One man’s punishment is another man’s opportunity
“I would advise all youths aspiring to athletic fame or a professional career to practice clean living, fair play and good sportsmanship.”
— Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor, 1878 – 1932
3.45pm. Wednesday, August 7th, 2019.
“Oh, damn!” exclaimed Silent Witness. “This place…” he trailed off, as he turned to look at Mark O’Neal with a beaming smile. No, not Mark O’Neal the HOW Hall of Famer – he was walking alongside Mark O’Neal; Director of Athletic Training for the Chicago Cubs.
“Yeah, it’s really something, isn’t it?” replied O’Neal. “Happy birthday, buddy. I can’t believe it’s taken this long for you to visit!” he added, with a hint of shock in his inflexion, as he led Silent Witness through the Chicago Cubs clubhouse, giving him a tour of the facility that was rebuilt in 2016.
“Well, you know, I haven’t done too much wrestling lately…” explained the Ground Zero member, as the pair walked into the ATI physical therapy training room. Silent Witness looked around at the state-of-the-art facilities and shook his head in disbelief.
“This place is incredible…” he began, turning his body towards O’Neal to shake his hand. “Thank you for letting me use the icebox, Mark” he said, as O’Neal accepted the handshake. “I really appreciate it” he concluded. O’Neal smiled and led him over to the cryotherapy chamber.
“No problem, buddy. Just be out of there before the players get back – it’s the top of the ninth and we’re up by 9. They won’t be long now!” replied O’Neal, smiling.
“Who’s on the mound?” asked the LSD Legend. He had become quite the Cubs fan after so many years in Chicago and his relationship with the organisation had developed throughout that time, particularly with the athletic training staff as they had treated him for multiple injuries over the years. Although, nothing had prepared him for just how extensive their new facility was. He had heard about it, of course, but to see it in person was an awe-inspiring experience, even for someone like Silent Witness, whom had seen many awesome moments during his career.
“Pedro” replied O’Neal, sharply. Silent Witness grimaced. “It will be fine” added the Cubs trainer. The LSD Legend was not convinced, and his expression told O’Neal that he was a little dubious. O’Neal laughed.
“The guy is a liability, man…” replied Silent Witness, cracking into a smile. “… I love Strop, but… Well, I guess – I hope – even he can’t screw this up!” he added with a chuckle. “Alright, I better get on with this” he said; unbuttoning his shirt as he walked towards the cryotherapy chamber.
“Alright. You ever used one of these before?” asked the trainer as he stepped towards the LSD Legend with a space age-looking temperature gun. Silent Witness nodded and O’Neal took his body temperature as he stripped down to his underwear.
“Yeah, I used one of these years ago, when they were starting to get mainstream” explained the Hall of Famer as he opened the chamber door. “Rhys Townsend was raving about it, so I gave it a try, but I don’t think it really did anything” he added, before stepping inside for O’Neal shut the door behind him, encasing the HOW star up to his neck. Silent Witness’ expression immediately turned to one of shock; his eyes bulging. O’Neal laughed.
“Yeah they’ve come a long way over the years” he stated, chuckling at Silent Witness’ plight. “This one goes to minus one-six-six!” he added. He watched on with a wicked smile as Silent Witness’s shocked expression grew.
“FFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUHH” cried the HOW veteran in pain, drawing a further laugh from O’Neal. “AAAAAAAAARGH!” he exclaimed; gritting his teeth and clenching his fist inside the chamber. He began breathing slowly and deeply; trying to acclimatize to the intense freeze on his body. “Shit!” he yelled after a few moments, having composed himself. “How long do I stay in here?!” he asked, shortening his breaths.
O’Neal – still smiling – crossed his arms. “Oh, I don’t know… fifteen minutes?” he joked, drawing an expression from Silent Witness as though he was pleading for his life. He laughed, then stepped forward towards the chamber. Looking at the timer on the digital display, O’Neal paused to let the seconds tick by, before eventually pressing the button to release the chamber door. Silent Witness sprawled out, gasping for air. O’Neal took his temperature again and the HOW veteran reached for a robe to warm himself up.
