The empty Best Arena is a bustle of activity leading into Iconic. People are hard at work flipping all the signage around the arena from CHAOS graphics to ones for Iconic 2022. The ring mat has already been part of the switch, and the canvas is illuminated by a single light shining from overhead. In the center of the ring a small stage is set up. A chair, a couch, a table. Even a small dust covered fern someone found in a broom closet has been placed to add to the ambiance. Cameras surround two men; one of them, in a suit, stands while the other, non-suited man sits and wrings his hands.
Man In Suit: Hello, I’m renowned wrestling reporter and historian Tim Tillinghast. I’m here tonight in Chicago for the first Phoenix Wrestling Alliance TV exclusive interview. I’ll be joined for this conversation with Clay Byrd, a man some of you know as The Monster from Plainview, and that others would refer to simply as The Behemoth.
Tim straightens his PWA polo and sits down in a #97RED leather chair. He looks across at Clay and smiles, revealing astonishingly white teeth. The Behemoth has his customary cowboy hat on, along with a High Octane Wrestling jumpsuit.
Tim Tillinghast: How are you this evening, Clay?
Clay Byrd: I’m doing well Tim.
Clay looks up and fakes a smile through his unkempt beard. His icy blue eyes show the reflection of the cameras, but down under the surface an unease lurked. It could be heard and felt in his voice.
Tim Tillinghast: So let’s start it off with you. How’d we get to this point?
Clay’s hand shoots up to his face beside his eye, he rubs his temple for a moment, taking a deep breath. Where should he start? How do you start a conversation like this?
Clay Byrd: I mean… that’s a long story. Ya want me ta start from the beginning, beginning?
Tim Tillinghast: Sure, yeah, that’d be great. We have three episodes of this to fill, so giving the viewers your backstory is important.
Clay smirks. Three episodes. That sounded like an eternity.
Clay Byrd: Have it your way then. I’m Clay Byrd, the son of Robert Byrd. I’m a second generation wrestler. I grew up on a ranch outside of Plainview, Texas…
Tim interjects. If this is where Clay is going to begin, he has to steer the conversation, guide Clay through it.
Tim Tillinghast: So, I’ve talked to a lot of wrestlers in my life, and I hear it’s a pretty mixed bag being a second generation combat sports star. What was your experience like?
Clay Byrd: Well, I got ta live with my hero. Ya know other kids, they loved the big muscled guys, or the guys that had all the girls, or the guys with all the charisma. But they didn’t know what them fellers were really like. They saw what the promoters back then wanted them ta see ya know? It’s different than it is today.
Clay smiles, in a moment memories of his father play through his head. He and the old man sharing their first beer, his father’s smile on national signing day, the first time he tackled a player in Pop Warner.
Clay Byrd: He was my biggest champion; little league, pop warner, the old man always found a way ta be there. And if he couldn’t, someone was recordin’ my game on three different VHS tapes so he could watch it when he got home. When I did somethin’ great, he was right there always cheerin’ me on. He was a special man.
Tim Tillinghast: I hear a ‘but’ coming on.
Clay Byrd: Yeah, I mean, what’s that thing they say? Don’t meet your heroes? Well I got ta live with mine, and just like any good father, along with bein’ my biggest champion, he was also my biggest critic. So when I made a mistake, when I let my mind wander durin’ a game or if I slipped up, he always made sure I knew about it.
Tim shifts in the chair a bit, taking a PWA mug off of the coffee table and taking a sip.
Tim Tillinghast: Robert, right? Your Dad’s name?
Clay Byrd: Yessir.
Tim takes another sip in contemplation before putting the mug back down.
Tim Tillinghast: Great wrestler, really knew his craft. He ran a little wrestling school out of his barn, kind of like your friend and groupmate Joe Bergman.
Clay Byrd: Yeah, the way Joe treats his students reminds me a lot of the old man too.
Tim Tillinghast: So, what would your father be telling you on the way into the biggest match of your life?
