You’re not my friend, ‘Palooka.’
What was that?
I think you heard me just fine, punchy!
“ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? GET UP! GET YOUR SORRY ASS UP!”
My legs felt like they’d been dipped in diesel and set on fire as I turned around in the thick swamp. There was Adam, sitting in the swamp looking exhausted and pathetic, with an ex special forces instructor standing over him and screaming in his face.
I wasn’t kidding when I said it was ‘boot camp’ time. Solex had hooked me up with an old army vet buddy of his, so I was paying him handsomely to give us a military style beasting and put us through our paces. His name was Sergeant Dan Lewis. But he made us call him Sergeant.
He hadn’t disappointed.
Harrison has threatened to throw the kitchen sink at me in our LSD championship class, and I believed him. He’s young and hungry and desperate to make his name in this industry, just like Adam is. I know full well what a win over me means to Harrison, let alone the shiny gold belt that comes with the prize. This was as much an exercise of mental preparation as it was physical.
We’d been trudging around Johns Island in Charleston since early morning and have covered over fifteen miles with a Bergen on our backs filled with mostly weights. Twenty five kilograms to be exact. The only useful items in there were two canteens filled to the brim with water. I’d already polished off one, and there were no signs of this ending any time soon. This island would have been beautiful if I hadn’t been too busy getting tortured to appreciate it. Dense trees, a flowing river, a picturesque backdrop? The thick, swampy, marsh however stank and was incredibly tough to negotiate.
The heat wasn’t helping either. It was approaching midday and my GPS watch was informing me that it was around eighty-six degrees. My Cuban skin was doing its part to protect me, but the salt was already drying on my forehead as my body ran out of fluid. Adam was bright pink, his blonde genes were making his torture worse. I only hoped, for his sake, he was smart enough to use some sun cream.
It didn’t matter to me what he was experiencing. It was for his own good, but he was just shadowing me, getting a taste of what it takes to train and prepare at an elite level. This programme was designed for me, for my LSD title defence.
I watched as Adam tried to drag himself out of the swamp, taking the opportunity to catch my breath and control my breathing. His hair was matted to his head and he was caked head to toe in mud. I looked down at myself, I wasn’t looking any better. It was his eyes that gave it away. He was cracking.
“IN THE WATER! NOW! BOTH OF YOU!” screamed the sergeant, eyeballing me as he did so.
I made sure to give Adam a knowing look as I hauled my ass out of the swamp towards the river bank, my legs numb and buckling at the knees. Solex warned me to give myself a solid three days of recovery and I was already reminding myself to thank him for the advice. I wasn’t going to be fit to do anything physical after this, and I need my legs working when Harrison comes after me on Saturday night.
“BAGS OFF, CARRY THEM INTO THE WATER!”
As I slipped the Bergen off my shoulders the weight and gravity caused my shoulders to dip towards the bank of the river, sending a jolt of pain into my lower back. I knew the drill already as we’d been through this earlier. My clothes had only just started to dry out and here I was getting wet and cold again. The temperature of the water was freezing. It was a welcome feeling at first, lowering my sizzling body temperature from the midday sun.
We waded out together, carrying our Bergen’s in our arms. The grunts from Adam made me want to punch him in the mouth, because I was going through the same beasting as he was I just had the curtesy not to fucking moan about it out loud. We got to where it was just deep enough to submerge us up to our nipple region, turning carefully so as not to slip on the river bed as we faced the sergeant.
Sergeant Lewis had a similar, imposing, look to Solex and you could tell they had been cut from the same cloth. His hair was still shaved at the sides with a tidy, grey, crew cut on top, a salt and pepper beard and a tall, broad frame. His spine was straight as a dart from all the years of standing to attention. Most notably, he and Solex had the same look in their eyes, crushed souls who had seen things no man should ever see.
“BAGS ABOVE HEADS!”
With a grunt of momentum I heaved all twenty-five kilos above my head. My arms were already trembling from the combination of weight, gravity and fatigue. I hated the laws of physics. It was pain. My arms burned all the way down into my chest. I could literally feel the discs in my lower back being smushed like creamed potatoes.
I wanted to read Adam the riot act. His weakness is why I was receiving this additional beasting, why I was submerged in water which was already turning from a pleasant cooling feeling to freezing and uncomfortable. If it wasn’t for fact that I couldn’t physically talk, even if I wanted to, I’d tell him that I wasn’t going to be the one to drag him through this. I wasn’t going to tell him to ‘keep going’ or pick himself up, in fact he was lucky that the sergeant was doing that for him.
This was about finding your own inner strength. Breaking through those brick walls in your mind and giving yourself incentives to keep going. I told myself that If I allow this Bergen to drop then the Sergeant will shoot me in the head. It was a matter of life and death and survival gives me that extra impetus to push through the pain and find that extra level of strength.
