Is it late November yet? Because I’m feeling thankful.
Thankful that finally, I have a week off from worrying about whether I can trust Joe Bergman to focus more on not getting his dopey ass pinned and losing my HOW Tag Team Championships than picking fights with my stablemates.
Thankful that I’m done crushing glass slippers in MJ Flair and High Flyer’s failed Cinderella story.
Thankful for the GOD of HOW crossing my palm with silver and saying “win War Games for me.”
But most of all, I’m thankful for Refueled XXVII and Daniel bloody Ryan.
It’s time to level up.
Time to break the Hammer of GoD. Show the world how this piece of shit went from Mjölnir to a guy who just Can’t Touch This in the three months since I showed up.
And how about we skip the petty stuff this week? How about we fast-forward past the talk of fancy countdown clocks, grey hairs, tweets, and tampered bio sheets? If we’re playing mental callisthenics here, that’s some raisin-brained shit.
Let’s dispense with the fluff. Fluff is fun, but ultimately doesn’t matter. None of it does.
Let’s talk about how I’m making this sack of meat obsolete instead.
Chicago, IL | 17 May 2020
A quiet morning was unfolding inside 24K’s north Chicago stayover house.
Andy Murray sat in the lounge, swirling sludgy black coffee around a mug. The liquid slap in the face tasted like the innards of a rusty pipe but it was the best the King could do with the elaborate frappe machine the Bruvs had set up in the kitchen.
Physically, he was at peace. The handful of painkillers had long since taken effect and Andy was glad of his decision not to march down the romp and kick Mike Best’s head in. Fun? Sure. Worth it the next day? Probably not.
Save that pain for later.
But while Andy was calm externally, inside him was a war. This never changed. Between the ropes he was a man reborn – a force of nature exploding through his Indian Summer – though his career was still tethered to Mikey Unlikey’s non-compete clause. The Hollywood Superstar had become a valuable ally, though his guillotine’s blade still hung over Murray’s neck.
There was a ceiling to this alliance.
Then there was the other conflict: the “shit, is it really right for me to keep putting myself through this?” conflict.
That voice was particularly loud with opponents like Dan Ryan on the horizon.
Though he’d never give the Ego Buster the satisfaction of vocalising it, Murray knew Dan was a behemoth. A beatable behemoth? Of course, Andy felt like the best wrestler in the world right now, but still one he watched try to kill Lindsay Troy, his own sister-in-law, on DEFIANCE television a couple years ago.
Andy had to be wary of whatever remained of Ryan’s killer instinct. Not that that would stop him talking exorbitant amounts of shit, though.
The sports show Murray had been mindlessly watching hit its wrestling section, running through Perfection’s unsuccessful ICON Title challenge. Talk turned to Andy soon after. The King was going to War Games at Lee Best’s behest and in this moment, ten hours later, the world was talking.
“Dave, if we’re talking the active roster, I cannot think of a bigger bomb Lee could have dropped than Andy Murray,” one host said to the other before a gaudy green-screened background. “Nobody outside two or three guys is on a bigger roll in HOW right now, and anyone you could argue has more momentum is in the Group of Death. Murray’s the guy. But I have to wonder… two of these matches? In one night?”
The King sized this pinstripe-suited motherfucker with his neatly combed mane and glinting smile for a second, wondering what qualified him to talk about war.
“I’m with you, Gary,” said the other one, feigning concern. “One of these matches is hellish enough – we’re talking a potential career-ender here – but two? When you’re 42 years old and your joints are made of putty? I don’t know…”
The coverage rankled Murray, primarily because he couldn’t dispute it. He, too, questioned what he was in for, though he had to do this.
You can’t call yourself The King of Wrestling if you aren’t willing to go to lengths nobody else will. It was time for him to do the impossible again.
That was a worry for another day though.
“Morning,” came a voice across the open-plan living area. Defeated and deflated, James Witherhold shuffled across the floor, clad in a white dressing gown with gold initials. Bags hung under his eyes and clumped stands of blonde hair sprung in all different directions. Perfection’s period of post-loss recovery hadn’t yet begun.
“Jesus mate, you look like shit,” Andy said to his closest HOW ally, not used to seeing him in the throes of failure.
Witherhold shambled his way over to the kitchen, grabbing a clean glass and pouring some water from the fridge’s cooler. “Yup,” was his only response. He’d taken a tough loss. Fights like that require thorough self-examination once the initial wave of negativity subsides.
