The Goal Line Bar and Grill- Troy, Alabama
Saturday night at the Goal Line Bar and Grill. Chris Janson’s new hit single “All I Need is You” blares over the sound system and the building buzzed with energy with a symphony of raucous laughter, the ritual clinking of glasses, and the occasional whoop or stumble from an overly drunk patron. Sitting comfortably in the middle of the chaos amidst the bustling rowdy crowd- one Mark Hendry- one half of the Alabama Gang tag team, Men’s Tag Team champions of Missouri Valley Wrestling.
Mark wasn’t alone… per usual. He had two girls perched on his legs like a pair of songbirds on a branch at a corner table. Nodding his head to the mid-tempo beat of the song and mouthing the words to Chris Janson’s song…
“I want a tracker boat on a big blue lake
And a brand new truck in my driveway
Lotto ticket worth a million bucks
And a bigger one on the wall
I want my boy’s mall team to win
Waiting on the radio again
I want what I want
But hey, don’t we all?”
…the Enterprise, Alabama native leaned back in his chair, enjoying the attention that came with being a professional wrestler and member of the Alabama Gang as the two girls help him belt out the chorus.
“When that sun goes down
At the end of the day
There’s just one thing I can’t lose
If you’re by my side
I’m better than alright
Baby, all I need is you…”
“Y’know, ladies,” Mark drawled, running his fingers through his full beard, “y’all know me and R.G. got somethin’ mighty important comin’ up.”
Jennie Lee, the petite young woman with the beaming eyes, sitting on Mark’s right leg, screeched in disbelief: “You do?!” Her voice was bright and piercing, like a little bell tinkling.
“We’all are headin’ down to Australia for another shot at them PWA Tag Team belts we lost back in March.” His eyes flickered with determination as he spoke, showing none of the shyness that usually plagued him when addressing fans in the ring.
Mandy raised a painted eyebrow in disbelief, her glossy red lips curling into a smirk as she twirled a strand of blond hair around her finger. The Southern barfly balanced herself on Mark’s left leg, her curves filling out the tight denim shorts she wore.
“And what does that mean?” Mandy asked.
Mark grinned, his southern charm in full bloom. “It would be of great significance to us if you could demonstrate to everyone that Dan Ryan and Jatt Starr are not even remotely comparable to the exceptional talents possessed by R.G. Jenkins and Mark Hendry,” he explained in a completely normal tone of voice… totally out of character.
Both Jennie Lee and Mandy’s jaw dropped.
“Just kiddin’” Mark roared, the sheer enthusiasm of his laughter echoed off the walls. He took a deep swig from his beer and his eyes gleamed with a newfound fire as he continued, “Winning back these tag belts is everything to us. We aim to show everyone that the Alabama Gang belongs on the same stage with ol’ Dan Ryan and Jatt Starr.”
“Are they better than you?” Mandy asked.
“Well, they think they’re better than us,” Mark responded back. “But I’d give anything to prove them wrong on their show… just like they beat us at ours.”
“Oh… I see,” Mandy said. “Can I get another beer?”
“Sure, babe.” Mark raised his arm to get the attention of a nearby waitress.
R.G. Jenkins observed with bemusement their fellow Alabama Gang member in action wooing members of the opposite sex from a couple tables away. The grizzled ring veteran leaned back in his chair, a black bandana covering his bald head and a sleeveless vest draped over his torso. Beside him sat the Alabama Gang’s manager, Sunny O’Callahan. She sipped from a bottle of Southern Comfort, her frizzy blonde hair cascading over her shoulders.
”Guess Mark’s doin’ just fine with the ladies tonight,” R.G. observed with a hint of jealousy hiding under his southern drawl.
“Sure does,” Sunny agreed, her Irish lilt barely audible beneath her Californian twang. “Imagine what Mark could do if he could somehow channel that confidence when he’s talkin’ to the fans.”
“Y’ain’t kiddin’ there,” R.G. chuckled, taking a swig of his beer.
R.G. watched Mark with a mixture of amusement and envy, remembering how he acted back when he was age twenty-five. R.G. shook his head and chuckled but the clinking of ice against the glass as Sunny took another swig of her Southern Comfort interrupted him. The bar’s dim lighting cast a warm glow on their faces, making them seem even more like one big family.
Sunny glanced toward the entrance. “Well, speak of the devil…”
“Here comes Melanie.”
A bright smile broke across R.G.’s face as he saw his wife, Melanie, walk through the door. She spotted her husband and headed straight for their table.
“Hey, baby,” she greeted R.G., bending down to plant a quick kiss on his lips. “Sorry I’m late. Work was crazy.”
“Darlin’, you’re never late,” R.G. reassured her. He pulled out a chair so Melanie could sit next to him. “Have a seat.”
