Sunday, August 8th, 2021
International House of Pancakes
Once again, I came up short in a singles title match in HOW. I took a nap in the center of the ring after Sektor locked in his patented submission. He secured yet another defense on the record books.
As Meredith and I wait for our late-night breakfast to make it to the table, my face hangs low in defeat. My stomach knots up not with hunger, but with great sorrow. I let out a long sigh, gazing off into the pancake-covered murals sitting right in front of me. My mind continues wandering off into space, visualizing the various HOW Singles Championships. They all swirl around the room, taunting me. I rest my head against the palm of my hand, frowning about the entire situation.
“Darin, please stop fretting about your loss. It’s only going to ruin your next opportunity,” Meredith tries reassuring me. Her soft hands begin to slow rub against my tense shoulders. “You almost had that win in your hand.”
My eyes squinch at her, displaying a sharp rancor at her attempts at encouragement. Shaking my head in disapproval I balk at her. “Almost counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. It’s a freakin’ title match! It’s the one goal I’ve been trying to achieve for the last 3 damn years.”
Her face droops towards the ground before I inhale deep into my lungs. As I exhale, I lift in chin up in a gentle manner. I look her dead in the eyes and smile before apologizing. “I’m sorry; I shouldn’t be taking out all my frustrations on you. I never know when I’ll have the next opportunity with Lee. Any time you blow your load in back-to-back championship matches; he’ll send you down the card to earn your spot. I’m worried I’ll keep spinning my wheels in midcard hell again.”
Meredith grabs my hand and latches onto it before smiling at me. Her eyes glow as she clings onto it for dear life. “Lee won’t ignore you. You heard that Milwaukee crowd. They were on fire for you. It’s the most support you’ve had to date. The #RallyZion movement continues to soar even if you’re still your own worst critic.”
I nod at her as she continues her rally cry. “Mark my words, Darin; you’ll fight at Bottomline. Lee will find something for you.”
A small grin cracks through my stoic face as the waitress brings us our orders. As she sits my Chocolate Chip pancakes in front of me, another vision starts haunting me. The pancakes transform into the HOTV Championship, a title that started this mess. Reminding me of the distraction Marty Pratt caused me, I lunge out of the chair at a rapid rate. Meredith’s eyes perk up as I storm off.
“I can’t eat right now, Meredith. I need to clear my mind and get some fresh air. I can’t deal with my anxiety boiling over right now.” I say to her heading towards the door. She gives me the thumbs up signaling her approval as I walk out the front door.
I desperately need to unload my stress. I couldn’t let my failure to win that belt against Solex boil up any longer. Whatever Lee planned for me at Bottomline; I could not let THAT memory permeate and fester. It would hold me back from my best performance yet. I must learn from my mistake and grow from my failures. Whatever plans I form from here on out; I must remain grounded. I cannot fail like I did out in Milwaukee. Whenever I get another championship opportunity; I must succeed at all costs.
Saturday, August 14th, 2021
Fiserv Forum – Trainers Room
Blood pours off my forehead after JPD’s vicious attack as trainers rush me to their quarters to tend to the injury. Even though I’m dazed and confused; I can hear Meredith’s high heels clopping through the halls of the arena. The door slams behind the trainers while they throw me down onto the bed. The sounds of their staple gun echo through my ear drops. I cry out with each sharp, cold piercing they give me to seal the injury. As I start to awaken from my trance; Brian Bare barges through the barricade of trainers trying to get a word. I pull Meredith in close to relay her a message.
“Tell that motherfucker Brian Bare to leave me the fuck alone. I don’t have time to give a response about some sophomoric sex addicted prick.”
Fuck Jace Parker Davidson! And not in the way he wants either! That bastard fuckin’ wait to see or hear from me when the time is right. I don’t owe that bastard a damn thing going into our title match at Bottomline. I’ll leave his ass to assume what I’ll do to him until I’m damn well ready. You don’t make an example out of me when I’m wishing you well. I don’t care if he still holds a grudge from our past; I may not have been the best person back in the day. He must realize things change.
I knew he hoped I’d stick my foot so far down my mouth I’d choke before facing off against me. He craves the attention like the whores surrounding him. I’ve damn sure learned over the course of seven years than my aloof comments cost me every damn time. JPD counts on lack of comprehension to radiate the smell of burning toast around the locker room. I refuse to give that jackass any chance to hang my ass before our encounter at the Best Arena. Sure, our tumultuous relationship evolved from my heated history. I may respect him more after learning my own flaws over the past 5 years, but I don’t have to love the fucker. Especially after he once again used me as a welcoming mat tonight!
