Sometimes, I wonder who I am.
I know a lot of facts about “me”. I was born on February 14, 2004. I got a C in eleventh grade chemistry. I’m right handed. These are accurate statements that help to make up the identity of Tyler Adrian Best, like torn out clippings from magazines laid out into a ransom letter. But is that what I am? Just the summation of a long summation of short, easy to digest observations? I’m five foot eleven. I took piano lessons for two years. I have never been to Spain. It’s amazing how you can know so many things about yourself, and still have absolutely no idea who you actually are.
I know that I’m a champion.
I know that I’m part of a wrestling dynasty.
I can say those words in any inflection you like. I can make them sound angry, or sad, or exuberantly happy. I can bend reality around a tone of voice, and tell you a story about who I might be, but they’re just facts. Just letters torn from the pages of a magazine. They don’t really mean anything, they’re just sounds you make with your mouth that convey an agenda. Why do I tell you that I’m a champion, when you can clearly see the belt around my waist. Why do I tell you that I am a part of a wrestling dynasty, when you already know my father. My grandfather. Maybe it’s because I want you to be impressed by me.
Do I even care if you’re impressed by me?
I’m still trying to figure this out. Still trying to figure all of this out, really. Lindsay showed me how to run the ropes, and where to tuck your chin when someone DDTs you, to limit the damage you take to your neck. She showed me how to balance on a turnbuckle and how to mitigate the damage you take from a chairshot. She taught me everything in the world about how to wrestle, but nothing about being a wrestler.
All of this feels… insane.
Why do we spend more time cutting promos on our opponents than we do beating the fuck out of them? I feel like I’ve said everything there is to say about Jatt Starr, and now I’m just waiting for him to say more words, so that I can say more words. This little dance that we do to sell tickets, even though the matches sell themselves. This is all you really need: “Tyler Best is gonna fight Jatt Starr on August 14, and the show costs $50.” That’s it. Match promoted. This all feels so robotic to me, like I can do it on autopilot. But that’s not what they want. They don’t want you going through the motions. It isn’t enough for them to just watch you fight. They want passion. They want a story worth telling. They want a reason for the violence, a slogan to put on a t-shirt.
It’s not enough for me to beat Jatt Starr.
They care about why I wanna beat Jatt Starr.
See, this? This is why Jatt was always Lee’s guy. Jatt’s good at the pageantry. He’s good at the t-shirt slogans and the zany nicknames and the child-friendly catchphrases. He’s everything that High Octane Wrestling isn’t– he’s marketable, and media friendly, and he’s never gonna surprise you. You know exactly what you’re gonna get from Jatt Starr, and I can see why my grandfather hitched his wagon to a guy like that. A loyal, dumb, obedient soldier who was happy to sing and dance and whore himself out to the public like a big walking billboard. Jatt Starr is part of that old guard from the glory days, where you didn’t have to be the best wrestler to get over, you just had to get over.
He’s a lot like my dad.
It’s no wonder they were rivals.
A couple of corporate simps embroiled in a slap fight over headpats from Lee Best, each trashing the other in hopes that Daddy would like them more. It’s embarrassing to go back and watch, honestly. More embarrassing that you think the competition was even close, between you– my dad ran laps around your career before I was even in highschool. And now here we are, Jatt, it’s 2022 and you’re still that same guy. Spurs on your feet and a song in your heart, and you just can’t help but do your dumb dadjokes and your stupid marketing bits. Praying that my dad comes calling with the 2023 budget and there’s room enough in there for a Jatt Starr Yee Haw Cowboy Action Figure, with seven points of articulation.
So who am I, exactly?
By my DNA, I’m an extension of my father, and our inevitable battle at Dead or Alive is just another battle in the war of Simp Supremacy between Michael Best and Jatt Starr. To Jatt Starr, I am a champion to dethrone, and an old grudge to settle. To Lee Best, I am the semi-main event of the floating HOW pay-per-view, and to the fans I am the bad guy to be thwarted. Perspective is perception and perception is reality, so who the hell am I?
Tyler Adrian Best isn’t even my real fucking name.
Everything that I am just feels like it was created to be… him. Like Michael could just blow a lucky load, reset the timer by eighteen years, and be young again. Like he’s trying to build this vicarious life for me to live, so that he can see what everything would have been like if he hadn’t made so many mistakes. Even this match with Jatt– was this just another way for Michael Lee Best to hold on to the past? To the big pay-per-view feud that never actually happened? I’ve been mocking Jatt Starr for not living in a world that ended for him twelve fucking years ago.
