Sweat came pouring down my face like someone turned on the water hose to a slip-n-slide. My heart began leaping inside my chest. I’m fidgeting to the point I’d perfectly fit in with Mike Best doing a hot rail of coke off the seat of a gas station toilet. I hated this feeling. I shook my head back and forth as I could feel the judging eyes of my peers, slicing like daggers right through my soul. This isn’t how the Tyrant of the Territories should act while waiting for a job review. None of that mattered though, I couldn’t stop my last employee review from racing through my head. Lee’s scathing appraisal of my worth haunted my daydreams and nightmares. Even now it echoed through my head as I sat here waiting to face the music again.
“Listen, dickhead, whatever you might’ve once had, you ain’t got it anymore. You’re not connecting with the crowds, you look like shit in the ring… I think you need to take a little time away from the ring, maybe see about transitioning into a more permanent backstage role.”
I’m still seething just thinking about how he sent me on a forced vacation. I made it a point to prove him wrong. I blatantly defied him when I signed with HOTV affiliate MVW. He doesn’t get the satisfaction of ending MY 14-year wrestling career. I do! I flipped through my mental rolodex of why my performance sucked:
“Your championship belt gives me a hard on. Every time I see it, my brain goes numb and I feel this weird tingling sensation inside me. The next thing you know I’m spewing out all kinds of stupid shit for people like Mike Best just laugh off as ‘THAT’S JUST ZION’.”
“Brian Hollywood made me do it. He’s costing me wins left and right because I beat him up at War Games, and blew up his family’s business…”
“I’ve only been back two months. That’s not enough time to prove to the world I’ve changed, Lee. I need more time. I’ve got this. Failure sharpens me every time. It got me to your main event scene 4 years ago. I can do it again. Please give me another chance, PLLLLLLEEEEEASE!!!!”
The excuses came rolling through like a train careening off of it’s tracks. I’d managed to come up with some bullshit way to deflect every stupid decision I’d made over the past four months but as I sat there, waiting on Lee to ship my ass back to Missouri, I couldn’t help but to see what kind of asshole that made me.
It’s not as if any of these excuses saved me before. In the six years I’ve known Lee, the one consistency has been his shitty reviews of my efforts. The best I could hope for was some constructive criticism, right? And the worst…
Well, I’ve been to Missouri before and it didn’t kill me; it only made me stronger.
My ears perked up waiting to hear Lee’s voice screech out my name, hoping I didn’t miss it: Steve Harrleson, Scott Stevens, Jack Harmen, Doozer, Eric Dane. The waiting game drags on forever! My muscles tense up. My throat began to dry up and I couldn’t speak.
While Meredith kept shoving a water bottle in my face; I knew she felt my anguish. Her right hand slowly caressed back and forth against my back trying to loosen me up. Leaning over on my shoulder, she whispers in my ears, “Stop worrying, Darin. You’re going to be fine. You will get through this: I promise. Whatever’s happened in the past,…let it go. I’ve seen you grow and I’ve seen you struggle. It may hurt now, but we can overcome this together.”
I wish I shared Meredith’s naive opinion about Lee Best, but when your boss cares more about your shitty Twitter insults after you’ve produced championship victories; it crushes you. As I shook my head in disagreement, I ripped the water bottle from Meredith’s weak hands and chugged it down like Scottywood chugs an IPA. I slowly daydreamed about Lee Best overlooking me like he has the past six years. But I was in for a rude awakening:
“Darin Matthews; Lee Best wants to see you now.”
Who replaced my feet with cement blocks? No! That wasn’t it! I was paralyzed at that moment. Meredith kept nudging me forward but failed miserably. I subconsciously refused to enter Lee’s office. I desperately mouthed at her “I’m not going in there. Nope! Not doing it”
But Lee wouldn’t allow me to run from my problems; he’d sent his favorite bodyguard in to do his dirty work. Struggled as I might, he hoisted my dead weight over his shoulder as I screamed “I’M NOT READY! I’M NOT READY! DON’T MAKE ME GO IN.” He exerted no effort as he planted my feet inside Lee’s office and shoved me towards the line for human sacrfice.
