Little Rock, Arkansas
It’s a busy night at this quaint restaurant as we find ourselves in the middle of a rush, not too atypical for a Saturday night but even more understandable on a night ahead of High Octane Wrestling being in town. Indeed, we find smatterings of fans throughout the establishment, identifiable by their various HOW-related shirts despite this not being the sort of place one would expect wrestling merchandise to be on display.
It’s highly likely that these fans, excited as they are for Chaos the following evening at the Simmons Bank Arena, are trying to enjoy a more local cuisine than the nearest Denny’s or Applebee’s. Those specials the big dogs advertise don’t hold a candle to just plain good food cooked and prepared locally. Whatever the case may be, we find ourselves moving between the patrons occupying the space, ignoring whatever they may be ordering purely for the sake of moving on to our main focus.
Because hidden in plain sight amongst the lot of them is not a fan of that sweet, sweet High Octane action, but a competitor…noticeably frustrated that he is receiving no attention from any of the fans here. Or anyone, for that matter. Xander Azula instead sits alone at one of the tables, watching on as the fans and other patrons of the establishment enjoy their night. Not even his usual crew are around at the moment, having sent a message that the, ahem, “Erismobile” somehow got out of commission when they tried to drive it in from where they last left it.
“Never should’ve left that piece of junk in Missouri,” Xander mutters to himself, shaking his head as he looks at the menu. “We could’ve easily just sold the damn thing for parts, it’s not like I wanted to drive it cross-country anyway.”
The frustration only continues to build within him as the Fighter nervously thumbs through the pages, unable to focus long enough to make a decision on his dinner for the evening. Instead, he keeps glancing over at his phone on the table. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that the man is waiting on something, but exactly what is unclear…until that phone buzzes.
There’s an air of anticipation surrounding Xander as he looks at the screen, picking the phone up to see it more clearly. A new text message has come in, and it’s from Mysti. His right-hand woman for well over a decade, someone he’s confided in many times over…and the message that’s been sent?
“Still stuck in Missouri, sorry. Happy bday tho”
The frustration that has been festering inside Azula all night finally reveals its source. A sense of dread from being alone on this of all nights…a night of celebration for him and his crew. Hell, he even sent an invite to his auxiliary crew in the Masters of the Multiverse…B-Team, but it seems that Kenny Freeman and Randall Schwartz would rather be anywhere else.
The frustration of being alone quickly reaches its boiling point for the Fighter, as Xander drops his phone back on the table before burning his face in his hands. The noise gives a bit of a spook to a patron sitting at the next table over, a young woman who looks over her shoulder…meeting her gaze with an angry Fighter, who snaps at her.
“What’re you lookin’ at?”
Oh, this doesn’t go over well at all, as the man sitting next to her reveals himself quickly with a stare of almost murderous intent. Xander glares back at the man, not shaken or intimidated by his presence…but not eager to get in a fight, either. After a long pause, the man finally chimes in with an inquiry of his own.
“The hell did you say, buddy?”
Xander, for all his rage starting to bubble over, is doing all he can not to reply with a dumb, quippy retort. Tonight is not the night to try and fantasy book an HOFC fight, after all. The man, not taking Xander’s silence as an answer, rises to his feet. He, on the other hand, is definitely fixin’ for some fisticuffs if things don’t go his way.
“I think you owe my girl an apology, pal,” the man shouts, his fists clenched tight.
Yep, definitely looking for a fight…but Xander is unmoved and unshaken, shaking his head as he continues to stare the stranger down.
“I don’t owe you or your girl shit, my guy. I’m in a sour ass mood right now, and I don’t need to be stared at like a caged animal.”
Letting some of that mess out of his system, Xander turns his attention back to the menu, but the man slams a fist on the table to grab his attention again.
“Choose your next words carefully, man. If none of them include the words ‘I’m sorry,’ we’re gonna have a real fuckin’ problem.”
