The Best Arena
The bell has rung, echoing throughout the ringside area, and Mike Best takes his final moment to bask in tonight’s victory before making his exit from the HOFC cage…and, seemingly, stepping away from his in-ring career once more.
This leaves us with a broken, dejected Xander Azula being checked on by the ring crew and a medic inside the cage…but the Fighter shoves them away, staggering as he slowly gets to his feet with a snarl on his face.
He looks to the crowd inside the Best Arena, surveying the response from those who just witnessed the final step on his unsanctioned path, a path he spent all year building for himself…and while there is a smattering of applause from those who respect his tenacity, the reaction is very much against the man who flew too close to the Son with nothing but a hope, a dream, and a pair of wax wings that failed him in the fourth round.
Xander’s face softens as he mutters under his breath, forcing an immediate chuckle followed by a sigh as he steps out of the cage, hobbling slightly as he makes his way toward the entranceway. He looks up at the HOV, which shows us footage of Lee Best in the process of a trade of some sort in Russia, and the Fighter just shakes his head before heading to the back.
He steps through the curtains and out of line of sight of the HOW faithful inside the Best Arena. Backstage, the Fighter refuses to look anyone in the eye as he hobbles toward the locker room…ignoring stagehands, ring crew, and even his own fellow disciples as he arrives at his locker, opening it to stare at his belongings for what seems like an eternity.
Eventually, he starts to collect his things, pulling out a duffel bag as he finally has the strength to look his compatriots in the eye, accompanied by another sigh.
“Let’s go home.”
His crew nod in agreement, as they quickly take their leave from the locker room. They interact with precisely no one as they make their way through the backstage area, barely acknowledging what’s happening around them as ICONIC continues.
Xander’s focus is not on who comes out holding the HOTv Tag Team Championship, or the LSD Championship, after what is sure to be a hell of a battle. He does not bother himself with what’s to come of Harrison facing Fuse, or Clay Byrd about to go to war with Christopher America in the main event for the World Championship. All he can think about is getting out of the Best Arena, to go home, and to sort out his next steps.
After all, the machine rolls on…and so too must Xander Azula.
It’s been a long, cold winter for this ol’ Fighter.
I left immediately after the mess that was my defeat at ICONIC. I could barely stomach sticking around the Best Arena after that, just trying to get the hell out as I made my way to my broken-down van and headed to Midway International to catch a flight home.
That’s right, Midway. Only winners get to fly out of O’Hare.
Oh, I can hear the question popping up from you now.
“But wait, what happened to the van?”
Sold it at the rental place, folks. The story isn’t all that interesting, I was hurting for cash by this point, the flight reservation took a lot out of me and I got tired of making the long drives in something that could barely handle life on the road…a bit like ol’ Xander Azula, if I’m being honest here.
So that’s the long and short of it. I went the hell home, and I stayed the hell home. I only answered one phone call the entire time…the HOW office, wanting to negotiate terms for my 2023 contract. The unsanctioned path I took had its toll, and that came in the form of far less bargaining power than I’d hoped for.
I will remain true to everything I’ve stripped away to become a fighter at my core…but those HOFC fights are no longer fully in my control. So, we shall see what the future holds.
I will, and I cannot stress this enough, make the best of every opportunity that comes my way this year…because I have a feeling those opportunities will be few and far between.
I will not let my wheels spin, I will not wander aimlessly through the desert while I try and pick myself back up. I will rebuild, I will bounce back from this…and I will make everyone’s business my business as I get back to where I belong.
Thank goodness for new beginnings.
Long Beach, California
Xander had zero desire to hang around the Best Arena for HOW’s first show of the year, even with the promise of a number one seed in the tournament to crown a new contender to the LSD Championship. Instead, he opted to stay home where he can watch the goings-on from the comfort of his quarters…and scout his competition, without the usual trope of watching from the commentary booth or backstage.
He paid special attention to the bout between Darin Zion and Scott Stevens, his eyes fixated on the television as the two went to war for the honor of advancing in the tournament. Both men faced the wrath of an angry Fighter last year, but he had every reason to believe the winner of this bout would face him next week…and the eventual winner of the contest strikes a nerve in Xander as he watches Darin get his hand raised.
“Damn. Damn, damn, damn.” Xander blurts out, his frustration very evident as he stands up, raising his hands to his head. This leaves a bit of confusion from his fellow disciples, namely Mysti who pipes up after a moment’s hesitation.
Xander just lets out a heavy sigh, motioning to the television as Darin can be seen continuing to soak in the celebration.
