So we won.
I know it sounds so basic when I put it that way, but I wanted to do cartwheels in the ring. I wanted to pick Jack up and kiss him on the lips for getting a three count. Yeah, gross, he’s as old as my dad and he’s got kids nearly my age. And I’ve got the boy at home.
Just trying to articulate how happy I was to finally put one in the win column.
Unless you go on last – and therefore have reason to hang out in the ring and give the fans a little something extra, pretty much no matter who you are or what else you’ve got going on on the show, you leave the ring after your match, if you don’t need a medic you strip outta your sweaty and gross gear, and you shower. Clean up. All that ish. After that?
After that, it’s anyone’s game. Back in Utah, me, Fears, and Kush would book it to the nearest barbecue joint. Since then? Ask Adrien – I wanna dance.
And now we see the biggest difference between being on tour with Adrian Evans and being on tour with my dad…
Eli Flair: No.
Well. Well that’s definitive.
MJF: I don’t think you get it, Daddy. We just won – this is taking me back to like… November, without my hand raised. That doesn’t earn a bit’a celebration?
Father and daughter are standing behind the people gathered in front of the mass of monitors broadcasting March to Glory. A few of the High Octane essential are watching the entire thing, but for the most part, people are catching a few minutes to gauge where the show is and then they move on.
Eli Flair (nodding): Don’t get me wrong, kiddo – a win’s a win, and a win that stops a skid, that means somethin’. But lemmee ask ya, what’s going on in the ring right now?
Her party boots still in her hands, MJ pushes up on her toes to look over some of the taller heads. The near seven foot tall Eli just folds his arms across his chest and turns his head.
MJF: Looks… like… they’re puttin’ the final touches on the cage.
Eli Flair: Very good. Who won, Stevens or Hollywood?
At that, MJ lowers to her feet and faces him, her eyes drifting.
MJF: …I dunno…
Eli Flair: Yup. You and Jack, you’re the number one contenders to the belts. Who ya gonna face?
MJF: Probably the Hollywood Bruvs, if I was puttin’ a prediction on it–
Eli Flair: Exactly.
He walks to an abandoned table and pulls two folding chairs away from it. MJ watches him with interest, then a bit of self-consciousness as he plants the chairs in front of the rest of the gathering and gestures for her to sit.
Eli Flair: You’ve got a tag team title shot against a team ya don’t know. You’ve told me over and over, you wanna get yourself another shot at that LSD Title but wanna go out to the clubs instead’a seeing how the LSD Champion works his shit.
Sitting down in one chair, he stares at MJ until she reluctantly joins him, just in time for The Deacon to begin his entrance.
Eli Flair: I know the deal, kiddo. Ya got a lotta raw talent, and it’s served ya pretty well t’date, but raw talent only gets ya so far.
MJF: It’s got me two World title reigns, so…
He laughs, which causes her face to flush.
MJF: So I’ve got two, you’ve got fifteen. How many’a those were in companies that mattered?
While her father still laughs, he looks at her, shaking his head.
Eli Flair: Enough that ain’t nobody can look at my career’n tell me I wasn’t legit. Look, MJ… you did great in the minor leagues. Course ya did. But this place?
He gestures all around them.
Eli Flair: This some legit shit. And if y’wanna make it here, y’need the raw talent. Y’need the refinement. Y’need self – discipline. And ya need t’be as lucky as you fuckin’ can.
A sudden tap on both their shoulders causes them to turn – and look right at Jack Harmen.
Jack Harmen: All right, lady and gent, I’m out the door. See ya when I see ya?
Eli holds up his hand, and Harmen shakes.
Eli Flair: Good match, kid.
MJ looks incredulously at her father, and then at Jack and back to her father again. Harmen realizes something is happening here, and he simply claps MJ on the shoulder. MJ watches him walk away, then returns her attention to Eli, who points at the screen.
Eli Flair: So that’s the dude, huh? Max Kael.
