Wake Up Call

Wake Up Call

Posted on May 14, 2024 at 11:22 am by Mike Best

“Good morning, Owen!” 

Wide awake and ready to face the day, James Cornfield shouts the greeting through a big fake smile, before taking a long sip of coffee from a cheap styrofoam cup. Standing next to him, a stubble faced athlete with a cigarette in his mouth stands with his arms crossed, quietly waiting alongside the former owner of Pro Wrestling: Assault. 

“Morning.” Michael Lee Best grumbles, half awake. “Who the fuck is Owen?”

The HOW World Champion rubs the sleep out of his eyes, wiping the crust from the corners as he lets out a tremendous yawn. The sun is barely up, as he stands in the middle of the gym in a pair of sweatpants and an old t-shirt from the Rob Michaels Invitational. He glances at the lean looking wrestler standing next to Jimmy, and then back at his own manager. 

“C’mon, champ!” Cornfield grins, facetious as the day is long. “Little CTE this morning? Don’t know you’re own name? Owen! OWEN! Owen FUCKIN’ TWO!”

The smile doesn’t leave his face, even as the tone turns rancid. 

James Cornfield takes a long, slow walk around the Son of God, getting a look at him from head to toe. He leans in close to the HOW World Champion, his sour coffee breath only inches from the nose of his client. Without a warning, he cocks a hand back and slaps Michael in the back of the head, jarring him forward and getting his adrenaline pumping a little bit. 

“Jesus!” Michael hollers, almost jumping out of his sneakers. “You’re walking a fucking line here, Jim. You work for me, don’t forget that.” 

Cornfield ignores the not-so-thinly veiled threat. 

“Alright, Owen.” James wanders back toward the man smoking the cigarette. “This is Max Canada. You ain’t never heard of him. Ain’t never seen one of his matches. Ain’t ever heard of a guy who heard of him, neither. And today, he’s your training partner.” 

A single laugh gets caught in the champion’s throat, almost a scoff.

“Yeah, okay, Mr. Miyagi.” Michael rolls his eyes. “You dragged me out of bed at ass o’clock in the morning for this?” 

“Sure did, Owen.” Cornfield nods, still smiling like a car salesman. “Cause you might ain’t never heard of him, but he’s the you of the territories up around Toronto, and today he is going to beat the ever loving shit out of you.” 

Immediately, Michael Lee Best tightens up. 

The sleepy slouch leaves his shoulders, as he takes a step forward and eyes up the wrestler in front of him. Late twenties, early thirties maybe. Matted hair hanging down, partially covering one of his eyes. The kid looks to be in good enough shape, but to imply that he rode a moose down here to shovel shit into the mouth of the single greatest wrestler in HOW history is more than a stretch. 

“Yeahhhh, go fuck yourself.” Mike half-assed salutes Cornfield, and then his associate. “I’m gonna go grab a cup of coffee and a fucking bagel or something. I’ll see you at nine.” 

He turns away, walking back toward the door of the ice-cold gym and making his way to the locker room. Cornfield nods at his associate, and in a flash, a thunderous forearm strikes the HOW World Champion in the back of the head. Michael is sent toppling forward, losing his balance as he collides with the hard gymnasium floor, rolling to his side. 

“Get up and fight.” Cornfield snarls, losing the smile. “Ain’t a training exercise, princess, this motherfucker’ll break your nose and stuff you in a fucking mailbox if I tell him to. Two losses, back to back. Games are fucking over.”

Without a hint of emotion on his face, the Canadian wrestler throws essentially a soccer kick into the gut of the HOW World Champion, sending him rolling over himself and face down into the floor. Michael Lee Best quickly realizes that whether he likes it or not, this is absolutely happening right now, and he slowly picks himself up to his knees, and then his feet. 

“Alright, fine.” Michael grits his teeth. “I’ll trash your sucker-punching nobody, Jim. And then you’re fucking fired.” 

The Son of God charges in and tries to lock up with his training opponent, but he’s quickly sidestepped by Max Canada, who lobs an overhand at the side of Michael’s head and knocks him back down to a knee. 

The kid is fucking fast. 

