Am I even allowed to do this?
Walking into the building never felt so illegal and yet nothing is stopping me from turning back around. Nevertheless, I march forward, past the security guard on my right and through the ridiculously over dramatic metal detectors. It beeps. Of course it beeps, although I assure the second guard that my pockets are empty. I reach inside, pull them out and let them hang openly as evidence. He runs a scanner across my body, regardless. I used to make frequent visits here, so you’d think I could run off previous credibility but they apparently have their “rules”.
The second guard looks back to the first, the one sitting at the entrance and with a nod, the dude clears me of smuggling in any banned weaponry. Thanking them for their diligent and thorough manner in which I was inspected, I’m given back my cell phone and car keys. I stuff the keys into my left pocket and jam the cell phone into my right. The second guard points me to the looming entrance, to which a third guard stands in front with his arms crossed. It takes the man a while to go through the padlocks, I count about five of them before growing restless.
The doors open slowly, while a creaking sound suggests what’s kept inside hasn’t gone out and what’s outside hasn’t gone in for a very long time.
“Been a while, Fuse,” the head guard says, revealing himself on the other side of the padlocked doors. “Welcome back.”
Dancing my eyes around the atrium, it doesn’t take long to familiarize myself. Dimly lit spotlights from the super high ceiling, many of them flicker on and off, to the point most of them stop working more than halfway down the hall. The cells are to my right and they remain the same. Large, padlocked doors with one medium-sized, two-way window. Nameplates at the bottom, but they no longer display the 64-bit renderings of the inmates. I’ve graduated beyond video games references.
“You’re here for him, aren’t you?” The head guard asks, not waiting for me to answer as he casually strolls down the hall so he can lead the way.
And we walk. Past the various enemies I’ve made over the three and a half years in High Octane. It’s been that long, huh? A part of me wants to stop… I’d like to visit the old gentlemen with a million nicknames, the one whom I first battled within this organization. The OG player who gave me a significant setback, the one who could’ve made me rage quit… if rage quitting was an option. I’d also love to spend time with my former friends who are most certainly now enemies. Ones who left this company when they didn’t achieve their goals. Palmer. Martin. Troy.
The legend’s wing is next but I don’t have time, my stage 4 REM sleep cycle doesn’t typically last long. I thought Evan Ward and I were going to spend the summer battling each other, in a new direction for me… the one where I demoralize every single returning HOW Hall of Famer and shake their beliefs to the very core. I would’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. Proving me, a dipshit, video game loving simpleton, with limited social skills and zero ability to meet women, could still run over every single one of these schmucks who think their Hall of Fame ring means they are legitimately talented.
No. Conor Fuse is talented.
“By the way,” the guard says as he cocks his head around while we continue to march through the prison. “Congratulations on winning the World Championship. Everyone here is so very proud of you.”
A forced smile crosses my face. Luckily, we are well into the halfway point of the corridor, so I doubt the guard can understand how little the comment actually meant to me.
“I couldn’t help but notice you didn’t bring it with you,” he responds.
I raise an eyebrow, “bring what?”
“Number ninety-seven,” he says like it’s such an amazing honour.
“Oh, uhh,” I fumble my words, looking for the perfect excuse. “You don’t allow weapons in the facility. I didn’t think I could bring it.”
Smooth, Fuse. Very smooth.
“No problem,” he declares. “We’re almost there, anyway.”
Almost there. The man at the end of the hall. The cell which has switched occupants rather frequently. It’s frustrating, you know… it’s angering to see rival after rival walk away from my High Octane Asylum.
This man, however, walks away from nobody.
“Here we are,” the guard states, stopping at the end of the hall, in front of the last dungeon. “I’m not sure he’s in there at the moment. As you know, he comes and goes as he pleases. He isn’t bound to the prison.”
Ah, yes. Figures. That’s not a shot at him doing what he wants, whenever he wants, either. It’s a cold, hard, serious reminder…
I don’t matter to him like he matters to me.
I slowly approach the two-way glass. When you’re at the end of the hall, you can never seemingly see well. I’d have to squint. Sure, I could ask the guards to fix the lighting but why mess with the mystique? Why lower the intensity? This should be scary. I want to be terrified when I walk up to the glass… and wonder what my nemesis is up to.
