“THIS IS AN OUTRAGE!! AN OUTRAGE, I TELL YOU!!!!”
I shouted irritably at Meredith as I continued to pace around the living room of my mansion in the Lake of the Ozarks. My fists tightened up, my chest inflated, my neck strained up, and the veins in my forehead protrude. Ten days had passed since I lost to Arthur Peasant. Normally, I could let a loss go and move onto my next match; however, it was the fouth straight loss I’d faced in 2021. The pattern continued emerging and I couldn’t help obsessing over it. Meanwhile Meredith kept concentrating on some racket on the television in the background. Those matters didn’t concern me. My problem was world ending!
I JUST HAD TO FIGURE OUT MY FATAL FLAW BEFORE MY NEXT MATCH AGAINST CLAY BYRD!!!
Byrd wasn’t a push over like every other new HOW talent. Lee Best never just pushed just any brand new recruit. Byrd’s resume spoke for itself; two dominant singles wins over HOW hopefuls; hardcore specialist, second generation Texas Wrestling standout with a stint over in Japan, and a former University of Texas football stand out. Byrd really had his life together compared to me.
I couldn’t take this match lightly, especially with the Best Alliance involved. I knew my history with Lee Best was rocky at best. He never really liked someone like me. While I have always marched to the beat of my own drum; Lee and I never saw eye to eye on my potential. I came from the Penguin Territory and we all know how well talent who migrated over from Crown Point, Indiana fared in Lee’s eyes. The Best Alliance made sure you paid extra dues when you came from a successful career elsewhere.
As the stakes of this match continued to wear heavily on my mind, I walked over to my picture window to survey the beautiful view of the Lake of the Ozarks. Rain began pouring down as I lost myself while I drew more conclusions about my loss. I scratched my chin while I muttered my thoughts aloud.
“It’s Hollywood’s fault! He always shows up at 11:59! He came in at the last minute when he could have cost Arthur the match. He’s always had my baaa…”
Deep down, I knew Hollywood stopped giving a shit about our partnership months ago. He only mentioned it 7,000 times in his promos the last 3 months. I couldn’t rely on his support against Clay Byrd and the Best Alliance. His allegiances waivered too much. Knowing my past with him; he’d stab me in the back for any chance to hit the reset button on his staggering career after another loss to Mike Best. Slowly, I paced around the window drawing blanks. As I closed my eyes, I replayed every moment of the match desperately searching for flaws. When I finally reached the match’s conclusion; the sound of Matt Boettcher’s hands striking the mat echoed in my head.
THUD! THUD! THUD!
Eureka! The lights finally came on in my head. Four weeks ago, I challenged the entire Best Alliance. Fed up with being their punching bag for nearly five years; I vowed I’d personally take them down. “BOETTCHER SCREWED ME! THAT’S IT!” I exclaimed. For years, Boettcher always watched over Lee’s best interests and I knew I’d placed a huge target on my back with that challenge.
Running over towards the couch where Meredith was seated, I gleefully shouted out, “There’s a conspiracy against me! Lee Best is bringing his hired cronies against me, Meredith. It was Lee Best all along!!!! He’s holding my career back. He’s placed the glass ceiling over me. I see it happening. It’s coming together. He’s…” Meredith shoots right up from laying down and watching television to glare right into my soul. Shaking her head in unbelief, she sighs as she reaches over for the remote and hits pause on whatever she’s watching to scold me.
“Do you ever stop and think to yourself, maybe it’s your fault you’ve fallen so far down the card?” She asks as I stop haranguing her for a moment to reflect on her words. Knots begin turning in my stomach and my eyes dart off her to a random corner in the house. Letting out a deep sigh, my shoulders tense up while she pulls my head towards the television as she replays my match against Arthur last week. My eyes fixate on watching the match. I’m desperately scratching and clawing for a victory in a frenzy. Each passing moment exposes my glaring weakness: my anger and frustration at losing.
“No…it’s not…it cannot be–” I stutter in disbelief while she starts flipping back to old tapes of my performances in PWX and HOW. Memories flash before me as I catch glimpses of my own self-confidence and swagger in those tapes. With chills running down my spine, my jaw drops in completely horror realizing how much I’ve changed over the last four years. I continue stammering, “This isn’t who I…I…”
“Look, I’m sorry that I have to show you this, Darin. It’s not easy for me to be honest either,” she said as she reached over and started massaging my back. Her eyes shifted down towards the hardwood floors knowing she’d struck me in the soul. Swaying back and forth on the couch, I silently lounged back while she finished her thoughts. “But I’ve been holding you back by just standing on the sidelines and cheering on your delusions of grandeur the last few months. I thought I was being a good friend, but I ended up holding you back. I finally dove into studying old tapes of you and Clay Byrd’s performances this past week and I couldn’t just let you sink more and more into despair.”
