“Because these things will change
Can you feel it now?
These walls that they put up to hold us back will fall down
It’s a revolution, the time will come
For us to finally win
And we’ll sing hallelujah, we’ll sing hallelujah”
- “Change” by Taylor Swift
Christopher America sat on the edge of the bed in his room with the door closed and his head buried in his hands. He listened as he could make out Bill talking to his father, Benjamin. Although the words were slightly muffled, he could make out a few words. Words like ‘leave,’ ‘talk,’ and ‘now.’ He could also make out the tones, with his father being a mix of sorrow, conciliatory, and frustration. Bill’s sounded like a mix of the same. Chris first heard a pair of feet shuffle by, stop in front of his door, and move on down the hall. A short time after, another set of feet walked up to his door. There was a knock and then the handle turned.
Bill entered with a stoic expression on his face and walked over to the bed. He sat on the edge and didn’t look at his client. He stared straight ahead, elbows on his knees, and his hands clasped.
Bill: Your father has gone to his room and begun to pack his things.
Bill turned slightly to see if America had changed his position but he had not. Bill let his words sit with them for a moment before taking a deep breath and facing forward again.
Bill: I am… reminded of the old adage that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. A lot of people think that means we need to reflect on the past and make sure that we don’t replicate those mistakes for the future. But I think it’s about more than that. I think that adage serves as a cautionary tale in a couple of ways.
The first is change.
A lot of people look to the past with regrets and sorrow. They don’t realize that good or bad, the past has made them the person they are today. Then comes the inevitable question of how have we changed as a result of the past. For you, Chris, I think the past has helped in some ways change you for the better. You’ve done remarkable things since your return to HOW. Setting aside what’s happened inside of HOW, I think it’s safe to say that you’ve shown tremendous growth.
You’ve had to do some hard soul searching over the last six months. A lot of it was difficult. But you got through it and you came out better for it.
The second cautionary tale is lack of change.
The adage asks us to learn from history. To look at it, study it, learn from it, and change what we’ve done. And I think this is the most difficult for you. You dwell in history. You dwell in the past and let it hold you there. And you do that because I think you want an answer for what’s happening in the now or what will happen in the future. And sometimes, the past can’t give us that.
Bill sighed once more as America’s head rose out of his hands. He mimicked Bill’s posture and also kept his head looking forward.
Bill: To put it another way, you have a match with Clay Byrd coming up. You’ve never wrestled him. And you can spend hours upon hours studying tape of his past matches. You can ask everyone and their friend what it was like to be on the opposite side of Clay Byrd. And it will help. But to only do that and nothing else, is a sure fire losing strategy. Gather the insights, make a game plan, and move on.
With your father, you’ve stayed trapped. On the outside, sure, you look like a man nearing his forties. But inside, I think you’re still, in some ways, a young boy. There’s part of you that still wants to please him.
America opened his mouth to protest but Bill barreled through.
Bill: I think there’s a part of you that resents him, that loves him, that wants to reconcile but you don’t know how because you’re still there. You haven’t moved on.
I brought your father here because I wanted you to get back to the Christopher America that I saw at War Games. And I thought he could do it. I thought that the man that instilled in you the sense of pride you have for your country could raise that out of you.
I was looking for a change in you.
I’m not being honest. I was trying to force the change in you.
And you weren’t ready.
America rolled his tongue around in his mouth as if searching for the right words.
Christopher America: My relationship with him has been strained. And it’s probably going to remain strained for the conceivable future. If he wants anything to do with me, it has to start with him admitting that he was wrong. And if these past few weeks proved anything, he can’t do it. I gave him countless opportunities and he couldn’t.
I know that I can be unbearable or intolerable. I know that I’m stubborn and resentful. Eventually, though, I come around. I can be reasoned with. You can break through these inner defenses with logic but… when you’ve done what he’s done… and done it for so long… forgiveness is hard. It’s almost out of reach.
America swallowed and continued.
Christopher America: You know, despite the arguments and heated exchanges, the silences and awkward looks, I knew that I was right about what I said.
But I know you’re right too.