That last statement draws a wide-eyed look from the Fighter, a mixture of surprise and being impressed by the absolute audacity of the man standing over him. Xander slowly, carefully rises to his feet, choosing to keep as calm an appearance as possible before responding to this thinly-veiled threat.
“Alright, then. I’m sorry,” Xander states plainly, the glare from his random adversary softening as he appears satisfied with the response…but, naturally, the other shoe quickly drops. “Sorry your girl has a wandering eye.”
Oh boy, that did it. The man lunges at Xander with a right hook, but in one fluid motion the Fighter grabs the arm, wrenching it as he drives the man’s head toward the table. The whole thing comes across very controlled, mind you; he doesn’t slam the man’s head into the table, so much as he presses it with just enough force to make a statement physically…a statement that is quickly followed up verbally with Azula’s true intent.
“Listen up, pal,” Xander states with just a hint of anger, still pressing the man’s face into the table. “I ain’t done time for fightin’ a man, and I’m not about to start tonight. Besides, I get paid to do this sorta thing. You wanna try your luck with a professional? Pay your bill, cough up some cash, and meet me outside. Otherwise, cut your losses and focus on trying to impress your girl some other way.”
With that, Xander shoves the man away before quickly taking his leave from the crowd. Needless to say, this grabs the attention of many a patron, the HOW fans in particular finally taking notice of the wrestler amongst them as they cheer the Fighter on…but for all their late appreciation, Xander pays no mind. His focus is on getting the hell out of Dodge, because he knows damn well that man isn’t going to take that act of defiance lightly.
Sure enough, moments after Xander has left the building we see the man giving chase…but it’s too late. By the time the man steps out of the restaurant, Xander is long gone, as we find him in a taxi, laughing nervously at the bullet he may have just narrowly escaped. The laughter quickly comes to a halt, replaced with a heavy sigh as the birthday boy finds himself having to look ahead rather than dwell on the past.
After all, tomorrow is a new day, a new opportunity…and Xander is determined to make the most of it. He just has to get in touch with his potential teammates for War Games, first.
“Let’s chat with Bobbinette,” Xander mutters to himself, not trying to confuse the cab driver with any possible small talk that’s unwarranted. “I know she’s gonna be there tomorrow, but she’s not too busy dealing with a match that night. She knows a thing or two about trying to make new friends this time of year.”
Azula chuckles at this remark, looking out the window as he heads ever closer to his destination for the night…presumably an Applebee’s or Denny’s.
Christopher goddamn America.
I knew this day would come. I’ve been waiting for it, chomping at the bit for a chance to finally make your acquaintance one on one. After all, there was the matter of that tag team bout where you were a little…tied up, leaving Stronk to fend for himself, something Brian Hollywood and I were more than willing to take advantage of that night.
I haven’t forgotten about that match, because the asterisk of your non-involvement has been nagging at me ever since. No, this ain’t some tag match where someone can keep you from ever stepping in the ring…this is just you and me, squaring off face to face in that ring.
Which is great, because you’re just the man I’ve been wanting to face for some time.
You came back to HOW a little over a year ago, a Hall of Famer who’d already held multiple championships in your previous tenure, a symbol of excellence from a bygone era…and yet, here you stand a year later as a symbol of THIS era. You went and won War Games for the third time last year, setting a new record in the process…and earning the right to be crowned HOW World Champion, a title you’ve held ever since.
A title you have slung over your shoulder like you’re about to carry it over the threshold on your wedding night, as you celebrate the accomplishment from last summer over and over…and over…again. Oh lord, I think I just threw up in my mouth a little bit.
It’s hard to ignore your accomplishments but it’s sure as hell easier to think about how flat-out weird you’ve gotten the past couple months. Maybe the pressure of holding that championship for so long, trying to run it back to back from War Games to War Games, has finally gotten the better of this ol’ patriot.
Holding a championship that long in the modern age of professional wrestling isn’t easy, so I give you kudos there…but it’s clear as day that you’re running out of energy, Chris…the engine that drives you is running low on steam.
