I twiddled my thumbs buried nose deep in my phone as once sound filled the brightly colored office of one Dr. Reginald Snodgrass III:
Many considered it a miracle when I shut up for a change. But I laid back in his burgundy lounge chair stiff as a board. Frozen in place, I couldn’t move. My jaws locked in place while he continued tapping his pencil against his legal pad incessantly. It jarred my ear drums as he patiently awaited my answer to the question. He sulked for a moment as he knew I was wasting his time. He cleared his throat before he asked again:
“Mr. Matthews, I asked you, how does THAT make you feel?”
Hesitantly, I slowly placed my phone at my side. Dr. Snodgrass would endless beg for my attention if I didn’t. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths. Gradually, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the doctor’s note. While I continue to read the bold words at the top of the paper, chills run down my spine. My stomach turned as I felt an emptiness within it. My throat dried up while I tried sputtering the words out of my mouth.
As Dr. Snodgrass glared at me, words rushed out of my mouth like a cheetah pouncing it’s prey. They loudly echoed throughout the spacious room.
“I FEEL LIKE I LOST CONTROL OF MY LIFE!”
Dr. Snodgrass scratched his burly white beard pondering his next move. He flabbergasted him. I hated the idea of medical retirement. His eyes radiated his compassion. He circled his hand to motion that he wanted me to continue. I sighed as I gazed out the window admiring the snow on the trees outside his office. It helped me focus.
“I haven’t accomplished everything in wrestling I wanted to accomplish. Yet here comes some idiot in a raggedy old black ski mask crushing my skull against a bathroom urinal and causing bleeding. It’s like everything else in my life. I couldn’t please my father. I couldn’t please any wrestling friends. I never did enough. And I feel like I let my fans down.
Yet here I am defying doctor’s orders stepping into the biggest match of my career at ICONIC, an achievement I’ve been fighting for tooth and nail all year. I’m doing this one thing for me, yet, Meredith keeps griping about my wellness. So I let her down. I don’t feel comfortable and…and…and…”
“STOP! STOP! STOP!” Dr. Snodgrass bellowed out forcefully from his diaphragm. His flamboyant, gentle tone focused me once more as he continued: “Get out of your head this instant, Mr. Matthews! The only voice you need to listen to right now is your own. You keep focusing on all this noise in your life.”
He points right at my heart and thrusts his bulky finger hard right at my chest rigidly.
“What is your heart telling you right now?”
Slowly I ease back and lay back in his lounge chair. I grab my cup of water sitting to the table next to me and slowly chug it down as my eyes focus on his popcorn ceiling, fading away slowly in comfort. I close my eyes as I cautiously begin to articulate my feelings.
“I feel…I feel…like I….uh….made the right decision…”
He cut me off and cried out: “Say that one more time with more confidence, Darin!”
“I made the right decision taking that battle royal booking.”
“Now one more time, with feeling!!!” Dr. Snodgrass proclaimed with all his might.
“I MADE THE RIGHT DECISION!!!!!!!” I exclaimed as he clapped his hands smiling. As I sat back up, I rolled my eyes at him. I snap at him.
“This shit is corny as fuck! How is this shit going to help with my confidence and focus heading into this match? I know I’ve held 25 different wrestling championships. I’ve trained with some of the best god damn wrestlers in the world. I know my abilities.”
I crossed my arms and he snickered under his breath. For a few moments he continues to take notes on his notepad before walking over towards his white board and writing the word IMPOSTER in big bold red letters. As he speaks, he becomes animated and alive.
“We both know your abilities, Mr. Matthews. You continually tout them endlessly. But you don’t believe in them. You have what we like to call in the psychology field: Imposter Syndrome. You see all these accomplishments that you’ve earned over your career that others would DIE to have. Yet you worry about being exposed as a fraud. You doubt your God given abilities because you fear there’s always someone better than you. I know it too well, my husband suffers from it too.”
I scratch my chin and study it for a moment, but I shake my head. “No,” I said, “that’s not right, I can’t think…”
He interrupts me and shouts out a name: “BRIAN HOLLYWOOD!”
I sat back in my chair in silence as he continued.
My jaw drops as he continues onward with his exercise and gets right in my face as he finishes the last name:
Sweat pours down my head as I reach over and take another drink of water to cool my body down. My shoulders feel tense as he nods letting a smirk at me while he gazes at me and continues: “You get excited and anxious when faced with people who beat you. Yet look what you did two weeks ago. You stopped and controlled the match. You went with the flow and beat Hannibal Frost. You felt that confidence didn’t you.”
I reflected on the match and remembered the stance change and the calm feeling over my mind when I walked out the curtain that night. I walked with swagger for the first time in two years. I never had any doubts which moves to hit. It all came together easily.