A return to HOW had been an unexpected walk down memory lane. The return to War Games in a foreign country, a World Championship reign, and the specter of Alcatraz Island. It was like… history repeating itself, as you mentioned. Things that made the pursuit of a resurging career difficult. And unfortunately for me, I always seem to focus on that.
And only that.
Bill nodded silently, leaning back and just listening.
Christopher America: The ghosts of old keep preventing me from seeing the other side of the coin. They prevented me from enjoying all the new things that had come with this return. Mike Best and I finally buried the hatchet. I began to learn how to trust others thanks to Jace Parker-Davidson and you. I moved on from the loss at Rumble at the Rock. And for the first time ever, I was going to main event ICONIC as HOW World Champion.
And I’ve been racing a mile a minute, moving from show to show, place to place, and match to match. And I just… I haven’t stopped to realize that I didn’t want this.
I didn’t want any of this.
My goal when I came back was to cement myself as the greatest War Games competitor of all time. That’s it. I just wanted to hold the record for most War Games wins… ever. Within that goal was a chance to prove to myself that I still had it. That I could still go against whomever I was up against.
The World Championship… the most beautiful prize in our industry was also won that night. And I am eternally grateful for the chance to hold her once more. And in holding her… I set out on a path to achieve my new goals and new aspirations.
Personal ones. Not those of my father, not yours, or anyone else.
My father is also right.
The Christopher America of now was not the same kid that entered HOW all those years ago.
I had been changed.
And for the first time, I got to see the true benefits of that. Beyond wins and championships. I had a clearer mindset and a renewed focus. Two things that helped me achieve what I wanted to achieve. Things that fueled the goals of the Board and the Alliance. Things that made me a dangerous wrestler.
But what my father didn’t realize though… is that America was more than a shield. He wanted it to be only a shield because that’s all he knew. But that way was narrow-minded. It could be a shield in some instances, protecting me from people stronger and greater than I. In others, it could be a weapon or a deterrent or a means of superiority.
America is what it was always meant to be, whatever I decided it should be.
That has never left me.
I haven’t given up on my family’s name. I changed it. I molded it into what worked for me.
Against Solex, America was a club. It was meant to bash and beat down any others who thought they could love America as much as me. Against Harrison, America was a performance enhancing drug, meant to bolster resiliency and endurance. And against Clay Byrd, America was going to be many things. Yes, a performance enhancing drug and yes, a club. But also… an inner strength, a beacon of hope, a focus, a second, third, fourth, and fifth wind. It would have to be all of that and more… because I know that deep down, I’m the underdog… again.
Bill turned his head and looked at America who slowly turned to look at Bill. Their eyes locked as if each one was reading and studying each other at the same time.
Christopher America: The Highwaymen were always the favorites.
It wasn’t the underdog that brought a military posse. It wasn’t the underdog that chose a No Ropes Submission match, a match I had never competed in and a match that the champion’s advantage was removed. And it wasn’t the underdog who had victimized his Rumble at the Rock opponent in the same amount of time it took a man to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. And it sure as hell wasn’t the underdog who had competed for the World Championship at ICONIC before.
So, I asked myself the important questions.
Why am I the underdog?
Why am I not the favorite?
I have to believe the answer is simplistic. That I am being tested. It has to be that. ICONIC is a test of everything that I am up to this point – all the hard work and determination, the mind games, the injuries, the self-doubt, the backstabbing… all of it.
I think in some ways Lee Best knows. He knows that I need this. I need this moment. I need this chance. I need this opportunity to prove myself. To show that whatever happened in the past… whether ten years ago or ten seconds ago… I am made for this. I am made to be a professional wrestler. I am made to write my own story. I am made to be a part of this group of men… his final Alliance.
ICONIC and the lead up to it was meant to be a turning point.
But to what?
America shifted his body towards Bill, as if he was lowering the defenses once more and opening himself up.
Christopher America: No more looking to the past. Everything with eyes looking towards the future.
There are still those in HOW that I have yet to prove himself against one on one. The Xander Azulas, the Conor Fuses, and the GREAT SCOTTs of HOW just to name a few. But more exciting was what lies beyond HOW with the World Championship. It is one thing to be the greatest HOW World Champion in history but the prospect of defending the championship against those outside of HOW and raising her prestige even further was too great to pass up. The real prize beyond the HOW World Championship was being recognized as one of the greatest World Champions in professional wrestling and having this belt, my belt, be recognized as one of the greatest championships in professional wrestling.
