RUNNING IN SQUARED CIRCLES (1)
Let’s get the cookie cutter shit outta the way.
You: This is the biggest match of my life, I will not throw away this opportunity! I’m coming for the world title to prove the doubters wrong!
Me: I respect the work you’ve put in throughout your career. It’s a lot of sacrificing. You’re starting to make waves, so congrats. I will be your greatest test yet.
I remember my first real battle in HOW, versus Dan Ryan for the Icon Championship. He knocked me around good, the blows he threw landed. I’ve been hit before, by men bigger than the murder daddy himself but nothing left its mark quite like this. Because when you ask someone to defend their crown in the most prestigious wrestling organization, it’s unexplainable until you’re in those shoes. It didn’t matter who I fought before, where I had been or what I accomplished. All that mattered was Dan viewed me as a threat and would do anything he could to retain the spot he had worked so damn hard for.
Our match isn’t even for the Icon Championship so imagine the hits coming your way, Kevin.
Sometimes it’s a struggle for me to understand tone, particularly when I speak about the colourful Bosses in this High Octane Game. Do I like Sutler or truly despise him? What are the subtle, underlying themes of Jatt Starr and Conor Fuse? While I can’t answer those questions right now, I can tell you I’m not being facetious. I’m here to help. I don’t mind your style; I think you’ve got potential. I respect the up and coming nature of your journey. And if nothing more, I absolutely love how you’ve got knocked down, left and then returned to try again. If this Game was easy, Lee’s roster would be in triple digits. No, this shit ain’t easy. Apparently one of your nicknames is The International Pimp. Well you know what they say about that niche career. I assume it’s not easy, either.
No, I pay attention to everything and everyone in the land of HOW. You have my admiration and I’m cheering for your ongoing development.
Just that you’re, like, 50 years old. But hey, it’s never too late. I love runnin’ with the oldies.
When we square off this weekend, I will hit you harder than you’ve ever been hit before. It’s not because I’m a bad guy or want to knock you down again. I can’t let you take my spot. Not now, not ever.
But PARTICULARLY not now.
Imma pump you in the gut with my knee, blast you under the chin with my boot and smack you across the chest, Weapon Get your finisher. Might store it in my inventory for the future. I need a good submission choke. Seems to be the rage these days.
Yes Kevin, this is going to happen. It’s all good, though, because when you eventually reach the top of your game and some gangster journeyman comes calling for your position, you can tell them The Vintage set you straight on the path. Then proceed to educate your opponent by hitting them as hard as humanly possible. If you wanna Weapon Get their finisher, too, please be my guest. I’ll take it as the ultimate compliment.
Kevin, my princess might be in another castle but your High Octane campaign is on a whole new difficulty.
You’ll need it.
— — — — —
Local Wrestling Gym
March 20, 2002
Not many nine-year-old’s are given an opportunity like this. I wouldn’t expect people to remember but a year ago I was positioned in a match against childhood hero, High Flyer. He was the mini boss on my path to facing Scott Woodson at ICONIC, where I defeated the Hall of Famer and slowly carved my way to World Title status. (Scotty should be thankful I didn’t declare myself HOW Hardcore Champion. I digress.) So I briefly told the story of how nine-year-old me approached a local wrestling academy, hoping to enroll and begin my journey sooner than expected. Believe it or not, video games weren’t my only passion. I researched the shit outta wrestling school but refused to listen to the age restrictions. I knew I had something special inside, something only a rare few possess.
I wait with jitters at the front doors. An hour early, like he said. Swaying back and forth, I peer inside the glass but it’s tough to see through the newly plastered advertisement wrap across the entire lower complex, showing numerous wrestling displays. There’s one guy performing a suplex, another with a clothesline. There’s a backbreaker and additional mat-technician moves but I’m not captivated by those. My eyes fixate on the fun ones. The suicide dive, the falling headbutt from the top rope.
The 450 splash.
Okay, it’s hard to tell if a still image is a 450 splash but it’s what my imagination has landed on.
