I always wanted to wrestle Eli Flair.
Regrets? If I believed in ‘em, not getting to throw down with the King of Extreme might be on the list. Amazes me that it didn’t happen at least once given our respective tenures, but that’s the business. Our careers ran adjacent for years – decades, even – and while I’m sure we unknowingly passed each other by on a couple of highways, we ran with different packs. Starred in different circles.
Eli had already stepped away from the ring by the time we shared our first locker-room, I think. Two stars, two headliners, who once ran the game on totally opposite sides, finally coming together when it was too late. A “dream match” denied.
A shame. We’ve have beaten the shit out of each other.
I guess that one just got away.
Yup, I always wanted to wrestle Eli Flair; I guess I’ll settle for battering his dipshit daughter instead. Maybe give the old coot a wave as the ref’s hand drops for the third time…
San Diego, CA | 8 May 2019
It was at roughly this point in time that Andy Murray realised the wrestling industry was passing him by.
At 41 years old, The King of Wrestling was trapped in a prison of his own creation, struggling to come to terms with a world that was quickly forgetting his prime. That prison was the Second Chance Gym. Andy had opened it through an earnest desire to lift those cast aside by the industry from the gutter, tap into their potential, and fix whatever was broken in their careers.
Whether their albatross was as heavy as addiction or as straightforward as an unshakeable losing streak, the school was a refuge for the downtrodden.
People like MJ Flair.
People like his brother, Cayle.
From his office chair, Andy could see his younger sibling hitting a heavy bag. He was stuck behind a computer screen plugging numbers into a spreadsheet while Cayle, whose career had never been stronger, was bettering himself by perfecting his leg kicks.
It was late morning. Andy’s waning focus took him to one of the more popular wrestling news sites, the first of which had a thumbnail of him attached to a list of “Wrestlers Past Their Sell-By Date.” A few clicks later and Murray was reading a paragraph telling him his “stock has never been lower, despite his brother’s continued success in Japan.”
Another day, another kick in the balls.
“Alright granddad?” came Cayle’s familiar, accent-tinged tones. He’d finished his workout and was wiping sweat from his brow, nodding as his elder looked up. ‘Starbreaker’ (a nickname he’d adopted upon taking Eric Dane’s scalp three years ago) could see the monitor’s reflection in a mirror just behind. “What’s rotting your brain today?”
Andy’s shame prompted him to try and X the window before his increasingly more successful relative could lay eyes on the page. He wasn’t quick enough.
“Oh,” Cayle said. “There’s no use in looking at stuff like that, lad.”
“I am aware of this, yes,” Andy responded. It has hard: hard for him to sit there behind a desk while a dozen young, hungry lions chased their dream in the next room. The sounds clanging weights, bump drills, leather hitting pads, and the grunts and groans of athletic exertion were a constant reminder that his own dream had effectively been iced by a non-compete.
The article wasn’t totally inaccurate – Andy’s recent work across the Pacific hadn’t been impressive – but it still stung.
“What’s your plan today then?” Cayle asked, pulling a plain white tee over his head. He was 35 but not half as ravaged by the rigours of the road as Andy, with no busted knees, no stiff shoulders, and no scars on his torso. “You look like you’re about to turn that thing off, put on The Wrestler, and have a cry.”
Andy often had to bite his tongue around his sibling these days. Where once he would’ve jabbed back instantly, Cayle’s brand of sarcastic humour had become grating as their careers drifted further apart.
Andy had lost count of the number of times Cayle had drawn a line between him and Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson. If he wasn’t his brother, he’d have slapped the piss out of him.
“I dunno,” Andy said. “Maybe watch our old tapes. Remind myself of a time you weren’t so caustic.”
“Oh, good. You’re in one of those moods.” Cayle, who’d never been so confident or comfortable in his skin, was ready to leave the room. His elder stopped him.
“Sorry mate,” Andy said, sighing. “I just want to wrestle.”
“We’re flying to Osaka in a week.”
“Yup. And you’ll work main events somewhere while I do an undercard for 500 people.”
“Fuck Mikey Unlikely, right?”
“Fuck Mikey Unlikely.”