Murray parted his lips to follow up but an alarm buzzed in his pocket. “Ah, shit,” he mumbled, silencing his phone as the television coverage cycled back to Mike Best vs. Perfection. “Hey,” Andy said, rising to his full 6’7”. His knee clicked as it straightened. “Get your head back in the game, man. Go knock seven shades of shit out of the heavy bag or something. Whatever it takes.”
Dropping his coffee cup in the sink, Andy turned, grabbing his bomber jacket from one of the kitchen stools.
“I’ve got this,” Perfection said, curiosity crossing his face. “The hell are you going?”
“Gonna see a man about a bat fight.”
“Ah, shit,” Witherhold remembered. “That.”
Murray nodded, hurrying through the thumb strokes required to summon an Uber. He’d lost track of time. “Back in a bit, but you’d best be wearing a smirk or something when I get back, Jim. We can’t have our chessmaster moping.”
Group of Death vs. 24K, War Games, Jimmy and Mike. Whatever. Let’s throw all that in the corner and have a heart-to-heart about your pride.
You used to be the benchmark.
Big bad Dan Ryan. The Ego Buster. The scariest guy in the business not because he’s screwing around with some Evil Goth bollocks, but because he marries power, speed, and technical precision to a genius combat mind and a mouth sharp enough to flay.
Or maybe I should use the past tense, because that ain’t you anymore.
Dan Ryan has been defanged.
The cobra became a garter snake when the real King showed up.
I watched a lot of your HOW work before I got here because I knew we’d have to throw down eventually, this roster being what it is. I studied tapes, did my homework, all that stuff. But you can’t get a true measure of a man until you meet him in combat. When that happened, at March to Glory, the thoughts that hit my mind upon hearing what you said in the build-up were confirmed.
You got rattled. You went on the defensive over a tiny little barb and a couple of insults, you fragile little wanker. Indomitable Dan Ryan – the unshakeable monster! – bent out of shape because mean old Andy Murray called him a coward.
I don’t put much stock into that match’s result because I know you’re not a tag guy, mate. Not really. Not now that the Inner Circle is a flat failure orbit. Hey, I can’t say I’d fare any better carrying the corpse of Lindsay Troy around myself.
Fuck that result. I won’t harp on it. What matters is that a guy like me, after all I’ve endured, should be concerned – maybe even trepidatious – of meeting the Group of Death’s muscle. Recent events prove that this is no longer the case.
Your cracked veneer has been exposed yet you’re still thundering around like King Shit, playing the big Texan blowhard, acting like nothing’s wrong. Thinking your old ways can still get you by even though you shed two titles in as many weeks.
You refute this, so either you’re full of shit or your pride won’t let you accept that you’re playing catch-up.
Dan Ryan is chasing Andy Murray. Fuck the rankings: I’ve had one singles match.
And I say this not just because you tied yourself in knots over a couple of petty insults. It’s not because Jimmy and I took your aura at MTG and Mikey and Jesse scraped up what was left of it a few weeks ago. It’s not because you were found wanting when the two Big Bads, Murray and Ryan, dropped bombs.
It’s not even because you’re just the fourth dude in another guy’s stable now, lad.
It’s because you’ve got nothing left to fight for.
You’re not the Big Bad anymore: you’re a toothless old wolf incapable of stripping meat from bone.
Somewhere Across Town | An Hour Later
“Like I said, two things work in our favour,” said Jeff McDowell, swirling half-melted ice cubes and diluted scotch around his crystal glass. “One: the kid wasn’t hurt, and two: you were provoked, so seeing as you don’t want to see the inside of a courtroom…”
“Absolutely not,” Andy responded.
McDowell leaned over his desk, clicking a pen to life and etching something on a pad decorated with his legal firm’s emblem. He slid it over to Andy. “I reckon this ought to do it.”
Surprise registered across Murray’s face as he took the figure in. “Huh,” he exclaimed. “Are you sure about this? Looks like there should be another zero at the end.”
“Sure as the sun comes up every morning,” came the answer The King of Wrestling was looking for in a low southern drawl. “He has little reason not to go for the settlement. College dropout, low-income job, doesn’t come from money. Your finances may not be in the rudest health right now, Mr. Murray, but we can make this go away soon enough.”
Big Jeff was unlike any lawyer Murray had ever met before. A hulking man only a few inches short of Andy’s 6’7” when standing, he was built like a guy who’d grown up wrestling bears and alligators and spoke like a human, not a jargon-spitting nerd. His cadence was relaxed and his tone broadly welcoming, though the confidence behind his words was that of a man who wasn’t to be fucked with.
“I haven’t been in a bar fight since I was 19, you know,” McDowell said; laughing, smiling, shaking his head.
