END OF DETENTE
Arrival. Earlier in the evening. Cleveland, like so many other places, has been sweltering over the course of the last week. A calm before the storm. If only people knew what was to come throughout the night. The camera fixes upon the form of the PRIME Universal Champion, Brandon Youngblood, as he power walks through the halls of Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse. He isn’t scheduled to wrestle tonight, but his manner conveys an intensity on par with any night in which he competes.
The fans in the arena let out their cheers, but as the Champion rounds the corner, only boos can be heard. While Rumor Mills and Think Red took up mental real estate, the instigator of tonight’s sour mood occupied the physical.
It’s been a long time coming, but in the periphery, the large, looming figure of a man wearing a black shirt and red suspenders can mean only one thing: Ivan Stanislav. For the first time since he arrived almost a year ago, he and Brandon Youngblood were about to share the same physical space outside of a wrestling ring. Stanislav’s words were a wave of Russian-tinged disdain.
Ivan Stanislav: Brandon Youngblood…
The Bear’s footfalls echo down the hallway as his combat boots crunch with his steps, the lumbering, towering Russians face that of, at best, extreme consternation. Stanislav’s presence demands attention, which he also expects.
Ivan Stanislav: Dealing with you in wrestling ring, it can be difficult to gauge how truly small someone is, but you are even smaller than I expected…
Those words come from on high. The Diamond glowers in the direction of the Russian Bear, a hand ripping at the zipper of the duffle bag over his shoulder. The movements are powerful, quick, and as quickly as he starts, the bag is on the ground.
The Universal Championship, however, is clasped in his hand.
Brandon Youngblood: How about you gauge this?
There is no raising the title. Its place is evident for all to see. Stanislav can’t help but narrow his eyes cast down upon it. With a loud thunk, it too is on the ground.
Brandon Youngblood: Or gauge your material. Everyone. Everyone. It’s the same fee-fi-fo-fum bullshit. ‘I big, you small’. Better delivery. Lots more skillful. Same message all the damn same.
Stanislav’s eyes smolder as he gazes down at Youngblood, and then at the belt that falls to the floor. His breath whistles through the black and gray hairs of his nose. As the physical space between the two men shortens, the tension grows.
Ivan Stanislav: One should treat that belt with more respect, Youngblood. It is not some trinket to toss about. Yet do I expect anything more from you? Nyet. Not “great” Brandon Youngblood. Well, Mister “Fuck Around and Find Out,” I may not have as many nicknames as you. But I do not need them. That belt will be pried out of your grasping hands and I will show all of PRIME meaning of true champion.
He smirks and cocks one of his bushy brows.
Ivan Stanislav: Hammer and sickle will look fantastic, emblazoned upon the front. And you will squirm.
Brandon Youngblood: Yeah?
A simple finger point at HIS Championship.
Brandon Youngblood: It’s right there. Sitting right there. Don’t need to pry nothing. Go on. Take it.
Brandon Youngblood: Try it. Give me a reason. One. Damn. Reason. ‘Cause all that down there? Not mattering as much to me. Bunch of clothes and a belt. A pile of shit, laid on the floor. Just like you laid out on me…my family. My brother. My DEAD brother. Belittled. Used like a tool.
There’s not much separating the pair now. These mammoths of muscle. Two of the most wrought iron and feared legacies in the history of professional wrestling. And at any moment, their blows could rattle the very foundation of the Rocket Mortgage Arena.
Brandon Youngblood: One reason. Go on. Grab it. Because I promise you…after all that talking about how I can’t lift you? You try taking MY property? You’re not getting up…
The gears turn in the head of the Soviet man. His eyes glare down, past Youngblood, at that belt. What he’s wanted for the past year. No, what he’s wanted for the past seventeen years since his first stint in PRIME. His jaw shifts slowly in his massive head as his right fist balls up into the size of a ham. Muscle, thick and taut, expands beneath his shirt as his suspenders creak beneath his expanding frame.
But Ivan smiles.
Ivan Stanislav: Last time I took matters into my own hands, Mama Troy swooped in and saved Universal Champion Rezin.
He shakes his head and tsks.
Ivan Stanislav: And he is not coddled lifetime pet like you, Youngblood. I will not fall for it. Besides, why put you through this wall outside of ring, when I can do it in front of all your fans and watch them cry tears at your destruction? I know you believe you have nothing to fear, Brandon Youngblood. I know you have bought, like some blind capitalist, all the smoke and sunshine PRIME has shot into your face since reopening. But I want you to know something, and you listen well, boy.
