III. FROM THERE TO HERE
July 16, 2016.
The arena was alive with the electric pulse of excitement. Dan had come back to his hometown consistently over the years, but this time it was different. The crowd was anticipating his last match. He stood in the center of the ring, soaking in the atmosphere. He was a veteran, a man who had been in the business for nearly twenty years at that point, and his career was coming to an end. He was a seasoned wrestler, his body well-trained and toned, his muscles still strong and powerful.
But there was something else in the air, too, something that seemed to linger, a feeling of anticipation and of expectation. It was as though the crowd knew this was it, his last chance to make a name for himself. There had been hints, but nothing announced and concrete, and their cheers and claps echoed in his ears like the sound of a thousand thunderclaps.
One last time, he was home.
He took a deep breath, and in those moments, he felt a surge of energy course through him. He felt ready, ready to put on a show for the crowd and redeem himself. Twenty years of success, but twenty years of the selfish pursuit of that success. He was about to make a new name for himself, a name that people would remember. These people would remember him for more than schemes and sociopathic self-interest. They would know that he was the greatest wrestler alive, and the thought made him feel alive, his blood boiling in his veins.
He stepped forward, and the crowd erupted in cheers. He felt a warmth come over him, and he knew this was the moment he had been waiting for, the chance to prove himself. He raised his hands above his head, and the crowd roared even louder.
The ring lights flashed and the music pulsated. He was ready, the referee took his place; the crowd was chanting his name, and he knew that this was it. One last time into the breach.
The bell rang, and the match began. He had trained his entire life and it had all led up to this moment, and he was determined to go out with a bang. The fight went back and forth, the wrestlers trading blows with a ferocity that only a true warrior can summon.
He took control of the match, dominating the champion with his superior wrestling skills. He felt alive, his body moving as if on autopilot, his mind focused on the one thing that mattered: winning this final match.
The match went on for what seemed like an eternity, and when the final bell finally rang, he had won. A small man in a striped shirt strapped a belt around his waist, and the crowd was going wild.
Dan Ryan stood in the center of the ring, and the entire arena shook with the sound of applause. He felt overwhelming emotion swell up inside him, and he felt tears welling in his eyes. He had done it. He had won the match, and he felt a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment like he had never known before.
He had been in this position so many times, winning the championship, but he had won this one all on his own. No outside help, no surprises; he had proven himself, and this was the legacy he would leave. He had done it for himself, done it for his family, and he was proud.
He looked up at the crowd, and he felt their love wash over him. He had never felt so connected to the fans before. He had never felt such a deep sense of belonging and community. He was part of something bigger than himself, and he felt a profound sense of pride.
It felt like a dream, and yet, here he was in the center of the ring, the championship belt around his waist. This was his moment, and it had all been worth it. He had done it, and he was ready to face his next challenge: the life he had ahead of him with his wife and daughter.
It was nice.
But it wasn’t real.
He was home alright, and the cheers were real.
But he was already the champion.
His best friend… his perhaps former best friend stood across the ring from him.
The Queen of the Ring.
They both stepped into the ring, the tension in the air as thick as a thicket of oak trees. The crowd was packed to the rafters, all eyes and ears affixed to the two of them as they made their way to the center. The two of them had been friends for over a decade, but now things were different. He had, in her mind, betrayed her. She had her chance to hold the title and he took it for himself. They stood there, face to face, with only the referee separating them. Dan could feel the intensity of his opponent’s stare, the harshness of her gaze as she looked him up and down, sizing him up.
He could feel her determination, her ambition, and her absolute will to win. But he also felt something else, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. He had always known her as a fierce competitor, but now he felt something new in her. An expression of something he couldn’t quite identify.
The referee stepped forward and read the rules of the match. Dan felt only his own stone cold silence, his mind silent, his determination unyielding. The bell rang, and the two of them were off like two jackrabbits. Dan threw a punch, but she ducked and countered with one of her own. Dan felt a sharp pain in his ribs as a kick thrown with lightning speed and accuracy connected with its mark. Skill-wise, the two were evenly matched, neither one able to gain an advantage over the other. They exchanged blows back and forth, their fists hitting with startling force. She was as determined as he was, and she knew how to use her body to its best advantage.
They fought all over the ring, around the arena, until finally finding themselves back in the ring. Dan felt a searing pain in his leg as she landed a kick square on the outside of his knee. He buckled to the mat, and before he could process what was happening, she locked in a knee bar. The world exploded around him. He heard tendons snap, heard muscles tear. He wondered if he would have to tap out… he couldn’t… wouldn’t…
It didn’t matter.
The pain was too much for his brain to process. He flopped back to the mat unconscious and the bell rang. The referee threw his hands up, calling the end of the match. The Queen of the Ring was declared the winner, and the crowd erupted with cheers. Dan lay on the mat, his knee throbbing with pain, struggling to regain his senses. He had been beaten by his, most definitely… former… best friend, and he could only watch as she was crowned the champion. She looked down on him with disdain, and he scooted himself backward to lean against the ropes.
