IT’S BEEN TWENTY-EIGHT DAYS SINCE IVAN STANISLAV DAMAGED ARENA PROPERTY
Coming off the heels of a backstage segment, the crowd at the Ball arena is greeted to a change in lighting that can only mean one thing. What kind of a change?
Nick Stuart: We all knew this was coming folks. It’s on our run sheet.
Richard Parker: Comrade!
Indeed, that’s all it takes for “The Soviet National Anthem” by the Russian Red Army Choir to explode throughout the arena and pyro to burst from the entryway. When the smoke clears, the hulking Ivan Stanislav, with Alexei Ruslan at his side, stands with his arms overhead.
Nick Stuart: I get anxiety every time Ivan comes down to ringside. I mean look at this guy in the crowd. He’s so hopeful!
Indeed, the camera zooms in on one hopeful male audience member who holds a sign that reads “IT’S BEEN 28 DAYS SINCE IVAN STANISLAV DAMAGED ARENA PROPERTY.” The man is sweating.
Stanislav marches down the ramp toward the ring, but he looks slightly… confused? He growls something down at Alexei, who shrugs. Ivan literally steps up onto the apron and over the top rope. Ruslan walks over to the ropes closest to the announcers and calls out just loud enough to be picked up while Ivan looms behind him with hands on his hips.
Alexei Ruslan: Where is our interviewer?!
Richard looks over at Nick and totally throws him under the bus.
Richard Parker: Nick’ll figure it out!
Nick Stuart: What?! I mean…
Shuffling papers. Stanislav booms far louder than Alexei.
Ivan Stanislav: Where is our interviewer?!
Nick calls out to the Russians.
Nick Stuart: It just says the two of you. There’s no interviewer. It’s not on the sheet!
Ivan looks down at Ruslan who shrugs. Stanislav boils, but he does his best to hold it in while he points to the timekeeper. Ruslan quickly exits, grabs a microphone, and returns. He holds it while the two move to the middle of the ring, and brings it up to his oversized comrade’s lips.
Ivan Stanislav: This is typical poor work ethic! Journalists in PRIME should take notes from Russian journalists! I was told I would have interviewer! Whoever was to be here shall pay for this!
Alexei nods. Aggressively. Meanwhile, the fans boo louder than ever.
Nick Stuart: I don’t know what he wants? My format specifically states that he and Alexei are alone. Do you want to go up and help, Richard?
Richard Parker: Heck no. I… I mean because I have to even out your criticism down here, of course!
Stanislav puffs out his chest and looks around the arena. He soaks in the boos before finally snatching the microphone from Alexei. Ivan leans his forearms on the top rope, which sags considerably, and actually looks somewhat relaxed, despite his initial annoyance.
Ivan Stanislav: You know, Americans, I feel as if I have been given a bad rap, as it were. Alexei has too. There was time, many years ago, when you all cheered for me. I had beautiful woman on my arm, and I fought against the sinister forces of capitalism. Against those who stomp on the little guy. Each and every one of you. I was your hero, your savior. And while Universal Title match was a disappointment, I had nice and civil conversation with Lindsay Troy, The Scarlet Sickle, and decided to relax and have fun. Let us take, for example, Jared Sykes. He was down on his luck and frustrated, and I cheered him up. Like true locker room leader.
Ivan looks around for a moment. The people aren’t letting up with their displeasure.
Ivan Stanislav: And then, I decide that I should give, as gentleman should, pretty gift for pretty bride-to-be Justine Calvin. It is only thing one should do, after all, and yet I am demonized.
Ivan shakes his head dejectedly, still just leaning on the top rope.
Ivan Stanislav: There is merit in my complaints about being treated unfairly. President Putin himself has said that the West is trying to sow feelings of Russophobia against myself and my people, and I see it on display all the time. I do not blame you all for fearing me, but that is on you, not on me.
Alexei nods over-enthusiastically.
Ivan Stanislav: Brandon Youngblood states that he wants my mother, my own mother, locked in prison. And you cheer him? Nova attacks me from behind and you cheer him! So I thrash him in retribution, and you boo me?! He deserved everything I gave him, and more. That is what happens when someone sticks their nose in my business.
