I haven’t wrestled at 100% since 2003.
One of my knees is held together by duct tape and Spanish moss. The other knee is worse. The only reason I can walk, let alone run the ropes, is because stem cells are a thing. I’ve had more concussions than most guys have won titles over the years. Because of that my brain can be mashed potatoes at times. Maybe that explains some of the dumb shit I’ve gotten myself into over the years.
Maybe it’s just an excuse I like to use.
I’ve had neck fusion surgery. Many moons before Dan Ryan destroyed Cayle Murray in less than five minutes the Calamari Kid dropped me on my head so hard that I couldn’t look to the left for six months until I had the surgery.
I’ve been stretched, stabbed, shot…
The intensive care ward at the Tulane Medical Center has my name on a plaque by the door I’ve spent so much time in there, and that’s a shoot, brother. Broken fingers, dislocated shoulders, fractured and broken bones… the list doesn’t end. I’ve torn more tendons than I can remember, somehow I even dislocated my sternum once.
To think that I’ve got no weaknesses…
I don’t know, it’s almost disrespectful.
Pay the fuck attention, do a goddamned Google search.
Don’t. Fucking. Assume.
Do I really have to cue up The Bad News Bears?
I’ll be honest with ya John. I’m starting to think that you’re not taking this seriously. I’m starting to think that maybe you came back this time just to collect a paycheck and instead of being the trailblazer that everybody tells me you used to be you’re just another flabby-titted joke. Look at you, you’re not gunning for the World Title or even the ICON or LSD, you’ve settled yourself into a comedy act with Jatt Star with a stupid name and you’re knocking on Brian Hollywood and Darin Zion’s door looking for Tag Team Title scraps.
It’s fuckin’ embarrassing, John.
It’s fucking offensive.
Yeah, I called you a pussy, and you’re going out of your way to prove me right. Making a big show out of beating up dojo kids instead of actually preparing for this match is a mistake, John. That shit’s been done a few times here recently, bud, and let me tell you it wasn’t a good look on MJ Flair either.
I’m coming to Alcatraz to cripple you, Sektor.
You see, pinning you isn’t going to be enough.
What good is pinning a guy who doesn’t take himself seriously anymore? This isn’t about some spectacle for me, John, it’s about moving onward and moving up. The plan here is to make an example out of you the same way I did Solex, High Flyer, and Bobby Dean before you. The difference, of course, being that your Uncle Lee decided to compare me unfavorably to your insignificant excuse for a “legendary” ass for the entire world to see. He didn’t do you any favors there, bub, because now I have to show him just exactly how wrong he is about you, and more importantly about me.
They tell me you’re a Hall of Famer.
They tell me you’re a big deal.
I’m telling you not to lean on that, John.
Don’t think that you’re big and you’re bad and you scare me because you don’t. I’ve beaten up bigger, and I’ve been badder. Understand me when I say that this isn’t going to be the kind of dog and pony show that you can take advantage of by showing a little chest fuzz and showing off that shitstain on your upper lip. Rumble at the Rock is a serious event for serious people, I hope for your sake that you haven’t forgotten that.
I’m gonna make a stepping stone out of you even if it kills you.
So do me a favor John, at least pretend.
For your sake, if not mine.
“Maybe you wanna stop provoking him?”
Angus Skaaland’s dojo, the Crescent City Fight Club, wasn’t your run of the mill sweaty ol’ fighter factory. It didn’t stink of decades of sweat and blood and shame, but rather shined brightly with all of the trappings of a modern wrestling academy. Everything was state of the art, everything had that new car smell. Angus, having cashed out of all of his DEFIANCE stocks and holdings over the last year, had a vision for the future of the grappling arts.
Today’s session wasn’t taking place in either of the two pro-sized rings set up in the building. Neither would anybody be hitting the weights or pushing their cardio. Today was all about the study of film, and why even the longest tenured professionals could always do with a bit of active research on his opponents.
