Come on, Zion! Sure, I’m caught in a rough patch right now. You have clearly underestimated The New Age Cybertronic Criminally Insane Rogue Sentient Robot Wrestling Machine’s wrestling ability. My feet now dangle in a Fireman’s Carry position. Ultratron-6 is inches away from hitting me with his finisher–the Disintegrator. Taking the loss and stiffly crashing down seems like the best option here, but I won’t live down the ridicule!
I will skid down the MVW men’s rankings landing in the heartland division. Losing a singles match on MVW right before War Games gives the Best Alliance all the ammunition to kill what little momentum I have left.
I can spend all day regretting my mistakes, but it’s sink or swim time.
Beneath me, I keenly sense Ultratron-6’s body swivel as preparing to smash my body against the mat. The gears in my brain swiftly grind while my body enters survival mode. Adjusting my legs I shift the weight in my legs to throw off his momentum. My arms rapidly swaddle his neck pulling The New Age Cybertronic Criminally Insane Rogue Sentient Robot Wrestling Machine’s head into perfect position for a jawbreaker.
The crowd roars as I’ve shifted the match’s momentum. After kicking Ultratron-6’s legs out from under him, I fixate in Ray McAvay’s direction as he’s talking with LT over the phone. I close my eyes to channel every last fiber of my anger into something fruitful. Envisioning Jace Parker Davidson’s head on my opponent’s body, I forcefully twirl my body around to crack Rogue Robot square in the jaw with the Ban Hammer. I count along each time the referee’s hand slaps against the mat.
My shoulders ease while I release Ultratron’s leg, embracing the Japanese crowd’s loud support of my big win. I just gained the much needed second win going into War Games. Way to go, Darin! More momentum! It gives me a little extra pepper heading into HOW’s most lethal Pay Per View of the year. After showing Meredith some love for supporting me in this match; I snap my head in Ray’s direction giving him a thumbs up. If it wasn’t for him banking on me nearly a year and a half ago; we wouldn’t see this second lease of life in my wrestling career. We wouldn’t be talking about Zion being the Ragamuffin in War Games because I planned to retire after HOW cut me.
I owe all my recent successes to Ray McAvay. Now it’s time I thank him for all he’s done for my career.
Meguro City, Tokyo, Japan
Journeying to the mecca of all professional wrestling memorabilia fulfills my soul. My jaw drops seeing all the historic photos of HOW moments plastered all over their walls. It pales in comparison to all the pictures I saw online. I shiver as chills run up and down my spine. My legs jitter like I’m experiencing a sugar rush. Awestruck barely scratches the surface of everything I feel walking through the door.
As Ray and I both stride over to an empty table in the corner, my eyes twinkle when they lock onto the brilliant wooden sign of wrestling’s iconic steakhouse. The delectable scent of smoked meats wafts directly into my nostrils. Blissfully remembering the aroma of my father’s grilling I inhale audibly through my nostrils. I almost forgot about the terrible garment Ray persuaded me to wear.
A collared shirt and slacks! The bane of my existence! I loathe dressing up for any occasion. Never leaving home helps breed my complacency as I’ve grown accustomed to wearing a HOW T-Shirt and slacks over the past three years. But I could not help scrutinizing the black collared shirt with the Carp Ukiyoe Japanese print highlighting the blue waves and orange Japanese sunset. It perfectly matched Ray’s Hawaiian printed shirt of choice. My parents usually coerced me into dressing up for all occasions gawking to our friends and family about how we matched. When mom and dad shouted out “twinsies”, it made my body cringe.
I squinch towards McAvay letting him know my disgust. “I still can’t believe I left my hotel room wearing this garb!”
Ray politely chuckles before challenging me. “You want to become the champion; you need to look like a champion. Broaden your perspective, Zion. You can’t keep living in such a small world. Embrace your printed shirt!”
I scowl abhorrently at him as he flashes a gratifying smile. I roll my eyes struggling to tune him out his snickering before succumbing to the fun. “At least on a positive note; it’s not that shitty dragon shirt Scottywood wore nonstop for the five years. I’m pretty sure he used it as his security blanket and never washed the damn thing!”
