I find myself standing in front of, well, me. New-Age Conor aka NAC. If you’re new to my story, long before Sutler Reynolds-Kael heard dear old daddy in his head, an older version of yours truly has been appearing randomly in mine. NAC, approximately me at age forty-five, is a dickface, attempting to wind me up and steer me into trouble. Last time I saw the guy was before I lost to Mike Best at Rumble at the Rock. I banished the voice to the deepest parts of my subconscious, never to be heard from again.
“Guess it didn’t work, huh?” NAC says with a wink. I forgot, he can hear me thinking.
“What do you want? You’re usually up to something,” I’m not falling for his tricks anymore.
“Wanted to say hello,” he smiles and waves through the reflection.
“Well, hello.” I don’t smile or wave back.
Beginning to walk away, he calls me. “Where are you going? I obviously have more to say. It’s real good shit!”
Rolling my eyes, I let out a hard sigh and return. NAC gives a coy expression and then brushes the look off his face. He knows I’m onto his tricks. “Sorry, force of habit. Not here to poke the bear in the wrong direction.”
I highly doubt it but I’ll bite. What am I gonna do, ignore myself?
“Apparently Zion’s hearing voices in his head. He keeps texting me about it,” my attempt at making small talk begins.
NAC grins from ear-to-ear. “Yeah man, weird subconscious discussion is all the rave. We’re making a total comeback.”
If he says so.
New-Age slowly tilts his head as concern crosses his face. His forehead crinkles, his eyes wander.
“So you’re not having a blast?” N-A Me takes a moment to contemplate this statement. “Wow. There’s something I never thought would be true. You looked like you’re having fun with David Noble.”
“You look like you’re having fun with Bobbinette.”
“But hey, you no have fun with Scott Stoovins?” NAC eggs me on with some broken language.
“It’s not that,” I attempt to explain but NAC isn’t having it.
“Okay, what is it?” He inquires with an honest expression.
“I don’t know. If I knew-”
New-Age Conor has a look of disgust on his face. “Maybe you need to embrace Scott more.”
“I am embracing,” I reply.
The demeanor in NAC is different. He’s not exactly trying to hide a motive, he’s coming at things honestly.
“Dude, gimme a second,” older age Fuse begins, “Maybe some of the reason you feel this way is because you’re living here and not somewhere amazing. Perhaps your wrestling style needs a boost. Only so many times you can jump off a top rope. But I am you after all and Stevens is sucking the life outta ya.”
Is it me or is talking about Scott nonstop damn right painful?
“Hear me out,” NAC assures. “In 2020, you wanted a Texas measuring stick. We know what happened. In January you finally found redemption, thought it was over but he followed you.”
“Right.” Man, he’s more long winded than I am.
“It’s not a bad thing. Sutler brought out something vicious in you and it developed into mayhem. Stevens is not SRK, I get it. He might take the easy route, he might bring your name up in every moment of airtime as long as you’re champion… but this should be celebrated.”
“Why are you being this ‘nice guy’ all of a sudden? I thought you always wanted to turn me to the dark side,” I ask of my typically evil subconscious. At one point he told me I killed someone to rile me up.
“Ah, change of heart, buddy,” New-Age shifts his eyebrows up and down. “When you shoved me aside I thought ‘why would I want to screw myself over?’ There’s no fun in hurting you…”
At least he’s figured this out.
“I want to ask you two questions. Then I’ll go. Cross my heart and hope to die,” NAC says as I give an impatient look. “I heard you ask Stevens what will change with him, in this, your next battle. Well, what’s gonna change with you? Because weeks ago you said, and I quote, ‘This isn’t even my final form’ but, uh…”
NAC gives me the head to toe do over.
“Still the same Conor.”
“So?” I’m dismissive. “I won. If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
NAC is puzzled, adding a sarcastic frowny face to his appearance. “Then why are you not having fun?”
“Fuck off, man.” I probably should walk away now, for real.
“Attaboy! I love it. Tell me to fuck off again!”
This conversation is over. He’s got nothing to bring to the table other than trash talk my own trash talk. Swell guy, let me tell you.
New-Age Me’s tone is disheartened. “Wait. No! Come back, I’ll be good! One final question for you. Why are you so pissed Stevens has this rematch?”
An easy answer. “He completely no sold my victory.”
“That’s not the reason,” NAC cuts me off, shaking his head.
“Yes it is.”
“No, it’s not.”
“Yes, it is.”
“Then tell me the reason, smart ass,” I say sternly.
The voice collects himself. I can see he’s going to choose his words carefully. “You’re mad he no sold you, not the victory. You didn’t strike the fear of God into the Texas Roughneck. Listen, buddy, everyone respects you. You’re a fine World Champion but you’ve said it yourself, you’re a gaming manchild. Conor Fuse isn’t scary.”
