Fading in from Stanislav’s interview with Angelica Brookes, a television monitor backstage runs a Tale of the Tape for the Russian Bear and the COOLympian ahead of their upcoming match.
Panning out, the dark brown eyes of the Universal Champion watch closely.
Tampa lets us know their appreciation in the background.
Hayes stands, belt over his shoulder, studying the screen and the story told, mentally preparing for either outcome, and the Universal Title shot to follow.
That is, if he can get through his friend here at ReVival 22.
Quick pan out, revealing a figure standing astride Hanlon. Out in the Amalie Arena, the crowd erupts.
REZIN is there, munching loudly from a bucket of popcorn.
The Escape Artist’s reddened eyes are wide and intently fixated on the monitor. Apparently, he’s also there for the show.
Not bothering to look away from the screen, 8he offers a handful to the Universal Champion.
Hayes looks scrupulously upon the wad of buttery goodness unappetizingly clenched within the Goat Bastard’s blackened fingers. He furrows his brow and shakes his head, pushing Rezin’s hand away, comically slow, and looks away before he can watch it disappear into Rezin’s beard-lined maw.
Awkward silence lingers as the two former Five Star Champions continue to stare at the monitor. Except there’s nothing to really look at, besides the graphic of Ivan and Jiles and their attributes.
Hayes Hanlon: (Turning suddenly) Dude, do you have any idea what personal space is? I’m trying to watch this shit.
The loud, incessant chewing abruptly goes silent. With overdramatic poise, as though the request were a slap to the face, Rezin slowly swivels his incredulous gaze from the monitor to Hanlon.
He scoots a mere two inches further away from the Universal Champion, and defiantly scoops up another handful of popcorn into his mouth.
Rezin: …this better?
Hayes shakes his head at Rezin’s Rezin-y reply before turning back to the screen, exhaling through his nose.
Hayes Hanlon: If you’re trying to get in my head, you’re gonna have to try harder. The idea of Jiles getting another shot at the Strap has got you beat.
Hayes motions his jaw to the screen, where Cancer’s sunglass-covered face leers.
Rezin: (Snorting) Trust me, Champ… I wouldn’t needta try. Lucky for you, I doubt ya got anything innerestin’ in there for me.
A sinister, jackyl-like grin spreads across the face of the Goat Bastard. Hayes rolls his eyes.
Rezin: Also lucky for you, Jiles ain’t gonna be your problem…
Hayes Hanlon: You’re right. I also managed to kick off 2023 by pissing off a 400 pound Russian Bear.
Hayes glances over to the Goat Bastard, then repeats with a double take.
Hayes Hanlon: Oh, you meant you.
Hayes turns, smoothing his mustache with one hand while the other holds his belt in place to square up with the Escape Artist.
Hayes Hanlon: Looking at a repeat performance for the Big One, Erik?
The bucket hits the floor, and the night janitor’s job just got a bit messier as popcorn spills across the floor. White kernels crunch loudly beneath Rezin’s black boots as he forgoes any sense of personal space and gets beard-to-’stache with the Event Horizon.
Rezin: WHAT?! Ya think just cause ya traded up to the Uni strap that it can’t happen, HAAYES HAANLONN?!
Rezin’s face is an amalgam of eye twitches, blubbering lips, and flaring nostrils, while Hayes twitches slightly at Rezin’s exaggerated play on his name, bringing up memories from pre-GAN. Nonetheless, he maintains the mostly-unflinching poise of a champion who is neither amused nor intimidated.
Rezin: Make no mistake… a lot’s changed in the past six months! A little bit in YOU, sure… but also a whole LOT in me! See, I now know all that I AM… and I finally realize all that I’m capable of! And YOU, buddy, have the lucky distinction of bein’ the first to find out what I have in store for this company over the next year!
Hayes Hanlon: And that’s nothing compared to what I have planned!
Cocking his head to the side, the Goat Bastard steadily backs away, popcorn crunching beneath every step. Hayes, in a moment of aggression, follows him, the kernels popping under his dress shoes.
Hayes Hanlon: They called me the Five Star Stud before you took that belt from me. But now? Now they call me the Universal CHAMPION. What do they call you?
Rezin stops, popcorn littering his beard. Hayes stays close, short breaths pushing through his nostrils.
Hayes Hanlon: They call you what they’ve always called you. The Escape Artist. The Goat Bastard. So who’s really changed?
A pause between the two.
Hayes Hanlon: I told you our story wasn’t over. Right before I pinned Jiles the first time. I know I won’t hold this belt forever, but you’re not gonna be the one to take it from me. Not this time.
Rezin stares in tense silence. His deep, rage-fueled breathing gets progressively louder. He looks poised to snap into a storm of wrath and violence at a moment’s notice.
Instead, the tension snaps with a smirk and a wink as the Escape Artist moves to leave.
Rezin: Stars ain’t the only thing that collapse in on themselves, HHAAAYYESS HAAANNLAAAWNN! ALL things eventually end! Even universes…
Rezin pulls out a J as he turns and exits the scene. The Champ’s dark eyes follow him, before turning to exit himself.