A MAJOR TEST OF STRENGTH

A MAJOR TEST OF STRENGTH

Posted on January 20, 2023 at 6:46 pm by Conor Fuse

Joe,

I’m sorry it’s you.

Funny, isn’t it? There should be no apologies in combat sports. I can’t help where the HOW path takes me, who I’m pitted against, the man that stands across from me, ready to pin my shoulders to the mat. You won’t take it easy on me if I love or hate you, if I respect or despise you. There’s no difference. It really doesn’t matter what I say because I know I’m gonna see your best effort, with the prize possession waiting at the end of this specific journey. In fact, I would be distraught if you gave me anything but 100%. It would taint a victory, leaving behind a sense of bitterness that I didn’t receive a vintage Joe Bergman experience. Instead, I’ll see the toughest test you can provide from a headline wrestling talent. You may say you don’t have the skills I possess. I, however, don’t have the technical abilities you do. I digress. It’s a straight-up battle; may the best man win.

…But I’m still sorry.

And it’s not in a “sorry I’m about to kick you out of this tournament” type of deal, either. Even though Imma do that. Even though Imma head stomp cave-your-face-in-so-bad, the last remaining members of the Highwaymen wouldn’t be able to recognize you. No. It’s not a stereotypical Canadian apology. I’m not saying this word for the hell of it because it’s in my DNA.

My “sorry” is something entirely different.

Sorry you chose the wrong path.

Sorry I chose the wrong path.

Your 4-player group, the ones you thought you’d go to war with have dwindled and failed. I, on the other hand, go it alone, with only an on-again off-again friend in the Queen of Epic.

Oh what could have been if you and I helped each other out and got on the same page, Joe? I’ve never had a problem with you. My issues were with Clay Byrd and subsequently, Steve Harrison.

You can say I’m on the HoF path but I’m never one to consider what happens when I retire my controller for good. I only look at what’s presented in front of me. Live in the present, it’s the most important mentality for a wrestler. I have tried to do the right thing many times. I have also done the wrong things, too.

But this is the wrestling game, isn’t it? A trial-and-error, play-as-you-go, figure-it-out-on-the-fly. I’ve watched you come and go from High Octane. I hear the ovations, the fans love you. In the early days as I would observe from a distance, I often said to myself he has something special, even if he doesn’t believe it.

It’s something I want.

Something I think I can achieve.

Deep down, I always thought our campaigns would cross. This would be one of the major tests I’d ever have in this company.

I respect what you’ve done inside the ring plus I honour how you’ve carried yourself outside of it. But everyone has their faults.

You can be an awfully poor judge of character.

Steve Solex was never in it for the team. He never struck me as a dude who’s noble… a guy who’d have his partner’s back in the most selfless way possible.

Joe, what part of him stuck out as a good, loyal, trustworthy dude? The time he limited himself to only 96 sexist comments when wrestling Lindsay Troy and not going the full monty for a 97th slander? Please. Spare me. You said it yourself, years ago he gave you reasons NOT to trust him.

Clay. A man as bitter and useless as some of the other big boys who’ve walked into this game and thought they could get by on their sheer size and imposition.

Sunny O’Callahan. Do we not recall the land of misfit toys she brought into HOW? She’s a fucking hot mess, man. One of them cosplayed as a robot. ComicCon don’t fly here, bro, just the Video Game Kid does.

I can only interpret what I see. And what I see is someone who weaves in and out of relationships that don’t serve a successful purpose. Instead, I see a guy who gets pushed and shoved, here and there. He has become a side character instead of the leading Player One he used to be.

Well now you have your chance to prove exactly who you are.

And I will expose it.

I have an End Game, Joe. A fucking End Game I NEED to reach. The man who took my ultimate achievement away, the one who came back from retirement and relegated ME to second player status. The boss who pushed me down the !RANKS and snatched the 8-4 slot from under my feet. My fall, at the hands of this man, even allowed your boy Steve Harrison to say I’ve lost my abilities. To tell me, to my face, that I fucked up by associating myself with Bobbinette Carey since I had nothing “better to do”. I understand Harrison is too stupid to think for himself so if he believes this is the truth…

So do plenty of others.

I’m Conor Fuse. Two-X World Champion who rendered SRK DOA, sent Cecilworth Farthingon riding off into the retirement sunset and walked out of ICONIC ‘21 by surviving the Mount Rushmore of High Octane bosses.

I am calamity. If you push me, I push back. If you bully the spoiled, pale-skinned, gaming n00b, I will unleash a world of harm against you. This is a promise. Hell, I might even stop your heart from beating (temporarily, of course) and then you’ll never plan to show your face again in the H-O-W.

…A quaint little inter-promotional show with PRIME will fill the void though (lol, winky face).

