”Have you ever met someone for the first time, but in your heart you feel as if you’ve met them before?”
– JoAnne Kenrick
IV. NOT KNOWING IS HALF THE FUN
Bosque de las Lomas neighborhood
Mexico City, Mexico.
Dan Ryan steps out of an imported Ford F350 onto the curb in front of a large metal structure, taking a duffle bag from the passenger seat and slipping it over his shoulder. The warehouse-turned-training center is a vast and dynamic space designed to accommodate the rigorous training needs of local aspiring and professional wrestlers alike.
Dan takes off his sunglasses and looks around as he walks through the front door.
It has an industrial charm and purposeful layout, providing an ideal environment for athletes to hone their skills and prepare for the demanding world of professional wrestling. As he looks around, he’s greeted by the impressive scale of the warehouse, not obvious from the outside. The high ceiling allows ample room for acrobatic maneuvers and high-flying stunts, a staple of the local lucha wrestling scene, while the open layout offers unobstructed training areas.
The interior is well-lit, with a combination of natural light streaming in through large windows and strategically placed artificial lighting to ensure visibility throughout the space.
The central training area, covering the majority of the warehouse floor, is covered in a high-quality, shock-absorbing wrestling mat. The mat, which spans the width and length of the training area, provides a safe and supportive surface for athletes to practice their moves, grapples, and takedowns, with the mat’s firmness capable of being adjusted to cater to different training needs and preferences.
Scattered throughout the training center are various types of wrestling rings, each catering to specific training requirements. The main wrestling ring, placed prominently in the center, features sturdy ropes and turnbuckles, providing a realistic experience for performers to practice their in-ring techniques, like rope running, turnbuckle maneuvers, and high-risk aerial moves. Additional rings are set up to accommodate tag team matches, hardcore matches, and even cage matches, allowing wrestlers to train for different scenarios they might encounter in their careers, and to meet the needs of the bustling international wrestling business that thrives in Central Mexico.
The periphery of the warehouse is equipped with state-of-the-art strength and conditioning equipment. The area features a range of weightlifting machines, free weights, resistance bands, and cardio machines to help wrestlers develop their strength, endurance, and overall fitness. Mirrors line the walls, offering athletes the opportunity to analyze their technique and refine their movements.
Adjacent to the strength and conditioning area are dedicated spaces for specialized training. These include a padded area for practicing high-impact moves and falls, a section with mock-up props and furniture for practicing match setups and improvisation, and a professional-grade video analysis room equipped with multiple screens and recording equipment, with which trainers and wrestlers can review footage, analyze performances, and strategize for upcoming matches.
The facility’s walls are adorned with motivational quotes, wrestling memorabilia, and posters of legendary wrestlers, inspiring trainees to push themselves to their limits and embrace the wrestling business.
Dan looks toward the main ring and he sees Craig Massey there, arms crossed, and looking at a lineup of five luchadores, each in a different colored mask. Dan walks down the middle aisle toward the ring and Craig turns, catching sight of him as he approaches.
Dan looks at him and nods lightly. “This is a pretty impressive setup.”
He looks around the building again, then finally back at Craig.
“It might be the nicest training facility I’ve ever seen.”
Craig smiles. “They take the craft very seriously here. Respect and honor are all-important, so they put everything they have into perfecting the art of our sport.”
Dan chuckles slightly.
“Respect and honor, huh? How nice. What’s with the guys in the ring?”
Craig turns back to the ring.
“Well, we talked about how you need to train as much as possible for this match. You have to expect the unexpected, suspect the unlikely, and keep your head on a swivel. The first lesson, since there is the possibility of a mystery luchador being part of Evan Ward’s team, is the art of Lucha and defense. These are your training partners today.”
Dan looks at them, and absent-mindedly slips his bag strap from his shoulder and deposits the bag on the floor.
Dan crosses his arms as Craig climbs up into the ring and approaches the men one by one.
“The first gentleman here in the green mask is El Hombre Verde.”
One of Dan’s eyebrows shoots up. “That sounds like an entrée.”
Craig ignores him.
“The second gentleman in the red mask is El Hombre Rojo.”
“I see,” Dan replies.
Craig steps over to the third man.
“Here in the yellow mask is El Hombre Amarillo.”
Dan makes a cringe face. “That feels racist somehow. I better ask Solex. He’ll know for sure.”
Craig moves along to the fourth man, who looks sad.
“The man in the blue mask, fresh from performing with his group, is El Hombre Azul.”
