”I’m not just taking the road less traveled, I’m carving my own damn path.”
– Jarif Billah
I. Dios, Patria y Libertad
Mariscal Sucre International Airport
As the plane touched down, a sense of excitement and anticipation coursed through the veins of Dan Ryan. It was an old feeling, one he hadn’t felt in such a long time. Things had grown so stale, so monotonous. It had sapped his will and strength away. But he was finding new strength.
He looked out through the small window of his airplane as it taxied down the runway. He had heard stories of Quito’s rich history, stunning landscapes, and vibrant culture, but that wasn’t what excited him. There was another fight coming, one he had been anticipating, expecting, for a long, long time.
Stepping off the aircraft, he was immediately hit by the crisp mountain air that enveloped him. The panoramic view of the surrounding Andean peaks added a touch of awe-inspiring beauty to his arrival. As he made his way through the airport, he was greeted by airport staff. They were much warmer and more eager than what he was used to, eager to assist him with any questions or needs he might have. He waved them off, however, and they acquiesced with a nod.
Once outside the airport, Dan found his car and handed his bags off to the driver, who calmly placed them in the section just behind the driver’s cab, then embarked on the short journey to the hotel.
As he gazed out of the window, he looked up at the city’s diverse architecture. The mix of colonial-style buildings and modern skyscrapers showcased Quito’s blend of tradition and progress. The beauty of it was lost on him though. He wasn’t even looking at it, really. He was looking through it.
Arriving at his hotel located in the heart of the historic center, he stepped out onto a cobblestone street and looked down the length of it, where it was adorned with centuries-old buildings that seemed to whisper stories of the city’s past.
Or someone’s past.
He stopped as the driver handed over his bag and looked just down the street at the towering spires of the Basilica del Voto Nacional and the ornate facades of the Plaza Grande, and made a decision.
Giving quick instructions to the driver, he handed his bag back to him and started to walk down the street. He had a similar feeling in Mexico City. It was eerie how similar things were. Only slight differences helped him understand the uniqueness of where he was. The energy of the city was palpable, with locals going about their daily lives and street vendors offering an array of tantalizing street food. One of them offered up a free sample of an empanada and a cup of Ecuadorian coffee. He didn’t know if it was because he’d been recognized or if the man was simply super friendly, but the man smiled as he handed them to the big foreigner and gestured to a small sitting area with tables and chairs. Dan sat down. The empanada was spectacularly good. He’d have to thank Lee for touring down here.
His phone buzzed, and he looked down at where it was sitting on the table. Recognizing the number immediately, he picked it up and held it to his ear.
“Yes, I’m here. Just checked in…”
He took a sip of his coffee.
“Understood. I’ll take care of it.”
He had come here to do a job, not sight-see, so he stood from his chair and, taking one last sip of the coffee, pulled out two twenties and a ten, and held it out for the vendor. The smallish man waved it off.
“Sin cargo,” he said, and shook his head no, but Dan insisted, reached out and firmly grasped the man’s hand, and placed the money there. The man, much smaller than Dan Ryan, couldn’t refuse if he wanted to, so instead he smiled and nodded, and said “Gracias”.
Dan nodded, then started back up the street to the hotel.
About ten minutes later, he arrived at his room and walked over to the large panoramic windows which showed him the city from an impressive vantage point, as far as the eye could see.
War Games was over. PWA02… over. War Games had been disappointing in some ways, but overall, a triumph for the Alliance, and that was always his primary goal. PWA02 was a success. He and Jatt were now PWA Tag Team Champions, the best tag team in at least five different companies by right. But despite the triumph of the Alliance at War Games, there was still some unfinished business.
Dan had tried. God knows he tried to wake Clay the hell up and get him to be something more than a sad cowboy riding the range and singing old country western ballads, but Clay was Clay. He didn’t rise to the challenge at War Games. He didn’t rise to anything. He went out with a whimper, and while they weren’t friends, never would be, Dan had expected more.
A surge of anger washed over him. The encounter with Clay at War Games reignited feelings of frustration and disappointment that had been building over time. In Dan’s eyes, Clay had become nothing short of pathetic.
As the images of Clay’s failure flashed through Dan’s head, his mind raced with thoughts of all the ways he believed Clay had let the team down, let him down, let himself down. He saw a man who lacked ambition, who constantly made excuses for his failures, and who seemed content with mediocrity. The thought of Clay triggered another wave of anger, fueled by a deep-seated resentment.
