It was a four-hour drive away, but worth every stretch of the pavement driven to get there.
Zeb Martin had seen plenty of abandoned rock quarries growing up. They were one of the best places to bring a six-pack and party when he and his friends needed a change of scenery from the typical dock landing or open pasture. However, the view he absorbed was nothing like the rocky gullies he’d launch empty bottles down into as a careless teen.
The fringe benefit of wrestling on a national platform had now afforded him the ability to see places he would have never had the means to do. This is how he’d found himself presently with nothing but the peaks and plateaus of the Grand Canyon in his line of sight. Once he’d made the short hike to the vantage point that was furthest from the parking lot, Zeb spent the majority of his time with a loose grip on the guard rail and staring out into the crevice. His left foot, clad in a tennis shoe, propped onto the bottom of the barrier. Loose-fitting cutoffs and the visible indentation of a snuff can in the back pocket, it was as if Joe Dirt had come back to where his parents had left him as a child.
The scenery here hadn’t exactly changed in centuries, but still Martin remained engaged. Despite the smattering of tourists who’d made their way to the exact same stop in the national park, his mind tuned out all of the surrounding noise. Completely engrossed in the splendor of how massive it all was. Nature had always been a soothsayer for the Watson Mill Kid: whether it was next to the mosquito-lined stagnancy of a slow-moving creek or the heavy roar of a waterfall. A short attention span was not a luxury afforded to fishermen, so these settings tended to keep Zeb fairly entertained.
For example, when his mind needed a new flavor of candy, he’d take a break from trying to scout out the most difficult spots of the canyon to climb and instead observe the flight patterns of the habitat’s birds. Hawks and falcons jockeying for 9s and 10s across the judging board, their aerials dazzling a one-man audience. It was the simple man’s meditation. A break from his latest obsession: paralysis by analysis.
His conversation with Joe Bergman in St. Louis had stuck with him. Although victorious alongside his new bit-happy buddy, he’d watched the match about a hundred times from Missouri to Arizona. So much so that one spot in particular would replay vividly in his dreams. Hoisting Steve Solex upside down, wanting every last drop of blood to pour into the bottom of his head to maximize the impact of the suplex. Dream Zeb always failing to learn his lesson, Dream Steve always able to slip the headlock and slither down his back. Once, it had been a literal slither: the veteran morphing into a giant anaconda. When Zeb turned around, he saw nothing but a fang-filled mouth ready to bite and swallow him whole.
Surrounded by addiction most of his life, Martin at least had the wherewithal to sense that “doin’ muh due dili-gents” was starting to become an issue. The little dark cloud over his head would always be the last time he took a little getaway prior to a huge match, though. Granted, this was just a day trip that happened to be in the same state as the event this weekend, but the R&R didn’t exactly help him in preparation against a highly-motivated Brian Hollywood. At the Gila River Arena, there’d be two highly-motivated competitors that he’d have to contend with, this time with higher stakes than just a notch in the loss column.
One of whom was the snake himself that had managed to find the AirBNB that the 214 currently occupied and ambush him while he slept. In addition to being fresh off a battle with him, Zeb had watched so much of Solex stomping his opponents that he could accurately guess his shoe size. He thought that he knew which of his body parts were the most vulnerable by now, but of course the inverse was true: Steve seemed to have Zeb equally scouted. Heck, the only way he was able to pop off the Hook, Line, and Sinker last time was to get the assist from a pinball-like Conor Fuse. This time around, the tacklebox might not have the right bait to cast him again.
The second was yet another returning High Octane legend. Zeb had been privileged to be on the roster just a little over a year today, and if he’d learned one thing, it was that no one came back to work for Lee Best with the intention of it being a quick farewell tour of duty. Jace Parker Davidson didn’t need to verbalize that, either: you could tell by the way that he wasted no time in delivering a receipt to Ray McAvay last week. Of course, his ego fell in line with the other members of the Best Alliance. Just because he didn’t have to say it doesn’t mean he won’t be the first to tell you.