Clay adjusts himself on the couch and leans forward. He looks down, before bringing his eyes up to meet Tillinghast’s.
Clay Byrd: Don’t get distracted.
The winter sun fought to stay aloft against the Houston skyline. The downtown streets were covered in the hustle and bustle of any other large U.S. Metropolis. The monolithic structures of corporations towered over the individuals who scurried around their bases. Down an alleyway sat the mid-2000’s black Ford F250 of Clay Byrd. Inside, The Monster from Plainview looked through a cracked windshield as person after person passed by. His eyes danced between the people. A woman with brown hair, a man with blonde hair, a dark skinned man, a lighter skinned man. Each face that walked by, was looked at briefly and discarded.
He’d only been parked here for a few minutes, and the clock on the cracked dark dashboard read ‘3:00.’ But The Behemoth was hunting; he’d been hunting for months. His plan for revenge at Thanksgiving had been foiled by his own feelings; watching Roy hug his grandmother through the window had been too much. He couldn’t do it there, not where she lived.
But out here?
It was far enough away, far enough from everything important. She wouldn’t have to look out in the parking lot and see where the body was. She wouldn’t be disturbed by the flashing red and blue lights. These people, they’d be undisturbed by the entire thing. This alleyway would become ‘the place where they found that guy,’ on their regular commute to and from work. Maybe they’d cross on the other side of the street for a week or two. Besides that though, it would have no effect.
His eyes kept flicking through the faces. Look, profile, move on. A tall man, a pretty woman, an old man, none of them mattered. The menagerie of faces went on and on, Clay’s cold blue eyes darting from one to the next. He tried to keep his eyes focused on the corner of the alleyway, knowing he needed to see ‘Roy’ early. He needed to see him before he got too far across the alley. The people watching became more automatic. His thoughts began to wander. What could happen if he was caught? What could happen if he was found out? He was risking everything for another few days with her, even the World Heavyweight Championship.
The Behemoth had dreamed of that moment since the first time he encountered a man with that claim. The aura, the way he walked through the arena, the response. When you were the champion, you were the only thing that mattered. Nothing else could come close to that esteemed pedestal. Being the best in the world had been his goal since he was four years old. And here at forty-one years old, he was ready to throw it all away, toss it all by the wayside to be close to a woman who had forgotten his existence for forty years.
But had she? Had she really forgotten about him? Or like the World Heavyweight Championship was for him, was Clay the thing that haunted her mind? Did she dream of having all the moments a Grandmother should have with her grandson? Did she sit next to the Christmas Tree wondering where Clay was? Was there ever a spot saved at her Thanksgiving table?
The intrusive thoughts were always there. His father always told him that they were there to keep you humble, but now they were unwelcomed and like an anchor weighing him down. Clay had already made his decision.
He was going to kill Roy.
The buzz of his phone pulled Clay back from the depths of his own mind. He looked down at the cracked screen to read who the message was from. As he turned the phone over on its face, he knew what would come next. The man on the other end of the line was as persistent as an insurance company recruiter. Clay looked up at the clock, it was 4:07. He should have been arriving at the barn.
Joe Bergman was incessant. This was the first phone call of many, The Behemoth was sure. He’d planned to meet The Highwaymen at Bergman’s barn, one giant bootcamp for Iconic. Joe needed to get back into ring shape, and all three of the men had spent time going against the World Heavyweight Champion in the ring. They had information they could share, there was friendship and camaraderie there.
The Behemoth was in no mood for any of it. He needed to destroy something, break something. He had a grudge of his own to settle, a blood feud in his personal life instead of in competition.
Clay sighed, as he looked down at the phone. Roy wasn’t due out of work for another forty minutes, he could take the call…
TAP TAP TAP
Clay’s eyes darted over to the passenger side window. There, through the glass, Joe Bergman’s eyes looked back at him. The Behemoth shook his head, sure he was mistaken. He was seeing something that wasn’t really there. Another hallucination, something, anything to explain this. He looked back up, and the HOW Hall of Famer stood outside of the truck, looking very, very angry. Joe shouted something through the glass that became muffled, so Clay reached across the passenger seat and unlocked the door.