After Meredith forces Bare out the door; she rushes over to me and wraps her arms around me. Her look of concern melts away as she sees my eyes blazing with fury. I struggle to pull my limp body off the mat to issue an emphatical command. “Clear my damn schedule for the next two weeks. We’re heading down to the MVW compound.”
She responded before I cut her off in midsentence. “But I thought…”
I retort back to her. “Plans changed tonight after Mr. Deepthroat planted my head stiffly into the concrete. I planned on treating my next couple MVW matches lightly. I know I wanted my sole focus on the HOTV Championship the next two weeks, but I realize now I can’t run from my commitments. If there’s an opponent who will prepare me for JPD at Bottomline; it’s J.J. Bittinger.”
Meredith’s eyes widen displaying her immense fear of my well-being. Out of everyone in my inner circle; she knows J.J. and I share an intense, dangerous history. It almost mimicked my rivalry with Jace. Deep in my soul; I knew Bittinger wanted to rip my head off. He is one of the fiercest wrestlers in the Missouri Valley. While his wrestles with finesse; he hits harder than a freight train. Anything every hit Bittinger throws at me jeopardizes my chances at defeating JPD. But if I could secure victory; the rewards outweigh every risk involved.
I could inch closer to reclaiming the MVW Men’s Heavyweight Championship. Hell, it gives me two championship belts in my conquest to holding gold. Furthermore, it would callous my body up for the HOTV matchup. It would increase my endurance, my pain tolerance, and my strikes, giving me a stark advantage.
Meredith stammers over her words as she gazes into my intense eyes. “You…you…sure about this?”
My eyes burn with rage as I respond back. “I’m going to use Bittinger’s cold, dead body to leave JPD a friendly reminder. If he wants a God damn personalized message, he can fuckin’ tune into MVW on HOTV just like everyone else. I’ll make sure to collect Bittinger’s head from the crowd and Fed-Ex that shit to him. He wants to continue our rivalry on; that fine by me. I’m not going to use words any more to convey my thoughts. I’ll use my fists. Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words. I’m going to work my ass off and prove to the entire world I’m not that thick headed dipshit anymore.”
“Calm down, baby! I get it; you’re upset. Remember your emotions!” She scalds me as I pull myself off the mat and hobble around to get my bearings. She rushes towards me and props me up against her body.
“I’m in control, Mer Bear. I’m ready to get out of here and start making the journey back to the Valley. It’s nearly a 10-hour journey back there and I can’t wait any longer. I want to hit the gym first thing in the morning.” I assert as we hobble towards the door together. A look of concern glazes over Meredith’s eyes.
She says as she’s opening the door, “You should get some rest tomorrow. You don’t want to over do things right now. It’ll only exasperate you more before the 28th.”
“I’ll sleep on the car ride. The doctors gave me the good shit; those pain killers will knock me the hell out. Besides, you don’t rest in war in HOW especially when there’s gold on the line. You fight your ass off.” I acknowledge her with a playful grin, but she reciprocates by putting her hand in front of my mouth.
We both laugh before she reflects some of my sass back at me. “Shut up, dork!” She kisses me on the forehead as we embark on our journey to Missouri.
Monday, August 16th, 2021
St. Louis, MO
Missouri Valley Wrestling HQ
WHACK! WHACK! WHACK!
I fervently punch the ever-living shit out of the black punching bag in front of me. The veins start protruding from my forehead with each hit I make. A familiar voice harkened out of the background. “Strike that punching bag harder! Buttinger won’t stay down if you hit him like THAT! You fuggin’ pussy!”
I whip my head around to see Meredith standing with an old, recognizable face from the MVW crowd. Decked out in his MVW shirt, coat, and fedora stood Mick O’Malley. Meredith guides him over to the training area with care to see me. He lets loose a gentle punch against my arm, and I sell it like a champion. Meredith chuckles at the exchange before explaining the situation to me.
“I happened to be in town to pick up a few comp tickets for the event. I figured Mick here would give you some encouragement. He’s always been one of your biggest supporters. He knows you’ve been struggling in the emotional department as of late, and I couldn’t say no to this sweet face of his.”
“I fuggin’ called her up when I heard you both came back to town. Don’t let the broad fool you with her sweet words. I made sure she hauled my old ass over here as soon she could. I’ve seen that face of yours on HOTV as of late, drooping like a sad pug.” He barks out as Meredith backs away at a slow pace.
Her faces beams with joy as she says, “I’ll leave you two alone. You two need a moment.”
Without haste I focus my attention back to the punching bag ignoring the old man. Punch after punch collides with the rubber as I grunt, letting out my pain. As I go in with a stiff uppercut to the bag, Mick’s hand stops me mid-punch. His eyes swell with piss and vinegar as he reprimands me again.
