The mirror showed a clear reflection of the Champion, a soft smile on his face as he brushed shaving cream on his stubbly face. The silence of the room accentuated the sound of each brush stroke sweeping across his face. He picked up a straight razor off the side and slowly opened it up, letting the noise of the reverberate through the tiled bathroom with a shing. He slowly dragged the razor down his cheek, taking extra care not to cut himself as it cut away every millimetre of stubble in its path with a satisfying sound like a comb over velcro. On and on this calm and tranquil scene went, the sound of the shave only breaking to hear the rush of running water against the steel when he occasionally washed the foam away from the blade.
Eventually finished, he rinsed the razor one final time, dried it on a clean, white towel and put it away with another shing. He splashed the rushing water from the tap on his face to wash away any remaining foam. He raised a hand and rubbed it against his cheek to confirm the smoothness he so carefully tailored. Slowly he turned his head, just slightly, to look at the camera via the mirror and winked as he tried off his face.
“There’s nothing quite like it, is there?” Evan Ward, the new HOTv Champion said softly, it was the low whisper of a bedtime story, of a Bob Ross-style painting show. “A nice, close shave to clean away the gritty stubble of the day. Perfectly smooth, like running your hand across a finely finished marble sculpture. You just can’t beat it.”
Evan carefully folded the towel and put it on the side before leaving the bathroom and striding towards a table in the luxury hotel room. Each step could be heard clearly. Tap, tap, tap along the tiled bathroom floor, transitioning to the soft rustling of the thick carpet. He sat on a chair with a creak and reached for the bottle of cleaning fluid which was sitting on the table next to his HOTv Championship. Psh-psh-psh, three little sprays went onto the microfibre polishing cloth. Evan picked up the title belt and laid it across his knee. With the green leather held tight in other hand, he began polishing out all the scuffs and marks on the title plate. In small, rhythmic circles, wsh-wsh-wsh-wsh, he worked his way around the metal, bringing out the shine it so deserved.
“A championship belt requires care.” He continued his hushed tones. “You have to look after it and show it the respect it deserves. Much like the effort and work put into attaining it, you have to put effort and work into maintaining it. With all the travelling we do, it is so easy for a belt to get grubby and lose its lustre, and with all that travelling it’s easy to put off giving it a good clean until the next stop on the tour. It’s just got a couple of greasy fingerprints on, some dust from the luggage, it’s okay, it won’t show up on TV so it’s not urgent, and that’s fine. That is totally fine. We don’t all have the time to clean every spec the moment we see it… But one show becomes two, becomes a month and turns into a pay-per-view period and suddenly you’re walking out on stage with a belt looking like you just fished out from under the sofa and used it as a plate to eat your pizza off last night.”
Psh-psh-psh. He paused to refresh the spray on the cloth and continued. Wsh-wsh-wsh-wsh.
“You have to make the time to take care of your belt. The care you put into the title you carry is not just about the gleam of the metal and the shine of the strap. It’s about you. The dedication you show to the care of this belt is the dedication you have to your craft. It shows you’re dedicated to your craft, that you’re not lazy and are actually willing to put in the time to be truly great. It’s easy to just wear it over your shoulder or around your waist as a status symbol, just like it’s easy to coast on natural talent with an air of self-entitlement that you deserve to win simply by being, but then the title gets worn down and, inevitably, lost… And when such a damaged title is lost by such a bitter competitor it usually results in a tantrum.”
Evan put the cloth down and held the belt up and looked into its gleaming surface with a pleased smile, admiring the job he had done
“You need to take pride in a belt like this. Pride in the work it took to earn it. Pride in its presentation and the meaning of being a champion. Pride in having the conviction to defend the belt every single week, through any adversity. To be a champion is a privilege few in this industry get the luxury of gaining.”
He set the belt down carefully, respectfully, in front of him on the table with a pleasing silence from its careful placement. He leaned in close to inspect the belt for any errant marks he had missed.