“Now, I’ll agree with Ms. Meredith. I cannot in good conscience give you my blessing to wrestle at ICONIC. But I know what it means to you. If you want to continue your momentum. You have to own your successes. You have to take your confidence back. You can’t keep telling yourself you’re an imposter…”
“I’m Darin Fucking Matthews! I’m a former 3 time ICON Champion. I’ve battled in War Games, and I am going to win that Battle Royal at ICONIC!” I exclaimed and cut him off to his amusement. My shoulders continue to slowly ease back into place. As we continue working on my confidence, peace comes over my soul. I can finally accept my accomplishments and accolades not as flukes but part of my being. The fire that once burned in my belly for a fight slowly ignited and I knew I had my emotions under control.
I was ready to make the next change at ICONIC.
TWO DAYS LATER
I’d spent hours studying Zeb Martin, Teddy Palmer, Cool Cancer Jiles, Sutler Kael, and any other HOW participant that could potentially throw their name in the hat with the Battle Royal at ICONIC. Now I needed to stomach studying the one opponent I knew inside and out: Brian Hollywood.
I’d spent hours using the HOTV app starting back in the earlier years where Brian had wrestled as Brian James Thomas going through the current stuff with the beating he took from Mike Best and up to right after we lost the HOW World Tag Team Championships and I’ll admit; I’ve never seen a more determined Brian. He stepped up his intensity after Mike Best rocked his ass on the USS High Octane. He was preparing to enter HOFC combat. He exuded a different aura as he hit Danger Zone kick after Danger Zone kick.
But I cracked a smile knowing I had a surprise in store for him. While I’d spent hours focusing on intensifying my core muscle training with Yoga poses, practicing parkour to exploit the two feet rule, and studying tapes; I’d spent an extra couple hours perfecting a new move that would definitely catch his glass jaw off guard.
Carpe Diem; I’ll call it! It’s time for me to seize the day and seize my opportunities by clocking his ass straight in the jaw with my knee.
But I had to watch closely for opportunities. I picked up the patterns as he kept “signing” the proverbial papers and pulling himself back for a trip to the Danger Zone. I started playing scenarios and calculating kip ups to take him out if he dared to think of eliminating me first.
All the while I kept sewing Chicago patches and rock band patches on a new hooded jean vest I planned on using as new entrance gear for ICONIC. I was wiping the slate clean and giving myself a new image. Sure, I’d done this 42 billion other times, but I didn’t need reminders of self-doubt when I stepped in that ring. I needed to focus on nothing else but winning.
“I am the Tyrant of the Territories! I am the Tyrant of the Territories. I will win at ICONIC. I will win at ICONIC.”
I kept muttering the phrase repeatedly over and over again deprogramming any self doubts in myself. Each time I said the phrase I kept working harder and harder until…
“WOW! THAT LOOKS BADASS, DARIN!!!!!!”
Screaming uncontrollably, I threw the needle and the jacket from out of my hands as Meredith startled me as she snuck in. In her hands she held a Gary’s Pro Wrestling Gear bag in her right hand delivering the brand new Matthews grunge tights I ordered for ICONIC too. Angered I slam my hands on my hips and glare directly in her eyes.
“What? You’re the one who gave me the key to your house. I can enter at any time I want!” She exclaimed as I huffed in protest. I shake my head at her before diving straight back into work. After she placed my ring gear on the island, she recklessly dove into the pantry to get herself a snack. Everything rattled and caused a cacophonic sound to pierce my ear drums. I flipped the jacket on its back and rested the new Matthews logo on the jacket as I walked up and watched her scarf down a banana. She must have not eaten all day.
“As she visibly chewed her banana, she began muttering and asking me how I felt: So hun, you worried about the match? Everyone’s hungry to get their bragging rights for the DeNucci Cup! They’ll be ready to focus on that weakened skull of yours. It could be the end of your career…”
“Let ‘em! This is the most confident I’ve been in ages, Meredith. Let them think they’ve got this match in the bag. Let them think they’ve got an easy target to eliminate. I’ve not been this prepared since HOW closed six years ago. They can take performance enhancing drugs and lose their fucking minds for all I care. I’ve studied their tapes. I’ve perfected my strategy. I’m ready to cross those curtains and whoop some ass,” I objected to her casting doubts in my head. I’d spent the latter part of the last two weeks putting my heart and soul into this match just like Rob would do.