“I don’t want to be scary,” I scoff and NAC shakes his head.
“Oh, I think you do,” he questions. “If you beat Stevens to a pulp in round one, there is no round two because he’s shaking in his boots… …or better yet, recovering through a straw in the hospital. Remember when you said you’re learning what it takes to get the job done. I mean REALLY get the job done.”
“Make ‘em beg. Better yet, make ‘em quit. He pisses on your Head Stomp, saying he couldn’t believe he lost to a move such as this and he’s the better wrestler. Sure, let’s fucking go, bro. Don’t Head Stomp. Don’t even wrestle.”
NAC’s eyes are bloodshot, his face a fearless glow of anarchy.
I stare blankly at my reflection before attempting to turn away from it. Eh, I don’t mind the Mortal Kombat reference. Well played.
“Oh, and Conor…” NAC begins.
“Find somewhere new to live. This place fucking sucks.”
… … … … …
March 11, 2022 – 11:00
Back in the Whole Foods checkout line, grabbing a few extra items before the usual gym and deconstruction of wrestling tape. The shop is right beside my condo so it’s easy. I feel like a dweeb for being here, Whole Foods is too trendy and not exactly the vintage experience. Either way, I’ve had some time to think on NAC’s words and he’s not exactly wrong. I could use an extra edge to my game.
I can go to a darker place. I lost control on Sutler, caved his skull and won the World Title. Taking Mike to the brink was a tall task, too. Although, it was more about how Mike and Sutler pushed me than how I pushed myself.
“Sorry, sir,” I mention, realizing I’m swinging my shopping basket into a man’s backside. For a guy so in-tune, I can be out to fucking lunch when deep into thought.
The person is bigger than the fellow I pissed off earlier in the week. He looks me over. Long, wiry goatee. Short brown hair, mixed in with hints of gray. Bulky frame, biker jacket. Nevertheless, this is Whole Foods so no doubt he’s a poser. He wants to do more than accept my apology, even though it’s what he does.
My mind returns to the task at hand. Obviously, flying around the ring is my thing. I hit people with high impact moves, knock the wind out of them and score the three count. Even the Head Stomp, it’s not a pretty sight. I leap up, push off and drill my heels into the top of my opponent’s forehead. I’m not doing shit for style, it’s just a neat bonus.
However, headbutting a man until he’s unconscious and throwing volts through another’s body isn’t stylistic. It’s sadistic.
“Listen, shitface, if you hit me again with your basket, I’ll…” the man turns and cracks his knuckles in front of my face.
“Sorry,” I reply. We’re almost at the end of the line.
Anyway, I need something different. I’m not abandoning what brought me to the Last Level but I will need to power up. This ISN’T my final form. Hmmmm. I could headbutt Stevens to death, too. You know, if I really wanted to I could-
“Enough!” The chap turns around as my eyes bug out, realizing my basket hasn’t stopped smacking him. “I said quit fucking-”
My left hand finds his jaw, drilling the poser with a stiff uppercut. My knuckles crack upon impact, ensuring I hit the move snug and knock his teeth together. Suddenly, I leap into the air and spear him into the conveyor belt. The entire scene is a blur from here on, as screams and shouts for help are rampant while the large man and I sprawl across the counter.
He hits me with an elbow.
I grab his head and ricochet it off the cash register.
I pop my left index finger into his eye socket, digging as deep as I can. His own left arm flails around, trying to find me. But I’m coy, sharp, quick as a whip. I keep moving.
He screams; I laugh. Finally, he takes hold of me with both hands and throws me down in a heap. His tree trunk arms wrap themselves like an anaconda, squeezing the air out of my body, as if he’s being docked money for every additional moment I am left conscious.
“STOP IT!” A random voice cries.
The air in my lungs is pushed out. I can barely hear myself think.
… … …
“WE NEED A PARAMEDIC!” Is the next thing I recall. However, much to my surprise, the plea isn’t for me. Instead, I have hold of him. Locked in the clutches of a scissored armbar, this jerk is frothing at the mouth while I relentlessly pull back on his arms with every ounce of strength.
My senses come-to, my world stops spinning. We are on the floor, right underneath the checkout counter. The man, while twice my size, passed out and bleeds profusely. The rest of the shoppers and staff, a far distance away. The looks on their faces… processing this carnage…
I release the hold and slide backwards by a couple of feet.
“Next time tap out,” I mutter under my breath before jumping into the air and grabbing the cute cashier by the waist. I take her iPhone and immediately enter my number.
“Give me a fucking call sweetheart,” I say before discarding her-
AND snapping back into reality.
“Listen, shitface, if you hit me again with your basket, I’ll…” the man turns around and cracks his knuckles. It takes me a moment to check my surroundings. Everything’s normal. No fight in the supermarket, no busting this guy’s face open.
“Yeah,” I say with indifference. “No problem.”