I lost myself deep in thoughts reflecting back on those early times in my career. Those days long escaped me as I sat here comfortably wallowing in my mansion. Never once did I desperately beg for attention in my heyday . Each match was life and death as I fought so hard to earn a paycheck. I didn’t have much after my parents passed away. The only hope I clung onto was the dream of making it in the professional wrestling industry–making it into HOW. I’d stagnated from that Zion. Maybe the entire roster was right; I had lost the core beliefs I once held when getting signed into HOW. I’d chased validation that I forgot that hunger burned deeply in my stomach.
While I closed my eyes replaying match after match over my entire 15 year career, I felt Meredith’s hand gently rubbing my back as my body relaxed. My mouth quivered and my eyes intensely glared at the television as I continued sitting back silently. Concerned, she asked, “What’s going on in your mind, Darin? You’re usually not this quiet.”
As Meredith kept staring at me, I endeavored to find the words. Shaking my fists vehemently, I barely muster out the words: “I just don’t want to become Hollywood..like Byrd…like them” I struggled to say the Best Alliance as my past interactions with them haunted me. Deep down, I knew I needed to be ruthless and fight dirty to beat them. It felt like I almost needed to sell my soul to win this war. I look back at her as if she almost understood my plight. She smiled back nodding as I continued:
“I just can’t keep spinning the wheels on reset after reset like Brian. I have to move forward, but I’m stuck at a crossroads. I can’t keep staying stagnant and blaming the Alliance and Lee for everything that goes wrong in my career. Something has to give! I need to fight and win this match and start earning my keep in HOW. But I just can’t shake this feeling like Lee’s trying to force my hand by sending out his newest young prospect. He’s forcing my hand to sell out because I’m the only HOW wrestler never to sell out to the Alliance, and…”
I scream as my body shakes as I process all my rage and emotions at once. Without hesitation, Meredith grabs my hands bringing me back into focus. She looks me directly in the eyes while she speaks. “Letting your emotions go is the first step in moving forward. Stay calm and focus when you step in the ring with Clay Byrd. He’s gonna be looking for any of your missteps. He wants to capitalize on your self-doubt so he can strike you down hard. You need to patiently wait to seize the right opportunity. I know you’ll struggle. You desperately crave this win. But I’ll be right there at ringside to refocus you every time. Trust me! Don’t overthink this match like you typically do. Just act!”
I was taken back for a moment. I couldn’t believe what I saw: I’d never seen Meredith invest herself in wrestling psychology since she started working with me. All she ever cared about was handling my flights and outside appearances–the bane of all wrestlers’ existence. She finally put together a training regimen for me. Color me impressed! While I still had doubts, I reached over to shake her hand and thanked her. I pulled myself off the couch and motioned for her to follow me.
“Come on; we don’t have any more time to waste. We’ve got four days left to prepare for Clay. I’m going to call one of the MVW trainees over to the house because you and I need to get in sync pronto. I know this is a change in strategy from our usual arrangement, but if I tune you at all, it will cost me another match.”
She leapt off the couch, smiling for the first time in months. I struggled including her in my strategies because I didn’t want to put her into harm’s way after what Max did to her months ago in my World Championship match with Mike Best, but now more than ever, I needed to surrender my pride. I needed Meredith’s help. Clay was counting on me getting lost within my pride like other Arthur did last week. If we couldn’t put this strategy in play; it costs me another opportunity at gold. I needed this win and I needed to stop settling for the scraps I’d grown accustomed to accepting. It was my time to shine and I knew my path to defeating Clay Byrd was going to be difficult. But I never really liked taking the easiest path to success. As Meredith and I headed to my Ozark training facility in the basement; deep in my soul; I knew changes were coming, but I never felt as confident like this in a long time. It was time for me to embrace change.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for you, Byrd. We share similar backgrounds. You lost your mother at a young age. I’ve lost both of my parents before I turned 18. We both failed at something we so desperately loved. You failed at football, I’ve struggled to find myself in this era of HOW. Impactful events change people’s lives. It makes you do crazy things.