“What in the hell are you doing?!” Joe swung the door open before Clay could get to the door handle. He reached in the cab and grabbed Clay’s ‘High Octane Wrestling’ branded bag bag, tossing it and his own into the bed of the truck. He threw himself up into the passenger seat. The crunch of aluminum cans and plastic water bottles followed as Joe tried to situate himself.
“The question was rhetorical anyway. Put this old farm truck in drive and get us to the airport. I got our flight switched… Jesus Christ, Clay.” Bergman was a whirlwind, and Clay felt like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
“Our flight?” The Behemoth asked.
“Yeah, our flight, I’ve been down here following you around for a week because Solex called,” the Ordinary Joe shook his head. “I’m recently divorced and you’re a bigger freakin’ mess than I am.”
“Well I had some things to take care of…” If looks could kill, the look Bergman shot Clay as he picked up the same nightstick he had used on Frank Dylan James, would put The Behemoth under much more than six-feet of dirt.
“Yeah, based on what I saw, I could tell. Were you gonna use this to do it?” Bergman rolled the passenger side window down and tossed the nightstick into the alley. Clay reached across him for it, but it was too late.
“Put the damn truck in drive, Clay. We got an hour and a half to get to the airport.” Clay looked up towards the front of the alley as Bergman pulled his cellphone out of his pocket. “He walked by three minutes ago. He’s gone. Get the truck in drive and let’s go.”
The Behemoth snarled, but he did as Joe Bergman told him. Joe quickly scrolled to his contacts and dialed a number.
“Yeah, I got him… yeah… we’ll be there tonight…”
Tim Tillinghast: From my position, having watched your career, that’s pretty sound advice.
Clay leans back a bit, settling himself in.
Clay Byrd: Yeah, it’s been kinda a thing…
Tim smirks at Clay and raises his eyebrow.
Tim Tillinghast: Kind of? Clay, all anyone needs to look at is footage of…
Clay Byrd: I know, I know. March To Glory…
Tim Tillinghast: Oh, I’m talking about further back than that, Clay. Look at War Games 2021, you and Teddy Palmer. I heard you were walking all over Tokyo, ended up going to Ribeira before a match? Who goes to Ribeira before a match? It’s always after a match.
Clay Byrd: Yer not wrong, Tim. I shoulda been gettin’ ready fer Ted. I’d worked so hard to put myself in position ta lead The Alliance against the 214, I guess I lost the plot once the boat hit the dock.
Clay shifts uncomfortably, anytime the fall from the aircraft carrier is mentioned his blood starts to boil. Tillinghast does not let up though.
Tim Tillinghast: And then the showdown with Sutler Kael. You were handpicked by Lee Best to win the title back from his grandson Sutler Kael, and you considered taking him up on his offer? What the hell was that?
Clay Byrd: Yeah, that little ratfuck was great at mind games. He knew how ta weasel himself inta yer head, ya know? He challenged me with a question, knowin’ I was one that wasn’t ‘fraid of a challenge. Lookin’ back, that was pretty fuckin’ stupid.
Tim smiles and runs a napkin across his upper lip as he leans in for another sip of coffee.
Tim Tillinghast: I’d say so. Then there’s Iconic 2021.
At the mention of Iconic 2021, Clay tests out the left arm Cecilworth Farthington broke momentarily before placing his head in his hand and letting out a brief sigh.
Clay Byrd: Iconic 2021, what a fuckin’ mess.
Tim Tillinghast: It definitely was for you, at least. I’m sure Conor Fuse thought it turned out just fine.
Clay Byrd: Because he didn’t let himself get distracted by everythin’ goin’ on ‘round him. He was focused on whatever the match would be. When it came down that the match was really a tournament, I thought Olly was gonna pair me up with Farthington or Best, but ya know, the card didn’t shake out that way, and I was so pissed ‘bout it I just went out there and started swingin’ on Fuse with that cast like a psycho. The whole time pretendin’ it was Farthington or Mike.