There was no escaping! His big, burly behemoth now stood between me and my freedom. I shook in place as I caught Lee’s eye patch in my peripheral vision. Sipping on his best whiskey, he knew I squirmed as I trudged forward towards his desk. An awkward, tingling sensation overcame me and I knew I was about to lose all control of my mouth. In that single moment I knew it was time to sink or swim.
“I would be lying if I told you that my 14 year journey in pro wrestling has been a walk in the park. I’d be lying even more if I told you these last SIX years in HOW were the best years of my life. They’ve been nothing short of pure unadulterated hell on earth.
I’ve endured six long years of abuse as the roster took turns burying all 23 of my accomplishments. Bounties got placed on my head left and right out of sheer hatred. After I sacrificed my body for HOW’s benefit each night; I laid wide awake battling my own self-doubt. I never once dreamt of packing my bags to pursue the greener pastures of UTAH to solve my problems. I could have signed with anywhere else after my forced vacation, but I chose HOTV affiliated MVW first because my loyalty always lies with HOW, even when it hurts me the most.
But I can promise you, all the pain and suffering will be worth it after I beat Mike Best for the HOW World Championship on Refueled XXXVI.
Laugh at that statement all you want, but I’ve beaten Mike Best before on March 27th, 2015. Brian Hollywood and I had our third HOW Tag Team Championship defense. Mike Best took his eyes off the prize and focused solely on burying my career six feet under. Leaning on his typical crutches of shock humor and spun statistics he tried desperately to protect his fragile ego. Distracted by me and his next venture in life, He took his eyes off the prize. The stars aligned and one Jesus Complex later; I had cleanly pinned Mike Best’s shoulders to the mat and successfully retained the HOW Tag Team Championship. While I bragged incessantly about that win for years; in that moment; it shocked me to my core.
I’ve moved on after five years, I finally understand his resentment about that match. Some dumb, arrogant rookie got the “fluke” win over the greatest professional wrestler in HOW history, and lived to brag about it. I couldn’t imagine waiting 5 years for my revenge. I’d do the same things if I was in Mike’s position. I’d harass that talent incessantly making his life a living hell and place a bounty on his head if he even looked to chase his HOW World Heavyweight Championship.
Since those days, he’s evolved and reached his prime once more. I can’t storm into that match expecting the same result. In these past four months, his tyranny grows greater with every successful ICON or World title defense. His war path to reclaim his throne is laced in cocaine and blood. I know this match has greater stakes than a tag title defense. I’m fighting the top wrestler for the top prize in this business. I know he desperately wants to strike a chord and pull my focus back towards our vendetta.
He would love nothing more than distract me. After all, he’s recently spread himself thin. Between his weekly shit posting burying every wrestler not named Mike Best, signing merch deals, dreaming of a swimming pool filled with cocaine, the hell The Minister is putting him through, and watching his house turn into a fireworks display; it doesn’t stop there.
He’s nearing his nuclear meltdown. The cogs are now spinning in his tweaked out brain. He’s writing the eulogy to bury my career six feet under to pop the boys. He’s scouring Stevenspedia religiously to spin any excuse he can to save his fragile ego. He’s pulled out his usual crutches to show he’s truly HOW’s hero; the only savior it needs. But all he’s doing is showing he’s the hero that HOW wishes would ghost them after the first Tinder date.
I can’t let a 5 year vendetta stand in my way at claiming the crowning achievement to my legacy. I refuse to look past him like he looks past me. Forcing me to crack under pressure gives Mike the easy championship defense. It’s simply a distraction. It writes the narrative he pushes: you can only win a World Championship when Mike Best goes on vacation.
If I lose sight of the bigger picture for one second, it costs me everything. The HOW World Heavyweight Championship validates EVERYTHING I’ve endured. I don’t need a hero or the saving grace of Kneesus Christ to validate me. I need the HOW World Championship to seal my redemption.
When others have walked away, I’ve taken six years worth torture, abuse, turmoil and strive from everyone in this industry to secure this opportunity. I’ve lost family because I chose HOW first. I’ve destroyed lifelong friendships over the value the 97Red belt holds. I’m tired of being undervalued, underappreciated, and undercut when I put HOW needs first over my own. I won’t be treated like a welcome mat anymore. The pressure is high; it’s the biggest career defining challenge I’ve ever faced, and I welcome it with my stubborn, open arms.
