Mike, we’ve all been witness to your greatness. You’re the best to ever do this, you’re on a level that we mere mortals could only dream of achieving. What you’ve done, year after year, match after match, main event after main event is already written in the history books. The men that walk the hallowed halls of The Best Arena whisper as you stroll by, and they will for years and years after this. I remember the first time I saw you, we were on the good ship Octane and you had just killed Kostoff for the 27th time.
That was the first time I had come face to face with a real lion. I had watched the previous years unfold, the battles with your hero Dan Ryan, the death match with your brother Max. I’d heard the legend of the main event HOFC fight with Christopher America. What you’ve achieved, and what you’ve helped to create here are truly awe inspiring. You’re not A legend Mike, you are THEE legend. There’s levels to these things. Jatt Starr is a legend, Darkwing is a legend, Bobbinette Carey is a legend, Steve Solex is a legend, John Sektor is a legend, Cecilworth Farthington is a legend.
But you’re above them all. You’ve achieved something unheard of in our industry: your legacy spans a decade. You’re not Jatt Starr coming out to celebrate who you were. You’re not Kostoff, nobody feared what you HAVE done. No, Mike. You’ve been excellent for so long, because everyone feared what you HAVE done and what you WOULD do. Because you’re fuckin’ excellent. You’ve achieved a standard of consistency in your strive for perfection that will never be seen in this sport again.
I know you know all of this Michael, because you’ve told us time and time again. You’ve run off at the gums at 100 miles per hour for a decade, and nobody could ever slow you down. Not even if they powerbombed you through the floor of the Coliseum, not even if they tried to kill you, not even if they tried to go after the very few vulnerabilities you have. They say history is written by the victor, Mike, well, you’ve been the victor so long you’ve rewritten the history of High Octane Wrestling. That’s how absurdly great at wrestling you really are. John Sektor has had a legend of a career across two different eras as one of the most dominant champions the sport has ever seen. Compared to you? It’s nothing, it’s meaningless.
You’re the greatest wrestler to ever walk the planet, Mike. You’re the Achilles minus the heel, you’re the Hector minus the pride, you’re our personal Hercules. Jatt Starr has this weird thing goin’ on where he talks ‘bout me like I’m some type of modern day folk hero. That I’m the stuff of legends gone by. Jatt has it wrong, Mike, and maybe it’s because you stabbed his wife in the eye with a pen and caused him to spiral out of control. But all those stories he tells? It wouldn’t surprise me if they were actually about you.
This is what I’m confronted with every day I wake up, Michael. This is what I have to encounter when I brush my teeth, what I have to encounter when I get a shower, what I have to encounter when I close my eyes at night, when I sit on the toilet trying to find my peace in an online article about a war in Europe. I have to realize that I’m pitted against the best wrestler in the entire fucking world. I have to confront the two times you concussed me by driving your knee into my skull, I have to convince myself that I can have a different outcome.
It’s not like the time I lost to Sektor. I’ve beaten John, I’ve conquered that mountain. I know when the two of us climb into the ring, the fireworks will fly and a physical toll will be extracted, but I’ll walk away. It’s not like that with you Mike. I have to confront my greatest fears when I step into the ring with you. I have to confront my own insecurities, I have to stare them down and vanquish them, all while trying to conquer you.
You’re my white whale, Michael. From the moment you planted your knee upside my skull in the DeNucci Cup, to now, you are the measuring stick I have to measure myself against. You single handedly reset my personal status quo, anything that I did or have done in my life wouldn’t be enough. That knee to the skull would always be there, eating me alive, begging for me to take another shot at conquering the king.
The rest of these mongrels wanted nothing to do with you, yet there I was, ready, willing, unprepared, naive and stupid. But I had to try, Michael, I had to give it everything, and what did I get for my troubles? Another knee, another concussion, another trip to the back of the line. But I’m a wrestler, Michael. I enjoy the ropes, I enjoy the art I create inside the squared circle. The chain link cage of HOFC was never my preferred canvas. Violence might be in my blood, but where I’m exceptional has always been in the ring. And you didn’t fight there. You had transcended beyond the squared circle. You were done, and so I had to go out to your domain to find you.
