July 17th, 2021
Charleston, South Carolina
McAlister Field House Parking Lot
I didn’t know how much I really needed tonight.
Since Conor had joined The Two One Four, I’d made sure to keep him at an arm’s length. I lacked patience with his exuberant personality. I wanted no part in his shenanigans. If it wasn’t business related, I made sure I avoided him at all costs.
I couldn’t quite put my finger on why that was.
When I walked into that locker room earlier in the evening and he tossed an XBox controller my way, my initial temptation was to knock his fuckin’ teeth out with it. I couldn’t help but think this manchild was a fuckin’ moron.
That’s right. This guy right here. Teddy Palmer of all people, looking down his nose at someone else, thinking he was a complete and utter moron. When the fuck did this happen? Where did I go wrong?
So I said fuck it.
I played his game. I smashed the buttons on a controller that wasn’t connected to anything for the ensuing hour. We watched the LSD and World Championship contests, and talked shop the entire time. We received looks that’d christened us idiots. We endured the murmurs that questioned our sanity. We blissfully ignored those who blatantly laughed at us.
And I had the time of my fuckin’ life.
That’s when I realized I wasn’t avoiding Conor so much as I was avoiding myself. Better yet, what I used to be. Conor represented everything I once was, everything that I’d been repressing for over a year now. Here’s a guy who marches to the beat of his own drum and doesn’t give a single, solitary fuck what anyone thinks about it. He is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever met, both to himself and everyone around him.
For fuck sakes, he was the first person to congratulate me after it was announced I’d be challenging for the World Championship next week. The same Championship he had to earn his right to fight for at Bottomline. There was no hidden jealousy or repressed anger. Just pure, unbridled happiness.
And I used to be like that. And I fuckin’ miss it…
“Give me a sign that I deserve this,” I yell.
I’ve been standing in the middle of the parking lot for the better part of five minutes, the evening’s humid air having wrapped itself around me like an uncomfortable, sticky blanket. It had rained prior to me exiting the McAlister Field House, the pavement covered in a thin layer of moisture, glistening underneath the moonlight. Looking skyward as if the entity I cried out to were up there, I don’t find an answer, but am treated to a plethora of stars littering the skyline.
“Please,” I mumble, bordering on desperation. “Any sign will do.”
With timing as perfect as if this were a story, the marimba ringtone of my iPhone begins to sing, vibrating inside the front pocket of my jeans. After a brief struggle to fish the device out, the caller ID is an unknown name, but I recognize the number as a Toronto area code. Under normal circumstances, I’m more apt to avoid answering calls that are more likely than not phone fraud, but I did say any sign will do. As I reach forward to swipe the screen with my finger, I’m halted from doing so as an unexpected blinding light penetrates my peripheral vision.
“What the fuck,” I hold my right hand up, trying to shield the light.
I’m quick to notice that it’s a set of headlights illuminating me, and I crouch down slightly, shifting to the side trying to remove myself from the direct beam. I squint my eyes as they strain to see what’s beyond the blinding light, my right hand forming a canopy across my brow. After a few agonizing seconds, the high beams dim. I blink incessantly as my eyes struggle to readjust, before settling on massaging my upper eyelids.
As my vision begins to restore itself to normal, an impatient horn rips through the silence some thirty yards ahead. Given that I’m standing head on with the vehicle, I’m unable to identify its make or model. A large silhouette sits in the shadows behind the windshield, a bulky arm reaching outside the driver’s side window, flicking his wrist off to the side.
What does he…
HONK! HONK! HONK!
Before I can finish my thought, the horn sounds again. Rather than one long, annoying screech, the driver has opted for multiple short honks this time around, stressing the urgency all the while still flapping his wrist in the wind.
“Okay, okay. Hold your fuckin’ horses.” I wave him off.
Taking a few steps forward, I reach an angle where the side of the vehicle presents itself. It doesn’t take long to identify the uniqueness of this particular vehicle. The length of it’s frame stretching an eternity, the rear end hidden in the darkness. The exterior is a flawless #97 Red, not a blemish on it’s finish.
Did I just receive my sign?
“From GOD of all people?” I question cynically.
With a furrowed brow, I press forward out of striking range. The phone in my hand rings once more as I trek on toward my rental. Looking down, it’s once again the number from before. With a quick swipe and press of the speaker button, the call connects and I’m met with a light static.
“Go for Ted,” I greet the unknown caller, my eyes darting about the scattered lot.
As soon as his distinct voice pours out through my phone’s speaker, a chill crawls down my spine. I can’t help but stop dead in my tracks, my teeth clenching together. I can feel my blood pressure rising, my heart thumping louder in my chest.
“My boy! The World Championship!”
I’d rather GOD over the fuckin’ Devil…
47 Hours, 36 Minutes and 25 Seconds past Sutlers deadline…
Sutler, my man!
It’s my absolute pleasure to finally make your acquaintance.
Don’t be confused by my greeting you silly little fuck, I’m well aware we’re not strangers to one another. You and I, we’ve crossed paths on more than one occasion. But this time, well it’ll be a little different now, won’t it? I’m beyond excited to dive headfirst into those uncharted waters. When I tell you my nights have been sleepless, that I’ve been salivating at the prospect of our most intimate encounter yet, it’s no lie. The hands of time are tick tock tickin’ away, our sweaty palms drawn, ready to slam our cards on the table and find out who recklessly gambled their fortune away.
