They say you should never meet your heroes.
I don’t think I’ve ever talked about why I became a wrestler in the first place. Most people just assume that it’s equal parts nature and nurture– as is the Father, so shall be the Son. They get this picture of him bringing me up in the business, and molding me in his image. Of a true pedigreed heir, groomed by Lee Best himself for greatness. Unfortunately, it’s all a bunch of bullshit. Fiction. Never happened.
The truth is a lot harder to believe.
The truth is that I didn’t meet my father until the end of 2009, when I signed with HOW. The truth is that I became a professional wrestler with absolutely no inkling that it was in my blood to begin with. Lee knew he had a kid, and I knew I had a dad out there somewhere, but it wasn’t until long after I’d left a big enough footprint on the indies to get noticed, scouted, and signed that I found out that I was essentially wrestling royalty.
I found out live on television.
Lee Best sauntered down to the ring, cut a promo on the future Michael Best, and told him that he thought there was a chance that he was the long, lost Son of HOW. That’s the true beginning of my relationship with Lee Best, and it blows my mind to this day that I would have never met my biological father if I hadn’t been literally working for him at the time. That if I’d followed my life’s plan, I could have ended up working in an IT department somewhere, or selling fucking insurance to old white people. So what happened? How did shitty little Mikey [REDACTED] become Michael Lee Best, the SON OF GOD?
Like I said, they tell you to never meet your heroes.
But I met mine on March 15, 2004, and it changed my life… forever.
It was a cold as fuck night in East Rutherford, New Jersey. This was back when they still called it the Meadowlands– I was a senior in highschool, and I about came in my fucking pants when I heard that PRIMETIME was finally coming anywhere near my shitbag Jersey suburb. This wasn’t gonna be a half dozen fat dudes rolling around in a deathtrap wrestling ring in a highschool gym– this was fucking big leagues. And this wasn’t just any old card.
The World fucking Champion was going to be there.
And he was defending his championship.
You wouldn’t have even recognized me back then. Doe-eyed and smiling a dopey little mark smile, in a dopey little mark t-shirt, living a dopey little mark life. As I stood along the guardrail, screaming my brains out, I watched him battle some asshole named “Hornet” in the main event. Not like “James Hornet”, or anything– just Hornet. Like he was a giant man-bee or something. I don’t know, 2004 was fucking wild.
But it didn’t matter– I was fucking there.
I was there when he booted THE MAN CALLED HORNET in the gut, and lifted him high overhead. I was there, as the crowd got on their feet and the Meadowlands unleashed a collective four thousand stale beer farts from the trappings of their plastic chairs. I was there, when he delivered that Humility Bomb, and retained the CSWA World Championship.
I was there to see my hero.
I was there to see Dan Ryan.
The Office of Michael Lee Best
The HOW Corporate Office In Chicago, Illinois
Sunday, March 1, 2020
“Have a fruit basket waiting for Dan in the locker room after.”
Tethered to the office phone via an actual, physical cable, Michael Best cradles the receiver between his ear and shoulder as he strains on his tip-toes, trying to reach the nearby filing cabinet. For the better part of a week now, the office of the Chief Marketing Officer of HOW have looked more like a campaign headquarters than a corporate workspace– cardboard boxes litter the otherwise open space in front of his desk, with mounting piles of paperwork being put aside in the face of more “pressing” affairs.
He’s definitely marketing, but it isn’t quite for HOW.
“No, Jack.” Michael scowls, barely snatching a clipboard from the top of the filing cabinet. “I’m not fucking kidding. An actual fruit basket. And not some bullshit internet delivery garbage, either– take your ass all the way down to Logan Square Farmer’s Market, find him something real nice, and earn your goddamned ten percent.”
On the other side of the phone call, and exasperated Jack W. Adler says a lot of words in quick succession. What this particular set of words amounts to is anyone’s guess– the Son of God is too busy looking over the paperwork on his clipboard to pay it any mind.
“Literally not even listening.” The Son interjects, losing his patience. “It’s a basic fucking request, Jack. Buy a fruit basket. Canasta de frutas aquí. The last time I asked Dan Ryan not to literally murder me, he told me to buy him a fruit basket. Maybe he was joking, I don’t know, but I’m not taking any chances. GET ME A FUCKING FRUIT BASKET, OR I WILL FIRE YOU OUT OF A CANNON IN FRONT OF YOUR GODDAMNED CHILDREN.”
