December 30th, 2023
We open to ICONIC 2023, the gauntlet match. The screams and cheers from the bloodthirsty fans filling Allegiant Stadium meld into a single unified chant for more, more, MORE. More what? Right now, more blood from Jackson Cooley. The medical team peels him from the mat, which looks like the prom scene from Carrie. There’s a stray tooth or two in the surrounding gore. Lacerations cover his face.
But he’s smiling.
Why? Why would this man be smiling? He just got his ass handed to him by Jace Parker Davidson in his hometown on the biggest stage of the year in High Octane Wrestling.
Because he bet against himself.
Some days later
“I don’t want to.”
There’s so few things we get to choose in this life, buttercup, and this ain’t one of them. Wake the fuck up.
His eyes, caked with blood, peel open slowly. The hospital sheets are an amalgamation of blue and red.
Ah, here we go. Look at you! What a fucking mess.
Cooley looks around the room.
“Oh thank God.” Nick exclaims from a seat beside the bed. His necktie hands, untied, sloppily from his wrinkled dress shirt. From the blood Cooley surmises that they haven’t been here more than a day, but Nick looks a wreck.
“Did you get my teeth?” Cooley asks, flashing a painful grin at Nick as a child might hold something up to a parent.
“Uh, no. There wasn’t a whole lot of time. I’m so glad you’re alright, Cooley. Been worried sick.”
“Cause JPD destroyed you in the ring, man. You’ve been unconscious for like four fucking days.” Nick replies matter of factly.
Oh, it wasn’t blood, but stitches making his eyes so tight.
“It’s all good man.” Cooley murmurs, looking around the room for something to drink.
“All good? All fucking good? Cooley, you could’ve fucking died out there!” Nick shouts at Cooley, instantly regretting taking this shot at his wounded friend. He takes a deep breath, lowers his voice, and continues, “You got real fucked up man.”
“Nick, I bet the house.”
Shocked and befuddled, Nick just raises his palms to pantomime what the fuck are you on about?
“I took out a cash loan against the max contract value I knew that Lee Best would offer me. He’s a cheapskate, so I tried to keep it modest at $80k. Got seventy-five cents on the dollar in cash. The odds were for JPD to win, but there was a huge longshot on how long the match would last. Five-hundo to 1 that it would be less than ten minutes. How long was it?” Cooley lean in, intently listening.
“Seven minutes.” Nick states while looking past Cooley, clearly doing the math in his head. “Holy fucking shit, Cooley. HOLY FUCKING SHIT COOLEY!”
A nurse rushes in and is immediately ushered out by Nick.
“Dude, Cooley, that’s a metric fuckton of money.”
“Yes, it is, Nick. We need to jump through some hoops to collect it, but this is what they call “life changing” money. Get my things so we can get out of here.” Cooley says and pushes himself up to sit. Every stitch of his being hurts, but it was all worth it.
“Ok champ. I’ll call Lee and tell him to fuck off.” Nick says as he stands up.
“No way, Nick. We’re in this for the long haul.” Cooley stops him.
Nick pauses for a moment, head cocked to the side like a dog surprised at its own fart.
“Are you fucking serious? We don’t have to do this anymore. Ever again. No more sweaty, grotesque dudes rubbing all over one another. He’s already booked you against Solex at Chaos whatever-the-fuck it is. No way you’re going to be ready in time.”
But Cooley persists. As always.
“I know what we need to do. Look in my phone and call Mohammed, tell him we need to connect with his cousin. And for the love of all that’s holy get me some nicotine.”
A fifteen hour plane flight later
“Cooley.. what the fuck?” Nick mouths with palpable fear.
Nicks hands are raised towards the heavens and the gods above- the gods he’s currently praying to that the replica Kalashnikov staring him down doesn’t fire. Maybe it will jam. He knows, though. Kalashnikovs will outlast the nuclear winter.
What the fuck has Cooley gotten them into this time?
“As-salamu alaykum, brothers.” Cooley casually states to the group of armed men in turbans currently screaming in Arabic.
“Cooley you told me we were coming here to fucking train! You said you knew a guy. This is a goddamn ISIS camp!” Nick cries out without moving his face, like some shitty ventriloquist.
Quite racist of Nick to assume these men are ISIS just because they’re heavily armed, screaming at them in Arabic, and in a fort in the middle of the deserts of Iraq. Some mercy should be shown, though. There is a giant Islamic State flag waving proudly above.
“I do know a guy and we are here to train.” Cooley says to Nick over the frothy yelling of the guard. “Brothers, I’m here to see Mustafa. Tell him the Albino Crocodile is here.”
