I. AS REAL AS REAL GETS
I want you to listen to what I’m about to say to you. Don’t shovel protein into your face and expect Michael Oliver Best to translate for you. Keep your eyes right here. This is too important. I have spent most of my time since War Games making sure you were protected, making sure that our enemies had to go through me before they got to you. At War Games itself, I took a bullet for the Alliance. Others were presented with this test and failed it miserably. Clay Byrd, Jace Parker Davidson… only a few of the men who were given a task and yet chose to put their own interests ahead of GOD’s will. I had a job to do, and I did it. I did it expecting nothing… and yet…
My reward is you. My reward is a match for the High Octane Wrestling World Championship.
There was a time before War Games when you were as down on yourself as you had ever been in your entire life. You didn’t understand it, not really. Your body had betrayed you, you looked like a stepped-on sand castle, and good men who gave a damn about you worked to build you back up again. I was one of those men.
There was a tag team match, you and me, and you were just starting to remember who you were. We won that match handily, and after that match, I pulled you aside and we had a discussion. I won’t divulge to the public what we talked about. That conversation was between you and I alone. It was a talk between men, not about feelings, not about emotions, how very sads you were or anything else. I asked you to remember who you fucking are, and you did.
Now, I don’t know what you think about that. I’m not sure you gave it more than five seconds though before someone more directly involved with you co-opted that message and decided to make you their science project. I don’t care either, to be honest. Don’t really give a fuck. What I do give a fuck about is that you came all the way back. Slowly but surely you turned yourself back into a goddamn tank. You got so big, you could have started a company selling shade. You turned that into one of the most impressive War Games performances in the history of this company.
Do you know what that means? What does that REALLY mean?
I did some research recently. It wasn’t research on you. It was research on me. I have a shot this week at the High Octane World Title, and that fuckin’ means something to me, STRONK. Do you know why? Listen closely. It is the most prestigious, most difficult to win championship in all of professional wrestling. Difficult to win, even more difficult to keep. I have been in this business for a long, long time. I started my career in the 1990s, that’s how long I’ve been doing this. In all of those years, I’ve walked into a wrestling ring thousands of times, in many well known companies, fought many people, up and down every United States coast, every country that gives a damn about wrestling… ten times over. And in all of those matches, I have walked into a ring as the challenger for a World Championship twenty-nine times. I counted.
Do you know how many times I walked out as the World Champion?
Twenty-three times, STRONK.
Of the six times I failed to win the World title, four of those losses were right here in High Octane Wrestling.
Now, here’s the part where I want you to really pay attention. I’m not bragging to you or anyone else right now. All of those World Championships came and went a good five years before I came to High Octane. I had a long and very full career, and I went home, and I was just fine. But this sport, it doesn’t just give you an itch and then go away. No matter how long you do this, no matter how much you win, no matter how much you tell yourself that it’s enough, there’s always another match, always another opportunity. If this sport… this business… digs deep enough into yourself, you’ll die in the ring before you can ever truly walk away. This is all I fuckin’ am, STRONK. I’m not like you, man. I’m not gonna give everyone a cute parody of a movie with my name thrown in for comedic effect. I was as big a fan of your Ghosts of STRONK past, present and future as everyone else was. And good for you. You won your world championship.
I haven’t won mine yet.
This is my fifth shot at winning the biggest prize in our sport. There may not be a sixth.
Maybe you’re planning some more shenanigans. I don’t know… A Few Good STRONKs, CasaSTRONKa, The Wizard of STRONK, The Princess STRONK, STRONK Does Dallas, a fun-filled game of STRONK STRONK Goose?
I want you to have a long and fruitful career. I want you to want this as much as I do someday. I want you to climb into a ring at your best and be a complete and dominant champion. But now I want that championship around your waist. I wouldn’t have taken it from you, brother, but when God hands you a reward, you do not walk away from it. I am a born and bred fighter, my friend. Maybe I’m not the unbeatable monster I once was, but I swear to you, motherfucker, I can still fuckin’ go. I can out wrestle you, I can outthink you, and you better damn well believe that I can outfight you if that’s what it comes down to. You’re a big, strong, beefy man, but a few quick lessons on how to throw an arm drag won’t make up for two decades of training. I’m not going easy on you, man. The best thing I can do for you is to give you every single fuckin’ thing I’ve got. I want that championship. I need it. I won’t leave that ring until I have it.
And to be honest, if all you’ve got for me is cutesy skits and alternate reality science fiction bullshit, I think maybe it’s time for me to teach you what being a goddamn champion is really all about. To be honest, there is so much about you that actually pisses me the fuck off, but hell, let’s have a little fun, right? That’s what you do, come out, have a little fun, have a few laughs, a few jokes with a dirty twist that could only come from a man who has actually seen a vagina. Cunt, dick, pussy, cum bucket, shit bubble, monkey tits. Right? Sure. Or maybe we go the other way. Maybe you’re a ringmaster this week. Let’s see the dancing elephants. Put on your tutu. Maybe I play along. Maybe I say something like…
Ladies and gentlemen, gather’ round and witness the spectacle of stupidity in the squared circle. Sometimes I can’t tell if you won that championship with your fighting ability or your ability to count to three. As far as I can tell, you can’t tell the difference between a headlock and a head of lettuce.