Tim Tillinghast: And Conor didn’t.
The Behemoth takes a moment to think through Tillinghast’s statement. He nods his head in agreement.
Clay Byrd: And I didn’t adapt or change my approach.
The Behemoth snarled. Joe Bergman was fast, too fast. Christopher America was a large man, but Clay Byrd was bigger and stronger. America was a brawler, but so was The Monster from Plainview. Joe Bergman was unique, his strengths in the ring were America’s strengths but turned up to eleven. He was experienced, he was fast, and he was as technical as they came. Bergman had just ducked under the big man’s attempt at grabbing ahold of him, and Joe was already on his hip fighting for leverage.
“RUAH!” Clay grunted, shoving the former two-time World Heavyweight Champion across the ring. Bergman held out his arm to stop, and Clay nodded. Joe clapped his hands together and smiled.
“You’re pretty strong, hoss. Just remember, America is a bigger guy. That escape might have worked on me, but you might still be tussling with that jerk off,” Bergman said while walking over to grab two bottles of water in the corner. He tossed the other one across the ring to Clay who deftly snatched it out of the air.
Clay took a sip and looked around the barn. A black and #97RED High Octane Wrestling banner hung on the far wall, and on the wall closest to the ring was a black and white Missouri Valley Wrestling banner. He tossed the water down on the ground and nodded across the ring to Bergman. Joe smiled while crouching down and pulling at his dark gray sweatpants. He rolled the sleeves up on his sweat shirt and the two men were off.
Joe Bergman running, Clay Byrd trying to catch him.
The Behemoth lumbered to the center of the ring and looked to cut off Bergman’s escape. Joe tried to keep the big man moving, and started walking backwards trying to keep Clay off balance. Clay took a step to cut off Bergman, but Bergman shot back forward, getting himself to the larger part of the ring.
“If I’m walking backwards, you want to let me have that. I’m always going to be quicker going forward. Fundamentals, Clay, gotta have the fundamentals…”
The two men reset across the ring from each other and the same song and dance continued. The Behemoth to the center of the ring, and Bergman dancing away. Clay waits for Bergman this time, he feints a step to cut him off but The Behemoth is just quick enough to cut off Joe’s escape route. Bergman hits the deck and rolls out of the ring.
“He’s going to frustrate you in there, Clay. Shit like this, he wants you to tilt, he wants you off balance. He wants you to be angry,” Bergman smiles as he walks over to the ring steps to get back inside. The opportunity to do all the dirty tricks his opponents had done to him through the years added a little bounce to his step. He wiped his feet on the apron and walks back through the ropes. “This is Christopher America, this isn’t Darin Zion or Scott Stevens… He’s a smart son of a bitch.”
“I know,” Clay charged in right as Bergman came through the ropes. Bergman rolled out of the big man’s way and to the corner. He reached into his front pocket, grabbing a handful of powder, when Clay got close Bergman threw it in his eyes.
“WHAT THE FUCK!?” The Behemoth roared as he stomped around the ring holding his eyes. Bergman started laughing watching as Clay swung his arms around uncontrollably. He grabbed one of the water bottles and walked over to the enormous Texan.
“Here, here…” Bergman couldn’t help but snicker. “Pour this on your face…” The Behemoth did as he was told and dumped the water in his eyes. He looked over at Bergman, while squinting.
“The fuck was that for?” The big man asked through his inflamed eyes, his shirt half drenched.
“Gotta be prepared, big fella,” Bergman walked up and clapped The Monster from Plainview on the shoulder. Clay shook his head as Bergman finished his statement. “If you think what I’m doing is bad, wait until you’re in there with him. Besides… it’s only going to get worse.”
As if on cue one of the barn doors flew open. Harrison stepped through first, and looked towards Bergman and Byrd, wide-eyed.
