One Year Earlier…
“MJ Flair has been eliminated by Mike Best!” Bryan McVay’s voice bellows from the soundbar resting atop the aged oak coffee table.
My right hand is white-knuckling the blue rubber grips of the diagonal cutting pliers. Briefly looking up from the recently sanitized hand tool, MJ Flair’s bloody face fills the 42” LED television screen that’s securely mounted against the chipped sheetrock wall. Her breaths are shallow as she stares off into the abyss, wiping the blood away from her eyes.
She fought hard.
The only light source inside the dingy garage I’ve outfitted as my temporary rehabilitation center comes from the protruding images of destruction this year’s War Games is serving up. Shadows dance with fluidity inside the mostly empty dwelling, not free to roam beyond this physical prison they’re locked within, much like the mental prison I’m currently unable to escape. Again glancing up through my window to France, Flair is struggling to roll her mostly lifeless body out of the ring, eventually succeeding only to collapse at the feet of Joel Hortega. The blood from her forehead trickles down the side of her face, pooling in a divet of sand.
She did the best she could.
The rumble of engines echo within these four lonely walls, all terrain vehicles and a medical cart having been deployed from the nearby camp. They speed up the sandy shores of Normandy Beach, approaching the vile structure that has hosted the final chapter of many careers. The very structure I’d sell my soul to be in, willingly rolling the dice on my career and long term health. The very structure I should be competing in.
It’s not fair.
The arriving medics meet the High Octane Official and the battle worn combatant. Concern can be heard in their voices and as much as they try to mask it, can be seen on their faces. An orange backboard rests on the bed of the medical cart, awaiting Flair’s tiny frame to be strapped in tightly. She sits down, but ignores the professional pleas from the medics, refusing to lay down. Her crimson painted face stares at the remaining competitors defiantly. She might have just tasted defeat, but they sure as hell didn’t break her or her spirit.
I wish I could relate.
The final staple on the front of my left shoulder has been split in half, my household tool having served its purpose as a makeshift medical instrument. Tossing the pliers down on the green plaid couch cushion to my right, I turn my attention towards my homemade ‘medical station’: a white towel spread out in front of the pricey soundbar, a pair of needle nose pliers and a bottle of rubbing alcohol layed out atop it. I proceed to unscrew the cap of the bottle and tilt it to let a generous stream douse the stainless steel tips. The towel underneath soaks up the excess, albeit poorly, and I’ve more than likely damaged the varnished finish of the coffee table.
“That should work,” I mumble, more or less hoping my disinfecting methods are effective.
Grabbing onto the cut end of one of the staples, I pinch it between the tip of the pliers and twist, removing the hooked portion from underneath my skin. No blood exits from the tiny hole as a slight burn radiates from the alcohol seeping in. It’s a tradeoff I’ll gladly make to ditch the raw itchiness that comes with the skin healing over, scabbing against the staples.
“One down,” I wince. “Nine to go.”
As I get into a rhythm of removing the cut pieces of staples, I can’t help but spiral deeper into my current state of depression. I should be proud of MJ. She earned her spot on Lee’s team, fair and square at my expense. She fought her fuckin’ ass off enroute to War Games, and brought that same work ethic to France, shocking Lindsay with an early elimination. Fuck, had it not been for a lapse in ring awareness, she’d of shocked the whole GODdamned world by eliminating Mike Best.
She has every reason to hold her head high, most would agree.
I’m not most.
I don’t give a single fuck about any of that. I just can’t bring myself to do it. I know it’s selfish of me, but I can’t help but let jealousy creep in and fuel my thoughts, as shitty as that sounds.
And I’m entitled to that.
“That was my fuckin’ opportunity,” I bitch, continuing to pluck away at the protruding bits perimetering my surgical wound.
MJ took my spot on General Lee Best’s team. My chance to rectify the failure that was March To Glory. My shot at capturing the HOW World Championship.
She took it and fuckin’ wasted it. There are no silver linings here. A solid performance or valiant effort don’t mean shit around these parts. Anything short of winning the whole damn thing is a fuckin’ waste.
“And it’s your fuckin’ fault!” my voice cracks as I let out a guttural roar, tossing the pliers against the television screen, shattering its display.
