The last few hours seemed like a blur. A whirlwind of fury came rushing through the backstage area bathroom and caught me off guard. One moment, I minded my own business taking a piss break after a hard fought match with Hannibal Frost; the next I woke up in a familiar place: Chicago Lakeshore Hospital trying to piece together the details of how I made it back here.
As my tunnel vision slowly faded away, I shook my head trying to refocus on reality. Before I could even finish opening my eyes; Meredith came sprinting like a mad woman, strangling me with all her might. “Oh thank Heavens, Darin! You had me worried! I am so glad you’re finally waking up,” Meredith exclaimed as she kissed the top of my forehead.
As she released her hug which nearly suffocated me, I shot her a dirty glare. My body felt like a train derailed and hit me head on. My head began throbbing with excruciating pain. I messaged my head while the bright fluorescent lights beamed directly in my eyes. I squinted as I groaned before my curiosity got the best of me. I motioned for Meredith to bring me a mirror noticing the dried blood around my ears and the stitches protruding from my forehead. I yawned as my energy quickly drained from the experience. My eyelids feel heavy as I keep fading in and out. I slowly laid back down to rest, but before passing out, Meredith started recounting the incident keeping me wide awake:
“When they found you lying motionless in the bathroom unconscious; you had me worried. After HOW officials rushed you, well…”
She stopped mid sentence. My eyes widened while I scowled at her. She slowly tilted her head away from me looking down at the checked floor. She rapidly moved her foot back and forth. My stomach slowly began sinking as I mustered up the strength to ask her softly: “When can I return to action? Surely the doctor has come by to share information, ” Fully knowing she was hiding the prognosis.
Silently, Meredith just sat there dumbfounded. She kept biting down on her lip, processing how to break the news. She let out a deep sigh out, but I did not let her finish. I grew rather exasperated, “It’s another fucking concussion isn’t it?” Her eyes darted towards mine beaming a warm, genuine sense of concern. I shook my head and continued loudly pressing her for the answer, “ISN’T IT?!”
She nodded as my stomach turned and my heart sank as flashbacks to my last visit swirled around my head after the Best Alliance pummeled me into oblivion. The last doctor I saw here told me point blank if I had another concussion he would not clear me for competition. I exhaled loudly just processing the news as Meredith slowly ran her hand up and down my forearm.
The unknown assailant knew my weakness.I tallied up five separate concussion this year. My eyes burned with a fiery rage. I clenched my fists tightly as my body completely stiffened up. Tears rolled down my cheek. I couldn’t believe my time in the ring ended with a whimper. Memories began to flood my brain. I made my impact debuting in HOW with Sex and Money at ICONIC. I lit up Twitter that night. The Headlines etched vividly in my brain: PWX loyalist Darin Zion defects to wrestling’s Premier Promotion! My smile began beaming while I remembered that moment. As I continued to mentally reminisce, I looked over at Meredith and said:
“Life’s poetic at times. I guess it’s a sign from God that I need to retire. Funny how two weeks ago, I struggled with accepting that fate, but I guess the day is here now. Nearly six years ago I blazed a trail in HOW and now I couldn’t even make a match on the card at ICONIC. It’s not like Lee Best hands out an opportunity like that every day anymore. ”
Meredith’s head shifted down as she snickered under her breath. Without hesitation, Meredith buried her face into her phone once again avoiding my question. My face began to grimace. I wasted no time and fumbled my way out of my hospital bed towards my HOW duffel bag. I felt around finally finding my phone. Before I could unlock my phone the headline from the HOW application was right in front of me: Open Roster Battle Royal. I slammed my phone straight down in my bag and grabbed it. I flung out my street clothes and began changing out of that ugly ass hospital getting ready to leave.
I hadn’t looked to see the details of Lee’s Battle Royal, but my mind was made up. I didn’t care if it led me to a massacring in that ring. I didn’t care if I risked my well-being. I had spent the better part of my last year busting my ass to make the ICONIC card. I perfected my craft in MVW. I set aside my pride to team with Brian Hollywood. I took the beating of my life from the Best Alliance and Mike Best trying to make it to ICONIC. No medical professional, no act of God, or some dumbass masked assailant was taking a match at ICONIC from me. As I finished putting on my clothes and slipping on my shoes; Meredith’s voice echoed across the room.