“A championship is not something to be taken for granted. It’s a symbol of your status as sitting atop the division, certainly, but too many see titles as the same sort of status symbol as a Rolex watch, the latest iPhone or an Armani suit. They see it as disposable, to hold until it’s usefulness has run out at which point they deserve a new one. It’s just something they want just because they don’t have it, because other people want it and holding it will make them better than the riffraff… but that’s backwards. Holding a title doesn’t make you better, but being better will inevitably lead to a title.”
He sat up straight and smiled softly into the camera again with a wink.
“I was better, and now I am a Champion. Unlike my predecessor who left so much dirt on this belt, I care about it a lot. I feel a great sense of pride having liberated this title from the filthy hands which covetted the status it imbued upon him and the good favor it placed him in with his boss, but didn’t really care about being a champion. Without it he is just a loser, as I so rightfully claimed last week. Without it, he needs to actually make an effort and prove himself instead of coasting along like the HOTv Championship is his God given right and needs to prove to Lee Best that he’s not just another failure in the ranks of the ever crumbling Final Alliance.”
He picked up the belt and put it over his shoulder.
“But that’s okay. It’s okay, John, because you get another chance this week. You get to face me in the main event of Chaos with the tables turned. I am the Champion and you are the challenger. You have the uphill battle to rip the title from my grasp and, really, I can tell you are desperate to do it, so desperate. But, again, that desperation isn’t driven by the Championship itself, it’s driven by the fear of losing your stature in the company, as the Golden Boy of the Final Alliance. You lose this and you’re done for, Lee is already furious at you so this might be your ticket out of the federation, at the very least out of the Alliance. Desperation isn’t a good look on you.
He leaned forward with a slight smile on his face but less soft, less kind.
“Desperation is weakness, John. Desperation makes you flail and panic and end up flat on your back hearing the whack, whack, whack of Matt Boettcher’s hand slapping the mat three times followed by the ding of the bell and the yells of the crowd as they, beyond all reason, cheer for me despite all the shit I’ve pulled. No, John, what you need is determination. There’s strength in determination. That’s how I beat Solex, how I beat Dan and how I beat you. I’m sure you can’t see the difference and, sadly, that’s all on you. Your desperation has you scrabbling for reasons why you lost, and scrambling for ways to exploit any slight weakness of mine… But, again, you’ve got it the wrong way around. Anyone can see I’m full of weakness. My injuries, my speed, my uneasiness at letting go of my old wrestling style and truly adapting to the new techniques which fit my creaking body. So many weaknesses laid out bare for anyone to see. Weaknesses which I push past with gritted teeth of determination and drag myself to victory.”
“So you have it wrong, John, it’s not my weaknesses you should be concerned about. It’s yours. You didn’t lose because you failed to see and exploit a weakness of mine in the moment. You failed because of your weakness. Your hubris made you overconfident. You dismissed me, assured that you would walk away victorious and you paid the price for it. Now I’ve beaten you, just like the rest of the Alliance, you’re suddenly aware of just what a threat I truly am but you’re still not seeing it. You lack any sort of self reflection and that shows in that wrathful rage you unleashed on that poor, defenseless locker room.”
“You have to take a good, hard look at yourself and try to figure out why you lost the match. This is the sort of rookie speech I used to give the lads back when I was training those up-and-comers down in Cardiff. A loss is an opportunity to come back stronger. Don’t just shrug and say, eh, I didn’t win because he was better than me. Instead you should think, I didn’t win because I wasn’t good enough. That way you can learn, you can grow. That’s why you didn’t beat me, John. I lost to Mike. He was better than me but I lost and needed to understand why I wasn’t good enough to beat him. Sadly, for you, John, I take the same approach to winning.”
He patted his HOTv Championship with his far hand. A satisfying thump, thump sound was crisp and clear to be heard.