MJF: What the shit was that, Daddy? How come you’re not ridin’ Jack’s ass about prepping?
Eli Flair: Cause I ain’t trainin’ him. Plus, Jack’s been doin’ this twenty years, kiddo… win or lose, he’ll be ready.
The old man stretches his legs out, and the show continues on the monitors in front of them.
Hotel. Night. The television is on, but muted.
me: we did pretty good. Jack got the pin but I held my own against dude more than 2x my size.
kev: that’s my girl! so happy for you. when you back?
me: flight 2morow but prob cant see u, training.
Kev: is ok. just like to know you’re home safe.
me: knock on the door gtg lv u.
MJF: Two seconds!
She grabs a pair of exercise shorts from her bag and pulls them on, half hopping to the door. There’s no mystery who’s there, at this late hour nobody else is awake. MJ unlocks the dead bolt and security bar and greets her dad.
Eli Flair: I’m hittin’ it, kiddo. You call you mom yet?
MJF: Not yet, I was gonna–
She’s interrupted by the familiar ‘ding’ sound of a text message received. Eli raises an eyebrow even as she closes her own eyes.
Eli Flair: It’s cool.
MJF: Since when?
He looks both ways down the hall, aware of the fact that voices carry.
Eli Flair: Can I come in for a minute?
She backs up and steps to the side so he can enter the room without bouncing into the walls. The phone on the bed beeps again.
MJF: We were just saying goodnight is all, he wanted to know how the match went. I swear there isn’t–
Eli Flair: Stop, kiddo.
He holds up a hand.
Eli Flair: This is your time. The matches are over, the post-show reactions are done. When I told ya that ya needed t’focus I didn’t mean you and ya boy needed ta’ cut off all contact. Just… right now, your priority is your career, and your place in th’sport.
Eli Flair: Right?
MJ hesitates, but she nods. Eli’s face softens, and he hugs his daughter.
Eli Flair: Get some sleep, wake up call’s at five.
As he walks to the door, MJ stops and processes that for a few seconds.
MJF: Wait… what? Five?
Eli Flair: Pre-flight workout, kiddo. Unless you’re hurt, it’s one’a the most important things y’can do when you’re tryin’a make a splash.
He pulls the door open and barely stops it before it crashes into the wall.
Eli Flair: And call your mother.
“Congratulations are in order, I guess. Good on you, winning the tag titles so quickly, Andy. I mean, ya certainly surprised me. No offense but if I was a gamblin’ woman, my money’d’ve been on the Hollywood Bruvs.”
“Is that cool? Andy? I’d call you ‘Murray’ but that just makes ya sound like an old man. We have mutual friends who insist that you’re actually Big Murrr. But I prefer Andy. It’s familiar but professional; we’ve shared a backstage on a handful of occasions.”
“But we’re not friends. Obviously.”
“It’s just a shame you and little Jimmy are the High Octane Tag Team Champions despite not being able to actually beat the Champions for ‘em. I know, I know… ya beat the Group’a Death after runnin’ the Gauntlet. There’s nothin’ t’diss about that ish, man.”
“The fact is, Kael and Fartypants won the Tag Team belts last Winter. I know I made some insulting comments about how the eMpire brought Ryan and Troy ta’carry their luggage, but it seems like they carried their luggage to Italy and lost ‘em, despite not having won ‘em. “For the eMpire’s sake, I hope they didn’t tip.”
“It’s one thing for Ryan and Lindsay ta wanna run with the devils, but in the Van Halen of the Group’a Death… they’re clearly Gary Cherone.”
“But that’s neither here nor there.”
“Andy. The King.”
“The fuck are you even doin’ here?”
“The gauntlets. The cages. The War Games. The LSD. The Rock.”
“Is this really what you was thinkin’ of when ya wanted ta try again?”
“I have no illusions over the way this match is gonna go, Andy. I’mma put up the good fight. I’mma keep you off balance, go for ya knee, and try ta’ keep this one goin’ as long as I can. Longer matches favor the young.”