Nick Stuart: Ivan jumped him after a full blown match and nearly hospitalized him.
Richard Parker: You know what they say: “What goes around lands you in the hospital.”
Ivan Stanislav: But you know who else did such a thing?
Ivan looks directly at the hard cam.
Ivan Stanislav: Jared Sykes. You could not leave well enough alone while I taught Nova a lesson, could you? You want to share similar fate? I am more than happy to oblige. Do not EVER interrupt me again.
Ivan Stanislav: Is this the road you want to travel, Jared? After all the kindness I have shown you and those you love? Are you prepared to go to total war with Ivan Stanislav and The Red Army? Paxton Ray nearly killed you. I promise I will finish the job. Do you want a widow before you have a bride?!
The Bear is no longer smiling as he straightens up and spreads one arm while handing the mic off to Alexei.
Ivan Stanislav: But I am not here to talk about Jared Sykes. I am here for something else.
Stanislav turns to the entryway and points.
Ivan Stanislav: Kenny Freeman and Randall Schwartz? I know you two are back there. Get out here, now! We have something to iron out!
The trap remix of the Soviet national anthem that greeted our ears last ReVival begins to play, signaling the arrival of the Masters of the, um, Moscowverse, as a nervous Kenny comes out to the stage pushing the wheelchair of an ecstatic Randall holding a microphone in his hand.
Nick Stuart: Bit of an odd mix of reactions here for the B-Team, as some love the underdog spirit but they mostly don’t seem pleased to see the duo aligning with the Russian Bear.
Richard Parker: That seems to be a feeling shared by Ivan himself, and I gotta say…I’m actually a little nervous how this is gonna play out, Nick.
After what feels like an eternity figuring out how to get Randall in the ring, Kenny opts to keep the Entertainer hanging around on the outside as he takes the microphone from his friend before stepping through the ropes. Despite his bravado on Jabber and backstage in the past, Kenny seems almost unable to look Ivan square in the eyes as the two stand face to face inside the ring…something Ivan picks up on immediately.
Nick Stuart: I gotta give it to Kenny, he’s literally walking into the den of an angry bear…
Ruslan moves to stand between Ivan and Kenny and holds up the microphone. Stanislav places his hands on his hips and scowls at Kenny, who does his best to test if Ivan’s vision is based on movement.
Ivan Stanislav: Kenny Freeman. You have asked, many times, to be in the ring with me. Have you not? Well… here I am. Before I get to the reason why I want you here, was there anything you wished to say?
Stanislav does his best to shoot laser beams from his eyes whilst staring at Kenny…who initially just responds by muttering something under his breath. This only serves to frustrate the big man further, before Kenny finally raises the microphone to speak.
Kenny Freeman: Right, sorry, um…
Kenny’s voice starts to trail off, as if losing his mind of thought immediately…but before Ivan can shout at him for being so wishy-washy, Kenny finally comes out with it.
Kenny Freeman: Before you get it twisted, Ivan, this was NOT necessarily my idea, but…uh…
Kenny tries to think fast on his feet before the Russian Bear can tear him a new one.
Kenny Freeman: …I do think the capitalism thing has been played out, y’know?
Kenny flashes a nervous smile after this, the crowd booing the disingenuous response as Ivan just stares him down. Ruslan looks between Kenny and Ivan, curiously. He holds the microphone in his right hand, but eagle-eyed viewers can see that his left hand is bent at the wrist, and the butt of his collapsible baton is resting in the palm of his hand and up along his forearm. Stanislav inhales slowly as he glances past Kenny towards the wheelchair-bound Randall Schwartz.
Ivan Stanislav: You agree, Randall?
Randall just flashes a grin of his own, giving the Russian Bear two thumbs up as Stanislav growls.
Ivan Stanislav: It takes a lot of nerve to use the Soviet Anthem without my permission, Kenny. And then, to sell merchandise with Soviet iconography, hm? Did you not think it might be best to, oh I do not know, talk to me about before doing it?
