April 3rd, 2021
“So Sektor traded in cross-dressing to be a furry,” I mumble in amusement.
“Glad that’s your big takeaway from tonight,” Lindsay rolls her eyes, unamused.
“Hey,” I begin, taking note of her mood. “It’s not the only takeaway…”
We’ve since departed The Best Arena and relocated to Lindsay’s house, taking up sanctuary on her back deck underneath the white primed cedar pergola. We are tucked away in the far corner, conversing around her glass top cafe table. Planted firmly in one of the metal framed swivel chairs, I sway back and forth whereas Lindsay leans up against the white framed privacy lattice.
“Sorry,” she offers, sincerely, looking beyond me with her arms crossed. “I’m not much in the joking mood right now.”
“Okay, tonight could have gone better,” I lean forward, resting my arms atop the table. “But all things considered, it wasn’t terrible by any means.”
“It wasn’t terrible? You got jumped by Laurel and Hardy, and we’re still fighting on our back heels against the BA.” She pushes off the center two by four of the frame, now pacing back and forth. “Not to mention that I should’ve beat Harrison.”
“Woulda, coulda, shoulda.” I react without thinking, quickly taking a sip from my can of Diet Coke while trying to ignore her ice cold stare at my flippant remark. “You’ll get another opportunity. War Games is still two months out, and you know Lee is gonna keep sending his ruffians our way, trying his damndest to make sure we don’t make it.”
Like fuck I let that happen two years in a row.
“Oh, you mean like what happened with StarrSek tonight?”
“That? Pfft.” I lean back in the chair, ignoring the minor discomfort that began to set in hours prior. “That was nothing.”
“Bullshit, it was nothing.”
“So what? I got roughed up a bit. No big deal. I feel great.”
“Uh huh.” Lindsay looks down the bridge of her nose at me. “Talk to me in the morning when that adrenaline wears off. Let’s see how great you feel then.”
Oh how I wish she was wrong. I’ve been on the receiving end of my share of ass kickings throughout my career, and I know the worst is yet to come. After the show went off the air and High Octane officials separated The Best Alliance and The 214, it wasn’t long before I started to feel every stricken area across my body. I decided to rinse off in the shower, and while the water pulsating on my skin was soothing, once I got out, the throbbing slowly flared up. I did a quick examination in the mirror and took notice of the reddish welts developing with an underlying purple beginning to surface.
“Okay,” I sarcastically dismiss the prediction that I know will come to fruition. “Well, those disappointments aside, we grew, and that’s no small feat in this current landscape. Conor is a huge get by us.”
Lindsay bites the inside of her bottom lip, nodding while looking nowhere in particular. “He really is.”
“And he loves video games. Talk about a great team bonding activity.” A sense of excitement quickly grows as I tap on my temple. “Hey, he’s Canadian too, right?”
“Think he has NHL 21?” I ask, not waiting for an answer. “We could do a franchise mode together. I’m open to playing as any team really, just not the Bruins. Gross. We can create our players, but we gotta lie about our ages though. Well, unless you want to retire in like three seasons. Uh, no thank you…”
I look up at Lindsay and notice an astonished look has crossed her face: eyes wide, mouth slightly open. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know something I’ve said has offended her, or isn’t sitting too well. Replaying my prior comments in my head, I think I know where I might have gone wrong.
“Okay,” I put my hands up, trying to wave off her shock. “We can be the Bruins.”
“That’s not…ugh, what have I done?” She places her hands over her eyes, shaking her head. “Just forget all that.”
“I’m not being the Bruins…” I mumble.
“Even with Conor joining, we’re still outnumbered six to four,” Lindsay continues, ignoring my statement. “We’re still going to face an uphill battle, week in, and week out.”
“Sure, but it’s nothing we can’t handle. I have every bit of confidence in the world in us.”
“I do too, that’s not what I’m saying,” she pulls out a chair, slumping down into its seat. “But we need to be smarter. You getting jumped shouldn’t have happened. Approaching Conor could have waited for all three of us. Those numbers work against us when we’re together, and tonight proved how bad it can be when we’re separated.”
It was pretty bad.
Pursing my lips, I nod in agreement. I slowly reach a hand across the glass surface, pushing my phone off to the side. Grabbing one of Lindsay’s hands, I stroke my thumb back and forth across her silky smooth skin. Our eyes lock, and she finally lets a small smirk break through.
“I get it.” I raise my brows before playfully continuing. “You guys hung me out to dry tonight. But I forgive you.”