The train called Christopher America is starting to fall apart even as it chugs away on the tracks, finally having to pull in for a rest stop at the depot in…and Chris ol’ pal, you’ve made it just in time for the Great Train Robbery. Like a bandit in the silent film classic, Xander Azula is swooping in for the steal of a lifetime, and it’s gonna really throw a wrench in the plans.
For over two years now I’ve been plugging away, never being so much as looked at for an opportunity like this. I’ve seen the best in this business come and go, all either touching that title you now hold or at least glancing at it…but none of them have had quite the target on their back as you do now, Chris. Jiles and Sutler had their moment in the sun. Conor and Mike are great competitors that put some respect on that 97RED…but you broke the mold.
Every challenger you put down, every successful defense of that championship added to not only its prestige, but yours…which in turn inflated your ego all the more. Seriously, Chris…a wedding for your championship? Good lord, man.
That ego has you swollen up like a damn balloon, and the bigger the balloon the thinner it is…making it all the easier to pop. The paranoia you’ve been exhibiting the past couple months is a sign that it can all come crumbling down at any time, Chris…you’re ready to burst at any given moment.
And I’m bringing the needle with me this Sunday.
Because the world doesn’t need to see you pop, break, finally lose your cool–and your championship–at War Games. They need to see you suffer long before that. The people want America taken down a notch or two, and I’m here to give the people what they want!
This is my act of vengeance, for being off the radar for so long. Ignored as anything more than a speed bump for The Board, the Final Alliance, or whatever group Lee Best deems necessary to maintain control of the situation. But most of all, this is my revenge for clearly not being on your radar all this time, Chris.
When I walked my unsanctioned path last year, I was hoping the cream of the crop would recognize the challenge, that they would acknowledge me. What did I get? Brian Hollywood and Scott Stevens. I had to tear them apart and hound incessantly before I got what I really wanted, when Mike Best finally answered the call…but you never did.
You ignored me.
Clearly too busy being the fighting champion, something I was willing to let slide…until now. Because now, you don’t get to face me inside the gilded cage…but when I’m done with you, you’ll wish we’d gotten five short rounds. You’ll wish you could’ve beaten me by decision or knockout. Instead, I’m gonna take my sweet, sweet time, calculating every move I need to make to dismantle the machine that is Christopher America.
I’m gonna pull every damn bolt out of you, tear every wire apart, until all that’s left is a broken-down piece of junk lying in the middle of that ring…and then, I’ll have a choice to make. I can either pin you down for the three count, or put you out of your misery and watch you submit. You can decide whether to scream that you quit or silently tap out.
You will always have your legacy to lean on, Christopher…but when I’m through with you, that’s all you’ll have. You can keep that Hall of Fame career, all those accolades you’ve earned over the years. I’ll be leaving New Orleans with the HOW World Championship, and holding all those War Games plans by the balls as a result.
Maybe I’ll get thrown into a gauntlet match of some sort between now and then. Maybe I’ll get strung up above the War Games cage like a piñata, and whoever breaks me apart first wins the title. Who the hell knows? It won’t matter to me, Chris, because whatever happens between now and War Games won’t change who beat you for the damn title.
Because after Chaos 29, I will be the one who puts the nail in the coffin on a title reign capping off just past 300 days. Is this madness? No, this is Azula.
I haven’t worked out what purpose Lee was looking to serve by making this match official, but when it’s all said and done? It’ll be a nice little birthday present, all wrapped up with a 97RED bow. Go cry at your empty eagle’s nest over it, America.
The sun will set on your title reign, and the moon will rise over mine.
And then, you will have to acknowledge me, the new HOW World Champion.
Xander goddamn Azula.