As I looked to my left I realised that Adam would have been dead already.
“PICK THAT FUCKING BAG UP!”
I was struggling too. I distracted myself by reminding myself why I was doing this. I went over the game plan for the match in my head and everything I’d learned from my last match with Harrison as well as all his other matches since.
Last time we squared off he beat me up. He bills himself as a technician but he abandoned all of that in favour of pounding me with knees, elbows, fists, trying to beat me into the ground. He obviously didn’t fancy trying to go hold for hold for me. Smart move, I’d back my technical abilities against anyone.
He will probably try to do the same thing again, hoping the stipulations allow him to use some ‘tools’ to help him get the job done. That’s why I’m put myself through these beastings. That wall appears and your brain wants you to stop, it begins to beg you:
‘Why are you doing this to yourself?’
‘Just quit! Lie down and then it will all be over.’
The same wall will appear against Harrison. He will beat on me and beat on me until I’m faced with a situation where I either lay down? Or keep fighting!
Fight or die, it’s becoming somewhat of a motto of mine.
That’s where heart comes into play. That’s where the mental battle with myself needs to be won because at the end of the day I know my body can hold up, I just need to convince myself to keep going. Like I picture myself getting shot in the head if I drop this burgen I will tell myself that if I lie down now? I’ll lose the LSD championship.
If I do go down? I’m going out on my own shield. Maybe even in a body bag. That’s the resolve I have to have to defend this LSD as long as I possibly can. I meant every word about changing this division. Rebranding it to my image. Combining my technical excellence with the rugged violence that Lee has a kink for.
A pinching pain in my neck broke my concentration for a moment as my arms almost buckled. I was tensing with everything I had and felt like my guts were about to fall out of my ass. The Sergeant had a sinister smile as he glanced at me. He enjoyed watching me suffer, probably reminded him of the days of breaking open the new recruits to see what’s inside.
That’s how you learn who you really are. You need to be broken, smashed into pieces so that you can take a cold hard look at yourself and see yourself at your worst. Once you reflect on your weaknesses you can turn them into strengths. The World knows how weak I have been, it’s no secret. I know it may seem cliche, but what doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger, and I think I’m looking pretty fucking good right now with the LSD championship around my waist. I can feel that same prowess I had when I was at my most dominant. It’s coming back.
So what has Harrison learned? He seems to have focussed his attention on the Sektor Stretch, the move that forced him to make a choice between one match or his entire career. He chose wisely, as they all have. He fears it. He will try to avoid it like the bubonic plague. It is a move that has turned so-called ‘alphas’ into tapping little girls. Case and point, Eric Dane.
So do I counter that by trying something else? No. I’ll enjoy the game of cat and mouse until I finally lock it in and force him to submit to me for the second time in his career.
“Right. Get your sorry asses out of the water and get moving!”
‘Thank God! – I thought to myself. It felt like my pecs were about to rip off my breast plate like pulled pork. Mental strength or not, everyone has their limits, but I’d survived.
I glanced at Adam, he looked like shit. He was ready to throw in the towel. As he reached the bank of the river he fell to his knees and his head slumped forward. I’ve seen that body language many times, and I’ve worn it myself. I told myself that I wouldn’t push him, I wouldn’t carry him. This was a test of his own inner strength. At the same time he was young and at the beginning of the journey. Perhaps a gentle nudge to see if he has it in him to continue.
“You done?” I asked, purposely cold and firm.
His eyes screamed ‘no more’ as he helplessly looked up at me.
“You can stop any time you want, kid. I aint gonna drag your ass with me. I warned you not to hold me back,” Sektor growls, whilst the Sergeant allows it to play out.
Gritting his teeth his slapped his hands into the mud, clawing his way back to his feet with everything he had left. I honestly thought he was going to tap out, but I guess that little nudge was enough to remind him why he was doing this.
“Okay ladies MOVE! MOVE-MOVE-MOVE!”
The pair of us struggled to get the bergens back on our backs, our arms numb from the lack of blood and fatigue. Eventually we trudged on, back through the swamp.
The hardest part about this is not knowing when it’s going to end. If you can see the finish line in sight you can keep it in your gaze and find those last bit of reserves to get you over it. We didn’t know if we were going another mile or another ten, we just had to keep going.
I wondered for a moment what the stipulation of the match might be. Would I get the chance to show the violent side of John Sektor? I doubt it. Lee wouldn’t want to risk two of his boys hurting each other too bad. I assumed that it would be another standard match, once again playing right into my hands. Then again, assumption is the mother of all fuckups.
