It’s getting so tiresome.
So many opponents over the years have come up with so many ways to try and get under my skin, and none of it ever bothered me. Say what you want. I have a job to do. It never mattered. The only thing that ever mattered was how I saw myself. My own inner drive is what pushed me to succeed the way I have. Nothing external ever mattered.
But that’s the problem now.
The internal is nagging at me, like a little splinter in my brain that I can’t reach, that I can’t pull out. It just sits there, irritating me, and it’s self-inflicted.
We all have to get older. I can’t do anything about that. Eventually, time catches up with us all. I’ve watched as the men and women I came up with have left the business one by one. I’ve watched some of their children come into the business and thrive. I remember… I was an eighteen-year-old kid coming to North American for the first time since I was a child, trying to make it among the legends and veterans of the sport – people like Eli Flair, who’s backstage now helping his own daughter navigate those same waters. Now I’m the veteran watching as the young kids come in and try to take my place.
Is this that time?
That’s the thing. It doesn’t feel like it. It feels like I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been. My training has never been so on point. I know how to take care of myself, always have. So the joints hurt here and there from time to time. I rest a little bit more than I used to, but everything else is exactly the same. Maybe I don’t do the split-legged moonsault anymore. Lindsay always said it was stupid for someone my size to do it anyway. Too dangerous. She was probably right. But don’t tell me what I can’t do unless you want to make absolutely sure that I do it.
I got too comfortable.
Was that it?
I said it myself when I first came in. It wasn’t personal. I was just here to work with some friends and compete. I look back on that and I sounded like I was signing up for intramural volleyball at a church camp.
This business has always been personal to me. And what’s so bad about something being personal anyway? Anything worth a damn, anything worth doing, anything worth dedicating your life to should start by being personal.
I know what Mike, Cecilworth, Max all said about the eMpire. They were family. Family doesn’t fight each other. Family has each other’s backs. But maybe family is meant to be much more than that. Maybe true family is meant to hold each other accountable, meant to strengthen each other through more direct means. We’ve had to fight each other, not because we wanted to, but because someone else decided it was a good idea, that it was funny. They thought it would break us apart. I can’t speak for the others, but I know that it’s done just the opposite for me.
I’ve been awakened. Sharpened.
Weakness is a mindset. We let ourselves become weak because we stop pushing ourselves, stop testing ourselves against the things that can beat us. Where is the glory in shuffling along in your robe to a casual game of cribbage in the old folks’ home? We age mentally before our time, and we choose to become soft.
I choose to be strong.
I had to be real with myself to even realize that I had this choice to make. All too often we let ourselves become the frog in the pot of water, and we sit there as the temperature rises, content to let it finish us off.
My choices might cost me some friendships, maybe some family connections if the worst comes to pass. But who are my friends, really, if they’re only friends with a watered-down neutered version of myself? This illusion that I was ever a man content to go on picnics and trips to the zoo was nothing less than a construct created to make me seem more presentable, more palatable, when the truth is, I don’t care about any of that.
I’m making a choice, pulling the splinter out.
Embracing my true nature made me a monster, but it also made me a legend.
It made me a GoD.
Do you hear that?
It sounds eerily…. quiet.
It’s like… someone cut through someone’s bullshit and made them shut the fuck up. It’s like someone put a kneecap on someone’s dome, then got thanked for it. It’s like someone who used to be ‘Perfect’ suddenly can’t bring themselves to show their face. Looks like someone who refuses to show ass got theirs kicked instead.
You’re the most anti-climactic War Games draft pick in history. You got invited to the party, and you promptly took a dump in the pool.
How many weeks, James?
How many weeks now since you’ve opened your stupid little mouth to say your stupid little words about stupid little shit that carries no weight?
Has anyone checked on that weird smell coming from the 24K suite?
I can’t help but notice — the world… can’t help but notice that the biggest little mouth in 24K has suddenly gone silent. It’s like Mike Best’s knees knocked you straight out of HOW and into A Quiet Place 2. But I’m sorry, James. It doesn’t matter how quiet you try to be, the monsters are still coming. They’re still coming, James, and it’s only a matter of time now before they rip you apart.
See, you dumb motherfuckers thought that because we didn’t come firing down on you after your little debut, it showed weakness. You thought we hadn’t done anything about it because we couldn’t. But the thing is, James? We’re just so much fucking smarter than you, it’s almost painful.
The beautiful thing about me, James, is that I’ve heard all there is to hear in this business. All of you motherfuckers avoid research like the plague, but if you’d done any, or if you just paid some fuckin’ attention, you wouldn’t have been sitting there in your stupid suite with your dumb little smirks on your faces thinking that your dumb little frat boy jokes were actually accomplishing anything. I’m not invincible. I have weaknesses just like anyone else, but one of those weaknesses is not a collection of children and their aging sensei giggling about dick jokes and boner pills. Now that Andy Murray is using a cane to walk, you’re only a pizza order and one turtle away from being a nostalgic late 80s children’s cartoon. That’s appropriate I suppose, since most of what you do and say is only interesting to someone with the attention span of a ten-year-old.
Here’s a free lesson.