And let’s be real here for a second. Your wrestling style can be summed up in three words: smash, smash and smash. You’re a raging bull in the ring, but the problem is that bulls are smarter than you. I’ve seen more strategic thinking from a jelly sandwich. It’s no wonder your appearances in “your” promos consist of nothing more than grunts and flexing, because if you actually tried to string a coherent sentence together, it would probably sound like the moaning cries of a dying moose, and when I say moose, I’m saying you are a big dumb fucking animal, and you stink, and also you are big and dumb.
And let’s not forget about the eloquence of the STRONK SMASH mantra, right? Well congratulations champ, you’ve mastered the art of sounding like a constipated caveman. You’re the motherfucking World Champion, but all we get from you is nonsensical rambling and shouting word vomit that would make a nouveau puke artist blush. It takes more than primal grunts to be a champion. It’s called charisma, intelligence, maybe more wit than an unripe cantaloupe, and some fucking wrestling skill, something you’re sorely lacking.
I want you to enjoy your time in the spotlight, brother. I’ve been covering for your ass, putting all of the pieces in place to make sure you have every advantage, but not this week. Not now. This week, you are the enemy. This week, I’m the raging bull, but this bull knows a thing or two. I’m gonna expose you for the dim-witted brute you truly are, and I’ll be taking BIG RED from your clueless hands faster than you can say “Ugga bugga.” Good luck. You’re gonna need it… and a dictionary.
See how easy that was? Nice, mildly witty insults followed by a hearty chuckle. When you put words back to back like that it’s called a sentence. When you put multiple sentences together it’s called a paragraph. When you put multiple paragraphs together it’s called… get Michael Oliver Best to speak for you, right?
That’s not how this is gonna go. Not this week.
I want you to come straight at me, STRONK. I want you to drop the fuckin’ bullshit, and I don’t wanna hear from anybody else. If you can’t man the fuck up and do things yourself, you sure as hell have no business carrying that belt around. It’s all been a lot of fun and games with you, but this is fucking serious. That belt matters.
It FUCKING MATTERS.
I’m not in the mood for your jokes or your mass-produced ‘aww he’s a simple boy, but he’s so sweet’ charm. I don’t want one of your goddamn t-shirts, and I have no interest in any of your fucking potential movie deals. Yeah you may believe in yourself right now, STRONK Godson, because you’ve got all of these people in your ear all day long, but in the words of a wise man, do you believe in God, son?
God doesn’t tolerate failure. You do your job or you’re right the fuck out on the street. Create all your fantasies, but we’re doing this in the real world. Go throw another plate or two on the bar. Really get that hardcore burn. Oh, and please, let us know all about how you drug some random former wrestler from the Planet STRONK to hunt you down and show you how to do the most basic wrestling moves possible since you never bothered to train in the first place. Jeff Garvin? Give me a fucking break. Your incremental improvement bullshit couldn’t be more ham-handed if you were an actual pig holding actual ham, and then somehow more and more ham kept appearing, until all that was left was a two ton pile of ham that really hated adjectives and sentence structure, presumably because someone who properly used adjectives and had good sentence structure kept eating all of your ham.
Who’s next? Joe the Plumber? Your tax attorney? Did I just give you ammo, STRONKY baby? You’re so fucking clever. Let’s hear some one-liners. We’ve got all day, no doubt. We’re all lined up to get a nice hit off of that STRONK bullshit bong, and heaven knows, that shit is potent. But while this has been fun and all, and you’ve been a real hoot, this is where the pain starts.
We’re not wrestling on a big pile of prime blue tissue paper, we ain’t in Missouri Valley, hell, we ain’t in SHOOT, fWO, NFW, UTAh, DEFIANCE, the CSWA or the NAACP. This is High Octane Wrestling. This is the top of the mountain. I want that championship and I will fucking have it. Fuck your handlers, fuck your managers, fuck your feelings, and fuck beef, you fake ass tofu eating nob muncher. I’d call you a tool, but you’re not even useful. Explaining something to you is like teaching calculus to a lemur. You’re so one-dimensional, Paper Mario thinks you need to be a little less shallow. I’d call you a pussy but you lack warmth and depth.
And kid, I can explain it all to you, but I can’t understand it for you. You’re gonna have to figure out this shit on your own. It’s just you and me, and I’m not intimidated by you, not one bit. There’s no other way. I’m a professional fucking killer, and that belt is mine.
II. THE EYES OF A KILLER
JULY 10, 2023
MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY –
Dan Ryan walks into the Gimnasio Uruguay Fighting club on a busy afternoon. Stepping inside, he finds himself in a spacious reception area. It’s well-lit and features a welcoming atmosphere. There’s a reception desk where staff members greet visitors and handle check-ins and inquiries. On the walls are posters of local fighters, and one of an upcoming event, with the fight card listed underneath an image of the two men in the main event.
He flashes a card to the attendant, and the lady gives him a nod and pushes a button to open the door to the training area.