Dan stares straight at him and he lowers his head shyly. Internally, Dan groans at the ‘Blue Man Group’ joke.
Finally, Craig steps over to the last man, who is standing in a proud pose with hands on each hip. He’s bigger than the others, and his mask is a light brown color, not unlike the color of an old shit stain. For some reason, he is holding a plastic sword.
“And this… I’m sorry, I didn’t actually catch your name?”
The man steps forward proudly and speaks in a decidedly American accent.
“I AM EL HOMBRE… light brown.”
And then he does an elaborate Spanish sword-fighting routine, ending in a crouching stance. Seeing the unimpressed expression on Dan Ryan’s face, he quickly returns to his spot alongside the rest of his Lucha brethren.
Dan’s eyes go wide momentarily and he shakes his head, then climbs up onto the apron and steps inside the ring. Craig passes him and climbs down to stand on the floor.
“Alright,” he says, assuming a position in the middle of the ring. “Let’s go.”
The five men form a circle around him, and the ‘Light Brown’ hombre hops from foot to foot, doing mock calisthenics while the others adopt a fighting pose.
Dan looks from man to man, keeping an eye on each of them and preparing for whatever may be coming. Suddenly El Hombre Light Brown advances forward and Judo chops Dan on his shoulder from behind with a loud “HIYAAA!!”
Dan turns around, frowning, and when he does so, all four remaining hombres run and throw a knee at him as high as they can, aiming for the head, but not reaching it. Mostly they hit his arms as he tries to swat them away.
Dan chops El Hombre Verde across the chest and all hundred fifty pounds of him flies back like he was shot out of a cannon. Dan turns to El Hombre Azul, grabs him by both sides of his mask, and flings him into the air, sending him careening over the top rope and into some metal folding chairs. El Hombre Rojo charges in again, but Dan halts him with a one-handed choke and holds him in place, watching as the much smaller man’s eyes bulge out in fear. Not wasting any time, Dan lifts him into the air and then chokeslams him down over his knee. The sound of bones cracking makes Craig Massey wince at ringside.
Dan twists around quickly and comes face to face with El Hombre Amarillo who is standing in place, with an Amarillo streak running down the front of his tights. Not wasting any time, the young man bolts for the ropes and flings himself out and to the mat on the outside of the ring. Craig Massey watches on in amazement as he sprints for the door. On the inside of the ring, Dan watches as the man tries to burst through the door, bounces off, then looks back at the ring before finally simply opening the door and running out.
Back in the ring, Dan turns to face El Hombre Light Brown, the only hombre left standing.
He prances around, then backs into a corner, not knowing what to do or where to go. Dan charges toward him in the corner, but El Hombre Light Brown raises both hands, sword still in hand, in terror and screams out, “NO! DON’T! IT’S ME!!”
Dan pulls up, confused, and watches as the man pulls his mask off to reveal Scott Hunter, the young man whom Phyllis charged him with mentoring.
“Oh for God’s sake.”
Dan turns to Craig and throws his hands up.
“Really?? This guy?”
He turns back to Scott. “Dude, what the fuck are you doing?”
Stammering, Scott replies, “H-H-He said to just act like El Hombre Blanco, so I said okay… only… I don’t know who El Hombre Blanco is.”
Dan rolls his eyes.
Scott keeps going though.
“So I went online and used the google to look him up, and I saw how everybody thinks that he is Mike Best. So I used the google to look up Mike Best and found out that he likes to hit people with knees and also is the best, which is how he got his name, and also probably is good at sword fighting and likes street tacos. So I told the other guys to hit you with their knees and I practiced sword fighting because I really like The Princess Bride. Craig was supposed to bring the tacos.”
Scott looks at Craig and shakes his head. “Nice going, Craig.”
Dan stares at him, incredulous. “Wait… stop. What the ever living fuck are you talking about? Sword fighting? Princess Bride??”
He turns again to Craig Massey, flustered.
“I don’t have time for this foolishness, Craig. This is deadly serious business. This is the biggest match of the year, the biggest match I’ve had since coming back. The odds are stacked against me, there are so many variables that I need to prepare for.”
Scott holds a hand up. “I’m super variable. I’m probably the most variable person you’ve ever met. That’s why my friends call me ‘Varys’.”
Dan’s eyes narrow.
“That’s definitely a character on Game of Thrones.”
“Yes!” Scott replies. “And that show has lots of sword fighting. Ergo, vis a vis, concordantly…”
Scott waves a hand as if to say, ‘there you go’.
