The creaking sounds of a door swinging open, followed by the sound of footsteps is what greets us today, dear viewer.
Thump thump thump thump whoomph clatterclatter.
That would be a fairly apt description of the noises we just heard, given we’re still staring at a blank screen. The sound of a switch greets the arrival of lighting, the illumination slowly flickering into life, because as we can see, we’re in a warehouse that could probably do with a modernisation. A renovation.
Or at least, that’s the sort of thing you might expect to do if one was planning to conduct any sort of actual business here, like storing shit, or running a logistics business, or, uhh…well, dear viewer, the other businesses on this industrial estate are exactly that.
And, well, a fishing store. Hear it’s rather good if that’s your thing.
Regardless, one might describe the condition of this particular building as “fit for purpose”, but you certainly wouldn’t give it more praise than that. At this point, the clearly artificial, blue tinted light has lit up our protagonist. The t-shirt he’s wearing, emblazoned with the High Octane Wrestling logo and looking as if it came out of the packet not five minutes ago stretches slightly around the gut…not struggling to contain the wobble, as it might once have done a few months ago, but more stretches around the sort of powerful belly you might find on someone who’s only bothered about lifting heavy shit and not looking great.
Or who’s more bothered about a diet they enjoy than one that’s gonna make them look the best.
Either way, the man casts a quick glance down at the bag next to him, before looking up and about, his eyes eventually wondering towards the ring that sits bang in the middle of the space. You might figure it’s a wrestling gym – but if you look closer, you can see it is that, sure – but it’s not one where classes of wrestlers roll through to train, it’s the sort of place where one guy trains. No multiples of machines, just one of a couple things. Simple things.
Rhys Townsend, the man we’ve just been describing, reaches into the pocket of the camouflage pants he’s wearing, pulling out the almost customary spliff. Around the time he sparks it up, the silence is replaced swiftly by the sound of rain hammering away on the roof, before the door swings open again. It’s not the postman, merely the two people Rhys has had in his personal life of late. Dafydd, who seems to deal with all the things regarding being a professional wrestler (like flights, hotels, contracts, that sorta thing) for Rhys, and Rhod Rees, a man with a stupidly Welsh name, (not quite as bad as, say, Dai Davies, but getting there…) who is…well, a live action training dummy, I guess would be the best way to put it.
Townsend shrugs a backpack off as the two wonder their way into the space, it landing a fair bit softer than the previous bag. He doesn’t look at his two friends, he just looks down at the bags, as if it’s just…sent him off daydreaming, puffing away, acting like his own little smoke machine.
Dafydd’s voice creeps over the background sound of the rain, waking his friend from his little reverie after a few long moments.
“Yeah….yeah, I’m good man.”
“Just…staring at a bag, is it? Perfectly normal behaviour that…”
The words startle Townsend, his head snapping up, the plumes of smoke moving erratically as he responds.
And again, he stares down at the bag, before turning to look back at his friends.
“Yeah, no…sorry man. Just…brain went wondering off, y’know?”
“Yeah. So…you all good?”
“Dafydd, mate, you just fucking asked me that. Yeah. I’m good.”
“No, I know you’re good, but you’ve got that big match, so..”
“I’m good for that too mate.”
The exhalation of smoke that follows this is more like an exclamation point, a don’t ask stupid questions type thing than just a man breathing out some smoke he was done with. Dafydd seems sated by the answer, not probing about that more, but instead, points directly at the bag.
“Tidy. And the bag…?”
“It’s got my shit in it.”
“Rhys, I think pretty much everyone figures that the bag has your shit in it. Anything specific? Any reason you brought it here?”
