INTENSE TITLE: PAXTON RAY (c) vs. SAGE PONTIFF
The house lights in the arena go dark. Three spotlights shine on the entryway from Argyle position. “Satori Part II” hits on the speakers, and the fans at the Smoothie King Center know the cue.
Sage Pontiff steps out from the back, blood dried in the shape of a third eye on his forehead. He looks no worse for wear from when the crowd first saw him earlier creating that grotesque warpaint marking. In fact, he looks delighted. An air of superiority surrounds him as he stands straight and tall. He closes his eyes, throws his head back, outstretches his arms, and takes in the hatred from the crowd. He finds a center and shakes his head. Stalking to the ring with a smile on his face, the Bodhisattva of the Transformative Experience ignores outstretched hands and middle fingers alike.
Vince Howard: This match is scheduled for one fall and is for the PRIME Intense Championship! Introducing first, from Joshua Tree, California, by way of wherever his biodiesel van takes him, he is the challenger and the Bodhisattva of the Transformative Experience, Sage PONTIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF!
Nick Stuart: I know the question you’re going to ask, and it’s the same one I’m thinking of.
Richard Parker: How compatible is Sage’s new-age, free-living lifestyle compatible with Hoytism?
Nick Stuart: That is the furthest question from my mind. Do you not see the blood dried on his forehead? Why he would do that to himself?
Richard Parker: I do not, actually. He is such a forward and advanced thinker that if I were to ponder it, I may become paralyzed in whatever it is I would find looking for those answers.
Nick Stuart: Your mind is a fascinating place, Richard.
Sage arrives at the ring, acting like everyone in the Smoothie King Center doesn’t want to see him under the business end of a front-end loader trying to knock down trees. It’s not that they’re not environmentalists. Just some punishments would be funny.
They say it’s good to start a story with a tragedy.
There are a smattering of cheers that rise up. Some people don’t care what you did, as long as you live near them. The rest of the arena though. Hoo boy. You’d think Paxton Ray and Foster Nackedy were wearing Atlanta Falcons jerseys or were members of the George W. Bush administration.
The day I finally met you like I knew I would
You raised me from the wreck of my doubts
The Butcher of the Bayou doesn’t care to look at anyone in the crowd. He only stalks to the ring behind the Ballroom Thieves’ chunky riffs with Foster trailing him, trying his best to shoot snide comments to individual jesters closeby.
Vince Howard: And his opponent, he is the PRIME Intense Champion! Hailing from Lafayette, Louisiana, he is The Bayou Butcher, Paxton… RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!
You were smiling to yourself as if we both understood.
Paxton rolls his neck to crack the bone and then climbs up on the apron. Foster seems to be barking something to him, but the Champ is having none of it at the moment. He steps through the ropes then leans against them, almost absorbing each individual boo raining upon him like an incendiary arrow upon a fortress under siege. Elvis Nixon, the official referee of the Intense division, calls for both men to come to the center of the ring.
Nick Stuart: Paxton seems a little on edge this week. I wonder what’s going on in that head of his.
Richard Parker: Nothing good. I would pry, but that’s just none of my business.
Nick Stuart: Aren’t you a self-styled broadcast journalist?
Richard Parker: Only the best!
As the two stand face to face, the noise in the crowd ceases to exist. There’s an eerie calm permeating the arena. The fans don’t know whom to cheer. The Butcher of the Bayou may be the default fan-favorite here just because his look is familiar, sneering, angry. He’s also got homefield advantage, but Jon Rhine claims New Orleans as home too. Snuffing out New Life can overcome a warm welcome in familiar territory. But the Bodhisattva, the man who would be the one to teach this sadistic bully a lesson? He’s smiling, blood dried on his head. His look is downright unsettling, too unsettling for any sane person to get behind.
Nick Stuart: I have a bad feeling about this, Rich.
Richard Parker: Look, I had a bad feeling when the Luchador stepped in the ring with this sicko. Right now? I think I’m just numb. I need Hoyt’s guidance to get me through this match.
Nick Stuart: Hoyt, Jesus, Allah, Zeus. Nothing or no one holy is in this place right now.
