This is what happened.
Tokyo, Japan | 9 November 2019
Andy’s first impression of James ‘Perfection’ Witherhold wasn’t a good one.
It was a DEFIANCE show back in October 2016. A most unsavoury backstage interaction led to a singles match officiated by a crooked referee on Jimbo’s payroll.
You can probably tell how that one went.
Murray knew Perfection was a piece of trash before that, but only through second-hand stories from his brother Cayle and through watching his work in the United States’ other prominent promotions at the time. Never before had they shared a roster. Finally, in the house of Eric Dane, Andy’s suspicions were verified.
Three years went by before they’d cross paths again, this time on the other side of the Pacific. A spot show in Tokyo’s Korakuen Hall. It was the Scot’s first match since a failed, desperate incursion into deathmatch wrestling had left part of his back looking like Kermit the Frog’s mouth. It took the wound three months to heal (fuck scissor-boards); three months, and Murray, on the night of his comeback, almost suffered a hernia when he saw his name on the runsheet.
Alongside James Witherhold’s.
His blood growing hotter, Andy made a beeline for the Foreign Talent Liaison’s office. Katsuro Hara was a short, stout man of at least 65 years with thinning grey hair tied into a ponytail that should’ve been shorn a decade ago. His striped shirts were never ironed, his fake Ray Bans never off his face, and his musk was equal parts cheap booze, cigarettes, and miscellaneous sleaze.
A scuzzy man, but a respected one. Whether serving as a producer, announcer, or a liaison, Hara had been in the game almost since birth. The boys respected him for his tenure and loved him because he’d helped break them all in through late nights in Roppongi. He was good at his job, too. If you were a foreign wrestler and you needed anything, he’d find a way.
Well, almost anything.
“Is this a piss-take?” Murray grunted, thrusting the sheet he’d torn from the wall towards Katsuro, who looked like he’d been scraped from the floor of a grimy yakitori joint at 4am. “This fucking guy? On my first night back?”
Hara looked up from the bundle of dog-eared papers he’d been sifting through. “What now?” he croaked in a voice ravaged by five decades’ worth of carbon monoxide hitting the back of his throat. “You don’t like Hideki? Isami?”
“Not the opponents,” replied Andy, shaking his head, though placing him in the opener with a couple of dojo boys was insulting enough. “Perfection.”
The envoy was quick to wave Murray’s complaints away. “I don’t make the matches,” he said, his focus returning to the papers almost immediately.
“No, but you’re supposed to be here to sort shit out,” Andy said, feeling his own patience wavering, “and this is shit needs sorting out.”
A hectic night of business meant Hara had very few fucks to give for this particular brand of shit. It was barely an hour until bell time. There, in his office, stood an increasingly belligerent Scot with an axe to grind, seemingly demanding a tour’s worth of bookings be torn up on the spot. He took a sip of whatever diluted liquor he was sipping and broke it out.
A lot of words followed, most of which Murray didn’t take on, but they all meant the same thing: he was teaming with Perfection.
All tour long.
Or, in the liaison’s words, “maybe we stop using you.”
That’s when Murray really switched on. Hara spoke only in facts: Andy was 42 years old, breaking down, and his name wasn’t bringing people through the door like it used to. “Diminishing returns,” the man opposite him said. “Maybe elsewhere you make demands like this. Not here. Go. Put your boots on.”
Defeated, Andy could only mumble his apology on his way out the door. The past two years had been tough. Where once he was the foreign star that men like Hara would bend over backwards to appease, now he was working Korakuen undercards on the same night his younger brother and best friend were selling-out the 11,000-capacity Sumo Hall just across town. But he couldn’t leave Japan. This was Murray’s life now.
Fuck Mikey Unlikely.
What happened next would’ve blown Andy’s mind if it weren’t so jaded.
The so-called ‘King of Wrestling’ was 26 years deep in the game and had the war wounds to prove it, but even he couldn’t have predicted how he’d click with James Witherhold. Though the duo said not a word to each other before or after their matches, it mattered little: both spoke the language of pugilism. This wasn’t the lazy, loathsome Perfection Andy had encountered in DEFIANCE, but a sharp, re-energized, cunning stretcher content not to sit these overmatched opponents in a chinlock for 5 minutes, but twist ligaments to breaking point, snap sinews, and tap motherfuckers out.
