97RED DEAD REDEMPTION (1)
I feel it. Every second.
Pressure mounting on my shoulders. Eyes watching me from all angles. Ears perched against the television, waiting to tear apart my speech.
It’s not easy being champion.
Nor should it.
I didn’t join High Octane to have a quaint little sip of Kool-Aid, play some Mario Kart and call it a day. If I wanted to mess around and be content with average, I’d be thrilled to get a random match.
No. I came to the top wrestling promotion in the world for significant moments. Opportunities like this past weekend against John Sektor and the upcoming contest against you, Clay Byrd.
This is my life. Bell to bell, shot for shot, it’s the real game I was born to play. A thrill beyond 64-bit pixels, an opportunity not many are able to achieve.
Clay, some have said you’ve continually fallen short. In fact, you’ve said it yourself. But I’m proof context can change no matter the odds stacked in front of you. All it takes is the snap of two fingers.
Or the count of three.
Once considered a silly little joke, a nice side piece, a mid-card act or even the other brother, I now command attention. As premature as they may be, there are knocks on my door for Conor Fuse’s ability to navigate a team through War Games.
Play with its champion, you may never lose a life.
Winning my first World Title was one thing. Surviving the giants of this organization in a single night tournament six months later, was another. I’m still finding my way, too. Did I have the answers against John Sektor? No. I had the answers to get to John Sektor. I ultimately came up short.
As mentioned, you know the feeling. You have been so close, so often. You are right fucking there man. A mere three count away from your context changing… forever.
But that three count for you is also a three count against me.
Because if you finally take the last step on Sunday, it alters my life, as well.
If I want to be THE fighting champion of HOW, continuing in the footsteps of absolute surefire legends, some who directly oversee the day-to-day operations of this company, then I have to wrestle like I haven’t been to the top. Like I’ve never captured 97. Like I walk through the doors, needing to silence an overwhelming majority of critics who point at me and scream “HE DOES NOT BELONG”.
Maybe I don’t. Truth be told if you line up everyone on this roster, shoulder-to-shoulder, mugshot-to-mugshot, I honestly believe on sheer talent alone, I am somewhere in the middle.
And yet I am forcing MY name to pop out amongst the crowd.
You know why? While I failed against The Gold Standard, revealing Conor Fuse is NOT the best wrestler in the world today, I allow my failure to guide me. We have both gone through failure, Clay. But I’m gonna tell you this is where our similarities end. Because if The Ultimate Gamer has a setback, he looks in the mirror. He takes his losses to heart and he stares at his reflection. A cold, hard, honest stare. And he pounds on his chest, asking…
“How can I be better moving forward?”
It’s not a question The Monster from Plainview asks, is it? I mean let’s be real, you made a joke of March to Glory… and I’m leaving your feud with Mike Best entirely out of it.
I don’t care how much you’re pushed, prodded or been drilled upside the head, there’s a line you simply do not cross.
Wanna reach a 4.99 count? Sure. Wanna invest in teammates to help you out? Be my guest.
Buddy, you wanna apologize to me? Go on this long winded rant about how you failed Conor Fuse after the Grapplers disbanded… only to attack me during my ICONIC entrance? This Sunday I’ll happily put a target on my back for you to do it all over again.
Except this time, I’ll be coming out last. They call it the Champion’s Advantage. You wouldn’t understand.
No, see the thing is none of these issues I spoke about actually bother me. I am a wrestler. I signed up for this shit. It comes with the territory; it is the game we play.
Wrestling isn’t fair.
I will never put my hands on a referee. I will never touch an announcer. I don’t care how insurmountable my circumstances are. Perhaps I can forgive your first blow to dear old Benny, but when provoked you showed your true colours my pigshit friend and they don’t belong in my World. They cannot represent High Octane.
I have the ability to push myself, the real way. I am working extremely hard to find a new edge inside the ring because I know you mother fuckers are coming. Roberts. Stevens. Harrison. Stevens. Davidson. Stevens. Zion. Stevens again, probably. An ultimate game of war is on the horizon and I will be its champion walking in.
So come one, come all. Grab a controller from the system of your choosing and let’s fucking go.
Submissions, chain wrestling, technical prowess and high flying skills. I am gonna level up beyond belief in order to hang with every possible opponent.
Make no mistake, I know what I’m up against. A desperate man who’s shown his extremes may reach no end.
I enjoy desperation. I just channel it wisely. If you did the same, Clay, you may have already been in the 8-4 castle.
But everything can change on Sunday.
It won’t. But it can.
You have all the talent in the world. Born with unique size and strength, you didn’t have to work for your gifts. Not like me. You’re a physical specimen. A multipurpose athlete. The kind of prospect any promoter from any sport would immediately salivate over.