She had always said he would get his comeuppance someday.
This was it.
It was the last time World Championship gold had been around his waist, at least, potentially, until now. In the last year, he had come to understand that without this, he was nothing.
To win means much more when there’s nothing to lose, it means the most when everything is lost.
Five years he waited.
IV. FROM HERE TO THERE
July 11, 2023.
Gimnasio Uruguay Fighting Club.
Dan arrives at the gym early, ready to start his training with John. He can already feel the butterflies in his stomach as he makes his way through the empty gym, the smell of sweat and adrenaline filling his nostrils.
As he approaches the boxing-slash-wrestling ring, he sees John standing in the center, his arms crossed over his chest. He looks up as Dan approaches, his eyes sharp and focused.
“Ready to get started?” John asks, his tone serious.
Dan nods, feeling a rush of adrenaline course through his veins. “Let’s do it.”
John leads Dan through a series of intense warm-up exercises, pushing him to his limits with every movement. Dan can feel his muscles burning with exertion, but he powers through, determined to show John that he’s ready for whatever he can throw at him.
After the warm-up, John takes Dan through a series of drills, focusing on speed, agility, and power. Dan feels himself improving with every movement, and he feels mentally sharper with each passing moment. John knows what he’s doing.
As the training session goes on, Dan starts to feel the familiar rush of adrenaline and excitement that he’s been missing for so long. He can feel his body responding to John’s training, and he’s impressed by how quickly he’s improving.
But as the day wears on, and people come in and out, some stopping to watch, most going about their business, Dan can feel the strain of the intense training starting to take its toll on his body. His muscles ache and his joints feel stiff, and he can barely catch his breath as he gasps for air.
Despite the pain and exhaustion, Dan refuses to give up.
He’s determined to train harder than he ever has before, and he knows that John is pushing him to his limits for a reason.
He can feel the fire burning within him, and he knows that he’s getting closer and closer to his goal with every passing moment.
As the sun starts to set and the gym grows quiet, John finally calls a halt to the training session. Dan collapses to the mat, gasping for air and drenched in sweat.
Dan looks up at his friend and smiles. “Thank you. Just what I needed man.”
John returns the smile.
“We have four more days to train. I’ll have you fine-tuned and ready to go by then, don’t worry.”
John reaches out a hand and Dan takes it, and John helps pull him up to his feet.
Dan looks his friend straight in the eyes. “The kid’s tough, John. He’s even tougher than he realizes, because he’s young and he doesn’t know any better yet. This might be the only chance I have to win this thing.”
John’s eyes narrow slightly.
“In my entire life, all the years we’ve known each other, all the years I’ve spent fighting and training, I’ve never known anyone tougher than you. I think maybe you’re the one who’s tougher than he realizes. You just have to remember.”
Dan nods, feeling a renewed sense of determination coursing through his veins. He knows that John is right. He’s been through so many tough battles over the years. He won’t let this young kid be the one to break him down.
As he leaves the gym and makes his way back to his hotel room, Dan can feel the weight of his training starting to settle in. His muscles ache with every step, but he feels a sense of satisfaction in knowing that he’s pushing himself to the limit.
As he enters his hotel room, he collapses onto the bed and closes his eyes, his mind racing with thoughts of the match. He can feel the excitement and the fear building within him, and he smiles, because despite outward appearances, these things had motivated and propelled him forward hundreds of times over, and he knows that this is exactly what he needs.
As he drifts off the sleep, he can’t help but think about the chaos of the chase, the rush of adrenaline that comes with the fight. This is the main event, the big time, the most coveted championship in wrestling. He knows that this is where he belongs, and no one will take that away from him.
Well, Ollie, that sure was something.
I should have known better than to think it would work, asking the champ to talk for himself. I should have known better. I guess that’s on me.
I should have known it would be you running your mouth about things you know nothing about, making your little wisecracks, getting super super angry and trying to keep me from seeing that you’re getting super super angry. You’ve done actually nothing at all of note other than swimming your way successfully to your mother’s egg, but there you go, running me down, claiming I’m boring, saying all I ever talk about is the old days.
So, do you have any old days? And where is your information coming from in the first place? I’ve had exactly one conversation with you, and that was last week. I work for your brother. I don’t work for you. And while all of your claims that things are passing me by are nice and all, and you seem to get your kicks by asking me why I’m so angry while simultaneously ‘cursing more than you’d like’, there is one thing that’s true about your brother, and you know it.
If your brother thought I was washed up, that I couldn’t do the job, that I was no longer capable of doing this at the highest possible level, I wouldn’t be here. I would be at TEN-X training people, or backstage working as an agent. I wouldn’t be in the ring, and I damn sure wouldn’t be challenging for GOD’S World Championship. I never challenged Christopher America for it either, and I didn’t challenge STRONK. Your brother thought I deserved it. That’s why I’m here. And after this is over, nothing changes. The Alliance will protect BIG RED, and you’ll fall in fucking line, or you’ll be gone, no matter what your last name is.