“And then you’ll get hold’a me. Punch, kick, uppercut, hangover. Three count, and polite applause over the way I hung in there against a legend and came THIS CLOSE to to an upset.”
“Or maybe I’ll flip the script. I dunno, Andy – and that’s the key. None of us are gonna know until we get there, because win or lose, the athlete that guarantees victory is a fuckin’ idiot.”
“I’m willing ta bet that the Champion you beat ta’ win your first Championship said something about the same ta you, didn’t he? Of course, I’m no Andy Murray.”
“Newsflash, asshole – at the time – neither was you.”
Garage. Or gym. Or Crossfit box. Take your pick, they’re really interchangeable. The front door is wide open, and two professional wrestlers stand in front of it, looking down the block watching MJ Flair jog towards them.
Impulse: This isn’t gonna work. She’s gonna get angry.
Randall ‘Impulse’ Knox paces slowly in front of the opening, squinting in the sunlight. A former World Champion several times over, he is one of a handful of wrestlers in the history of the sport to walk away on his own terms at the height of his physical and mental peak. Citing a weariness of, and a contempt for, the backstabbing and politics of the sport, with the exception of two one off tournaments with no commitment required, he has not wrestled a lick in the past two years. He also had a hand in MJ’s initial training, as she was a minor and was doing so without her parents’ knowledge, she had nowhere else to go.
Eli Flair: Yeah, she gonna get mad, son. But it’s gonna work. At the very least, even if she don’t take out Murrr, she’ll be ready for ‘em.
Eli Flair. The King of Extreme. You’d be hard pressed to find a tougher brawler in his day, or any other. Nearly seven years removed from what he’s come to terms with was the last time he’ll ever step into the ring, the fifteen time former World Champion leans against the side of the entryway, his long graying hair blowing in his face. Having helped teach Impulse to wrestle more than fifteen years ago, there’s a symmetry to the fact that he’s now taken on the responsibility of training his daughter out of the funk she’s been in.
Impulse: I’m just saying, sir. You know she’s stubborn, and she’s got you and Angel’s tempers combined. Push too hard and she’s likely to snap back at you, or outright break.
It’s at that moment that MJ approaches, slowing down and stopping in between the two. She is barely breathing hard, but it’s clear she’s been running for a while.
MJF: Okay… okay, I’m pretty well warmed up. You guys ready?
Eli Flair: Yeah… I’m just gonna observe.
They both look at Impulse.
Impulse: Sorry, friends. Got a few last minute papers to sign to make this place legal.
He taps the side of the building with his knuckles, then fistbumps both Eli and MJ, walking towards the nearest subway entrance. The father and daughter watch him for a minute, then turn to enter. Above the entrance reads a brand new sign:
Terence Cooper Memorial Fitness Center
It’s currently stocked with weights, boxes, kettle bells, rowers, and a ring. MJ pulls out a box, about three feet high, and sets herself in front of it. Deep breath.
Box jumps. One. Two. Thr–
As she makes a vertical leap a third time, Eli kicks the box away from her and she lands just her toes on the edge. Unable to make any sort of adjustment, she tumbles backwards and lands on her ass on the floor.
Eli Flair: Ooops.
Almost immediately, MJ gets back to her feet and shoves him hard. He stumbles back half a step, but he never loses his balance.
MJF: The fuck was that, Dad? You tryin’ ta fuckin’ hurt me?
Eli Flair: Y’think Murray won’t? Y’think he’ll just let ya bounce around the ring‘n take’em out without a word? Get fuckin’ real, he don’t get t’be doin’ this almost thirty years by keepin’ it between the lines.
He kicks the box back where it was.
Eli Flair: Murray ain’t cut from the same cloth as his partners, but he’s on their train right now. He’ll follow the rules when he can, and he’ll break ‘em when he’s gotta.
MJ looks him in the eye and sets herself up for another jump. She fakes one jump, and Eli doesn’t move. After a good thirty seconds of cat – and – mouse, MJ jumps.