She flustered around my cabinets to grab a plate to set the banana down. Her eyes waivered around the room. Her lips quivered as she slowly and meticulously said her next sentence, “Yeah, but your stalker could be looming in that match. Rather he’s in the match itself or sneaks in from the back or the crowd. You’ve got to have eyes in the back of your head. Remember…”
The veins started protruding out of my head, but I scratched my chin and took that thought in for a moment. Everyone wants those naming rights to a DeNucci Cup group. There’s lots of potential that could happen. The Masked Man could be a hired gun. He could be a competitor desperate to get wins. He could be an agent hired by the Best Alliance to end my career…
NO! I’m not doing this right now. Immediately I whip out my iPhone and call out: “Siri, book Bill, the MVW training class, and myself an appointment at 10 AM. We’re working on sneak attacks.” I turn towards Meredith and rest my hand on hers. I gaze into her eyes and reassure her, “I am not going down that path. I refuse to give anyone an ounce of worry in this match. I’ll take everything into account. I’ll train my ass off, but you damn well know I’m going to be protecting this noggin’ of mine at all costs. I’ve got plenty left in the tank and I’m not about to let ANYONE take this victory away from me.”
Meredith rolled her eyes and turned away from me, “Whatever…”
As she turned to head out the garage door, I walked up behind her and wrapped my arms around her. She exhaled loudly as her arms relaxed and rested against mine.
“I know, I’ve promised a lot, but I’m listening this time. I’m making the right decision for our futures. We both need this win. It’s a good financial pay out if I get it at ICONIC. I couldn’t miss this opportunity especially since it’s the first step into honoring Rob’s legacy. Lee would kill me if I left the last date on my 2020 deal, even if I didn’t have to accept this booking,” I whispered in her ears while she groaned and pulled away and said.
“Buuuuuut, what if? What if your attacker comes for you again? What if Sutler drops you on your head? What if Hollywood cleans your clock and hits your scar so hard and….”
“I’m not operating on what ifs anymore. I’ve done that too much. I will train for all scenarios. I will protect my health while doing this; and I will get the win in this match I’ve battled for the last 6 months to have to make an impact,” as I repeated my stance a bit more perturbed than usual. I grabbed her arms, smiling, and swinging them around while singing out loud in a silly voice like Dory in Finding Nemo.
“But I will keep on fightin’! Keep on fightin’! Keep on fightin’!”
She giggled as her usual smile returned to her face. Her eyes glowed when they connected with mine as she spoke ever so lovingly, “STAHP! You’re embarrassing me! I get it. I get it! I can’t stop you no matter how hard I try. I just gotta let you be you.”
I point at my brain, smile and laugh as I say, “Now you’re getting it, dear. Took you 6 months to figure out I’m the most tenacious person ever…”
“More like you’re stubborn, you dork!” She exclaimed as we both giggled.
As she walked towards the door I opened it and leaned to plant a kiss on her cheek awkwardly. I look her dead in the eyes with determination, focusing only on her as I said: “You have my word; I’ll work smarter, not harder this go around. It’ll take some time to continue to change up my brash and brazen style, but it’s all about evolving in this game; and it’s about time I deliver on that promise. Trust me, I’m damn sure I’m walking in and putting up a winning performance this Saturday. No one sees this Matthews coming. Not even Hollywood.”
She smiles as kisses me on the cheek leaving me to dive back into my work and completing the work on my metamorphosis for HOW at ICONIC.
“I must applaud Sutler Reynolds-Kael, he’s wise beyond his years. That kid is hungry and determined to outshine his father’s legacy. Max trained his son well to crave victory over everything else. Yet outside of the ring young Sutler always asks the most thought provoking questions. He recently asked us what are we willing to sacrifice. After all, Sutler basically sacrificed his honor with performance enhancing drugs. His innocence was stolen from him. He gave up a lot to get this contract handed to him by Grandpa Lee. I’ll commend young Sutler for his sacrifices. He’s hungry for a win in this ‘Clusterfuck’ match as he calls it. He’s plowed through a jobber and a HOW veteran in his two matches. He’s got reason to have pride.
But Young Master Kael; I want you to take a step back and reflect while you focus on my words:
I plan on sacrificing everything to win this match.
After that masked dipshit blinded me in the backstage bathrooms; the fine doctors at Chicago Lakeshore Hospital diagnosed me with my 5th concussion this year. They advised me to retire when this happened. They know after 15 years in this business, my body is deteriorating from the inside out. I’ve suffered spine damage, neck damage, head trauma; you name it. After running many tests; they discovered more blunt force trauma to my skull could lead to seizures, severe brain damage, or death.