“YOU’RE NOT CLEARED TO LEAVE! Get some rest now before you…”
Immediately I showed her the match notification on my phone nearly shoving it in her face. “So when were you going to tell me? I defiantly asked as she began to stutter and stumble over her words.
“You damn well know I’m not missing ICONIC. I don’t care how badly banged up I am. I don’t care if the doctors clear me. I’m seizing the day. Some dumbass kid in a ski mask trying to make an impact at my expense isn’t going to keep me from wrestling that battle royal. Hell, I don’t care if the corpse of Max Kael came bursting through the curtain ready to murder me will keep me from that match. I meant what I said two weeks ago. I’m tired of letting opportunities pass by me. I’m tired of letting people walk over me. I’m entering that battle royal and damnit I am going to win. And nothing you can say will stop me!”
As I crossed my arms staring Meredith right in the eyes, she snatched the duffel bag right off my shoulder. Playfully Meredith kicks me in my ass while she exclaims, “You know I don’t agree with your logic, but you know I’ll support your decision. You don’t have to lecture me like I don’t understand.”
Meredith starts to walk off trying to dodge the issues, but I grab her shoulder and look her directly in the eyes as I reassure her. “I know the risks, Meredith. I know I’m putting my life on the line out there, but I need this moment. I need this win. I need to go out there and prove I still got it.. We can discuss the details later, but I promise I’ll keep in touch with my doctor. You have my word.”
Begrudgingly she nods as I grab her arm and we leave the hospital together.
One Week Later
Sweat began pouring profusely down my forehead. My heart beat hard against my chest. Adrenaline flowed through my veins which each stiff kick I connected to the punching bag.
I had to go all out; I had no alternative options. Everyone in HOW knew what Rob DeNucci meant to the company. He’d made tons of strides for HOW both in and outside of the ring. I knew the pressure was laid heavy on my shoulders. Sure, it burdened me, but I had to win. It meant the gave me the one thing I ever lacked right now with my career:
Everyone always wrote the narrative for me: everyone thought I was worthless, brittle, pathetic. They told me I didn’t belong in an HOW ring. I’ve talked a big game about what winning means, but I needed to show the HOW roster what it meant to me. I needed to show them what Rob meant to my career even though I didn’t ever share a locker room with the man. I was dead set in winning the Opening Battle Royal and honoring the man in some capacity. He molded this company so wrestlers like me could have multiple opportunities to showcase themselves, even if they flustered, even if they were on the cusp of retirement.
Hammering my kicks harder and harder on the punching bag felt just as gratifying as it did 6 years ago when stepping into an HOW. I added more pepper to them than I had. But this could be my last match with the masked assailant looming around. I couldn’t take any other chances.
“That’s it, Darin! Give it more! Don’t let this concussion hold you back! You’ve got to give EVERYTHING to those kicks. STING your opponent’s chest! Paralyze them!”
My heartrate kept increasing while the world around me slowly blurred around me. I shook my head to regain my focus. I grabbed my water bottle from the bench conveniently placed nearby me and chugged while I continued hitting those kicks harder. The world around me started spinning around me.
“Sutler Kael thinks these kicks aren’t worthy of a McDonald’s worker. Teddy Palmer would eat these kicks for breakfast because he loves pain. He’s fresh and ready to take the pain. Hell, JIles and Zeb took these kicks and you couldn’t keep them down. And Hollywood…these pale in comparison to the Executive Promise. Keep kicking! Keep that stamina going!!! You can do it. Win that battle royal!!”
I couldn’t slide. I wanted, no, I needed this win. I had momentum on my side. I’d captured a win over Hannibal Frost. I didn’t stop for Christmas, I didn’t stop for injury, I didn’t stop….
