People always let you down.
It sounds pessimistic, and maybe it is. Maybe I really am just a grumpy old man yelling at the clouds now and telling the kids to get off my lawn, but in my heart I feel like I’m not wrong. Friends come and go. Girlfriends become wives become ex-wives. Your job never loves you back and your coworkers aren’t your family. Hell, even your family isn’t your family— you bury your brothers chasing prizes, you war with your own father over LLCs and dynasties. You can smile real big and put your arm around someone you love, but the odds are that they’re eventually gonna let you down.
How many women have I sworn were the one?
How many times have I sat on the phone with Farthington, or Lee and scolded them for their skepticism? Swore up and down that it was gonna be different this time? New and shiny soulmates like so many dangling keys, keeping me rolling in my crib all night desperate for validation and attention. My ex-wife was gonna be different. Kitty was gonna be different. Riley and Morgan and Elizabeth were all gonna be different. The last one was gonna be different too— I don’t think I need Ron Howard to tell you that she wasn’t. That they weren’t. That you go back to zero every time… bottom of the rankings.
Had a dog I loved more than anything in the world, and then we had to put her down. Had best friends in high school I swore I’d ride or die with, and we did neither… just drifted apart. All living things die and all mortal bonds eventually break. Project Ego was forever. The eMpire was forever. John Eric Peter Watson doesn’t return my calls and Ethan Cavanaugh changed his phone number. Wedding rings and friendship bracelets are accessories, and eventually you wake up one day and realize they no longer match the color of your life.
Nothing you care about matters.
And it doesn’t care about you back.
Houses burn. Women leave. Brothers die. The nicest car in the world ends up in a junkyard alongside the ‘86 Chevy Novas, and all the money in the world doesn’t spend at the gates of Hell. It’s all temporary. All of this is temporary, and living your life for any of it is gonna let you down in the end. Quit your day job and pursue your dreams, as long as your dreams aren’t bullshit. Live in your fucking car if you have to. You can’t take any of this shit with you, so stop focusing on what you have now and start focusing on what you’re gonna leave behind.
All you have in this life is your legacy.
That’s the real reason I don’t quit, you know. It’s not that I’ve never wanted to— it’s that I physically can’t. No matter how much money I make, no matter how many championships I win, no matter how many times you grimace at seeing my name in the main event. You think I’ve never tried to find a hobby? You think I never get tired of waking up with sore knees and a back that gets curled up like a fucking letter ”S”? I might not be Old Man Mike just yet, but there are healthier things I could be doing to my body at 35 than throwing it around inside a wrestling ring week in and week out. But I can’t stop. No matter how many times I walk away, I can’t stop.
Pro wrestling is my legacy.
In a hundred years, no one is gonna talk about how I was never enough to make a woman stay. No one is going to talk about all the friends I alienated. No one is going to remember what kind of car I drove, or how nice a house I lived in. But they’re always going to remember that I was in the Hall of Fame. They’re always going to remember that I set all the World Title records twice over. They’re always going to remember what happened last year at Rumble at the Rock. People let you down, man, but the legacy of a professional wrestler lives on forever.
They can’t take it away from you.
So make your jokes. I can take it. I’m a big boy. Tell me that I’m stealing from the next generation, and that I’m afraid to leave the spotlight. Cause you’re right. I’m petrified. I’m afraid to be forgotten. I’m afraid that the next guy is gonna roll into town and smash my records and erase my accomplishments and that in a century, I’ll just be another guy. Mark O’Neal is in the Hall of Fame, but you forgot he existed until just now when you read his name. Rhys Townsend held the record for the HOW World Championship until I smashed it and all but erased him from the history books.
I’m not going out like that.
I’m not just gonna be a guy who wrestled. I’m not just gonna be a guy who existed. My stepfather, God rest his soul, was a great provider and a hell of a high school guidance counselor, and he isn’t gonna be remembered. No statues. No championships. No plaques with his name on them. Just a body in the ground and a paragraph in the paper, and that’s not gonna be me. I’ve already won nine World Titles, so now it’s time to win ten. Until there stops being a War Games, I’m gonna keep trying to win it. If I have to dig up the fucking ICON Title and shock it back to life myself just to become the first eight time champion in history, I fucking will. I will not stop. I cannot stop.
