NICE-ISH TO MEET YOU
We’ve had the entrance of the new Universal Champion. We’ve had a barnburner of an opening match. We’ve had Max Kael? And now:
The sweet sound of pop, babes.
The pop that accompanies one man, one man with a face that is insured by Sotheby’s for an undisclosed sum that can safely be estimated at several of the emojis with dollar signs on the eyes and the tongue.
Chandler Tsonda, he of the Alias Title, and ennobled victory at Ultraviolence. Thus, you know, the big ol’ crowd roar.
We find our plucky hero coming into the backstage entrance area through a door from the parking bay. He’s got the handsome Alias belt sitting neatly on top of his duffel bag, poking out in a quite conspicuous way, gold side up. He’s as subtle as a door knocker.
There’s not much cooking yet backstage. The spirit of the Almasy Invitational has every damn person on the roster (and a few who aren’t) in big game mode. A lot of quiet headphoned visualizations of people seeing themselves standing at the top of the mountain come Colossus.
So it’s not surprising that there isn’t a royal retinue to welcome Tsonda. He takes the relative silence in stride.
But there is something to welcome him.
The someone is marching purposefully through the backstage area, eyeing the walls, which are beginning to be papered with heroic images of a certain Champion of the Universal variety. Lots of yellows. Lots of reds. As the trudging juggernaut that is Universal Champion, Ivan Stanislav, moves down the hallway on a collision course with Chandler Tsonda, Alexei Ruslan walks in Ivan’s wake. Stanislav barely stops in time to see Tsonda, and shoves three large posters in his chest.
Ivan Stanislav: Do not just stand there. Put these up.
It’s Ruslan who realizes just -who- Stanislav is talking to. His eyes go as wide as saucers. Every moment he’s had, he’s blasted Chandler Tsonda in his Think Red articles. Ruslan immediately moves into action. It’s a maneuver that we’ve seen far too often, and it usually ends in a non-Russian becoming horizontal. Alexei skirts to the side and fluidly slides along the wall, until he’s almost behind Tsonda. He flanks Tsonda, and tries his hardest to catch Ivan’s eyes.
But Ivan is distracted. The Universal Champion holds the papers against Tsonda’s chest with a hand that nearly eclipses his torso. He narrows his eyes.
He knows this agonizingly handsome and well preserved man, so devoid of Stanislav’s own ruggedness and working class hunkiness. No, this man, who has the wisdom of a man well beyond the look of his years, is not cheap labor, is he? No. But if not. Who is he?!
Chandler Tsonda: (looks down at the flyers and Ivan’s hand) Ugh, I hate when I get mistaken for a struggling proletarian. I tried that life once, but it turns out a communist utopia actually just doesn’t produce enough quality skincare options. (gestures with both hands to the great wallpapering effort) Happy for you about all this, though.
The Model Citizen slowly extricates himself from contact with Ivan’s great paw by stepping to the side. The flyers stay there in the grasp of the Russian Bear, it’s just Tsonda’s body that moves. The side-by-side of the two champions underscores just how great the size difference is between them. Tsonda has to look up to address PRIME’s apex predator, though he does keep glancing over his shoulder at Alexei Ruslan.
Chandler Tsonda: Honored that you’d ask me to help you with the HGTV bit you’re doing tonight. Feels like we’re having a real champ-to-champ connection here. (gestures over his shoulder to Alexei) Hey, do you need to put him on his leash for a walk or something?
Indeed, the size difference is stark. Stanislav is over a foot taller and over twice the weight of Tsonda. He holds the papers in his hand and gazes over Tsonda at Ruslan and speaks his native tongue.
Ivan Stanislav: Кто это, черт возьми? (Who the hell is this?)
Ruslan dispenses replies in English, for added effect.
Alexei Ruslan: This is Chandler Tsonda, Starshy Praporshchik Stanislav. You know, the one who jumped ahead of you in Culture Shock Battle Royal, even though you should have had final spot?