Knock, knock. I wonder if he didn’t hear me… or maybe I’ve frustrated him by knocking again. When we spoke last week, he seemed like a very busy man with little patience but I won him over. I step back, wondering if I should go for a walk or look like I’m approaching the doors for the first time. Conscientiousness can go a long way.
My mind wanders, as it often does, to the images pasted across the building and I can picture myself inside a ring now, in front of a crowd, hitting moves with flying colours. Give me a chance and I’ll knock the door down… figuratively. I won’t knock again.
I finally hear the commotion of someone unlocking the entrance, which snaps me into reality. With a creak, the owner stands, eyeing me as he holds the door open by a sliver.
“I heard you the first time,” he mumbles and I quickly apologize. I see his facial expressions battling with the idea of treating me respectfully or slamming the door in my face altogether. “Come in.”
Making sure my backpack is on, I slip through and he locks up. Past the lobby, I can see the gymnasium. Four rings, one in each corner. Black ropes, baby blue mat. A utopia awaits.
The owner snaps his fingers in front of my face. “You can run around on the far right one for thirty minutes, okay?”
My face crinkles. “I- I didn’t come here to ‘run around’.”
The owner simply walks over to a small desk, opens up a filing cabinet and flips through papers.
“I came to train, sir,” I say sharply as I remove my backpack and unzip the top. “I brought tons of ring gear. Can you help me pick which one is best suited? I’m smaller than everyone else but you can teach me anything, honest. An arm lock, a hip toss, a DDT. I don’t particularly wanna wrestle a boring style, I wanna show off athleticism, make the fans jaws drop. Do death-defying stuff from the top! But I’ll take whatever I can get and I’m willing to start with the basics!”
Nothing. I’m left holding my knapsack and rummaging a free hand through, pretending I’m looking for something. What I am looking for is a response, though.
“If it’s money you want, I’ve saved plenty. Actually, you don’t even have to teach me wrestling holds. Can I watch one of your classes? I’ll sit in the corner. I won’t say a word. I-”
He hands me a sheet of paper. “It’s a waiver. You’re too young to sign officially but look it over.”
I most certainly will. “Do you… uh, need my parents or something?” I ask but he doesn’t respond. Instead, the owner walks into the gymnasium so I follow along. Once there, the feeling I have is indescribable. I’m home. This is where I will spend the rest of my life. Well, not all of it literally in this location. The images I saw on the outside of the building play through my head once again. I can see myself performing a release suplex. Snap mare takedown followed by a kick to the spine, you bet. And the 450 splash? Duh.
“Mister…?” My voice trails, I don’t recall his name.
“Young. Reed Young Sr.” He mentions.
“Mr. Young, can I run around in the ring?” I inquire.
“I thought you said you didn’t want to ‘run around’.” He says snidely. I shrug my shoulders in reply. Mr. Young’s right but I can also tell he’s not going to show me wrestling moves anytime soon so I’ll have to entertain myself.
“Listen, sir,” I start, “thank you. I won’t be annoying. Kick me out whenever you want.”
He leaves me to my own devices as I slide inside the far right ring. After all, it was the one he told me to use. I instantly notice how the mat is a lot harder than I envisioned. A dive from the top rope might really hurt so perhaps I should stick to arm drags and DDTs. For now.
I peer out the corner of my eyes, seeing Mr. Young take a quick look from down the hall. I want to show confidence. I need to assert myself quickly or he might kick me out. So I race to the far ropes, turn to bounce off them and spin. I’m surprised at how little give there is. My head lightly grazes the top rope and the tightness of the fiber almost knocks me for a loop. The black tape smacks the top of my head, I’m lucky I didn’t fall face-first.
I quickly turn to Mr. Young’s location, hoping he doesn’t see me. Luckily, he’s nowhere to be found.
“You’ve got a lot to learn, kid.” His voice is startling as he stands in front of the apron. My face goes red.