Zeb of course was not too interested in his gift of gab. He was certainly intrigued by the double-underhook DDT that he had dubbed Unscripted Violence, though. It hadn’t yet gotten to the state of lucidity, but at times he could feel the hands of a man he’d not even grappled with clasp behind his back. Once that happened, Martin knew it was effective enough to make those tag titles change hands three seconds later.
It’d taken a while, but the winged predators eventually lost the attention of the Catfish Whisperer. Retrieving the can of wintergreen Kodiak from his pocket, Zeb thumped the container between his pointer and thumb before retrieving a pinch to place behind his lower lip. The sun had not quite yet touched the surface of the rock, but he had an evening of exercise to get to once he’d reached the city limits of Glendale.
He also had a new brain to pick. One of the guys responsible for the success of Missouri Valley Wrestling had already given him advice that had effectively paid off. Zeb was intrigued as to what their owner had to share with him in addition to a corner on Saturday.
Hopefully it wasn’t just golf tips.
“Kids in this here bidness like me, I reckon we all a lil’ bit star struck first couple uh times we gettin’ tuh share space with folks we grew up seein’ on TV,” Zeb admits, forever the beacon of the term “humble pie.” He sits perched atop a picnic table, arms rested on his thighs and hands folded together between his knees. The backdrop of the Grand Canyon not far behind him, it wasn’t that bad of a view for an address to the High Octane faithful. Taking full advantage of the warmer weather that Arizona had gifted him, a sleeveless Black Crowes shirt and denim shorts afford a little more natural glow to add to his artificially-tanned limbs.
“Thought I dun got passed it. Start tuh realize we all brothers’n sisters and ain’t nothin’ to age so long you showin’ proper respect where it’s been earned. But, ‘long come fellers like Ray and you right back tuh bein’ a fan again. Jus’ like one uh them crafted col’beers , you thank you experienced ev’rthang they is to ‘sperience and it knocks ya on yer butt with surprise,” he explains. “I shore am honored tuh tag up with uh legend who come tuh fly the two-fowteen colors wid us in HO-Dubya.”
“But I am old’nuff tuh know now that when that bell rangs, ain’t no mo time fer payin’ twenty bucks fer a picture and a autograph. Friendship might well be given wid a handshake backstage, but respect done earned ‘tween them three sets uh cables. Dang shore I wanna be a friend tuh Mr. McAvay, but I care mo’ ‘bout gainin’ his approval as a ‘rassler. And ain’t nothin’ mo important tuh me right now than provin’ I belong.”
“I’mma get two birds with one stone,” Zeb continues. “‘Cause they another legend I ain’t shared a ring wid aimin’ tuh make an example outta this ol’ Jawja boy on Saturdee too. JPD, you ain’t the first dun hold his nose at me and thank it’s jus’ another fresh pile uh dog shit you kin step around. And shore won’t be the last, neither. But y’all feel free tuh ask yer partner ‘bout what happens when steppin’ stones make ya sink tuh the bottom uh the crick.”
Martin flashes a sly grin as he adjusts the bill of his Levi Garrett cap and pulls it lower down his forehead. An indicator of his sobriety as a camera is pointed at him, shying away from the lack of a pre-taped monologue having the feel of natural conversation. Still not quite able to get used to the limelight.
“Not tuh say I’m makin’ promises. I’on’t know if you too big a fan of doin’ ‘rasslin homework, but it don’t take no Dewey Decimal system fer anybody tuh dig up my record when they’s a title on the line. I’ll save y’all the Google search: it ain’t been good. There again, sumptin’ ‘bout the spotlight shinin’ that has a tendency tuh shake me a lil’ bit. Fearin’ I’ll be exposed that I ain’t supposed tuh be here. Well,” he projects, “it’s been past time fer me tuh grow up.”
“This here place been a fine lil’ distraction this week, but I’m hoppin’ in that car ova yonder tuh carry my ass back tuh business at hand. Lookin’ fer new ways that I kin catch Solex tuh drop him on his noggin’, or makin’ shore I got eyes on the other so Ray kin put one of y’all on yer back. The Local’s ‘bout tuh give a whole new meanin’ tuh hard labor: makin’ shore the work’s put in well befo’ we punchin’ the clock. And lemme tell ya what: it ain’t go’n be quittin’ time fer me until the job’s done.”