“The fuck’re you doin’?” Cornfield shouts, laughing snidely. “You see a wrestling ring here, Owen? Did I ask you to run the fucking ropes? FIGHT HIM.”

A switch flips inside the champion. 

Not leaving his crouched stance, Michael powers forward and grabs the legs of his Canadian “counterpart”, shooting in with a double leg and harkening back to the MMA background that he’s been leaning so hard upon in HOFC all these years. Obviously this is the lesson that Cornfield is trying to teach him this morning– get back to what he’s good at in the first place, and play to his own strengths. That not every match needs to be a showy, technical classic. That it’s more important to get out there and make the opponent play the game that you want him to–

GRRAWWWBBB!” 

Michael’s battlecry becomes a garbled, guttural gagging sound and he’s kneed directly in the throat. He falls to the floor, clutching his Adam’s apple and struggling to breath, his legs kicking involuntarily. Again without a hint of anger or emotion in his eyes, Max Canada climbs on top of the champion, wrapping a muscled arm around his neck and cinching up with some kind of a modified sleeper hold. The HOW World Champion tries to fight against it, but it isn’t even a battle– he’s already struggling to breath, and it doesn’t take much for the Canadian grappler to lock him firmly into place. 

He’s being strangled. 

The panic starts to set in almost immediately, as his body flails independently of his own brain. It’s fighting to survive, and not waiting long enough for his brain to play catch-up. He’s burning energy and oxygen, his legs kicking and his torso twisting left and right, trying everything that he can on pure instinct to escape the hold. The more he struggles, the more energy and oxygen he burns. The more energy and oxygen he burns, the closer he gets to running out of air. The closer he gets to running out of air, the more he panics. 

And the more he panics, the more he flails. 

The tunnel vision starts to set in, as the world begins to go dark around Michael Lee Best. He reaches out an arm toward James Cornfield, wondering why his manager is letting this happen to him. Was this the plan all along? To get back at Lee Best by murdering his only son on a cold gym,floor, hours before anyone else would be here to bear witness? Seconds turn to minutes, and minutes turn to hours as the world begins to black out around him– twinkling lights in the distance might be stars, or maybe he’s just about to fucking die and finally have to answer to Jesus for all the impersonations he’s done over the years. His raised arm goes limp, as the flailing slowly stops and– 

“JESUS CHRIST!” Cornfield shakes the Canadian loose, forcing him to let go. “I told you to rough him up, numbnuts, not fucking kill him.” 

Max Canada pushes the HOW World Champion off, sending him slumping and gagging to the floor as he dusts himself off and gets back to his feet. He quietly walks back to where he left his cigarette burning on the gym floor, picking it up and stuffing it back between his lips. 

“Christ on a Pride float.” Cornfield looks down at his client. “A man strangles the life out of you in a goddamned gym, you fuckin’ tap out. You got balls, I’ll give you that, at least. Not a lick of brains in your head, but balls.”

He reaches down a hand to Michael, who eyes him suspiciously before taking it. He’s slowly pulled to his feet, as he coughs and gags hard, trying to get the feeling back in his windpipe. 

“What the FUCK, Jim?” he pushes the manager backward a few steps, once he has his footing. “I have to compete in four fucking days. The FUCK was this supposed to accomplish?”

Cornfield takes a slow slip of his coffee. 

“There’s a reason they’re called hard lessons, kid.” James says, quietly. “Otherwise they’d just call ‘em lessons.” 

Slowly, Michael regains his composure. He straightens up, wiping the crumbs of floor dust and debris from his t-shirt and sweatpants as he rests his hands on his hips– the adrenaline rush and subsequent dump have his body on some kind of a roller coaster right now, but at least he can breathe. 

“Jesus, dude.” Michael shakes his head. “Use your fucking words. Hey Mike, try some of that MMA shit out, you’re pretty good at that. You didn’t need to fly Canadian Rainman all the way down here to–”

“MMA shit?” Cornfield cocks an eyebrow, looking bewildered. “That’s what you– Jesus H, Nepo Baby, my good friend Max here just ragdolled you like a ten year old boy playing wrestler with his fuckin’ stuffed animals. You think my lesson was to do more of that? Holy FUCK.”