Cayle was the gym’s proof of concept. Not to discredit the work the younger Murray had done himself (because nobody can truly dig themselves out of a hole if they don’t have the tools), but if it weren’t for Andy’s guidance, if it weren’t for his love, he’d still be in and out of rehab, his name a fixture on any promoter that mattered’s blacklist.
Money troubles, a couple of minor run-ins with the law, no-shows, tantrums, drugs, alcohol: Cayle’s pre-2014 career was a mess. Andy dragging him kicking and screaming out of that life and into a new, then helping him get into WrestleUTA, saved him. His was the story Andy looked to recreate with every hopeful who stepped through his doors.
The shared Mikey jab failed to draw a smile. Registering this, Cayle said: “do we need to have that conversation again?”
“We’ve never needed to have that conversation,” Andy said. He folded his arms across his chest defensively.
“Look, I know how tough it must be, sitting here while a sport you’ve dedicated your life to moves on without you, but this isn’t so bad, brother,” Cayle cast his eyes around the gym. “You don’t need to drag yourself into that spotlight anymore. You’ve nothing left to prove.”
But Andy did need that spotlight still. Again, the Murray family patriarch held his tongue. He loved his brother, but Cayle’s continued prosperity had created a man who often didn’t realise when he was talking down to someone he shouldn’t be.
“Stop chasing that dragon before it kills you, mate,” Cayle said, turning to walk back towards the gym proper. “Don’t Randy ‘The Ram’ yourself.”
Boom, there it was.
It’s a weird feeling when your younger brother – a guy you nurtured back to life – lectures you, and an even weirder one when you know he means well but you still want to put a fist through a wall.
Andy missed when their brotherhood was a brotherhood.
Some people would tell you that MJ Flair, stylistically, is custom-built to give this veteran nightmares.
She has half my body mass but this isn’t a big man’s game anymore. Size isn’t enough. She’s smaller, faster, more evasive, and feels like she’s got a point to prove. MJF’s going to try to beat me by dodging big bombs, attaching herself like a spider monkey, and trying not to get shaken off.
More relevantly, she’s a young, hungry, and popular up-and-comer, whose redemption arc people are rallying behind, and I’m the Judas. The consensus is that I’ve made a beast of myself to get rid of the pain of not being on top.
The stage is perfectly set for a giant-killing. What a great story that’d be, huh?
Understand that I’ve been in this situation a thousand times before, MJ. Understand that before the shit hit the fan, I was all about lifting people like you up. I might be the one person in High Octane Wrestling who knows the hole you’re trying to dig out of better than you do.
Some people make it out of that hole; the majority don’t. Those who do usually need a star-maker, but that’s not me.
I don’t make stars anymore. I burn them out.
Nobody’s making a name off me in 2020. I’d been lying down from the moment I first arrived in DEFIANCE, but no more. There’s air in my lungs now: finally, I can breathe again, and it’s pieces of shit like you that keep me rolling.
And I keep hearing about this grand “rebirth” of yours, but tell me, MJ: what the fuck are you rebirthing to? When were you so great – when were you ever at such a high level – that you’re now in a position where you’re trying to get back to it? Because you burned out when you were screwing around behind a mask in WrestleUTA, and now you’re burning out here as well.
Facing the goddamn King isn’t going to change that.
I mean, what is this now, your Third Coming? Fourth?
You’ve been trying to break through for years and barely scratched the surface. From what I can see, there’s a fungus on the HOW canvas that’s shown more growth in the ring than you over the past few years, dipshit.
And yeah, cool, you got past a couple of game guys at March to Glory. Those Turn It Up goofs are dumb as piss but they’re no tomato cans. I’ll give you that, I’m not going to take that away.
But know that you are now dealing with the best.
Check the resume. Shit, check the list of names I’ve knocked off in HOW alone – in two matches.
Let’s talk about a couple of those for a moment, actually. Let’s talk about Dan Ryan and Lindsay Troy.
Chicago, IL | 15 February 2020
24K’s debut hit HOW and the wider wrestling world like a mortar blast.
Their phones started blowing up as soon as they’d hit the backstage area. Andy knew it’d be this way. Present company aside, there wasn’t a single soul who could’ve foreseen his return to American wrestling, especially alongside Mikey, Kendrix, and Perfection – men he’d once professed to hate.