Elvis Nixon calls for the bell.
DING DING DING
The two competitors step to each other like characters in a cinematic prizefight. Sage widens his eyes as big as they’ll open in one last attempt to psych out the Champ, but he’s seen it all. Young bucks in the mud pits tried this shit all the goddamn time. His sneer only grows larger. Finally, Pontiff breaks the tension.
Sage Pontiff: Hit me.
Defiantly, Ray furrows his brow, his vision narrowed through squinted eyes, awash in hatred and anger. No one tells him what to do, not Rhine, not Foster, not the State of Louisiana. He stands his ground.
Sage Pontiff: Can you hear me in there? Hit. Me.
Paxton stands his ground.
Sage Pontiff: You really are stubborn. I can see why your family wants nothing to do with you.
Big mistake. Or is it? In a flash hotter and faster than a bolt of lightning, Paxton’s chain-wrapped fist connects with Sage’s jaw, throwing his head back, dreadlocks scattering chaotically in every direction. The force turns Pontiff around, and the Bodhisattva takes a knee, smiling at the broadcast booth as his gaze catches them.
Nick Stuart: Few people can take a right cross from the Butcher and not get knocked out. Sage might be the only person who can take one and smile.
Richard Parker: Isn’t that a good thing? Maybe he can knock some inner peace into that sociopathic crayfish.
Nick Stuart: I don’t think it works that way, Rich.
Richard Parker: Hey, I’ve seen stuff happen during the ReVival era that made me reconsider my entire belief system for a second, only a second though, luv u, Hoyt. Point is, anything is possible at this point.
Having gotten his point across, Sage rolls out of the ring in one swift motion. The time for pleasantries has passed; the time to start living up to the namesake of the Championship has arrived. He fumbles around blindly, hands busy under the apron until his face lights up, as if the proverbial bulb over the head were literal. His hand whisks out, holding a kendo stick.
Richard Parker: NOW we’re talking!
Nick Stuart: That’s a good starter weapon, I think, but Paxton Ray’s last two matches were in barbed wire against The Anglo Luchador and in a halfway-deconstructed ring against Jared Sykes.
Richard Parker: Rome wasn’t built in a day. That’s what all these hippie types like to say, right?
Nick Stuart: I’ll let you think that, Rich.
Paxton looks at his opponent, still wild-eyed and frothing at the mouth, like he ain’t shit at his choice of weapon. He shakes his head, but in his one moment of taking his eye off the ball…
Richard Parker: OUCH! Right in the yambag!
Nick Stuart: Well, it’s legal. And I feel like that word is familiar yet foreign.
Richard Parker: Anna Daniels gave it to me. I like it.
Nick Stuart: Regardless where you got it, and legal or not, it’s a low move. But dirty tricks or not, I can’t help but think Paxton’s lack of attention is playing into this onslaught.
Richard Parker: Whatever is on his mind, I hope it gets more… intense. I need his chakras disassembled.
Nick Stuart: I’m not sure that even means anything, Rich.
With Pax holding his twig and berries gingerly, Sage goes to work with the kendo stick, swinging it like he was a jock in school and not a hippie. Three cracks to the forehead put Paxton down, but the smile on the Bodhisattva’s face melts away. He straddles the Butcher’s body, forcibly pulling his hands away from the defensive position in front of his face. Then, what comes next is a practical but unorthodox use of the rattan cane.
Nick Stuart: Pontiff GRINDING that cane across Paxton’s forehead! Those canes aren’t solid but made up of coarse fibers. That could open a gusher on the Champ’s head in short order.
Richard Parker: This is too painful to watch. It reminds me of the time I got arrested for jaywalking in Singapore.
After a minute or so of grinding, the shaman gazes upon his work. Ray’s forehead is red, raw, chafed, but no skin has broken. He shoots up to his feet, throwing the kendo stick beside him in frustration. Pax tries to rise to his feet, but as he gets to all fours, Pontiff flails his leg wildly, putting the heel of his calloused and worn foot in the small of his back by the grace of velocity and not precision. He mounts Ray’s back and grabs his arm by the forearm. Scanning for the sharpest part of the chain – drat, he thought to himself, no crocodile teeth this week – he presses the Champion’s own wrist to his forehead and starts grinding.