“Hello…” my voice trails. Looking back at the security guard and giving him a cheesy smile, I wonder if I’m wasting my breath. Should I wake up? What productive wrestling things could I be doing with the rest of my day? After all… what am I to him? He told me; I didn’t want to listen. I refused to listen, to accept his trash talk, to knock me down a couple of pegs. I know he’s worried. I know he’s trying to defend himself. He is the king of the psychological game. He knows exactly what buttons to press at the most appropriate times.
Then again… maybe he’s right. While he is most certainly my greatest obstacle, I’m an average opponent, in an average match, in a situation he’s been in countless times before.
And yet I deserve more. I have scratched and clawed my way to the top. I have defeated serious threats. I have beaten them soundly. I am every bit as skilled as the man on the other side of this glass.
If he is on the other side of it.
Because what am I to him?
After this weekend I am going to be something alright.
“You’ve said this before, Conor,” I mumble. At what point do you give up? When do I say ‘I can’t beat him’… and be okay?
I can barely see a bed and a wall of trophies lined up in the background. An overwhelming amount of accolades resting on the shelves. So little room when you have a plethora of achievements.
My eyes scan to the right… they can’t help but fall upon the padlocked door. Which isn’t currently locked…
It’s a sliver open.
I bring my attention back to the guard. “He’s not in there right now… is he?”
The guard moves his eyes to the doorway and sees what I do. It’s easy for him to conclude.
“Afraid not, Conor. Sorry to waste your time tonight.”
I step back from the window and give a nonchalant shrug in the process. “Whatever, it’s cool. I was going to wake up right around now, anyway…”
— — — — —
Here I sit, on the edge of my bed, inside my bachelor pad. Outside of the wrestling world there’s little going on. I’ve cut off my friends and means of support. I’ve removed any further fun, completely focused on the wrestling aspect. No video games or comic books. I live, eat, breathe and sleep this sport on a level I never could’ve fathomed beforehand.
Why take such an extreme measure? I was doing fine with these things in my life. I’ve never hit a low point in High Octane, I’m always near the top of the card. There was no key reason why I felt the urge to change. I’ve gained the respect of my peers, which is truthfully the only thing I wanted to do since the day I signed a HOW contract. Steve Solex, of all people, took the time to backtrack on his negative comments about Conor Fuse with the most recent statement being that he respects me. Gone are the days of wrestlers rolling their eyes when booked against The Vintage. Squaring off against the former gamer is no longer a punishment. It’s a fucking privilege.
So why push away my friends? Why grow into someone I’m not? This is no way to live and now, as a result, I have nothing to do with my time. No old age home to visit, no mom squad to annoy. Christ, no Darin Zion tapping me on the shoulder wanting to tag. I am alone. Singular. Solo.
And I’m not sure I like it.
But then I look across my bedroom… the World Championship sits at my night table. I defeated Stronk Godson. This is no minor task. An accomplishment others could only dream of.
Plus I beat him twice.
The World Champion. Yet I don’t feel like a champion now, do I? The title has sat idly since the night I brought it home and placed it on the nightstand. Funny, for someone with OCD, I’ve noticed the title is not resting in the exact middle of the table. Typically, I’d want to do something about it. Line it up perfectly, you know?
The belt is on loan, anyway. Maybe deep down inside I haven’t accomplished what I really want, and know I’m not going to be able to. Instead, I’m a transitional champion, like the first time. I defeated- no, I mangled Sutler Reynolds-Kael to a filthy fucking pulp. I deserved the gold and I was ready to go on an unforeseen run.
…Until I was kneed in the side of the head.
He couldn’t even let me celebrate. Unable to allow the spotlight to shine on anyone else for even a second.
One month later and I was staring into the stars, quite literally, on the rooftop of Alcatraz, wondering what the hell I got myself into. The title ripped outta my palms.
Sure, ICONIC rolled around and I stormed through a murderer’s row of challengers. I won it back. I retired his best friend but he is right. I grasped at straws in our HOFC roundtable. Said I beat him before when the reality is… nadda.