“Well, y’know how I am, Daf, I just randomly bring bags of shit from my home to places for no real reason…”
“No need to be so fuckin’ sarcastic bro, just asking a question…”
And again…just the rain. Until Townsend reaches down and unzips the bag. The familiar sight of the High Octane Wrestling World Championship is seen, though, it’s far too new and unworn to be the same belt we see on TV, on Chaos most weeks – so a fair assumption would be that it’s one of those high priced replicas that wrestlers tend to buy for themselves to display in their study, or office, or gym. These ones though? Casually dumped in an Adidas bag, no doubt having been stuffed in a closet for the last little while, until it’s recent excavation. It’d be a fair assumption that there’s five of them in there, and we can also see a few stray pieces of wrestling gear – though with a wrestler like Rhys Townsend, they likely all look very similar. Variations of 97Red on black, undoubtedly. The standard uniform for most wrestlers in High Octane Wrestling.
He uses his boot to slide the bag over towards his two accomplices, it sliding to a stop not too far away from Dafydd. He takes a look down, before leaning forward and opening the bag a little. He doesn’t ruffle through the contents or anything, just takes a moment and stares.
“Replicas mate. Y’know. The sort the company offers you a chance to buy when you win one. Same shit they’d use if they needed a replacement for TV.”
“Yeah, yeah, I figured that. Look a little nicer than the ones I see the fans with.”
“I fucking hope so mate, it’s a bit more expensive…”
“Yeah. So why bring ‘em here?”
“Why not? They were just taking space up at home…”
“Yeah. Because you’re real fucking short of space in your half empty mansion.”
And, dear viewer, we’re back with the consistent drumbeat of the rain. It’s that time of year where Wales finds itself under a storm warning for one thing or another, though most frequently, it’s for rain. Like it currently is.
Another long drag on the spliff brings the thing to an end, and a careful looking throw takes it towards what appears to be a small pile of, well, other spliff ends.
“I mean…no point them being at home, is there?”
“Well, Rhys, I reckon most people probably put them in frames and put them up somewhere. Or hang them on a wall. I dunno…display them at least…usually at home.”
“What, you don’t think other people just leave ‘em in a bag that they like to pretend they’ve forgotten about?”
“Nah…nah, I think that’s a pretty you sorta hangup mate.”
“Yeah. I think the raging ego of most wrestlers mean that the World Championship would go above the TV. Or the fireplace if they’re old fashioned or some shit…maybe the office? I mean, you got five…I figure, that’s at least a whole fucking wall, just for those.”
“Yeah, easily. Chuck in some bits of old gear, the other belts…I mean, you probably have enough shit for a whole room without stressing. Nice arrangement in there, could get some nice lighting, get it looking real nice, proper monument to your ego…”
“I mean, gotta have the photos of the shit in there too, right?”
“Of course. You want me to call someone…?”
There’s eagerness all over Dafydd’s face, though who knows exactly why. The look on Rhys’ face?
“Nah. I kinda prefer the whole…they sit in a bag thing, personally.”
“Fine. So why are they here?”
“Like I said, taking up space at home…”
“Really. Not the bullshit.”
“…just didn’t feel right having them there. Felt they should be here. With the rest of my wrestling shit.”
“Just didn’t feel right?”
“Yeah. Just that.”
“Gonna put ‘em up in here somewhere?”
“I love how you’re talking about these like they’re fucking posters or something…”
“No, nono, I mean…y’know, put them up with the respect they deserve! Not just chucking them up with thumbtacks like a poster or whatever, proper like, drilling holes and putting things up and…”
Townsend’s laugh echoes through the warehouse as his friend briefly had a vaguely apologetic look before he realised that the piss was being taken. Relief is the look now, as he decides to speak.
“No, Daf, no plans to do anything like that. Like I said, just felt like they should be here. It’s not like it was, y’know? I’m not particularly worried about becoming complacent if I put them up and occasionally look at them, it’s just…I dunno. I don’t feel like I’m done. Like…”
“You’re gonna add more?”
“Hopefully. But it’s just…shit, dude, I don’t even know. We could put ‘em up. Not like it makes a real difference…”
“I mean, reminders of what you’re working towards sometimes help, Rhys.”
“But what? You prefer to attempt to lie to yourself that you’re just focusing on one week at a time and never trying to figure out how you can get yourself towards the World Championship?”
