“Don’t force it!”
Simon, Sektors chief sports physio and personal trainer, breathed his warning into the Gold Standards ear as he strained his legs against the plate of the leg press. His face was beetroot and worm-like vein snaked across his temple, fit to burst. The weight he was pushing against with his legs wasn’t overly impressive, but it was a struggle all the same. It wasn’t lack of strength, but the pain stopping him doing it. His knee joints were on fire and screaming at him to stop. He was only up to 300lbs which isn’t even considered intermediate, and bordering on pathetic for a professional wrestler. To be effective as a wrestler, let alone a great technician, all the strength came from the legs.
Sektor’s knees were long past their expiry date. It had been an issue the last time he competed in HOW, but it was even worse. It was his greatest concern, considering his opponent’s signature submission move involved a single leg crab, which was designed to put abnormal loads of pressure on the knee joint.
Throughout his first couple of days in boot camp, he’d gone over offensive moves. He sparred with the young cadet, Seamus O’Doylan, who was a student of his own academy in Miami. He’d practised his chain wrestling, reversals, transitions, experimented with a few different ways of applying holds to try and catch Townsend off guard. None of that seemed as important as focussing on one particular element:
They say the best defence is a good offence, but that’s only partly true. Sure, Sektor would try to control the tempo of the match as best he could. But he was up against one of the best and he was honest and realistic, not foolish. Townsend would engineer plenty of opportunities for himself in this match, of that, he had no doubt. So ensuring his defensive game was up to scratch was paramount. When it comes to Rhys Townsend? The best defence? Is a great DEFENCE!
Making sure his knee’s didn’t explode was even more important.
“Stop, STOP!” Simon yelled, seeing him struggling and physically stopping his legs from doing any more. “You’re gonna blow your knees!”
Sektor slammed his head back against the cushion of the machine’s seat, his breathing laboured as he closed his eyes and scowled with frustration.
“I think that’s the limit,” Simon said carefully, knowing the reaction it could spark.
Sektor didn’t answer, he just stared at his knees as though he hated them. He regarded them like a family member who had betrayed him in the most hurtful way possible. If you can’t trust your tools, what good were they?
“Let’s go try out your new toys,” Simon suggested, playfully slapping him on the shoulder.
Sektor grimaced as he swung his legs off the plate and onto the floor. He could feel bone on bone grinding as he slowly stood up, having destroyed what little cartilage had been left. Being proud and tough he tried not to show it, but the pain as he walked made him sick. He wanted to scream and was guarding his gait carefully, knowing the slightest misstep could lead to an ACL or meniscus tear. The match would be over before it even started.
They eventually made it out of the main training room of the facility they had hired and into a smaller treatment room. Simon patted the firm treatment table as though Sektor was a dog in a vet’s office about to be obedient and hop on there with his tail wagging. He just slumped on it, face still dejected and chewing over the fear his knees had accelerated.
“Let’s do some joint manipulation first,” Simon bega, placing one had on Sektor’s left calf and the other on his upper thigh.
Sektor slapped his hand away with force. “Just get the fucking things!” He spat his word out like venom.
Simon, clearly biting his tongue and resisting the urge to bite back, took a calming breath and walked over to a table at the side which had a large black case resting on it. He unhooked the latches and opened up wide, revealing two knee braces which looked very complicated but sophisticated. He lifted one of them out and brought it over to Sektor, handing it to him. Sektor took the brace in his hand and regarded it with mixed emotions. Here was a device that could help him survive against Rhys Townsend, but it was also a reminder of dying mobility.
He seemed surprised by its weight as he bounced it up and down in his hands. “It’s light!”
“Carbon Fibre,” Simon Explained. “You spared no expense on these. Took me the entire plane ride to get through the instruction manual and I still don’t know how they work,” he laughed.
Sektor rolled it around and took a good look. There were mechanisms attached to the carbon fibre rods which would sit either side of his knee. There was a knee pad with four red tubes arching over it and in the middle a digital display. The display had a single red light, which was obviously indicating the device was in ‘standby’ mode.
“It’s basically an exo-skeleton,” Simon explained.
That description, along with the single red light staring back at him reminded him of an old friend. He felt a cold shive as though Max Kael himself was staring back at him with the bright red eye. Max had an entire suit, filled with technology to keep his body working in the ring. The violent matches he’d been in had left him more machine than man. Max was now ten feet under, and probably in a better place. Probably. But Sektor was still feeling deep dread as that single red eyed stared into his soul.