Clenching my eyes shut, tears fight to squeeze out from the pinched edges of my eyelids, ultimately succeeding. After a couple deep breaths through gritted teeth, I open them to look down at the meaty scar that’s less than three weeks old. All the staples are removed, and it throbs as if it has its own heartbeat. I shake my head, careful not to break my gaze, locked in on my arm with disgust filling my stomach.
“It’s your fault,” I cry to the limb that gave out on me during my War Games qualifier with the then winless MJ Flair.
“That was supposed to be my moment!” I scream, pointing at the distorted HOTV feed.
A childhood dream fulfilled.
I have nothing. I have no one.
“Promise yourself,” I spit, jabbing my index finger into my thigh. “Right fuckin’ now.”
That you’ll make this right. That no matter how dark shit gets, you ain’t gonna give up. You’re coming back a complete competitor, not some sad sack shell of yesteryear. You’ll prove that winning the LBI wasn’t a fuckin’ fluke or dumb luck. That come hell or high water, you’ll climb to that fuckin’ mountain top, and stake your claim.
No matter how long it takes.
No matter the price you gotta pay.
No matter the sacrifices you gotta make.
You will be the fuckin’ guy.
No. Matter. What.
May 23rd, 2021
Futagoyama Sumo Stable – Day 3
“JIKAN DESU!” Stablemaster Masato yells, signaling to both myself and Ozutsu that he is ready for our match to begin.
I scuff my feet behind the white chalk line on my half of the dirt ring, kicking up a small cloud in the process. Turning my feet outwards, I grip my toes into the loose ground beneath me. Dropping down into a squat, I bounce ever so slightly through my knees as a means of stretching the ligaments. Rotating my neck back and forth, I’m not only preparing myself physically, but mentally for the upcoming collision I’m about to have with the nearly four hundred pound brick shithouse, Ozutsu.
Looking up, the highly ranked Sumo is deep in his squat, staring a hole through the unwanted foreigner that has taken up refuge in his stable. The foreigner who not only convinced the bilingual Masato to let him bunk at his house of eleven professional Sumo’s, but to train with them as well. Masato appreciated the honest sales pitch of challenging myself in an unfamiliar form of physical combat, a method aimed at broadening my physical and mental skill sets. Ozutsu and the others have elected to view my participation in a different light, my presence nothing more than a silly stunt of sorts.
At least that’s the message their tone and body language have conveyed. What they’re saying in Japanese I don’t actually know, and when I look at Masato he shakes his head as if I’m better off not knowing.
Ozutsu snorts as he drops his arms between his legs, his knuckles scraping across the reddish tinged dirt. Looking towards Masato, he nods at me as if to say ‘get on with it’. I return the nod, and shift back to notice the behemoth perched some four feet in front of me smirking the most unfriendliest of smirks. With one long deep breath in, I too drop my arms, letting my knuckles touch the rough dirt.
“HAKKI-YOI!” Masato yells.
Darting out of my stance like a sprinter out of his blocks, I use Ozutsu’s height to my advantage, driving my shoulder into his sternum as my left hand digs into his rib cage. The impact sends a jolt down my spine, but I can hear a large gust of wind exit his lungs. He lowers his stance to suck wind, prompting me to take half a step backwards. I bolt forward again, dipping under his flailing arms and shifting to his left side, grabbing onto his loincloth.
As quick as I try taking the rear position for a leg sweep, the sneaky agility of the big man catches me off guard as he spins around to connect with an open palm strike to my ear. One could say I’ve been bitch slapped into next week. My knees weaken, and I lose my grip on his garb. Stumbling backwards, time slows down and the ringing in my ears becomes deafening. Stars begin to flutter in my vision and I briefly close my eyes to try and regain my bearings.
I’m back on the USS Octane, draped across the top rope looking out at the flight deck. Pushing up, I turn around to face the shit eating grin of Clay Byrd. The Monster From Plainview spins in a circle, creating unnecessary momentum for a man of his size and strength, crushing his tough as leather knuckles into my orbital bone, his devastating discus punch knocking the teeth loose in my mouth.