It had been an embarrassing series of events for Andy, not least because it was Mikey Unlikely’s money that got him out of the cell. An act of kindness from the Bruvs’ American half, maybe, but also a reminder of his power.
Murray forced his own chuckle. “I lost it,” he conceded. “I never lose it on air, but that little prick…”
Andy let the sentence tail off. No use extrapolating.
“Well, you win that big match next month and the money might not even matter,” said the lawyer. Though his office’s fine decoration told you he was a success (the hardwood desk alone looked like it could have cost five figures) his sleeves were rolled up, his top button undone, and his grey-white hair was barely tended to.
“Well,” Andy said, standing up, figuring he was done. “Thanks for taking the time to go through this.”
But Jeff didn’t stand with him, instead motioning for The King of Wrestling to sit back down. “We’ve got one more thing to discuss.”
“Oh, your fee? Fair enou–”
“No, no. Not that,” came the response. “Let’s talk about that contract clause of yours.”
What the hell?, was Andy’s facial expression. “Uh, what?”, was his actual response.
“That’s about the response I expected,” McDowell said. “Please. Sit.”
And sit Andy did.
“Now this might not have been on your agenda today, Mr. Murray, but your good lady asked me to bring it up. I think I can help.”
Though Andy had largely kept his long-suffering partner as far removed from his HOW affairs as possible (primarily because he absolutely did not approve of what the career babyface was getting up to with Mikey, Kendrix, and Perfection – all of whom she’d banned from their home), it was her who’d put her in contact with Jeff in the first place. Prior dealings had led to favourable outcomes for both. Andy didn’t always trust these suit-clad vultures, so connecting him with one that she did put his mind at ease.
And Murray knew she’d told him about what went down in the week between the Lethal Lottery and the High Flyer/MJ Flair match: just not the real millstone.
The one hindering her life as much as his.
“Told you all about it, did she?” Andy asked, though he already knew the answer.
Murray stifled a sigh. He’d been through this so many times with so many different professionals. “Look, the non-compete is ironclad. I’ve thrown lawyers at it before and I’m still paying legal fees from the last time. I’m not saying you aren’t good at your job, but–”
“Sir, there are no ‘buts,’” McDowell said, rising to his feet. He walked his shiny brown loafers across the burgundy carpet, seized the whisky bottle, and took it back over. “Similarly, there ain’t a single suit of armour I can’t put a crack in. In legal terms, of course.” Smoky brown liquid poured into Andy’s glass first, then the lawyer’s. “I know all about your last attempt: read the court papers before you got here, in fact. I’ve already started putting a plan together in my head, provided you want me to push on.”
Something about this man gave The King confidence. Still, legal joustings with Mikey Unlikely had not only rendered him unable to work anywhere in North America without his stablemate’s say so, but close to bankruptcy.
The Second Chance Gym was supposed to be Murray’s retirement plan. When violating the non-compete put him close to seven digits in the red, Andy had to sell it.
“What percentage of your HOW paycheck goes to paying this guy off?” McDowell asked.
“Uhh,” Andy quickly tried to do the maths in his head. “Fifty after tax? Maybe closer to sixty.”
“And I’m willing to bet you aren’t exactly rolling in other incomes, given your onscreen affairs?”
A pause fell between the two. They’d barely scratched the surface, though Murray thought McDowell had laid things out in a way that’d make him look insane if he said anything but yes.
“Look,” Jeff said, “I don’t promise miracles, but if you want me to make a run at this… I’m confident we can score some kind of victory, even if it’s just knocking that percentage down a couple notches.”
“Well I don’t know if I can afford to pay your more on top–”
“Let’s talk about that later. Mr. Murray, when you walked in here today, you expected a much higher number on that slip of paper I just handed you, right?”
“Well then.” McDowell took a sip. “I’ve got another client at the top of the hour but if you want to push forward with this, I don’t think your time will be wasted. Let me explain why…”
What we are is two similar guys on divergent paths that’ll converge, briefly, at Refueled. A couple of big, experienced bruisers hitting High Octane after decades on the road, out to reassert dominance and strengthen those Greatest Of All Time cases.
The difference is I stayed hungry. You? You got comfortable.
I knew that if I was going to compete in HOW, if I was going to avoid embarrassing myself, I’d have to adapt. So I dug deep. I changed my mindset and my style. Two goddamn years I spent rebuilding myself from the ground up until finally, I came to terms with the beast I needed to become to get back to the top.
The non-complete crushed me. Truly, it did. But it gave me a reason to fight again. Without it I could have walked back into a HOW or a DEFIANCE years ago but it wouldn’t have fucking worked because in order to become what I am today, I had to fight a darkness I hadn’t felt since first stepping through the ropes at 16 years old.