Did dad protect him on that given night? I thoroughly believe he did. I think Lee saw a weakened son and gave him the only match he knew the both of them would be able to comprehend.
Well, nothing can save either of them now.
“Hey dipshit, you said this two months ago in HOFC,” the voice inside my head wonderfully chimes in.
The title. Sitting there, off-center. Driving me batshit insane as I glare at it. I’d go back to bed… but I’m not welcome in those dreams anymore, either. This is an obsession. The Son of God lives rent free. I’ve already castrated myself, told the entire world I am not worthy of the title until I beat one man.
It’s just ONE MAN, Conor. It shouldn’t be this difficult. And even if it is…
It shouldn’t fucking matter.
You won that title. YOU, not him. You were the man who made the powerlifter suffer. Where was he? Where was the son, begging for his match against the hulking, steroided freak? You stood in line! You won the number one contendership!
Yet none of this matters. I am not the World Champion until I beat the man who doesn’t have this title. I’ve crowned him #97 already.
And if I lose, do I walk away from HOW? Do I fight him again? Do I say it doesn’t matter, no sell my L and move on without a care in the world?
Hilarious, isn’t it? Haven’t even decided what it would look like if I won. Conor Fuse, preparing for the worst, never assuming he could be good enough to do it. But that’s what keeps me going. This is what lights the fire. I walked into my first WarGames thinking I would lose to Jatt Starr and John Sektor, having no clue my abilities would lead me to the very end, outlasting everyone… except SRK.
I am better than the men who have beaten The Son. I’m miles ahead of Cancer Jiles, I have more stamina than Christopher America and there is nobody in that HOW locker room who, on their best night, would be able to accomplish what I can on mine.
I close my eyes and tilt my head. Heath Ledger said he locked himself in a hotel room to play The Joker. Said he stayed there for weeks until he found AIDS funny.
AIDS was hysterical a long time ago. I thought it tickled me pink when I locked myself into a homemade prison in the boiler room of the Dearness Living Community. Maybe I didn’t need to give up videogames. Perhaps there is another path I can take, I don’t have to isolate myself. Not like this. I’m clearly going to put the work in. I’ve been studying film, hitting the gym, doing exactly what I need to gear up for the biggest match of my career.
I don’t even consciously do it. I realize I’m already standing and have walked over to where the World Championship sits on my table.
Placing both hands on the middle golden plate, I lift it up, flip it over my shoulder and look for the car keys.
Time to pay an old friend a quick visit.
— — — — —
You once told me that everyone, eventually, lets you down. I didn’t want to believe it, I really wanted to be the one who doesn’t. To be the man who battles you forever. To trade off wins and losses. You would absolutely crush my fucking dreams. I, in return, would never falter. I’d send shock waves through HOW when I finally pinned you clean.
All I ever dreamt was for another wrestler who could challenge me and I, in return, could challenge him. I mean this at its core. An ongoing feud, the reason why everyone tunes into Chaos and beyond. The only thing being talked about the morning after at the watercooler. I didn’t join HOW to run away if I didn’t win a World Championship or if I lost a match to an interior opponent. Shit happens; it’s wrestling. Move the fuck on.
And that’s what I do. I move on. I also get even. Nobody who’s got one over Conor Fuse ends with the upperhand.
From Jatt, to Stronk, to Jiles, I do exactly what I just said I do. Setbacks? Sure. Yet I don’t fall down. Instead I persevere. Overcome. Learn from my mistakes. Recharge. Grow. And ultimately leave them in my fucking wake. I never failed any of those aforementioned names.
They failed me.
I caught them; they didn’t evolve. I could’ve battled Jiles forever but he casually, almost lazily, walked away from the High Octane game. I would’ve kept the rivalry going with Sutler into our real old age home but he also stumbled into the nurturing hands of family. Hell, I would’ve been head-over-heels to pound that moronic, pencil-dick idiot Stronk into the ground for eternity.
Guess that one’s on me.
I digress. When you came calling that very first time… as I attempted to hold my newly won World Championship into the air… and then BOOM, knee to the side of the head. Call it rigor mortis, I was laying flat on my back with a bona fide stiffy.