But who am I?
Am I just… living nostalgia?
The TEN-X War House
“Pro wrestling is a dead end street.”
A sea of hungry young eyes stare straight ahead at Michael Lee Best, as he paces back and forth from one end of the wrestling ring to the other. Of various shapes and sizes, ten men of athletic to downright out-of-shape builds stand shoulder to shoulder, listening to their hopes and dreams being shattered in quick succession. This isn’t exactly what they were signing up for, but this was certainly what they were getting.
Well, most of them.
“If you think I’m joking,” Michael’s voice reverberates through the high-ceiling of the gym. “You’re in for a real hard reality check. The majority of you will not drop out of this program, and others will be asked to leave. And for a few of you lumps of coal who make it through to the polishing stage? You will graduate from this program into a business that doesn’t give a single fuck about you.”
He paces up the line of candidates, looking each of them up and down as he passes. In the crowd of anonymous faces, one stands out:
Tyler Adrian Streets.
He looks just as nervous as anyone else at the camp, but he shouldn’t be. Out of everyone at today’s cattle call, he’d been the only one invited. And he might not know it yet, but he’s also the only one guaranteed a spot in the program.
After all, it was created for him.
“Let me be clear.” the Son of God continues, moving down the line. “The odds of even being signed by High Octane Wrestling are close to zero. The odds of being successful there are even lower. If you’re here to become a celebrity, to get rich, or to play wrestler like you see on HOTv, you have wasted your time and you have wasted your money. And from this moment forward, there will be absolutely no refunds for any reason– if you drop out of this program, or you are asked to leave, you will forfeit your payment. Any questions?”
One meek hand goes up near the back of the line, but the CEO of HOW ignores it and moves on. He seems impatient. Unmotivated. Uninspired to be here, as he stares out at the legion of losers in front of him.
All this for one fucking kid.
“No questions? Great.” Michael nods, as he begins to pace again. “Now, by show of hands… how many of you have fighting experience? Amateur wrestling, mixed martial arts… little work on the indies…”
A few hands go up, including Tyler Streets, who seems to raise his with confidence. As he should, by the way– putting him quietly through Troy Combat Systems wasn’t cheap, even back when they were the best of friends. Even more expensive to guarantee that she was the one that did his training. By now, he ought to be lightyears ahead of these other candidates… and he’s gonna have to be.
This full ride scholarship needs to look legit.
Michael slowly nods, making mental notes of those who raised their hands. He tries his best to avoid making direct eye contact with Tyler, instead focusing on one of the other recruits with a raised hand. He’s short and squat, a five foot nineish tub of chubby energy who doesn’t exactly have the physique to be here. As the Hall of Famer makes his next pass, he stops in front of the portly young man, looking him up and down.
“You.” Michael points, looking him in the eyes. “Name, weight and experience. Go.”
“I– uh.” Chubby McGee points at himself, as though he’s not sure he’s being addressed. “My name is, uh, Todd. Todd Raymond. Two hundred fifty nine pounds. Two years wrestling folk style, sir.”
There is a muffled chuckling from somewhere down the line, as an amused looking Tyler Streets obviously finds his dimensions to be comical in nature. Michael cuts a look over at his new unknowing protégé, and the chuckling suddenly stops.
“Todd.” Michael repeats, nodding slowly. “Two years, folk style. TWO HUNDRED fifty nine pounds. Do you hear that young man over there, Todd? You’re being laughed at. Do you like being laughed at?”
Todd shakes his head no, quite vehemently. A smirk comes over Michael’s face, as the others in line struggle to keep from giggling at him again.
“Good, Todd.” Michael pats him on the shoulder. “Very good. Do you think you have what it takes to graduate TEN-X? Are you going to make it?”
This time Todd nods his head yes, with a confidence in his eyes that would inspire his classmates, were they not busy being judgmental jock stereotypes. Michael motions for Todd to step forward.
“Well, we’ll see.” Michael pats him on the shoulder again. “Everybody off to one side. Todd, I was a division champion in high school– you’ve got a solid thirty on me, think you can hang?”
The other guys all back off toward one side of the ring, as Michael brings Todd into the center of the mat.