I have to go through you, Joe… eviscerate you from this tournament and prove I am exactly the wrestler my status dictates. Top of the chain, last level legend, mother fucking locker room leader.

#97MARIORed.

We have common enemies, no doubt.

We should’ve worked together.

We should’ve been the team.

But I can’t go back on things now. I can only look forward.

You’re in my way.

I’ve worked through my demons. I recently had dreams of strangling Steve Harrison with the same barbed wire controller he smashed with his boots right in front of me. I toyed with the notion of wrapping the wire around his neck and hoisting him in the air, watching his lungs struggle for oxygen while I stoically witnessed the life bar being sucked from his body. I could’ve waterboarded him with some delicious skimmed milk, too. Also a delectable plan. My mind has been frantic as of late, swarmed with painstaking ideas of murder, death and killing.

I had a taste of it with Stronk.

And I wanted MOAR.

But now, as Lee dangles this tournament in front of me… perhaps I have to think differently.

Perhaps.

I have to think like a soldier.

I have to pace myself. A match at a time. A victory at a time.

And I absolutely, no doubt about it, cross my fucking heart and legitimately hope to die… have to win.

You won’t accept my apology for beating you and why would you? If the roles were reversed, I certainly wouldn’t. But I need you to know when the bell sounds and I roll off your chest as the victor… I really wish it could’ve been different between us.

I wanted to follow your virtuous path. I didn’t want our first match to end like this. In a war, on the edge, ready to Finish You. However… when we step into the middle of the squared circle, I will stay composed. Focused. My only goal is to pull off the victory. And yet, there will be a tiny little voice in my head… telling me to kick it up a notch. That voice doesn’t go away anymore. Sometimes, too, it doesn’t whisper.

It screams.

Shouts.

Practically BEGS.

You better hope the voice doesn’t get its way.

Ask Godson.

Ask your boy Harrison.

Ask anyone who I’ve left in my wake.

In 2022 I went undefeated in singles action. UN.DE.FEATED. That’s where we differ. I am unstoppable.

You, a legitimate wrestling star, a guy who tries to do the right thing, who doesn’t back down and run from Lee Best but instead EMBRACES the challenge.

News flash: I am not Lee. Granted, I do hang out with old people.

Let’s be real here. Lee’s a fucking clown-shoed shit show. The Best Alliance is DOA, ohhh wait a second LOL no it’s not, the Best Alliance is back! Lee takes an HOFC knee to the temple from his son. Lee is on life support. Lee returns with no eye patch and has a neat lil’ beard, then doubles down and loves his son and grandson MOAR. It’s comedy, guy. He becomes so angry, he has no clue WTF is going on. Don’t get so bent outta shape about Lee and what he does to you.

I don’t.

I worry about what I can control and that’s it. There’s gonna be a day again where Lee enters the ring and pops off about me. If I’m #97 again, I like those odds.

Otherwise, I’m focused on MY game, my chances and what is actually accomplishable.

Above all else, I will not surround myself with a team I can’t trust. I won’t be dragged into conversations with moronic managers. My focus is on the straight and narrow. Win at all costs. Continue to level up.

I’ll show you on Sunday, Joe. I’ve waited for this opportunity since the moment I knew you existed.

— — — — —

I feel more at home with each passing day.

I calmly walk down the stairs and through the narrow hall. I’ve hung pictures to lead my way, mugshots of the various wrestlers I’ve defeated along the campaign. Some friends, others enemies. There’s the odd portrait of competitors I haven’t wrestled, too although that list grows smaller every week. Steve Harrison’s image is a long overdue check mark off it. Joe Bergman is soon to join.

These photos are a reminder of why I continue to reside down here. It was only meant to be a few days but now I find it as a longer term home. Arriving at the end of the boiler room hallway, I make a sharp right and find my prison. Constructed by yours truly with the sole purpose of housing this gamer so he could grow a new set of balls while throwing his subconscious into a point of no return. Where he… rather, I, could do the unspeakable and channel a level of rage deemed acceptable for a place such as Alcatraz. Well, I kinda enjoyed the outcome of Rumble at the Rock this time around so I talked myself into these bars for another two months. Luckily, the road to ICONIC only traveled through Chicago, I didn’t have to go anywhere else. There was no in and out other than a quick uber drive to and from the Best Arena before an additional week of extended isolation. Sure, I didn’t kill a guy in December but I certainly withstood an onslaught of fury from Steve Harrison. Most importantly, I pulled off the victory.

Now, more than ever, I feel the burn… the intensity running down my spine. It’s my chance to reach the top again, the last level. It’s a shot at redemption, proving my doubters, Lee Best in particular, I have EXACTLY what it takes to be the 3X World Champion.