“Your body temperature dropped from ninety-two to sixty-six” explained O’Neal. “You were in there for just under three minutes; that’s pretty good” he continued, as Silent Witness composed himself once more. “That should help with your recovery” he concluded.
“I felt like every breath I took; I was just breathing in ice!” cried the HOW veteran. “That was fucking horrible!” he added, drawing a chuckle from the Cubs trainer. “I could hardly breathe before going in there because of Bobby Dean’s fat ass sitting on my ribs… Oh, man…” he exclaimed; finally catching his breath. “That better be worth it, Mark!” he warned, as he began dressing himself.
“It will. Just wait. All those little niggles you picked up on Saturday… They will be much more manageable tomorrow” promised O’Neal. “Things might feel a little numb in the short-term, but this will circulate the blood, bringing all the enzymes and endorphins to the surface… Increase the levels of dopamine, serotonin; all that good stuff. It will really ease the pain and inflammation and speed up the recovery process.” He added, before breaking into a smile.
“… and as you’re getting older and have your birthday in a few days, you’ll be happy to know that it’s real good for arthritis and Alzheimer’s too!” teased the Cubbie. Before Silent Witness could respond, a loud commotion could be heard from the locker room. The sound of cheering and hollering was quickly drowned out as the team pumped out some bass-heavy music on their sound system.
“Look, I better get out of here. I don’t want to get in the way” stated Silent Witness, before reaching out to shake the trainer’s hand. “Thanks for letting me in, and for the tour. This place is great – I’ll definitely be back” he added, smiling. “Maybe with less of the old man jokes next time, too!” chuckled the HOW veteran.
“Any time” replied O’Neal. “Maybe not during a game next time…” he added with a smile. “But yeah, whatever you need. Just give me a call” he added; accepting the handshake. “It’s good to see you. Happy birthday, man.”
“Thanks. It’s good to see you too. Say hi to Stefanie and the kids for me” replied Silent Witness. As O’Neal guided him towards the exit, the Hall of Famer reflected on the incredible equipment at his disposal in the Cubs clubhouse. As he continued his unlikely return to prominence in HOW, having a high-tech training facility would be a huge benefit if he wanted to be a success. “I’ll talk to you soon” he stated, smiling at O’Neal as he stepped outside.
09.15am. Saturday, August 10th, 2019.
“Happy birthday, dude” boomed Townsend’s voice, through the tiny speaker on Silent Witness’ phone. “Hold on – I’m adding Ward to this…” commanded the Welshman. Silent Witness waited a moment, as Ward answered the call.
“Happy birthday, man” said Ward, enthusiastically, as he joined the call. It was the first time the three of them had spoken since the Refueled card was announced.
“Thanks, guys” replied Silent Witness. “Forty fucking two… And I feel every day of it after War Games!” he joked. A courteous chuckle returned from both of his Ground Zero team-mates. “So, seeing as there aren’t any large, TV-shaped boxes here, declaring ‘all your love’ on my birthday, I’m guessing your gift to me is that you’re both going to just lie down at Refueled, right?” he added, smiling, as he walked at a brisk pace on a treadmill; warming up for his next training session.
“Get to fuck” replied Townsend, abruptly, before chuckling. Silent Witness and Evan Ward both joined in with the laughter. “Where are you now? Chicago? Get down to Wells Street Market and pick up a taco – there’s your birthday present, mate!” he added.
“Gee, thanks…” replied Silent Witness sarcastically. He upped the tempo on the treadmill; breaking into a comfortably paced run. The sound of his feet bouncing off the machine were picked up on the call.
“What is that noise?” asked Ward. “Sounds like you’re sat on a washing machine. Enjoying the vibrations, are you?!” he joked, drawing a laugh from Townsend. The LSD Legend smiled.
“No, your mom’s just giving me my birthday present. That’s what all the pounding is!” replied the LSD Legend; proudly smiling at his ‘witty’ retort. Unfortunately, it was met with groans from both of his opponents for next weekend’s show.
“Dude, no, come on!”. replied Ward; the disappointment evident in his voice.
