”When the storm rips you to pieces, you have to decide how to put yourself together again.”
– Bryan McGill
February 5, 2023
One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure
Mackey Arena, W. Lafayette, Indiana
Backstage, just inside the curtain from the stage, High Octane personnel are milling around doing their jobs, making sure the show goes off without a hitch. A bank of monitors is pushed up against a dark red temporary wall just inside the backstage area. The crowd in the arena can be heard still buzzing about the just-finished match.
Soon, Dan Ryan comes through the curtain, followed by stronk godson. As Dan walks into the area, faces raise from behind their monitors and stare at the big man, and the smaller stronk godson right behind him.
Dan stops and turns to stronk and puts a big hand on his left shoulder. Cognizant of the number of people around, he leans in and whispers something into stronk’s ear, making sure no one around can hear. All eyes are on the two men, fresh off a victory over Scott Stevens and Bobbinette Carey, but no one can quite make out what’s being said. Dan pulls back and stronk gives a quick slight smile and nods his head. Dan gives him a friendly slap on the back, then turns and walks away, through the open area and into the hall beyond, ignoring everyone he passes on the way.
Turning the corner into the hallways, he pulls one of his arms hard across his chest as he walks, stretching it out and loosening it up a bit after his first time in a ring in months. He emerges into the catering area, where a selection of High Octane staff are milling around. They all, almost to a man or woman, stop what they’re doing as he walks through, staring and muttering to themselves.
He pays them no attention and continues through to another hallway where a row of locker rooms is on the right-hand side.
Opening the third door, he steps through into his assigned dressing room for the night. The room is basic, with a simple athletic locker and a bench in front of it, and a small one-man shower on one side. Sitting on the bench is an envelope, something that was not there before the match, and he scrunches his eyebrows.
He opens the envelope and reads.
“Wanted to wish you good luck on your first night back.”
Dan looks at it without expression, not knowing how to feel about the note, and tosses it back down onto the bench.
Behind him, he hears the mechanism on the door click and he turns to see Craig Massey stepping through the door with a nod and a smile. Massey has a kind face, a rugged exterior that belied the good man he has always been. Time has tinted the hair around his temples a shimmering white, and other hues of gray are scattered over the rest of his head.
“Not a bad first match.”
“I was rusty as fuck.”
Craig nods and walks over toward him. “Still, a win is a win. Beats going out there and losing after everything you’ve been through.”
“Everything I did to myself, you mean.” Dan was serious, no touch of sarcasm. This was a stern correction.
“Ok,” Massey replies. “Everything you did to yourself. Either way, it’s been a long road back.”
Finally, Dan nods. “It has. And you’re right. A win is a win. Thanks, man.”
Massey chuckles slightly.
“You’ve never been very good at accepting compliments. I suppose it’s even harder these days.”
“In fact,” Dan says, sighing. “It makes me cringe to a frightening extent.” He turns and starts to stuff his belongings into a large duffel bag.
“I don’t deserve compliments right now, and it’s gonna take a lot more than winning one tag team match to earn it back. It’s been a long road, but it’s not getting any shorter yet. There’s still so much work to do.”
Craig looks around, taking note of the layout of the room. “What about the kid?”
Dan glances over his shoulder.
“Your tag team partner,” Massey replies. “What’s the story there?”
Dan stops, takes a deep breath, then zips up the duffel bag and throws it casually over one shoulder.
“I’m just trying to help him get his confidence back. The kid is broken. I can’t fix him, but maybe I can help him learn how to fix himself. Besides, I’m doing a favor for the boss.”
Massey, a man who had worked for Dan Ryan for many years back in the mid-2000s, was taken aback just a bit.
“You? Doing favors? Helping people when there isn’t anything in it for him? That doesn’t sound like the Dan Ryan I know.”
There’s silence as Dan stands there with his back facing his old friend. Finally, he turns around and looks him directly in the eyes.
He passes Massey and without another word, leaves the dressing room and pulls the door shut behind him with a click.
October 15, 2022
Off With the Old…
Do you know what it’s like to feel this way?
I’m guessing no, although that may be overly presumptuous of me. I hate talking about myself, hate talking to anyone about where I’ve been, what I’ve done or accomplished. I hate it because I feel like nobody gives a shit. It’s self-serving bullshit.
But I’m here now and it has to be said.
I got to the top of this business a long time ago. I got to the top by being ruthless, by being persistent, determined, underhanded, and willing to do anything… absolutely anything to get my hand raised in that ring.