I refuse to fucking stop.
Until the day I can’t climb out of that bed and put on a pair of boots, I’m gonna keep lacing them up. Until the day my back shatters like a fucking window pane, I’m gonna keep chasing championships. Until the day this knee turns to dust, I’m gonna keep throwing it at exposed skulls and racking up achievement points in this life. And if I die out there in that ring, fucking bury me under it, because this is what I was born to do and if I’m not the best at it, I was never anything at all.
Maybe you hoped my best days were behind me.
Sorry I let you down.
People do that.
“He bought them fucking TICKETS?!”
With a thunderous smash, one half of the 39% HOW Tag Team Championships crashes into a row of overstock High Octane merchandise, taking two metal shelves down with it as it skitters to the ground. Production assistants and backstage workers scatter in the crash, startled by the outburst, as Michael Lee Best storms through the hallway of the Staples Center.
His hair is a matted mess of sweat, still soaking wet after a hellacious tag team main event of absolute nothingness. He should be excited right now— the in-ring return of his best friend, a hard fought victory against two HOW Hall of Famers, and a main event. A chance to bring pristige back to HOW’s unloved stepchild of a tag division. A nail the coffin on a years long grudge. And yet as Michael stands backstage, staring down the long hallway at the title belt he just disrespected himself, he isn’t considering any of that.
He’s only considering the perception.
“Fucking juice boxes.” He grunts, leaning down to pick up the championship.
He dusts it off— an hour ago, he was looking forward to carrying this thing with pride. To bring a fire back to the HOW Tag Team Championships that fizzled out along with tag teams like Ground Zero and Perfectly Marvelous. He’d spent the better part of two weeks making plans with Farthington on how to make those belts mean something again, but right now it just feels like a fog of wasted time. He had plans for this belt, but right now it was just a painful reminder of one undeniable fact.
He wasn’t the guy right now.
Conor Fuse was the guy.
“He had no fucking right.” Michael mutters, throwing the belt over his shoulder as he talks to no one. “My fucking moment. My fucking main event. I’ll be fucked if the video game kid is gonna take liberties with the king of the fucking jungle.”
Michael stares down at the spilled merchandise around the hallways. There it was, staring him back in the face— the cover of the HOW video game. Action figures. Foam fucking hands. All of them bearing the likeness of Conor Fuse, HOW’s seeming man of the year. The kid was fucking everywhere, maybe the first marketable champion HOW had seen in years. Sutler was talented, but he wasn’t marketable. No one had Halitosis posters up in their rooms. Cecilworth had been an unstoppable force, but children weren’t chanting the name of a man who broke arms for a living. And sure, Michael forced his own face onto all the merchandise, but it wasn’t due to popular demand… he ran the goddamned HOAX.
“Fucking bullshit.” he shakes his head, leaning down to pick up a copy of the video game from the concrete.“Go stream it on Twitch, too, you fucking man child.”
The hallway has emptied.
Even Cecilworth is nowhere to be found— if the two best friends had learned anything about each other over the last eight years, it was when to stay out of the way and let a guy be angry. It wasn’t just about the promo that Conor cut to end the show. It wasn’t just about being overshadowed in the main event. It wasn’t even about the stupid merchandise. This, like most things tied to the deep-seeded insecurities of HOW’s loudest Hall of Famer, touched on something a lot deeper.
Conor Fuse was the future.
It was an undeniable fact. He has the look, he has the talent, and he has the charisma. Up until this point, at least the Son of God could hang his hat on having the upper hand when it came to the psychology, but Conor had proven tonight that he knew exactly what he was doing out there. It was tactical. It was calculated. It was the perfect fucking strategic maneuver to get into the head of Michael Lee Best, to the point that even though Michael had practically invented the trick, he was still getting worked by it and taking it bait.