This is why I walk into the prison, lock myself in and toss the key out. Walter knows I’m here, I don’t have to check-in. For the next week he will bring breakfast, lunch and dinner. We’ll have a brief conversation and then he will return to his own residence. I gotta admit, there’s great benefit staying in the dwells of the Dearness Living Center.

But when is enough, enough? I’ve proven I have a killer drive. I’ve shown I can take absolutely everything one man can deliver. I’d argue ICONIC was the greatest showing of Harrison’s career… and yet I still left with my hand raised.

Joe’s right. Conor Fuse IS on the path to the Hall of Fame. I’ve actually beaten this game twice. Although as a driven gamer… a passionate wrestler, there’s still another level I can reach.

Maybe it goes beyond calamity. Perhaps it doesn’t mean I need to take a man’s life.

With each victory, I can feel the voice inside my head gnawing away. As if peeling back layer by layer.

I don’t hate Joe Bergman. My entire rant to the legend was anything of the sort. I respect him greatly. I would’ve loved to have known him on a teammate level. This match will be a test, if not THE test. It is a World Championship bout. Lose and see ya later. Win…

Well, win, I think I’ll be spending another month or two in this cell, don’t ya think?

I sit, cross legged on the floor, spacing out as I’ve grown accustomed to. For years, I never liked being in my own head… alone and beside myself. However, I’ve learned I have many personalities to unlock inside this gamer’s mind.

What version of Conor Fuse will come for Joe Bergman, I wonder.

The happy-go-lucky kid, who’s simply thrilled to flip and fly around the ring, driving superkicks and leg drops into his opponent? The rush of cheers will get this version of The Ultimate Gamer going, no doubt. A hyperactive little scamp, ready to put that ADHD mind to good use.

Or maybe the disgruntled Conor Fuse is revealed. The one Scott Stevens saw when he wouldn’t leave me TF alone. He kept hounding and hounding and hounding and hounding (infinity). Dude was relentless. If he spent the same amount of time working on his wrestling skills as he did finagling his way for a second World Title rematch, he could’ve pulled off the victory. It was an angry Conor Fuse that day. A man who wanted to rip Scott’s fucking nutsack off and feed it to him after. Real, filthy Eric Cartman shit. I perfected the art of submissions… and while I didn’t literally rip Scott’s balls off, I certainly fed him some Shut The Fuck Up when I made him tap to his own submission hold. Weapon Getting has its perks.

Calamity Conor could rise and yet I’ve already mentioned how he doesn’t need to appear ATM. This is the “special” Conor Fuse, the leveled-up DLC who only comes out to play when absolutely at the end of his rope. See: Sutler and Stronk. Joe doesn’t fit this side of Conor.

For the following week, it’s the only thing I’ll do here. Fixate. Divulge. Joe Bergman is everything to me. And what side of this gamer is best suited to take the legend down?

“I’ve got time,” I mumble to myself, finding peace within the dark, wet, gloomy corner of the boiler room prison.

I’m patient, ‘cause when the dungeon door opens and Walter unleashes me upon Chaos 19, whatever version of myself emerges…

It will be successful.

After all, success is all I know.

— — — — —

A week before

“Hey, did you get my text message? Hmmmph, that’s right, of course you haven’t,” I say into my new iPhone 14, already skinned out with vintage NES stickers. “I forgot I never sent any of them to you.”

I pace back and forth outside the Best Arena, mere hours after defeating Steve Harrison at ICONIC. I should be happy… thrilled. I’ve accomplished EXACTLY what I set out for. Two and a half years Steve and I looked at one another from across the hall, understanding this match was inevitable. We’ve met before, inside a High Octane ring, in tag team match exclusives. He, getting the better of me every battle. Me, knowing I am the better wrestler. Period.

I proved it, so I should be good.

…I feel anything but.

I pace frantically. My hands are shaking as I pull the phone back, giving my eyes a roll. There’s no one on the other end, you see. The phone is turned off.

I’m practicing my speech.

I’ve tried texting… I couldn’t send the messages. I would delete them. I have his number, it remains in my contact list. Christ, I have an alarm on my phone. Every Sunday at midnight, it’s a reminder I need to reach out the following day.

I don’t.

I can’t.

I… freeze.

“You’re Conor Fuse,” I remind myself with a swagger in my voice. “You’ve cemented an undefeated streak for an entire calendar year.”

You know what? I’m only as good as my last victory. I’m obviously gonna lose again, one day.

Undefeated all year. This is such a participation ribbon for me. Yay! Amazing! (This is sarcasm, if you can’t tell.) No one gives AF because you’re not #97, Conor.