Ray cups his hand around his forehead. “Don’t quit your day job, Zion. Remember you need to focus. We came here to have dinner and critique your MVW performance to ensure you’re in peak condition for War Games.”
Meeting up with Ray always uplifts my spirits. He is the father I never had in my life. Since joining the MVW roster, I always make it a habit to catch up with him during all tapings. It provides me with an extra layer of accountability. He always knows my ego stands in the way of my success, but he confidently backs me up. While he knows I’m capable of understanding the basics of a wrestling match, I want to make sure he keeps me grounded for whatever situations arise, especially War Games on the horizon. Every time he speaks, I hone in on his wisdom.
Nodding in agreement, I turn on my game face. Our waitress Kimiko comes to take our orders. I select my favorite, a 12 ounce Medium Rare KC strip, while Ray asks for the New York Strip steak, also medium rare. As she saunters away, I pull out my iPhone 11 Max and open up the email containing footage of my match with Ultratron-6 the MVW team sent to both Ray and me. We both insert our earbuds and begin studying.
The match opens up with me turning around waving to the fans in Korakuen Hall. From out of nowhere Ultratron-6 clips my head with a clothesline sending head first into the turnbuckle. Ray pauses in the middle of the beat down staring straight at me. He calmly asks, “What happened here, Zion?”
Pausing for a moment to reflect, I fold my hands together over my lips. My eyes abruptly shift over to the walls catching a picture of Lindsay Troy during her PRIME wrestling days in the restaurant. She still has a cold, calculating look on her face. Squirming in place, I transfix on her glare in the pictures. Her disdain infiltrates my soul. I incessantly scratch the surface of my skin. My stomach knots before my eyes lower to the ground. Anxiously twiddling my thumbs, I take in a deep breath acknowledging my short fall.
“I stopped watching Ultratron-6 because the crowd reaction excited me. I let him get the upper hand in the match. He concussed me and took hold of the match.”
Tacitly, Ray bobs his head staring straight at me. “You need to keep your head on a swivel at all times. Channel all your energy in your ring presence. Perceive every move your opponent makes before it happens. By now, you hear the boards under the ring thunderously echoing when someone rushes at you. Use your head and not your heart, Zion. The Best Alliance will expose every weakness you have when you enter the cage. They’re going to throw everything they have at you to stop you from surviving War Games. You’ve got a huge target on your back after you embarrassed them. Act like it.”
Reaching into the pockets in my slack, I withdraw a tiny yellow notebook and an ink pen. I jot down Ray’s wisdom posthaste. Propping my chin on my hand, I catch a glimpse of Ray reaching over to restart the video. Ray intently analyzes the video where Ultratron holds the advantage in the match. Ray audibly hums each time The New Age Cybertronic Criminally Insane Rogue Sentient Robot Wrestling Machine’s kicks connect to my body. Approaching the match’s finale, Ray’s ears perk up. He keenly leans his head closer to the screen watching me execute the jawbreaker spot before quietly applauding.
“Impressive mental prowess, Zion! Your ingenuitive thinking saved you in that moment. I’ve seen your eyes glaze over like in more recent situations and I can tell your adrenaline kicked in,” he comments right before you audibly hear the Discus Clothesline connecting to the Robot’s jaw.
“Damn! I sent his head flying all the way back to Japan’s version of section 214!” I triumphantly call out.
“Mmmmhmmm,” Ray calmly responds. “It’s the most force I’ve seen you put behind your Discus Clothesline.”
I frolic in the chair, rewinding and replaying the spot. Ray confidently radiates his gratification at my sense of accomplishment. He raises his eyebrows before inquiring. “Gotta ask you, where did you find all the power within you?”
Candidly, I throw my shoulders in the air before answering him. “Ehh, I channeled all my hatred for Jace to manufacture his head on Ultratron’s body. It’s a technique I learned to release all my past tensions.”
Ray acquiesces before snickering under his breath. “Very nice! Releasing all of that before War Games helps, just don’t get ahead of yourself.” he responds.
My head methodically affirms him before I space out flashing back to every time the Davidson’s rained on my parade. My chest tightens up as I clench my fist to my sides remembering every time I came up short against JPD. I didn’t want to let my pent up frustrations fester; I wanted them to fuel me.