“Better be ready, Joe,” Harrison barely was able to finish his statement before Solex and a very small, well-dressed man stepped through the doorway with him.
“You said I was getting paid ten thousand dollars to come up here for a few da…” Roy’s eyes locked onto The Behemoth’s. Bergman reached behind his back into the band of his sweatpants. Roy began to stutter and stammer. “I need t…”
Clay lunged, he almost made it to the ropes before Bergman was able to fire off the taser at Clay. The clips smacked into his skin around his shoulders. Clay felt his body tense up. His arms stopped responding, and he tried to fight against it but Bergman held the trigger down. Clay dropped face-first through the ropes.
“I told you we should have told him,” Solex mused to the group, while keeping a firm grip on Roy’s shoulder to hold him still. Clay twitched, his face bloodied from the direct fall onto the concrete.
Clay Byrd: And if I had gone into that match with a different approach, a different plan of attack, I think things could’ve been different.
The two men pause their conversation for a moment. Tillinghast crosses his legs, thinking through the discussion to this point.
Tim Tillinghast: So when we started to talk about distractions, you wanted to talk about March To Glory earlier this year.
Clay Byrd: Benny Newell.
Tim Tillinghast: Oh yes, the legendary Hall of Fame commentator that charged down the ramp to help defend Mike Best, and you tried to kill him.
A sly grin runs across Clay’s face. The memory of powerbombing Benny Newell runs through his head. Joe Hoffman freaking out. Even when he listens back to the moment on tape, it always makes him smile.
Clay Byrd: Almost got the lil fucker too.
Tim Tillinghast: Then Mike Best concussed you with a knee to the side of the head.
Clay’s defiant grin doesn’t leave his face. He points to the table.
Clay Byrd: I remember the knee, I remember layin’ right there, in the center of this very same arena, and lookin’ ‘round tryin’ ta catch my bearin’s.
Clay pauses and shakes his head.
Clay Byrd: And then the lights go out all over ‘gain from that elbow drop off the cage. I never saw Mike in the air until I watched it back. Prolly watched it a thousand times. He’s a sack of shit, but he sure can fuckin’ jump.
Tim goes to speak but Clay holds his hand up to stop him. After nine months of reflection, The Behemoth had come to terms with that moment. The truth of it. Not the angry aftermath, the whining and screaming.
Clay Byrd: But that happened ‘cause I let the moment get ta me. I got distracted. It was the biggest match of my life, bigger than a random world title shot in July. Bigger than the tournament at Iconic. That match was errythin’ ta me, and ta Mike. And I still let myself get wrapped up in some bullshit. I was still distracted. Most important fuckin’ moment of my entire existence, and I couldn’t keep my head in the fuckin’ game when a commentator marched out and started runnin’ his mouth.
Clay looks down at the table and finally grabs the small bottle of water, taking a brief sip.
Clay Byrd: And that’s not on Mike. As much as I wanted it ta be Mike’s fault, as much as I blamed Lee, it wasn’t nobody’s fault but my own.
The Behemoth woke up with an intense smell of ammonia filling his nostrils. His arms flailed rapidly as The Highwaymen backed away from the bench he’d been stretched across. Clay shot straight up to a seated position before he leaned back on the lockers and grabbed his head. Solex and Harrison were laughing amongst themselves while Bergman walked over and took a seat beside him on the bench.
“How you feeling big fella?”
Clay grimaced and shook his head back and forth. “Like I got hit by a fuckin’ car.”
Bergman nodded his head and put his arm around Clay. The Monster’s eyes glanced around the room, finally finding Roy standing across the room by the ring.
“What the fuck is he doin’ here?” Clay’s eyes had darted back to Harrison and Solex, the question dripped with ire and contempt. Solex took a seat to Clay’s right, opposite of Bergman.
“Cause you get fucking distracted, Clay,” Solex stared down the big man who nodded his head.
“So yer gonna let me…”
Bergman cut the big man off before he could finish.