If your mouth can’t back up what’s coming out of it, your words mean less than nothing. If I can’t make sure Andy Murray leaves the building on crutches, like he did last week, or if Mike Best can’t make sure you finish the night flat on your back, like he did a week before that, the words… they’re meaningless. But that, James — that, is why when it’s time to fight, we fight. That’s why, when someone decides to stop talking and just flat out calls for a fight, we throw hands. We know, one hundred percent, without a doubt, that when it comes time to back up what we’re saying, we can do it. You four just talk some more. You already know you’re in way over your head. Deep down, hell… not even deep down… right on the surface…. you know you fucked up. You went into that ring a few weeks ago and you tried to fake your way through a match with one of the best to ever do it, and you were exposed. The facade is gone. There’s no one left to buy what you’re selling…. or no-selling, as it were. You tried to run, but now, there’s nowhere left for you to go.
I told you too, didn’t I, James?
I told you that no matter what you said, you just may not have the final say on if you’re gonna have to get in that ring and back up your mouth or not. You say some dumb shit about how you have nothing to gain by facing me, and I warned you. You just may not have a choice. And look…
Here we are.
It’s time to pay your debts, my friend.
You think this is all so funny, like you can say whatever you want without consequence, but this is High Octane, and historically speaking, soft-ass mouth breathers don’t do too well in the long run. So we’ve been content to sit back, listen to you talk your shit, watch you spend money on insignificant nonsense, and I was just fine with biding my time. All roads lead to the ring, my friend. You can’t avoid your fate, no matter how you try to talk your way out of it. And you can’t just pop on everyone’s TV, turn the lights down and talk like you’re a badass all of a sudden. You want me to think you’re a threat? Get in that ring and let’s see it. I’m always here. I’ve always been here, and I’m not going anywhere. You’re shaking in your boots right now, and you goddamn well should be. You can’t waltz out in front of me looking like an ‘I Wanna Be a Wrestler’ Ken Doll and make me nervous.
And don’t think this is like being back at school where you can sit in the back, put your head down and the teacher won’t call on you, either. It’s pop quiz time, asshole, and you’re headed up here front and center.
But maybe…maybe I’m being too hard on you.
Maybe I’m expecting too much out of you, thinking you knew what you were doing when you came in here and poked the Group of Death. After all, just because you sit on a pile of money doesn’t make you smart. It doesn’t make you wise. I figured hey, he’s a veteran. He had a run on top of… something. He knows what he’s doing.
But maybe you don’t. Maybe you stumbled your way into your previous success. It wouldn’t be the first time. People bumble their way into prominent positions all the time before realizing how far over their head they are. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you’re just a dumb little rich guy with just enough physical talent to not completely embarrass yourself against mediocre opponents, and you found a promoter willing to ignore the obvious signs of your mediocrity because you threw a couple BENjamins his way.
Maybe you really do think buying some pretty clothes and standing behind Andy Murray is the way to go. You might actually believe that strapping yourself down on the top of the car while the Bruvs and Andy Murray drive you down the road like a much less funny version of National Lampoon’s Vacation is the thing to do. Perhaps that worked for you in the past, and you figured, it’ll work for me here too.
I’m sorry, James. Park’s closed. The moose out front should’ve told you.
I mean, it doesn’t really matter either way right now anyway, does it, Mr. Witherhold?
You got an ICON title shot you didn’t want, weren’t ready for… and now you’ve got me. Nothing on the line except maybe your physical well-being right before War Games. Lee thinks he’s softening me up for War Games, but I think you and I both know it’s the other way around. You’re about to be a finely-splattered tan paste on the ground with little tufts of blonde fur sticking up out of it. And why? All because of that little horizontal vagina-hole on your face that you just couldn’t shut until two weeks ago.
So now we’re here, your boys are gonna do their best Weekend at Bernies and prop you up in the ring to take your beating. Andy Murray’s gonna do his best Yoda routine probably, and waddle out to the ring with his cane at some point, then cast it aside and show off his old man agility for some revenge, and that’s fine. But either way, we’re gonna continue to establish the pecking order around here my friend, and part two of your lesson on how shit goes down when you try to fuck around and get cute with a grown ass man involves me spiking you on your head and leaving you on your back in the middle of that ring.
You talk like you wanna be great, but greatness isn’t owned. It’s leased, and your rent’s due, buddy. Don’t worry. I’ll try not to take up too much of your time. Just long enough for you to get the point.
Then you can go back to your quiet place.
“I’m calling ahead because I expect certain arrangements to be ready when we get to Normandy. I have certain… items… I need to be transported. It’ll take at least a week to get it all over there, maybe longer.”
Dan Ryan leaned over a thick wooden executive desk, his phone up to one ear and a very stern look on his face.
“Look, this isn’t a fucking joke, so drop the goddamn sarcasm. You need to make sure you are clear on the fact that you will take instructions from me and me alone on this matter. I don’t care what anyone else says to you, if you didn’t hear it directly from me, you didn’t hear it. Do you understand?”
Dan sneered. Not the answer he wanted.
“I said do you fucking understand?”
“Hey, you’ll know when I’m excited, motherfucker. Just do what I said to do, got it?”
With the phone call ended, the phone was flung to the side where it landed on a high-backed cushioned chair facing the window. He stood up and looked outside, down across his Texas hill country property and folded his arms across his chest. Jokes. That’s all people have anymore. Fucking jokes.
He turned, looking across his study, glancing at the bookshelves, gleaming cherry wood stain from floor to ceiling. His eyes went toward the ceiling, as if looking through it, as if they could bore a hole through to whatever was on the other side.
A frown crossed his face and he breathed deeply, inhale… exhale. Almost time.