Tokyo, Japan has one of the richest histories in the world. Its beauty and uniqueness only rivaled by the other gargantuan ancient cities of the globe. In addition to its extravagant beauty and culture the city also boasted an absolutely legendary wrestling scene. While the Tokyo Dome, Budokan Hall and Korakuen Hall were all legendary venues, they weren’t the only legendary wrestling attractions in town. Ribera’s Steak House was on the corner of a small tight part of the Gotanda district. Across the outside of the steak house photos of wrestling legends decorated the red, green, and white panels.
The Behemoth stood across the street, staring at the panels. Clearly, Ribera’s had redecorated for the High Octane invasion. Numerous photographs of former and current HOW super stars were illuminated in the signage. As Clay walked through the doorway a hush came over the restaurant. The giant cowboy hat wearing gaijin was easy to pick out, and the few diners inside immediately transfixed their eyes on Clay Byrd’s enormous frame.
A small man came out of the back, shouting in Japanese carrying a black and #97red satin jacket. Clay smiled accepting the gift, The Best Alliance colored jacket would look much better than his decade and a half old white and green version. Clay took the mandatory photograph, throwing up the Horns for his alma mater.
As the owner disappeared, Clay looked around the room quietly. The amount of wrestling history transfixed him. He moved slowly, looking at each photograph on the wall. Fifty years of wrestling history was on display right here at Ribera. For a child who grew up in the business, it felt like a walk down memory lane. Photographs of his father’s friends, and of his own friends littered the wall. Clay began searching for one photograph in particular and found it seated above a young group of western fans.
“Holy shit Tim… he’s coming over here…” he heard one of the men in their early twenties say to one of the others. The young men shuffled their chairs away from The Behemoth. Clay dreaded what he was about to say. Fan interaction had never been his strong suit.
“Ya boys mind lettin’ a feller sit down with his old man?” Clay said as he pointed to the photograph positioned on the wall. Robert Byrd sat with three other American gentlemen at one of the tables, a title belt firmly planted in the middle.
“How old are you if that old ass photo is of your Dad?” One of the young men blurted out, Clay took the insult in stride. He could hear one of his fathers teachings in that moment ‘kill them with kindness Clay.’
“Prolly old ‘nough ta be yers bud,” Clay said with the fakest smile the group had probably ever seen. Clay reached into his pocket and produced a wad of currency. “Dinners on me…”
The group quickly took the very generous overture from The Monster from Plainview and evacuated themselves to the bar area. Leaving The Behemoth alone on this side of the small restaurant. Clay looked at the photograph of his father and the three men. Their names slipped his mind, but the title in the middle of the table hadn’t.
He remembered rushing to the store with his uncle to pick up the latest copy of Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Flipping furiously to the back of the magazine to see the results from Japan. They were listed on the page in three columns. You had to scroll through the list of countries, then find the promotion he was working in. Then you had to read the almost microscopic font, looking for one of the shortest names on the sheet. ‘Bob Byrd.’
Clay had remembered thinking of Japan as an exotic destination, everything being so different from home. The names all sounded funny in his eight year old brain, he imagined his father fighting and wrestling wave after wave of Mr. Fuji and The Great Muta. Salt and mist (a Cancer Jiles match, thanks Jiles.) flying around in every match, the dastardly foreigners cheating against his father, and Bob Byrd overcoming them.
Little did Clay know, that his father was the ‘ethnic’ invading foreigner in this scenario. He had expected his father to be returning home with story after story of dominating the sneaky Japanese. Instead, as Clay looked through the corse pages in the back he read about his father losing a lot more than he won. The disappointment of finding out your Dad was brought to Japan to be looked down on and mocked, brought in just because he was a nice guy to hang out with. It was crushing to an eight year old. The Santa Clause, The Easter Bunny, The Tooth Fairy, all weren’t real at once. That’s what it felt like. Needless to say, the belt in that photograph didn’t belong to Robert Byrd.
Clay ate in silence, occasionally glancing up at the picture of his father. His thoughts were racing, what did the old man know about his situation anyway? Leading The Best Alliance at War Games against Teddy Palmer?
WAS there a bigger possible moment?
This was the main event, this was the match that the world wanted to see. Clay Byrd was the headline, he wasn’t on page 137 of Pro Wrestling Illustrated. This match would have been on the fucking cover. The pressure cooker that was being in The Best Alliance, was suddenly turned up for Wargames. Being in the position Clay was in? There wasn’t a stove hot enough on the planet. Set the tone for an entire match, give your team the advantage going into every phase.
Clay was being asked to do an impossible task, he knew that. He was being asked to achieve the unachievable. To go through one man? That was possible, to go through a man as talented as Teddy Palmer? That was doable with a bit of luck. To win the LSD Championship and make sure The Best Alliance left with the world title?