You’re a man. You’re 40. What took you so long to get here?
No bother, it’s never too late and you can still unlock your full potential. You receive these opportunities time and time again due to your immense promise.
Funny, I always thought you had Teddy beat on the USS Octane.
You legitimately beat Jace. As a result, you certainly deserve this one-on-one opportunity against myself. Uninterrupted. I will make sure of it on my end.
See, I deserve this opportunity, too. To beat somebody of your caliber. A notch in my victory column would continue to build on The Vintage’s dream of being looked at as the MAJOR Player… as the kid you can befriend but don’t fuck with. ‘Cause after the bell sounds all bets are off. The gamer will tear you a new asshole. You’ll wish Mike never booked you.
Weapon Getting is the rave right now. It’s what everyone wants to do. So when I DL that Texas-size Lariat of yours and shove it down your throat, you’re gonna wish you walked outta the High Octane doors a little sooner and didn’t keep on truckin’.
The Clay Byrd potential sits on the sidelines for yet another night. Oh, it will happen eventually. You’ll break through. The talent you possess will bust the ceiling open. One day you will be the Boss of this game. You fit the 8-4 description perfectly.
Not on my watch. Never on my watch.
Let’s be real, Benny Newell’s no hero. He’s ripped on me countless times. Still doesn’t make it right. I’m not wrestling in his name, though. I’m merely lacing up my sneakers for honourable combat.
And to represent HOW during its melee War Mode.
Of course we’ve fought before but Clay Byrd is a different man than the guy Conor Fuse saw during the Best Tournament.
Well, news flash buddy: I’m different, too.
… … … … …
March 29, 2022 – 08:07
He sinks his grip into my shoulder. It’s a pressure point, no doubt. I immediately feel my nerve give in and my right arm goes limp. He hardly did shit… and I can’t lift a finger. Dead weight, unable to wiggle free, his tree trunk arm wraps around, like an anaconda squeezing its prey. I kick, shout… try to use my left hand but it’s tucked up underneath my body as I lay on the canvas. I swat my head backwards, hoping it connects with something. Anything. I’m unsuccessful. His arm coils around my neck, his bicep digging into the side of my jaw. He’s been working out. A lot. I can tell. I try biting his muscle. Man, I’ll do anything… but it’s no use. His arm is completely tucked under my chin. I gasp for air… it will no doubt be the last full breath I am able to take for a while. I suck back about 60% of what I normally could. This is gonna have to last. I feel him repositioning. He’s on a knee now, so he’s able to apply upper body power into this choke hold, FML. My right arm is still dead. Jesus Christ, what pressure point did he tap? When can I function again? No. It’s about surviving ATM, not function. Laying on my left-hand side, I’m able to dig my left shoe into the ground and push up, just a little. It creates a minor barrier between me and his mammoth arm. Maybe he doesn’t know yet since I’m able to suck in a small amount of air but I can’t let him hear me. My right arm tingles. There we go, let’s get some feeling back in the sucker. But I’m coy; I have to be. I have to make him believe he’s won. Until my arm is fully operational, I can’t tip my hand. thE aiR iS beING knocKED oUT oF mEEEE…
My eyes shoot open. Adrenaline has kicked in. This is my chance… my ONLY chance. I spring my right hand upwards. Scratch and claw, grind and pull at whatever I can get my hands on. Using a closed fist, I’ll have to bend the rules for a split second. I find his jawline and I crack it as hard as a wild hand being thrown back blindly can do. He moves an inch backwards but it’s the opening I need! I’m able to shift my weight and remove my left arm from under my body. Fucking right! Both hands are free. Both feet, too. I toss my feet upright, his arm tightens. He’s realized there was some space left between us and now, oh now he’s doubling down like the ruthless prick he is. I better figure this out ASAP or he will render The Vintage unconscious.
I kick my feet out, creating a bridge. I throw both hands in the air, take hold of his head and shoot upwards, only to collapse my legs and throw my weight to the ground.
I hit him with a jaw breaker. My only hope and it works. He releases the hold. I run to my left, leap into the cement wall and run halfway up it before pushing off and clobbering the giant with an elbow strike to the temple. He’s stunned, perhaps pissed off. He’s about to come at me and I’m gassed as fuck. A deer in the headlights. It took everything I had to break his merciless choke hold.
He can tell I’m DOA. I fall to my knees. He marches over…
And helps me to my feet.
“Thanks, buddy,” I say, barely able to suck oxygen into my lungs. I find my right arm resting on his shoulder. I can’t feel a damn thing.
“You really have been working on your wrestling,” I exclaim, finally able to fill my lungs with enough air to stand upright. My hand drops, deadweight off his shoulder. “Where did you get the nerve hold?”
Looking down at my arm, it dangles freely. Of course he doesn’t tell me.