“COOLEY!” A loud voice booms through all the madness a loud voice booms, ripe with Middle Eastern accent. Through the gates of the makeshift compound comes a large Middle Eastern man. Dirt cakes his turban and shalwar kameez. He calls out to the guards to lower their weapons and welcomes Cooley with a hug. Moments later he is giving the ten cent tour of the camp, which has been disguised as a mining operation. Cooley and Nick both internal think this is an asinine idea- a mining operation in the middle of the fucking desert, but you know the old adage about hiding in plain sight.
Later in the day, after being introduced to all of the jihadists occupying the camp to insure none of them shoot the two infidels walking around, they sit in Mustafa’s shanty. It’s been haphazardly slapped together using oil barrels, tarping, and pallets. Mustafa extends a small ceramic cup filled with chai sedar to the Americans. Neither are really tea men, but far be it from them to disrespect a courtesy from a terrorist leader in his own camp. They sip it heartily as Mustafa sits across from them criss-cross applesauce.
“Mmm, Cooley.” Mustafa breaks the silence. His accent is thick, but his English is perfect. Likely from money and educated at an English university. “I was excited to hear from Mohammed that you were coming to visit. You did good for us with that shipment of guns a few months ago, as hairy as that situation got. But, forgive me for being blunt, what are you doing here?”
“I need you to train me.” Cooley replies, causing Nick to choke on his tea.
Clearing his throat, Nick apologizes. He and Mustafa both reply to Cooley in unison with a synchronized, “What?”
“They’ve matched me against Steve Solex. A decorated war veteran of the American military. I can’t think of a better person to teach me how to kick America’s ass than you, Mustafa. ISIS put it in the proverbial butt of our military and I need to do the same to Solex. Proverbially, of course, as I’m big on consent.” Cooley takes a break to sip the tea before continuing. “This is my jihad.”
A smile crosses Mustafa’s face. Cooley can’t be serious.
“You can’t be serious.” Mustafa opines. But Cooley’s steely resolve and stone cold face in shaking his head affirmatively is all he needs to see. “Well, brother, if you are seriously hear to learn how to jihad we will teach you.”
Over the next few weeks Cooley and Nick spend hours daily training in the unforgiving Iraqi desert. Their skin dries out so bad from the harsh and constant sun that it cracks and breaks. But they persevere, despite Nick’s incessant complaining.
Cooley is shown being taught to use his nimble fingers to prepare Improvised Explosive Devices. Nick’s sausage hands prove to be a detriment, but the jihadists never say it to his face out of respect for their leader. Both men are taken into the desert for weapons training. Of course Cooley has a muzzling incident at the “range”, sweeping a loaded RPG down range as all of the mujahideen hit the deck.
Next we see Cooley and Nick running through the desert. Who knew terrorists cared so much about physical fitness? But, they do. Nick looks like he’s dying as the sweat pours off him in big puddles. Mustafa is shown driving beside them in a dusty Toyota Hilux. Nick looks over, hand shading his eyes so he can see Mustafa through the glaring sun. A bottle of water is tossed from the truck, landing in the sand next to Nick.
Hand to hand combat is next. A giant Middle Eastern man instructs Cooley on multiple ways to choke a man out. Of course Nick is the training dummy. His eyes bulge as Cooley plants his forearm into the back of his neck, squeezing his hand on the adjacent elbow. The giant Middle Eastern looks over to Mustafa who gives a thumbs up in approval.
Finally we see Cooley and Nick sitting inside a tent. Mustafa sits in front of them with the Qur’an. He tells them about the great injustices carried out against the Middle East by America. The two see how America has constantly raped the Middle East of its independence and resources, often using Middle Eastern countries as a puppet to exert its will over a people half a world away. Both men nod, taking all of the information from the charismatic leader in. The scales fall from their eyes as they are shown various atrocities committed by the American military in lands both foreign and domestic and they understand for the first time: we are the baddies.
Friday the 2nd
On the eve before their departure, all of the militants are gathered in a tent. They feast as they prepare to send their new brother, Jackson Cooley, into war. Folding tables hold a mighty spread of flatbreads and rice dishes and lamb, among other foods. Mustafa stands at the head of the room, Cooley on one side and Nick on the other. He raises his giant hands and the entire tent breaks out into a traditional Takbir, shouting “Allahu Akbar” repeatedly. After a few minutes of this Mustafa drops his hands and the room silences.
“Tonight we prepare to send our newest brother, Jackson Cooley, off to wage jihad on the infidel Steve Solex.”
The jihadists boo at the mention of MERCDAD. Mustafa lets them get it out before continuing.
“We did not expect this opportunity to strike at the head of The Great Satan, to take a shot at the disgusting occupiers in such a strange and unique avenue. But, Allahu A’lam!”
A few of the listeners reply in kind with shouts of Allahu A’lam. Allah knows best, for the uninitiated. Mustafa knows this is customary and ignores them, turning to look at Cooley.