The thought of your return to High Octane…
It’s not like Mike Best would’ve done this for anybody.
I give you a hard time, Mike. Of course I give you a hard time in HOFC because that’s what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it? Rip on each other… SHOOT on each other. Ah, you’re fucking amazing at it. I’ll throw my darts out there. Some land, some don’t. The reality is I only mean half the shit I say in trash talk. I’m trying to get you off your game.
I can speak as openly and honestly as possible.
So you come back, right. You walk into High Octane and you choose Conor Fuse. I have the ultimate amount of respect because while you could be going after the lower tier, you’re never scared of facing the next potential threats to your crown.
This is where I come full circle. When you said everybody let’s you down. I wanted to say you’re wrong… I wanted to prove you’re wrong.
But I haven’t yet, have I?
Sure, being one second off is nice. It’s nice for you, though. It’s easy for you. To call me out. To say you respect me. To offer a rematch because you don’t want there to be any lingering doubt regarding who is the better man.
And yet you previously won.
To me, a second off is like one-hundred seconds. Five-million seconds. Okay, I gained the admiration of those around me, including yourself. I’m not a ‘first post doesn’t matter’ kinda guy. Put it on my tombstone.
Congratulations Conor Fuse, I took Mike Best to the brink.
This bores me.
Practically kills me.
I have let you down.
And I’d like to think I’m clever enough to come up with a kicker. A good line. An amazing statement to place right here and say that ‘no, Mike. I will prove you wrong. I won’t let you down.’ A mic drop moment. But I don’t have that sentence in me. I don’t have the words to piece together, one after another, that will tell you it’s gonna be different.
Words are words. Conor Fuse is just gonna have to prove it through his actions.
Do I believe I can? Boy, I’ve put myself firmly behind the eight ball already, haven’t I? Crowned you World Champion by saying I won’t showcase the title around my waist until I defeat you.
Then again, Mike…
I guess I can do whatever the fuck I want.
I’ll crown you. I’ll crown you right now. HEY EVERYBODY: Mike Best is the current World Champion by proxy and Conor Fuse just, ain’t, good, enough.
It’s the best I can scrape together.
I have said it time and time again. I’m better than those who have defeated you. Maybe one second off is something to be proud of. I have put aside distractions, I’ve reclaimed the World Title and I fought through hell for another chance at facing you.
Yet this does nothing for me. I can pump myself up until I’m 97red in the fucking face and you can run through your accomplishments all over again.
Maybe this is what I can latch onto, Mike. Stay with me…
Beyond the whole “everyone will let you down” direction, you also explained why you’re coming after me. For legacy. To continue to build the most untouchable legacy imaginable.
It’s nice, Mike. That’s no sarcasm. It’s tough to tell behind a computer screen but I promise you throughout this entire conversation I am speaking from a genuine notion of respect. I don’t need to stroke your ego, you’re fully capable of doing it yourself. You will never be touched. Mike Best is all four faces on Mount Rushmore. You’ve chiseled your own mug into each and every rock before age and death tear you away. You are everything I wish I could be. You reel off words in a split second where I, on the other hand, have to sit down and think… think… RACK MY FUCKING BRAIN to find something I’m happy with. But you Mike… you can go off on a whim, put ten seconds of thought into a discord slander and roast those motherfucking n00bs.
But legacy building?
Pardon my ignorance… doesn’t work for me.
For a brief period there, I fell into the trap. I liked what you said and then I wanted to build upon a legacy. Let them all remember the great Conor Fuse.
Reality hit. Does it really fucking matter what I leave behind?
I know who Babe Ruth is. Mickey Mantle. Joe DiMaggio. I don’t particularly care about them. They’ve never made me feel anything. They’re long gone, far dead and their accomplishments, while incredible, don’t do fucking shit for me. I live in the here and now because I know, one-hundred years down the road, I’ll be deep into the abyss, too.
In the end… the fans will stop caring about you, you won’t be able to build anymore and, above all else, you’ll fade into obscurity just like the rest of us.