“You’re forty-two years old and you’re still doing mam jokes?” added Townsend. “You’re too old for that shit!” he exclaimed; equally as disappointed as Ward.
“Yeah, well… I may be getting older – and my jokes are getting more juvenile – but I’m not too old to forget what happened the last time we were in the ring together. Both of you took a beating and I walked out of Bottom Line as World Champion…” replied Silent Witness; smiling as he antagonized his Ground Zero brothers.
“Yeah, well, ignoring the fact you got lucky…” replied Ward. “That was seven years ago, you didn’t have arthritis in every joint in your body back then!” he added, jokingly.
“And you still had your own eyes!” added Townsend. Silent Witness laughed; enjoying the teasing between the three of them. It felt like they had never been apart and hadn’t missed a step.
“Yeah, yeah…” replied the LSD Legend. “… And I’ll still have a perfect record in triple-threat matches against you two douchebags after Refueled. Now get the off the line, I don’t want to spend my birthday talking to two past-their-prime has-beens!” replied Silent Witness, laughing.
“Have a good day, buddy. Don’t forget to put your teeth in!” replied Ward, before hanging up.
“Tidy. I’ll catch up with you during week, if you haven’t keeled over by then!” added Townsend, before ending the call. Silent Witness smiled; pleased to have caught up with his old friends. It was just like old times; ribbing on each other and calling each other out on the dumb shit they say. They were as tight knit a group as ever, and Mike Best’s attempts to cause friction in Ground Zero was laughable. It wasn’t even a ‘punishment’, even though that’s what Mike wanted. Sure, they wouldn’t choose to fight each other, but all three of them were back in HOW for the first time in years and this was as good a way as any of finding out if there was still anything left in the tank.
The LSD Legend tapped his phone a few times to play some music and cranked up the treadmill. The cryotherapy a few days earlier had been hugely beneficial, and he was finally ready to train to his maximum; ready to give it everything he had to win at Refueled.
8.35am. Wednesday, August 14th, 2019.
“Welcome back to High Octane Radio on this cloudy Wednesday morning. I’m Blair Moise, alongside Bryan McVay, bringing you all the latest HOTv news and rumors. Coming up later on today’s show, we will be reviewing the latest OCW ‘Monday Night Massacre’ show and analyzing the upcoming matches in Key West, Florida.” Began HOW’s veteran reporter; Blair Moise. “But first, we are joined by HOW royalty!” she added; the excitement evident in her voice. “He is a former HOW World Champion, five-time LSD Champion and a member of the High Octane Wrestling Hall of Fame: Silent Witness, welcome along to the show!” she concluded; greeting the HOW veteran.
“Thank you” replied the LSD Legend. “It’s good to be here” he added, smiling at both hosts from across the booth.
“You ever think about joining the rest of the HOW roster over at OCW, Witness?” asked McVay. Silent Witness shook his head; smiling.
“No, that’s not for me…” he began. “One match every two weeks I can cope with. Once a week? I don’t think my knees would appreciate that very much!” he added; laughing. “No, I think I’ll stick with HOW. There’s more than enough here for me” he concluded, smiling.
“Well, there’s certainly enough coming up for you at Refueled eight when you take on Rhys Townsend and Evan Ward in a triple-threat match” replied Moise. “But before we get to that, let’s talk a little bit about War Games…” she continued. “You had a great showing, even getting your hands on one of the belts during the match, but ultimately you came away with nothing” she explained. “After the match, you shocked the world by attacking your tag team partner: Chris Kostoff” she stated; pausing to gauge her guest’s reaction. Sensing no danger of Silent Witness losing his cool, Blair continued. “Can you explain why you did that?” she asked, finally.
Silent Witness took a breath; composing himself and taking a moment to think about how he should answer the question. The truth was, he was angry with Kostoff. He respected what Kostoff used to be; what he had done for HOW over the years and how he himself had benefitted from Kostoff’s impact in making HOW a mainstream company globally. He did not respect, however, that his fellow Hall of Famer had become a parody of himself. But this was not the time or place to discuss that; not with Refueled coming up and Ground Zero intending to address the live crowd.