Nothing makes things clearer than falling all the way down to hell’s ninth circle, then pulling yourself back up.
Fate dealt me a bad hand so I said “fuck you” and broke every one of its fingers.
You’ve never had to do anything like that in your life.
And now I’m thriving while you’re standing still.
I know that steps like this are where upward trajectories hit brick walls. Unquestionably, meeting a Dan Ryan unhindered by Lindsay Troy’s dead weight is the biggest test I have faced on Lee Best’s turf.
I have passed each one so far with flying colours.
The guy with the timebomb knee and more mileage than a space shuttle is still here, 26 years later, badder than ever.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking I’m getting all jazzed up off five matches either. I’m talking about my quarter-decade in this game, man, not some “Fisher Price win streak,” or whatever.
And I came to HOW looking for a war. For a while, I thought you’d be the guy to give it to me. When I walked through this door I wanted the Mike Bests, the Max Kaels, the Dan Ryans, but I understand there’s a pecking order. These things need to be worked towards.
And work is all I’ve ever done, mate, because when I walk down that ramp, I do so knowing that each step could be my last.
That timebomb could go off at any second. I have to be the best, no matter the cost. I have to be The King.
So I struggle, I scrap, and I claw, knowing that if High Octane doesn’t work, that’s it for Andy Murray. It’s over.
That’s my fight. You? You don’t give a fuck. You could drift back to your Texas-sized mansion and big vat of money and spend the rest of your days Scrooge McDucking away, because you’re comfortable. You’re a pampered, preening chihuahua in a bulldog’s body; I’m a wounded dog uncaged, taking flesh and blood for my time away.
You don’t fight anymore, Dan. You coast. Your unflappable nature, once your greatest strength, has left you feeling like maybe it’s okay to settle for playing Mike Best’s pet bitch.
And you chose that role.
The Road | Another Hour Later
25 minutes into the ride back to 24K HQ and the Uber driver hadn’t said a word. Perfect, Andy thought. The silence gave him time to ruminate.
The King of Wrestling was fighting battles on three fronts:-
- In the ring. For now, that meant Dan Ryan, War Games, and whatever wacky shit Lee had planned for him in between.
- Against the timebomb knee that would unquestionably end his athletic career some day.
- With Mikey, his stablemate, who had become an important ally onscreen and almost a friend offscreen, but still exerted near complete control over Murray’s career. A most screwed up relationship.
The first was the job and he couldn’t make the second go away without retiring from a life he needed. The third, he assumed, was unwinnable.
But maybe it wasn’t.
What if there was a way to loosen the noose?
It was a lot to unpack. Andy would make an enemy of Unlikely again if it meant freedom, but 24K was fun. Murray enjoyed rolling with the boys, despite the looming doom, and he knew Mikey couldn’t afford to drop him either.
Though he behaved like a moron in the Allstate, Mikey was no fool. He knew that The King was vital to 24K’s success. It was Andy, after all, who’d scored the time in every Murrfection victory, taken the Tag Team Championships back from the Bruvs, and scored the War Games spot.
Right now, Murray was the standout. Lose him and 24K may well lose it all.
This gave Andy a hell of a lot more leverage than he had even a few months prior.
Murray got back to the house, walked through the door, and found Perfection in far higher spirits, having seemingly let out his frustration in their hastily-assembled basement gym. The Hollywood Bruvs, meanwhile, were trying to jam some kind of flavoured syrup into that stupid fucking coffee machine.
Andy felt good.
He sent two text messages at that moment. The first was a simple “thank you” to Vivica for connecting him and the lawyer in the first place.
The second went straight to Jeff McDowell.
It’s like I said the other week: I refuse to be a product of this environment, I will make this environment a product of me… and I came here looking for a goddamn war.
And who has come closest to giving me one so far? Not you, not Lindsay, not even the Hollywood Bruvs.
It was Eli Flair’s Dipshit Daughter, someone you cast aside!
So you’d better step your game up by Saturday, brother. You’d better be the Ego Buster of old because if you don’t give me a war – if you don’t bring me the man you used to be – your family best like the smell of carnations or believe in reincarnation. I’ll put you out of wrestling before the bumpy ride to War Games even begins.
Truth is I used to be impressed by you, Dan. Admire you.
But you’re no longer the industry standard. Hell, youu’re not even the most impressive guy in your own stable anymore,..
You’d better find your fangs by Saturday, motherfucker.
Because mine are going straight into your throat.