And it worked, too. My hand got raised a lot. Not every single time, but many, many times. I have wrestled in main events from the United States to Europe to Japan and more. Here in High Octane alone I’ve been in many main events when you compare it to the short amount of time I was here.
None of that matters at all. It might as well have been washed away in a flood, left to drown and die where it belongs. Because for some reason, after 25 years of committing every underhanded atrocity you can thing of in this sport, after taking advantage of people, using people, cheating, stealing and being the most miserable son of a bitch in the game, and being well fucking proud of it… finally, the wrestling Gods chose here and now to give me what was coming to me.
I’ve had this coming for a long time. I guess I always knew it, but I convinced myself that I could go on like that forever. Some corner of my mind told me it couldn’t last forever. But I pushed that part deeper and deeper into that corner. The results felt too good, the temptation was too much. Gold, influence, power, they are all far too seductive. I was foolish. I know that now.
Not only do I know how foolish I was, I’ve become convinced that I am a fool in the here and now, because I have the hardest time understanding myself. I am finding a soul beneath this dark, empty cavity in my chest, where I was sure none existed.
This business gave me a hard fucking slap across the face last year. It was worse than any attack I’ve ever endured, far worse than any punch or kick that’s ever been thrown my way. For the only time in my entire life I was left speechless.
You can’t tempt fate forever. Eventually it catches up to us all. I should have known better. I did know better. I wish I had figured this out 20 years ago instead of one.
So the only choice left to me is this: either I run away, wilt away and die alone in some abandoned building somewhere, dying one of those big city deaths where no one knows you’ve died for two weeks, until the smell wafts far enough into the hallway. Or, I scrape it all off. I kill what I was and I create something new. I’ve never been a good person. Not ever. But that figurative slap last year reset my brain. I think it woke me the fuck up. It’s a sensation I’m not used to, but I’m starting to feel like I’m becoming who I was meant to be.
I’ve taken and taken from this business, and the business has been very good to me, very patient, not taking its revenge until there was no other recourse.
So, if I’m to reclaim my reputation, if I’m to reclaim my destiny, if I’m to re-earn my respect, it will have to come on my merit alone. No more shortcuts. I have something to prove to myself. I have to show myself that I can do this. In the very least, these last years of my career have to be something I’ll be proud of for the rest of my life.
I have to make myself into someone my wife and daughter can be proud of again. I have to earn that, not expect it. My life depends on it.
This week, out of nowhere, there’s an opportunity. To be honest, I planned on slow rolling it. I saw the announcement for people to throw their hat into the mix for Lethal Lottery, and a shot at one of at least three different titles. I ignored it. I have a much more healthy ambition, and I had not planned to take this step yet. But then I got a little message. It was simple. It was the announcement again, written out in bold lettering, and I got the hint, so I threw my name in.
For some reason, after all I’ve done, after all of my sins, all of my best efforts to throw myself into oblivion for all to see, I’m being handed an opportunity. Maybe my name will get called. Maybe it won’t.
Could it be Joe Bergman and the HoTV title? I’m sure he’s none too pleased about what happened a little over a week ago, and I’m positive he’s not happy about what happened to Sunny. Although, I’ve heard that in the last few days, Sunny came home.
Could it be Jace Parker Davidson and the LSD title? Could it be the man who as recently as late last year had not one, but three championships to his name? I wonder what he thinks of all of this. I’m sure we’ll hear all about it soon. And I wonder what his expression will be if he’s standing in that ring and hears my music playing, sees me come out onto that stage, and watches as I walk down to the ring, climb in and try to take his last championship away from him.
And of course, last but certainly not least, could it be Christopher America and the HOW World Title? What an interesting turn of events that would be. I want to say, Christopher, that you have my absolute utmost respect. You were gone for how long? Quite a long time, right? You came back, stepped right back into the middle of everything, won War Games, won the World Championship, and have held that title ever since. It’s been an impressive, impressive run.
I know you don’t think anyone knows what it’s like to be you. And you’re right. No one knows what it’s like to be you. No one ever could. But not for the reasons you think. It’s not because I haven’t been to the heights you’ve been to. I have. It’s not because I’ve never been cut back down to size like the big Russian did to you at PWA01. I have. And it’s not just because you are the World Champion. There’s so much more to it, so much more to you than people realize. I made sure ICONIC ended the way it was meant to, and I did that for you, not to manipulate you, not to cheat you or Clay Byrd, but because it was the way it had to be. Understand?
You are meant to be the World Champion. At a time when HOW lost so many of its top stars, this company needed a Hall of Famer to come back and take his place on top of the mountain again. And you, Christopher… you took that ball and Usain Bolted that motherfucker. You did it, and you’re continuing to do it.