Men who once seemed so at odds with the Murray family philosophy, Andy would’ve sooner cut his own head off than share breathing space with them again.
Desperation and spite are funny mistresses.
Andy didn’t get a proper chance to check his device until he’d been bundled until a cab and sped off from the Allstate. The four of them had taken separate vehicles back to the hotel. A precaution: an unnecessary one, perhaps, but they’d just knocked almost every name wrestler in High Octane Wrestling on their arse. Travelling together wasn’t worth the risk.
Murray’s notifications were a mess. Tweets, DMs, texts, and even an email clogged his screen, and he dismissed most with so much as a split-second’s thought. He knew this would happen.
As the car crept away from Rosemont and towards Chicago proper, Andy accidentally answered a video call. He was so lost in swiping notifications away that his thumb had hit the green camera button rather than the red one and now, in the dead of the night, he was staring at his younger brother’s face.
“Hel–…” Andy started, but couldn’t even get the first syllable out.
“Andy, what the fuck?!” Cayle interjected from somewhere across the Pacific. His footage was blurry and the audio a little garbled, but still coherent. “Just… what?!”
“Good to see you too, chief,” Andy responded, still coursing on the buzz of that HOW crowd.
“Fuck off,” Cayle barked, his tone coming off harsher than intended. He stopped himself for a moment. “What did you do?!”
“I took my life back.”
“But… Lindsay?!” was all Cayle could get out. While not as close to Troy as his elder seemingly had been, ‘The Queen of the Ring’ was still a mutual friend. “You did that to her, and with those guys?”
Andy’s fist clenched so hard he heard his knuckles crack – and they never cracked. “Yup.”
“That’s not you, man. That’s not… you’re lost. You’ve–”
“Stop!” Andy full-on shouted, juddering his cab driver. “Stop talking now before I end this call.”
It was the first time Andy had snapped at Cayle in years.
“That’s enough,” Andy continued. “You don’t get to judge me anymore. If it wasn’t for me, you’d be lying in a dirty gutter with a whiskey bottle and lord knows what else, so listen clo–”
“Andy, it’s Mikey fucking Unlikely! And Kendrix, and Jame–”
“It’s a way out you fuck!” Murray barked, his face reddening. “Goddamnit, Cayle. Do you understand what the past two years of my life have been like? Do you understand how it feels to live in shit? Do you–… actually, you know what. Forget it. This is bullshit.”
The King of Wrestling could see his brother opening his mouth to retort to ended the call quickly, dropping his phone onto the seat beside him.
His blood was hot and his heart racing. Cayle. Fucking Cayle. Andy knew that his HOW action plan wouldn’t sit well with his virtuous sibling and his morals, so he wisely cut their conversation off before it went any deeper, before it drove a permanent wedge between him and his brother.
If it hadn’t already.
This was the same guy that just lost his Tokyo Pro Heavyweight Championship because he refused to use a steel chair to take advantage, after all. Meanwhile, Andy was the career fan favourite who’d just torn up everything the world knew about him and aligned with three devils.
But Andy had to do this. He had to become the King of Wrestling once more, and he wasn’t going to do that by shaking hands and “putting smiles on faces” in some tiny Japanese sports hell.
He picked his phone up once more. The storm of notifications was still ongoing, though one sat on the screen for a few seconds longer than the others.
“You’re lost,” said the preview. A text. Cayle.
Actually, Andy’s bearings hadn’t been so clear in years.
Fact is the only time you’ve ever made any kind of impact in this business, miss Flair, is when you’ve hitched yourself to somebody else’s ride.
You’re doing it with Eli now and you did it with The Industry before.
Don’t get me wrong, LT and Big Bloody Daniel are a couple of hack losers who couldn’t beat me and Jimmy three falls deep, but they know dead weight when they see it. So they got rid of the whiny dipshit version of Kylo Ren and her cracked tag partner, and how do you guys respond?
The shit went down a month ago and you still haven’t taken your pound of flesh back, and that offends me.
It offends me that Lee Best reckons Eli Flair’s cunt daughter is fit to face me when she won’t even stand up for herself and go back after the two malevolent dickhead bullies who sent her lower down the card than ever before.