Everything around me turned black for a few moments. My body went limp and I collapsed to the floor. Maybe it was the cardio conditioning? Could it have been the parkour sessions trying to strengthen my core muscles in case I primed for elimination? Or maybe it could have been the stiff bumps the MVW training class put me through to condition for this battle royal? None of that mattered as I just laid on the floor struggling to get to my feet. Immediately Meredith runs over and pulls me up on the bench and drenches with water.
“I know, I know! Take it easy. I don’t need you to lecture me! I fucked up! I’ve spent half a day pushing my limits,” I said as she smiled at me and gawked.
“You said it, not me this time!” she cockily exclaimed as she wiped my head with a wet towel.
While catching my breath, I rubbed my head trying to ease the pressure inside. I took a few deep breaths in while I desperately chugged water down like I’d lived in a desert plagued with drought. I kept eyeing around the gym’s bleak grey walls noticing the “No Pain, No Gain” postered egging my ego on to continue on the path to victory.
“I just can’t shake it! Ever since that attack, I feel like my retirement is looming closer and closer. My body keeps breaking down on me. Yet every time, I hear this voice looming in the back of my head, Meredith. It tells me to keep pushing onward. It’s telling me not to give up. I fight and I fight, yet boom, bad luck string after bad luck string. I keep training. I keep pushing harder. And yet…”
I pause and pull out the card to Dr. Reginald Snodgrass III and reflect for a moment. I reflect back on my openness in that warm, bright room filled with people. I felt welcomed, loved and heard. Meredith pulls me in and I continue on.
“I keep casting doubt on myself. I keep telling myself I’m not enough to win. I’m not enough to fight harder. My body caves on me and I can’t do the same impressive things I once did in this ring.”
Meredith gently rubs my shoulders and smiles at me while encouraging me, “You are enough. You just can’t keep tackling your problems the same way. You hit the gym; you bury yourself nose deep in training to hide your emotions. You bottle them up and you get reckless in the ring. You’ve followed the same pattern over and over again. But last week, look at what happened. You slowed down. You took time to think and process. You controlled yourself and planned everything out. You had one of your best showings in HOW over the last two years. You impressed a lot of people. Hell, you had the crazy vampire cowboy kid shake your hand. No one’s extended you that amount of respect in a long time.”
I let out a sigh while I begrudgingly nodded. “I know. I keep following patterns, but I am angry. Whoever attacked me knew what was coming up. They knew about this open invitation battle royal. They knew what ICONIC means to me. And they tried taking it away. They made me the laughing stock by sticking my head in a fucking toilet. It hits my pride. I’m 34 years old and I’ve wrestled for 15 years taking sick and crazy bumps. I can’t just break those habits overnight. I’m trying my damndest to do it. But I can’t let that guy get in my head. I can’t bury my head in the sand and overexert myself yet I cannot just sit on a couch and wait and play that game either.”
Relaxing my shoulders and closing my eyes, I took a few deep breaths and looked Meredith directly in her eyes and asked her, “Alright, I’m putting aside my stubbornness for a moment. What would you do?”
Meredith scratches her chin for a moment before she turns back and takes a moment to analyze me. As she studies my pale white complexion and the defeated look in my eyes, she smiles and says “Lets go get a couple of Protein Shakes, my treat. After that, let’s do some yoga. You’ll get to relax and blow off some steam, yet at the same time train your core muscles to balance yourself better in the Battle Royal.”
I groan audibly and she smiles while shooting me a dirty look as she continues: “I know! Big tough man hates Yoga, but give it a shot. You have nothing else to lose. Come on, try it! FOR MEEEEEEE! PLEEEEEEEASE?!”
“You had me at the shakes,” I exclaim, “I’ll give it a try!”
She squeals and yanks me up off the bench ready to go as we continue to train as tmy training day continues. While I hated the idea of something knew; deep down; I couldn’t argue with Meredith. I had to strategize working out with a set back. I couldn’t just train my ass off or just sit and study videos. I had to up my craft in different ways. Especially since most of these opponents vying for naming rights knew me inside and out. It was time to change my game and stop resisting change.
“I know, Darin Matthews gimps his way into another match. I’m an easy target. I’m a mark for all the talented people. I’m the broken ice cream machine at McDonalds, blah, blah blah! I know all the insults you’re about to hurl my direction. But I’m not laughing.
