Tom Brady is 44 and still winning Super Bowls.
Randy Johnson pitched a perfect game and led the National League with nearly 300 strikeouts at the tender age of 40– retired at 46 with winning records his last four years. Gordie Howe played games in over five separate decades, and still made two All-Star teams in his 40s. He played professional hockey until he was FIFTY TWO YEARS OLD. Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, Jaromir Jagr, Tiger Woods– elite tier, GOAT conversation level athletes play the game for as long as they can play it at the highest level.
I’m thirty five years old, Bobby.
Why am I still here? Why don’t I step aside and let the young guys “have their thunder”? Is that what you think I did, Robert? Do you think that I stole Conor Fuse’s thunder?
You’re goddamned right I did.
I walked down the ramp and I made Conor Fuse look up at the lights, during what should have been the biggest moment of celebration of his career so far. I stole his fucking thunder. I jumped the line and attacked the HOW World Champion, a young and hungry next generation star, because I want what belongs to him. I want his spot. I want his title. I want his thunder. At Bottomline, I took his thunder, and now I’m coming for the rest, because like I said, Bobby, GOATs play the game for as long as they can keep playing it at the highest level.
I am a professional wrestler.
I am not a professional mentor. I am not a professional spotlight sharer. Actors act, painters paint, and professional wrestlers wrestle. I do it better than anyone else on the planet at thirty five years old, undisputedly, and you want me to leave the playground so the other kids can enjoy the sandbox too?. What a whiny, cringey, entitled little jailhouse rant that was. You should be embarrassed. Embarrassed that you find it pathetic that I have a passion for professional wrestling. Embarrassed that you’re a grown man, making excuses and telling people I “sandbagged you”, and THAT’S why you never got to outshine me.
What a bunch of actual nonsense.
You’ve never been successful in HOW because you’re a lazy piece of shit. You don’t take your health seriously. You don’t take your job seriously. You show up when you want to, you flake when you don’t, and any time you get an iota of fucking momentum you throw it away like a used condom that feels icky to hold on to. All you former Bandits wear the same scarlet letter on your chests, and it’s a big fat fucking “E” for Entitlement.
Unearned entitlement, I might add.
Kobe never told Jordan he should retire so that other guys have a shot at being the GOAT. And if he did, Jordan would have kicked him in his pussy and told him to grow up, because he would have smelled that weakness on him. Killers don’t wait for their chance for the spotlight, Bob, they TAKE it. And you’ve made a career out of waiting for scraps and hoping they’ll get you over. Hoping that being knocked out by me will lead to a big break. Hoping that a loss to me will propel your own career forward. A career made up of being a footnote in the careers of those who took this seriously, while you were busier eating Little Debbies and waiting for the Bandits next nostalgia run.
I look at my trophy case at home, and it always feels empty to me. It always feels like I could do more. That I could win more. That I could level up just one more time, if I keep pushing. I work like hell to keep my body in shape. I work like hell to keep my mind sharp. I work like hell to keep ascending and ascending, because it is never enough. Nothing is ever enough. Because if I’m not climbing, I’m coasting, and I find that fucking unacceptable. I will not apologize for my desire to succeed, Bobby Dean. And you want me to ask you why you should “even bother” against me, but the truth is that I don’t really care.
I’m not here to convince you to do your job, Bob.
I’m not here to convince you to bring the fire, and get your life together. I’m not here to carry you back into the spotlight you think I’m afraid to share, cause I’ve done it a half dozen times and you’ve done fuck all with it. I’m here to wrestle you on Saturday night, and that’s the beginning and the end of my job.
You do whatever you wanna do, Bobby.
If you want to get your ass beat and add to the list of unfortunate things that happen to you when you wrestle me, then keep doing fuck all in your jail cell and don’t bother training for this match. You can take your ass kicking, make your excuses, and move on to whatever program you’ll half participate in next. And if you wanna give me your all and have a hell of a wrestling contest, cool, then do that instead. I’m not gonna make this personal, because it isn’t. I wanted to get back into the ring, and you’re the guy I drew. Maybe it was a bad booking. Maybe they should have paired me against one of those hungry “next generation” guys you like to talk about, like you’re one of them. Because those hungry next generation athletes are here for the same reason I am. That’s why I’m here.
I’m here to do my job, Bobby.
Not just the job.
“Nothing is ever enough.”
The words echo off the insides of his skull as though he’s screaming into a cave, tensing the nerves in his temples as he stares into the near-empty living room of a near-empty apartment in the depths of Printer’s Row. A few boxes remain stacked along the walls, waiting to be carried out to the truck parked in the driveway, the last remnants of his old life marked sloppily in black permanent marker.
“At least this one didn’t burn down.” he mutters to no one, running a hand through long, unkempt hair.
You could almost detect a hint of disappointment in his voice.
Nothing is ever enough. They were burned into his brain from the moment he’d uttered them to Bobby Dean in the first place. It had been over two months since the Son of God had stepped foot in a HOW ring before Bottomline, inside of a cage or otherwise. The passion project of a division that he’d poured his heart, soul and energy into for the better part of this year had amounted to pissing in the wind– no matter how much gasoline he poured onto the wood, it seemed the kindling was wet from the start. It was supposed to challenge him. To make him feel alive again. Instead, it was a revolving door of the same guys trying the same bullshit. Comedy acts and speech impediments. Conscripting opponents, because everyone was afraid to step up.