And then you came back.
From the moment you kneed your father into oblivion and read the 970,000 word contract that brought you back to wrestling at Rumble at the Rock, I wanted to wrestle you. I needed to wrestle you. I had to know, was the man who transcended wrestling better than me? My white whale became obtainable, and I went on my crusade to try to find it. All it took was one win over Jace Parker Davidson and suddenly I had your undivided attention.
I was going to get a chance to prove myself. I was going to get a chance to show you what I could do in the ring. What this thirty-nine year old body could still bring to battle. See Mike, just like you, my time is limited. I’m on the backend of a career that didn’t start here until it was too late. I have what, maybe one, maybe two more good years left? I have to take care of myself. It helps that I’m a bigger guy, but the violent style I wrestle? I’d bet the under.
I thought I had your undivided attention. I thought I was going to get MY last shot at glory at ICONIC. Michael Lee Best, ten time World Heavyweight Champion, the greatest wrestler on the planet versus old man Clay. The gunslinger on his last ride. Ahab finally fights the white whale. I wanted to win, and I was going to do everything I possibly could to win. I was going to dig down deep and fight you like a man possessed. But we both knew what the outcome to a match like that would have been. We both knew where it would go. When it was just Clay vs Mike for the #97RED strap, and the title of best wrestler in the world. We both knew the path we’d go down. The pain that would be around each bend for both of us, and we also both knew the ending.
I was going to lose.
The wood grain of the park bench tore at The Behemoth’s calloused fingertip as he ground his thumb into the empty pine seat beside him. He looked out at Lake Michigan, squinting to shield his eyes against the sunrise. As March to Glory approached, sleep became a fleeting comfort for the Monster From Plainview. He’d finally left his parking spot in Solex’s front yard, and he needed time to himself. He needed to get away from Solex’s madness to confront his own, and now he found himself staring out over one of the largest bodies of freshwater in the world.
The small waves from the lake crashed against the shore as Clay watched. He took in the view as he stared out into the lake, his thoughts racing. Even the sunrise reminded him of Michael Lee Best, the man who had taken the moniker of Christ at one point could even torture the beautiful sight before him. His #97RED gym bag sat at his feet; everytime he was in Chicago he always felt an urge to carry it on him. Like he was going to be spontaneously called to The Best Arena to wrestle some match.
Truth be told, besides his truck all his worldly possessions were in that bag. Even the twelve pack of PBR he had brought to the shore to enjoy. The pisswater sat untouched in the bag, it felt almost disrespectful to drink at a time like this. There would not be a magical answer to the Michael Lee Best conundrum in the bottom of the next can of swill. As much as he wanted there to be one, it didn’t exist. Half the roster had gone to war with Michael at one time or another, and now they were complacent bystanders to his greatness instead of challengers for the throne.
Even when he tried to take his mind off of the imminent confrontation at hand, Kneesus was still there. He was always there, the image embedded in the Texan’s brain was the slight smirk Mike had given him at Refueled 52. The two had a different relationship then, Michael was in the midst of one of the greatest world title runs of all time and The Behemoth was the game newcomer to High Octane. That match started with the most sincere gesture Michael Lee Best had ever given another human being. A week after knocking Conor Fuse out before the bell rang, the World Champion touched gloves with The Behemoth.
There was a sense of respect between the two. Clay had earned the nickname ‘The Monster from Plainview’ in the weeks of combat leading up to their quarter final showdown. He’d decimated Hudson Hughes, playing with his food like a big cat with a mouse. He’d knocked John Sektor out of the tournament in the first round, and somehow Michael Lee Best had taken the relationship seriously. But that damned knowing smirk, at the moment Clay had returned it to Michael, but he’d find out why the smirk was there later in the fight.
The first knee was telegraphed, it was pure desperation from a desperate man. The Behemoth had caught Michael in mid-air, and drove him to the mat with a Powerbomb that shook the very foundation of the arena. The end of the second round ended the equality in their relationship, Michael Lee Best climbed to heights never seen before and smashed Clay with a knee that shook The Monster to the very core. His confidence shattered, he retreated back to his old stomping ground: his father’s Texas ranch. Michael had never known how hard he had rocked The Behemoth’s confidence, and how could he? Clay didn’t even know himself. Maybe that was why Clay went against his best friend’s and his own better judgment and joined The Best Alliance.