“Fuck you.” She rips her hand away, letting out a snicker, leaning back in her chair.
A peaceful silence soon falls between us after the laughter stops. Gazing up between the beams of the pergola, the night is clear and the stars appear to be shining brighter than usual. A comfortable breeze blows across the deck as I look down and across the table, our eyes locking with one another once more.
Sure, tonight hasn’t been the best night for either one of us, professionally speaking. The company of each other certainly makes it easier to deal with though.
Subtly disturbing the silence, my phone begins to dance atop the table. Grabbing onto the device, a push alert for the weekly High Octane press release begs to be opened. It’s routine to receive such an alert hours after Refueled, but what was unusual this time around is the quantity of messages littering my inbox immediately after. Clicking on the link, I begin to read through the announced card, working my way from the bottom up. It doesn’t take long, but my eyes are soon fixated on the advertised main event…
And it’s fuckin’ huge.
“Well ain’t that the shits.” I grumble, letting the phone drop from my hand as my current reality begins to set in.
“Next week, it’s me versus Jatt,” I exhale, feeling the tightness in my ribs a little more this time. “I get my LSD Championship Match. Falls Count Anywhere.”
“…Those fuckers…” she smiles, but is by no means happy.
“Those fuckers, indeed.”
“Lee gave them the heads up,” Lindsay says, her voice rising with frustration. “That’s why they jumped you tonight. They fucking knew.”
“Honestly, should we expect any less at this point?”
“No, but fuck that and fuck them.” she shoots up from her chair, pressing her hands into the metal edged frame of the table. “We’ve got a week to get you ready and feeling as close to 100% as possible. They’re going to regret what they did tonight.”
Taking that LSD Championship will certainly convey that message.
“…I know just the guys to help,” I sigh, immediately weighing the pros and cons. “Given the short turnaround I’m facing…it couldn’t hurt…”
“Well, there’s Larry…” I begin, hesitating to spit out the other name as it bounces around my skull like a ping pong ball.
Yes. No. Yes. No.
“Your brother, okay. He was in the military, right?
“Yeah, he was.”
“Alright, who else?”
Lindsay tilts her head, the name not ringing a bell. “Who’s that?”
“One of mine and Larry’s childhood buddies. He’s intense, but extremely skilled when it comes to Combat Sports.”
“Okay, that’ll work in your favor. What’s the catch?” she asks, easily picking up on my reservations.
Where the fuck do I begin?
“Let’s just say Sock can be a bit … unconventional … in his approach.”
April 7th, 2021
Saint Louis, Missouri
The Boxing Gym
My forearms are pressed firmly against the brown brick pillar, my left hand overlapping my right. Leaning forward, my body weight digs into the top of my hand through my sweat soaked forehead, the bone on bone uncomfortable, yet relaxing all at once. My breathing is heavy and shallow, each inhale piercing as if a knife were tearing into my ribcage. Looking down at the left side of my torso and the site of my suffering, it looks as if it were an artist’s canvas that’s been abstractly painted purple and blue with contrasting streaks of yellow. My eyes shift further downwards, examining the morning’s protein shake that has vandalized the sidewalk beneath my feet and the soles of my shoes, having evacuated my stomach moments prior.
“I like her,” Larry says, his calloused hand slapping my bare back. “Don’t fuck it up.”
Rolling my head across my arm to look over at my big brother, he stands facing me, but his eyes are shifted back towards the front window of The Boxing Gym. With a deep exhale, I push off the pillar, dropping my hands down to rest on my hips. Peering through the front window, beyond the sea of equipment, Lindsay and Sock are posted up in the far corner, leaning against the outside edge of the ring, conversing with one another.
“She’s great.” I push out in between breaths, a slight smile curling.
“I don’t know what I was expecting, but she checks all the boxes, bro,” he uses his pointer finger to swoop an oversized checkmark. “Huge upgrade over the likes of Zoey.”
“There’s no comparison.” I keep my response short, fighting to catch my breath.
“That being said,” he begins with a hint of judgement. “You really didn’t set the bar very high with that one.”
“This coming from the guy who’s been divorced three times.”
“Fair enough,“ he shrugs off my jab as a shady smile grows underneath his moustache. “Man, I can’t wait for them to meet.”
Sliding a wide eyed gaze back towards Larry, I shake my head back and forth. “Now why the fuck would you want that?”