It was a colossal failure that rested firmly on his shoulders.
But the death of HOFC wasn’t just a failure, it was the death of a dream literally a decade in the making. The death of dozens of hours on the phone with Rob Michaels, spitballing ideas about how to branch it out into its own show. The death of so many nights begging Lee Best to give it a shot, and scheming out how it might work. The death of real excitement for Michael Lee Best, in an era when it was getting harder and harder to find something to be excited about.
Life was growing mundane.
“There’s a few boxes in the bedroom, too.” Michael calls across the empty apartment, to the men hauling the dolly across the hardwood. “You can leave the duffels, I’ll take them with me.”
He doesn’t look back at them, as he stares out the window to the street below. It’s nearly rush hour, and the chaos of the concrete jungle brings him a strange sort of peace. For a man who thrives on chaos like Superman thrives on Earth’s yellow sun, order is darkness. Mundanity and banality is a stifling box six feet deep, leaving him feeling buried alive. And maybe Bobby was right– on days like today, there is nothing the Son of God craved more than to bury his face in a pile of white powder and breathe deep until he’s numb, but even the idea of falling off the wagon had lost its luster.
Everything had lost its luster.
For the last six months, the Son of God had been reduced to a sideshow act, collecting a win, collecting a check, and collecting dust. Doing his taxes. Learning how to cook for himself from stupid YouTube videos. Living in a part of town with no friends and nothing to do but think about how fucking unexciting everything had become. Nothing had been fun. Nothing had been fulfilling. Nothing had any meaning. He’d started a brand new life, and it turned out that the brand new life he’d started fucking sucked. Not because it was on fire. Not because it was chaos. Not because there was anything wrong with it at all. It was a normal, mundane life.
And it was his absolute worst nightmare.
For nearly a dozen years, Michael Lee Best had been the King of the High Octane Jungle, and everything that the light touched belonged to him. A mighty lion on the hunt, wild and unpredictable, refusing to be tamed. And then, six months ago, he stood in the middle of a wrestling ring and put himself into fucking captivity. Became something for fat kids to gawk at in the zoo, a literal caged beast fighting for entertainment. In six months of HOFC competition, he’d maybe fought for a total of 20 minutes– arrive, throw a knee, and leave. Arrive, throw a knee, and leave. Arrive, throw a knee, and leave, as the fat kids clapped and cheered and then moved on to leer at the kangaroos. And he’d thought that captivity would bring him peace, but he couldn’t have been more wrong.
A beast needs to roam free.
A King is not meant to live in a cage.
A guy like Bobby Dean might be content to have his meals brought to him, but a King needs the hunt. So many nights he’d sat in an office, looking at the new contracts and seeing all the young faces in HOW. The new generation of talent whose thunder Mr. Dean had been so outspoken about. Conor Fuse. Kevin Capone. Jeffrey James Roberts. Guys he’d never been in the ring with, after ten years of wrestling the same guys over and over again. Shit, his own nephew Sutler had won the HOW World Championship and toppled a War Games, and even returning guys like JPD had seemingly come back with a new style and a new edge. But this wasn’t a case of “Have I still got it?”– he knows he’s still got it.
The question is… do they know?
“Hey man,” one of the movers speaks up, startling Michael from his thoughts. “Maybe it’s none of my business, but why would you ever move out of a place like this?”
It’s a fair question.
Michael taps his fingers against the windowsill, turning around and leaning against the frame. The mover looks like an assuming kind of guy– clean cut in a jumpsuit, probably a family man. Probably has a nice wife, a couple of kids, and a dog that barks when the mailman comes. Works hard every day, puts his nose to the grindstone, and doesn’t complain too much once he’s got a cold beer in his hands when he gets home. The American Dream in action, with a mortgage and two car garage.
He stops tapping, crossing his arms at the chest.
“It’s a great place.” Michael forces a wry smirk, trying to feign an emotion. “Just moving a little closer to my job. You guys almost finished up?”
The voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher answers him, a stream of words that probably mean something. The truth was that this apartment was just another compartment of the cage– a prison cell with a permanent ass print on the couch. A reminder that for all of his financial success, it turns out that money actually can’t buy happiness. He’d always thought that sitting at home collecting six figures was literally living the dream, but the dream was a fucking nightmare and there was only one way to wake from it.
He reaches out and takes a clipboard from the mover, putting the pen to the signature line just like he had a few nights ago at Bottomline. That familiar rush of adrenaline teases him with just the tip, as he remembers why he’s doing all of this in the first place. His hand glides across the clipboard, and he swiftly hands it back to the man in the jumpsuit.
“Perfect.” the mover glances over the page. “Plugged that address into my GPS though, you sure you got it right? It’s telling me that we’re delivering your stuff to–”
“Yeah”, Michael nods. “That’s the right address… SixTime Academy.”
If you want to be a lion, you have to train with lions. He’d made a promise that people might not forgive him for breaking, but it was either break a promise or break his spirit. Get back out on the hunt, or starve alone on a couch, watching his life devolve into nothing. HOFC was dead. His brother was dead. His marriage was dead, but he was still fucking alive. Growing metaphorically fat and lazy, slowly decomposing while the business that he loved continued to thrive without him.
It wasn’t allowed to thrive without him.
It’s time for the King to escape his gilded cage.