Melanie slid into the chair, casting a glance at the boisterous group surrounding Mark. “Looks like Mark’s having fun,” she observed before turning her attention back to her husband. “Are you two ready for that trip to Australia?”
“Ready as we’ll ever be,” R.G. replied, a shadow of doubt flickering in his eyes. “We had to push back out MVW tag title defense against the Stevens Dynasty a week so our dance card is gonna be full for the next couple weeks.” R.G. gazed at his wife and outwardly sighed. “I just wish you could come with us.”
“Me too, honey,” Melanie sighed, her hand reaching out to squeeze his knee. “But I know you’re going to put on one hell of a show out there and bring back those PWA Tag Team titles. You and Mark can do this.”
“Damn right we can,” R.G. replied. “If we can win that title a second time, we’ll show everyone that us winning the tag belts the first go ’round wasn’t no fluke.”
“Exactly,” Sunny chimed in, raising her bottle in salute. “Dan Ryan and Jatt Starr might be great wrestlers, but you and Mark are a great team.”
“Cheers to that!” Melanie agreed, lifting her own glass.
The three raised their glasses in a toast, the sounds of crackling ice and clinking glass blending with their raucous laughter.
“It won’t be easy,” Sunny continued, taking a sip from her Southern Comfort. “But I believe in both you and Mark. I know you’ll do what it takes… everything it takes… to bring back home the gold!”
“Here, here!” R.G. roared, pounding his fist on the table.
“Oh hell yeah!” Mark piped up, shouting over the din from his table… moving abruptly and in turn causing Mandy to lose her balance… and the pitcher of beer in her grasp. She slipped off his knee and ended up on the floor.
“Oh sheee-it,” she said, dripping beer from her soaked clothes next to the plastic beer pitcher that had emptied out on her.
Later that night…
The fluorescent lights cast a harsh glow on the emptied-out Goal Line Bar and Grill. Sunny, R.G., and Melanie had long since headed for home but the last soldier still in the corner, Mark. He remained slouched at the same table he’d occupied the entire night. His fingers traced circles on the sticky tabletop, stained with beer rings and remnants of bar food. The staff bustled about him, wiping down counters and stacking chairs while occasionally stealing curious glances at the brooding wrestler.
“Watcha still doin’ here, Mark?” asked one of the waitresses as she passed by, her apron heavy with the weight of tips.
“Got stuff on my mind,” Mark replied, his southern drawl thickening with every word. He stared into the distance, eyes locked on the TV mounted on the wall across from him.
“We were this close,” he said, looking up to the large television that replayed the closing moments from the Alabama Gang-Final Alliance match back in March.
“Thunderbolt, Jatt’s in big trouble. Dan Ryan can’t get away from Mark Hendry to make the save and Jenkins is sapping what energy Jatt has left with that Cobra Claw.”– Missouri Valley Wrestling color commentator ‘Long Haul’ Rick Hall.
“R.G. had Jatt Starr dead to rights. All I had to do is make sure Dan Ryan didn’t git back in the ring. But that’s ain’t how it all worked out. Dan got free and kneed me in the balls. Then he slammed Sunny into the ring post.”
“HERE HE COMES!”– MVW Play-by-Play man Thunderbolt Smith.
“Oh yeah, R.G. saw him coming. He rolled up Jatt Starr all neat and tidy.”
“ONE… TWO…”– Referee Davey Keels
“But he didn’t quite make it to three…”
“NO!”– Thunderbolt Smith
“…Dan Ryan’s foot booted the hell out of R.G.’s head right before Davey brought his hand down for the three count.”
“RYAN BROKE IT UP!”– Thunderbolt Smith.
“Ain’t nothing I could do. I was down on the floor in a heap and Sunny was knocked out on the floor. Jatt recovered and made the tag. Dan Ryan flew over the ropes and went right over to R.G. and made the cover. Game over, right?
“RYAN PULLED HIM UP!”– Thunderbolt Smith.
“Nope. The ultimate fuck you. Dan pulled R.G.’s shoulders up… dragged R.G. back up to his feet… and then spiked him with a Headliner.”
“The exclamation point by Dan Ryan and that should do it.”– Rick Hall.
“Ryan hooked R.G’s legs.”
“ONE… TWO… THREE!” – Referee Davey Keels
“And that was that.”
“NEW CHAMPIONS! NEW CHAMPIONS!”– Thunderbolt Smith
“I ain’t forgot. That image is seared into my memory like a brand to a cow. Dan Ryan’s boot connecting with R.G.’s skull. I heard that sickening sound and so did all the other folks inside the arena.”