He turns away and our interaction is done. I’m simply above beating up a civilian, no matter how warranted. I don’t pull acts of Scott Stevens, who blindsides my Elders during a World Championship celebration.
No. I get even with those who deserve it.
I should thank the fella in front of me. The thought of a scissored armbar sounds awfully fun to implement when the time is right…
… … … … …
The walls are dark and depressing, the hallway straight and narrow. Soft red lights flicker above, creating a sense of doom and gloom. On the right side of this path, a large steel door, padlocked in three different spots, followed by a tinted two-way panel of glass, before reaching another padlocked door and plate of glass. There are many ahead of me. Cells. Dungeons. Whatever you want to call them. All with occupants. All with many stories locked up inside.
Yes, I’ve been through this dream before when I walked down the asylum structure to find arch enemy Sutler Reynolds-Kael waiting at the end. There, I discussed our trials and tribulations. How we grew to resent each other but also learned mutual respect.
The guard takes me down the hallway. Crossing each prison there are 64-bit renderings of the inmates nailed to the doors, along with last name only nameplates.
I don’t know if there’s a rhyme or reason to the order of them. If so, I haven’t figured it out.
“Here we are, Mr. Fuse,” the man stops in front of the cell I am looking for.
“This is Scott, right?” I ask the security guard for confirmation. “Not Bo?”
The man nods his head yes.
I turn to the window. This dungeon in particular is tough to see inside. I can make out small carvings… song lyrics etched into the wall straight ahead. There’s a bed to the left, a small night table on the right. They don’t give you much space in these holdings, let alone proper lighting. I can only imagine what this does to a man’s psyche.
“Sooo,” I clear my throat. Unable to see where he is, I continue anyway. “Not in a million years would I have considered you part of my Rogues’ Gallery…”
I let out an uncomfortable chuckle. A part of me wants to rip right into this cell and take the guy’s head off. Another part wants to have a one-way conversation.
Turning to the guard I ask, “can he hear me in there?”
This time, however, the guard gives a heavy shrug. “Actually, we’re not sure he can hear anyone.”
I smile nervously and move closer to the glass. My nose pressed upon it, I’m trying my damndest to see if The Angry Texan is there.
“Alright, buddy,” I say with a groan. “I want you to know what happens between us on Sunday, it’s well deserved. See, I can’t be disrespected. I’ve had this happen to me all my life and now, finally at the top, it means I gotta step up my game. You have to learn I can’t be pushed around or else I indirectly give permission for others to take their shots.”
I scan the cell. “I’m sorry, Stevens. I am taking your dreams away. I’ve worked too hard.”
Stepping back, I look at the row of cells from my left and right.
“The World Title stays with me.”
I meet eyes with the security guard. “We can go now. I don’t need to be here any longer than I have to.”
I wonder if he hears me…
— — — — —
Dear Scott Stevens,
Great singing voice buddy but Sunday isn’t an MTV music video, it’s for the ultimate wrestling prize. We don’t do karaoke and Simon Cowell will not be judging. While “Obsession” by Animotion is a quaint little vintage theme, so you tickled me there for a second, it’s quite peppy and uplifting. Our upcoming match is gonna be anything but.
In the end, it’s nice you’re obsessed. Little known fact though, sometimes people don’t get what they want.
You were the better man on January 30th? One mistake cost you?
First off, you were not the better man. The better man finds the pin and holds the title. If you wanna break down the actual match further, sure we can do this. Having my three pinfall attempts to your one does not constitute Scott Stevens being better than me. You came at me with desperation, I countered throwing speed and elusiveness. We weren’t in a blood feud, so why wouldn’t I take advantage of your disposition and attempt to end the match harmless and quick?
Sounds like a smart game plan from a well-oiled machine.
It’s called really understanding the ins and outs of your opponent. I escaped your Moral Compass and ultimately completed the Head Stomp. Therefore, I was the better man. And you’ve offended me by considering this interpretation could be any different. It may not be personal for you but I MJ meme “took it personally” after you refused to accept the loss, got in my face and thought you deserved another round.
Were you the better man on December 5th when you snuck up from behind on Jace and threw him outta the ring?
Your reply was simply, “a win is a win.”
But a win isn’t so much a win when it doesn’t fit Scott Stevens’ objective now, does it?
I guess I can’t blame you. After all, you’re totally delusional. I’m just giving you a reality check. The idea our upcoming battle may be your last opportunity at the World Title is nonsense. I was actually trying to help you, saying level up and collect W’s. Here is my cold, hard stance with you buddy. While you’ve carried out weaseling yourself into another opportunity… what you’ve said… your strategy behind it… it’s decent. You have some mic skills and abilities inside the ring. Honestly, I can see a change inside you. I didn’t walk away from our last match shouting Scott Stevens sucks. I took to High Octane news and gave you kudos. While I was the better man, you weren’t a push over. If you applied this motivation and commitment to all areas of your career, you could be in my position frequently. I have my doubts you will.