He slams the phone down into the cradle, and then picks it up and slams it back down a few more times for good measure. He truly was his father’s son– he’d been threatening to fire Jack at least once a week for the better part of a decade now, but this is the first time that he might actually mean it.
“It’s not that fucking difficult.” Michael closes his eyes, rubbing furiously at his temples. “You know what would make me feel goddamned better if some goddamned kid took my goddamned title from me? A GODDAMNED FRUIT BASKET.”
It perhaps wasn’t as trivial as it sounded.
If Lee Best hadn’t become a wrestler promoter, he could have been a goddamned major league pitcher– you can never see his fucking curveballs coming, and they’re impossible to hit. The Son of God knew from the beginning that his little “Group of Death” was going to spark a reaction from his father, but Lee had thrown him the one pitch he definitely wasn’t ready for.
He gave his son a title shot
The eMpire had been so busy boasting about it’s championships and it’s winning percentages over the last year that they hadn’t ever bothered to brag about perhaps their greatest strength– The eMpire did not infight. They didn’t envy or covet one another. They didn’t take shitty little swipes at each other on the Internet. Hell, they rarely ever even disagreed. But most importantly? The eMpire didn’t wrestle against each other. This was what gave them their strength. This was what made them work so well as a team. This was what made them the most unstoppable force in HOW, capable of taking down equally talented wrestlers with ease.
The Group of Death wasn’t about to be so fortunate.
Max Kael versus Lindsay Troy in the semi-finals. A fifty percent chance of GoD versus GoD at March to Glory. And now? Dan Ryan versus Michael Best, with a whole hell of a lot on the line. There was nothing but infighting in the direct future of HOW’s newest team, and to start it all off with an ICON Championship match wasn’t an accident. Lee Best knew exactly what he was doing.
This had to be handled very, very carefully.
To carefully to be left in the hands of Jack W. Adler, professional piece of shit.
“Ellie?” Michael presses a button on his office phone, speaking into the intercom. “Hold my calls. I’m going to the farmer’s market.”
“It’s been two hours, man. I’m going home.”
I don’t even remember his name, honestly. Some kid I went to highschool with– probably called him my best friend, up until he went off to college and we went our separate ways. It’s the strangest thing, because I remember everything about that night. I remember the smell of the exhaust from the ring truck, as the crew packed everything up to read on down the road. I remember stepping into this giant puddle, leftover from the rainstorms the night before, and going home with one shoe completely full of water. I remember everything but that dipshit’s name.
But fuck him anyway, he was wrong.
It had been two and a half hours.
I watched his tail lights fade into the darkness, wondering if maybe I’d been wasting my time. Maybe I’d missed him? Maybe he snuck out the side exit, to avoid the crowds? The bulk of the boys had hauled ass out of that arena the first second they could, mobbed by assholes like me, loitering around in the parking lot for an autograph. As the wrestlers had filtered out, so had the crowd, and now it was only me. I barely share DNA with the shitty little teenager standing in that parking lot, but we definitely shared at least one thing in common: we didn’t fucking quit.
I had come to meet Dan Ryan.
I was going to meet Dan Ryan.
Five minutes go by.
A guy walked around the corner of one of the ring trucks– one of the referees, though I remember how odd it was to see him in a hoodie and a pair of jeans, no different than me. He shot the shit with me for a couple of minutes… in hindsight, I think he felt bad. It must have been pathetic to see some greasy haired kid just skulking around. He asked me what I was hanging around for, and when I told him I was there to meet Dan, I remember that he laughed. Kind of a mean laugh, really– he said “good luck” and gave me this little salute. I don’t think I realized until just now that he was being sarcastic.
Ten minutes go by.
And then, the doors swing open. It wasn’t nearly windy enough for the door to slam against the outside wall that hard– it went off like a gunshot, and turned every head left in the parking lot. Ring crew, referees, and one dorky high school kid, all turning their heads on a swivel as the single largest human being I had ever seen in my life burst through the door.
It was The Ego Buster.
And he was fucking angry.