“Why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t you!?” he asks slash demands while motioning over towards Lindsay. “Zoey has a special gift for crossing lines that she shouldn’t even be approaching. Now imagine Zoey playing hopscotch with that line when it comes to her.”
I’ve watched her topple Titans within our Industry.
“I’d rather not.”
“Dude, she’d get knocked thee fuck out!” he laughs.
“Lindsay wouldn’t do that,” I briefly dismiss his proposed scenario before looking back through the front window. Lindsay is far enough away that reading her lips is impossible, the details of her conversation with Sock an unknown. What I can see, though, is her now standing face to face with my childhood buddy, phantom elbowing into her left palm. “Oh fuck. She just might.”
“Fingers crossed,” he wishes, holding his hand high, crossing his fingers. “Hey…speaking of…”
“Not interested.” I cut him off.
“You don’t even know what I was going to say.”
“I don’t want to know,” I bluntly reply.
“It’s just,” he pauses, internally navigating his approach. “Dad wanted to…”
“Larry,” I cut him off once more, a bit of bass added to my voice. “Not right now.”
“Okay,” his hands pop up, not pressing any further.
“Thank you,” I say, sliding my hands down the front of my nylon shorts, gripping onto my knees.
That feeling in the pit of my stomach once again begins to stir. My back arches and I drop my head down. I start dry-heaving once more, but the contents of my stomach have already moved out, leaving nothing but the taste of bile in my mouth. As my eyes bulge and stray tears roll down my cheeks, I can’t help but again question the decision to invite both Sock and Larry to Saint Louis to run a condensed fighter’s camp in preparation for Refueled LVIII.
The two of them are more than qualified to run such a camp, but their styles are vastly different. Sock specializes in boxing and mixed martial arts, whereas Larry has done multiple tours of duty and now holds the title of Drill Sergeant at the Ontario Police Academy. Both training methods are extremely effective, but have a tendency to clash with one another during such a constricted timeframe. Factor in my battered, aching torso and my regular training regiment, and it’s not unreasonable to describe the past few days as complete fuckin’ hell.
I’ve been waging war against my own body.
It’d be a lie if I said the idea of quitting hadn’t popped into my head once, or twice, or a dozen times already. Every drop of blood that falls, every bead of sweat that forms, and every tear that rolls carries the thought of quitting. And every time it does, two very specific words begin to echo within my ears.
Much like they are right now.
The voice I hear isn’t Larry’s, as his lips are clenched shut, and he doesn’t seem to hear the cruel taunt either. Looking left to right, the sidewalk stretching the front of the building is empty, save the two of us. The wind slightly whistles by as thunder rolls in the distance and the odd crack of lighting rips through the sky. The light drizzle falling from above bounces off the hood of our SUV parked out front, the rest dancing across the mostly vacant parking lot. Those words have begun to get louder, muffling all that background noise. They slash at me relentlessly.
The voice is familiar.
The voice is mine.
Oh For. Oh For. Oh For.
I’ve challenged for the World Championship against Cecilworth Farthington, and lost. I’ve challenged for the Tag Team Championships against the eMpire and StarrSek, and lost. I’ve challenged for the LSD Championship against Max Kael, and lost. Every Championship opportunity I’ve ever had, it’s been squandered every single fuckin’ time.
Each of those losses has mentally broken me to the point where the thought of quitting has entered the picture. But I’m a stubborn fucker, so I haven’t, and I never will. It sucks to lose, and it’s something I’ll never get used to or learn to be content with. But I also needed those experiences. I had to live them so I could learn, adapt, and improve. I need those failures to pave the road that leads to success.
It’s time I erase that ‘Oh.’
“You all good?” Larry asks as he hands me a bottle of water.
Breathing in deeply, I focus on the pain. Slowly exhaling, it hurts a little less, or so it seems. Standing up straight, I take a sip and swish it around in my mouth, washing the bitter taste away, then spitting it out. The next sip is swallowed, soothing my burning throat. “Never better,” I nod with a smile.
The entrance door to the gym swings open, the ringing of the overhead bell accompanying the squeal of it’s hinges. Sock’s stocky frame fills the threshold, with one hand firmly pressed against the glass of the door, the other pointing aggressively my way.
“Hey, gossip girl,” he mocks, “done being dramatic?”
“Fuck off,” I quip.
“Ready to get back to work?”
Taking a final gulp from the bottle, I hand it back to Larry. “Let’s do it.”