Nothing can be taken away from you, Mike. You’ll always have those 10+ World Titles. I wasn’t looking to take anything from you, anyway. I was merely looking to add. A back and forth battle, the war of a lifetime, something in the moment because that’s what I live for.
Babe Ruth means shit to Conor Fuse. Perhaps Tom Brady is of greater significance since I’ve personally witnessed his wrath.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is your accomplishments don’t scare me. It’s not a wall you can hide behind because it doesn’t mean I can’t beat you. Right now… in this very moment… you and I both matter. Years from now we won’t. Doesn’t matter if I have 3 title reigns and you have 50. Doesn’t matter if you accomplished 97 MOAR things than I did when you hit 30 years old. Yeah, you’ll have your legacy and I might have a Hall of Fame ring. Over time it will equally fizzle away.
This is a fundamental difference between you and I. You will rant and rave about your history. Your titles. How this is simply a regular match for you and how it is everything for me. You’re not wrong. I’m sure 97% of the shit you’ll say is on point. You will speak about legacy. How nobody can touch you. How you’ll never be knocked off the mountain.
Dude, I’m not trying to do any of these fucking things.
I just wanna live in the moment. I want to step into the ring… hear the crowd chant my name or yours… I really don’t care what they decide. Fucking punk me in the side of the face, bro. Knock out my teeth. Nail me to a cross-
Oh wait, ya did that.
I digress. When the bell rings, I want to feel the rush of a lifetime. If I have to say I’m not the current World Champion for this to happen… if I keep the title out of sight until I beat you…
I’ll give you everything I have. The last drop of sweat, the final kick I can land. I’ll never go harder for a match in the history of time.
I need this.
I did fail you, Mike. So far, I have failed you. Call me fucking stupid, pie-in-the-sky naïve… I have another chance and I will always believe I can do it as long as there is the opportunity.
I won’t let you down. I can’t. I’ve invested everything. There’s no turning back. Conor Fuse builds on his legacy this time. But don’t worry, in X amount of years, nobody will care about it anyway.
As for today?
Mike vs. Conor is the best thing going.
You punch down; I punch up. But make no mistake, my arms can reach you.
This time I won’t be one second off.
I plan to be there a few seconds early.
— — — — —
Dearness Living Community
It’s been a while since I visited. Walking into the atrium of the building makes me feel like an outsider, because, of course, at one point in time I was an insider.
Up the elevator I travel, duffle bag in hand.
“Why the change of heart?” You might ask. Two hours ago I was content with pushing everyone away and now, in the middle of the biggest match of my life, I’m gonna break my own rule.
Doesn’t sound smart now, does it?
Screw it. I’m still keeping the majority of people at a distance but Walter Newport and the Dearness Living Community has always been there for me. Why shun a good thing?
Besides, Walter was there when I lost to Mike. He was there when I thought I killed Stronk Godson last year. I would not have known the DLC even existed if I didn’t lose to Jatt Starr back in 2020.
October. I dunno what it is with fucking October but man, every significant thing in Conor Fuse’s High Octane career comes at this time of the year.
The elevator doors open and I march my way to the fifth floor receptionist.
“Hello!” I give an over-the-top Forrest Gump wave. Can’t help it. Really looking forward to visiting.
Jody, the receptionist, notices me. She tries greeting me with a smile but it fades rather quickly.
“It’s me, Conor!” I say, while suddenly seeing an unpleasant look on her face.
“Great to be here,” I quickly reply, trying to smooth over any potential issues. I likely deserve this. I told everyone I wouldn’t be coming back for a while, I can only assume there are hostile feelings towards me. They were here for me when I needed them. And now, when I didn’t feel the need anymore, I left them high and dry like most of their families.
“Yeah,” I find myself saying the next words out loud. “I know I pulled away. It wasn’t cool.”
She studies my face but her expression doesn’t change.
“I’m here to see Walter, please,” I state with a nod and a wink, as I reach into my duffle bag and slowly take hold of the World Championship. I can’t wait to reveal it.
“I’m sorry,” the receptionist replies. Wow, I didn’t know I wouldn’t be welcomed into the building anymor-
She inadvertently interrupts my train of thought.
“Walter passed away two weeks ago.”