“The strength of a family, like the strength of an army, is in its loyalty to each other.” — Mario Puzo
It’s been awhile since we’ve done this.
One thousand, two hundred, and ten days, to be exact. I counted. Needed the help of a website – I’m not so smart as to be able do it off the top of my head – and I needed to jump forward to the date of Refueled 14, but it’s been that many days since you and I stood opposite each other in the ring, Dan.
Before that, it was seventy six.
Before DEFIANCE, it was thousands more.
You don’t really give a shit about that, though. And I suppose I don’t either. I care more about the inevitability of it all, about how we probably couldn’t have avoided this forever. Sooner or later it was gonna happen. I would’ve rather it have come to pass on our terms; not Mike’s, or Scotty’s, or even Lee’s. You and I can scheme and we can plan, we can try and course-correct, deciding what is and isn’t best for the Industry, but what we can’t control is fate.
It’s a cruel mistress, and it doesn’t always give us what we want, does it?
If it did, I would’ve been just a little bit better at ICONIC. You would’ve been, too. My match against Lee’s Bastard Child was secured; the Keys were in my grasp. You know me; I’m a planner. My plans have contingencies, and my contingencies have contingencies. It’s why I was able to recognize when Mike was slipping out of my submission. It’s why I was able to put him down for a pinfall.
But what contingency has a counter for weight-bearing leverage and a fistful of tights?
I’ve yet to figure it out, I suppose. Over twenty years in and I’m still a victim of the “gotcha” game. I’m not brand new; this isn’t the first time I’ve been beaten because of the cheekiness of extra fabric in my opponent’s hands, but it’s the first time in a damn long while that the defeat’s had consequences for more than just myself.
Because now we’ve all got to suffer the insufferable, don’t we?
I’m usually not one to dwell, but this isn’t something that I’m taking lightly. I won’t move past it quickly.
It won’t be enough to hear Mike crow about his victory, and trust and believe you know it’s coming, because now you and I and MJ and Jack all have to live through his spoils; the spoils I said he was looking ahead to, and that he grabbed out of my hands. One match after another in these opening matches of the LBI, we’ll be pitted against each other, and this will be a reminder of yet another roadblock that I couldn’t overcome since walking in the door of this place.
This place that has wanted me for so long but where success, like so many others before it, has not come easily.
Perhaps it’s no longer enough to show up night after night with a plan to simply compete and win. The stakes are higher now, and as much as I don’t want to give Mike any quarter with this “Group of Death” branding, we all know this is the lineup to beat. And with that comes a sense of urgency, one that I haven’t felt in quite some time.
Maybe you remember it.
A similar tournament structure with a similar “Group of Death.” The toughest, most talented assholes in the company tossed in one group. You weren’t involved, because you had DEF’s top belt, but I was. You remember my mantra, don’t you?
Match. Tourney. Title.
One match at a time. One opponent at a time. One step at a time.
Take the tourney.
Take the title.
Why should this be any different for the LBI?
January 27, 2020
The Ryan Estate
“I can’t believe they’re facing each other the first week.”
Cecilia Ryan stares at her propped-up phone while reaching over to retrieve a pita chip from the bowl next to her. A half-empty container of hummus is beside it and she dunks the baked wedge into the tangerine-colored dip, retrieving a healthy amount for her effort. On the screen are her cousins Ami and Kaz, each in their respective New England-area dorm room: Ami at MIT and Kaz at RISD.
It’s their weekly cousins Google Duo call; it doesn’t always happen on a Monday but the trio make it a point to ensure it does take place, even with the twins’ college course load and involvement in extracurricular events and CeCe’s wrestling training and the expectations that come along with the last year of high school.
Thousands of miles may separate them, yet they remain thick as thieves, just as Dan Ryan and Lindsay Troy have been for the better part of a decade and a half.
“I still can’t believe they have to face each other at all,” Kaz replies to his sister’s initial statement. “Mom had Mike. She had him pinned and then he…I dunno? Slipped out and grabbed her tights?”
“It’s bullshit,” Cecilia agrees, disheartened. “And the referee didn’t see it, because of course he didn’t.”
“They never do,” Kaz rolls his eyes. “They’re either blind or the fix was in.”
“But it doesn’t make any sense, though.” Ami runs her fingers through her short black hair and frowned. She’s the most analytical and empathetic one of the three, and the one – admittedly – least invested in the sport of professional wrestling. She cares because it was her mother’s job, and her father’s former job, and because her cousin was going to be involved at some point, but in reality her level of investment isn’t as high as her brother’s and Cecilia’s were. She’ll defend Lindsay until her dying breath, however. “Why would the referee be in on it? What’s the end game?”
“Because Lee Best is an asshole? You heard what he said at the end of the show before ICONIC,” Kaz replies. “He wanted Mike to ‘come home,’ and go into the pay-per-view and beat Mom.”
“He’s also wanted Mom on his roster for over a decade, Kaz. You’d think he’d put more faith in her instead of writing her off and then trashing her before the ICONIC main event. I know Mike’s not a slouch. He’s definitely a dick, but he’s not a slouch.”
“Ami, do you really think Lee’s going to pick her over his own flesh and blood, though? What kind of precedent is that going to set?”
“Guys, this is going nowhere,” Cecilia sighs. “And it’s depressing. Can we talk about something else?”