Walking in, he sees multiple training areas, including a boxing ring. Two men are inside sparring, and several others are on the outside of the ropes but on the apron, waiting their turn.
In the middle of the space is a mat area, with a large mat covered in durable, high-quality blue material. The section, dedicated to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, and judo provides a safe and comfortable space for ground-based training and sparring, but not too comfortable. The decorations inside are sparse and give a warehouse feel. Large fans at either end are blowing lukewarm air through the building utilizing the air outside.
Dan takes a deep breath, taking in the familiar smell of sweat and adrenaline that always looms in the air of a fight gym. He heads over to the boxing ring to watch the sparring, curious to see if there are any upcoming fighters who could catch his attention.
As he approaches the ring, he notices a man standing on the outside of the ropes, watching the sparring with an intense gaze. His long, dark hair is pulled back into a tight ponytail. He’s wearing fighting gear, and it shows off his lean, muscular frame. Dan can’t help but stare at him, admiring the way he moves, almost like he’s ready to jump into the ring at any moment.
Suddenly, one of the fighters in the ring takes a hard hit and stumbles back, almost falling through the ropes. The man’s gaze sharpens, and he immediately jumps up onto the apron, ready to step into the ring and take his place.
Dan raises an eyebrow. The man is a flurry of lightning quick strikes that take his opponent by surprise. He flashes hard knees that strike the side of his head with such devastating accuracy that the man barely has time to react. Dan recognizes the fighting style immediately. This had to be him. He looks different, the hair is longer, but the moves are the same. He dashes to the ropes and slides through the other man’s legs, then shoulder tackles the back of his knee. He takes the man’s leg and spins to the right, falling backward. An audible crack is heard and his opponent screams. Dan raises his other eyebrow, and watches as his old friend sneers at his broken opponent, then with an irritated growl, breaks the hold and shoves the man’s leg away.
The other fighters are left in awe. Dan smirks and starts walking toward the ring.
“Hey John. You don’t have to maim someone to impress me, you know. I’m already familiar with your work.”
John was a seasoned ex-military trained fighter in his early 40s. Dan had met him right when he arrived in the states to start his wrestling career. They clicked right away. Standing six feet tall with a well-built lean physique, he exudes an air of strength and discipline. His chiseled features and piercing blue eyes reflect his years of dedication and experience.
Having served in the military for nearly two decades, John carries himself with confidence and purpose. His posture is upright as he approaches, and his movements are calculated and efficient. Even in civilian attire, he retains a sense of readiness and alertness, a testament to his training and instincts.
When engaged in conversation, his demeanor is composed yet focused. His voice carries a sense of authority and confidence, reflecting the leadership abilities honed through close-quartered combat and a natural charisma. He keeps his eyes straight forward, but observes his surroundings with a keen eye, a habit that serves him well. John isn’t his real name, of course. Dan knew this, but he never questioned it. After his military service ended, John was on to less savory pursuits… pursuits where his skills would come in handy. Anonymity was important in the world where John now lived.
He reaches his friend and smiles, putting forward a hand, which Dan happily shakes in return.
“The kid has weak knees. Not my fault.”
Dan nods his head and chuckles. “You haven’t changed a bit. It’s good to see you, old friend. It’s been years. How are your boys?”
“They’re good,” John smiles. “In the service like their old man. Chip off the old block, both of them.”
Dan smirks. “I sure hope not.”
John smiled back, but now had a look of seriousness on his face.
“So tell me, Dan. You wanted me down here to provide some security. I used the info you sent me. I’ve been tailing him. Is that who I’m protecting?”
Dan’s smile leaves his face. “Circumstances have changed.”
“Oh?” John seems intrigued.
“It’s not a security job anymore. It’s a training job.”
Dan tilts his head slightly, and John frowns. “You want me to train the kid?”
“No,” Dan says. “I want you to train me.”
John raises an eyebrow, his interest piqued. “Train you? You need training?” he asks, his voice laced with skepticism.
Dan nods, his expression serious. “It’s a title shot, John. I need to make this count. I need to be ready for whatever this kid tries to hit me with. He’s young, but he’s talented. And I’m not as young as I used to be. I can’t take any chances, especially now that things have gotten more complicated.”
John rubs his chin thoughtfully, considering his old friend’s request. He’s never been one to turn down a challenge, and the thought of training another seasoned fighter is enough to make his blood pump with adrenaline.
“Alright, Dan,” John finally says, nodding firmly. “I’ll train you. But you have to promise me that you’ll do what I say. I’m in charge, no questions asked. You want to win this title? You’re gonna have to train harder than you ever have before.”
Dan grins, a fierce determination in his eyes. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
John puts his hand out again, and the two men shake hands, sealing the deal. Dan feels the excitement building inside him, ready to be pushed to his limits and see what he’s truly made of.
“First thing tomorrow morning, we get started,” John says. “Don’t be late.”
Dan turns and walks away. As he steps out of the gym, the cool night air hits him like a wave, and he can’t help but feel a sense of anticipation building within him. It’s the chaos of the chase. Boy, does he ever miss the chaos.
Here we go.