“Fucking can’t feel shit, guy.”
The Game Boy stands, his looming 6’6”, hulking frame, eyeing me through his homemade NES luchador mask. I told him last week I would need him and I’m glad he took me up on the offer. He’s gonna play his role extremely well.
Taking a step back, I look around the boiler room. It’s dimly lit, four dull white lights shine into our area of the level two basement. Cement walls on three sides before veering off into the mechanical equipment, a staircase leading up and an elevator around the corner. Two of the walls are heavily cracked. I can only imagine the bugs weaving their way in and out of them. We are in the corner of this basement unit. When I first stepped foot, this side of the cellar was abandoned. Cobwebs abound, the odd dead insect, discoloured spots on the floor, likely from previous water damage.
And all I’ve done is place a mat in the center to act as a “canvas”. Added a bunch of free weights behind me, NBD.
“If I can put a mirror up around these parts…” I point to the location as my mind wanders and Game Boy looks over. “Shame the ceiling’s so high.”
Would’ve loved to have used some of the pipes to latch onto and fly off. Then again, nothing hangs above the real squared circle.
My attention is distracted as The Mini Boss and I hear the boiler room door opening from above. I can’t make out who it is, the silhouette of the man is low and hunched over. The shadow gingerly walks down the staircase with use of the handrail.
“Hello?” The voice beckons, echoing throughout the basement interior. This boiler room runs for a few miles. It’s a big building, although I’m only setting up shop in this tiny corner. “Conor?”
The voice trails. The man reaches the bottom of the stairs and comes into view.
“Walter, yeah man. Over here.”
My favourite Elder’s hearing and eyesight work decently, despite the loud boiler room noises. He swings around, finding the location of my voice easily and sees us standing across the way. Walt approaches, slowly. The ninety-six-year-old moves with a grace and dignity about him. He’s a lot more able than he lets on.
The pensioner stops in the center of our location. He eyes the mat beneath his feet and the mini “weight room” I’ve started off to the left.
“Moving in again?” He raises an eyebrow.
“No,” I remind. “That’s long gone. But I have found the start to something new…”
I open my arms outward, taking in the scene with bated breath. He humours me and looks around again. The Game Boy stands idle.
“Welcome to the dungeon, Walt,” I say with a mischievous grin. “The Doom Dungeon.”
… … … … …
Walter, Game Boy and I sit on folded chairs in the middle of the canvas. Since this morning, I’ve added a desk off to the side, the chairs you see us resting on and a broom leaning against the corner. It’s still dusty AF down here.
“So let me get this straight,” The old man begins. Maybe he’s trying to make sense of what I have told him, maybe he literally needs to roll through it again because the boiler is on and it’s quite loud. “You plan to use this as a wrestling gym?”
My head nods slightly to the left. “I mean, yeah, kinda, ehhh. Look Walter, for the past month I’ve been having a hard go of things outside the ring. And building academies is so fetch these days. Every elite level athlete has a safe space they can go to. Man I hate the term ‘safe space’ but it’s what people of my ilk use.”
I glance around the room after a coy wink and nod to my mini boss. “Plus this place is made of concrete and nothing but. Ain’t nobody gonna burn it down.”
Walter rolls his eyes. “You can burn down the twelve story building above it.”
Meh. I guess. Would be the biggest dick move ever, leaving three-hundred retirees without a home.
The Elder leans forward, adjusting his chair. “So you won’t move back into Dearness but you will use its basement to run your… uh… fight club?”
Now it’s my turn to give a roll of the eyes. “Wally, this is not a fight club. It’s my dungeon. Training room. It’s doom and gloom. And whenever I call Game Boy, he’s gonna beat the living shit outta me.”
I reach over and tussle The Halo From Hell’s head. “Aren’t you, buddy?”
He doesn’t respond.
“It’s more than that,” I continue, trying to convince the greybeard. Perhaps I’m trying to convince myself, too. “This is serious. Sure, it’s not the most conventional location in the world but no one will bother me. Plus, you’ve never watched Fight Club.”
I crack my arms across my chest. I can feel my heart pounding. This isn’t “the” answer to my lack of having fun outside of the ring but it is “an” answer. It’s step one of a three step process. The other two will be revealed in time.
“Listen friend,” I’ve probably already convinced him but I like to hear my own voice. It also helps me place the context of this room for future usages. “They all coming. Last year was my first War Games but Conor Fuse has played in HOW for two years. I know this upcoming time period is the most hectic High Octane can get.”
“Sunday has nothing to do with War Games,” Walter adds. “You’re fighting that young guy, Clay.”
“Okay first off, yes. Sunday has nothing to do with the next premium pay-per-view specialty show,” I confirm, not knowing the appropriate terminology. “This gym is for Clay Byrd.”