Is this really what you want? Heh–heh…he…..
“You okay?” Simon asked, looking at him with concern. Sektor looked up at him like a deer in headlights. “Look like you’ve seen a ghost..”
He smiled nervously and extended the device to Simon.
“How does it work?”
Simon almost laughed, as though he didn’t really know himself as he took the brace from Sektor. He turned it on its side and pointed towards a small LED screen with a few touch screen buttons underneath.
“So this this is the OA off-loader,” he began to explain, OA standing for ‘Osteo-Arthritis.’ Once you put it on you gradually increase and it will pull your upper and lower leg away from one another until the joint feels like it’s basically floating.”
Sektor nodded, grasping the concept but knowing that it would hurt like a bitch.
“There’s a face plate to screw over the top once you’ve set it. That’s optional, I’d recommend it as it stops any accidental knocking of the settings..”
“Stops that Welsh-fuck playing with it too,” Sektor added, already anticipating Townsend sniffing out his two glaring weaknesses and looking to exploit them.
“Well these will sit nicely underneath your tights. So unless he pulls your pants down..”
“He is Welsh? The English guys used to tell me that they like to “shag sheep.” But I am no sheep. I’m a wolf!”
“In sheep’s clothing?”
Sektor cocked his head to the side, regarding his physio with utter disgust.
“No. Just a fucking wolf!”
Simon looked down at his brace and slyly rolled his eyes. “Anyway,” he continued, moving on he turned the brace face up and motioned towards the two support straps. “These are autofitting. No manual fastening, you just slide it on until you’re happy with the position and press this button,” he explained, pointing to a button on the main console the little red light sat next to. “Then it will tighten until it feels optimum resistance and you’re set. It locks once you activate the main console so it won’t come loose.”
“Again,” Sektor sighed. “Let’s say he did pull my tights down? Could he undo these straps?”
Simon shook his head confidently. “He needs to hit the kill switch which is underneath this little flap here. That also turns on the main console once it’s locked. Either that, or he’d need some strong ass scissors to cut through them.”
Sektor took a slow inhaled breath and nodded, feeling a little more reassured about the product. “And these? What are these for?” he asked, pointing to the four red tubes that run over the top of the console which is in the centre of where the kneecap would sit.
“So this console here is where the smart chip is. These four tubes feed air into air bags around the knee. This is where it gets really clever,” Simon continued excitedly.
Sektor narrowed his eyes, intrigued.
“This brace is completely adaptive to your every movement. It will read what your leg is doing and inflate those bags around the joint as it needs to to continue providing support, and it will also inflate them to an optimal level and then deflate them as they need to.”
Sektor pouted his mouth and, for a moment, had a small glint of excitement in his eyes. Or perhaps it was hope.
“Now, obviously this is a prototype but it’s designed to support the knee for sports men and women. It will reduce pain to a comfortable level and may even get rid of it completely. But it’s not designed to stop a submission move from hurting,” he explained, narrowing his eyes sympathetically. “You know what I’m saying.”
“Yes. I understand. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m not looking for cheat codes here, Simon!”
“I wasn’t suggesting that you were I -”
“I just want to be able to trust my fucking knees! This mother fucker has the blandest of all submission holds but against my knee it will be like barbaric torture. He’s made the healthiest of men tap to the Half crab and if it gets that locked in on me, without these? I’m fucked. Simple as that Simon, FUCKED!”
Simon nodded, understanding his clients concerns. It had been Simon who tried to convince him to stay away from active competition. He’d seen the scans of his knee’s first hand and knew full well that in any other sport they would be career enders. But for independent contractors in an exploitive business such as wrestling? So long as the individual wanted to wrestle they could wrestle.
“You think these will help? All I want is for them to feel like they should do when he locks in that hold. I can cope with pain. But every man has a threshold..”
Simon shrugged and knelt down to begin slipping the brace over his foot. “Only one way to find out skipper.”
He carefully slid the brace up over his knee so that two sets of straps sat parallel with one another, one above the knee mid-thigh and one below mid-calf. Holding his finger above the main console, he looked up at Sektor.
The Gold Standard took a deep breath and held it, choosing to save his breath and nod in response.
Simon tapped the screen and it came to life with vibrant colours. The display was filled with various symbols and this started Simon slightly as he tried to remember which symbol he needed to hit first. He was almost sighing with relief as he pressed one and it began to tighten the support straps. They quickly squeezed his quad and calf like a tourniquet but stopped just as his skin began to indent.