He turns toward his associate. 

“Change of plans, Mr. Canada.” Cornfield nods. “We’re here for the foreseeable. Go wait for us in the ring, please and thank you.” 

The manager-turned-promoter-turned-manager-again takes another sip of his coffee, letting the anger in him cool off a little bit as he takes a moment of silence to compose his thoughts. When he finally speaks, he does so in a much lower voice this time, looking his client directly in the eyes. 

“Michael.” Cornfield says, softly. “There are men on this Earth who can chew you up, swallow you whole, and shit you right back out without so much as a painful fuckin’ fart. Max Canada is a fuckin’ nobody to you and to… what’s that number? Ninety seven percent of the world at large, but in his home territory, he’s King Shit of Turd mountain. Just like you. And somewhere in New Mexico, there’s a kid who can fold Max here up like a fancy pretzel and dip him in goddamned honey mustard. There’s a Steve Sacramento, a Tommy Texas, and a Cody fuckin’ California, and you’re all the best in the fuckin’ world, as long as you’re wrestling the same ten fuckin’ people that your promoters hired to build a goddamned promotion around you.” 

The Son of God pulls his neck to one side, giving it a satisfying pop. 

“As far as motivational speeches go…” he grumbles, looking off to one side. “This rates about a fucking three, Jim.” 

“Ain’t no motivation here, Owen.” Cornfield shrugs, matter-of-factly. “No reverse psychology. This is a wake up call. I don’t care if it’s bad preparation, bad teamwork, or just bad fuckin’ luck, but you are going in colder’n a witches twat against a wrestler who has your fuckin’ number, but in the back of your mind you think everything is going to be alright. Because everything always turns out alright for you. Because you’re the biggest fish in the world so long as you’re swimming in the kind of small ponds that are perfectly attuned to your swimming patterns and preferred fuckin’ diet. Well I have watched the tapes. I watched that match last week. And without any momentum, without the right attitude, and without a fucking wake up call, you are going to walk out of at arena next week without so much as the belt that holds your goddamned PANTS up. And that’s the God’s honest truth. So fuckin’ fire me if you want, Nepo Baby, cause I don’t wanna end my career representing a fuckin’ loser anyhow. Rather be sitting on my couch.”

The silence after hurts as much as the words do. 

Michael Lee Best can still feel the grip around his throat, even minutes after it’s been released. The way that his legs were kicking and flailing, completely out of his control. The panic. He hasn’t reasonably been afraid of anything in a very long time, but in those moments, he was afraid. Hearing the words coming out of Cornfield’s mouth just now… they make him feel afraid

James Cornfield is right. 

“Help me, Jim.” Michael looks at the floor, speaking quietly. “I have four days. And I don’t know what the fuck I’m even supposed to do, here.” 

It’s an awkward vulnerability.

He’s not supposed to “not know what to do”. He’s the HOW World Champion. He’s all four faces on HOW’s Mount Rushmore. He’s a fucking Hall of Famer. It’s embarrassing to say out loud, and even more embarrassing to admit to himself. He can feel his cheeks burning, as he awaits whatever magic words James has next, that will fix this all for him in an instant. 

“Shit kid, I don’t know.” Cornfield shrugs. “Can’t snap my fingers and change the past. We’re going into this one on the back foot against a guy who is hotter’n Phoenix in July and wants this real bad. He’s on fire, you’re on ice. But we got Max for the day. I suggest you get into that ring and fucking figure something out, because you’re the World’s goddamned Champion. And I think we’d both like to see you stay that way.”

He gestures toward the ring, and toward Max Canada who is standing inside of it. The talented young Canadian sheepishly waves over at the Son of God, a smile on his face now that he doesn’t have to play the intimidating goon. It’s insane how friendly he looks, considering that he nearly just strangled the life out of HOW’s favorite son. 

Slowly, Michael nods his head, heading toward the ring. 

He swallows. Hard. 

“Thanks for the wake up call, Jim..” he mumbles, with a half smile. “I’ve been sleeping a lot.”