Kenny just points to Randall as he responds.
Kenny Freeman: The shirt was all Randall’s idea. He’s got a guy out in SoCal that does shirt work for cheap, and…
Ivan cuts him off with another stern growl.
Ivan Stanislav: Fine fine. Very well. So then, you want to be part of The Red Army, is that it? Because really, Kenneth, you have two options:
It’s so fluid, really. Ruslan moves and seamlessly hands the microphone to Ivan, who holds it firm. Alexei slips behind Kenny, hand still back cradling his baton if he needs it. Freeman is now surrounded by the Russians.
Ivan Stanislav: If you wish to uphold the tenets of communism, we all know that The Red Army is the standard bearer for the Revolution. And if you do not get in line with The Red Army in this endeavor, then you are a counter-revolutionary wrecker.
Ivan Stanislav: And wreckers are purged.
Kenny seems to be sweating just a little here, taking in a gulp of air as he adjusts his collar before raising the microphone to speak again.
Kenny Freeman: Well, uh…as someone who’s seen those Purge films a couple times, that sure doesn’t sound like a good time. So to answer your question…yeah man, for the motherland and all that!
There’s a hint of sarcasm at that last remark, something Kenny may or may not even be aware of…but it seems Ivan definitely is. Stanislav lifts his eyebrows and lowers his chin so he better stares directly into Kenny’s eyes. Ivan doesn’t blink.
Ivan Stanislav: I want to make something abundantly clear to you both. If you wish to join me, and wholeheartedly accept the Revolution and my interests here in PRIME? Then I, myself, and Alexei here and anyone else who joins our ranks will support you. And I expect the absolute same loyalty from a suitable member of The Red Army.
Ivan inhales slowly, his nostrils whistle in the microphone and his jaw hardens.
Ivan Stanislav: But we have pledged our lives to this cause, Kenneth and Randall. And if you have a change of heart? You had better have second wheelchair and keep that one on standby. Do you understand me?
Kenny looks like he might just melt or crack under all this pressure, but eventually just nods his head in response, too nervous to actually say anything further. Sorry Kenny, Ivan seems to want more than that.
Ivan Stanislav: Pledge yourself to The Red Army.
It’s subtle, but Stanislav takes one fleeting glance over Kenny’s head at Alexei, and then back at Kenny. Kenny, for his part, seems to work up some amount of courage to speak again…even worse, to quip.
Kenny Freeman: I uh, pledge allegiance to the flag, of the Sov–
A glare from Ivan stops Kenny dead in his tracks, causing him to rephrase things.
Kenny Freeman: Sorry. Yes, Randall and I pledge ourselves to The Red Army. Right, Randall?
Kenny turns to Randall at ringside, the Entertainer giving a standing salute for his new comrades…until he realizes everyone can see him upright, causing Randall to slowly sink back into his wheelchair. Stanislav nods his head and glances at Alexei. The baton is tucked back up in his coat somewhere, and he’s smiling as he comes around to Ivan’s side. Whatever anger Ivan had shown is now gone and he smiled broadly.
Ivan Stanislav: And there you have it! The two newest members of The Red Army! The Masters of the Moscowverse!! DYAAHAAHAA!!
It’s almost frightening how quickly Stanislav shifts from threatening to joyful as he grabs Kenny’s entire forearm and lifts it high into the air, nearly yeeting him accidentally in the process. He points and laughs again before placing Kenny back on the mat. The crowd is shocked, saddened, and outraged by this and boo Stanislav, Ruslan, and now Kenny and Randall heavily.
It’s also shocking how quickly Stanislav’s angry-turned-joyful mood turns angry once more. It takes just one note.
One note to anger him.
One note to whip the crowd into a veritable frenzy.
Nick Stuart: This… is probably a mistake.
Northlane. “Plenty.” The music that heralds the arrival of Jared Sykes.
Richard Parker: If Ivan Stanislav threatened to murder me on live television, I wouldn’t be taking time out of my day to confirm that face-to-face. I’d be finding a new country to live in. Or moving to space. I hear space is nice. Very… umm… spacious.