Witherhold’s shortcuts and schemes may not have sat well with the Murray of old, but things were different now, Andy had realised. With age closing in and its physical limitations advancing, grabbing the odd handful of tights or smashing the occasional forehead into an exposed turnbuckle became necessities. You’ve gotta do what you need to get ahead. To make a living. To stay relevant.
It was halfway through the tour before Murray finally found it in him to seek Witherhold out before the show, but no. Perfection had Perfection’d all over the place. He was a no-show.
Hara and his cohorts were furious, and so was Andy – with himself.
Imagine trusting James Witherhold.
Imagine thinking this could work.
Imagine believing the only words Perfection said all tour, 24 hours prior: “soon, we’ll talk business.”
Scott Stevens is an albatross around my neck.
Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to have “0-1 against Scott Stevens” on your résumé? Because I do. That big Texan twat crushed my neck with a piledriver and pinned my shoulders to the mat back in December 2017, the one and only time we’ve ever wrestled.
Granted, that went down under someone else’s roof – not Lee Best’s – and I’m told Stevens might have been something close to credible around these parts at some point, but come on. It’s Scott fucking Stevens! And I have a losing record to him.
So here’s what I’m going to do at Refuelled XIX:-
- Roll into Chicago.
- Call Scoot Stoovins a dipshit.
- Shake this monkey off my back and drown the little bastard.
The best part of all of this? I know exactly what that pube is thinking right now. He’s coming into this assuming that I’m overlooking him, that I see this as some kind of walk in the park, that I’m taking him for granted. He’s going to assume this gives him some kind of advantage.
I know this, Scooty, because you already played your hand. Think before tweeting next time, cunto.
You’re wrong. Obviously. Do you think I got to where I am in this game by overlooking wrestlers, particularly those who’ve reached such heights as the HOW World Championship? Do you honestly believe that I would have survived 26 years at this level by assuming any fight I stepped into was going to be a cakewalk? You’re denser than I thought.
I mean, I guess I should have known that that moment he claimed to have run my brother out of That Other Place.
My brother, Cayle, who is literally undefeated against this big lump of goo.
Scoot Stoovins’ brain is made of turnips.
But I’ll give you this before you start regurgitating facts from my Wikipedia page or start listing famous men named Andy, or whatever: you’re a solid competitor. You’ve been a top World Champion in several different places, I’m taking you seriously, and there are certainly elements of your skillset that I respect and have been working diligently to counter when we throw down.
There. That’s enough. Back to the fun stuff.
Have you validation, pal, and go find something else to say beyond “you’d better not underestimate me, because I’m Scoot Stoovins!”. A different shade of the same beige bullshit you’ve been peddling for the past two decades. Maybe throw in a tennis joke. Those are always fun.
Let’s talk facts. Stevens, you’re cooked. That’s why Lee Best Old Yeller’d you. That’s why he sent you to the glue factory, gave men like me and my partners your roster spot, and set you and Mamba up against us two weeks a row. He’s proving a point. Your stock has cratered, pal; HOW is investing in 24-karat gold now.
And I don’t give half a fuck what kind of “I wasn’t ready!” excuse you’ve got lined-up for last week’s loss, because I know what I watched.
I watched a man who has lost his fight.
Listen, I was benched too, lad. I know how it feels. Our circumstances are a little different, but I’ve been cast aside by a higher power myself – and I’ve spent the past two years of my life scrapping, clawing, and dragging myself back.
People told me to age gracefully, to settle down. I said “fuck that.” Ageing gracefully means accepting that it’s someone else’s time to be the man while you jerk curtains and get booked only for nostalgia pops.
Settling down means taking the cosy little office job when the bossman tells you you aren’t “connecting” anymore.
That’s you, man. Your fight left your body the moment you sat down in that plush little office chair and started pushing pencils around your desk. If you gave a shit about wrestling, if you still had the stomach for this line of work, you’d have told Lee to shove that “Chief Information Officer” guff right up his shitpipe. You’d have walked.