“Um… Scott?” Dan walks slowly toward him. “It’s okay. At ease. Do you mind?”
He gestures for the plastic sword, and Scott slowly and carefully hands it over. Dan takes it and turns to walk a few steps away. He looks back at Scott and smiles an insincere smile as he holds up his index finger as if asking for a moment.
“Just one second…”
He then turns around, takes the plastic sword, and tries to stab himself in the stomach with it. It does nothing except annoy him, so he frowns and tries again. Finally, he sighs and tosses it out of the ring.
“I was hoping it was real.”
Craig, despite himself, snorts a laugh. Dan gives him the evil eye though, and he straightens right up.
Dan turns back to Scott, looks up at the ceiling briefly, squeezes his eyes shut, then opens them again and looks straight at him.
Scott jumps to attention, a shit-eating grin on his face, excited.
“I assume Phyllis got you a place to stay?”
He nods excitedly. “Oh yes, she’s very nice for an older lady. Not really my type but if I was really desperate or on a stage in Tijuana…”
Scott stops and smiles again. “Yes, boss??”
“Go back to your hotel, Scott.”
Dan looks at him sternly, no-nonsense behind the words. Scotts face droops and his shoulders match suit, and he slowly walks to the ropes. He stops at the ropes and turns back around as if about to speak, but Dan cuts him off.
Scott frowns sadly and then climbs through the ropes, and starts walking across the gym slowly, quietly singing “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure.
Dan watches him go, shaking his head slightly, then looks down at Craig as he leans on the ropes.
“Great idea, Craig.”
Dan climbs through the ropes and hops down to the floor and stands next to his business partner, who smiles as he looks back at him. “I think he actually helped you out though, boss. War Games is all about the unexpected. Did you expect any of that?”
“No, I definitely did not,” Dan says smirking. “What’s next? Are you having a bald eagle brought in to prepare me just in case one of those damn birds tries to grab me with their talons and fly me away somewhere right out of the match?”
Craig’s eyes go wide slightly, but only briefly. He doesn’t say anything, but Dan catches the expression.
Craig’s eyes go wide again as the door across the building opens. Dan turns to see who’s coming through the door. When he does so, his eyes go wide and his jaw drops.
Suddenly, there is a loud screeching noise.
Dan just stares.
“I’ll be damned.”
”A man should be able to hear, and to bear, the worst that could be said of him.”
– Saul Bellow
V. EL CAPITANO TWO
Steve, there are some things I’ve wanted to say to you for a long time. Steve Solex… War Games captain. At the risk of pulling back the curtain a little bit, I want to thank you for being one of the people who stood up and offered a hand when I needed it most. When I was down, when some of the people in our business kicked me in the gut, you reached out your hand and helped me get back up again.
Far too often, we assign these two-dimensional characteristics to manhood. You are a man’s man. You’re a tough bastard. It doesn’t really matter to me what you’ve done in the past. And I don’t really care what anyone else has to say about it either. You helped inspire me to stand up and take all of the insults, all of the jokes, and everything that comes with standing up and taking your lumps so that I could come back stronger than ever.
All I know is you were a true friend when I needed a true friend the most, and for that, I am forever thankful to you.
Now… having said that, we are, after all, warriors. Both of us are fighters. That’s probably why we get along. Both of us hate excuses and whining. That’s another reason why we get along. Lee was smart to spread us out. Three of the four teams have Alliance members on them. It’s a brilliant strategy. One way or another, the Alliance is going to win. We will make sure of that. It’s a complicated matter. We may need to work with people we normally wouldn’t to make this happen, but our job is clear, and we’ll do it. I can trust that you’ll do it. That’s what a man’s man does.
I’m not gonna shit talk you or your team. I respect you too much for that. I respect STRONK too much for that. I’m proud of that kid. I see a lot of myself in him, but he’s blazing his own path ultimately, and if I can help him out the same way I’ve been helped out, I will.
America’s gonna take his head off, I guarantee it. I don’t know if he can pull himself away from his leisure time to give it the old college try, but even if he does, he’s not helping our cause, not in a million years.
Darin Zion and Hollywood are going to be what they always are. They’re going to fight their hearts out. They’re gonna give it their all and they’ll figure out a way to be an inspiration. Every time I turn around they’re just a split second away from the biggest win of their careers. Wouldn’t that be something? Wouldn’t that be something if Darin Zion or Brian Hollywood is the man to eliminate one of the biggest names in the company, whoever you may consider them to be? Something shocking like this is going to happen. It’s pretty much guaranteed. Only the unexpected should be expected, and we have to be ready for all of it.