The best rewards in life come to those who endure hell. While I’ve made mistakes; I’ve never regretted them. This match will be hell, but it’ll be all worth it when my hard-work, loyalty and determination pays off.
You’ve punched me hard for years, Mike, and I continue to get back up; begging for more. This week will be no exception. The two most headstrong individuals clash over the most coveted championship in professional wrestling and I’ll be damned, I’m going to make sure it comes home wrapped around my waist. I’m stealing the main event of No Remorse away from you because it may well be my last chance at a Pay-Per-View main event.
I’m cashing out years worth of dividends and making my forced vacation worthwhile. It’s time I prove Lee’s vote of confidence in me. I refuse to sit on the sidelines letting another HOW Pay-Per-View pass by me. At Refueled, I will end your reign of terror and become the hero HOW needs and deserves.
I will finally become the HOW World Champion.
Why does it always have to be a rude awakening? Once I would just like to have someone kiss me on the forehead when I open my eyes. Maybe have a nice breakfast waiting for me! But somethings never change.
Lee’s bodyguard flings me out of his office head first. The derailed train finally met a brick wall. My brain explodes with sharp pain. Pins and needles shoot down my arms. I knew if I opened my eyes, I’d see double. God after all these years of taking head trauma, I wished my skull would have turned into diamonds! Knowing I’d soon feel the effects of what Lee’s bodyguard did to me; I did what any logical wrestler would do after suffering traumatic brain injuries:
I tried standing up!
My arms flapped around like a wind sock on a windy Chicago day as I helplessly try pulling myself up against the wall. I should have just stayed down. Stars kept circling over my head as I fell to the ground. Horrified at my headstrong display of masculinity, Meredith rushes over to tend to my injuries. She opened my mouth and hydrated me before placing the cold water bottle against my head to prevent more swelling. She tried laying my broken body against the wall, but I defiantly kept sliding back down.
Five more minutes! I needed more rest! But between the roaring laughter of all my peers and her constant interrogation tactics to find out what happened; I wouldn’t get that luxury.
“What happened there? Did Lee fire you? Did he berate you? Tell me! TELL ME!”
Moaning from all the pain I brushed her away as the feeling in my limp arms started to return. As I opened my eyes, they looked more glazed than a dozen donuts. They wavered trying to dim the harsh ultraviolet lights beaming brightly in my pupils. I tried responding, but I must have discovered an ancient language. Confused by the words coming from my own mouth, I desperately blabbered along trying my best to once again master the basic English language. Not registering the pain I felt, she frantically tried prying more information out of me.
“You’re silent! Tell me we didn’t lose our jobs! Don’t keep the secret! You know secrets kill me.”
Flashes of the meeting finally piece themselves back together. It wasn’t my wildest dreams, it was reality. Flabbergasted with how fast everything went down; I remembered the devilishly cold bottom line pen gracing my right hand. The gentle soft legal paper slowly tingled up against my left. The sharp bold print read vividly like a neon sign. It finally hit me I earned a shot at the World Championship.
While the room continued to swirl around me and the details remained fuzzy; I couldn’t hold my emotions back any more. My delusional smile wrapped around my entire face and I laughed hysterically at Meredith’s confusion. Slurring more noises, I finally strung together one coherent phrase.
Horrified at hearing that name and fathoming all the sheer hell associated with it, she slid back three feet to give me more space. She stood in silence, holding her jaw, collecting her thoughts. As she frantically tried summoning the medical staff; I wasted no time grabbing her hand. Bearing through the agony of moving my head, I stiffly shook it exclaiming, “No! World Title!”
She still didn’t grasp at my shitty communication skills: “What about it?”
As I coughed from all the pain, I slowly reached for her head and locked my eyes with hers. While I continued sputtering and murmuring my speech for a few seconds, my next words finally connected with her: “I have a World Title match against Mike Best.”
Her screams of elation shrieked like nails on a chalkboard and my head throbbed. She leapt up and down letting all her emotions out. I smiled and laughed with her before she pulled me up to my feet. As she aided my steps down the hall I looked her in the eyes with a small, joyful tear rolling. With confidence I exclaimed the words I always wanted to hear aloud, “I finally made Lee Best proud.”