But you didn’t. A few performative moans aside, you accepted your fate with a whimper.
You settled down.
Now, 24K’s gonna put you down.
San Diego, California | 6 January 2020
Andy swallowed back a motherful of bile as he stood before the husk of a building that used to be his gym.
This was supposed to be his retirement plan; a fully-functional training centre for those breaking into the business or the unfortunates who’d been cast aside by it, hence “Second Chance Gym.” Here, in San Diego, when his body was no longer able to withstand the rigours of a full-time pro-wrestling schedule, the two-time Hall-of-Famer would make his nest.
And now it was gone.
A hastily-erected steel fence formed a perimeter around the now-empty building. The new owners had cleared the property out little over a week ago, though the fading black-and-gold Fighting Chance sign still hung over the door. Lord knows what they’d done with the equipment. That wasn’t Andy’s concern anymore, though. All he could do was lean forward against the fence, head slumped, and try to pick himself back up from this latest disappointment.
“There he is,” said the voice over his shoulder. Andy could recognise its silvery tone anywhere. He immediately pulled his hands away from the fence and balled one into a fist as James Witherhold slammed a white Mercedes door behind him, slithering across the cracked tarmac with his arms out and a poisonous smile stretched across his features.
“James, the fuck?” was all Andy could muster. There stood Perfection and his immaculate merino wool suit, on Murray’s pro–… on what used to be Murray’s property, apropos of nothing.
“Eesh, you taken to sleeping beneath an underpass or something?” Witherhold asked. It was a fair question. Andy looked like shit. Where once his beard was kept trim and dyed a perfect jet black, he’d let it become as wild, straggly, and grey as the hair on his 42-year-old head. The attire – fraying jeans, an old DEF shirt, and a cheapo black hoodie – wasn’t exactly befitting a man with sold-out arenas on three continents to his name either.
James didn’t wait for an answer. He glanced through the fence to the shell that once served as Murray’s gym, tutting. “New owners emptied the place out fast, huh?”. He turned to Murray. “You hate to see it. Truly.”
“Spit it out, chief,” Murray clapped back, almost through gritted teeth. “I’ve no time for this.”
“On the contrary, time is about the only thing you do have right now, huh?” Witherhold jabbed, thumbing towards the empty building. “Heard that carny Hara booted you out of Tokyo Pro too. Took liberties with a couple of young lions, eh? You must be running out of options – and quickly.”
Though Murray was famously one of his generation’s most thick-skinned wrestlers, Perfection had a way of speaking that made him want to put his first through his skull from the first syllable.
He had been kicked out of Tokyo Pro, though. Personal and professional frustrations boiled over one night in Skin-Kiba; the red mist descended. Some dojo kid, 21 and working his twelfth career match, got a concussion, a cracked jaw, and a broken rib for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Andy’s latest attempt at reaching a settlement with Mikey Unlikely had been rebutted a few hours prior. The poor bastard was in the wrong place with the wrong guy at the right time, and Andy paid for it through the termination of his last remaining line of work.
“Did you come here to pick a fight, Jimbo? Because I’ll put you in the dirt right now, lad. Just keep talking.”
The former WrestleUTA’s response was neither bellicose nor arrogant. Instead, he held up his hands. “Andy, brother, relax.” He paused. “What’d I say the last time I saw you? ‘Soon, we’ll talk business.’ Today is ‘soon.’”
“Aye, you said that,” Murray grunted back. “And then you disappeared off the face of the earth, so why should I listen to a word?”
“Because you’ve got nothing else.”
That one hurt.
But he was right. James Witherhold, that wretched little cunt, was right.
Andy’s assets were six figures in the red. The retirement plan was gone. His Japanese gig was up, the British scene was dying, Mexico had never taken to him in the past, and he couldn’t compete in North America, legally, for another three years.
The business he’d given his entire life to had chewed Murray up, spat him out, and stomped him into the ground.
And it fucking hurt.
“The truth is, brother. I split from Japan because I saw everything I needed to see,” Perfection continued. “I’d learned everything I needed to learn – that you, the big grumpy fuck you may be, are exactly what I need to complete this vision of mine.”