Mark shook his head and muttered, “Damn.” His knuckles scraped around the edges of the table. “I ain’t gonna lie. My mind is racing with thoughts of revenge… gettin’ payback for what went down at the end of the match. I’ve replayed each moment of that match in my head, searching for the weaknesses that we’re gonna exploit next Sunday night at the #97Red pay-per-view show.”
Mark stared down at the empty beer glass on the table, his reflection distorted by the remnants of foam clinging to the sides. As he swirled the last drops at the bottom of the glass, Mark’s thoughts once again turned to that fateful match in Evansville four months ago.
“Damn it all,” he muttered, his voice barely audible above the faint sound of the television in the background. “I sure as hell ain’t gonna forgot that.”
“Forgot what?” asked another waitress as she cleared the empty glasses from the surrounding tables. She momentarily startled Mark.
“Oh. Nothin’. Jus’ thinkin’ ’bout somethin’.” Mark glanced up with a tight smile. “Nothin’ important.”
“Alright then,” the waitress replied with a shrug, continuing her work.
Mark stared at the beer bottle on the table in front of him. “Do I feel that weight of expectation on my shoulder?” he continued, talking to no one in particular. “Hell yeah. I feel the pressure… it’s mainly my own doing… but I want to make things right for R.G. after the way our match with Dan Ryan and Jatt Starr ended. I can hear them now… laughing and sneering… Ima sure Dan Ryan’s gonna regale us with all the terrible things he’s gonna do to me and R.G. I’m sure we’all will hear all the ‘dumb redneck’ bullshit. Whatever. We’re gonna focus on one thing. Winning the damn match. We’re gonna take pleasure in shoving Dan Ryan and Jatt Starr’s arrogance right back down their throats. When Davey Keels’s hand slammed on the mat that third time and we lost the HOTv tag belts to them, that planted a seed… when Surf Express Bro beat us for the MVW tag belts a couple weeks later… that planted a seed. Walkin’ back to the dressing room after R.G. and I lost the MVW belts… I knew I needed to grow up a little… okay, a lot. I’m gonna say right here… Dan Ryan and Jatt Starr… please go ahead and mock us… please talk down to us… please tell us how shitty our tag team is and that we’re all a couple of dumbfuck rednecks. Do it. Because we’re gonna let it fuel us and we’re gonna climb into the ring ready to take on the wrasslin’ world. Every word that Dan Ryan and Jatt Starr utter out of their pieholes is going to sit there in our belly along with the vision of what went down last time when Davey Keels made that one-two-three. We’ve been training for and waiting for this moment for four months. We fixed one thing when we won back the MVW tag belts. Now. we’re gonna fix the second thing when R.G. and me bring home the PWA Tag Team title. So you better be ready, Dan Ryan… Jatt Starr… The Final Alliance… because when the bell rings at the #97Red pay-per-view show, this ain’t gonna be like the last time. We’re gonna to be ready for everything… I’m gonna be ready for anything y’all throw at us. R.G. and me can’t wait to get the Final Alliance in that ring down in Australia and show Dan Ryan and Jatt Starr what the Alabama Gang is all about. We’re bringing a whole lot of Southern attitude and we’re gonna kick some ass inside that ring. This match ain’t gonna go the same way our first one did. We ain’t gonna get fooled by any late saves or cheap shots. The Final Alliance ain’t gonna to get in our way and there ain’t no way in hell they can stop the retribution that’s coming their way. Yeah, I might just be another dumb redneck. Yeah, R.G. may be just another dumb redneck but at #97Red ain’t no one gonna stand in our way!”
Mark looked up and noticed the bar staff looking at him warily.
“Hey, Mark,” the bartender called out from behind the counter, “we’re closin’ up soon. You gonna be okay?”
Mark nodded, forcing a tight smile. “Yeah, I’m good. Thanks.”
“Okay, we’re done here,” said one of the staff members, turning off the television. “You need help gettin’ home or anythin’?”
“Nah, I got it,” Mark replied, rising from his chair. “Thanks, though.”
“Sure thing,” the staff member nodded.
“Y’all have a good night,” Mark called out as he made his way to the exit, his voice carrying a quiet strength that seemed to fill the now-empty bar.
The bartender gave Mark a knowing nod as he closed the door behind him.
“Y’all better watch out,” he muttered under his breath while walking out to his car, “’cause this ol’ redneck ain’t goin’ down without a fight.”
Thursday July 28th – Von Braun Civic Center / Huntsville, Alabama
“Come on, Drew!” shouted R.G., sitting with Hendry at ringside at X-Pro’s Aftershock 005 show. They stopped over at Huntsville to watch and cheer on Sunny O’Callahan’s new protegee from the UK, Drew Mitchell.