Sektor just nodded rapidly, gesturing for him to move it along as he was still holding his breath. Simon then moved his hand to the side of the knee where the smaller console sat. He tapped an icon on the screen which was for all intents and purposes an arrow that pointed up, and below it there was one pointing down. He tapped the arrow several times and a circular mechanism in the brace began to turn around. The two rods either side which formed the ex-skeleton began to move away from one another. Simon glanced up at Sektor who was twirling his finger around to instruct him to keep doing. As the mechanism kept going round and round a slow popping sound began to sound from his joint. Sektor’s face began to strain before a loud crack was heard.
“YYYYYAHHHHH!” he yelled, arching his back and white knuckling his hands against the treatment table.
“You alright?” Simon asked, his face looking like he had experienced the pain himself.
Sektor puffed out his cheeks and blew out slowly, eventually nodding that he was ok. Sektor then slid off the table and tried it out. He looked almost in disbelief as he planted his braced leg on the ground. He then hopped up and down on it, looking at Simon gleefully.
“It’s fucking incredible,” he gasped.
He could feel the difference instantly. The brace was taking all of the weight off his joint and completely supporting his legs. Not only that, but it was light as a feather. He then kicked his leg forward and backwards and his eyes bulged in Simon’s direction.
Simon smiled. “Oh yeah. This thing reads your movements and gives you a little help. So as soon as it feels those tendens twitch a certain way it will begin to help you move in the direction you want to. It’s fucking cool man!”
Sektor shook his head in disbelief. This device was a God send and he still hadn’t put the second one on. He already felt a boost in confidence and was excited to put into practice.
“Now you’re supposed to put this on your good leg first so it can learn your optimal muscle movements,” Simon continued.
Sektor frowned with confusion. “But I don’t have a good leg..”
“I know, so we just better hope these things are smart enough to figure out whatever your optimal movements are.”
Sektor didn’t mind. No matter what these braces would be a huge improvement on the shitty braces he had worn before. A thought did pop into his head and he shot a concerned look at Simon.
“Wait! What’s the battery like on these things?”
Simon waved his hand dismissively. “Lithium batteries man. It will go for fucking days before it needs charging. Will get you through this match no problem.”
Sektor smirked. He was sure he would have more questions, but for now he had all the information he needed to get in the sparring ring and put them to the test.
So he trained and he trained. He had Seamus continuously lock him into the Half Crab and he would get him to test it and test it and test it. Yes it hurts. It was excruciating. But bit by bit he began to build up a tolerance. He started to form a relationship with the pain and get himself in a mental zone, all the whilst trying to find a way out of it. It was a simulation but it was the closest he was going to get to the real thing. Townsend was strong and he knew how to apply that hold better than any man on the planet. Sektor knew that the braces were by no means a key to success, but they gave him a chance. A chance was all he needed.
In spite of the excruciating pain he’d enjoyed and the harrowing scale of the task in front of him, it was a breath of fresh air for Sektor to be occupying his mind. It was quiet from all the negative thoughts that had been plaguing him and he’d found his focus. He’d escaped his own head, which was the first hold of many he would have to escape by the time 97RED came around.
All he could do now was prepare.
I’m gonna keep this short and sweet Rhys…
You’re a dangerous competitor, Rhys Townsend. I’m not too proud to admit the threat that you pose to me. You might come across as laid back, easy going and reserved, but I know you! Once you’re in that ring and the switch gets flipped you turn into that Welsh fire breathing Dragon and you’re fucking dangerous. I have had to consider the risks that this poses to my long term future, as I’m much older than you are and I have to think about these things. I know that competing in a submission match with the only submission specialist who could ever truly rival me is a great risk to my well being.
So why take the risk? What’s in this for me? Sure, Lee offered me a very lucrative short term contract, but it was never really about the money. No amount of money is worth me requiring help to get my hairy ass off the toilet one day. It’s hard enough getting off it right now!
I’ve also asked the question – why me? Why did Lee choose me to deal with you? He could have chosen Mike, he could have chosen Jatt, he could have chosen Stronk or Solex..why drag me out of retirement?
Was that the point? Did he just see an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone and use you as bait to get me back into the fold? Probably. I like to think he’s looked up my career record over you and realised that 9 times out of 10 I’ve gotten the better of you, especially at pay-per-views.