One Hour Later
Running my hands through my hair, I finger comb it back, pulling the dripping strands from line of sight. Lindsay circles within the ring while tightening her ponytail as I mirror her lower based shuffle. Skirting closer towards one another, we take the cautious approach of reaching into the neutral collar and elbow tie up. It lasts ever so briefly as I make the first move, transitioning into a side headlock. I wrench firmly, waiting for a knee to give way before flipping her onto her back with a side takedown, maintaining my hold.
“Stop taking it easy,” I gibe.
She swings her hips upwards, wrapping her legs around my head. As she clamps down, I have to push into a bridge to temporarily alleviate the pressure of her head scissors. Composed, I drop to my back, following with a kip up, landing on the balls of my feet, somewhat off balance. Turning around to charge, Lindsay is waiting to sweep forward, hitting a drop toe hold. As quickly as my chest hits the pine, she has smoothly slid up my back to apply a headlock.
“You’re in a shitload of trouble if this is me taking it easy,” she says, her grin bleeding through into her voice.
Pushing up from my stomach, I’m able to use my weight to my advantage, gaining the much desired vertical position. Spreading my base into a modified squat position, I lift her up into the air, but she quickly contorts her torso while yanking downwards, using my once advantaged weight difference against me. Her side takedown is flawless as I tumble onto my back, the pressure of her headlock not releasing at any point.
“C’mon Ted, figure it out,” Lindsay wrenches the hold in tighter. “Falls Count Anywhere doesn’t mean wrestling’s off the table.”
It’s my turn to latch on with a grounded head scissors, but I don’t get the same leverage she did as she easily squirms free. In a mad dash to our feet, the safe approach into one another is again resorting to the collar and elbow tie up. Jockeying for position, I’m able to get her stumbling backwards towards the frayed ropes, but she spins causing me to stumble forward. She digs her heels in, pushing me up against the untightened boxing rings ropes. I make the quick decision to drop and shoot for her waist, but before I can make my move…
A fiery jolt shoots up my torso, radiating through my armpit while simultaneously curving underneath my shoulder blade. The unexpected blow has my back contracting as if I’d just stepped into an ice cold shower stream. As the last breath occupying my lungs blows out, I crumble to my knees, struggling to breathe in. Lindsay is quick to join me on the sweat stained canvas, dropping to a knee in front of me, placing a gentle hand on my shoulder.
“What the fuck are you doing?” she yells.
“He’ll live,” I hear Sock shout back. “We’ve gotta turn this up a notch. Chain wrestling will be useless come Saturday.”
Turning to look outside the ring, Sock antagonistically stares at me. I scan my surroundings to try and find what just smashed into my side, but I can’t help zoning in on his unfurling shit eating grin. His arms are draped at his side, but he soon makes his big reveal, pulling into focus a Louisville Slugger reminiscent of the one Jatt wielded at Refueled. His right paw holds onto the handle tightly while he rhythmically taps the barrel into his cupped left palm.
“Are you insane?” Lindsay snaps, standing up.
“I’ve been accused of worse,” Sock states, lowering the bat nonchalantly, the end cap now resting atop the charcoal interlocking floor mats. “This ain’t gonna be no technical showdown. You, my friend, are walking into a fight where anything fuckin’ goes. It’s time we redirect our focus and start preparing for the unpredictable nature of what lies ahead.”
“It’s exactly what Jatt’s going to do,” Larry chimes in. “That injury is his competitive advantage. Teddy foiled The Best Alliance’s Plan A by choking Sektor out. He forced them to call an audible, so they moved on to Plan B.”
“Yes, that’s what Jatt is going to do,” Lindsay stalks over to the ropes, throwing daggers with her eyes. “That’s not what we should be doing. Training doesn’t mean injuring Ted even further before the match even starts. That’s not the point of this camp.”
“Just trust me,” Sock says to Lindsay. “This ain’t our first rodeo. Besides, that was only a love tap.”
“A fuckin’ love tap!?” I’m finally able to spit out.
“Eyes in the back of your head,” Larry shouts. “You’re gonna need ‘em.”
“Now get the fuck out here.” Sock doesn’t request so much as demand.
He slowly begins to back up, creating space for me to make my exit from the ring. I slide underneath the bottom rope, using the steel edge of the squared circle to support myself while attempting to regain my bearings, which is proving to be a difficult task. Ignoring Sock’s loving touch, my lungs are absolutely blown up at the moment. StarrSek’s targeted assault was guaranteed to make the most basic of movements difficult in the days that followed, but countless hours of training have been undertaken since Monday, which easily is contributing to my current fatigue.