Tonight the Dragonslayer is dressed in street clothes, as until moments ago there was no reason to think he’d be involved in a fight. Upon seeing him step out onto the stage there’s a swell of energy that erupts in another cheer from the gathered masses. Despite this, Jared’s eyes remain fixed on the collection of glowering faces congregating in the ring.
In one hand is a microphone, and the music cuts as he raises it to speak.
Jared Sykes: Well. This is fun. You know, there was a part of me that thought we might make it through the night without any of…
He gestures to the ring with his free hand as he walks. Stanislav is not happy and when he speaks into his microphone, it appears to be muted. He roars and he and Ruslan point and gesticulate. Kenny slides off to the far corner and Randall wheels over and out of the way as well.
Jared Sykes: Whatever the hell we’re calling this. Initiation? Indoctrination? A little light hazing? How about this – you find whichever word helps spin this in your favor, and that’s the one we’ll go with.
Nick Stuart: Why is he going to the ring?
Richard Parker: Because he’s a bag of rocks.
The walk to ringside is slow and deliberate. And though there are fans who reach over the guardrail looking to interact, Jared remains laser-focused on the men in the ring.
Jared Sykes: Now let’s not get this twisted, there are still a few things that I plan on holding you accountable for. The whole ceiling incident before Culture Shock? Willing to overlook that. We’ve all had bad nights, and most of us have found new and exciting ways to throw a very public tantrum, so we’ll write this one off as one of yours. Our friendly little chat at Rev’ 26? We can just wipe the slate clean and start all over again. I know you’ll never admit your true intent there, bud. It’s just not who you are. So you can pretend everything was on the up-and-up and we can move on with our lives. Sure, the rest of us will know the truth of it, but you do you.
There’s a brief pause before his eyes dart over to the stairs, just long enough for anyone to wonder if he’s actually about to step into the lion’s den.
Jared Sykes: But – and this is a big but, something I’m apparently a fucking expert on – there are just two little issues that we need to figure out.
He ascends the ringside steps and leans against the corner post.
Jared Sykes: First things first, I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but even though this sport gets a free pass when it comes to some aspects of the law, murder is still murder if it happens in a wrestling ring. And no, I don’t give a shit what anyone says about “waivers”. Saying you’re going to finish the job Paxton started in almost killing me? Buddy. Do you think that’s the first time someone’s made that threat?
He steps through the ropes. Outnumbered four-to-one aren’t the worst odds he’s stood against, but that still doesn’t make this decision a smart one.
Jared Sykes: Let’s play a little word association. I’m going to throw some names out there, and then we’ll figure out what they all have in common. Ready? Bobby Irish. Ben Van Iten. “Bad News” Allen Sarven. Holy shit, lotta “B” names in there… Lance Marshall. Lane Stevens. Vickie Hall. Jason W. Oswald.
He pauses just long enough to grin. Ivan stands with his hands on his hips with a look of obvious confusion.
Jared Sykes: Alexandra Pierce.
The reaction to the Spider’s name is visceral as once more the gathered faithful find their voice as one.
Jared Sykes: Paxton Ray.
Jared Sykes: Do you know what all of those names have in common, Ivan? What all of those people either said they would do, or what they tried to do? Every single one of them – to a person – pledged to make it their mission to put me on the shelf forever. Do you wanna guess how many of them succeeded?
Before the answer can come, the microphone is already back at Jared’s lips, and the speed and intensity with which he moves about the ring increases.
Jared Sykes: Better question. Do you have any idea where most of them are right now? Because I sure as fuck don’t. I’m the one they tried to take out, Ivan. I’m the one whose career they tried to end. The weird kid with the garden gnome? The dipshit with the mannequin? The guy with the berry costume, and the forklift, and the endless parade of nonsense? He outlasted every single one of them. Every one!
He chuckles. There’s no joy in it, in fact the act surprises him. It’s the realization that what he’s about to say is something that he never would have imagined being true. Yet this is his reality, surprising as it may be.