I didn’t plan to challenge you for that belt. I don’t deserve a title shot, not even close. And you don’t deserve to lose it. It’s yours, earned and paid for. You’ve bled for it, poured sweat into the ring for it, and damn near died for it. But sometimes we don’t get what we deserve. No matter how much men like you and I want it to be otherwise, sometimes we simply do not have control over the inevitable.
I don’t know if I’m facing you this week, and to me, that’s wonderful. This could really be something, or it could be nothing at all. This is Chaos at its finest. This is High Octane at its essence.
There’s an old saying made by a man named Steve Maraboli. “Letting go means to come to the realization that some people are a part of your history, but not a part of your destiny.”
I’ve washed my past away. Whatever comes this weekend, sink or swim, win or lose, triumph or failure, this is my destiny.
Last week was where the hard work began. This week is where it takes me first. To you, to Joe Bergman, to Jace Parker Davidson… no matter who it is, I’ll walk into the ring and do what I have to do to prove to the world who I really am.
If we’re lucky, we’ll prove to the world just who the three of you are, too.
February 6, 2023
The Walker Chooses the Path
Dan Ryan steps out of a Ford F150 truck, sunglasses on his face and dressed in workout attire. From the other side of the truck, Craig Massey steps out and walks around the front of the truck. They look at the big building in front of them. Just outside Cleveland, near Broadview Heights, the area is littered with many golf courses and parks, and here, a country club willing to let a wealthy professional athlete rent the club out… for a fee.
Over the top of a 97Red awning, which gives shade to the primary doors, are the words “Broadview Golf Club”.
“Looks like a decent place.” Dan looks the place over. Craig starts to walk up the walkway to the door.
“It came highly recommended. Of course, I had to get out the checkbook to make this happen.”
Dan nodded. “Everything worth having costs money, Craig. Welcome back to America.”
On the wall next to the doors, a numbered keypad, illuminated in a faint, lifeless blue, beeps as Craig Massey punches in a series of numbers. A moment after, there’s a clicking noise, and Dan Ryan is able to pull the door open and step inside.
The interior of the space is a standard gym layout, some cardio against one wall, free weights on another, and the doors to a pool at the back-center. Offset to the opposite side from the cardo equipment, a full-sized ring is set up.
Massey waves Dan over toward the ring. “I made sure they set up a high quality ring for us to work with. And I um… got someone to train with you.”
Dan Ryan stops in his tracks.
“Wait… who did you get?”
“Well,” Massey replies.
Dan cringes. “Oh God, Massey, please don’t tell me…”
Massey throws his arms out to the side.
“I didn’t have a lot of choices, you know. Not too many people are lining up to come out here and get beat up for an hour.”
Dan hears a sound from behind him, and he closes his eyes. A voice calls out.
Dan knows that voice. He turns slowly until he’s facing the newcomer.
Dan looks at Craig Massey, pleading. “Craig, please tell me you didn’t… please, Craig.”
Scott Hunter saunters over, almost skipping as Massey responds.
“Look I know he’s a little… eccentric…”
“Eccentric?!,” Dan practically shouts. “He’s a moron!”
Craig holds his hands up in front of him. “Okay okay, you may be right. But the kid has talent. He’s a savant in that ring. He just um… talks too much.”
Slowly Dan turns his head as Hunter approaches, and glares down at him.
“Howdy!” Hunter juts a hand out to shake. “The name’s Scott…. I MEAN…” Hunter reaches into his pocket and pulls out a very silly fake thin mustache and affixes it to his upper lip. “I mean I’m NOT Hunter. Unfortunately there are too many Scotts in wrestling and I don’t want anyone to think I’m some lame copycat. I’m no cheater. Craig,” he says, turning to Craig Massey. “Remember that big dumb oaf you told me about, the one from Texas… The name was um… Stan Bryan or something like that?”
Hunter recoils. “I’m not Scott! Don’t you see the mustache?!”
“Scott,” Massey responds, cringing. “This is Dan Ryan.”
Hunter looks at Ryan, sizing him up, then looks back at Craig, then back at Dan, then back at Craig.
“So anyways, like I was saying. Remember that absolute moron you were telling me about?? Dan Ry…”
Something clicks, and Hunter turns to look up at the big Texan.
Dan smiles the fakest smile he can possibly muster. He looks over at Craig and shakes his head. “Boy do you owe me one…”
With that, Dan steps over and climbs up into the ring. Hunter looks at Craig and winces, mouthing the words “I didn’t know”, then follows Dan into the ring.