To survive nine of the toughest wrestlers on the planet, to stifle Dan Ryan’s world title hopes. To mute Lindsay Troy’s aspirations, to break Arthur Pleasant’s will. To be the pace setter, to be Cancer Jiles’ shield. The task at hand was monumental. The task at hand could ingrain Clay Byrd into the hierarchy of High Octane Wrestling, a thirty eight year old man finally doing something to be remembered.
The Monster from Plainview finished his meal, before going back to the photograph. His father was a smart man in the ring, he was smaller than Clay was. He had to rely on the art of the sport a bit more, sure he was a big strong country boy, but Robert Byrd was not a force of nature like Clay was.
The advice that Robert had always given was for Clay to rely on his power, rely on what Robert didn’t have to get the job done. And while, for the most part it had taken Clay far, there were some nuts that are a little tougher to crack though… Teddy Palmer was one of those nuts.
He’d thrown everything but the kitchen sink at Palmer, he’d visualized victory, he’d hit him with a lariat. Clay had done everything right. Yet he still wasn’t a champion. He hadn’t been able to do enough, he hadn’t been able to take that next step… yet… Teddy Palmer was willing to kill another man to keep that title.
Was Clay Byrd willing to kill Teddy Palmer to obtain it?
Ted, last time I addressed ya, I got inta real explicit detail ‘bout the type of man ya were. How ya were a creature of fear, willin’ ta do anythin’ ta avoid that confrontation with the bottle. Willin’ ta fight tooth and nail, screamin’, ragin’ against the inertia.
At Refueled 63 ya showed me just how far you’ll go ta avoid it, how far you’ll go ta escape the temptation. Ted, ya made it abundantly clear that failin’ ta retain yer title isn’t an option, that by hook, or by crook ya’d hang on to that little title. That I’d have ta pry it from yer cold dead hands.
That thought Ted caused me a lot of pause over the last few weeks. Am I really willin’ ta go that far? Am I really willin’ ta take the violence between us ta that level?
Am I willin’ ta pry a piece of tin and leather from yer fuckin’ corpse?
See Teddy, in that ring at Refueled, when Hortega was countin’ those chokes, I didn’t have ta fuckin’ let go. I didn’t have ta fuckin’ stop. Sure, Hortega could have tried ta disqualify me, but it’s pretty clear someone went out there with a translator at some point and let the feller know that we were in the midsts of a match without disqualification. Cause he sure wasn’t deliverin’ a five count while he let ya beat me with a chair.
At War Games Ted the rules are pretty well defined. Ya see, they don’t exist. JoelHortega won’t be there ta stop me from chokin’ the life out of ya. At Refueled, I wasn’t ready fer the stakes. I wasn’t ready fer that aspect of High Octane, I acknowledge that now.
But ya made sure ta show me exactly how far ya were willin’ ta go ta make sure ya didn’t disappoint yer friends. Ya showed me the level our mutually shared hatred would need ta reach. Ted, ya showed me what yer fear looked like. The level ya were willin’ ta take it to ta avoid it.
While I was fallin’ off that boat Ted, I looked inta yer eyes. What do they say ‘bout a mans eyes? It’s a window inta the soul? Ted I saw yer soul. It’s darker than mine. Yer a tortured man, as ya heaved me off the edge of that boat I realized it, I realized exactly who the fuck ya are Ted.
Yer a fuckin’ coward.
Now ya may be askin’ yerself, how am I a coward? I threw Clay Byrd off of a boat?
It’s because of the reasonin’ Ted. Ya didn’t throw me off the boat because ya wanted ta. Ya didn’t try ta take my life from me because ya needed ta? No Ted, ya did it because ya were afraid. Ya were afraid of the consequences, the fear if that match continued where it would end.
Fear’s a powerful emotion Ted, fear can make people capable of incredible feats, incredible moments. But Ted, what fear really is, at its core, is panic. What ya experienced at Refueled when ya launched me from the deck of the ship? That was pure, unadultured, panic.
Ya ran away from me Ted.
Ya fuckin’ ran away.
Ya had an opportunity, a chance ta find out who really was the bigger man, and ya took every fuckin’ chance ya could in that match ta take it away from that question. From the moment ya picked up that chair, ta the moment ya tossed me in that fuckin’ water. Ya knew, with every ounce of yer bein’ that I was the better man. That Clay Byrd was gonna walk out of that buildin’ with yer little pile of tin and leather.
And ya were gonna have to confront it, confront the pain, confront the addiction. Yer worst fear was gonna become yer reality. Yer worst fuckin’ nightmare was made flesh. Freddy fuckin’ Kruger had done popped out of yer nightmares and he was standin’ there in front of ya.