Jared Sykes: I’m the one still standing! I’m the one that’s still here! It wasn’t always fun, it wasn’t always pretty, but I’m the last one left because all of those people? They couldn’t get it done! They tried, my friend. Oooooh did they ever. They had the resources, they had the manpower, and they… all… FAILED!!
The admission is met by another roar from the crowd. Ivan leans forward and roars back at the crowd with displeasure. Alexei actually puts his hands over Ivan’s ears, only for Ivan to shrug him off frustratedly.
Jared Sykes: You know what else they had in common, Ivan? They knew better than to put the people I care about in danger. They never raised a hand to the people I love, hell none of them even had the audacity to raise their voice, or even whisper thinly veiled threats. You wanna know why?
Jared halts his pacing just long enough to lock eyes with the Russian Bear.
Jared Sykes: They weren’t that stupid. Remember Mark? The kid who had the unfortunate job of following me around in Vegas? Do you remember what happened to the person who put him in danger? How far I was willing to take that?
With his free hand, Jared reaches into the collar of his tee shirt and lets a small object fall against he fabric. There, for the world to see, is a single gator tooth held in a stainless steel setting and bound by a simple black cord. A measure of how far he was willing to go in the name of retribution. Of justice.
Nick Stuart: (softly) Oh… shit…
Jared Sykes: So by all means keep pushing, keep making your threats, and you can join Irish, Stevens, and Desade in obscurity. You can crawl back into hiding and cling to stories of PCW, or OSW, or whatever-the-fuck-else company you were in that died long before our number one contender was born. Because if you fail, Ivan… Because WHEN you fail… I will make goddamn sure that you’re reminded of it every day for the rest of your life just by simply existing.
Jared backs towards the ropes, but he never takes his eyes off of Ivan.
Jared Sykes: You got your army. Good for you. Better hope it’s enough.
There’s a soft thump that echoes throughout the arena as the microphone is tossed at the feet of the Russian Bear. The moment that Sykes turns his back, Alexei immediately produces his baton and makes to waffle him. However, despite his obvious displeasure, Ivan grips Alexei’s collar and reels him back. He places his huge hand over his smaller friend’s chest. He tuts and shakes his head, and his reaction is not quite as one would expect: he watches Sykes go and he almost grins.
Richard Parker: You know, there’s a lot of stupid things that someone can do in life. They can spit into the wind. They can pet a burning dog. They can work for HOW. But seriously, one of the stupidest things you could do is to interrupt Ivan Stanislav.
Ivan watches Sykes walk away, but Ruslan is hopping mad and, despite Stanislav’s grin, a vein is bulging in his forehead. He looks down at the microphone that had been so unceremoniously turned off and scans the boo’ing crowd. He makes eye contact with the man holding the “IT’S BEEN 28 DAYS SINCE IVAN STANISLAV DAMAGED ARENA PROPERTY.” Not once breaking his gaze, Stanislav holds the microphone in both hands and flattens it.
Nick Stuart: Ivan is heartless!!!
The man, crestfallen, puts down his sign and replaces it with a “IT’S BEEN 0 DAYS SINCE IVAN STANISLAV DAMAGED ARENA PROPERTY.” He looks upon the verge of tears as friends and family in the audience console him. Of all things, the trap remix of “The Soviet National Anthem” blares over the loudspeakers. It catches Stanislav and Ruslan off guard and they both visibly flinch and cut their eyes over at Kenny. With a bark, Stanislav motions for him to get out of the ring, and as Stanislav and Ruslan trudge up the ring with Kenny and Randall in tow, one can only wonder what the future has in store.
Nick Stuart: Oh man, what a development here folks. We saw the Glue Factory coming together just a couple weeks ago, and now the Red Army is solidifying their ranks! But what about Jared Sykes? Was it smart to interrupt Ivan?
Richard Parker: No one interrupts Ivan Stanislav. He interrupts other people! Battle lines being drawn, Nick! I uh…I sure hope the Masters don’t mess this up with any pre-taped tomfoolery later tonight…
We then cut backstage.