Ami gives her cousin a reassuring smile. “Sure, Ceese. How’s your training going?”
“Yeah, isn’t Mom on her way there now?”
“Actually…..she’s not coming this week.”
A look of surprise registers on Ami and Kaz’s faces.
“What?” Kaz says after a moment.
“Yeah,” Cecilia confirms. “She told me yesterday that she was going to stay in Chicago to start focusing on the Lee Best Invitational since she has Dad in the first round. She gave me a week’s worth of workouts to do on my own, asked me to video tape them and send them to her. She’ll be here on her off-week.”
Imperceptible grimaces from the twins.
“This isn’t going to be like the last time, is it?” Ami finally pipes up, her voice quiet and almost indistinguishable. “When they fought for months on-end and then didn’t talk to each other for over a year and we didn’t see each other for almost two?”
“No. No, it’ll be OK. This isn’t like that,” Kaz reassures his sister. “This is just one match. Although…”
“What?” Cecilia chimes in.
“Well, Uncle Dan probably didn’t help things with his dig against my Dad a couple days ago.”
Now it was Cecilia’s turn to grimace. Kaz had a point, as much as it pained her to admit it. Dan did like to bring up how he broke her uncle’s leg in DEFIANCE; he might even call it a badge of honor to have snapped Tyler Rayne’s leg in two after the Golden Boy stood up to him after the Ego Buster put her aunt on the shelf for two months. This is all part of a very messy time in their family’s history, and those wounds still haven’t been completely healed, in part because Dan hasn’t made the effort to completely rectify things with Tyler.
“But listen, Ceese, you know my Mom,” Kaz continues. “You know how she trains and preps for matches. I doubt what Uncle Dan said has any bearing on her not flying down to Houston to work with you. You know she’s not like that. She’d do anything in the world for you, and for us.”
“Yeah,” Ami confirms. “This tournament is a big deal. She’ll need to focus. So will Uncle Dan. Everything’s going to be fine, I’m sure of it.”
Cecilia smiles. “I know. You know I just want to spend as much time with her as possible so I can be the best that I can be.”
“Of course,” a smile from her cousins, the confirmation coming in unison.
“Just think,” Kaz continues, “after these next two weeks, you’re going to get a super motivated Lindsay Troy to train with. How many people can say that?”
It should be easy. Facing you, that is.
You ride the roads and fly the friendly skies for nigh-on sixteen years and the friendships you make and the bonds you forge should transcend any spirit of competition and any splinters that may seek to divide you.
Should, being the operative term.
You get in the ring, you face each other, and it’s just business. Shake hands at the end of it all and everything’s the same as it ever was.
We know each other better than anyone else, Dan. I’m confident you’d admit that.
But y’know something, my friend? You don’t make it easy. You never have.
And maybe that’s the point.
Has it ever really been about a “friendly rivalry” with you? I’m up 2-1-1 on you lifetime, and I know you’re looking to try and notch another L in my column and get a jump-start on momentum for this Invitational. And why wouldn’t you, as the new ICON Champion? This may be a non-title bout, but you want to keep your momentum as a newly-crowned champion.
For as long as we’ve known each other, your drive to be the absolute best at what you do has always been at the forefront of your entire being. It’s been more important to you than friendships and it’s been more important to you than family. A family you lost and didn’t have again until you met me and until I introduced you to my sister.
And sure, your desire to be recognized as the greatest our sport has ever seen isn’t some great secret.
But it has been the dividing point between us, hasn’t it?
It’s why you powerbombed me through a table to win the FIST of DEFIANCE, isn’t it?
It’s why you Headlined me through an announce table and tried to break my neck, right?
You conveniently left that out last week at Refueled. But you know I don’t forget. And I know, I know, that you continually bringing up what you did to Tyler is equal parts you being socially inept at knowing when to keep your mouth shut and you trying to get under my skin. It’s mind games. It’s what you do, and you are oh so very good at it.
But again, I know you better than anyone. This is to be expected.
And you know, you know, that family is more important to me than anything. I don’t have much of it left, and there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for me and mine. And you also know that when I’ve been wronged, I don’t easily forgive.
You know what you did to Ty hasn’t left its place under my skin. And you know you still haven’t made good on what you did to him, even though you know you should. You and I might have patched things up, you might have helped convince me to come back to the business last March, but these “jokes” you want to keep making?
You’re the only one in our family who’s laughing.
So where does that leave us, Dan? Round 1 of the Group Phase of the LBI, you riding high on your not-quite-a-win-but-still-kind-of-a-loss at ICONIC, me with the knowledge that I’m responsible for our group draw and with every semblance of motivation in the world to pull out whatever stop I can to run the table and make it to the knockout stage.
I’m due for a big wave of motivation, Dan. The SON of GOD’s shifty little stunt at ICONIC is exactly the catalyst I’m looking for to prove – not to Lee, not to Mike, not to anyone but myself – that EYE am the one to beat in the LBI.
Not The Field.
And once I see the other side of the group stage, and once I bulldoze my way through the knockout stage, I’ve got my sights set on The Champ Champ and rectifying that Loss* I suffered at Refueled IX.
I already know this ain’t gonna be pretty.
I already know I’m not the Fortunate One.
But maybe, just maybe, I can be the Victorious One come Saturday night…