But the one thing I refuse to do is hit the Easy Button.
You’re the classic example of a man who travels the path of least resistance. When you failed at your football career–you sought daddy’s validation in the professional wrestling business. You didn’t put in the damn work to strengthen your damn knee to become the best defensive tackle in the NFL. You quit and ran home to daddy to change career paths and enter the wrestling world.
Sure, you busted your damn ass over in Japan and the EWC to make it to HOW; I can’t take away those accomplishments from you. You’ve looked dominant in the last two HOW matches you’ve had and impressed me with your physicality. You’re one brutal bastard looking for fresh meat to sink his teeth into to continue to build your impressive resume.
But I can’t shake how you copped out of true greatness when you signed your soul over to Lee Best himself. You’ve already justified your decision: instant fame, fortune, and resources. It’s the same bullshit every Best Alliance member gives when they sell out.
I can already hear you scraping the bottom of the barrel of their recycled insults hoping I’ll become an emotional wreck for you to exploit. Let me guess, you’re focusing on the Zion-Matthews identity crisis? Maybe you’ve chosen to talk about my jealousy? Hell, maybe you’ve come to steal the oh-so-original “Brand X” bullshit Arthur Peasant threw out two weeks ago. Shit, maybe you’ve watched a Mike Best promo and borrowed the reset button jokes he threw at Hollywood and I last week.
That’s the easy way for you…later, rinse, and repeat the same old bullshit The Best Alliance wants you to believe about me. It won’t work this time. I know who I am now.
I could have chosen the Best Alliance a month ago after losing my LSD Championship opportunity match at March to Glory. Wrestling in HOW for years; I know Lee makes sure the men and women in his alliance are draped in gold. The Alliance uses underhanded tactics to secure victory through either the numbers game or the element of surprise. I’ve stood in the ring with them more times than I could count and witnessed it with my own eyes. After being stuck in limbo for two and a half years; it makes it that much harder to resist the temptation. I’ve missed holding HOW gold and when you see how much love and support Lee gives his loyalists; it grows tougher to resist that temptation with every loss that stacks up.
But I didn’t do that. I shot my mouth off because I never needed anyone’s validation for my career to be successful. I walked away from a good college education and career path my parents chose for me in order to pursue my dreams. Immediately when I announced my plans to pursue pro wrestling; they disowned me. I never got the chance to reconcile with them because shortly after I travelled off to California to train in the Battle Arena; they tragically died.
I never got a hand out from any veterans to attend wrestling school. I earned my tuition by working odd jobs. I did it through sheer determination. No friends gave me pity cash or parties. Throughout my career; they usually betrayed me. Hell, when I met my best “friend” Brian Hollywood; he stabbed me in the back multiple times in my days of training, PWX, and HOW to get ahead of me.
I had no support like you do in the Best Alliance when I won 17 championships outside HOW and 7 here in HOW. I did it all on my own. I put the blood, sweat, and tears as I focused to earn those accomplishments. Sure, I take pride in reliving the glory days too much, but I’m proud that I never once waived from my difficult journey to get to HOW.
You may have earned two wins in HOW; but you lack the moxie I have when you step into that ring. I won’t fucking quit and give up like you did in the NFL.
I know where you stand right now when we step into that ring at Refueled. You’re putting up the guard rails because you know I’m tired of stagnating. I’m poised to strike. You’re writing me off just like everyone else in HOW does. Your Lee Best’s shiny new toy and if you fail to beat the man he’s deemed a pathetic waste of his oxygen; he will cast you aside like yesterday’s news. Right now, you’re scheming damage control.
But I’m scheming victory. I’m not planning on resetting this time. I am who I am at this point. Time only marches forward. I’m progressing and evolving, making sure I put things into place to focus myself to keep moving forward. I’m not losing myself in your emotional warfare. I’m investing every effort to train hard and beat you.
You’re my reward this week because when I beat you; you’ll earn the distinguished honor of being the first Best Alliance member to ever lose to Darin Zion. I vow to tarnish your legacy and cement mine. I’m tired of settling for my resentment and anger. It’s been four years too damn long since I’ve crossed paths with the Alliance and it’s about damn time I pin one of you fuckers to the mat and prove I’m not your personal punching bag anymore.
I don’t need an Alliance or Union for validation. I will earn it on my own this week. It might be the most difficult and challenging wins of my career, but I promise you, Clay, I will not back down and I will walk out of Refueled with a win.”