“Sor-sorry,” I mumble. “I promise I’ll listen, I’ll take everything in and I’ll get better. I know nothing. I will always know nothing! That’s how you survive in wrestling, right? That’s how you survive in life? Open yourself up to mistakes. Always start from a humble position. It’s what my mom says!”
And for the first time in our relationship, I see a tiny smile creep over his face. “What’s the wrestling name you wanted to use again?”
I nod, frantically. “The Amazing Conor.”
He scoffs. “A real dumb n-” but holds back from crushing my dreams. “A couple of the coaches are arriving in less than an hour. You’re done when they get here. In the meantime, go easy. Like you said, it’ll take a while to get better. Years… lots of years.”
And he walks off again while still mumbling. “Luckily, you’ve got a ten year head start.”
… … … … …
Dearness Living Community – My Room
October 4, 2021
“Am I different to you?”
Walter sits idly on my bed, staring through the window. I can tell he enjoyed the time away from Dearness. I recently took him outside these walls for a day trip, showing him my Jatt Starr “possessions”. Since then, he daydreams frequently. 95-years-old, residing inside the assisted living facility. This is his legitimate last stop… his final home. Walter’s world could come to a close at any moment and it will, one day, end in the DLC. It’s a terrifying thought but it’s inevitable for everyone. He merely gets there before me.
“Pardon me, son?” He asks to clarify.
“Has the world title changed me?” I question. “Sutler said…”
Walter doesn’t allow for much Sutler talk. Out of the High Octane Rogue Gallery, he hates Sutler the most. He views the Son of Scions as a coddled brat who needs a reality check and a backbone. While I see lots of myself in SRK, I’m smart enough to know I have an unmatched nobility. Plus, I’m better looking.
“The boy’s just trying to get under your skin, Conor,” Walter remarks. “The real question is do you think you’ve changed?”
Hmmm, a question I’ve never been asked before. It doesn’t take me long to consider the answer.
“No. No, I’m still the same guy I’ve always been.”
Walter smirks and tilts his head. “Well kid, there you have it.”
But I continue to ramble on, never satisfied with the simple answers. “Look, Walter, I might act a little more confident. I’d be an idiot not to. I’m the World Champion and the critics have said awfully nice things about my ring work recently. I’ve come a long way since last year. An even longer way since the beginning of my career. It’s funny, I was once so silly as to believe I could get by without any mat wrestling whatsoever…”
My voice trails. Walter chimes in with a sarcastic “you still do.”
Who am I to argue?
“I’m the same guy, Walter, and I always want to be the same guy. Because one day you’re the champion and the next day you’re not. The second I lose the title… JPD, Brian Hollywood, the entire locker room will move on to calling out the one with #97MarioRed. Unless it’s Mike. They’re too scared to call him out but you get my point. The fans care about me now. Will they care in ten years when I can’t storm the ring like I used to? I hear the boos for the, amen, elder generation taking up a ‘kids role’. I am here to entertain the masses and when I’m not able to anymore I will be left behind. Believe me, Walter. I’m okay with it. It’s unavoidable. So I’m still gonna be me and enjoy the ride. Albeit, with an added edge.”
My favourite elder stares off through the window, nodding in agreement.
“Tell that to the young chap Kevin Capone,” Walter says.
“He’s not young,” I correct.
Walter chuckles, lightly. “He is to me, regardless if the boy’s a vet.”
My mind quickly drifts to the new WHC challenger. What Walter says is true, KC’s wrestled across the world. Some big companies, some small. A true journeyman and I don’t use the definition negatively. When I stepped into the ring as a nine-year-old boy, how was Mr. Young supposed to know I’d make it here? I’m sure he’s had countless prospects tell him they were committed to the sport, only to fade away quickly and forever. HOW is a microcosm of the wrestling industry. Talent comes and goes. People hang until they don’t. To be a journeyman, to find traction in numerous organizations and then come to the biggest show, at his age, it goes without saying.