Stanislav leans forward, his huge head lowering more to be in line with Youngblood. Such a large target, he almost makes it too easy to hit him.
Ivan Stanislav: You have never stood against The Russian Bear alone. Claw away the smoke. Dispel the sunshine, and understand that you are woefully unprepared for me. You have never stood against someone such as I. And you would do well to un-puff that chest and open your mind before I embarrass you before every member of PRIME who holds your memory dear.
He offers a wide, almost frustratingly friendly smile as he straightens up to his full height.
Ivan Stanislav: That belt will be mine. It will be Mother Russia’s. I will not take it today. I save it for later.
In the face of such meticulously cultivated yet immensely threatening stature, all others have, in some form, wilted. And those from the past weren’t ham and eggers. They were champions spanning multiple divisions. Numerous accolades. A litany of main events and vaunted stature. All the more impressive, then, was Stanislav. The Red Tempest. The Uncrowned.
Yet on this night, there isn’t a solitary hesitation.
Brandon Youngblood: Do you even know what’s standing in front of you? The pet project? Sunshine and rainbows? I was run out of here like a damn dog, Ivan. Everything I have…everything I am…I earned. We ain’t stepped face to face, one on one, but I’m going to put it to you as bluntly as anyone ever has.
There is an almost sadistic, wild-eyed stare from the Universal Champion toward his challenger.
Brandon Youngblood: Nobody in PRIME history has won more singles bouts in its history. Every GTT winner I ever faced? I put down. You know those names. Guys like Snow. I’m the constant. Era to era. Seen all the threats come…and all the threats go. The inevitables. The monsters. The ones who had real staying power…
The blows could come at any time.
Brandon Youngblood: From where I stand? From what I’ve done? Size of the man? I don’t even see you.
No one would ever claim that either of these men were gifted in the art of de-escalation. Stanislav’s face twists into a greater, angrier grimace at Youngblood’s words. His upper lip curls as he reveals more of his teeth. He looks about to boil over, but then? Ivan simmers and his eyes turn thoughtful. The grimace turns into an almost amused smile.
Ivan Stanislav: Threats come. Threats go. Yes. And you, and I, and everyone else believes they will be constant. But that, Brandon Youngblood, is not to be. Not for you. Not for me. The victories of your past? Meaningless. The men you have defeated? Irrelevant. There is but one moment to which we march towards: UltraViolence. My eyes are set to the future. A Red Dawn for PRIME. A glorious moment of success for something far greater than individual accolades.
He nods down at Youngblood.
Ivan Stanislav: We have more in common that you can imagine, Brandon Youngblood. Yet, as much as I would enjoy listening to you tell me how great you -were-, I have important things to do. There is new member of Red Army tonight. Oh, and plenty of other important work that must be done throughout evening.
Ivan nods down towards the belt, lying between them.
Ivan Stanislav: Pick up your safety net. Your relevance. Your prop. Enjoy it for next month, because you will -never- hold it again come conclusion of UltraViolence.
Many others might look to get the last word, perhaps futilely doing so. Brandon? The rabid smile and huffing chuckle is all he offers, grabbing the duffle bag and the Universal Championship, throwing it over his shoulder.
Brandon Youngblood: Funny. Supposedly all about the future…
He barely avoids shoulder checking the Russian Bear.
Brandon Youngblood: …sounding like just another tab…
And then, as he steps away from the engagement entirely, his parting salvo.
Brandon Youngblood: Good luck with your Red Army announcement. And keep my goddamn family’s name out your goddamn mouth.
Ivan doesn’t allow Youngblood to see his frustration, but when The Diamond walks away, his expression sours greatly. He spits on the floor and grinds his teeth with hands on his hips, as rapid footsteps arrive behind him.
Ruslan blinks and looks up at his friend, and then towards Youngblood.
Alexei Ruslan: Let us take him now, Comrade.
But Ivan shakes his head.
Ivan Stanislav: Nyet, old friend.
Stanislav once more grins, but there’s malice laced throughout every pore of that aged face.
Ivan Stanislav: We have more important work to do.
The two Russians smirk to one another as the scene fades to the ringside area for our next match.