“Did I not teach yer ass anythin’ the last time we talked, whippersnapper? Throw your weight into that damn punch. Don’t just swing yer fists around carelessly like a…”
“Please don’t finish your illustration, Mick. Your grotesque analogies make me sick. I don’t need your vulgar mouth right now. I’m training for two important matches for the next couple weeks. I would appreciate if we take this shit seriously,” I squawk out as I apply his teachings.
He grabs me with all his energy and forces me to give him my full attention. He yanks my face down to his level and continues to lecture me.
“Stop it, kiddo! Don’t pull that tough guy act with me. I’ve watched your matches religiously since you joined the MVW roster. You’re making too many simple mistakes. You might have a clean presentation and an unmatched tenacity in that ring. But you’re making too many rookie mistakes even for you. You’ve been failin’ to research your opponents. You’re making bad life decisions again. I don’t want to hear excuses, and I am certain I don’t want that hard-headed bullshit you pull. I want the cold-hard fuggin’ truth to come out of your lips right now!”
I pull my hands out of my gloves and throw them down against the mat below. Shaking my head to display my disappointment, I let out a sigh. I glare Mick straight in the pupils of his eyes before spewing out my story.
“Anything I do is never enough to secure a single championship. I’m beginning to buy into the idea I’m a fraud to my fans. In wrestling years, I’m no spring chicken anymore. On top of all that, I hate admitting to myself I’m a perfectionist. All my mistakes weigh on me more than they should. I’m desperate for a win like it’s the oxygen keeping me alive. I try to release myself of the pressure. I attempt to pat myself on the back after a good match. But I’m lying to everyone including myself. I don’t feel like I’ve earned my spot on the MVW roster, let alone all the championship matches Lee has given me. I can’t ignore it’s all a generous act of GOD…”
I let out a grunt before kicking the bag with my brute strength sending it wobbling in a hectic frenzy. I settle my hands against the back of my neck before squatting down on the ground. I take in a couple of deep breaths before relaxing my body. Mick scratches his chin as he observes me relinquishing all my fears to the world. He studies my composure as I’m melting down in a mental fashion. He starts to recall a story from his past.
“Let me tell ya somethin’ kiddo! Back in the Korean War, I was a golden gloves boxer. I wasn’t any good at the sport at first. I lost my first 20 matches in that ring. The pressure got to me like it got to you. But the boys ate it up. I lost another 3 matches before everything clicked for me. It didn’t matter if everything was picture-perfect. Neither did all the impressions I made in the past. You know better than anyone I’m a fuggin’ shit head too. In the 24th match; I channeled up all that frustration and buckled down. I turned off that brain of mine and I knocked out the biggest juggernaut on the ship. I went on a tear and won me a pair of golden gloves…”
I scoff at his story and cut him off. “Cut to the chase old man, I ain’t got all day.”
His eyes began to menace as he continues onward. “Ignore all the noise in that head of yours. When you look at that punching bag, I want you to do something different. Visualize the biggest douchebag you’ve encountered in life. Lock your fists together and nail that bag like your life depends on it.”
I roll my eyes at him before I offer up my half-hearted retort. “Blah! Blah! Blah! Hard work and dedication pay off. Change your style up. I’ve been through this story, Mick. It doesn’t have a Cinderella ending. I calm down, I make the changes, I walk into the ring, and I shit the bed. The moral of my story doesn’t match the fairy tales. At the end of the day, I come up short and everyone laughs. I keep racking up moral wins and losing wars. It’s a tiring old story with no follow up. It’s become banal over the past few months. Whoopie! I won one major handicap match. But I couldn’t follow up on a damn goal I set for myself in winning one singles championship in HOW.”
Yanking my gloves off the floor I storm towards the door feeling dejected and despondent. I slowly wipe the beads of sweat off my forehead as I throw open the door to the locker room. Before I could finish, Mick bellows out at the top of his lungs. “Your actions still speak louder than your words, kid. You beg for the story, but you refuse to follow through. You walk through that door, and you’re givin’ up. Fuggin’ dig deeper. You’re still holding back. If I can sense it, that tool Jace Parker Davidson can sense it too.”
My eyes flare up as I drop my equipment to the ground and storm back over towards Mick. It feels like an anchor is weighing against my chest. In a desperate demeanor I latch onto the one thing holding me back. It replays in vivid form through my memory banks. I close my eyes and inhale deep before letting it all out.
“You want to know what eats at me, Mick? To this day I couldn’t beat J.J. Bittinger on my own. I always used shortcuts, human shields, technicalities, and it’s one of my biggest regrets. Back when I came to MVW; I wanted to shed the image of relying on everyone else for help. In MVW, I needed Mr. McMann to pull strings and favors for me. In HOW and PWX, it was always having Brian Hollywood to defend me. I couldn’t earn an accomplishment on my own accord if I tried. It’s not just something that’s weighed on me for 3 years. It’s plagued me for my entire career.”