He’d replayed the tape of that night a hundred times, looking for tendencies, looking for anything that would aid him in ascending to Mike Best’s level. The moment he thought he saw something he’d flip over to a different match and look for it. That damned knee, The Behemoth thought. It was what it was. He’d been down this road time and time again over the last few weeks. If he was being honest with himself he’d been down the road over and over again the past few months. The tape was no longer needed, The Monster had it memorized. It was ingrained in his brain.
He looked down at his duster, he’d taken it off at some point after the sun rose over the lake. Clay had lost track of time, the seconds warped into hours before his own eyes. He could hear the sound of Chicago rising from its evening slumber behind him. He didn’t dare look back into the city, but he looked down at the object he clutched in his grip. The worn leather felt soft to the touch, while the faded patches felt brittle. He traced his finger up the center hem, feeling the bump of each step.
The duster that Mike loved to poke fun of, had a story of its own. Sadly it never belonged to a prospector, at least as far as Clay knew. He let his mind wander away from Michael Lee Best for a brief moment. Robert Byrd was a complicated man, the man that Clay had always watched wrestle had always been a hero. He walked out in his white cowboy hat shooting finger guns into the air and smiling like a hero.
Of course, he was never the major protagonist. But he had values that he fought for, he had a code he followed. And he had taught Clay that very same code. The rules were simple, and they had guided Clay throughout the years to greater heights than his father ever imagined. He could choke a man, because that’s why the four count was there. He could hit a man with a foriegn object, and it was fine. Because why else would they put steel chairs under the ring?
Clay chuckled to himself, there was another before Michael. Years ago, that had caused Clay to find the black coat of a man that had decided to leave the earth before Clay had decided to enter it. The story about Robert Byrd being a lifelong loser in the business of professional wrestling wasn’t a fable, but it wasn’t the entire truth either. Clay hadn’t found it out until he sat in the office of his Uncle Roy’s car dealership in Los Angeles. Clay ran his finger around the black plastic button with the light brown swirl running through it, thinking back to the moment.
April 21st, 2018
2 weeks before EWC StrangleMania
Roy Byrd sat at his desk across the office from his nephew. He hadn’t seen the young man in fifteen years, and he came crawling to him like a lost puppy dog. His brother Robert had left the planet a few weeks before the arrival of The Behemoth, and now here his son was: a blubbering mess in his office. Roy wasn’t as tall as the other members of the Byrd clan, but what he didn’t have in height he made up with his rotundness. Roy Byrd was a Behemoth in his own right, The Monster of The Buffet never saw a meal he wasn’t at least interested in. His hair stripped away by age, Roy resembled a bowling pin more than he resembled the silhouette of a fit person.
His oak desk had two glasses with whisky stones in them, and he downed his glass of bourbon and quickly poured himself another. He had come into this conversation expecting some reminiscing, sharing some memories of Robert that the two hadn’t told each other through the years. But his nephew was a lost soul without his old man, and he reached out to the one man who could try to fill in.
“What’d he do to you Clay?” The Texas accent had long disappeared; of course, the other members of the Los Angeles suburb he made his home insisted that he still sounded emphatically Texan.
“He took it,” the larger member of the Byrd clan said under his breath. Clay flexed his fist as he said it, reaching for the glass of bourbon and taking a small sip. He wasn’t crying about the situation, the loss of his father was still fresh in his mind. And the fact he had to resort to flying halfway across the country to find his uncle for a simple chat was unsettling.
“What is ‘it’?” Roy asked. He had a son of his own now. Robert Allen Byrd. He’d even named him after his brother during their own better days, so he could sympathize with his super sized nephew.
“My belt, my title, my championship,” the enormous Texan’s tears of sadness over his father quickly faded as the veins in his neck began to bulge more with each word. His face turned almost tomato red as he made the statement.