While Sunny was overseas with Joe Bergman for the March to Glory pay-per-view show, she’d discovered Drew working at a UK wrestling company based out of Brighton. She convinced him to come back to the States with her and allow her to guide the young Mitchell in his wrestling career.
On this evening, Drew faced off against Missouri Valley Wrestling’s youngster Aaron Gray in the first round of a sixteen-wrestler tournament to determine who would face Tyler Best on Saturday night in a match to determine X-Pro’s first Great Lakes champion.
The bell sounded and the two wrestlers locked eyes. The crowd roared early on when Mitchell showed off his technical ability and strength against the rookie and overpowered him with relative ease.
Jenkins leaned into Hendry and shouted in his ear, “Look at him go! This boy has absolutely no fear!”
Hendry nodded in agreement.
Melanie stood up from her chair and bellowed out, “Let’s go Drew!”
Mitchell dominated the match throughout and finished off Gray with his signature finisher, the Tenchi Crush, to secure his spot in the next round.
“Not bad,” R.G. said. “Not bad at all.”
Sunny winked at R.G. as she walked past him on the way to the back with Drew. But the excitement didn’t end there. Mitchell would come back out later on in the show to wrestle Hugo Scorpio in round two of the tournament.
“This next one won’t be so easy!” Jenkins opined while watching Scorpio warm up in the ring. “Hugo Scorpion is a big time wrestler… a HOW veteran. He’ll be a good measuring stick of where Drew is in his development after this match.”
The match began and Mitchell seized the advantage in the early going. Drew and Scorpio exchanged holds and takedowns, both showcasing their skill and resilience. However, Scorpio’s experience showed through as he weathered Mitchell’s onslaught and changed the momentum into his favor with his offense.
Mark patted R.G. on the arm. “He’s hangin’ in there, R.G.”
“Yep,” R.G. replied. “He’s doin’ good.”
The crowd held their breath as the two wrestlers battled it out down the stretch of the match, delivering devastating blows back and forth, neither one willing to give an inch. The audience watched in awe as Scorpio fought back with his own set of powerful attacks. The two combatants exchanged powerful blows, leaving the crowd on the edge of their seats for what was a fierce fight to the finish.
“Come on Drew! You can do it!” Hendry yelled out from his seat.
But alas, after a long and grueling match, Scorpio would secure his victory to move on to round three of the tournament.
“Dammit,” Mark exclaimed.
“Welp,” R.G. said. “It was nice while it lasted.”
“I thought he did real good,” Melanie offered up.
“He did,” agreed R.G.
“You wanna go backstage and talk to him?” Mark asked.
R.G., Melanie, and Mark stood up from their seats.
“Kid put up a hell of a fight, though,” Mark said, his southern drawl evident.
“Just needs some more seasoning.” R.G. nodded with a frown. “He’s got potential. A little more work in the gym will go a long way.”
They made their way backstage where Drew sat on a bench, head hanging low, sweat dripping from his short, tousled hair. Sunny O’Callahan, his mentor, stood beside him, bottle of Southern Comfort in hand and frustration painted on her face. The scent of sweat, determination, and defeat lingered heavily in the air.
“Hey, kid,” R.G. called out softly, approaching Drew with an understanding smile. “That was one hell of a match.”
Drew glanced up at him, offering a weak grin. “I lost, though.”
“Everyone loses, Drew,” R.G. said.
“Exactly,” Sunny added. “Besides, your opponent had way more experience than you. You held your own against him. That’s something to be proud of.”
R.G. leaned against the wall, arms crossed, staring intently at the rookie. “Listen, Drew. This is just the beginning. You’ve got the raw talent there, but you’ve gonna have to work on it and refine it.”
Drew seemed to consider R.G.’s words before nodding, determination returning to his eyes. “Thanks.”
“Good man,” Mark said, patting Drew on the back.
As they left Drew with Sunny, R.G., Melanie, and Mark discussed their upcoming trip to Australia. The excitement was palpable, but Melanie’s expression remained somber as she would be unable to join them on this adventure.
“Two house shows this weekend, then we’re off to Australia on Monday,” R.G. said, trying to mask his own sadness at leaving his wife behind. “Then we come back to take on the Stevens. It’s gonna be a fucking whirlwind.”
“You guys will do great,” Melanie replied, forcing a smile for her husband’s sake. “Just promise me you’ll take care of yourself, okay?”
“Always,” R.G. assured her, taking her hand in his as they walked towards their car parked outside the arena. He knew that work awaited them, but a part of him would remain with Melanie, holding onto the love that had carried them through countless adventures.
A nearby car’s headlights illuminated the night, casting shadows on their intertwined hands. Melanie put her head on R.G.’s shoulders.