O’Malley nods as I pause and take in another deep breath. “My last 24 accomplishments in this ring relied on someone else having my back. I want ONE thing to call my own. I’ve craved doing the right thing the entire time, but it’s always easy taking shortcuts. I can always numb my pain with drugs when I turn to the wrong influences in my life. It’s why I lust after beating JPD for the HOTV Championship. But when I do the right thing, I seize up. I get overexcited and freeze out there. It’s a simple solution to hit the easy button. I could catch someone in a roll up or leverage my feet against the ropes to win. But it doesn’t feel the same. I didn’t come down here only to win the number one contender status for MVW. I came here to face the one of the toughest opponents I’ve ever faced so I can look myself in the mirror when I face Jace. I want to prove to myself I can still do my craft using my God given talents. I’ve got to find my confidence to pull off a singles win against The King of Everything. He’s finding his stride again and every successful defense builds his legend. If I have any hope of winning that HOTV Championship; I need to slay the beast anchoring me down. I need that extra assurance so I can deliver on my promises to Section 214.”
After I finish my long tirade, Mick strolls up to me and jams his finger right into the center of my chest. “Attaboy, Zion! Let off that steam. Channel all your pent of frustrations and unleash it right now. Don’t put on those fuggin’ pansy ass gloves of yours. Do it bare fisted!”
I clutch my fists together tightly, swinging all the weight in my body towards the punching bag. All the force in my body follows through with the swing of the Ban Hammer against the bag.
The bag falls off towards the ground and I release a slow 8 second breath. Every muscle in my body loosens up more than the last few months. My eyes have calmed down and a cocky smile once again graces my face. Wasting no time, I leap down towards the ground and trust my knuckles into the bag for good measure. As I brush myself off while I pick myself off the mat, Mick nods with approval. He affirms me with his words. “Damn fuggin’ right! There’s the old Zion. You gloated like normal after that punch. That’s how I know you’re back.”
“Damn straight old man! I could beat your ass for those golden gloves of yours too.” I taunt him back.
Mick snickers under his breath. “You wish, kiddo. Just remember, if you can beat JPD; you can beat Bittinger on your own. Those HOW schmucks might think he’s a Fisher Price twat, but you know his ferocity…”
I cut Mick off to iterate a point of my own, “And if I can beat Bittinger, I can beat JPD. It’s all about mental positioning when I get in that ring.”
“Attaboy! You’re learning!” Mick responds before reaching into his pocket and tossing me an old Kodak film container. I pour it out to find a small golden pin that looks like boxing gloves and a folded-up card to a therapist. He freely gives me advice one last time before wrapping up our encounter.
“I want you to have both of those things. One is a commemorative pin I sent my late wife after I won. I want you to hold on to it for these next two matches of yours. Fuggin’ remember this shit we talked about and apply it this time. Second, get some help. You need anxiety medication, kid, and I ain’t talkin’ yer street shit. You need legit medicine. Those OCD tendencies don’t go away. Hit that guy up on my card and he’ll help you out. Clearing your mind of all that shit will unlock your full potential.”
I reach over to shake his hands in a firm way. “Thank you! Missed your old, ragged ass cheering me on at shows.”
“I’ll see you in Manhattan, Kansas kiddo. That beautiful girlfriend of yours is driving me down there. Ain’t no way I’m missing a show where you legitimately kick Bittinger’s ass this time. Don’t use any of that funny business or I’ll jump into the ring myself and beat your ass.” Mick exclaims with glee.
I salute him as he starts to walk off. “Yes, sir! You got a deal Mr. Mickey.”
“Don’t call me that! I ain’t lookin’ like a fuggin’ mouse you twerp!” I reach down to hand him his cane before he smacks me with it in a loving way and walks off.
I always appreciate Mickey’s kind words. While he was a stubborn old man; his advice sticks with me. If he takes time out of his day to visit; you made sure to follow up or he will hunt you down again. Picking the bag off the mat to set it back up; I close my eyes. I begin to visualize and channel all my pent-up aggression. I create a mental picture of Jace Parker Davidson on the bag. I can hear all the old insults, see the old Twitter wars, and envision the attack he unleashed on me. I release all my self-doubt, swing around, and nail another stiff Ban Hammer against the bag.
He might have made this match personal. He might have unleashed that calculated attack to cause me to falter. But I didn’t care! I was going to get the final laugh in our feud. I wasn’t just going to walk out after embarrassing him in a simple 3-on-1 handicap match this time. This time I am going to hit him in the pocketbook. I’ll hit him where it hurts him the most: his ego. I am going to channel my focus. And I promise I will walk out of the Best Arena with his HOTV Championship proudly draped over my shoulder.