I’m trying to throw you an Extra Life but you don’t comprehend. #97 shouts: lose and you can still go out there, applying 100% effort. It WILL be good enough for victories.
See, it’s a moral thing. You had a god damn golden opportunity in the Maurako Cup. I truly hate a man who only brings it when the lights are the brightest. This is not my definition of a World Champion. It would be an embarrassment to have someone who bowed out of the tournament so quickly and spent all his energy complaining about Black Mamba representing the Last Level.
Guess you weren’t so obsessed with me. You had ample time to complain about your partner.
Sure, anything can happen in one match. This is half the reason I’m so pissed off. A miracle COULD take place and you MIGHT beat me.
But you won’t beat the next.
Or the next after that.
The heart beating within your body is filled with bullshit, until you show me otherwise.
I’m not scared you’ll win. I’m scared if the grave of Max Kael shifts for a split millisecond and his soul realizes I ran his little boy outta this company, the moon may oddly align for you to score a fluke victory and tarnish the World Championship moving forward… the most prestigious achievement in this entire game of wrestling. A title where in THIS era it has been held by Mike Best, John Sektor and the aforementioned Max Kael (to name a few).
Every night I suit up, I think of these names. I think of my sworn enemy SRK and how he survived the biggest War Games match by tapping me out in the center of the ring, a match that drove so deep into the morning, it gassed every single fucking person within this organization. Talent, staff and fans were absolutely spent.
This IS my motherfucking life. It’s no game. I’m the one who broke away from being typecast as a tag team guy, with the hobbies and interests I love so dearly plastered across my wrestling tights. I made a name for myself when a kid like me isn’t supposed to do shit.
Now… I’ll reinvent myself further. Become feared.
Reality is Scott, you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. My patience wore thin. If Steve Harrison was in front of me instead, I’m probably doing the exact same thing. But the idea you can waltz back into another shot just for shits and giggles makes my fucking stomach turn.
Regardless, I am making a new, self-imposed rule. I’ve written it down in my HOW gaming manual, rule #97. The Scott Stevens Cheat Code: One and done. If a rematch is granted, then it instantly becomes personal.
Memo goes out to EVERYBODY on the roster.
Because there’s a line of people waiting to enter the ring with its champion. I am gonna tear down the system and do things never before seen. Build heat so hot, M.O.B. better pack a bus full of fire extinguishers and staple his Elite Protection Unit on this unstable gamer 24/7. Probably should up his insurance policies too if we keep traveling outside Chicago. Ain’t nobody gonna be occupying the arenas after Conor Fuse comes bursting through it with his white hot fire flowers of heat.
All I’ve done is achieve. Busted open the 8-4 ceiling.
While you were being emasculated in an attempt to get your job back…
I retired Cecilworth Farthington.
That’s just a snippet of Conor Fuse’s success. Please tell me again how I know you can beat me?
Your underdog story is nice. It’s a role I’ve played often but now I’m leveling up and it’s best I act like a big boy. I am High Octane’s true representative. I am the video game poster manchild. Front and center of PPV banners, too. I take every match seriously and I fight with a grace and nobility hard to come by in this World. If you think you’re gonna walk into the ring and score a victory over myself because I have simply looked past you, guess again. I may not be happy we’re having a rematch… yet I’m gonna debut my new wrestling style, perhaps sprinkle in your typical Vintage high flying abilities. I am gonna fucking pummel you so bad, your face will be unrecognizable and you might actually score the all inclusive trilogy of rematches vs. The Ultimate Gamer ‘cause no one will know what you look like.
I’ll have inadvertently backed myself into a corner. And I’m doing this for no other reason than to ensure the following…
When someone loses to Conor Fuse… when their skull is stomped INTO THE GROUND like the god damn trailer trash ditchpig they’re supposed to be, they will never ask for a rematch again.
Not because they’re too disfigured. Not because they fell down the !ranks. Not even because they’re obsessed with the shade of 97.
No. Because I embarrassed them. They’re too scared to even approach the topic of another round. Any argument they have for a rematch pales in comparison to the merciless beat down and sheer shit-your-pants terror they’ll receive if they see me again.
Flipping around isn’t gonna get it done. Not in a blood feud. Not with a blockhead following me like a lost puppy dog looking for relevance.
On Sunday, high flying is out.
Ripping you apart, limb from limb… is in.
“Stop, stop, he’s already dead!” The Simpsons meme boy will scream as I blood-thirstily tear into your soul.
“Tick tock, tap the fuck out!” I’ll shout in reply. Then you run away and never get in my face again.
Because when you’re locked into the submission I deploy and tears are running down your pigshit face, remember the following.
You asked for this Scott.
May you receive what is so long overdue.