And that excitement for me mixes with the fear of the unknown. Because the future isn’t written. The future was malleable. The future was fluid.
And all that stands in my way is Clay Byrd, the leader of the Highwaymen.
And you can hear it. Even now. You can hear the excitement in my voice but I… I just struggle. I struggle with it all. If I look too far into the future, then I’m looking past Clay Byrd and I can’t do that. You said it yourself, I can’t linger in the past anymore. So I have to live in this gray area in between.
I know that however much my past has weighed on me had to be equally weighing on Clay. The Behemoth’s past is mixed with as much success and failure as mine. But as the leader of the faction, whether he wanted to admit it or not, was full of more disappointments than glories.
Mike’s Board and Lee’s Alliance knew how to get the job done. When the chips were down, you knew that you could count on Christopher America. You could count on Jace Parker Davidson. You could count on GREAT SCOTT. Even Tyler Best, who lost his ICON Championship, only lost it to another Board member. We were battle tested, sharpened against the hardest, most resilient competition that HOW had to offer.
But Byrd’s Highwaymen have struggled. Against the Egg Bandits, against Jace, against GREAT SCOTT, and even me. The Highwaymen failed to close the deal. And inevitably it reflected badly on Clay. It left him with a sour taste in his mouth. Because it was he who was left to clean up the mess. It was he who had to carry the banner forward. It was he who had to show them how to get the job done.
So, I circle back. Why am I the underdog? Why am I not the favorite? Why does someone else’s failures affect me?!?!
America’s voice broke as he pleaded his case to Bill.
Christopher America: Because when I think about that, about all the times that he’s had to deal with their failure, I think about my own. About the times that I’ve let friends down, I’ve let family down, and I’ve let my stable down. Many of them bounce right back. They treat it as a setback and move on, but I don’t. I remain stuck as if that moment in time encapsulates everything. It becomes a prison of my own making and one that I continually try to escape.
All the training I’ve done, all the video tape that I’ve studied, all the new things I’ve tried, just to make sure that I am ready for Clay Byrd… for THIS match, for THIS MOMENT… I don’t know how I’ll bounce back if I lose.
Part of me feels like that’s a good thing. It means that I’ve dumped everything I have and more into this. It means that I live and die on my wins and losses. That I take each match more seriously than I have the last. But part of me worries that I’ll slip and fall back into the rut. That I’ll disappear back into the shadows. That someone other than me will have written my final chapter in HOW.
All off this one match.
All off the possibility that I might lose.
I don’t know how the others do it. I don’t know how they live on this razor thin edge between the present and the future, looking out into the unknown that has unfolded before them. They nourish themselves on the promise and the hope of a better tomorrow. Bobbinette Carey, for all her faults, looks at each new day as a new opportunity. Scott Stevens continues to lose World Championship matches and yet, remains confident that today is his day.
I should be so lucky to have an ounce of the courage they have.
They live in a bliss created by losses but I live in a bliss created by wins. That means that if they win, their bliss magnifies. If I lose, my bliss goes away. And I’m left with nothing.
And I see that now. I see that is what’s at stake, more than the HOW World Championship is my own personal happiness. My life. My career. Everything rides on this title defense.
People want to make fun of the fact that I’ve gone away from wrestling but that was always my choice.
I left wrestling. Wrestling never left me.
Kind of like with dad.
Wrestling and I have a fucked up relationship. We push each other out and pull each other back in. We fight and we argue and we abuse the ever loving shit out of each other. But somehow, through all of that…
America caught himself briefly before letting the words flow.
Christopher America: …we still love each other and we keep coming back to each other.
Bill looked down and then into America’s eyes.
Bill: Kinda like your dad.
For the first time, America nodded silently, mouth slightly open, holding back tears.
Christopher America: Wrestling and I… we missed each other.
I genuinely missed HOW, more than I think I realized and certainly more than I care to admit.
Because of HOW, I felt a sense of purpose and belonging. I moved myself here… to Chicago. I call this place my home.