It’s exactly what he’d have done himself.
“No it’s not.” he whispers, staring at the floor. “It’s better.”
Conor Fuse had outplayed him entirely. The first ever tag team match featuring Michael Lee Best and Cecilworth Farthington, and no one was talking about their victory over two Hall of Famers. No one was talking about the number one contender and the unstoppable, undefeated momentum he’d be carrying into HOW’s most violent pay-per-view. No one was talking about the pathetic ass 39% HOW Tag Team Championships.
They were talking about juice boxes.
They were talking about Man of the Goddamned Year Conor Fuse, and how he bought half the floor seats tickets to Alcatraz. They were talking about Conor on the commentary table, and what a natural he was on the mic. Farthington’s music had barely begun to play when Conor took over the moment and went into business for himself, making Michael out to be nothing more than an NPC in a video game that was all about Conor Fuse himself. Just like he was on the cover of the video game. Just like it was his own name on the marquee.
Just like Michael would have done.
Just like he’d always done. Making the whole show about himself, and doing anything he could to get over. For twelve years, Michael had clawed and scraped his way to a half thimbleful of respect from those babies and morons, and Conor had managed to hitch himself to the zeitgeist in under a fucking year. Michael Lee Best is only thirty five years old, and somehow Conor Fuse had already managed to make him look and feel like an out of touch old man struggling to stay on top. Not that it was too hard to do.
He is struggling to stay on top.
“The fuck even happened?” Michael kicks a pile of spilled merchandise across the floor, turning away from the mess.
He’d started the year like a fucking demigod. Wrestler of the Month for both January and February, in the middle of the longest undefeated streak of his career, holder of the HOW World Championship and shatterer of literally all of its records. Had his passion for the HOFC Division truly cost him that much? Was it really so undeniably boring for the fans to watch him knock a bunch of guys out in two rounds that it had hurt his place at the top of the mountain?
“FUCK!” He roars, toppling another shelf full of boxes. “I DIDN’T EVEN FUCKING LOSE!”
Hundreds of lanyards, t-shirts and commemorative pins pour out into the hallway, littering the floor of the Staples Center with yet another mess for the staff to clean up in his wake. He’d kept his composure for the better part of his return, smiling into the boos and mindlessly spouting off about babies and morons, but at some point the majority can’t be wrong, right? HOFC was a failure of a crusade, and while he was away at war, his kingdom had moved on without him.
Conor had taken his crown.
From Wrestler of the Month two months running to a number one contender that everyone said didn’t deserve his spot. In like a lion, out like a lamb, no matter how many t-shirts he choked through marketing about how he was the king of the High Octane Jungle. It only seems to dawn on him now, as he stares at the wreckage in the hallway, that wasting an entire pay-per-view period on a grudge feud over imaginary titles had only made it worse. Had made him look petty. Had made him look desperate. And sure, he was absolutely those two things, but never outwardly. Never so obviously.
Again, it’s all about the perception.
“Somebody come pick this shit up.” Michael hollers down the hallway, to whoever might hear him. “If you got time to lean, you got time to clean.”
It’s hard to hide the shame in his voice, even as he pretends to be commanding about it. Shame over letting this kid get under his fucking skin. Shame over selling it in front of a bunch of union fucks who were supposed to see him as a larger than life God. Shame over knowing the truth, no matter how many times he said otherwise: Conor Fuse didn’t need to fight Mike Best.
Mike Best needed to fight Conor Fuse.
The truth was that he’d only walked down to that ring at Bottomline because of the result of the match. The truth was that he never would have challenged Sutler, because he wouldn’t have felt the need to. The truth was that Conor Fuse was the first guy in twelve years that truly made him feel like he had something to prove. That he had what it took not to be the next Mike Best, but to be something better. The truth was that in that moment, when the referee counted to three, the supposed king of the jungle felt like he was in danger of losing to a younger, hungrier animal.
This was about more than a cub defending his title.
It was a lion defending his PRIDE.