“So then why the fuck is he here?!” Clay rose to his feet angrily. Both men hooked an arm of The Monster from Plainview and brought him back down to a sitting position. Harrison stepped between Byrd and Roy.
“Because you get distr…” Solex tried to repeat himself but The Behemoth struggled against he and Bergman’s grip.
“Let me go,” Clay’s fury was endless. His face had turned a shade of red, his biceps rippled and his veins struggled against his skin. Solex and Bergman held on tight.
“I said let me fucking go.”
Clay tried to shake the two men off again as Harrison stepped in closer.
“They’re trying to help you, Clay. Jesus fucking Christ. Let them.” Harrison’s words seemed to startle Clay back to reality. He looked over at Solex and Bergman and stopped struggling.
“You have a big fucking problem, Clay, and you better be able to see it now.” Harrison and Byrd’s eyes locked as Clay took a deep, calming breath. He nodded his head and the four men sat in silence for a moment.
“How’d y’all find out?” Clay asked as he leaned back against the lockers once again. The cold steel on his warm skin added to the calming effect of the deep breaths. Solex and Bergman looked at each other, before Bergman chimed in.
“Solex realized you were acting out of sorts, and asked me to go down to Houston and see what was going on. So I followed you for a week. I watched you sleep in your truck, I watched you break iron in an iron foundry, and I watched you follow him,” Bergman pointed across the room to Roy. “And I realized, Clay, that he was the one thing we could use to get your head out of your ass.”
Clay took another deep breath and exhaled out through his nose. It took everything in his power not to go sprinting across the room and rip Roy limb from fucking limb, his friends’ plan be damned.
“You asked for our help, Clay, and we all know what the fucking problem is,” Solex said as Harrison put his hand up and tapped Clay on the side of the head. He chimed in.
“It’s you.” Harrison’s words once again cut The Behemoth to the core. Clay looked at all three men. He’d asked for their help to prepare. He’d asked them to do something unusual, completely out of the ordinary. But they were the only three that had been in the ring with the World Heavyweight Champion. They were the only three that understood the fight. They were the only three that understood him.
“So what’s the plan?” Clay asked as Bergman grinned, getting to his feet and helping The Behemoth and Solex up along the way.
“Well, it’s easier to just show you,” Bergman said as the four men walked towards the ring. The three other Highwaymen kept themselves between Byrd and Roy, who was chattering away on his cellphone. Byrd and Bergman took turns walking up the stairs and wiping their feet on the apron before getting into the ring. Solex and Harrison went over and had a brief conversation with the object of Clay’s ire.
“Let’s keep working on what we were working on,” Bergman said as the two men went to opposite corners. Byrd nodded in response and walked to the center of the ring. Bergman shifted away from him, sliding along the ropes. On the outside, Solex whispered into Roy’s ear. The man shook his head no and tried to take a few steps back to continue his conversation. Solex smacked the phone out of his hands, and in one motion wrapped the small man up. “Say what I told you,” Solex growled in the man’s ear, as Roy watched The Behemoth and Bergman take part in their dance of cutting the ring off.
“Your old demented… g…g…g…randmother didn’t even,” Solex shook Roy and looked at him wild eyed.
“You better say it like you fucking mean it.” Roy looked shocked as Solex gave him another firm shake, and squeezed on Roy’s collarbone until Roy’s face turned bright red. “If you think he’s your biggest problem right now…”
“YOUR OLD DEMENTED GRANDMOTHER DIDN’T EVEN KNOW WHO THE FUCK YOU WERE!” Roy immediately ducked behind Solex and Harrison as The Monster from Plainview turned around and tried to take off after him. Bergman once again drew the stun gun from his waistband and sent the prongs flying. The Behemoth shook like a dog against an invisible fence and flopped to the ground.
“This is going to be a long night…” Bergman said while shaking his head. Solex and Harrison nodded along in agreement while the MercDad slid another package of smelling salts into the ring. Solex let out a laugh and sarcastically added.
“Just wait till Harrison starts doing his best JPD impression and is grabbing at his ankles…”