And all of that… ALL. OF. THAT… is in jeopardy because of one man.
Bill knew America was talking about Clay Byrd but he also knew he was talking about his father as well.
Christopher America: ICONIC is more than just about defending this World Championship against him.
America sniffed as he wiped tears from the edges of his eyes.
Christopher America: I have to defend this company from him and his compatriots, men who’ve brought outsiders in to try to tear this place down… this city down. Men who treat things as a joke with knees that break down after every match. Men who wrap themselves in a uniform… that turn their back on me and thus, this country. Men who selfishly want to use the championship as a means of destruction rather than creation.
I defend my home, the city of Chicago, from him. A city that has embraced me as a son. Welcomed me. Taken me in. And made me one of their own.
I defend my very way of life from him.
So I have no choice. Between Clay and everything that I have built, everything I love, everything that I have accomplished…
I choose the latter.
I have to put Clay down.
I know I keep saying it but I have to remind myself of the goal. I have to remind myself of how big these stakes are.
Because my father’s presence has caused me to focus on something else. And I hate it. I FUCKING HATE IT!
America looked down and took another deep breath.
Christopher America: If I strip away the Highwaymen, the fans, and everything else that seeks to distract me, I’m still left with the Behemoth in front of me. He has the size and strength advantage. He has ICONIC experience. He is a second generation wrestler… so he has the ability in his blood.
And he seeks to strip me of everything.
My very livelihood.
So what do I have? What do I have that can help me topple The Monster From Plainview?
Right now, it seems like all I have are daddy issues and an inferiority complex.
America went silent as Bill sat there looking at him, with compassion.
Bill: So then change.
America looked at his friend like he was about to be scolded.
Bill: It’s that simple.
No more. No less. Not complicated.
You know that Clay will for this match.
In fact, I’m sure that he’s doing exactly what your other opponents did to prepare in the past. They’ll go to a bar, do an interview, see a psychiatrist, or as you put it, maybe he’ll train for the first time in forever. Whatever it is, HE. WILL. CHANGE.
And you can too.
But when you change, your change sticks. It’s not a gimmick for one match. It’s personal growth. It’s about legitimately becoming the best you can be.
You know, when I think of change, I also think about what you told me about Mike.
Mike took pieces of you. He took pounds of flesh and buckets of blood. He abused your body and mind. He took your focus and attention. He took championships from you. He took HAPPINESS from you. For over a decade, you guys have been at each other’s throats. And whether it took the years in between your match at Rumble at the Rock and your return at War Games, or whether it took a simple phone call to you… you moved on, Chris.
It’s time to move on again.
I’m not asking you to reconcile things with your father. I’m not asking you to bury the hatchet. I’m asking you to move on, now.
I’m sorry I brought him here. I thought he would help. But it seems that… his presence obviously did more harm than good.
What I’m asking you… is to think about why it was easier to bury the hatchet with your most hated enemy than it is with your father.
What change took place to make that happen?
I think deep down, you know the answer.
And it’s because you were ready to move on.
Bill placed a comforting hand on America’s knee, offered a slight smile and nodded silently. He stood up, took a deep breath and headed for the door. As he opened the door, Bill turned to look at America.
Bill: You asked what you have over Clay.
You have heart, Chris. More than people give you credit for.
You have overall HOW experience.
You also have the drive and the determination to do what must be done at any costs.
You have the conditioning and the endurance thanks to Steve Harrison. You have the resiliency and callouses from Steve Solex. And you have the technical know-how and speed thanks to Joe Bergman.
You have to use that.
You have to take everything that the Highwaymen have taught you and weaponize it against their leader. You have take everything that the Board and Alliance have shown you and use it against your new enemy. And yes, you have to do things you never thought you’d have to do to beat him. Because he’s going to be prepared for it all.
Can you do it?
Yeah, you can.
And you will.
Because I know you.
You have to shed the past, live in the present, and look forward to the future, regardless of what that future holds.
You have the ability to beat Clay Byrd. The pieces are there. Inside of you.
You are ready.
And at ICONIC, it will all come together.
The future is yours for the taking, Chris.
You just need to grab it.