Clay Byrd’s complacency and lack of drive were holding him back from reaching his full potential. There were wasted opportunities and untapped talent. The anger Dan felt was a reflection of his own frustration with witnessing someone he once had respect for squander their abilities. Dan was thinking of himself. It was an intense feeling because there were parts of him that hadn’t forgiven himself for his own failure. But where he had chosen to stand up, take ownership and face the music, Clay had chosen to sulk away like a scolded puppy and lay down in a corner somewhere, perhaps to the place where all failed High Octane competitors go to die.
As the anger swelled, he struggled to contain his emotions. He wanted to put Clay out of his misery, to unleash his frustration and disappointment in a fiery moment of violence. But he also recognized the futility of such a thing. Nothing is changing. This is no longer a method of motivation. It’s vengeance. It’s payback. It’s discipline. God’s wrath.
Something else rose within him, something darker. A storm raged within him again, fueled by anger, aggression, and a distorted perception of power. His mind echoed with twisted justifications, finding validation in a world he believed had wronged him. Grievances, real or imagined, fueled his rage, driving him further down a treacherous path. Violence had always been his language, his way of asserting control and dominance over a world that he believed had betrayed him
He reveled in the rush of adrenaline that surged through his veins, the intoxicating feeling of power and superiority as he unleashed his brutality upon others. It was a distorted expression of his inner turmoil, a destructive outlet for the pain and frustration that consumed him.
He closed his eyes more tightly and fantasized about the infliction of pain, the satisfaction of seeing fear in the eyes of his victims. Dark impulses and vengeful desires danced through his mind, whispering promises of retribution and a twisted sense of justice. The lines between right and wrong blurred in his distorted perception, replaced by a perverse moral compass that justified his violent actions.
But then, amidst the darkness, glimmers of humanity occasionally flickered within him. Moments of remorse and self-reflection pierced through the fog of the violent thoughts, reminders of the person he once was before succumbing to the allure of brutality.
The violent man remained, and he was a prisoner of his own rage, trapped in a cycle of violence that seemed impossible to break. Inside was a lost soul, consumed by hatred, yearning for redemption, but ultimately, he believed, condemned to perpetuate a legacy of pain.
Dan breathed deeply, and the anger began to subside. In the end, his thoughts, and his anger, served as a wake-up call. He worked to regain control. Calm, focused determination was necessary to do the job he had been given. He couldn’t save Clay Byrd, but he still had the power to shape his own path and make choices that would lead to a more fulfilling and successful future. He closed his eyes and vowed to forge ahead with determination, resilience, and a renewed sense of purpose.
He walked away from the window, sat down, and stared in quiet consternation.
He would not let his nature win.
”Giving up is so easy, because it requires no effort, just reasons and excuses for not pursuing something whole-heartedly and willingly.”
II. Jars of Clay
I’ve been sitting here thinking about what I want to say to you for some time, Clay.
I don’t know where you are or what you’ve been doing the last week or so. I saw you at Evan Ward’s service, looking for food. I remember there was a time when you approached me after a show, years ago, and you made it clear that you had always wanted to get into the ring and face me one on one, one Texan against another. I didn’t know who you were, but I found out quickly.
You came out of the gate hot.
Lots of people come out of the gate hot in High Octane. Lee is a smart businessman. He knows how to make new signings look good. The better you look, the more money ends up in his pocket. Basic business principles. But a lot of people who come to High Octane have that measure of success and then start to get cocky about it. The psychology of wrestling men… or women… Week after week, month after month creates a rollercoaster of emotions that will eat up the inside of a weak-minded man every time. Because eventually, if you’re not drawing money anymore, the boss grows tired of you. Suddenly you aren’t being featured on posters anymore. Suddenly you’re not in every main event getting chance after chance after chance.
You’re a big, tough Texan. That’s a special enough physical reality that it’s worth pointing out in most places. In Texas, there are a million people who look like you, maybe a million that look like me. You weren’t even the biggest, toughest guy in your own house growing up, were you? We make ‘em different down there, and while I may have been taken to Japan at a young age, that toughness is ingrained in me by way of generations of the Ryan family putting down roots in the Lone Star State far before I was even a thought. So everyone can believe me when I say that a real man… a real TEXAN… would not let himself become the sniveling, emotional little dirty shit you’ve become.