“Scott Stevens is a question that has already been answered, but Zion? I’ve faced him before, and I have not answered the question of how to defeat a man trying to rebuild…”
Xander stops, realizing the weight of the words coming out of his mouth…which slowly turns into a smirk, and then a grin.
“…just like me.”
It’s something of a turning point for the Fighter, who has largely spent his winter break moping about the fact that he couldn’t get one over on Mike Best…but here, in this moment of watching a fledgling rival secure a spot across from him next week, Xander could feel the wheels turning in his head. The plotting, the scheming that comes from figuring out his next steps. He now has a big opportunity ahead of him, not only to advance in the tournament but to strike down Darin Zion and finally gain a sense of closure.
After all, the machine rolls on…and so too can Xander Azula.
Oh boy, here we go.
Hello, Darin…I knew we’d come back to this eventually. Our paths were destined to cross again sooner or later…and it’s rather appropriate that it’s happening now, the start of a brand-new year for both of us in HOW.
I’m sure you remember me taking you out at March to Glory last year, just to add insult to injury after you lost to Jatt’s alter-ego. I put you out of your misery with the first strike of the Snub and moved on to my unsanctioned path of violence for the rest of the year…and you languished, struggling to figure out what the hell to do with yourself until you essentially disappeared from the radar of High Octane Wrestling.
I hope it’s been eating away at you for all these months, Darin. I hope it makes you mad as hell that we haven’t had a chance to cross paths since that night last March. I hope you’re chomping at the bit to try and kick my ass when we finally face off at Chaos, a chance to advance in this LSD Championship contender tournament up for grabs.
Because the angrier you are, the more susceptible you are to making mistakes…and like a shark sensing blood in the water, I am prepared to feast on your folly.
I am at my absolute best when I have a weakness to exploit…and you’d better believe I’ve been sharpening my senses over the past couple months.
The path I walked ended with a bit of a stumble at ICONIC, but that has only managed to light a fire under my ass over the course of the winter break. It got me thinking…if I can’t have my happy ending, why should I let someone else have theirs?
I’ve seen you slowly rebuilding yourself over the past few months, embracing REAL LOVE to fill that void in your life as you started picking up some wins here and there, most notably picking up that crucial win over Scott Stevens last week to advance in the tournament.
I’ve watched you start to get your hopes up again as you find yourself on the road to success upon your return to HOW…but that road has reached a dead end, Zion.
It ends with me.
Just as it should.
There will be no love when that bell rings, Darin Zion. No mercy, no pity will be afforded to you…there will only be violence and brutality.
Like you, I am in a state of rebuilding. As I walked my unsanctioned path last year, I planted the seeds of what’s to come…and now, things have begun to take root.
The rough end to my year left me with a problem…and my problem is gonna be everybody’s problem, until I get what I want.
What I deserve.
And the first step is beating you from pillar to post, and ending your little hero’s journey at Chaos. You can go back to hanging around with your Love Convoy, and scramble for something else to cling onto as I move on to bigger and better things.
And, when all is said and done, we will go our separate ways once more.
Because I will finally take that win I crave over the ever-resilient Darin Zion, and I can watch the roots dig in deeper as I take control of my career once again.
And that, Darin, is far worse than tough love…it’s simply reality.
Midway International Airport
“Only winners fly out of O’Hare.”
A familiar statement is uttered by Xander Azula as he steps out from the terminal, his luggage firmly in hand…but now, with the sense of fury in Xander’s face and body language, that statement seems to be a goal as he and his followers head toward the nearest taxi stand.
As a cab arrives, the group makes haste to get in and take the ride available, Vagn Dahl tasked with getting the luggage into the trunk as Xander, Mysti, and Thomas Crowne cram themselves into the back seat. Naturally, this leaves Vagn to grab the front seat, much to the surprise of the driver as the big man squeezes through the frame to sit down. After a moment of silence from all involved, Xander speaks up to let the driver know where the group is headed.
“Getaway Hostel, please.”
A strange, curious spot to stay for the next couple nights, but considering the plan was to head right back out for the upcoming road trip heading to March to Glory, Xander knew better than to waste money on something like the Holiday Inn.
The driver just nods in acknowledgement, giving a quick stare at Vagn in the passenger’s seat before pulling away from the taxi stand. Xander considers his next steps, confident that his plans to succeed would take root and keep him planted firmly in the title picture of his choosing. Xander chuckles to himself, the weight of defeating his former partner not at all lost on him.
After all, the machine rolls on…and so too will Xander Azula.