“Cooley. When my brother left home to be a pro-wrestler in America, I did not know he would cross paths with you and bring such a noble warrior to our cause. We wish you the strength of a hundred armies as you wage battle with Steve Solex. Remember, Allah Waliyyuk. Go destroy this infidel and do it under your new name, Abdullah Hamza Jabbar.”
The tent erupts in chants of Allahu Akbar. Cooley and Mustafa embrace in a hug. As things quiet down Mustafa hands Cooley a phone. His last training exercise: cut a propaganda video. Cooley smiles, heading out of the tent to find a place to record.
Cooley Propaganda Video
The video cuts into a still image of the ISIS flag before fading out to black. Across the screen in big, block writing we see:
الموت لستيف سوليكس
(Death to Steve Solex)
Rhythmic chanting in Arabic and gunfire envelope the video. “Nasheed” by Sunmah plays in the background as we see various scenes from the twenty year failed war in the Middle East. Many of them are atrocities committed by the American military: babies covered in blood, towns completely torched and bombed out, children crying over their slain parents. Some of the images are the ISIS warfighters riding around in the brand new HUMVEEs abandoned by the US Military in the sudden and ill prepared retreat. We see the infamous video of the last Americans leaving the country and a human so scared to be left behind by this great military giant that they hold onto the landing gear until finally descending into a free fall.
All of this fades into a grainy vision of Jackson Cooley. Below Cooley Arabic text reads: عبدالله حمزة جبا, Cooley’s new ISIS name. He always wanted a nickname. A kalashnikov sits across the white shalwar kameez he wears. It’s finely pressed and adorned in accents of gold around the neck. His blond hair is hidden in a tightly woven turban. Brown from the sun, his skin looks leathery, face still slightly swollen from the wounds inflicted by JPD. Cooley prepares himself to speak as the song fades out.
A millionaire in the middle of a terrorist training camp at the desert. Life is weird.
“Greetings, infidels. I’m coming to you from ard Allah. The beautiful Islamic State.”
Cooley pulls a hand rolled cigarette from inside his thobe. He rubs it across his lips with one hand while flicking a zippo lighter with the other. A puff of smoke emits from the end of the perfectly rounded rolly.
“Steve Solex. Like your military that you so proudly claim, you’re a failure. Your weak brothers and sisters couldn’t get the job done here in the desert and you couldn’t get the job done at Iconic. Sure, I didn’t win, either, but I found something much better in my loss. Inspiration. Allah has brought me here to the only people in the world who have embarrassed the likes of you and your military. And just like your puny military, you will bow out at Chaos 54.”
He pauses, taking a few puffs of the cigarette.
“I declare a Jihad on you, Solex. A Jihad al-Difa against you and your kind. How fitting it is that you brag about your military service. How many brown people did you kill trying to pillage their land in the name of freedom, Steve? Freedom. What do you know of freedom? Just like the rest of these disgusting Americans that preach about standing up for freedom whilst their foot is on the neck of the less fortunate? No more, Solex. I’m going to put you down like the vermin you are come Chaos 54.”
Gunfire can be heard in the background along with more shouting of Allahu Akbar.
“You are a beacon, Solex. A symbol for all of the trashy, disgusting, right wing cry babies that make up your fan base. Dog whistling imperialism. Constantly making fun of other people. People you see as weak. Why? Because you’re weak and scared. You’re a dying breed, Solex. The Last Man In Wrestling… how fitting. This world is changing and there is no room for bigots like you or your kind anymore. Yes, you’re a symbol for (air quotes) freedom, much like the twin towers were. And come Chaos 54 I will be the second plane, flying straight in to melt the steel beams of your resolve and ideals. So hold on to that contract and that good feeling as long as you can, infidel. Come Monday Night I will be bringing the Jihad to you, Solex, to your home. You will be the one lying on your back, staring up at the lights as you gasp your final breaths, wondering how someone could come do this in your own land. In your own house.”
Cooley sets the Kalashnikov down beside him, standing and moving to the camera. He gets intimately close. We see that two of his teeth, the ones so carelessly removed by JPD, have been replaced with gold teeth. Who knew ISIS had dental?
“America tried, Solex. They puffed out their chest and said “Fuck the Taliban” and “Fuck Afghanistan” and “Fuck Iraq”, just like you. Fuck everybody, right? The American way. But when your Motherland was faced with the sand in the desert dampened with the blood of thousands of her children, she tucked tail and ran. Will you run, Solex? When your card is pulled and you can no longer pretend that you’re some force to be reckoned with, will atone for your sins? There’s only two options for you to atone for your sins against the Islamic State: run or bleed.” Cooley holds up two fingers and smiles between them. “I hope you chose to bleed. I pray to Allah for the opportunity to paint the mat and the ringside and the first row red with your blood. Come to me Monday, Solex, and I will send you to Allah for your judgement.”
As the camera begins to fade out, Cooley shouts one last “ALLAHU AKBAR”.
I said wake up,
Was it all a dream?