“Maybe a little. And I mean, it’s not lying, right? I really do have to put that to the back of my mind and focus on every week as it comes. I wouldn’t be in the match I’m in if I hadn’t been able to do that, if I hadn’t just been trying to beat everyone rather than wondering how I could get a shot at Stronk, or Fuse. I mean, one match, I looked ahead…”
“And you lost.”
“So how do you deal with it this week then?”
Silence hangs for another second, partially because Rhys is fishing for another spliff, and partially because Dafydd seems to be waiting to see if his boss slash friend has anything more to say. The lighter breaks the silence, the smoke machine resuming. Townsend seems to be thinking, taking a moment to try and compose things before he lets the words tumble out.
“It’s difficult, right? Like…you can’t not think about what’s on offer, Daf. The shit that drags us out of bed in the morning, y’know? Chance to be sure of main eventing the biggest professional wrestling show on the planet this year for the most prestigious championship you can wrestle for. Big, big shit. And it’s not just that for me, is it? It’s a chance to earn my sixth – probably against Mike Best, but possibly against Conor Fuse. Six. That’s shit only one other dude has done…and yeah, sure, I’ve got five, which again, same thing…but five’s not enough. Six won’t be either, but it’ll be closer to being enough. No fucking clue what enough is or anything, but…”
He stops to smoke for a minute, before continuing his little monologue
“…it’s not that simple, is it? That’s a thing to motivate me, sure, a thing to keep in mind, but it can’t be what I think about when it comes to this match. Sure, dude’s somehow spent literal years in the federation assembling a pretty impressive record, yet somehow managing to not win the World Championship…but you don’t assemble the pretty impressive record without being good. And it wasn’t Mike that was sat atop the rankings when I signed my contract, it was this dude. So…”
“If you take your eye off the ball for even a second…”
“…he’ll fuck me up. Yeah. Dude’s been throwing shit ever since Lee told him he was gonna get this match…convincing himself that he’s gotten under my skin…but I wasn’t the one who started dropping matches on the weekly shows. Y’know?”
“And it’s like, going off about how he’s fucking more High Octane than me because what, he’s spent the last two or three years of his career making sure he’s licked Lee’s boot exactly to Lee’s liking…yet somehow hasn’t managed to be The Guy in the Alliance in all this time? Because what…he wrestled elsewhere and then came here, that makes him more High Octane than I am? Honestly…”
“Honestly, Dafydd, it feels like he just thought I was just another of these Hall of Famer returns. Just someone with a couple World Championships to his name, nothing special in the year 2023, because, well, his peak was a decade ago. Or fifteen years ago. Whatever. And then the closer and closer he’s gotten to this match, the more he’s realised that, well…”
“You’re not that. I mean…you’ve been pretty dominant since you came back. Might have lost tag team matches, but shit man…you were dominating people in those fuckers, just got a bit unlucky.”
“Maybe. Or maybe I wasn’t keeping enough of an eye on my partner. But my point being, he’s realised that I’m…y’know. More than that. And I get he’s more than just the kinda sorta dominant yet just there run he’s had here in High Octane Wrestling. I get that while, to me, he’s just someone who’s not lived up to the level he clearly has here, to other people, other places – he’s probably the equivalent to me. The top tier of people who have passed through the place in terms of what they’ve achieved. I mean shit, dude, if he’s done proper research, if he’s properly looked at shit, I wouldn’t be shocked if he was calling me something like a Mike Best lite, in a last, desperate attempt to get under my skin.”
“Would you blame him? Every little thing, mate, you’ve said it yourself plenty.”
Townsend chuckles a bit of smoke out, the laugh quickly segueing into a cough.
“Oh, for sure, Dafydd, for sure. Every little advantage helps. And no, I wouldn’t blame him, but is that really an insult? Sure, maybe I’m meant to sit here and tell you I fucking hate the guy…wouldn’t be a stretch, given the history. But it’s more of a respect, Daf. Mutual, I feel. He wants to call me a shitty version of Mike? Fair enough. I’ve got half of the World Championships he does.”
“I mean, I’d kinda be a bit pissed about it if I was you mate. Honestly…you’re a bit more than that?”