Roy Byrd had been entrusted in the days preceding Clay’s birth by Robert. Robert never wanted his son to fear him, he never wanted his son to not understand his own father, he could never see the rope, he could never see the duster until he was ready. Roy had packed every piece of Robert’s career into his minivan and driven it down the road. He’d placed it in his basement, and moved it each time he moved. From Plainview to Dallas, from Dallas to Los Angeles the boxes had traveled with Roy.
Roy had idolized the man Robert was, he was a teenager when Robert had started the journey to be a professional wrestler. He had fallen in love with the sport, but without having the athletic gifts that Robert possessed, Roy could never fall in his brother’s footsteps. But every Friday he rode down to the old armory and rooted his brother on, through the bloody battles, through the wars. Cage matches, and bull ropes, Robert Byrd stood for something once. The gunslinger would step out, his black duster a perfect dichotomy to the white cowboy hat. The cause was good, but the means were dastardly. When you crossed Robert Byrd in the territory around Amarillo you were playing roulette with your own life.
He understood why Robert wanted to hide that part of himself from his son. Roy hid many things about himself from his own kid. The fact his mother was originally a saleswoman at the car dealership that Roy had convinced through years of persistence finally won his mother’s hand was a blatant lie. The two had met, she had started working there, and they went for a few drinks after work and ended up with a child. So he understood stashing the past away, and Martha… Clay’s mother wouldn’t have it in the house. She had always been appalled by Robert’s profession and method of destruction. But the instructions were always clear, when Clay could know, if he ever would understand. Show him, explain it all. With his brother’s death, Roy had taken to keeping the black duster in a small closet in the wall behind his desk.
“I got something I need to show you, Clay,” Roy said with a seriousness that caused Clay to look up at his uncle. He could see that little boy that he had last seen as he left Dallas behind the grizzled beard. Clay’s steel blue gaze hadn’t changed.
“Fuckin’ Cyrus,” Clay said to himself as he held the duster in his hands. The rivalry between the two of them over a title in a small federation that didn’t matter had caused Roy to divulge his father’s deepest secrets. He’d spent the next two days pouring over scrap books, finding fun messages his mother had written in the margins about Robert. And Roy gave him the context of every moment. The situation that Clay had found himself in was much more serious than a rivalry over a title belt.
It was a different kind of story; when Roy had explained his fathers exploits, Clay was astonished. He’d dawned the duster as his shield. The subject of the ridicule shielded The Behemoth from his own insecurities around Cyrus Black and his ‘Blackout’ kick. How silly he had been four years ago. The same subject that brought The now Monster from Plainview to seek his uncle’s advice, now would have been the conflict on a regular episode of Refueled. When he came to High Octane he thought he’d seen it all, he thought he’d already encountered his greatest rival in a small convention center in Long Beach, California.
And here he sat on a bench, staring at the jacket that had provided such a huge lift to his confidence that he was able to triumph. Clay smirked as he looked down at it, it all sounded so silly to him now, to be preoccupied by a piece of leather and tin in front of a few thousand people packed into a convention center. That old rivalry wilted when confronted by the hatred between The Behemoth and The SON. Back then Clay was a thirty four year old manchild dealing with the loss of his guide.
Now? Now, he realized he was his own guide down the path that High Octane had set before him. But, with Mike’s insistence on it being The Prospector’s jacket, Clay had to ask the old man while he had access. Clay picked up the gym bag and walked himself across Grant Park. He carried the jacket over his arm and tucked against the side. His old Best Alliance t-shirt clung to him like it was a size too small. Finally, after the long walk across Chicago’s front yard, he approached the old rusted black Ford F250. The visage of Robert Byrd stood watch in the passenger seat as he approached.
He’d heard his uncle Roy’s idolized side of the story, and now, it was time to hear his father’s. Clay swung the door open and sat down beside his unblinking father in the cab. He sat the duster between the two of them and looked over at his father.
“Tell me ‘bout it,” Clay said with a smirk. His father had talked about Clay, he’d talked about the fight against Mike since it was announced, he was focused in like a laser. Robert looked down at the duster and shrugged his shoulders.
“It’s a coat.”