Arguing with this fat little piece of middle aged nothing– had to be the promoter. Had this mustache on him that could turn your vagina into the Sahara. This guy follows him out the door, yelling up a storm, and Dan is pissed. I mean angrier than you’ve ever seen him with a microphone in his hand, and him and this promoter are arguing, something about his payoff. It was so bizarre to see a guy like Dan even giving a shit about his paycheck– you assume all these guys have their own private jets and millions of dollars in the bank, because that’s what they want you to think. Because they’re all– because we’re all– putting on the big show.
But Dan Ryan didn’t get his fucking money, and he was angry.
At first, he nearly walked right past me. Stormed right past the pudgy pissant he’d been arguing with, and made a beeline for the parking lot. It was exhilarating and terrifying, all at the same time– like someone chasing a tornado for the first time, and it’s the biggest fucking one on record. I could feel the words leaving my mouth before I had the good sense to stop them from coming out– okay, maybe that kid and I still have few things in common.
“DAN! DAN RYAN! WHAT’S UP, MAN?”
There are Middle Eastern countries where you lose your hands for less than that.
He could have ignored me. Could have told me to go fuck myself, and went on with his evening. Hell, he could have punched me in the throat and crushed my windpipe without a second thought– I’d looked a tiger in the face and told him I liked his fucking work. To this day, I have no idea why he stopped. I’ll have to ask him some time, not that he’d even remember me in the first place.
But he stopped, and he changed my life.
Logan Square Farmer’s Market
2363 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL
Sunday, March 1, 2020
“Show me something with less bananas.”
Hands on his hips, the discerning eyes of Michael Best scan over the various customizable baskets of the fruit stall. His brow furrows– he had sincerely hoped that he’d stumble upon just the right arrangement. You know, the one that would keep Daniel James Ryan from creating his own personal arrangement out of Michael Best’s very punchable face.
He’s been standing here for over a half hour– other patrons have come and go, very quickly and reasonably making their selections and going about their day. Of course, nothing is ever that easy for Michael Best outside of a wrestling match– between the ropes, he is fast. Decisive. Opportunistic. But this isn’t a wrestling ring.
It’s a fruit stand.
At a fucking farmer’s market.
And it isn’t going well.
“Or maybe more bananas?” he adds, fueled by indecision. “I don’t know. Bananas are the shit. Fucking love bananas. But then, fuck– what if he sees a basket with a bunch of bananas in it and thinks I’m saying, like, Hey Dan, congrats on losing your ICON Title, here’s a basket full of dicks el oh el. Why are you trying to give my friend a basket full of dicks, Linda?”
His arm sweeps across the table in an anxious fury, knocking two of the baskets to the earth beneath. The fruity contents spill out into the grass, making next to zero noise, which altogether makes the entire thing feel very silly. He is immediately filled with regret, mostly because he thought it was going to be pretty badass, but in actuality he is a grown man spilling fruit at a farmer’s market.
“I’m sorry.” Michael sighs, reaching into his pocket and producing a business card. “That was very rude. I have a disease. I am very, very sick and cannot control my actions blah blah blah. Anyway, what about pineapple? Pineapple says ‘hey bud, great match, and even though I have your title now, we’re still cool”, right?”
He bends down in front of the table, slowly picking up the fruit that he knocked over like an obnoxious asshole. As he stacks various foodstuffs back into their appropriate baskets, he can’t help but wonder if all of this is even worth it.
Four months worth of planning and executing, just to make it to last weeks’ Refueled. Four months worth of schemes and secrets, and Lee Best was about to undo it all with one fucking curveball. One ICON Title match. Couldn’t he just be a team player for once in his life, and fucking take one for the team? He’d already done it for Lindsay– what’s one more match? There will be other opportunities. Other title matches. Other moments to make history, right?
“No.” he grits his teeth, talking to no one. “I deserve this.”
“Excuse me?” the fruit vendor blinks, blankly. “Dude, if you want some fruit, just buy some fruit.”
It’s really only then that he realizes he’s been standing here idly, holding a peach in his right hand, and muttering to himself like a fucking crazy person. The fruit vendor eyes him suspiciously– it isn’t every day that a stark raving lunatic fucks up her market stall, asks her in depth questions about the social implications of too many bananas in a fruit basket, and then tries to justify to himself that he deserves a fruit basket.
Still, stranger things happen in Chi Town.
He swallows the embarrassed lump in his throat, depositing the peach gently back down on the table. He eyes the remaining baskets lined up across the stall, and the overstock sitting in the back of the pickup truck behind it. Altogether, if he steps into the ring with Dan Ryan and manages to walk away with the HOW ICON Championship, it’s not like a single fruit basket is going to make a difference.