That’s the reality. I can pump my tires nonstop and I most certainly will when I have the opportunity to lay into my opponent. I’d be an idiot NOT to remind them I’m a mountain to climb. A serious, looming mountain.

Yet I don’t feel it. That’s why I’m practicing this speech. It’s why I’ve been trying to reach out to this person for a while now.

I need help.

…At least I think I do.

Okay, try it one more time, Conor.

I lift the phone to my face and begin, as if the other line has picked up.

“I know you can’t stand the sight of me… … …but LOL this isn’t the sight of me, it’s the sound of me, so maybe you can’t stand the sound of me but like hear me out, okay? We should be totally cool and what I’d like to-”

I stop. WTF am I rambling on about? The sound of my voice? Jesus, Conor. Try again.

From the start…

“Hey, look, I know my call went to voicemail. This is obvious, as you probs don’t have my number anymore. So, hey, it’s Conor Fuse. Imma need some help soon. Like, I have Bobbie in my corner and she’s cool and all but she wants to do this friendship counselling shit and she thinks I’ve gone crazy. I mean maybe I have gone crazy but who knows these days because isn’t everyone crazy? You’re crazy, too. I saw it first hand. Like, totally wild and out of-”

SMH.

These are terrible messages to leave someone, Conor. Get to the point, keep it simple.

Try again.

From the start…

“Hey, it’s Conor. Listen, don’t delete this message yet, please! I wanted to tell you my bad and… and I think we could really use each other right now.”

Ohh, this is good. Totally! Now we’re on track! Keep going…

“I screwed up but if you’ve been watching recently, and I know you have, I hope I’ve started to convey that I’ve changed for the better. So hear me out… give me a call back if you’d like, or text me. You have my number now. I just want to meet face-to-face. Give me FIVE minutes… okay? Okay, awesome, thanks for considering. Bye!”

Yep. I’m nodding to myself. That’s a damn good message.

Now turn on your phone… and repeat that exact same thing.

I power up my iPhone. I begin to enter in the person’s digits.

I freeze, again.

I can’t remember shit. What did I start with? Did I talk about how I forgot to send a text? No. No you idiot… that was in the BAD practice session! Keep it simple! Simple and honest. Those were the takehomes!

Right.

And then with no further explanation or thought, I power down my phone and place it in my pocket.

“No,” I say out loud. “Not now.”

Let’s get TF outta here and go back to your prison cell.

You’re not ready to reach out… yet.

— — — — —

Joe,

I have a few final comments. I heard through the grapevine you recently attended a DEFIANCE show I was a part of. Kinda cute, to be honest. I’ve flattered you’d go out of your way and witness first hand Conor Fuse defeat Clay Byrd in a different organization. Full disclosure, Clay followed me to DEFIANCE like a lost puppy dog, desperate to put me in the ground. Still, to this day, I don’t get what his problem is.

HE is the one who lied to ME.

He apologized to me, said he should’ve been there to help a fresh faced Conor Fuse and the 214 fight against the Best Alliance. Then he proceeded to sneakily attack me with his broken arm.

None of it made sense.

Regardless, I hope you saw first-hand what I am and always have been capable of. I hope you watching me defeat Clay is yet another cold, hard slap in the face that you had the wrong collection of guys around you.

FYI the 214 was kinda mine, by the way. Then again, I guess I’m prone to choosing the wrong teammates, too.

Lindsay. Teddy. Zeb. Ray.

They gone.

It’s a tough pill to swallow. I can totally grasp what you’re going through and I don’t want to kick you when you’re down.

I merely HAVE TO kick you when you’re down.

As stated, I’m sorry. I can’t let another Highwayman (AKA YOU) fall at the feet of Christopher America. He’s gone through the whole gauntlet except for you. It’s borderline embarrassing at this point.

I have to take, I can’t be nice. I know you’re coming with unspeakable motivation. Kick a champion when he’s down, he gets back up. Clearly.

You are my interim enemy. The one who blocks my route and I will show you no mercy. For the next few weeks, I associate you completely with Clay, Solex and Harrison. You further embody other scum I truly can’t stand. You’ll resemble Jack Harmen, Stronk Godson and SRK. You will be everything to me and nothing all at once.

Like I said earlier, I wish it could’ve been different between you and I. I hate for this to be our first encounter.

I’m sorry I have to confirm your beliefs.

It ain’t your time.

You are ordinary.

…When compared to me.

I appreciate your efforts to study my every move and scout me in the flesh. While I may not explicitly convey the same game plan, I promise you… I swear to you, I have watched you. I have the Joe Bergman cheat codes. I know it’s going to take everything. I respect what you’ve done and how you carry yourself as a wrestler. And after I pin your shoulders to the mat, I’ll still tell you I’m sorry.

You just won’t be able to hear me apologize.