“He’s gonna give me everything he has, isn’t he?” I rhetorically state. “I would; I did. My first real shot in HOW, I went gangbusters. I’ll give Capone the fight of his life. He deserves it. Although I wish I knew more about him…”
Walter’s eyes find me. “It’s not a bad thing. You don’t need to know everything about everyone. A person is not a video game manual, Conor.”
Walt’s wrong. Me vs. Jatt Starr as Proof 101. Study someone’s ins and outs to the point of knowing them better than they know themselves and you can counter anything. You can wrestle a step ahead.
“So you go into this match without watching a lot of tape on him. He’s hungry, he’s received this opportunity and he won’t mess it up. His 2020 in HOW was a ‘failure’ but failure is a good thing.”
“Failure is everything,” I agree. “I couldn’t imagine myself as the champion if I had defeated Cancer Jiles in our first battle…”
Walter nods. “So I’m challenging you to take a different approach. As World Champion, your reign is not linear. You won’t see what’s coming when the entire roster is lining up against you.”
He’s not wrong. I wasn’t allowed to touch my title before I got kneed upside the head.
“Alright,” I say.
Walter’s eyes have fled back to my window. I’m starting to feel bad, I can tell he wants to go outside but he’s not supposed to.
“Walt, I’m leaving for Phoenix tomorrow. I want to arrive early… settle in. It’s gonna be a big week for everyone so I was only stopping by Dearness for tonight.”
I’m not sure if he hears me but nods anyway.
… … … … …
Local Wrestling Gym
March 20, 2002
I’ve run around the ring for an hour, starting to feel more comfortable. You really have to catapult yourself off the ropes. Throw your weight back and then charge forward. The ropes don’t do the work for you. It’s the first myth of many I’ll crack in the near future. The second is how hard it hurts when I fall on the canvas. It’s not a soft landing. Maybe I’ll have to rethink this whole jump from the top turnbuckle thing.
I elbow drop a “ghost” wrestler, looking for a “pin”.
“Who do we have here?” A chiseled voice echoes from the apron. I’m about to drop a second elbow but thankfully I use this as the perfect excuse not to. My body is killing me.
“Conor,” I reply, trying to find where the voice came from. I land on a short, stocky man. He has long blonde hair and a goatee. He’s my dad’s age or older. “My name is The Amazing Conor.”
The man chuckles. I might be nine but I understand social cues. He finds what I’m doing humorous and yet there’s not a bad bone in his body. He seems extremely polite. The man walks up the steel steps and enters through the bottom and middle rope. He’s only a foot taller than me but much thicker. Muscular and fat, rolled into one.
“Well, Amazing Conor, my name is Stu,” the man greets, “and I’m one of the trainers. Will you be joining me for my 9am class?”
Before I can say anything else, a second voice chimes in. “What the fuck!? Since when do we have fucking daycare!?” And a bunch of other naughty words I would’ve been accustomed to if they had Discord servers in 2002.
The man who says this is roughly the same age as Stu, although much more beaten up. He has scars mixed in with tattoos over his arms and shoulders. He wears a white tank top and black shorts. He tosses a gym bag across the way and looks at me as if he’s going to legitimately murder me if I don’t GTFO right now. I’m attempting to find the words to defend myself. Luckily, Stu does it for me.
“Oh, hey Jack,” Stu says. “This is The Amazing Conor and he’s in my 9am class.”
“Fucking bullshit, I’m not teaching toddlers,” Jack mumbles amongst other words, “Reed’ll take anyone for classes these days.”
Jack wanders to another ring, continuing to swear under his breath. I’m clearly rattled so Stu looks at me with a wink. “He’ll get over it. Jack gets mad about everything, you’ll see. It’s nothing personal.”
I don’t know if I smile in return or not. I wasn’t expected to be met with such hostility.
“Uhhh, sir…” I stutter, “I’m not really signed up for any classes…”
Stu marches to his gym bag and opens it up, shaking his head. “Don’t worry, I enrolled you myself.”