This ain’t some roster clusterfuck where our paths cross intermittently. There’s no one else to concern ourselves with come Saturday. Like the nineties in a shopping mall and you’re dressed up like Tiffany, I think we’re alone now. You put the World Championship on the line, I’ll risk my place as the Number One Ranked Wrestler in the company. Winner takes all, baby.
Fuckin’ goosebumps, amirite?
Now given the stakes, I find it only fitting that I formally introduce myself prior to our soiree.
Teddy Palmer, Renowned Piece Of Shit.
Accused and Self Proclaimed.
You’ll receive no argument on my part, my reputation speaks for itself. Please don’t mistake this as sarcasm, because I assure you, it’s not. This is actually a good thing, a bonding moment if you will. I like the fact the two of us can agree on something and find that common ground to dig our heels into. It’s an excellent launching pad for the journey you and I are about to embark on.
You see, the vast majority of oversized egos roaming that locker room tend to overlook the importance of building a rapport with one another. And that rapport is built on a foundation of honesty. Honesty with each other, but more importantly, with ourselves. I’ll gladly look in the mirror and point out every flaw I possess, minor or major. Is it easy? When you look this good, fuck no! But I also know that more often than not, these battles are won or lost long before that first fist is thrown.
Long story short, turning a blind eye is a fool’s game.
I know, I know. You’re thinking to yourself: “that’s pretty deep coming from some lumberjack looking, igloo dwelling hoser”. Well I’ll have you know there’s depth behind these steely blue eyes. I can be quite the philosophical savant when I want to be.
‘To know your enemy is to know yourself.’
‘Keep your friends close but your enemies closer.’
‘Never make eye contact while eating a banana.’
I’m filled with gems of wisdom. I just hope you’re willing to listen. I hope that you’re not too stubborn to learn. Say…are you open to hearing your truth, Sutler? Do you have your big boy pants on? Is that pale skin thick enough to absorb it?
Be warned, sometimes the truth hurts.
Buckle up, buttercup…
You’re an insecure little bitch who heavily relies on the legacy his adopted father built, rather than carve his own path in this industry. You’re an entitled prick who manipulated Grandpa Lee enroute to your first World Championship. When it came time to pay the piper, you hid behind Mina-Starr and had her decline your invitation into The Best Alliance.
And I’m the fuckin’ coward. Right…
That’s a ballsy proclamation on your part, but let’s not be so quick to quote the SRK Memoir, ‘Tall Tales from a Teenage Dirtbag’. It was poorly written, paled in comparison to it’s spiritual predecessor, and generally speaking, was a piece of shit.
I know one when I see one.
“I wish Mike killed Sutler instead,” one dissatisfied reader stated in his review.
“I agree with that guy,” agreed another.
“Disappointed. I thought this was a Wheatus biography,” said the one and only person who’d actually buy a Wheatus biography, and ended up being more disappointed than had it really been a Wheatus biography.
I almost feel bad for you. Almost. You think you know what to expect, but in reality you have no fuckin’ clue what you’re up against. For a boy who fancies himself the Champion of the World, you’ve shown the maturity level of a rookie greener than fuckin’ grass. You keep beating that chest and strutting around as if you’re the fuckin’ man, but you’re as transparent as the confidence you want us to believe you have. I swear, I’ve seen better acting from D-List Celebrities in Hallmark Movies.
The Contender is about to meet The Pretender.
And do you want to know the worst part of it all?
You’re fuckin’ good, kid. You’re as athletic as they come. You’re a conniving little shit that knows how to pick his spot. You’re years beyond where you should be in that ring. And you’ve bundled all of that into this package we see week in and week out, and it’s an absolute fuckin’ waste of talent.
You haven’t thrived. You’ve survived. Don’t you dare mistake the two.
This business isn’t a race, it’s a marathon. Did you beat me to the mountaintop? Yup. Did you beat Conor? Yup. But time will tell who stays there longer, and call it a gut feeling, but I’m willing to bet it won’t be you.
So if there was ever a time to listen, I need your undivided attention right now. I need you to fully digest what I’m about to tell you.
I know you think you are, but…
You Are Not In Control.
And no, I’m not talking about that internal struggle of yours. Am I Sutler or is Max taking over? Do I have a distinguished laugh or a school girl giggle? Will my status as an adoptee affect my ability to acquire a mechanical eye? You deal with that childhood trauma drama on your own time, preferably in private. We’ve seen this story before, and it was fuckin’ good when it was original. But now? What’s original ain’t that fuckin’ good.
I’m talking about this right here. The buildup to Teddy Palmer versus Sutler Kael. It was pretty nervy of you to try and impose some sort of deadline on me. You can fuck right off with that shit, and take presented options one, two and three and shove ‘em straight up your ass. I’m in the driver’s seat, and I do what I want, when I want.
But you do you, bro. Keep peddling those Sutler-isms of yours. Throw your insults my way and see what sticks, if anything. Call me a loser. Tell me I’m an overrated hype train. Point out that I’m not worthy of the World Championship, let alone an opportunity to fight for it.
Me? Ima keep being honest with myself and you.
Did I earn this title shot? Nope.
Do I deserve this title shot? Questionable.
Will I take this opportunity and run with it? Your fuckin’ right I will.
I’m gonna win the HOW World Championship. I’m gonna go on to Main Event Bottomline against Conor. I’m gonna create that career defining moment that’s been long overdue.