Over the past 7 years, Jace Parker Davidson and Darin Zion’s paths have always intertwined. Even when I let my jealousy blind me; I sensed his inner demons lurking from within. He sadistically waits for the perfect chance to strike. But in every turn of this War Games cycle, Jace continues to blow me off. He’s priming the two biggest thrones in his side without so once acknowledging I’ve had his number the past two times. Something feels off to me about his current run.
Examining Ray’s face; he registers my sentiments without asking. We both comprehend just how much of a threat Jace can be in the War Games match. McAvay and I battled him in the finals and saw what kind of a beast he can be. Without saying a word, I motion my head to profess my intentions of riling up the future Hall of Famer. The King of Everything’s temper is the key to throwing him off and eliminating him from War Games. It’s the game changing move we need. Ray reluctantly shakes his head in agreement.
As we silently wind down the makeshift tape studying session peering around the corner, Kimiko trudges over to the table with our steaks in hand. She deposits the plates at the table leaving Ray and me to dig into the scrumptious food.
When the tender meat touches my tongue, my mind melts. My taste buds tingle at just how incredible their steaks taste. I savor every bite. While I’m chewing, I try to cut the tensions of the moment by crying out, “MY GOD! I LOVE THIS STEAK.”
Ray’s face cracks a tiny smile as he finishes his first bite. He reaches for a napkin to dab around his mouth. Like the ravenous carnivore I am, I hastily tear through my KC strip in record time barely allotting my stomach the chance to digest.
As Kimiko brings our check to the table, I snatch it from her hands. I slither my credit card into the sleeve and hand it back before Ray notices. While she thanks me, Ray’s head turns to notice her leaving with the check. His excitement causes him to glow.
I smile singing my praises about our friendship. “Tonight’s my treat! I can’t thank you enough for all your dedication to getting me here to War Games, man!”
He cordially retorts as, “You did all the work yourself! I’m just along for the ride.”
He extends his hand before I firmly shake it as he finishes his meal. We continue to reminisce about all our HOW memories and times before the night ends. As we collect ourselves from the table to leave, he once again thanks me before imparting one last nugget of wisdom.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart. No matter what happens in that cage at War Games: keep your heart humble. Don’t let any of your successes corrupt you again. Keep fighting the good fight. The Grapplers and I believe in you!”
He waves goodbye as I beamingly smile from ear to ear.
Knowing the Grapplers believe in me reassured me. Ray’s sentiments cast aside any doubt lingering in my brain. Clearing my mind was another critical part of my strategy to keep my focus on #97Red. Becoming HOW’s next ragamuffin star turned champion is a disheartening task, but with friends like Ray in my corner, I know it’s inevitable I walk out of War Games draped in gold.
“Earning your redemption is a difficult road to travel. The path winds with many ebbs and flows. It’s earned when you fight in a personal, down and dirty kind of way. If you focus on the low-hanging fruits: you haven’t really earned back any clout.
I recognize I have no room to talk or berate anyone in this match. Hell, I’ve looked up at the lights for more than half the participants on the Best Alliance team. I need to keep my head on a swivel because any one of them could blindside me, battering me senseless and rendering me useless. One handicap match win doesn’t give me an immunity from facing the onslaught any of Lee’s cronies could unleash on me.
But wasting my time on fruitless efforts sets me up for the same disappointing exit I’ve contended with in my last two War Games performances.
This year it’s time to narrow my focus.
The Best Alliance would love it if I wasted time yammering on the overly exhausted points my fellow Grapplers have made regarding Steve Solex and Scottywood. Everyone on the HOW roster knows they’ve been taken to the woodshed more times than a disobedient child. I can feel Lee’s goonies punchlines aimed directly for my head the moment I crack and lose sight of the prize.
It’s true both men have claims to the Hall of Fame. Scottywood’s held the HOW World Championship before me and holds it over my head constantly. Eliminating any one of them could gain me short bursts of momentum during the match.
But brief flares exceedingly drain your energy over time.
