”You spend your entire life becoming a God, and then you die.” – Chuck Palahniuk
I’m not a guy who’s cut out for old age.
Some guys are in this business to make all the money that they can make for as long as they can make it, all the while looking ahead to the day that they can hang up their boots and cash out their chips. Pick up a couple of hobbies and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Wrestling is a business, they’re an employee, and this is all just a means to an end. It might not be a nine to five, but it’s still a job, and it’s still a paycheck. They have lives and families and dreams outside of the four ropes walls of a wrestling ring, and more power to them. Best of luck running your car dealerships, and hitting the conventions as the roots start to go grey. I hope you enjoy your grandchildren, and your great grandchildren, and that you don’t do so much damage to your bodies that you never get to play catch with your kids.
Me? I’m gonna die in the ring.
I tried retirement. In 2016, I hung it all up and went home. I thought I could be satisfied with knowing that I closed up shop right along with HOW, and that I had done enough to cement a legacy that would carry on. Eight world championships, five ICON titles, three LSD belts, four HOFC reigns and a handful of tag runs. A War Games, a Solitary Confinement, a couple of ICONIC main events, and a few LBI finals. A big fat Hall of Fame ring on my finger as the icing on the cake… it could have been enough. Maybe it should have been enough. But as I sat at home on a couch that should have had a permanent ass print in it by now, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d walked away too soon. Couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d be forgotten.
And I was right.
There isn’t a lot on the face of this Earth that scares the living shit out of me, but fading into the obscurity of crossword trivia and special appearances at strip malls makes me shiver down to my fucking bones. When HOW opened its doors to the public in 2019, it was like they’d forgotten who I was. All the names and faces had changed— the young ones were bold now. They were fresh and hungry and fearless, and my name didn’t burn the insides of their mouths like it would have a few years back. The High Octane faithful knew my name, but the rest of the wrestling world treated me like I hadn’t done dick in four years.
Because I hadn’t.
A Fisher Price World Title didn’t fix it. A shitty plastic Hall of Fame ring from a shitty drunk didnt fix it. Solitary with America didn’t fix it, a sixth ICON Title didn’t fix it, and now a record setting ninth reign as the HOW World Champion didn’t… fucking… fix it. No matter what I do, no matter what I achieve, and no matter how hard I try, I can feel my name fading from the record books every single day. I can feel obscurity setting in. I’m in the best single year of my wrestling career, and if I stopped right now, I’d be forgotten by Easter, because wrestling fans and wrestling promoters and fucking WRESTLERS are fickle, forgetful human beings.
I can never retire from this business.
I can never let myself fade like so many burned out stars before me. Eric Dane walked away for too long, and he might never reclaim the empire that he stepped down from. Jatt Starr walked away for too long, and it’s like watching a ghost in the halls of High Octane Wrestling. I can either die a legend or fight on as a God, but the one thing I can’t do is stop. Not now, not ever. I leave this business in a fucking box…
Or I don’t leave it at all.
MANY PRESIDENTS AGO
SUBURBAN NEW JERSEY
“You’re a real shit kid, you know that?”
The bottle narrowly misses its target, as it hits the wall behind him with an unsatisfying thunk. Being practically raised by a television, the thing that disappointed him wasn’t so much that his mother just threw an empty liquor bottle at him, but more so that it didn’t explode on impact. In the movies, they always exploded on impact.
Talk about unrealistic expectations.
The boy who would become Michael Best sat in the center of the living room carpet, contemplating how to react to what’s just happened to him– she wasn’t always mean, but when she got mean is when she got vicious. Would it be better if he sold for her? Turned on the water works and showed her that she’d hurt his feelings? The analysis somehow exists outside of him, as though he’s looking down on his own disembodied frame– the child beneath him decides it’s better not to let her see him bleed, and he goes back to playing with his action figures.
Spiderman with the nasty superplex. Sabretooth is down!
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Mom snaps, lunging toward him. “Are you fucking retarded? Is that what you are? Do you not understand the words coming out of my fucking mouth, stupid?”
Kickout. It was almost over.
Her open hand connects with the back of his skull, rattling the contents beneath. He can feel a nauseated sensation in his brain, as though he was suddenly spun around at a great rate of speed. The back of his scalp is stinging, even as she pulls her hand away.
“I’m sorry you’re angry, Mom.” Michael doesn’t lift his eyes from his toys. “I hope you feel better tomorrow.”
Welcome to the world of a future HOW Hall of Famer.