Eric Dane remained defiant.
“Maybe you wanna stop telling me what to do?”
Angus was about to pop off when Graysie Parker interjected herself.
“Maybe,” Graysie said, “you should remember that you’re trying to get your act together, and in order to do that you might actually listen to your friends for once.”
She was curt, to the point.
Eric considered that for a moment.
A floor-to-ceiling projector screen had been installed for just these sorts of strategy sessions. Being that the ground floor of this particular building had high ceilings, that meant the screen was easily fifteen foot from top to bottom.
On the giant screen was a bloodied Eric Dane, locked into John Sektor’s C-Sektion submission hold. The Only Star’s forehead was crusted with the dried gore and his usually gleaming teeth were stained red behind the sick smile that he somehow managed to hold throughout Sektor’s application of the choke-sleeper.
Dane watched himself on the big screen. “Maybe it’s all part of my master plan.”
“Oh?” Angus blurted. “What’s step two, have your head caved in by the entire Best Alliance?”
Eric’s eyes narrowed. Graysie braced for an explosion.
“Well, no. That was obviously step number one.”
That was enough to crack everyone up. Sitting behind Dane, Skaaland, and Parker was a smattering of Angus’s students of varying levels. This whole thing had been put together not just for the sake of Eric and his upcoming match at Alcatraz, but to hammer home to the kids how important watching film could be. The tension had been on the rise with everyone in the room having been a party to one of The Only Star’s tantrums at some point in their tenure at the dojo.
Eric knew everybody expected him to lose his shit.
Presently, that was his motivation not to.
“My point,” Angus said. “Is that the more you poke and prod that bear, the more he’s gonna maul you. And seriously, Eric, you ain’t exactly in the best shape of your life anymore. Are you absolutely sure that making fun of him and begging him and all of his friends to stomp your shit in is such a good idea?”
A moment passed.
On screen the action had faded off to black.
“It worked on Solex.”
Angus raised an accusatory eyebrow. “Solex is not John Sektor.”
“Are you sure?” Eric asked jokingly. “I mean, who can tell, am I right?”
Graysie chimed in, “Is that a moustache joke?”
Eric smiled, Angus rolled his eyes.
“Of course it’s a joke. If you don’t take this seriously you’re gonna get hurt on that island. This match is gonna happen inside of a prison, Eric. This is serious business.”
“He’s right,” Graysie added.
From behind, one of the kids chimed in.
“Uh…” Charisma wasn’t the kid’s strong suit. “I don’t get it.”
The student, a lanky kid who probably won’t make it unless he puts on about seventy pounds of muscle, had clearly not yet begun to understand the finer points of the business he was trying to break into. It’s entirely possible he’s only here because he’s athletic and is looking to cash in on that while it’s still viable.
“What is it that you don’t get, Preston?” Angus asked.
“Why prison? And more than that, why Alcatraz? What’s that supposed to accomplish, fighting in a prison that’s been closed for fifty years?”
Eric chuckled before answering. “You don’t watch wrestling much, do ya?”
“I mean…” the kid stammered, “Not really. I’ve been watching since I’ve been training, but it wasn’t exactly the most popular thing on TV when I was a kid. Yanno?”
Eric did know, the last ten years had definitely not been the nineties.
Or even the double-aughts.
It had gotten bad in most places.
Thankfully High Octane Wrestling had been resurrected and the business in general had seen a resurgence over the last year or so because of it. It occurred to Eric that he’d started DEFIANCE at the worst possible time and had still run it proudly through the biggest slump the industry had ever seen. At least, he thought to himself, nobody could take that from him.
“Graysie, you wanna smarten the kid up?”
She smirked and crossed her arms over her chest.
“It’s all about the gimmick.”
Preston stared up at the Iron Butterfly, confusion plastered all over his face.
“The what now?”
“The gimmick,” she reiterated. “It’s all about selling tickets and pay-per-view buys. Building interest. If the end game is making money, having a show at the prison is the means to maximizing said monetization.”