“Yes sir.” Todd nods, getting down into a wrestling stance.
“Three minutes, Todd.” Michael instructs. “You hang for three minutes, and I’ll refund your tuition and you take this training camp for free. You want these guys to take you seriously? Now’s your chance. Don’t pull any punches. Ready?”
As Todd nods his head, Michael blows a short burst on his whistle to begin the impromptu match. He tosses the whistle aside, and takes a stance as well. Immediately, the crowd of students begin cheering and rooting for the fight as Michael and Todd circle in the ring.
Todd shoots in for a basic amateur takedown, but immediately takes a strike to the side of the head from his obviously angry trainer. He’s staggered sideways, not expecting a strike in a folkstyle contest, and quickly Michael grabs him by the head and locks him into a triangle choke. Todd starts tapping out immediately, choking and fighting to keep from passing out. Michael ignores the submission, locking it on tighter and sneering at a helpless Todd Raymond.
The crowd continues to cheer, but soon it dies down to a meek silence. No one wants to open their mouths to put a stop to the cheap hold, but no one seems to want to see it go on either. Before Todd blacks out entirely, Michael releases the hold and stands to his feet, leaving his opponent and student gasping and coughing, holding his throat and rolling back and forth on the canvas.
Michael dusts himself off, blowing the whistle to end the “contest”, which isn’t really necessary. The crowd remains silent, aside from Todd, who is still fighting for air.
“Todd.” Michael shakes his head, talking to the whole class. “You lasted, what, seven seconds? Eight seconds? You proud of yourself, buddy?”
He puts his hands on his knees, leaning down and getting closer to Todd’s face.
“Two years, folk style.” Michael mimics, in a snotty voice. “Jesus Christ, Todd, I can literally hear you getting fatter right now. How the fuck are you going to show up at my camp a hundred pounds overweight? You’re not just wasting my time, Todd– you’re wasting the time of nine other guys who came here to fucking learn something. You’re disgusting. Pack up and get the fuck out of my gym.”
Michael rears back and kicks Todd in the ribs, knocking him sideways. The chubby student holds his stomach, his groaning causing an echo in an otherwise eerily silent gym. Michael turns back to the class, staring at them with intensity in his eyes.
“Anyone else wanna waste our time?” Michael raises an eyebrow, challengingly. “Three minutes. Any of you. Hang with me and I’ll comp your tuition. Embarrass yourself like Stone Cold Steve Fatass here and you’re gone. Any takers?”
He crosses his arms in front of him, looking over the students as each of them clams right the fuck up. It’s apparently not what he was looking for, however– a look of disappointment begins to form on the face of the HOW Hall of Famer, as he realizes he may have misjudged his class. Or at least one particular–
“I can take you.” A voice rings out, from the middle of the line.
The look of disappointment fades, as Michael Lee Best tries to hide the proud smirk that is trying to stretch across his face. Tyler Adrian Best steps out in front of the line of men he’s been standing in, making direct eye contact with the man he’ll eventually learn is his father.
“Tyler Streets.” Michael beams, rubbing his hands together. “The kid from Troy’s school, right? Surprised to see you’re not wearing your fucking PRIME blue.”
The other students in line stand with their hands behind their backs, looking more like soldiers than members of a training camp. In the distance, Todd is heading toward the exit, his gym bag slung dejectedly over his shoulder.
“Alright, kid.” Michael smirks, waving Tyler into the ring. “You got three minutes to prove that you belong here. Survive it, and you’ve got a free ride.”
As Streets hops up onto the apron, Michael can’t help but notice that he moves with a grace that should be beyond his level of experience. The fluid jump. The effortless step between the ropes. He’d seen hundreds of hours of tapes from Lindsay… the kid was good, but the videos didn’t do it justice.
He was a natural.
His son was a fucking natural.
“Any last words?” Michael asks, taking his position with a chuckle.”
Tyler Adrian Streets stares him cold in the eyes, any hint of amusement falling off of his face. In the weeks to come, he will learn that the man he’s about to fight is his father. That all of this was just for him. That he’s the heir to a wrestling dynasty. But here, in this moment, the man standing across from him is a Hall of Famer. A gatekeeper. An opportunity.
“Yeah.” Tyler nods, his eyes growing cold. “You talk too much.”
The bell rings.
The rest is history.