We may end up having to fight, but I expect you to be in this match for a long time, man. If we have to come to blows, I’ll show you the respect you deserve and give you everything I have, and I want the same from you. That’s how men handled their business. And when the time comes to choose whether or not to do the right thing, I have absolutely no doubt that you’ll do it, and you can trust and know that I’ll do it as well. We both know what that is. I won’t fail, and neither will you.
We’re about to be in the fight of our lives…
And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
”Alas, raising a young lady is a mystery even beyond an enchanter’s skill.”
– Lloyd Alexander
VI. LIKE WAVES CRASHING ON THE SAND
As the bustling heartbeat of Mexico, Mexico City pulsates with vibrant energy, captivating the sense of anyone who ventures out into its bustling streets. Amidst this captivating urban tapestry, Dan Ryan walks, immersing himself in the rich tapestry of local culture that unravels before his very eyes.
As he steps onto the sun-drenched pavement, the air whispers with a tantalizing blend of aromatic street food, the lively chatter of locals, and the faint strains of mariachi music echoing in the distance. His eyes widen in awe as he gazes upon the city’s architectural marvels, a seamless blend of ancient and modern, reflecting the layers of history and tradition that have shaped this metropolis.
He rounds a corner, approaching the Zócalo, the heart of the city, where he finds himself surrounded by centuries of history. Towering above him is the Metropolitan Cathedral, an awe-inspiring testament to colonial grandeur, with its intricate facades and soaring spires. Nearby, the Templo Mayor stands as a haunting reminder of the city’s Aztec past, its ancient ruins evoking a sense of wonder and mystery.
Venturing deeper into the labyrinthine streets, he discovers the vibrant markets of Mexico City. The sights and sounds assault his senses as he weaves through the bustling crowds, admiring the kaleidoscope of colors displayed by the stalls. The aromas of freshly ground spices, ripe fruits, and sizzling street tacos waft through the air, enticing him to sample the city’s culinary delights.
He pauses at a shop run by a local vendor, and he begins to peruse the items on a shelf near the front of the open-air establishment. Just then he hears a short peal of high-pitched laughter behind him. He turns and sees a smallish man around five-foot-five or so with a little girl of six or seven years old sitting on his shoulders, her hands being held by her father’s hands to keep her from falling backward. He makes sudden gestures and movements, jumping back and forth, causing the little girl to squeal with joy. He watches her and his face drops, as suddenly memories flood over him.
He turns away and walks further down the street. The rhythmic beats of salsa and cumbia spill out of lively cantinas, drawing him in with their infectious energy, but he continues on. He takes a quick look back as the man and his daughter disappear into the distance and into the crowds, and his thoughts linger on his own family. He looks around as he walks, and he is constantly reminded of the city’s paradoxical nature, its chaotic yet harmonious coexistence. In every corner, he encounters the juxtaposition of old and new, tradition and innovation.
He had done things the old way, a way that was washed away now. He wanted to protect her, protect them, and he wanted to fight to make sure they had everything they ever wanted, but in the process somewhere he lost himself.
The resounding echoes of Aztec drums reverberate alongside the honking horns of modern traffic, reminding him that Mexico City is a living testament to the resilience of its people.
He would have to be resilient, too. For his wife, for his daughter, for his career.
Inside, he continues to grapple with a truth that weighs heavily upon him – the realization that he has fallen short in his roles as husband and father, of a friend as well, and despite all of his success, ultimately fallen short in his career. My how the mighty fall.
With each step he takes, a whirlwind of emotions churns within him – regret, guilt, and a profound sense of loss. Memories, both beautiful and painful, flicker through his mind like fragments of an unfinished puzzle. He considers all of the moments missed, all of the times he was on the road, all of the firsts, the laughter he failed to share, the guidance he neglected to give, and the love he struggled to express haunt his thoughts.
In his quest for redemption, he sought guidance and support. He found it in some surprising places. He found solace in the company of friends who offered both empathy and tough love, gently reminding him of the power he still holds to make amends.
It’s not too late. Until he takes his final breath, it’s never too late. Life is about more than being the toughest son of a bitch alive. All of the accolades in the world mean nothing if you don’t earn them. He didn’t used to think this way. Win at all costs. Make as much money as you can. But all of the money a man can earn can’t fix relationships.
The fight is now, here in Mexico, and it’s here that he will fulfill his new purpose. This is the road he has chosen.
He thinks back to the little girl with her father again, and this time he smiles.