You complain and complain, and it hurts my fucking head, Clay. You bitch because you say the boss keeps sending people out to stop you from succeeding. Who alienated the boss in the first place?? He wants to make money. You want to spit in his face to establish your pride, and what did it get you? It made you an enemy out of the man who signs your checks. Is that smart, Clay? How is that working out for you?
Maybe you stayed behind in Mexico City and decided to live there under the assumed name El Clay Pollo. Get a lucha mask and be the biggest luchador South of the Pecos.
I’m not gonna sit here and try to verbally rip you to shreds like Mike would. In the state you’re in, what would be the point of that? It’s like kicking a dead horse. And what would you say back, anyway? What a cheater I am. Some clever phrase with copy and paste in it? Stick your head through the fourth wall and say “Here’s Johnny?”
No, instead I’m just gonna say this.
I’m disappointed. God knows so many people tried with you. I attacked you at ICONIC. Did I do that to help you? No, of course not. I did it because it was the job I had been given, and I always get the job done. But some small part of me also hoped that it would wake you up, that you would get angry, that you would come out swinging, belly full of fire ready to take on the world. But that’s not what I got at all. You whimpered away and drank yourself into a broken state of being, you ate a bunch of shit, got fat, and lazy, sang sad cowboy songs out on the range, and cried into your pillow at night while praying to your John Wayne posters for guidance.
America tried to goad you into manning up. Evan Ward tried to goad you into manning up. And then, when I ended up on your War Games team, I tried yet again to goad you into manning up. But maybe there just isn’t a man inside of you, to begin with. Maybe all you are is a hollow shell of a man who is more interested in putting on this show of confidence and toughness, which is ultimately exposed as a fraud. You’re a sad, bitter little man. I don’t care how tall you are or how ‘big-boned’ you are. You’re small. You’re small where it matters. You’re not deep, you’re not dark, you’re not mysterious. You’re every whiny-ass kid who went into his room and moped himself to sleep at night. You’re a caricature of an uninspired, shallow nobody, dressed up in a duster and a cowboy hat drinkin’ Jack Daniels. You ‘led’ us into War Games and turned up impotent. There’s no light behind your eyes anymore, Clay. No fire. You might as well be dead.
So where does that leave us, Clay?
If you can’t be motivated to be better… if you can’t be provoked to righteous anger and take revenge on all of these people who you say have harmed you… if nothing I can say or do can get you to do anything more than throw a couple of uninspired lariats my way while just hoping one of them connects, where do we go from here? Because if that’s who you are, I’m here to tell you… friend… it’s my job to put you out of your misery. You’re headed to the scrap pile with Jace Parker Davidson, or headed on to bluer pastures like Arthur Pleasant, Bobby Dean, Cancer Jiles, Darin Zion, and Lindsay Troy.
Speaking of Lindsay, maybe you could give her a call and form a little group with her somewhere. You know, somewhere where you can just do what you want, say what you want, cry into each other’s shoulders, maybe slap a cute Latin name on it and… oh wait… did you already do that? You already did that, didn’t you?
It’s appropriate. That’s who you are. You’re a cowboy Lindsay Troy… with fewer balls.
I give you less than a month, Clay. Less than a month and you’re gone from HOW. You won’t be back either, because you’re gonna go find a place where your special brand of horseshit gets you a safe place where no one ever hurts your feelings and no one ever, ever tries to steal your joy. You’ll get to take part in lots of fun little events that are almost exactly like HOW, but not quite. Go ahead, join the choir, Clay. You’ve sung your sad songs here long enough.
Or maybe it won’t take a month.
Maybe it’ll only be about two days from now.
If you’ve got any passion, inner strength, and resilience left in those tired old bones, this is your absolute final chance to show it. After this, there’s nothing. It’s your last chance to prove to Lee, to prove to all of us, to prove to yourself… that you’re worth the effort.
If I were you, and I had spent my whole life trying to get my father’s approval the way you have, I think I’d have a little more guts than you. You lost everything that made you great a long time ago, or maybe you weren’t great at all. The one thing I know for sure though?
Your dad would be so ashamed of you.