Do I care about my legacy? How fucking stupid are you? Anyone who has a legacy cares about their legacy. Let me take a page out of your killer new school shit talking book, ‘did I really hear you say that just now?’ Let’s go ahead and talk for a few more hours about originality and how you feel about it because I so give a FUCK what Michael Oliver Best thinks about it.
But yeah, my legacy fucking matters to me. And again, if you fucking had a legacy, you’d care about it too, instead of walking around in your stupid little John Bonham bowler hat and Billie Eilish hair glomming off of somebody else’s. I train all the fucking time, and because you purposely misunderstood that, the point is not that STRONK trains, but you already know that don’t you? You know it, you want to bait me into describing it for you, you know, another ‘new’ trash talk style since you’re so inventive. And then you’ll get mad-no-I’m-not-mad-you’re-mad at me again and we’ll have to do this all over.
Fuck you and fuck that.
Am I jealous of STRONK?
You misunderstand yet again, and of course you do, because understanding isn’t part of your schtick. I’m not jealous of the kid. I’m fucking proud of him. He walked into this company and has done very little but dominate since the first time he stepped into a High Octane ring. Jealous? No. I’m a fan. And what, because I’m proud of him, because I’m a fan I’m supposed to pussyfoot around with a light touch and not go at him as hard as I possibly can? That’s what I’m supposed to do? That’s what you’re so upset about? You poor thing. How dare I?
Is that what you do when your brother exerts his dominance over you, too? Do you wilt away like the good brother and wait for him to throw you another crumb? You’re worried that I may not have saved my money? As far as I can tell, I’m not the one who spends his entire life waiting for anything worth a damn at all to fall into his lap. I’m going at him as hard as I would go at anyone else with that belt around their waist, and you… what, want an apology?
Whaaaaaaa, listen to all the unpleasant things Dan had to say about you… whaaaaaa, look he’s a big piece of human garbage that is undeserving of any shred of mercy… whaaaaaa I have a yeast infection…
I don’t spend my nights trying to figure out how I can dupe someone into thinking my guidance is worth a damn. You said it yourself, you’ve tried to motivate him in many different ways, and nothing works. He’s the most motivated man you’ve ever met, and I’m not here to argue that. But if he’s the most motivated man you’ve ever met, and nothing you do to motivate him works, and he busts through the entire roster and wins the World Title anyway… just what the actual fuck does he need you for? I guess you’re the guy that your brother goes to when he needs someone who he doesn’t need to do anything.
Let me give you a splash of reality. He doesn’t realize he doesn’t need you yet, but he will. I never asked to be his mentor. That’s your sad game, not mine. All I did was give a pep talk to a talented kid who was down on himself in a moment. I didn’t keep showing up at his door afterwards with my little bowler hat in hand saying ‘please sir, can I have some more?’…. OLIVER.
I’m not the one trying to make myself the reason for his success. He’s a fucking prodigy. He’s not my prodigy, he’s not your prodigy, he is his own fucking man. And hey, for the record, since record means everything here, I’m the one who’s undefeated right now, not STRONK and sure as fuck not you. I’m really sorry about the boy’s loss to a cheater. I had no idea you were so virtuous, and I had no idea you liked excuses so much. If you want to drown yourself in excuses, I can direct you to a lovely company that thrives on excuses, whining and inconsequential bullshit, and you can join them in throwing shade at people with more talent in their little finger than you’ve ever had, and you can join a new family since as far as I’ve ever known, the Best family has a tradition of not crying like bitches when things don’t go their way.
I’m not part of the family. I know that. I’m not delusional no matter how much you say it. But I don’t cry, I don’t whine, I don’t bitch. I’ve been doing this for so long… uh oh here comes another story… and yeah I’ve fucked up and and had it thrown back in my face, but I stood back up like a man and took my fucking lumps. I fought, I scratched, I clawed. I’m here.
I started back at the absolute bottom, was handed nothing, and I had to work my ass off to get back where I am right now, in the main event, challenging for the World Title, listening to you run your fucking mouth. I’ll fucking die here. Is that funny to you? Not zany enough, not a good enough zinger? You’ll have to forgive me since talking isn’t for me. But even though I wanted to go back and forth with the kid, I guess I just have to settle for you. And hey, after I win the World Championship, which would have been the end of this, maybe I turn my attention to you and serve your head up on a platter to your brother… again. I like the champ. I couldn’t care less than a dirty back alley fuck about you.
So go on, gimme some more. Hit me with another several thousand words of your self-jerkoff material, and make sure when the moment comes, you aim for the apple logo on the back of your iMac. I won’t be watching, I won’t be listening. I’m done. And yes, I’m training, and yes, I’m taking this seriously, and no, I’m not going out of my way to promote you. I’m preparing to fight. I’m preparing to win a championship.
The fans are already gonna be in the building.
You’re scared, and you should be, because that big man over there isn’t gonna have your back forever. But I’m always here, you can count on it.
Tick, tock, Ollie. You lost the plot.
And maybe you can go fuck yourself.