I pause to rub my head. “And he’s not a ‘young guy’, Wally. He’s actually thirty-nine but I round up to forty because it’s easier.”
Anyway, back to my point.
“Clay’s massive, reckless, angry. If I don’t devote every fucking minute to the Texan this week, I am DOA. There’s no War Games. Man, Walt, guy… there may not even be a Conor Fuse.”
A lightbulb goes off inside my head, which is funny because it’s so dark down here you’d think I’d need night vision goggles. I walk over to the desk. Opening the filing cabinet, I reveal a manila folder. One of many.
Been waiting to open this up for a very long time.
I can feel my pulse quicken again. It instantly becomes personal, even though our campaigns have barely crossed. I never knew who my first opponent was gonna be in the ICONIC Best Tournament until thirty minutes beforehand. No time to prepare. No ability to spend a week and do nothing but eat, breathe and sleep the fearless, albeit misguided cowboy.
I open the folder, scanning the documents inside. Handwritten notes from previous Clay Byrd matches. Marching over to my favourite DLC resident, I hand him the file and sit back down. I can’t help but notice the steel chair under The DPad Destroyer is barely holding his weight. Note to self: get some reinforced chairs for my little buddy.
“Clay was unsuccessful against Mike,” I remind Walter.
“I’m aware,” he replies.
“But he’s finally got his title shot. You think this man is gonna be easy to beat?”
Wally gives me an expression as if to say he clearly never said this.
“I know you didn’t. I- well- Game Boy is here for Clay.”
I snap my fingers and ask for the document off the top. Walter obliges, although I redirect the paperwork, asking the Elder to hand it over to The Game Boy instead. The behemoth takes the note and scans the document.
“Big time stiff-as-shit clothesline. Shoulder tackle. Body slam. Powerbombs. Suplexes. It’s all there, friend,” I say to my hulking muscle in a very methodical and thorough tone. “Every move Clay’s hit since his time in High Octane. The ratios are beside each one. Percentage he’s gone for the spear, how often he throws a hook. I don’t fuck around watching film.”
I lean over and turn the document around so Game Boy can scan its B Side.
“I’ve even broken things down further. You see…” I point to it, “I have a ‘reckless’ category. The definition is Clay seeing red and what moves he goes for under an intense spell of fury.”
I let out a small chuckle because I did put “attack referee” at 3%. I wonder if The Mini Boss will find it funny when his eyes fall upon it, too.
Sitting back in my chair, I allow my muscle the time and space he needs to go through the notes. He will read them and then reenact a Clay Byrd mindset during our next training session. The choke hold he applied earlier was a warm up.
My eyes meet Walter. I can tell he’s impressed but also concerned. He doesn’t want me to tire myself out. If this is the case, I’ll simply remind him wrestling’s my life and I have to do anything legal to keep #97. I am determined to make it into War Games as champion.
“Doom Dungeon. Yeah, it’s a funny little name in a funny little location,” I say with gusto. “But I’m a funny little guy.”
No argument there.
“High Octane takes me seriously. I proved it by outlasting Mike, Cecilworth, all the elite wrestlers in this promotion,” pumping my own tires, gimme a second. I’ll come crashing back to earth. “But nobody’s successful relying on your previous accomplishments. For Clay, it’s his big chance.”
I can feel passion building into my voice with each new word.
“Yet I have the bigger heart. I want it more. I always fucking want it more. Losing to Sektor reiterated I am NOT the most skilled guy in the world. But when I want something… when I absolutely put my mind to it… there is nobody more creative…”
I hold my hands out, displaying the dungeon in its entirety.
“Nobody more vibrant… and nobody more willing to work the ins and outs of every wrestling match… than yours truly. Sunday is MY big chance.”
I lower my hands. The pep is outta my voice as I solemnly go into my last preamble.
“I failed David Noble. We worked so hard and fell just short,” I think of the moment where I couldn’t get my foot out of the ropes in time, watching Sektor fly from the top, hooking the leg, finding the three and snatching the Tag Titles from our midst while he maintains the moniker of best wrestler in the world. For a split second, I consider losing to the colossal Texan. “I can’t disappoint the fans. But most of all, I can’t let that disgusting backstabbing sloth represent this company.”
Standing, I move my chair off to the side and turn to The Game Boy.
“Hmmm you know, Clay’s a little taller than you,” I contemplate, to which I see the big man’s head tilt and eyes narrow in my direction. “Better looking, yep. Clay’s certainly legit.”
Game Boy immediately rises from his chair and discards it to the side.
Shit eating smirk crosses my face. Guess we’re going another round.
“This is not Clay’s redemption story,” I remark with confidence, as Walt removes himself from harm’s way and I await TGB’s lashing.