Opening my eyes, Ozutsu is charging forward as my staggered body is off balance, drilling the peak of his shoulder underneath my chin. He follows through with both palms on my chest, pushing me backwards. My head snaps back and my feet desperately try to find the grains of dirt beneath them. Unfortunately they don’t, but my back soon does as I can faintly hear the roar of the spectating Sumos, muffled by the never ending ringing. I gasp for air and my eyes begin to roll back involuntarily.
On a single knee, I watch droplets of blood hypnotically fall to the stained ring canvas. Pushing off my thigh, I regain a vertical position, but it won’t be for long. Clay’s massive frame is barrelling forward, his right fist clenched as his arm jerks anxiously. His wind up is exaggerated, but quick nonetheless, and with no time to brace, his bicep tries to separate my head from my shoulders.
I blink incessantly as I roll around, the red powder matting to my sweat soaked skin. I’m able to hop to my feet out of pure instinct, but I’m still not the most certain where I am or who just assaulted me. Before I can make a move, Masato has wrapped his arms around my torso and pulled me back. Ozutsu flashes a cheeky smile, and gives a slight bow.
“It’s over,” His deep voice informs me. “You lost.”
“Fuck…” I mumble in disappointment.
You possess physical traits I’ll never have. Your size is enviable. Your raw strength is frightening. I’m not delusional enough to think I can match you in either category, and it’d be a fool’s game to try and do so. Your athletic ability is on par with mine, and paired with those traits, you’re a real freak of fuckin’ nature. And it shows. You’ve made it your mission to shatter skulls and break necks. You’ve decimated everyone you’ve stepped inside that ring with.
Everyone except me, that is.
And there’s a reason for that, Clay. It’s the traits I possess that you’ll never have. The heart that beats inside my chest. The fortitude I was born with. Pair those traits with my athletic ability, and you don’t get a freak. Nah.
You get a fuckin’ warrior.
It’s why that Texas Lariat of yours didn’t put me down. Was it muscle memory that had me grab that bottom rope? Does it matter? The fact of the matter is it didn’t stop me from getting up and planting you on your oversized fuckin’ head, dead center of the ring. And buddy, I’ve watched that sequence over and over again, and that replay reveals some damning evidence. Your narcoleptic ass wasn’t kicking out.
Your prayers for a Miracle didn’t fall on deaf ears.
I’m a different breed, Clay. Try all you want, but you’ll never be me. I don’t go around whining and bitching about how much I ‘NEED’ this. And there’s a very important reason why: because I don’t. I don’t NEED the LSD Championship. I don’t NEED to stand victorious at War Games.
I fuckin’ DESERVE it.
“I still ain’t wiping his ass,” I scoff.
It’s customary for the lower ranked wrestlers to prepare lunch after practice, and I’ve been more than happy to pull my weight in that regard. What I will not take part in is their hazing rituals, or what could be better described as demeaning acts aimed to humiliate. So when I was told on Day One I’d have to wipe the ass of the top ranked Sumo after he took a shit, in this case Roho, I kindly asked Masato to translate ‘go fuck yourself’ to my housemates.
It didn’t go over so well.
“Nine,” Masato counts.
My lower back throbs as I can feel the most recent outline from the bamboo stick that just ripped across my skin. Grumbling is heard behind me, and a quick glance over my shoulder reveals the shinai being handed off like a baton to Ozutsu. The Sumo grips the handle tightly while looking at Masato, who in turn looks at me. I shake my head, and turn back to face the cypress paneled wall.
“Nope,” I bluntly offer.
‘That one was a stinger,’ I think, slightly arching my back and tensing up my fists. I bounce in place letting out a minor grunt, the clan behind me laughing at my misfortune. With shallow breaths similar to having jumped in an ice cold shower, I turn around to watch the final handoff, Roho having eagerly waited for his opportunity. I force a pearly white smile through my rugged beard, eyeing up Roho, who serves up a smile of his own back my way. Masato again waits for me to speak, and with only one Sumo left, I wonder if he actually thinks I’d give in now.
“Swing batta batta,” I defiantly taunt, refusing to turn away.