The look on Angus’ face betrayed that he was impressed.
“Yeah,” Angus said. “That pretty much covers it.
The kid still didn’t get it.
He settled back into his chair, unsure if he’d not maybe made a mistake by getting himself involved in such an insane line of work that he might have to fight in a prison some day. It didn’t occur to Eric just exactly how strange the idea of a match in a prison should be to him. Probably because he’d made his career doing weird, violent shit, and this was just the next progression of that. He let his thoughts wander momentarily before turning to Graysie.
“Alright, kid,” he said. “It’s your turn.”
She raised her eyebrows at him.
“You done for the day?”
“Nah,” Eric answered. “Just takin’ a walk.”
Angus raised an eyebrow at Eric, who nodded off toward the other direction.
Silently, the two of them walked away as Graysie flipped her way through HOTv until she found the latest episode of MVW’s Wrestling Night in America.
There was a time when I didn’t believe in monsters.
A short time.
Let’s say roughly four years, from the time when I was six and my second foster mother showed me that there was no boogie man in my closet and no wooly-booly under my bed, to the time when I was ten years old and Lester Watts randomly decided to make me the object of his unwanted and aggressive attention.
Lester was built like a varsity defensive lineman in the fifth grade. As such he was treated with a certain set of kid gloves that allowed him to get away with pretty much whatever he’d wanted to do. On the playground one day he’d decided it’d be great fun to knock me on my ass, sit all of his weight on my chest, and hock loogies that’d make Cancer Jiles jealous right in my face.
The longer he sat on my chest, the harder it was to breathe. As it got harder to breathe I started to panic, and as I panicked Lester started to smile. It was my first glimpse into that dark thing that exists in certain people, that writhing worm in the soul that feeds on other people’s fear.
I could see it, and it terrified me.
And it was exhilarating. I could see him smiling in some kind of weird ecstasy.
Later, when I was older, I would learn to equate that feeling with getting high. It was a life-changing revelation to little Eric Dane
Don’t ask me how the foster system in New Orleans had spared me the knowledge of the existence of evil for ten years, but on that day on that playground Lester gave me a crash course in what it was like to feel powerless.
The pleasure that he took in tormenting me that day did something to me. All of a sudden I had a clear understanding of the existence of monsters, and I don’t mean Lester, I mean that thing inside of him. In an instant it was inside of me, too. With a surge I reached up and buried my thumbs into Lester’s eye sockets. He screamed and he bled and before I knew it I was being pulled off of him and carried away.
Lester Watts was the first person I’d ever sent to a hospital.
He would not be the last.
They wanted to lock me up that day. My fifth foster mother wouldn’t hear of it. She was one of those bleeding heart types, full of faith in Jesus and humanity and my ability to overcome the setbacks of a childhood spent bouncing from place to place in the system.
She also believed in the power of medication.
I was on a full regimen of Thioridazine before my eleventh birthday. That in and of itself was my first experience with using prescription medication to suppress the inner rage demon that I’d begun to nurture and develop the very day that I’d squished Lester’s eyeballs with my thumbs. Let me just tell you, this would go on to lead me down more than one slippery slope over the next couple of decades.
Suppression became life.
Through the fog of forced smiles and medicated motivation I was never comfortable. I found ways to lash out everywhere I looked. I stole from my foster parents, I sold my pills to other kids who didn’t know any better, I fought almost daily…
By thirteen my seventh foster mother had written me off as a lost cause. It was then, after a series of small time assaults and thefts, that I was remanded to the Archdiocese of New Orleans and stashed away at the boys home run by the Sisters of Perpetual Help. I guess maybe somebody thought institutionalizing a burgeoning sociopath was a good plan. They were wrong, as they usually are in these cases, the only thing I learned in my five years as a ward of the state was how to work the system from the inside out.