Compare and contrast, baby. 24K has barely been here for a cup of coffee and we’ve already blown a chunk of their armour off – not to mention taking their Tag Team Championships. You guys? You haven’t even dented it.
Tell me I’m lying.
And look, I understand we’re at very different stages of our careers here. I’ve been wrestling longer than you’ve been breathing and at some point, everyone goes through the shit you’re going through. Everybody has a phase where they get knocked down so hard they aren’t even sure who they are anymore, forcing them to reconsider everything they thought they know about this lifestyle.
I know because I used to run a gym full of people at that phase. I know because I pulled my own flesh and blood through that phase six years ago.
But here’s the thing: when you get to that point, one of two things invariably happens.
- You reflect, you figure that shit out, and you crack the magic formula.
- You fall off the wagon for good.
And MJ, the very fact that you and Harmen have been put opposite 24K places you far closer to the latter right now.
You might see me and see a scalp. You’re right, lass, and had you crossed paths with me a couple years ago, I’d have been happy to play that role for you. I was more than willing to sit in the shadows and let the younger, hungrier wrestlers – the future of this business – take whatever spot I’d been hogging.
But the thing about you, MJ, is that you couldn’t even take my scalp if you wanted to. Your knife just ain’t sharp enough; you might as well keep it sheathed.
And watch the bullshit coming out your mouth as well. All I’m coming for right now is your win/loss record.
You don’t want me coming for your throat.
Chicago, IL | 29 March 2020
It was about 5pm by the time 24K’s private jet landed back in the States. A long flight home from Rome was made easier by the booze, the banter, and of course, the championship belts on Andy and Perfection’s shoulders.
March to Glory was a surprising night, but not because of the outcome. Murray had confidence in 24K’s ability to leap Lee Best’s hurdles with the “card subject to change” bullshit and one could never accuse James Witherhold of ever lacking that trait, though The King of Wrestling had many, many questions on what would happen if Mikey, who still had control of his career, was felled in the first fall.
Mikey was felled in that first fall – by Andy, no less – but there was no fuckery afterwards.
No snide remarks, no threats, no attempts at undermining or derailing Murray: just support and congratulations.
Perhaps them trading chess moves on the flight over triggered something inside of Unlikely, realising for all the power he had over Andy, having the big man 100% on his side was to his benefit. Or perhaps he was up to something – just behind Murray’s back. Either way, the flight reminded Andy of old trips with Cayle, Jason Natas, and even Impulse and Calico Rose.
It felt real. It felt like family.
Tired, alcohol-addled bodies dragged themselves down the plane’s steps. Andy squinted in the sunlight and fumbled for his shades, sliding them on his face as he flicked his Android off airplane mode. A batch of notifications, and again, one stood out.
A WhatsApp message from his younger brother, the first Andy had received since they bickered in February. “Congratulations I guess,” it read, accompanied by the shrug emoji.
Andy shook his head, his face tingling with the first traces of anger. “What’s up?” asked Perfection, registering his tag partner’s mood.
“Look at this shit.”
Murray held the screen before Witherhold’s face. A quick scan later and Perfection was tutting. “Told you he was a gnat.”
“Fuck it,” Murray said, swiping the message away. Seconds later his muscle memory had taken him to the wrestling sites, his subconscious looking to feed his ego after a big night in Rome.
“The SHOCKING Resurgence Of Andy Murray,” read a headline on the same page that called him washed-up and over the hill the previous year.
Whatever the cost, whatever his brother thought of him, Andy knew, in that moment, that the plan was paying off.
Freedom, his dignity, the money, the headlines. Yes, it was paying off.
The price was heavy, but in losing one brother of the flesh, he’d gained three of the road.
A worthwhile transaction.
You aren’t the star of this story, MJ. This ain’t your rebirth.
It’s mine… and you’re just a side character in its epilogue.
When this is done, you go to Eli, you tell him that Andy Murray just taught you the most valuable lesson of your career. Then, after that, me and Jimmy will knock you and Flyer right out of the tag division as well – if you’re even fit to show up.
And that’s not a threat. It’s a promise.