“Look… Stan. I’m sorry about that little incident back there. I didn’t mean what I said. I almost never do. I once argued about the difference between pots and pans with a beaver. I won the argument, but that’s beside the point. What I’m saying is, I’m sorry. Also, I will make it up to you because I came prepared. I have studied your possible opponents. Craig told me who they could be, and after some intense film study that lasted almost seventy whole seconds each, I think I’m ready to do the job.”
Dan ignores him completely. Hunter stares at him.
“So… are we good?”
Still nothing from Dan Ryan.
Hunter looks over at Massey and mouths under his breath, “Is he just gonna stay frozen like that?”
Hunter looks back at the big man, who is now adjusting his elbow pads while staring a hole right in the center of NOT Hunter’s face.
“Oooookay… Well, how about we start with Joe Bergman first. Okay, here goes.”
Dan gets in a fighting stance waiting for Hunter to make his move. Hunter steps forward, then stops and goes stiff as a board. He stares off into space.
“Hello, I am Joe Bergman. I have lots and lots of personality. I am very charismatic and also have nice teeth now. Gingivitis is the enemy. Brush three times daily. I am the fifth dentist, the one who DOES NOT recommend Colgate! So prepare to meet thy charismatic doom!!”
Hunter charges Ryan, bouncing straight off his chest and crashing down to the mat. Hunter rolls up to his feet and Ryan stalks him toward one corner.
“Wait! I wasn’t ready!”
Hunter pulls off his t-shirt, revealing a second t-shirt underneath that has “Property of Missouri Valley Dungeons and Dragons Club – 1995” printed on it.
“Okay, now I’m ready.”
Dan ignores all this foolishness and picks Hunter up and shoves him into the corner. He charges in, but Hunter moves and Dan hits the turnbuckle, grunting at the impact. Turning around he sees Hunter standing there pointing at his head.
“Ah! I may be incredibly boring, but I am also a very smart man! I bought Microsoft at 6 points in 1986!”
Dan charges in with an attempted clothesline, but Hunter ducks and Dan Ryan misses again.
“Okay okay… let’s do Jace Parker Davidson now. Come get some! I pity the fool!”
Massey calls out. “Dammit Scott, that’s Mr. T! Jace Parker Davidson is nothing like him!”
Hunter stomps his foot like a child and adjusts his fake mustache. “Dammit Craig, I’m NOT Scott!”
Growling, Dan Ryan rushes Hunter again. Hunter ducks again, but this time Ryan stops in his tracks and puts a boot to his midsection, then keeps stomping away as he talks to him, “I… am just about… tired… of you…”
Hunter scrambles away and begs off. “Wait, wait…”
Ryan walks in his direction before finally standing over him near a corner.
“I haven’t even gotten a chance to be Christopher America yet!”
Ryan stops, looks down at him, then sighs deeply, and puts both hands on his hips.
“Just… do whatever you need to do, man.”
Dan stands there as Hunter smiles, then hops to his feet. He turns around, climbs up the turnbuckle and turns around to sit on top. Sitting there, he raises his hand in a salute, and starts…
“If tomorrow all the things were gone… I worked for all my life… And I had to start again… With just my children and my wife…”
Dan looks at him incredulously, then turns and looks at Craig Massey, who has a hand over his mouth to cover up his laughter. Hunter starts again, and Dan turns back to him.
“I thank my lucky stars… to be living here today… ‘cause the flag still stands for freedom… and they can’t take that awaaaaaaay-aaaaaaaaay!”
Despite the absolute absurdity of the moment, Dan stares in disbelief, and yet a small smile starts to come across his face.
“And I’m proud to be an American!… where at least I know I’m free!… and I won’t forget the men who died… who gave that right to me… and I’d gladly stand up!”
Hunter stands up.
“Next to you… and defend her still today… ‘cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land!… GOD BLESS THE USA!!!”
With a flourish, he holds the last note, and when it ends, he salutes again, hard. Hunter winces and mutters, “ouch”, then hops down and looks up at his training partner.
“How was that?”
Dan just shakes his head again. “You are so twisted.”
Hunter smiles a big shit-eating grin.
Chuckling, Dan Ryan turns and climbs back through the ropes to the floor.
“Thanks, kid. And Craig?” Dan stops next to Massey and puts a hand on his shoulder.
“Yeah?” Craig replies.
“Never bring him to train with me again.”
Dan smiles, then the smile disappears and he walks away toward and out through the door.