people come to the shows whether you meet with them or not. I’m not totally against doing the promotional work. We just have different ways of going about these things. But the verbal jabs? I guess we value that pretty much the same.

So yes, I punched you in the face. I punched you in the face physically and last week, I punched you in the face verbally.

You think that means I don’t respect you.

You’re wrong.

It means I respect you more than most. I see that you’re more than what’s on the surface and I take you very very seriously. I hit you hard. I hit you hard again. And, I’ll hit you hard… again. That’s what I do, because I know it works. You have your own way, and I have mine. So yes, it was reciprocal. Don’t be so disappointed. That’s why we’re even having this conversation.

You’ll get the best I’ve got, and that’s not an attempt at a clever pun. It’s just the way it is. You win this match with me, in a cage with nowhere to go and no one to help on either side? You’ll have all the respect you could ever ask for and then some.

So believe me, you don’t have to worry.

If it’s respect you crave, you’re getting it. If it’s freedom you want, I’ll give you that too. You can have whatever you want, as long as you come ready to fight. No more games, Cecilworth. Just get in the ring and fight. That’s…what I want.

I want the Best Boy. I want everything you have. I want to beat you senseless and see you rise up and ask for more. I want it. I want WAR. That’s what I fucking want. Why would I want anything else? Where’s the joy in beating a nobody? Where’s the challenge in beating someone with no talent?

No more jokes. No more snide comments to try to get under each other’s skin.

Just fight.

Just come out, fists up, and fight.

I’ll either help you escape this prison you want out of so badly, or I’ll wake you up. Either way, very soon, we’re going to WAR. And when we do, it will no longer be about where we came from, how you’ve grown or how we look in promotional photos. The stakes are getting bigger, and the spotlight is where I shine brightest.

Ryan smiles, lifting his drink and taking a good long drink.

DAN RYAN:
Here’s to respect and to killing each other in its pursuit. And cheer up, would ya, Farthy-two-belts? Depression doesn’t suit you.

Ryan puts the drink down and leans back, his hands behind his head, the breeze blowing on his face, and smiles, content.

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