Not that he knew it back then– wrestling was just something that you watched on Monday nights, with the volume up loud enough not to hear whatever arguments were happening in the kitchen. Last night it was John– wait, was it John? Maybe this one is Greg. After a while, you stop learning their names. Some of them were around for a few months, some for a few weeks. JohnGreg is new, but from the sounds of the screaming match they had last night, he wouldn’t be around very long.
He missed Allen.
Allen had a Super Nintendo.
“I didn’t even want you.” Mother sneers; his indifference is only fueling her anger. “I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t ask to be a fucking mom. I didn’t ask for the responsibility. The least you could do is not be such a fucking loser, you know that? Throw away the little fucking faggot action figures and play a sport. Be a fucking BOY. No wonder you don’t have any friends.”
He doesn’t look up.
He can hear her feet stomping toward the kitchen.
But he doesn’t look up.
It won’t end if he looks up.
“I’m going out.” she grumbles, slurring her speech as she nearly stumbles into the doorway. “Don’t be late for school in the morning.”
The door slams shut, and for the first time he can feel his spine relax. His shoulders hunch down at the front of his frame, as a long, relieved breath escapes his sternum. It didn’t matter that she’d forgotten to make him dinner again. It didn’t matter that she hadn’t left him money for lunch tomorrow. It didn’t even matter that he could still feel the sting of her hand against the back of his neck.
The pain would fade.
It always did.
Sabretooth hits the superkick. It connects with Spiderman’s jaw, sending him careening to the carpet. The merciless villain puts a foot on the chest of the Wall Crawler, triumphantly.
For tonight, it’s all over.
I wanted there to be another way, Max.
I need you to know that. For all the years that we’ve run up and down the road, best friends or worst enemies, I need you to know that. For the moments that we’ve shared on camera and off, for the matches we’ve had both side by side and across the ring from one another, I need you to know that. For all the love, and all that hate, and everything that exists between us on that same spectrum, I really fucking need you to know that, buddy. This isn’t how I wanted it all to end.
You gotta believe me, Max.
I thought I could save you.
Typical arrogance from a guy brazen enough to call himself Kneesus Christ, ain’t it? Who’d have thought he’d have a savior complex. From as early an age as I can remember, I’ve been fucking broken. A few screws loose— I feel pain differently. I feel joy differently. I feel sadness differently. All the humanity that I know I’m supposed to feel just rattles around in my skull, like it isn’t connected to anything anymore. I don’t feel fear like most people do. I don’t feel loss like most people do. I don’t feel regret like most people do. But the truth, Max? Despite all of that?
I don’t want to do this.
For all the tough talk and all the posturing we’ve done over the last six months, the truth is that I wish this wasn’t what it was. I wish it wasn’t too late to change the rules. I wish I hadn’t stood out in that ring and called for the kind of match that one of us can’t come back from. More than any of it, I wish that I wasn’t so inherently broken that I could take a step back and just call this all off.
But you know I can’t, because you’re broken too.
Fuck man, I don’t even know if you’re still in there. I don’t know what The Minister even is. Maybe it’s always been you— maybe the man I’ve been staring in the eye for six months is just Max Kael with a different set of LEDs lit up. I honestly don’t know— you’re the one thing in this business that I’ve never entirely understood, and maybe that’s why you’re one of the only people I’ve ever actually respected.
Like I said… you’re broken too.
I didn’t ask for a death match because I wanted to die. Or shit, even because I wanted to kill anyone. I asked for a death match because it’s the one thing I have that nobody else does. It’s the one setting I have that no one else can match. Self preservation is a hell of a drug, and the reason I’m so unstoppable isn’t because THEY can’t stop me… it’s because I can’t stop me. Because that little limiter in a man’s head that tells him when he’s had enough… it doesn’t exist in me. You don’t tap out if you don’t care if they break your fucking arm. You don’t stay down if you have no fear of getting back up. Not being afraid to die is the single most powerful drug a fighter can get high on— 90% of being successful in this business is doing whatever you have to do to succeed, no matter the cost.
I’m not afraid to sail through the floor of the Roman Coliseum. I’m not afraid to have a pen jammed into my eyeball at War Games. I’m not afraid to get shanked in the fucking kidneys, because at the end of the day, I know I’m either going out with my shield, or I’m going out ON it. No one has stopped me in over four years now, and the reason behind it is simple: I am the unstoppable force.
But you’re the immovable object.
You’re the only one who had the balls, and you didn’t just sign the contract. You signed it in the blood of my friend, because you wanted to send a message. You wanted to make it clear that you were willing to go just as far as I was. That you’d stop at nothing less than I would. That this truly would be a battle to the fucking death, and I have never been so proud of my brother as I am right now, here in the moment that I feel the saddest.