Maybe he had the idea of having you lose in a submissions match? No one likes to tap out. It’s the worst way to lose a match because you have to throw in the towel and that’s such a bitter pill to swallow. For you? A proud Hall of Famer and a submissions expert to be forced to submit? Even worse! So maybe he chooses me because I’m the best technician in the world and the man who has the greatest chance of forcing you to tap?
Well that’s all very well and good, if I can do it. Because, believe me, Rhys, it’s going to kill me if I have to submit to you. The more I think about this match the more I think that actually I’m carrying the greater risk.
You see, in spite of what you think of me, Rhys? I still hold a shit ton of respect for you. I know you think I’m boring. That I’m just recycling the same image. But I am who I am, you know?
I’ll be 100% honest with you right now. I think you’re boring as fuck! The whole “taco-truck” thing? Never got it. Never found it funny, can’t believe it ever got over. I think it’s stupid, but, hey? That’s just my opinion, if others like it? Good for them.
Your promo work? I find that to be dull as dishwater as well. The same shit, same style you’ve done ever since you tried to measure up to Mike Best. The same ‘I don’t care”, the same “I suppose this where I,” the same “I guess this is the point where I say ‘this, this and this’” …and then you STILL go on to say THIS, THIS AND FUCKING THIS! The same “I suppose you’re going to say this” or “I’m going to hear you say this” …when you know fucking well I’ve said it because you’ve watched or listened to me fucking SAY IT!. So just respond to it, instead of flirting around it and just say:
“I HEAR YOU MOTHER FUCKER – AND THIS IS WHAT I THINK!”
But you act like you’re too cool and can’t be fucked…, insert ‘I’m too stoned to give a fuck but I’m going to waffle on about it anyway but act like I don’t care.’…rinse and fucking repeat, amigo, it’s the same shit every time you open your mouth.
You, are the most vanilla mother fucker I have ever met in my life. You’re also one of the most insufferable people I’ve ever had to work with because you enjoy the smell of your own farts so much that it makes me sick. We all have ego’s Rhys, but yours borders on delusional. In fact, I often wonder if I ever actually liked you? Looking back now, I think I just tolerated you and did so for the good of the group and for the good of the business.
In spite of allllll that, I have always admired you as a competitor. You are without a doubt one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. That comes from day one when you stepped into this company. Your devotion to your training? Your thirst for knowledge? Your desire to get better and learn from mistakes has got you where you are today. I also like to think that working alongside the likes of me, even competing against great opponents like Mike and I has contributed to all that. Just like how I credit my great encounters with the likes of Jatt Starr, Mark O’Neal, Chris Kostoff and many other legends during my younger days in this business.
Aside from wrestling styles, you and I in many aspects could not be more different. Chalk and fucking cheese. I think deep down we can perhaps admit that we both respect one another as competitors? But as human beings? We can’t stand the sight or sound of one another and you know what, hermano? I can live with that!
None of that matters once the bell rings, does it amigo?
Then, we just become two men fighting for the same result. In this scenario? We are two warriors simply trying to survive the other. We can train. We can prepare physically. But once it gets to crunch time it’s all about mentality, desire, heart and a sprinkling of luck.
My mentality, right now, is that I cannot lose this match. I cannot lose to you and I cannot be allowed to submit. Losing to YOU in particular, out of everyone I’ve ever faced, could perhaps be the toughest loss I’ll ever take if it happens. Remember, cards on the table here, right? I just dont think I could ever live with myself, so by all means if you do beat me? Enjoy that knowledge boyo, because I guarantee you’ll have fucking earned it. I just cannot lose..
You see, I’ve been to dark places in my life and, without going into too many details, I’ve considered throwing in the symbolic towel – I assume you catch my drift. Wrestling, when all is said and done, is all I have.
I’m a scumbag. I’m a failed father and a miserable excuse for a human being. I’ve added nothing positive to this world. The only contributions I have made have been to this business and the history I have made.
That is what I am fighting for. That is my motivation. Not making Lee happy. Not getting paid. But putting everything I have into the one thing I’ve ever been remotely good at and not fucking it up!
From one proud wrestler to another? I humbly wish you good luck in our match. Neither of us want to lose this one, I guess it boils down to either who wants it the most or who can hold on the longest?
That’s the beauty of this story that we are telling, Rhys. Even if you didn’t want to tell it in the first place. And, In spite of how we feel about one another?
We write the ending..together!