Simmons Bank Arena
Little Rock, Arkansas
The night has not been kind to Xander Azula, whose attempt to talk and bond with Bobbinette Carey fell flat on its face. Realizing that he’d have nothing else to do in town, the Fighter makes his exit from the backstage area, getting to the parking lot outside the arena as he looks to head toward his rental. He is fully prepared to hop in his car, drive to the airport, and fly to wherever his crew is still hanging around…prompting Xander to check his phone again, looking at the text that was sent to him an hour ago from Mysti.
“Erismobile in working order again, finally heading out of Missouri.”
Xander has a moment to think on this, and begins to send Mysti a reply letting her know to have the crew meet him in New Orleans…when he hears someone calling his name from a distance. Looking up from his phone, Xander soon spots the source…the man from last night.
“He’s found me,” Xander mutters to himself, slightly nervous as he puts his phone back in his pocket. “I don’t know how, but he’s found me.”
The man staring him down has a smirk on his face as he shouts again.
“What? You said you get paid to fight, and after you bolted I asked around. When I found out I was being shoved around by the biggest loser in town, I thought I’d take you up on your little offer. Five hundred bucks says your bark is bigger than your bite, buddy!”
Recalling the very conversation he had the previous night, Xander’s swagger slowly starts to come back to him, leaving the Fighter with a smirk of his own as he reaches his hand out.
“Alright, let’s see the cash…and don’t be cheap about it!”
The confidence in the Fighter’s eyes is met with something similar on the part of his random challenger, who pulls out a wad of cash rolled up. Xander shakes his head, recognizing this scenario from somewhere else.
“That better be in twenties, my dude, or I’m ghosting this whole plan of yours.”
The man steps closer to Xander, showing him every twenty-dollar bill as he counts the money. Surprisingly, the man is good for his word as he hands the cash to Xander. Taking a glance to confirm the validity of the money received, Xander nods in approval of the transaction…and proceeds to take one big right hook, straight to the jaw of the challenger.
The man’s face contorts as he drops to the ground, knocked out cold by the single blow as Xander quickly makes his escape to the rental car. Just as he starts the engine, we can hear the muffled cries of a pretender whose jaw has just been fractured…cries that go unnoticed by the Fighter as he speeds off, looking to get out of the lot as soon as humanly possible. It does not, however, go unnoticed by a group of HOW fans who witnessed the incident…some of whom managed to grab the happening on video.
The next morning, Xander arrives at the Clinton International Airport, checking in his rental before heading toward the main entrance. Arriving with the bare minimum of luggage, the Fighter starts to notice the occasional glance in his direction from passersby. Those glances soon become full-fledged stares as Xander’s phone buzzes in his pocket, prompting him to pull the device out…where he sees a slew of notifications.
Text messages, tags on social media, the works…all pointing him to at least one YouTube video of what took place the night before, titled “Pro Wrestler Pulls a Rocky 5 on Local” much to the chagrin of the Fighter, who swipes through the notification before he sees a single text message not related to the mess he’s gotten himself into. A text from Mysti, of course.
“Seen the HOW buzz, Alex? Never mind last night, you’re gunning for the World title in NOLA. Time to remind ppl who you really are. See you there.”
The text puts a smile on his face, a chance to finally feel good about himself after the long, exhausting weekend he’s put behind him. He rushes down through the terminal, looking to get to the correct gate as soon as he can. He’s not behind on his trip, but the last thing he wants to do is miss his flight for such an important occasion as this. After all, this is the first shot he’s ever received at the HOW World Championship…and if he can’t step it the hell up against Christopher America, it may be his last.
Xander arrives at the gate, eager to hand his ticket to the attendant there so he can go on about his business. He is directed to go ahead and board since he’s arrived just in time for the occasion, but his excitement fades when he catches what the attendant mutters on her way back to the gate.
“Hopefully he doesn’t punch someone’s lights out on the flight.”
There’s no time to dwell on this as he rushes to board the flight, leaving us to watch the very plane he’s boarded fly off toward New Orleans, gearing the Fighter up for his biggest fight yet as we fade to black.