Because it’s kill or be killed.
I made my peace a long time ago, Max, but I haven’t made my peace with yours. I haven’t entirely wrapped my brain around the idea that at Rumble at the Rock, your life is the one that I have to take to survive. I thought it would be Stevens, or Scotty, or fucking… Dane. Someone just arrogant and stupid enough to give their life for my legacy. Someone whose candle could burn bright and burn out right before my eyes, as I snuffed them from existence. I thought it was going to be another notch in my belt— a crying family I wouldn’t have to give a second thought to. But I’m your crying family, Max. Lee is your crying family. Whatever you call yourself now, and whomever is calling the shots in that soulless metal skull… you’re still my brother.
I don’t want you to fucking die, Max.
I just keep making stupid jokes and idle threats, hoping it will somehow make it better. That it will make it all go away. That the Max Kael who used to give me unwanted hugs and make me fight ninjas would crawl back out of your skull and tell me that everything was going to be okay now. I wanted to save you at War Games, and I couldn’t. I wanted to save you at No Remorse, and I couldn’t. And now it’s too late. Now there’s nothing else I can do to stop it. Now, it’s either you or me. One of us has to die.
And it can’t be me, Max. Not yet.
I have too much left to do. I have too much left to achieve. For all the years that we’ve joked about the Mount Rushmore of HOW, I won’t stop– I CAN’T stop– until I’m every face on that motherfucker. I can’t risk being forgotten. I can’t risk this all having been for nothing. I can’t risk being a fucking Stevenspedia statistic like Aceldama, a random piece of trivia that comes up on the radio. Win or lose, at Rumble at the Rock, I have to try to end your life.
There’s no other way, anymore.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I have to do. I’m sorry that I couldn’t save you. I’m sorry that it’s all come to this, because from the day I entered into HOW, you have been inseparably linked to my life. You are my brother, you are my family, and I love you. I spent all these years thinking I was Jesus Christ reborn, and I was wrong.
And I can’t save you.
SEVERAL PRESIDENTS LATER
“You’re a real shit assistant, you know that?”
An empty redbull can smashes into the oak finish of an office wall, spit firing a fine sticky spray across the protruding sill of the window. The hollow crack of aluminum meeting wood reverberates throughout the office, causing his young marketing assistant to flinch just enough to earn him a snide smirk from the HOW World Champion.
What a little bitch.
“I ask you for one fucking thing.” Michael snarls, slamming a fist against his desk. “Seven points of articulation. Fucking seven, Kevin. It rhymes with your fucking name.”
The Son of God’s palms press into the table as he leans forward, close enough for his assistant to feel the spittle flying free from between his teeth. The lenses of his glasses begin to fog over, as Michael breaths into his face like an angry millennial dragon.
“My name is David.” Not-Kevin mumbles, averting his eyes.
While technically correct, it probably wasn’t the time and place to point it out. If this was a cartoon, the whites of the Starmaker’s eyes would be protruding six inches out of his head at this point, as the angry vein in his forehead begins to pulsate like a dying star.
“I sincerely don’t give a fuck what your name is.” the Son of God doesn’t even yell. The words are quiet and calm, holding the essence of a rattlesnake tail. “Seven points of articulation, Not Kevin. Neck, shoulders, hips, and knees. Why don’t you take a fucking look at this and tell me how many points of articulation you see?”
Reaching across the desk, Michael snatches up today’s point of contention– it is a newly minted Group of Death action figure, bearing his own face across the cardboard packaging. Inside, a small plastic toy is the spitting image of the Son of God, from the shitbag smirk all the way down to the decaled splatters of blood across the stark white boots. The Hall of Famer tears the cardboard packaging open, dumping the action figure out onto the desk and shoving it across the way to his assistant.
“Don’t just stare at it, dickhead.” Michael snarls, his brows narrowing. “PLAY WITH IT!”
Hesitantly, David reaches across the desk, picking up the miniature Mike Best and rolling it between his figures. He swivels the neck and shoulders, and then the hips. The knees do not bend, and he swallows a lump in his throat as the realization comes over him.
“Throw a knee, douchebag.” Michael crosses his arms in front of his chest. “Go ahead. Throw a fucking knee. Here, you can use Skeletor, dummy.”
He yanks open the drawer of his desk, fishing around inside and reaching toward the back. Hidden behind the various office supplies and business cards, the champion grabs hold of a small plastic Skeletor, tossing it onto the face of the desk before crossing his arms in front of him once more.