Roho puts all his weight behind his swing and follow through, exploding the weapon against the middle of my back. I stiffen up and do my best not to flinch as a collective ‘oh’ echoes throughout the tiny room just left of the kitchen. Roho hands the shinai to Masato, and I take notice that it has begun to splinter. I let out a brief snicker knowing that instrument of torture will break before I do. Roho doesn’t seem to appreciate this, stepping forward only for Masato to wedge himself between us.”
“Go clean up, you filthy animal,” I bark.
“Back to the kitchen,” Masato instructs, shaking his head as he guides Roho away.
“Same time tomorrow?” I ask sarcastically.
This business is my everything. It always has been and it always will be. Growing up, this is the only thing I ever wanted to do. Every waking moment was spent dreaming about this life. I obsessed over the career I wanted to have. I convinced myself of the legacy I was meant to fulfill.
This wasn’t some backup plan for me, Clay.
It was THE PLAN.
You can’t say the same though, can you?
Tell us, how’d that football career turn out for ya? The one straight outta the Friday Night Lights movie script onto your High Octane bio page, Booby Miles. Tore up that knee real good and had your NFL dreams dashed in an instant. Is this the part where we’re supposed to feel bad for you? Cause I don’t. The cold hard truth is you simply weren’t good enough. You went from being the big dog on your High School field to being a little known bitch at the University of Texas. Thank GOD that good ol’ knee trope was sitting right there to help rehabilitate that image of yours, a ‘believable’ excuse to blame your massive failure on.
But hey, at least your father was a professional wrestler and was more than willing to spoon feed his baby boy.
How fuckin’ convienient.
He even paved the way for you to travel to The Land Of The Rising Son, gifting you an experience most of us have to bust our asses for. Congratufuckulations, be proud. I bet you had the time of your life, spending twelve years here as the dominating foreign monster. I’m sure being back has filled you with a bit of the confidence you used to strut around these streets with. Go on and enjoy that feeling. I just hope you don’t try and create some false narrative that this is a homecoming of sorts for ‘Big Tex’.
Because it’s not. And it’d be a big fuckin’ mistake if you do.
It doesn’t matter where that ring is set up so long as the skirt reads ‘High Octane Wrestling’. Set it up in Japan. Set it up anywhere in the States. I tell you what, set it up on the fuckin’ moon for all I care. At the end of the day, location doesn’t mean a damned thing.
High Octane Wrestling is my home.
And I always have home field advantage, bitch.
I need this.
The isolation, that is.
As much as War Games is a team based event, and I want nothing more than to see the Two-One-Four standing victorious at the end of the evening, I have to distance myself from my teammates. My path to travel differs from theirs. My night begins in isolation. I don’t get the luxury of teammates. I have the weight of my entire team placed on my shoulders.
Teddy Palmer versus Clay Byrd.
I’m tasked with retaining my LSD Championship. I’m tasked with eliminating arguably the most dangerous member of The Best Alliance. I’m tasked with giving the Two One Four that much desired numbers advantage, tilting the scales of victory in our favour.
This is the moment I’ve waited an entire fuckin’ year for and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Best probably thinks he has me seeing Red, and technically he ain’t wrong. He just hasn’t clued in it’s of the #97 Variety, and giving me that defined path was a huge advantage on my part.
As the word, ‘isolation,’ bounces around the interior of my skull, I can’t help but laugh at the irony it carries given my roommate situation. The lower ranked wrestlers share a communal room as living quarters, and in this instance, that would be seven of the eleven stable members. I bring that uncomfortable number to a cozy eight, and I firmly believe that has hurt my likeability amongst my peers.
Again, ironic. We wrestle all morning in glorified thongs, and it’s acceptable to try and get another man to wipe your ass, but sleeping arrangements is the ‘Do Not Cross’ line in this household.
I was the last to our room after lunch cleanup, and stood in the doorway debating my entrance. I stared at my mattress off in the corner, a blue memory foam pad, and felt seven sets of eyes staring back at me. It wasn’t so much their daggers that had me opt out and head back to the training center, but this feeling in the pit of my stomach that any free time should be spent challenging myself.
It’s been my modus operandi since last year’s War Games.