“We, as a collective group, will explain everything that needs to be explained at Refueled” began the Hall of Famer. “Nobody can take away what Kostoff has done for this industry, but Rhys and I had valid reasons for doing what we did” he stated.
“There were eerie similarities to the incident leading to you and Kostoff teaming together, when Joey Conrad-“ began Bryan McVay, only to be cut off by Silent Witness.
“I don’t want to talk about Conrad. That wasn’t meant to go down like that and out of respect for his family, I won’t be talking any more about that” he asserted. “I’m happy to talk about War Games, I’m happy to talk about Refueled, but please… Leave Joey out of this” he pleaded. Blair and Brian took a moment to compose themselves, as the mood changed in the studio.
“Ok, let’s move on” began Blair; raising the energy. “Let’s talk about Refueled. Mike Best has ordered this match as a punishment for the attack on him at War Games. Yourself, Evan Ward and Rhys Townsend will compete in a triple-threat match, with Christopher America as special guest referee” she continued. “What were your first thoughts when you saw the card?” she asked. Once again, Silent Witness took a breath, thinking about how to answer.
“Well, my first thought was that he was protecting his boy, Cecil…” he began. “I challenged him to a match for the ICON title on Twitter and he accepted it. I guess Mickey didn’t really fancy his buddy’s chances and pulled him out of danger” he added, the annoyance clear in his tone. “But that’s pretty much what I expected, so…” he added, shrugging as he trailed off. McVay sensed an opportunity to jump in.
“What do you think of Twitter as a platform for wrestlers?” he asked, eagerly. Silent Witness sighed; visibly exasperated.
“I hate it” he said, laughing quietly. “Honestly, I hate it. Everybody is always sniping at each other, putting each other down, but nobody wants to confront each other. Backstage, in the ring – whatever it is – nobody wants to say a damn thing to each other” he added, angrily. “HOW has become a passive-aggressive circle-jerk and everybody that isn’t in with the cool kids is just sitting back and letting it happen. That’s why we’re back. That’s why Rhys brought Ground Zero back” he added.
“You have confronted a few people on Twitter since War Games – Max Kael, Mike Best and Cecilworth Farthington, especially” chimed McVay. “Doesn’t that make you a hypocrite?” he added, tentatively. Silent Witness smiled and gestured to him with a nod; respecting his decision to ask the tough question.
“I know, I get sucked into it. I hate it, but sometimes…” he sighed. “… sometimes people say stupid things on there that need to be called out. Like I said, everybody has just been letting it happen” he added. “But… I really don’t want to get involved in some dick-sizing nonsense on Twitter. None of Ground Zero do. We prefer to confront the people that are burning HOW to the ground in person. You saw that at War Games” he concluded.
“You’re referring to the attack on Mike Best that brought War Games to a close. It was a great way to make an impact and you have seen the backlash – both on Twitter, as you alluded to, and in Mike’s first booking as majority owner of HOW…” replied McVay; trailing off to allow Silent Witness to react.
“Yeah, it’s meant to be a punishment, I guess” he shrugged. “I don’t really know what he’s trying to achieve. I suppose he thinks that making Evan Ward, Silent Witness and Rhys Townsend fight each other is going to uncover some cracks in the foundation of Ground Zero or something” he added. “It’s pathetic, really. All that’s going to happen is that three of the best wrestlers in HOW are going to go out there, compete as well as they can, give the fans an engaging match and shake hands at the end of it.” concluded the HOW veteran.
“Are there any cracks in Ground Zero?” asked Blair Moise. Silent Witness bellowed a hearty laugh; dismissing the question.
“Of course not!” he replied, smiling. “All five of us have watched HOW become a shell of it’s former self and we are all dedicated to bringing this place back from the brink of extinction” he added. “As for myself, Evan and Rhys? We’re as close as we ever have been. As for the match…” he paused; sighing. “Look, I’m sure Rhys will make his feelings clear about just how bad this booking is. How he’s wasting what is a pay-per-view caliber match on the mid-card of Refueled… It’s not a great start for Mickey, really.”
“So, if this match is a waste of time, why don’t you all agree on-“ began McVay, only to be cut off once again.