Yer fuckin’ pathetic Ted. Yer a pathetic fuckin’ man, ya don’t have a redeemable fuckin’ trait ‘bout ya. Ya don’t have anythin’ I’d ever tell a child ta look up ta. That thing ya call heart Ted? That thing ya went on and on ‘bout?
Heart isn’t doin’ somethin’ because the consequences scare ya. Heart Ted, would be goin’ out there, pickin’ up a bottle of whisky, takin’ a sip, and bein’ able ta put it right back down. That would be fuckin’ heart Ted.
That emotion ya keep confusin’ is yer best fuckin’ friend Ted. So keep poundin’ away on yer rice bags, with yer little fuckin’ stick, keep tryin’ ta prove yer some type of fuckin’ hero Ted. That yer gonna run through the entire Alliance and find a way ta win War Games. That Ted Palmer is gonna do the fuckin’ impossible.
It won’t fuckin’ happen Ted, cause this time I know the fuckin’ stakes. This is life or death, this is career definin’, this is a moment a man like me would consider killin’ a man for. And we come back ta the question at hand Ted because I think it answers the conundrum we find ourselves in. The question everyone is burnin’ ta hear the answer ta: Am I willin’ ta end your career in one of the rings at War Games?
What is the right thing? As Clay sat toweling the sweat away from his chest, he felt the cool night breeze blowing his blonde main back. The entire time he pondered his father’s words. They had echoed in his head, instead of calling out the drills, instead of calling out the combinations Clay through. Instead it was just the statement, over and over again.
‘But it ain’t ever too late ta do the right thing.’
What was the right thing? Would his father have him step on a plane before War Games? Go back to the ranch in Texas? Go work for Uncle Ronnie selling cars? That wasn’t the life for Clay, he wanted something more.
He needed something more.
War Games changes men, it has the potential to ruin them… On the other hand it has the potential to define them. To elevate them to legendary status. War Games was a right of passage for the legends of High Octane Wrestling, many hall of famers had never even won War Games.
Yet here was Clay, being asked to do something many have deemed impossible. But Clay was an impossibility himself, wasn’t he? A thirty eight year old man who had finally, finally managed to earn his way to the top of his profession. He had fought tooth and nail across the world, and here he was.
On the precipice of something impossible. The precipice of something only legends dream of.
Through the last few months, Clay had started to understand the way Lee Best operated. At least he thought so. He tossed him into the war against a younger version of himself, and he’d shown that he could be ruthlessly efficient. He fed him Darin Zion and Lester Moregrimes, to see how The Behemoth would respond to inferior competition.
And then he tested his metal. Made sure Clay wasn’t brittle, he didn’t break from the assault. Clay had gone to war for The Best Alliance, fought like a man possessed against the best The Grapplers had to offer. And Clay had managed to come out victorious.
Lee Best was a gambler’s gambler. He played the odds, he never took a bet that he couldn’t win.
Lee Best wasn’t betting on John Sektor and Jatt Star the way he was betting on Clay, he wasn’t betting on Jace Parker Davidson and Steve Solex like he was betting on The Monster, he wasn’t betting on Cancer Jiles and Scottywood, and he wasn’t betting on Sutler Kael the way he was betting on The Behemoth.
So what was the right thing? Was it to walk away from the pressure? Run from the adversity? Hide from the fear? Was it to let Jatt Starr walk into War Games without his hero? Was it to let John Sektor watch Jatt fall away into obscurity? Was it to make sure The Best Alliance left War Games with nothing?
Over what? What had Lee Best done to Clay Byrd? He’d been nothing but fair, he ignored his flaws and played to his strengths. Lee Best had done awful and terrible things in his life, he was a criminal, a vulture, a maniac… But he had done right by Clay. The money was good, the plan had finally come together. He’d surrounded The Behemoth with legends, Lee Best had stacked the deck.
And now Lee relied on his Captain to lead his forces into battle at War Games. The most pivotal moment, having trust and faith in a thirty eight year old man to go the distance, to do the impossible. Lee Best believed in Clay Byrd.
He pulled out the little black book his father had given him years ago. The names and locations of friends, of gyms, everything for a man to get started in professional wrestling and seem like a seasoned veteran. Every little trick, every person to call. He’d thumbed through the book this morning looking for a quiet place to work out, looking to remove himself from the chaos.
He took a lighter out of his gym bag and stared out into the port of Tokyo again. Clay Byrd lit the last thing his father had ever given to him on fire.
“Fuck yer right thing old man, fuck yer right thing.” The Behemoth said as he watched the old brittle paper of the book smoke and the flames dance on the deck of the USS Octane. There was a small part of him inside that screamed, that begged for him to put the fire out. The Behemoth snarled, he pushed the feelings down, he buried them at sea as he kicked the books remains into the ocean.
He looked at his reflection in the water, and finally after thirty eight years:
Clay Byrd was his own man.