Nick Stuart: If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Pontiff was trying to make Paxton Ray bleed here.
Richard Parker: Well, I’m the one in this booth who knows better most of the time, and I agree, he’s *HURK*
Nick Stuart: I would like to assure all the people at home that my broadcast colleague only dry-heaved right there.
He’s able to balance himself inflicting massive violence due to his core strength. Paxton tries his hardest to break free, kicking his legs like a tantruming child, but escape only comes when Sage realizes the skin on his victim’s forehead is still not broken. Again, he shoots to his feet, this time leaning his head down to the shockingly prone Intense Champion.
Sage Pontiff: WHY WON’T YOU BLEED?
The Champion has had enough. He rolls over onto his back, fighting through pain, and hocks the biggest loogie possible, expectorating right in his challenger’s face.
Paxton Ray: Because fuck you, that’s why.
Even though it’s not the first time someone spit directly in his face, Sage still is taken aback. This gives Paxton the in he needs to get his feet under him. Now the fun begins. The Champ grabs a handful of dreadlocks, causing the Bodhisattva’s face to contort into comedic levels of painful expression, and pulls him in deep for a headlock. He repeats what he did to the Luchador four weeks ago when he won that title. Yeah, the ropes are steel cables rather than barbed wire, but metal is metal, and it still hurts like a son of a bitch.
Nick Stuart: There’s the Champ and his meanstreak. You didn’t think Pontiff was going to be able to keep him corralled for too long.
Richard Parker: It’s good to have hope though, y’know?
Pax throws his challenger to the mat like a sack of garbage, then steps through the ropes and to the outside. He thinks about grabbing one of the spare chairs, but because cruelty is embedded in his soul, he threatens Vince Howard with bodily harm and takes the one he was sitting on. As he slides into the ring, he lets go of the chair, leaving it on the mat. Sage slowly climbs to his feet, holding his head in his hands, but again, Pax grabs the dreadlocks – he takes great enjoyment in yanking them, actually – and whips the guru into his grasp, readying for a bodyslam.
Paxton Ray: You like pain, ya pig? I gotchu covered.
Ray then slams Sage down HARD onto the chair. The Bodhisattva spasms, arching his back, but he’s met with a boot to his gut. Ray makes the match’s first cover…
Pax isn’t content to let this thread go. All good threads deserve pulling after all. He drags the challenger to his feet and slams him again on the chair with even more reckless abandon than before. Then again. Then again and again and again until even Foster can’t take enough of seeing someone’s back destroyed over and over. He may be in Paxton’s corner, but he’s also in his 40s with a bad back. Sometimes, empathy takes over. Pax makes a second cover.
KICKOUT! Somehow even more emphatically than before. The camera zooms in on Sage’s face to show that he’s smiling.
Nick Stuart: I’m starting to think Sage Pontiff isn’t a normal competitor.
Richard Parker: Of course not! His emotional core is centered in combat. Pain is a blessing to receive and to give.
Nick Stuart: That was profound. Too profound for you, Rich.
Richard Parker: Thanks, I read it on a Chobani label.
Paxton pounds the mat, frustrated, maybe a little too much so for not being able to put Sage away so early in the match. Foster takes the cue to give his charge an easy way out.
Nick Stuart: Wait, what did Foster just slide into the ring?
Richard Parker: It’s a suitcase nuke. Call Homeland Security.
Nick Stuart: It’s not that big, c’mon Richard, be serious for a second. It looks like a pair of knux?
Richard Parker: Aren’t those illegal?
They indeed are contraband in many states. That doesn’t stop Foster from carrying them and sliding them to his charge. Paxton looks over at his manager indignantly, gets up, and kicks them at dangerous velocity, so much so that Foster has to jump out of the way. They clang off the guard barrier, shocking everyone: Richard, Nick, Foster, the fan in the front row with the “ACKNOWLEDGE OINKERS” sign, production assistants in Argyle, Zion Williamson resting at home from another injury.
Nick Stuart: I don’t approve of the use of such a dangerous weapon, but you have to question the logic of Paxton not going along with using them.