Looking back at Sock, he’s put quite the gap between the two of us, his back pressed up against the red paint chipped wall. He releases his hold on the northern white ash bat, standing it against the wall, leaning the knob against the concrete surface. I begin to stagger forward, briefly glancing over at Lindsay, who has since reluctantly joined my brother off to the side.
“You heard Jatt, right?” Sock asks, taking one step forward. “Earning this opportunity by beating four third rate wrestlers means fuck all.”
“Or were you unconscious by that point?” Larry snipes.
Oh I heard him. I heard everything he had to say.
“And beating Sektor?” Lindsay spits the question at Sock with an agitated tone.
“That win was a fuckin’ fluke,” Sock responds. “That too means fuck all in the grand scheme of things.”
Sock has developed a bounce in his step, beginning to circle me much like Lindsay did in the ring. I crouch lower, making sure to tuck my left arm tight to my ribcage, trying to create a shield of sorts. He shoots forward, dropping to a single knee while tucking his chin into his chest. I’m able to keep my base, tossing him off to the side.
“How are those wounds, pappa?” he prods.
Sock shoots forward once more. I attempt to reach out with my right, but he swipes my arm away, latching onto my legs. A brief struggle ensues, but I quickly find myself airborne, slamming back first into an Everlast Heavy Bag, before crashing onto the ground. My blood is now boiling, and I can feel my face turn red with the heat of anger. Oddly enough, each breath I take in feels smoother, even after being driven into the lightly padded ground.
“That Championship ain’t going anywhere!” Sock yells.
My arm remains tucked in as I drive my free palm into his forehead, desperately pushing him away. I roll onto my stomach, trying to scramble back to my feet. It proves to be all for naught, as he’s latched himself onto my back, wrapping his legs around my waist. I grab onto his arm as he pries and digs with it, trying to press it against my throat.
“YOU.ARE.NOT.LSD.MATERIAL.” he mocks, pausing after each word, edging closer to locking in his choke.
I’ve reached my limit. I’m fuckin’ over this and I’m done with the bullshit. I’m done squandering my opportunities. I’ve come too far to not take what’s mine. It no longer matters who, or what, Lee Best puts in front of me. I don’t care how big The Best Alliance grows. And it sure as hell doesn’t matter how many times StarrSek gets the jump on me.
I won’t fuckin’ quit.
The final syllable is barely able to leave his mouth before I push his arm forward enough to sink my teeth into his limb. I clamp down, feeling multiple punctures in his flesh, my mouth soon filling with that metallic flavour. Sock begins to flail in distress, struggling to separate his forearm from my incisors.
I unclench my jaw, spitting my blood mixed with saliva onto the foam tiles below us. Darting forward, I use a bear crawl variant to get to my feet, turning around to square up with a kneeling Sock. With one swift, fluid motion, I drive my knee into his face, sending him sprawling back into one of the dangling leather punching bags.
“Thatta boy,” Larry calls out. “You got him.”
Marching towards the blood red wall, I grab the taped grip of the baseball bat. My chest is tight, and there’s a deep burning in my stomach. Turning around, I briefly notice Lindsay and Larry’s have developed anxious facial expressions. It’s not enough to kill my trance, as I walk with purpose towards Sock, whose face is resting in his hands.
“Ted…” Lindsay calls out as calm as she can.
I tighten my hold on the handle with both hands, taking a position similar to a batter in his box waiting for that first pitch. I begin to relive every single blow Jatt dished out. My stomach. My lower back. My ribs. My chest. My hands twist, the friction burning my fingers as I pull back, rotating my hips.
“Teddy!” her voice is louder, more urgent.
I swing, and the bat connects with well-worn black leather, mere inches above the crown of Sock’s head. The surface tears open upon impact, a rainbow of compressed fabric flying out from the mid sized gouge. I drop down to a single knee and use the wooden club to keep my balance.
“There he is,” Sock beams, tilting his head up to look at the damage above while wiping the blood from his nostrils.
“I’m going to be the definition of that division,” I whisper, leaning in. “That fuckin’ Championship is mine.”
Pushing through the bat to stand up, I look over at the rest of my support system. I toss the weapon in their direction and it clatters off the ground. It bounces towards the base of their feet before transitioning into a roll, eventually coming to a halt when it comes in contact with the toes of Larry’s shoes. He looks down at the bat, then up at me with a raised brow.
“Pick it up.”