“This belt on my shoulder means I won last week. Unlike you, I’m not under the misconception that simply having it means I will win this week. Just like you, however, I’ve also watched the tapes of my performance. I’ve taken a good hard look at where I messed up and where I could improve. And that’s the difference between you and me, isn’t it? This week you are trying to beat the man you lost to last week. I am trying to be better than the man who beat you.”
He took the belt off his shoulder again, suddenly realising that patting the title had left condensation on it. He picked up the cloth again and, psh-psh-psh, polished it some more, whs-wsh-wsh-wsh.
“One of the things my Dad drilled into me when I was young was that you can always be better. There was always room for improvement. Winning a title means nothing if you lose it the next week. If you lose, strive to improve. If you want, push yourself further next time. He didn’t teach me all I know, but he certainly tried to teach me all he knew before he got too far gone to impart that knowledge. I was a shit student when I was a kid, I didn’t take it at all seriously and I regret that so much now he’s gone. If I could go back and punch that snotty kid in the face and tell him to listen to his dad because he really knows what he’s talking about… eh, I probably wouldn’t have listened to me either. It is what it is, but despite my disrespect, so much of what he tried to teach me lodged itself in my brain and took root even without realising it. Looking back, it’s easy to see. It became the foundation of my ethos as a rookie and a core tenet of Ground Zero. It was why I defended the TV Title week in, week out in a seemingly unstoppable reign for so long, never backing down, never deciding I was good enough.”
Evan stopped polishing as his eyes welled up slightly, the smallest of tears glistening around his eye lid as the emotions took hold of him.
“I never told my dad how grateful I was for everything he did for me. Every time I step in that ring I hope he’s looking down on me, that he’s proud of what I’ve achieved. It’s been so long since he passed but he’s still with me. He’s still in here…” Evan patted his chest. “And in here.” He tapped the side of his head with a finger. “I’m bringing everything he taught me into the ring, determined to protect this title and start a new reign to rival my previous and set new records.”
Evan breathed deeply, the long, faint woosh of air flowing in through his mouth filled the silence of the room and the hooouugghhh of the exhale was shorter and sharper. He sat in silence for some moments but with his composure regained, he continued.
“John, you struggled to keep up with my tenacity in a straight match and still lost, where I hesitated, where I was worried about losing out on the title due to disqualification or count out. This week there’s none of that concern. There will be no cheating because there will be no rules. I can take a chair and slam it down on your knuckles until they snap and the crowd will cheer. I can knee that face of yours through a barricade and Joe Hoffman will encourage me to continue. I can bend that arm around the ring post until it pops right out of your shoulder and the ref will simply ask you if you want to submit. Hell, I could take that razor in there and dry shave that rat off your face right in the middle of the ring and no one would think the worse of me. I’m fine with all of it.”
“While you’re there, wondering why those carefully constructed scenarios of yours to take advantage of my hesitation last week are fruitless in this no disqualification match, just remember that you did this. Your desperation in begging Lee Best to give you a rematch is what brought about this funeral of a match. Remember, Lee is as rageful at your loss as you are. This match, these rules, he’s playing as a double edged sword. I know how Lee’s mind works. This is your last chance for retribution, to show you are actually worth a shit to him, to the Alliance by actually, finally being the person to put me out of action by giving you free reign… but it’s also a punishment. You disappointed him, John, and if you don’t lose this match he wants to make sure you get your just rewards for being a failure. Normally I wouldn’t like to play into Lee’s machinations, but for once I am more than happy to oblige.”
Evan stood up, pulling the title around his waist and buckling it up.
“So, John, in the State Farm Arena I will defend this title, I will beat you and I will destroy you. I will leave you a broken mess in that ring and take his belt with me later in the show to go face to face with Jatt Starr on his own show, in his coveted Jattlanta, and use you as an example of the hell which awaits the last member of the Final Alliance when I face him In God’s House. See you on Sunday.”
Evan smiled softly again as the camera faded away as the sound of satic grew.