Richard Parker: It doesn’t make sense to me, but I don’t want to see a murder in the ring tonight, Nick.
Paxton turns around from his rejection, but his, ahem, yambag pays the price again.
Richard Parker: God bless Sage Pontiff for making sure this sicko can’t please a woman again.
Nick Stuart: Richard, I’m sure that’ll only make him angrier.
Richard Parker: Ah nuts.
Doubled over again, Paxton walks right into a headlock driver that sends him crashing into the chair he brought into the ring. The Champ is stunned but still unbloodied. Pontiff heads into the corner and savagely tears at the turnbuckle pad, tearing so hard that the laces snap. The Butcher gets to his feet, still groggy from head trauma, and the Bodhisattva sizes up his prey, laying the trap. Pax falls right into the trap. Flapjack. Head CRASHING into the exposed turnbuckle. The Champion falls back. Sage’s face lights up like the Christmas lights at Rockefeller Center.
Paxton Ray is bleeding. Finally.
His smile is a mile wide. He sees the wound and drops to the canvas. As he sinks his teeth into the freshly opened gash, you can hear in unison the sounds of several mothers’ hands covering their children’s eyes. Fans, generally in sync chanting, chaotically shout “EW!” Richard Parker heaves again, but this time, my friends, it’s not dry. The bloody beard and lips of the Bodhisattva match the sanguine eye on his forehead. Paxton’s face is completely red.
Nick Stuart: For once, Richard, I don’t disagree with your lack of control over your gastrointestinal constitution.
Richard Parker: *HURK*
Sage Pontiff is happy, but he is not satisfied. He wants more blood. He wants all the blood. His favorite Pearl Jam song is “Blood.” Okay, I might be making that one up. He probably doesn’t even like Pearl Jam. Anyway.
He mounts Ray again, this time, using his head. Literally. Mounted headbutts. Blood spatters around the ring canvas, some flying far enough that Foster has to change his spot on the outside of the ring. The deluge of headbutts only ends with Sage feeling woozy himself. Instead of going for the pin though, he picks Pax to his feet. He grabs, opens, and places the chair around Pax’s head. With violent intent…
Nick Stuart: NAMASTE!
Richard Parker: With the chair! Sage Pontiff leaving no stone unturned, and I am here for it, Nick.
Pax falls limply to his knees, then collapses to his side. The chair falls off his head, and Sage FINALLY tries to win the fucking match.
Kickout! The arena groans. And then Paxton Ray rolls out of the ring to regroup. But you really can’t regroup against a man who doesn’t think any high risk maneuver is a bad idea. As the Champion confers with his manager, trying to wipe the gushing blood from his eyes, the challenger sizes him up and takes a running start. He leaps with the same thrust as one would for a tope suicida. However, because Sage Pontiff has attained perfect body control, he impossibly twists midair into Fosbury flop, attacking with his back careening at Paxton and Foster. It is a sight to behold, many cameras flashing to catch it either in stills or video. It would have been a killshot…
…had it landed…
…somewhere else than Sage’s back catastrophically smashing into the guard barrier. Because Paxton Ray caught it a beat early and dove out of the way.
Richard Parker: Uh, did we just watch a guy die?
Nick Stuart: No Rich, I see his chest moving up and down, but I think he might not be in great shape to win this match.
Paxton Ray takes the time to collect himself. Sage Pontiff is quoting Homer Simpson – “This is more painful than it looks.” After a moment, the Lafayette Bruiser realizes he has a title to defend and a guy who wouldn’t be going away too easily, even if he almost just broke his back. Once again, he grabs those dreadlocks and drags him to the precipice of the ring. Just as it looks like he’s going to toss him back in, he stops short, swings the guru around, and he exacerbates the back injury he just suffered.
Nick Stuart: It is crazy how one big risk has sunken Sage so badly here, Rich.
Richard Parker: At this point, the way Paxton is coldly calculating here, I’m just wondering if Sage’s teachings will come across as poignantly if he can’t walk.