Learning my lessons from the last three War Games matches I competed in; I’ve honed my craft. I can’t waste my efforts trying to take on the entire Best Alliance alone. It’s a suicide mission. Charging aimlessly into the battlefield exhausted my body every time. Every time, it yielded the same disappointing exit from War Games. I can lean on GL214 knowing they’ll have my back and protect me when I need it. They’ll help free up my shoulders so I can handle the real threats preventing me from realizing my destiny.
Only one man comes to mind. He’s my arch-rival–the Gary Oak to my Ash Ketchem.
He plays the spoiler to all my hopes and dreams in becoming the HOW World Champion. Like a scavenger in the night; he bides his time waiting until I’ve sapped all my energy. He pounced when I’d depleted every ounce of my mental tenacity before spiking my head unforgivingly against the rigid boards of the mat.
I’m talking about you, Jace Parker Davidson.
You’re damn right I’m poking the bear again. I’m tired of you dodging the mother fucking elephant in the room. Just because I scrambled your damn brains all over the USS Octane with that ‘pathetic clothesline of mine’ doesn’t mean our story ended after our last encounter. It never ended. Our paths have forever woven themselves together ever since I embarked on my HOW journey seven years ago.
I know you ain’t scared of confronting me after that loss. I can perceive your anger. Call it my sixth sense! It eats at you knowing the insolent pest finally cleanly pinned your shoulders to the mat. You still scoff when mentioning my damn name like I’m still the insect you squish under your boot. Lumping me into the same column with people who piss away their momentum like former HOW Championship contenders Scott Stevens or Brian Hollywood, doesn’t make your problems go away, JPD. You’re only avoiding our inevitable collision in that cage. Avoidance only magnifies your problems.
You think you can coast off your name recognition alone. You’re stuck in the past praying to GOD himself all the endless clout you’ve amassed over your HOW career protects you from your inevitable fall from grace. Newsflash: time doesn’t stand still when the King of Everything abandoned his throne in 2016. It marched forward without you.
After the dozens of matches you valiantly thwarted me in; I know who you are inside and out. Ray McAvay’s right, you’ve become a Hall of Fame talent trapped inside of an amateur human being. You’ve fallen flat since your HOW resigned you. You’re now a flat Sprite Zero to the bottle of Jack Daniels you used to be. You lost every bit of potency, no longer filled with a burning bite. You’re just all fizz and bubbles.
You’re no longer HOW’s Babe Ruth who chases records; you’re now Rube Waddell, baseball’s loveable fire truck chasing idiot. You’re slacked in your so-called training sessions and it fuckin’ shows.
Meanwhile during your hiatus; I’ve grown up. I’ve taken more losses than I ever cared to take. My insatiable hunger to win ole #97Red continued to burn intensely in my belly. I gained a deeper appreciation for the machine behind HOW. I’ve stepped up to evolve into a more well-rounded competitor. I capitalized on my shortcomings and punched my ticket straight into War Games.
I’m not that little shit head begging for your scraps anymore. I’m begging for you to bring the damn smoke, Jace. I want it. Unleash every ounce of that killer beast I feared squaring off against.
Because deep in my heart; I don’t want to knock off this sad pathetic sack of shit you’ve become. I want to anger you. I need to keep poking and prodding you hoping you get lost in your anger and frustration. I’m hoping you unleash the murdering machine that lays dormant inside who systematically wants to destroy my hopes and dreams.
Because that’s when you’re most vulnerable.
I’m intentionally choosing the most difficult road. You’re a threat to what little momentum I gained three weeks ago. I have no choice but to stop you early in the damn match and knock off your damn head once more.
I won’t let you blindside me again, Jace. I’m coming to seize the damn throne you want back. I’m earning my damn clout. I can’t earn my redemption without taking down the person who has single-handedly eradicated most of my World Championship endeavors.
I’m lining up the guillotine and ready to knock off your head. You’re getting every ounce of my persistent ass when I enter that cage.
I’ve beaten you twice before and at War Games; third times the charm.
HOW’s ragamuffin will end the legend of King of Everything. I will finally gain the crown that’s rightfully mine: The HOW World Championship. I earn my redemption and finally validate my legacy.”