“Sure, who isn’t? But you’re just a worse version of the best of all time – not that much of an insult, is it? Nah mate. If he’s gone there, I reckon he’s figured out exactly what it is he’s facing. And good. Good. I want the fully up for it Dan Ryan who turns up, not the one who’s just sorta coasted for the last couple months. It’s a match that can take us straight to the World fucking Championship…”
He trails off, his eyes moving back towards the bag. The fateful bag. It’s a tasteful shade of 97Red, if that’s not a thing we’ve mentioned before.
“…so I hope he wrestles like it. I reckon he will.”
“Fair. Sounding ready, buddy.”
“Yeah. I mean, this is the sorta shit I came back for, right? World Championship shit.”
“Exactly. And you can, y’know…”
“Maybe finally face up to the fact that I have an absolutely abysmal record on pay per view?”
“Yeah, Dafydd…it ain’t exactly something I can get away with just…ignoring, is it? It’s a big thing. Going back far too fucking long. But again…like, what do you think about? All of the shit around the match? Chance to notch a big win on PPV, finally, after what feels like fucking forever, chance to take a step towards winning my sixth World Championship, chance to make sure you get that match against Mike you want so badly…”
He trails off for a second, just staring into space. He brings himself back to reality with a long, hard drag.
“…do you think about all that shit that motivates you to do what you do? Or do you try and keep it simple? Just think about the match. Just think about what’s going to happen when you step between the ropes in Florida. Do the work. Watch Dan Ryan matches until I bleed. Run the ropes until I’m puking, throw suplexes until I can’t, then stuff myself into a plane and hope I’ve done enough to win the match. Do the old school professional wrestler shit…try not to be distracted, but motivated by the other shit.”
Dafydd looks like he’s gonna say more, but Rhys? Rhys hasn’t finished his monologue.
“Because if I lose this, it’s not the end. I’ll reload, I’ll go again, and I fucking guarantee you, Daf, I’ll end up in a World Championship match eventually. But that’s the thing, right? I can’t not think about that belt. I don’t care who it is, where it is – I just want another shot. So I have ground it out – wrestled more than anyone else since I signed my contract. Proved that I am the definition of a High Octane Wrestling Machine, week in, week out. So now it’s another match, and there’s more to it, more on the line…but I can’t be different. I can’t be some other Rhys. It’s gotta be the same shit that gets me victories on Chaos. Same approach. Beating the man in front of me will take me a step closer to the World Championship. To the sixth.”
“Sounds like you’ve got your head on straight at least, mate. Not like you need any sorta pep talk or anything, no imposter syndrome…”
“Yeah. I mean, Daf, I could have stayed retired and just occasionally came back for a hello. I’d get hailed as a legend, one of the best to do it, and y’know what? Probably wouldn’t be a bad life. Occasionally scratch the itch with a special attraction match here and there. Never even come close to working a full time schedule again. Do the thing most people do when they come back for retirement – just chug along until one day, they accidentally find themselves in a championship match and boom, they’re invested again.
But I just…I just couldn’t. What’s the point if I don’t give it everything? And giving it everything means setting my sights on the World Championship. So. We go around in circles again. Back to just looking at this as another match, another guy to beat because it takes me one step closer to that belt. It’s just…one more step.”
“Exactly. One more step. One more match. Get another win, keep the second best record in High Octane Wrestling, keep yourself at the top of the rankings, secure your World Championship shot…I’d say, get the chance to write your name in the history books…”
“…But it’s already there.”
“Right. But, I guess, chance to write on another page, no?”
Townsend smiles over at his friend’s statement, nodding as he replies.
“Yeah. Exactly. But all focus on the thing that allows me to do that – the match with Dan Ryan.”
There’s a nod of assent from the younger man, and the voice of Rhys Townsend can be heard calling out to some smart speaker somewhere, demanding that it plays what he’s called the Townshed Mix.
But this, dear viewer, this is where we part ways. On the cusp of yet another pay per view match for our sometimes heroic protagonist, with things, as always, bent towards the end of winning that very match. Undoubtedly, we will see each other soon, but for now? This is where we leave things.