“I never said this was a waste of time, Brian” snapped Silent Witness. “It’s not clever booking, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the most of it” he added, before taking a moment to compose himself. “This is an opportunity for all three of us. Townsend is making his return. Evan is making his return and probably wouldn’t mind getting himself into the Hall of Fame, before all of this is said and done. It’s an opportunity for them both to prove that they’re still as good as they ever were. To prove that they are still among the best in HOW…” he continued. “… and I’m no different. I think I proved I’m as good as any one of those competitors in the Tag Team Championship match at War Games, but you can’t climb both ladders by yourself.
“But this is an opportunity for me to prove that it wasn’t just a one-off. I haven’t won a title in HOW for seven years – this is a chance to earn that respect back. Not just from Evan and Rhys, but from everybody in HOW that has seen my lackluster performances since twenty-twelve” continued the HOW veteran. “I can prove that I’m worth of being in the discussion for the titles. That I’m worthy of taking the ICON title from Mickey’s best buddy…” he paused; shrugging. “Or maybe he doesn’t think I’m a legitimate contender and doesn’t want to waste Farthington’s time. Maybe he doesn’t think it would draw any money, I don’t know” he continued. “But if I can beat Rhys Townsend and Evan Ward?” he shrugged again. “Maybe I put myself in the conversation… Maybe I find my place in the Ground Zero hierarchy” he concluded.
“How do you mean, the ‘hierarchy’?” asked Blair; confused.
“Well, you’ve got Rhys Townsend; he’s the leader, right? This is his show. We’re all on the same page, we’re all here for a reason, but ultimately, he steers the direction for Ground Zero” explained Silent Witness. “You’ve got John Sektor: World Champion. I think that tells you everything you need to know about his stature. Evan Ward is the last one of us to be World Champion – before Sektor won at War Games, of course – so his pedigree is plain to see… And Christopher America, I mean… He’s one of HOW’s greatest of all time…” he continued. “I need to find my spot; my groove. Winning this match would go a long way towards finding where that is, but I’m sure both of my opponents will be thinking the same thing for themselves” he added.
“So, there is an edge to this match – more so than we would have originally thought?” questioned McVay. Silent Witness frowned.
“Of course, there’s an edge. Nobody wants to lose – ever. It doesn’t matter what we think of the match, or the booking, what we think of Mickey’s petulance… Everybody wants to win” explained the HOW veteran. “This is going to be an exciting, challenging match and everybody should be tuning in to Refueled on Friday night, because we will all be leaving everything out there, in that ring” he continued. “But we will compete the right way; cleanly. Fairly… And at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, the three of us will shake hands, congratulate each other… And then Townsend owes me a damn taco!” he concluded, punctuating his statement with a laugh. McVay and Moise joined in with the laughter, as Silent Witness took off his headset.
“Well, there you have it, listeners; the Ground Zero triple threat match at Refueled has a lot riding on it, especially for our guest today. Thank you, Silent Witness, for your time” stated Blair. “After the break, we will be looking back at Massacre and going all the way back to 2003 to look at one of the all-time classics: Jatt Starr versus Darkwing – a match I’m sure Silent Witness remembers well!” she exclaimed. “We’ll be back after this…” concluded the legendary reporter.
“Hey, thanks for having me on, guys” stated the LSD Legend as the show went to an ad break. “I really appreciate it” he added, while leaning across the desk to shake the hands of both presenters.
“Any time, glad to have you on” replied McVay. “Have a great rest of the day – and good luck on Friday” he added, as Silent Witness made his way out of the studio.
“Good luck!” exclaimed Blair, as he headed out the door. Silent Witness nodded at her in appreciation, before exiting; shutting the door behind him.
It felt good to get some of his feelings off his chest. There was still a lot he had left to say, but he knew there was a time and place for that. Unlike Mickey he thought to himself, as he walked briskly down the corridors of High Octane Radio, towards the exit. In that moment, he realized how much fire he still had inside; how much he still wanted this – all of it. All the bullshit, all the politics behind the bullshit, all the best laid plans that go to waste and all the glory that could be achieved inside a High Octane Wrestling ring.
And it felt good.