Eli kicks the box.
MJ nearly clears it, but the back of her heel catches the edge. Still, she’s able to pivot to one foot on the box and one on the floor, and she didn’t fall again. MJ steadies herself for a half a second, and sticks the landing.
Eli Flair: Aight, aight… good. We’ll come back to that.
He picks up a ten pound ball and a five pound ball, and offers them to her. She grabs the ten pound and walks to the wall, about an arms’ length away. Knees bent, feet under hips, MJ looks up at the wall with the ten pounds at about chin height.
And she stops, and looks at her father.
MJF: So what’s the ish, Daddy? Gonna throw that at me the second I get a rhythm, aren’t’cha?
Eli Flair: Kiddo. I’m your father. I would never hurt you.
She shoots him a skeptical look, then gets herself set up again. Side – eyeing him, she throws the ball upwards, bouncing it off the wall. MJ catches it, drops into a squat, then stands back up, using her momentum to toss the ball again.
And she deftly spins and blocks the five pound ball with her forearm. The other drops down towards her, and she swats it away with her other hand.
MJF: Really, you fucking liar?
Fortunately, she’s smiling.
“What offends me, Andy… is the fact that you seem ta think we’re reachin’ for the same thing.”
“Fuck you and fuck everyone that looks like you.”
“What offends me, Andy… is when ya say that six years ago, whatever… you’d’ve let me make my star on ya name. Big fuckin’ hero.”
“So some years ago you’re a goddamn prince of a man, but now you want what’cha want what’cha want, and the best thing ya could think ta do is pledge a frat house?”
“Is this what I’ve got ta look forward to at the other end’a my career? What’s your redemption about, Andy? What’s your rebirth?”
“World Champion? Again?”
“Main Event player? Again?”
“Listening to a cheering crowd give you validation that yes, you matter? Is that what it’s about, Andy? The participation trophy?”
“At what point is a number just a number? At what point do the championships, at what point do the cheers… at what point does the travel, the aches, the endless grind’a the road… when’s that just turn to white noise?”
“Hasn’t it yet?”
“Because everything I’ve heard about The Legend of Andy Murray, from the titles to the companies to the fact that ya ever actually fought for somethin’… man, I couldn’t keep track of it. Your career ain’t movin’ towards anything anymore, Andy… you don’t live for anything or believe in anything anymore.”
“You’re an off the rack label.”
“You’re not The King, Andy Murray. You’re Andy McMurray.”
“Tell me I’m wrong.”
MJ Flair is in the ring constantly.
Sometimes she wrestles Impulse. His speed and his pure wrestling ability give her a workout, and she’s finding it heartening that she’s close to matching his endurance.
Sometimes she wrestles her father. He’s marginally bigger than Andy Murray, but he’s got the same type of experience and knows all the same shortcuts and dirty tricks.
Sometimes she catches up with her friends at night. Most nights she doesn’t. She hasn’t worked this hard since she was first learning the craft. And that had more than a little to do with with the fact that she was starting from scratch.
“Murray’s wrong, y’know.”
Sitting on the canvas, the strands of MJ’s hair that escaped her braid are plastered to her face with sweat. She’s drinking from a water bottle and alternately holding it to her face and neck to cool down.
MJF: How’s that, man?
She looks up at her father, sitting on the top turnbuckle, crouched over like a comic book vigilante in a scene that would be familiar to old school wrestling fans everywhere. Somehow he’s not sweating.
Eli Flair: Anyone my age worth a shit knows that y’don’t ever toss anyone a softball. Someone’s gonna take his spot, they gotta take it. Honestly, kiddo… everything he said t’you? That’s what I’d be insulted by as a professional.
Another drink of water.
MJF: Yeah? I’m more leanin’ towards the idea that I’m languishin’ in mediocrity, with the impression that my entire future in the sport’s based on whether or not I can get past the almighty Fuckhead McMurray.
Eli Flair: Hahah… well, y’know that ain’t true.