“What…?” was all Murray could muster in response.
“Come on, bitch,” James said, slapping a palm against the big man’s back before opening the passenger door to the Mercedes behind him and walking around the hood to the driver’s side. Andy standing there still confused as James lifts his sunglasses. “Let’s fix this broken-ass career of yours. Get in the fucking car.”
James Ranger. Sorry, laddie, but as far as your situation goes, it’s wrong place, wrong time.
I’ve got no beef with you, Mamba. You seem like a nice, respectful dude. You take your craft seriously, treat this carnival like a sport, and talk a good game without digging holes for yourself. Confidence without arrogance. I reckon we’d have actually gotten along had we ran into each other a few years ago.
But understand this: you’ve got a role to play at Refueled, and that role is to help me and Witherhold tune up en route to the top. That’s it. That’s reality.
Granted it’s up to us to work hard enough to make that happen, but know that I won’t be stepping on any banana peels on Saturday night. Fairytales don’t exist in my world, Mamba, so get ready to have your head kicked in.
Watching your match with the Bruvs back, I didn’t see a whole lot of cohesion between you and Stevens. People look at me and Perfection and say similar things, but I don’t know. The way I see it, he’ll send you to the shadow realm by cutting off the supply of oxygen to your brain with a chokehold so surgical in its precision you won’t have a hope of escaping before everything goes dark. Me? I’ll send you there through blunt force trauma.
Different methods; same result.
Me and him, we’re a perfect fit: he likes starting shit, I like ending shit. He’ll cut you off and I’ll cut you down. We’ve got the power, the precision, the will, and the knowhow.
You guys? You’ve got one win between you since HOW returned.
But that’s you in a nutshell, Mamba. That’s your career. I know you’re the eternal bridesmaid. You’ve caught that bouquet so many times but never been able to put a ring on your own finger, have you?
Your big match record is what it is and hey, I’m not going to pretend like Saturday is the biggest match of your career. I know you’ve slugged it out with the Mike Bests, the Christopher Americas, because I do my goddamn homework, but this IS an opportunity for you. This is your chance to shut down a group that slaughtered every name worth a damn in HOW on night fucking one.
So like Stevens, I don’t take you for granted. I know you’ve got something to prove.
But I don’t like your chances either.
By all means, Mamba, bring everything you’ve got on Saturday night. Fight your heart out, man. Give it your all! Just know that if you even think about overstepping the mark with me, I’ll leave you looking like the bloody Elephant Man.
That’s a promise, not a threat.
San Diego, California | 7 January 2020
That the sun was creeping over the horizon and the whisky bottle was close to empty told Andy he’d been up way too long. It wasn’t his fault, but his mind’s. Damn thing hadn’t stayed still for longer than a second since he’d parted ways with James Witherhold.
This was it. A way out.
But there was a cost.
Perfection knew everything.
He knew about the non-compete clause: the one signed into his deal with Mikey Unlikely, not the UTA, preventing him from doing anything in American wrestling without the Hollywood Superstar’s say so.
He knew that Andy thought there was no way in hell the damn thing would hold up in court – but Mikey found the right lawyer.
He knew that competing in the CWF in 2019 had cost Andy a high six-figure sum and that selling them gym wasn’t enough to recoup the costs.
He knew that a broken, down on his luck, and desperate Murray had little choice if we wanted to keep the roof over his head and keep putting his son through college.
So Witherhold dangled that carrot, knowing fine well that under other circumstances, ‘The King of Wrestling’ would have laughed in his face. Not this time.
One side of Andy’s head told him that this was a mistake. That working with Perfection, Kendrix, and Mikey would only bring more problems to his door, and it wasn’t lost on him that these shitbags almost certainly had an ulterior motive. He also knew that he needed a goddamn paycheque.
So Andy pulled his phone from his pocket, unlocked it, tapped the WhatsApp logo on his home screen, and began his message history with James Witherhold.
This liferaft was barely buoyant and made of rough, crumbling materials that dug into him as he climbed aboard it. He had no idea if it would sustain him or if he’d return to the depths. But it was the only one he had.
And he’ll sail it all the way to High Octane Wrestling.