When I step into that ring at ICONIC; my body is a ticking time bomb. It takes one wrong move and my career could end…or worse…
When I heard the news, it killed me inside. I’d wasted the last two years of my life believing lies about myself. I laid in bed wasting hours telling myself I didn’t belong and I needed to take the back seat for others. But what did it yield me? I never got a match at ICONIC. I never got booked on any Pay Per Views. I let anxiety and fear control my life. I hate what I became allowing everyone to label me as a worthless underdog with no potential. Hell, even I cracked jokes about the 42 billion second chances I begged Lee for to showcase I still had it.
For me, this isn’t a clusterfuck match of unbooked random talent without names. I view this as an opportunity at retribution. My seven losses come from a majority of participants in this Battle Royal. I let each of you steamroll me and wasted my comeback year after feeling unworthy. But I’m tired of feeling sorry for myself. I’m tired of letting each of you be obstacles that prevent me from achieving my dreams of reaching the main event scene in HOW.
I’ve sacrificed a lot for this one match I’ve begged for over the course of 2020. I’ve wanted this stage to be the last one standing hearing my name echoed over the PA systems.
With the naming rights to a group at the DeNucci cup on the line, my true question is now what I will sacrifice, but how much sacrifice will I make by the end of the match when my hand is raised as the victor?
Let’s face it, I’m willing to do anything it takes to win. We all know I set aside my pride to restore my friendship with Brian Hollywood earlier this year. You damn well know we both want to protect each other until the bitter end. We would love nothing more than to kick each other’s asses as the final two members standing in this match and leaving everything we got in the middle of that ring.
But I’m not afraid to use Brian Hollywood as a human shield. Go back and watch the War Games Pay Per View when I destroyed Boardwalk Wrestling. I blasted Hollywood clean in the jaw and let Boardwalk and their worthless hall of fame talent eliminate Brian because he stood in my way. You damn well know I will chuck his ass straight into the Sutler Method and let Kael eliminate him if push comes to shove.
I shook Hannibal Frost’s hand last week and earned a new friend. While I might be colder than his cousin Jack, I will use the newest roster member as collateral to win the damn match as well. I’ll chuck eggs with the remaining Egg Bandits in this match. I would sell my soul to Lee Best himself if he sent the Best Alliance out to help. I will do anything to win this match. Hell, I’m not afraid to forge an alliance with Sutler if I need to do it to survive to win this match.
Not only is my legacy at stake, it’s Rob’s too. I’m not about to let HOW’s egos step in the way and ruin what Lee Best did to honor someone who paved the way for a talent like myself. I’m fighting to give that name meaning to Rob’s legacy because without Rob; Darin Matthews wouldn’t have found a home to test his talents and push him to the heights I’ve reached. I wouldn’t have 3 ICON Championships, 3 Tag Team Championships, or 1 LSD Championship tied to my historical lineage to my career.
I’d still be stuck in the dumpster fire known as PWX wrestling. I wouldn’t have grown and I’d be laying in some back alley like Silent Witness and John Sektor all jacked up on cocaine and steroids.
This match isn’t about ego; it’s about HOW pride. It’s about showing you have tenacity, loyalty, honor, hard-work, determination, and true grit like Rob exemplified.
You’re going to have to take a lot of punishment to win this match. This isn’t about your ring intelligence, your business prowess, your humor, your redemption. It’s purely based on how tenacious you are and how desperate you are to make damn sure your feet don’t land on the ground.
And trust me, It’s going to take more than the ‘Sutler Method’ to submit me in a match that you have to throw my defiant ass over a rope to win.
I fought hard in two War Games matches. I thought my intelligence and ring skills would carry me to victory against Jason Parker Davidson. But I learned it was his grit, determination, and his tenacity that kept giving him burst after burst of adrenaline to finally put down a man who suffered nearly 2 hours of constant pain in War Games and I collapsed under pressure.
I will not make that mistake again, especially at ICONIC.
There’s too much at stake for me. This isn’t just about my career potentially ending. It isn’t about some sadistic bathroom stalker who beat my ass down and gave me a swirly. It’s not about burning bridges and blazing trails. It’s my chance to continue my momentum. It’s a chance to get a win and the spotlight blaring on me for a change. It’s about cementing my legacy by protecting Rob’s.
It’s about winning at the biggest event in HOW history: ICONIC.
I’ve been preparing like I’m standing in that ring reliving that night. I’m enduring punishment, studying tapes, pushing my body beyond its limits to make damn sure I don’t get sent over that top rope. I’m changing my mindset to prepare for the war of my life. Because I know I’m standing in a talent pool who out classes me in every way. It’s time to prove I can win. It’s time to re-establish my confidence and set my 2021 off right.
I promise you I will be the last one standing in this match. I promise I will change HOW history. I will get my honor back and I dare any one, including the Bathroom Bandit to try and stop me from getting the biggest victory of my career.”