She raises an eyebrow.
MJF: Wow. I thought for sure I was in for another ‘Respect ya elders’ lecture for that.
He shakes his head and climbs down from the turnbuckle.
Eli Flair: Respect’s earned in this game, kiddo. It was offensive t’me, what’cha said about Ryan and Lindz because you started it.
And Eli reaches down to help his daughter up.
Eli Flair: Murray? He went first. Disrespect is a two way street.
MJ puts the water bottle on the mat and grabs his hand, and she lets her father pull her to her feet. No sooner is she up, than she twists her body and executes a perfect judo flip, landing Eli on his back with his wrist expertly tucked behind her bicep in a perfect armbar.
MJF: Didn’t see that coming, didja?
Eli Flair: Naah, I didn’t. Don’t think ya can get Murray with that one, though.
She lets go and now MJ helps her father to his feeet.
MJF: Oh, I getcha.
And MJ leans over to pick up her water.
MJF: Something tells me there ain’t gonna be no pre-match handshake.
“I get it, ya know.”
“Runnin’ in with the Hollywood Bruvs and Little Jimmy? It’s a little obvious. Less so than a toupee and a sports car and a bouffant – laden cougar decked out in leopard spots.”
“Took me a minute, Andy, but I know you. Quick ta point out it took ya two matches ta hold gold. Quick ta point out that you’re–”
“By the fact that Jack Harmen and I have yet ta extract our pound’a flesh from the eMpire’s domestic servants.”
“When? When y’all jumped us? When I was home, in the middle of a breakdown?”
“What could I have done on the day that was worse than what happened? Mike Best told Dan Ryan that he can hold a title when Mike Best tells him he can. Max Kael told Lindsay Troy that enough was enough, and it’s time to end the charade of pretending they think she’s on their level.”
“And let’s not forget what happens when they’re asked to defend titles that don’t belong to ‘em. You might know a little bit about that.”
“All I’d get with a counterattack until now is a bunch’a athletes with a numbers advantage stopping their own fight to team up on me. You know what I call that?”
“But I get you, Andy. You’d’ve run in there, guns-a-blazing… and get ya ass kicked to prove a point.”
“Yeah. You showed them.”
“I get you, Andy. It makes perfect sense why, somehow, I wasn’t even born when your career started and I’ve got enough sense ta’ step back ‘n pick my spot. And why you’ve got all that experience, all those miles under ya belt… and you’re more impatient than a spoiled toddler that just has ta have another piece’a fudge, otherwise you’ll piss yourself, shit yourself, and throw a tantrum on the floor’a the shoppin’ mall.”
“It’s my ally. It’s your enemy.”
“How many miles ya got left in that knee, Andy? How much more can your back take? Your neck? That’s why this has gotta be your story, Andy.”
“You don’t have time ta share the spotlight.”
“Maybe the mileage will cost ya this match. Maybe it won’t be a factor. I dunno, and I wouldn’t presume ta speculate, Andy. If it does, the best I can hope for is that ya don’t make excuses.”
“I dunno if I can get past ya, Andy… all I can do is wrestle the match’a my life. Same as I do every other night’a the year. Two things I know, though.”
“Number one, you and the Bruvs and Little Jimmy. And the eMpire and their hired help, for that matter. None’a ya can make me quit.”
“Number two, even if Little Jimmy beats Jack, even if you beat me, even if the two’a ya dominate me and Jack in our Tag Title match? I won championships before I knew your name, and I’ll be winnin’ championships long after you’re forgotten.”
“That ain’t a dig, Andy… in this sport, your legend only grows if you’re addin’ to it. So you’d best sharpen your pencil and get ready ta scribble in the time you’ve got left.”
“Because it’ll be one’a my great joys ta hold a newly won championship belt above my head. One year from now. Three. Five. When I’m asked to say a few words, I’ll say ‘Fuck Andy Murray.’”
“And the thousands’a people in that arena will respond ‘Who?’”