I’m not like Brian Hollywood. I didn’t puss out after some masked man attacked my ass and left me for dead in the fucking bathroom. I’m not pulling an armchair wrestler after the Best Alliance took my HOW World Tag Team Championships and stole a moment at ICONIC for me.
Damnit, I’m looking for a fight at ICONIC and I don’t care if half the roster in the damn thing puts a target on my back. I don’t care if I’m concussed, beaten, battered, and bruised. I don’t care if doctors tell my ass I should retire tomorrow.
This is motherfucking ICONIC.
This is for Rob DeNucci.
Rob DeNucci didn’t puss out of a fight when he laid the legacy for the machine when the going got tough. Rob fucking grabbed a car, a machine gun, and gave everything 1000%. He seized those opportunities and kept fighting to pave a way for all of us.
Yet I don’t see any of these mother fuckers talking about his legacy. I don’t see any one of you guys talking about what he meant for your careers. Hell, if he didn’t give HOW his all, none of you asshats would have a Battle Royal for naming rights to make ICONIC. You’d all be sitting on your couches, eating popcorn, watching the show like I did last year at this show.
You only talk about your goddamned selfish ambitions and your problems. But you don’t realize what you’re stepping in the ring to earn. You’re earning naming rights to a cup Lee Best named for a man who did more for HOW than any of us stepping in that ring could do combined. While I never met Rob personally, I respect his work ethic and the lineage he gave us to continue to bear that torch. And you’re damn right I’m stepping into this ring to fight in a match to name something in his honor.
You’re damn right I’m going to give everything to the same machine he loved just as much as Lee Best did. I know the damn importance of this match.
It’s more control than any of us have had in our entire career.
Let’s face it, Lee doesn’t trust any of us to name something let alone put respect on his work. I’ve crossed that line and fucked up more than the rest of you stepping in this ring at ICONIC. I’ve spoken up, inserted my foot right in my damn mouth, and shat away all my opportunities.
But that ends at ICONIC. I’m starting 2021 with a bang. I’m not coming into the battle royal to fill a spot. I’m not coming in here looking for a warm up match like Teddy Palmer. I’m not going to throw a temper tantrum like Sutler Kael to get my spot on the ICONIC card. I’m storming in, seizing the damn opportunity, and I’m coming in with full force ready to knock every one of you ungrateful fucksticks out of this battle royal.
This is my way to honor Rob’s memory.
This is my chance to prove myself.
This is my chance to get a moment at ICONIC.
I don’t care who wants to step in my way. You could be a bunch of scramble eggs, last year’s LBI winner, some dumb schmuck in a ski mask, the son of a HOW Hall of Famer, or my best friend. You’re in my way of my opportunity. You’re in my way of honoring a fallen legend in this company and etching my name in the history books.
I might be distracted at times, but I’m focused on this one, boys. This is the chance to do something that escalates your career to main eventing this card next year. This is your chance to make a name for yourself. This is your chance to prove yourself, and I’m seizing it.
I’ve sat on the sidelines too long. I’ve let you guys steal my spotlight and get countless wins over me. I’ve been the welcome mat to a lot of you guys, but it stops at ICONIC. ICONIC is my chance to shine and start 2021 with a bang. I won’t squander the momentum I had with Hannibal last week. I’m fighting to win this and do something selfless. I’m not coming in here trying to name it the Egg Bandit Bracket, the Kael Bracket, or the Hollywood Bracket. No, I’m coming in to fight and give the DeNucci Cup a name fitting of Rob’s legacy. I’m coming in here to not only win for myself, but for a man who gave me a home where the lights came back on after a long hiatus. And while I won’t have my name etched in those lights, the win on my record will far surpass anything selfish. It will cement my legacy as HOW’s Gatekeeper. It will cement my legacy as an all time HOW great. I will continue to stack my ICONIC wins higher and I will prove to you all you took your eyes off the damn prize.
This one isn’t just for pride. It’s for honor. It’s for glory! It’s dedication. And I promise you, I will honor Rob. I will fight my ass off, and I will win this Battle Royal at ICONIC.”