The nuns decided that not only did I need antipsychotics to keep me from hurting myself or others, but my constant need for attention and inability to turn it off absolutely must have stemmed from an attention deficit disorder. That in mind, they started pumping me full of ritalin as soon as possible and thus began my addiction to stimulants and other “cognition enhancers.”
I say all of that to say this:
You can call it whatever you want. An evolutionary defect. A generational disorder. A mis-firing of the synapses, or even a radical hormonal imbalance. You could even call it outright cruelty. What I saw in Lester’s eyes all those years ago was real, and it was terrifying, and it cannot be dismissed.
I know because I became that very thing.
I’ve hurt and maimed people to make a living, all in the name of notoriety and monetary gain. I’ve done it at a very high level for a very long time.
And then I stopped.
I tried to be the better man.
I subverted my impulses with other, less natural means to the same end.
The old Eric Dane is a ghost that I used to chase. A bullshit facade that I made up to cover for my own personal and professional shortcomings as I grew older and lost my edge. That’s the battle that I was fighting last year at the same time as I was spinning out and losing control over who and what I am.
That’s all over now, though.
I’ve come to accept myself for who and what I am.
That’s dangerous for you, John.
Remember, I’m not coming to Alcatraz to settle for pinning you or tapping you out. No, that’s the easy part. I’m coming to that fucking rock to make you famous one last time. I’m gonna steal that show whether you goddamned like it or not, and after that’s done you can fuck right back off into your StarrSek bullshit and your tag team dreams.
There’s a monster in all of us, John, just ask your friend The Minister. Ask Mike. Ask Dan Ryan, hell ask fuckin’ Scottywood, we’ve all tapped into it in some way or another. The difference, John, between you and me, is that I’m not in the habit of dusting mine off once a year just to prove to Uncle Lee that I’m not a loser.
I’ve come to embrace my demons.
No longer do I suppress them.
Not for you.
Not for Lee.
Not for anybody.
And because of that, I’m a better man.
“I told the kid I was gonna be straight with her.”
Eric wasn’t asking a question, rather questioning a course of action.
“You know good and goddamned well that if I tell her she’s wasting her time in MVW it’ll spin her off into another rage fit. I only just got her back talking to me.”
“Yeah,” Angus said, “On the way home from an MVW show. On the road. Which is how we used to train kids and where every relationship that has ever mattered in this business started. Why do you hate that place so much?”
A sigh escaped Eric’s mouth, he was exasperated.
“I don’t hate the place. I don’t even dislike the place. But you and I both know that the kid’s dead set on getting an HOW contract. MVW isn’t what she needs to get ready for that.”
Frustrated, he squeezed either side of his nose in an attempt to push back a migraine.
“Why? You keep harping on this shit, man, but you haven’t told anybody why? What’s wrong with that place? She’s successful, she’s found her passion again, a passion might I remind you that you damn near stamped out with your bullshit!”
Angus was getting hot.
“Two words,” Eric started. “Women’s. Division.”
The two of them continued their argument. As far as either of them were aware Graysie nor any of the other students were listening to them or could even hear them. They were wrong, though, Graysie had ears like a radar gun, she heard everything.
She had the idea to go and put her two cents in.
In the end, she decided that it wasn’t important. Those two were prone to arguing, their entire relationship seemed to have been built around it.
As far as she could tell, neither of them were happy if they weren’t nit-picking the other.
She smiled, and turned her attention back to the giant screen in front of her. She made up her mind to bring up that little women’s division comment with Eric next week, after Rumble at the Rock.
That is, assuming he made it through.
That he could be crippled was a thought that she hadn’t been able to shake.
It was the elephant in the room that nobody had acknowledged.
Even Angus wouldn’t discuss it. He blew it off, fully confident in Eric’s ability to overcome anything and everything that Lee Best or anyone else could throw at him.
Graysie wasn’t so sure.
It didn’t matter, though.
By that point, all anybody could do was hope and wait.