The mental battle of recovering from a major surgery. The countless hours grinding away in the gym to get myself in the best shape of my life. Adopting new workout methods to try and prevent injuries, prevent letting myself down again. Returning to HOW as a DeNucci Cup entrant, a foreign form of combat that had me fighting not only my opponent, but myself. It’s the same fuckin’ reason I’m staying here while in Japan.
I am the toughest opponent I’ll ever face. If I can’t overcome myself, I sure as fuck ain’t beating anyone else.
I’m in the middle of a set of kettlebell swings, my shoulders and lats on fire. With each swing up, the gentle gust of wind is a soothing offset to the beads of sweat that irritate the welts on my back. As I approach the last few repetitions, they are executed with the same form, strength, and endurance. The final rep is completed with emphasis and I drop the fifty five pound weight between my legs, a loud thud emanating from the dirt.
“Fuckin’ right!” I yell to myself.
At least I thought I was by myself.
“Language,” Masato says, startling me.
“Sorry,” I begin before bowing respectfully. “Sensai.”
“Oyakata,” He replies.
“There wasn’t any left,” I shrug at the lack of leftovers. “Have you seen your boys eat?”
“No, it’s,” he holds his hands up and shakes his head. “Nevermind.”
Walking over to the side of the ring, I grab the other kettlebell that completes the pair. Screwing my hands tightly into the handles, I jerk them up overhead, letting the bells rest against my forearms. With one deep breath in, I drop my arms down and begin my shoulder presses. With each repetition, I rattle a name off in my head.
“Your work ethic,” Masato walks directly in front of me. “It’s impressive.”
“Thanks,” I grunt.
“I thought you’d quit after the first day.”
He proceeds to stand in silence as I continue thrusting the weight skywards. He awkwardly watches from well within my personal bubble, the noises I make and projectile lip sweat not seeming to bother him. After completing the set, I’m careful to set the kettlebells down, rather than risk dropping them on his feet. I rest my calloused hands on my knees, looking up at Masato with exhaustion.
“Keep fighting,” he says with a hint of respect, turning to walk away. “And don’t stop.”
No matter what.
Don’t ever question my passion for this again, fuck nuts.
‘But Ted! But Ted! You ‘member when Farthington brokeded you and you crawled away?’
No. No I don’t. I remember Farthington dislocating my elbow. I remember competing for an additional SEVEN weeks against doctors orders, because again I reiterate, I FUCKIN’ LOVE THIS. I had my eyes set on War Games and wanted a second chance at Farthington and his World Championship. But in a sad turn of events that you can relate to, a limb gave out on me.
What you can’t relate to, is that injury didn’t fuckin’ stop me.
‘Okay, true true. But Ted! Yer an addict!’
Damn, you got me there. I’m an addict. Recovering, but still an addict no less. Sex, drugs and alcohol. The Holy Trinity, my man. But before you start hootin’ and hollerin’ at your victory of words, let me toss a couple names out. Scott Woodson. John Sektor. Mike Best. Want me to continue?
NINETY PERCENT OF OUR INDUSTRY ARE ADDICTS. THAT’S NOT A UNIQUE INSULT.
You wanna know what else I’m addicted to?
So bring your very fuckin’ best inside that cage. I want you to blister my chest. I want to taste copper in my mouth. I want to have my sight blurred yellow from the crimson mask I’m wearing. I want you to beat the ever living hell outta me.
I NEED you to do it, Clay.
Then I’ll prove my point. You’ll see what real passion is capable of. You’ll grow frustrated that nothing you do can put me down. You’ll realize that as time goes on, I get stronger, faster, and a fuck tonne meaner. You’ll hit that breaking point where you’ll be begging for the sweet relief you found in the Pacific Ocean.
You’re gonna quit, Clay.
You are not walking out of War Games with my LSD Championship. I’m keeping this belt the right way, not because of some technicality. You will hold the distinct dishonour of being the first man eliminated inside that cage. You will be a fuckin’ afterthought.
To The Two One Four.
To The Best Alliance.
Failure is on the horizon once more, so you Best start preparing your excuse for Lee.
Don’t feel compelled to share, I don’t give a fuck.