“I get it, man.” David begins, quietly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t—“
“HIT HIM WITH A FUCKING KNEE.” Michael roars, suddenly, throwing his desk chair sideways as it crashes to the floor. “OR I WILL FUCKING HIT YOU WITH A KNEE.”
David picks up the Skeletor action figure, holding it alongside the newly minted Mike Best doll. If he wasn’t on the verge of an anxiety attack, he’d probably feel a bit silly about the whole ordeal.
But this doesn’t feel silly.
He sets the Skeletor figure up on the topside of the desk, revving up with the Mike Best close behind. He extends the leg out in front of him, weakly driving some kind of a “big boot” into the face of his opponent.
The boot connects! Skeletor is down!
“Did I say kick him?” The Starmaker seethes, nearly at a whisper.
His assistant drops the toys suddenly, letting them fall to the desk with a deafening crash against the backdrop of uncomfortable silence.
“No.” David mutters, softly. “You’re right. I can’t knee him. The knees don’t bend.”
“The knees don’t bend.” Michael repeats, nodding. “The knees don’t bend. The knees don’t FUCKING BEND. Because there are FIVE FUCKING POINTS OF ARTICULATION. Gee, dickhead, it’s a good thing I’m not famous for THROWING A FUCKING KNEE, HUH?”
David doesn’t look up.
He can hear the raw hatred in the champion’s voice.
But he doesn’t look up.
It won’t end if he looks up.
“I don’t get it.” He grits his teeth, feeling the swelling in his forehead as his temper begins to boil over. “How can a human being be SO FUCKING STUPID? What’s wrong with you!? Are you fucking re—“
In an instant, something in him shuts down.
It’s as though all of the machinery has suddenly ground to a halt, as Michael Lee Bests arms drop to his side. A lump forms in his throat, as he suddenly contemplates why exactly he’s screaming. It’s not something he’s spent a lot of time thinking about over the course of his 34 years, but this moment is one of them.
The color slowly leaves his face, as he forces his body to relax. At the peak of his anger, something seems to have stopped the HOW World Champion in his tracks.
“Do you–” the Starmaker pauses, leaning against the wall as his fingers rise to his temples, rubbing away in a circular motion. “Do you have any idea how hard I’ve worked, Dave?”
The assistant perks up at the proper use of his name– the tone in the Hall of Famer’s voice has changed on a dime, as though he was suddenly a completely different person.
“Fifteen years, Dave.” Michael swallows, trying hard to keep his calm. “For fifteen years, I have busted my ass to get to a place where I can look on the shelf at a store, see a stupid fucking toy with my face on it, and see proof that my life was worth a fuck. Let me ask… how old are you? Twenty one? Twenty two?”
“Twenty three.” David raises his eyes to meet his boss’, but quickly realizes that’s a bad idea.
“Twenty three.” Best nods, mulling that number over. “And I bet you fucking hate working for me. I bet every day, you wake up and wonder how much longer you have to deal with your asshole boss before it starts to feel like it’s worth it. Well let me tell you, Dave, I’ve spent my whole life wondering when it was gonna be worth it. And I don’t know if it ever will be, but here I am. I just keep fucking… doing it. Giving up everything. Thinking that just one more year of this, and it’ll all be worth it. And then I stand here, and I look at this fucking stupid shit action figure, and all I want is for it to throw a fucking knee, man. That’s my legacy. That’s my life.”
He snatches the action figure up off the desk, wiggling the leg lifelessly in front of him.
“Fix it.” the Starmaker whispers, looking away from his assistant. “Get out of my office, and don’t fuck this up again. Seven points of articulation, David.”
With a weak flip of his wrist, he gestures the assistant out of the office. As soon as the door closes behind David, Michael quietly picks his desk up from the floor, letting out a hard sigh as he plops back down at his desk. He eyes the action figures on the table, picking them up in each of his hands.
It feels familiar, like looking through an old family photo album– not that the Son of God was one for fond memories of childhood. A stupid piece of plastic. Why should it matter so much? Why the fuck should it matter if it bends at the knee? Why the fuck should it matter if he has one of these stupid things at all?
“Maybe I’ll feel better tomorrow.” he mumbles, under his breath.
Action Figure Mike Best hooks Skeletor by the head, driving his skull headfirst into the shiny veneer of the desk. He can hear the crowd roaring, as the Miniature Starmaker makes the cover.
Soon, it’ll all be over.
One way or another.