The theme of the match is “if it works, do it again,” and Pax follows it to a tee. He slams Sage’s back into the unforgiving, unmoving apron time after time until his victim cannot stand anymore. As the Bodhisattva falls limply to his knees, it’s the Butcher’s turn to find plunder from under the ring. He reaches in and finds himself a fire extinguisher. Most people use it the normal way, pull the pin, squeeze the handle, blind your opponent with flame-retardant foam.
Not Paxton Ray.
Lift. Swing. WHAM.
Nick Stuart: Man, I know it’s the Intense Title, but Elvis Nixon has gotta think about stopping this match.
Richard Parker: Intense Title, Shmintense Shtitle, stop the match! I don’t want to see yet another man paralyzed at the hands of this freak.
Luckily for Sage, Ray realizes he has to win the match before he can get paid, and he needs to get paid so he can, well, pay you know who. After Sage is sufficiently spasming and twitching against his own will, Paxton picks him up and rolls him into the ring. He covers, hooking the leg for emphasis…
THR… NO! Pontiff kicks out, causing an audible gasp to rise up from the crowd.
Nick Stuart: I don’t know where he’s getting the wherewithal to kick out here, but my God.
Richard Parker: He’s powering up to over 9000! I feel it!
Nick Stuart: Folks, Richard Parker is making anime references. That’s how you know it’s getting real in there.
No more time for fooling around. As Foster screams on the outside holding the brass knux in his hand, Paxton ignores him, instead hauling his opponent in place for an Irish whip. Rebound. Lift into the air. Here’s the part where I would say “Lafayette Lullaby!!” but again, I mentioned before that Sage Pontiff has insane body control while airborne. He takes the momentum received from being tossed into the air and adds ever so much of his own that allows him to propel himself forward an inch or so. The uppercut doesn’t connect, but his own hurricanrana does. And this one is all spike, no pin.
Nick Stuart: UNBELIEVABLE!
Richard Parker: I BELIEVE IN THE TRANSFORMATIVE EXPERIENCE!!!
He rises to his feet. Any other wrestler might have had the roof pop off the building after that move, but let’s face it. Sage Pontiff is only better than Paxton Ray because he hasn’t paralyzed anyone yet, though he came close to doing that to himself tonight. He lifts Paxton Ray to his feet and whips him off the ropes, charging in the opposite direction. As they meet like two trains in a math problem, Pontiff leaps in the air in beautiful poetry, putting the Champion down with the Cosmic Resonator. As Ray rises to one knee, shaken but still with gas in the tank, Sage knows what he has to do. He grabs him preemptively and then signals to the crowd.
Nick Stuart: He’s going to finish this one!
Richard Parker: I feel all the planets lining up. The auras are in place! It’s time for the Shamanic Dream…
Before Richard could finish his statement, Sage’s somersaulting movement stops. Paxton has grabbed both his legs tight before he could finish the rotation. The Butcher does what his instinct tells him to do. He heaves forward, rocking the Bodhisattva’s back and head off the canvas with a brutal spinebuster. Then, the finishing suite.
Lifting the challenger to his feet. Whip. Thrust.
Lafayette Lullaby. Academic.
The… no? NO!
Nick Stuart: Oh my God! How is he still kicking out?!
Richard Parker: He’s riding the cosmic wave, Nick! He’s going to do it!
Paxton is beside himself. Foster is apoplectic. He climbs onto the apron, waving the knux while barking at his charge.
Foster Nackedy: Use them, NOW!
Paxton Ray: Fuck you. I do it my way.
Foster Nackedy: Use them now, or else.
The “or else” must be loaded, because Paxton acquiesces. He takes on the knux and repeats.
Lift. Whip. Thrust.
DING DING DING.
Vince Howard: Here is your winner, and STILL PRIME Intense Champion, Paxtonnnnnnnn… RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!
Boos rain down from the rafters of the Smoothie King Center. Paxton Ray, a bloody mess, scowl etched on his face, raises his hand holding the title. He and Foster exit the ring and walk up the ramp back to Argyle, saying nary a word to each other.
Meanwhile, Sage Pontiff remains in the ring, eyes closed, knocked out waiting for paramedics. Except he STILL has a mile-wide smile on his face.