I respect Steve Harrison. I respect his skills, his abilities, the threat that he poses to my reign as LSD champion. But I also know that I am a hundred times more dangerous, more talented, more experienced and more skilled than he is.
I don’t care if people disagree. I don’t care if Harrison believes he’s better, he should, or else whats the fucking point right? But I know. In my mind I’ve beaten some of the greatest wrestlers of all time at the top of their game, so what hope does Steve Harrison have?
That’s what I tell myself. Positive thinking.
For me, positive thinking is also, to a large extent, smart thinking. It’s not about indiscriminate, undirected energy. People think that resilience is all about grit and determination. They’re big parts of it, but as it see it, at best, the ability to run through walls is, at best? Only the start. If you don’t inject positivity into that it will soon wear thin. It will run out or, worse, curdle into negativity. You’ll tell yourself that you’ve tried and failed, so what’s the point?
By contrast, if you’re plagued with doubts and dont have faith in yourself, the chances are that things will go wrong. I’ve learned that the hard way, not so long ago. When I last faced Harrison I got lucky, because doubt was slowly killing me like a cancer.
Now I have no doubts. I have my positive motivator. I want to be the best version of myself that I can be. I want to the best LSD champion of all time, redefining a genre and creating another legacy to go with my others. I want to push myself as far as I can once again, not to prove to anybody else that I still have what it takes, but to prove it to myself.
Because I know I can do it.
I lift my foot onto the chair, nodding down to Adam. He looks me in the eye and the slight, wry, smile and disbelief tells me that he thinks I’m joking. I raise my eyebrows to tell him that I am not.
“Make sure they’re tight! If I trip over my own boot I’m blaming you!” I bark, smirking as he goes to work, literally lacing my boots.
It’s important that he knows his place. Right now he’s the bottom of the garbage heap in my eyes and I’m a fucking king. He will pay his dues. Every single last one of them.
“Can I come to the ring with you?” he asked quietly, keeping his eyes down at my boots.
“I think you know the answer to that question,” I replied, stern enough so that he knows not to push the subject.
His disappointed nod told me that he got the message. Of Course he wanted to be there, close enough to smell the sweat, soak up the atmosphere and watch from the ringside as his mentor puts on a master class in his first LSD defence. But I couldn’t risk it. Fuck, I thought I was being kind for even allowing him to lace my boots.
“You will stay back here and watch. When I return I expect the shower to be running at the correct temperature and some food and drink. That is your role tonight.”
He finishes lacing my boots and I walk around a few paces to get a feel. He did a good job. But I wasn’t going to tell him that.
“Tape!” I bark, clicking my fingers and extending my wrist.
I didn’t usually tape up my wrists but I’d jarred something when I was training. It wasn’t anything serious but I didn’t want Harrison to pick up any sort of scent of me carrying even the slightest of knocks. I preach all the time about how I am the best at exploiting weaknesses, so I should expect that he of all people would have paid attention and taken notes.
I noticed Adam look up at me as he taped up the wrist, as though he was burning to ask me something.
“What?” I growled, warning him that whatever it was better not piss me off.
“No, I shouldn’t distract you at a time like this,” he admitted.
“Well too late, because you’ve piqued my curiosity so spit it out!”
“Well, I just wondered what’s going through your head right now. Your about to defend a championship and, I guess I just wanted some insight into what that feels like now, at this exact moment?”
I could feel myself pouting my mouth and shrugging my shoulders, as though none of this was a big deal. Which of course it was.
“Nothing,” I bluntly, yet calmly replied. “My mind is completely clear and I am completely relaxed.”
I could tell from the look on his face that he was genuinely astonished.
“Wow. Like, I’d be a bag of nerves. I mean I have butterflies right now for you and I’m not even the one who has to wrestle!”
“Eh, it’s like when you take a test in high school, yano? You can spend weeks studying and then the night before you try to cram it all in and end up panicking yourself into a stupor. Then on the day it all goes to shit because you’ve let nerves get the better of ya,” I explain, rotating my wrist at the joint to make sure that it wasn’t going to limit me in any way.
“See, I’ve spent the last two weeks thinking about nothing but Steve Harrison and this match tonight. I’ve gone over every scenario. The best thing I can do right now is chill the fuck out and wait for all of that to pay off in the ring. I have nothing to worry about because I know that I am better than him. I know that I am the LSD champion for a reason. So why waste nervous energy thinking?”
He nodded slowly, allowing that to stick in. I can’t help but wonder if this will be one of those moments that he will look back on and remember when he’s older. The kind of moments I wished I could have with Chloe.
“Steve Harrison is about to learn a very hard lesson,” I continue, smirking as I look my young apprentice in the eye.
“What’s that,” he asks, mirroring my smirk as though he’s already going to enjoy the answer.
“That there’s no such thing as miracles.”