Michael smiles, sheepishly, as he pulls the #97Red corporate card out of his wallet.
“You know what?” the Son of God says, confidently. “Fuck it. I’ll take them all.”
“What’s your name, kid?”
Words are falling out of my face. I am starstruck. He asks my name again, because I never answered the question– a hint of a smirk falls over his face, as he takes the sharpie from my lifeless, clammy hand.
“Mike. Good to meet you, Mike. I’m Dan.”
Yeah, Dan. I know who you are. I’ve been watching you on television since my balls dropped. Every word that left his mouth sounded so confident. So sure of himself. There was this rage burning in his eyes– he was so fucking angry, but he had this moment for some starstruck kid who had waited out in the cold for two and a half hours. And if it had all ended right there, I’d have had a pretty cool story for the rest of my life.
But it didn’t all end right there.
“Listen, kid. There’s no room in this life to play nice and wait your turn. You gotta take what you deserve in this world. Ain’t nobody gonna give it to you. Got me?”
I could only nod my head. My vocal chords, as the kids say today, “literally couldn’t”.
He reached down and signed my hoodie. Literally wrote his fucking name on the clothes I was wearing, because my dumbass brought a sharpie but nothing to sign. He gives me a wink, tosses me my marker, and goes on his way. And if it had all ended right there, I’d have had a really cool story for the rest of my life.
But it didn’t all end right there.
As he bounds back toward the parking lot, the swagger falls back into his step– he’s headed for this shiny fucking Cadillac sitting in the handicap space. The fat fuck wrestling promotor is hobbling out toward the card, yelling for Dan to stop, but at this point it may as well be happening in slow motion. Dan lifts his leg up in the air, swiftly shoving the bottom of his heel through the glass and shattering the driver’s side window of the promoter’s car.
It was the coolest fucking thing I’ve ever seen in my life, to this fucking day.
He reaches in and unlocks the door, fishes around in the center console, and finds what he was looking for– an old school roll of hundred dollar bills. He pulls his gigantic frame out of the driver’s side, slams the door behind him, and glass is fucking everywhere. Completely demolished the car, and didn’t give a single fuck.
He took what he deserved, because nobody was gonna give it to him.
That was the moment that I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. That was the moment that I decided that I was going to be a professional wrestler. That was the moment that I realized that I couldn’t just wait around for the world to give my due– that I was going to have to bust my ass to get what I wanted, and I was going to have to fucking take it. Without Dan Ryan, there is no Mike Best. Without Dan Ryan, I’m kicking off my Payless dress shoes and sitting down to watch HOTv and forget about my shitty nine-to-five right now. Without Dan Ryan, the entire landscape of HOW is changed forever, by the beating of the wings of a single fucking butterfly, and I will never forget the one moment that made this all possible for me.
Fuck college. Everything that I needed to learn about life, I learned in a parking lot in Jersey.
I clawed my way through wrestling school and I busted my dick like I had never worked before, because I wanted it. I made my bones and my name on the independents, because I knew that no one was going to GIVE it to me. And then, when Lee Best came calling and looking for the phone number of the fucking DREAM World Champion, I made him sign ME… because I knew that I fucking deserved it.
Fourteen years ago, Dan changed my life in a way that I can never finish repaying him for. A million fruit baskets are never going to make up the difference. I can suck his dick in promos until my lips are chapped, I can interfere in his matches and hit a billion different men with a billion different chairs. None of it matters– they don’t make a “Thank you” card big enough for the thanks that I owe Dan Ryan.
And that’s why it means so much that my sixth ICON Championship will come from him.
I’m going to show him the impact that he had on my life in the only way that I know how. I’m going to step into the ring with Dan Ryan, and I’m going to beat the fucking shit out of him.
I’m going to claw, and scratch, and elbow him into a fucking coma if that’s what it takes. If I have to hit him with his own championship, I’m gonna do that, and then when it’s over, I’m gonna shake his hand and welcome him to the family. Blood in, blood out. Ride or die. Because to give him anything less would be a waste of the most valuable lesson that he ever taught me.
I’m going to take what I deserve, because he sure as fuck isn’t going to give it to me.
Don’t just meet your heroes, kids.