The poor poster paper crumples and crackles beneath the pulverizing force of Ivan Stanislav’s enormous fingers. They let out a slow, crunching death wail that is painful to the ears. With a final deathcrackle, the sound is squelched and suffocated in Stanislav’s palm. He lifts his brow and states what is now painfully obvious.
Ivan Stanislav: You are Chandler Tsonda.
Chandler Tsonda: (big, phony, super aggrieved smile) So this is going great.
The Model Citizen glances sideways at the clenched fist of Stanislav, and the smothered flier. The threat of violence always hang in the air backstage, but there’s a reason that wilderness experts advise that a bear is at its most dangerous when startled. Tsonda doesn’t exactly tread lightly, but he seems to bite just a smidgen of his usual acid tongue in the presence of the bear.
Chandler Tsonda: You’re the big bad bear. (points to Alexei) He’s some kind of Kremlinized Tony Gamble? Since we’re all fast friends now, I should mention it’s sort of, like, my coronation here tonight. Won the Alias belt, vanquished imp boy, get to do a whole song and dance about the new me-centric identity of the title.
Stanislav glances over Tsonda’s head again at Ruslan. They both mouth “Kremlinized?” to one another, and then he looks down at Tsonda once more.
Ivan Stanislav: Mmph. You should be happy with Alias Title, Chandler, yes?
Ivan exhales loudly through his nostrils. The air whistles through his mustache.
Ivan Stanislav: Because certainly, you would not think about daring to win Almasy Tournament and challenge Ivan Stanislav for -his- Universal Title. Would you?
Alexei purses his lips and takes two steps backwards, away from Tsonda. He straightens his right arm and bends his hand at the wrist, in case he has to catch anything that “slips” out of his coat sleeve and brain him with it.
Chandler Tsonda: Well now, comrade.
The Sultan of Style simply cannot help himself. He is now wearing his patented, GDP-of-a-small-nation’s worth of a smile. But this one isn’t fake. He’s cheesing.
He takes a glance at Alexei. Very slowly, he moves towards Ivan, and gives the Universal Champion a little boop of a tap to the meaty, massive bicep.
Chandler Tsonda: I wasn’t even thinking about the Almasy. Was kinda focused on my little ol’ belt and making it the hottest thing in gold. But now that you brought it up, maybe I should win the damn thing and then you and me? (points to himself and Ivan) Dude, we can get to know each other. So. Much. Better.
Ivan stares at Tsonda, as if the words he just spoke are an impossibility. His face twists from a grimace to a smirk, and a slow rumbles quakes through his body. Air snorts from his nostrils as his lips tighten, and then he erupts.
Ivan Stanislav: DYAAHAAHAA!! Oh! Chandler Tsonda! You are funny! DYAAHAAHAA!!
Then? The laugh STOPS. Ivan’s voice grows low.
Ivan Stanislav: Chandler?
The Alias champion doesn’t back down. This may be a grave mistake.
Chandler Tsonda: You learned my name after all. I’m tickled.
Ivan grips Tsonda’s shoulder and eclipses it with his hand. The Russian Bear squats some, so that his enormous head is eye level with The Alias Champion.
Ivan Stanislav: Just stick to your little belt, eh? (he licks his lips) But if you want to know me better? Should your communist Vietnamese roots finally speak to you, then, come find me.
He stands to his full height and slaps Tsonda’s shoulder none too gently, before barreling past him. The Universal Champion takes several long strides down the hallway alongside Ruslan, before he stops suddenly and turns. He stares coldly down the hall at the Alias Champion.
Ivan Stanislav: Oh, and Chandler?
The Model Citizen keeps up the smile. It may be all the armor he’s got against the titanic Russian, and it’ll be a full-blown blizzard in San Diego before Tsonda’s ready to let anyone, even the newly crowned champion of champions, see him sweat.
Chandler Tsonda: I get the sense you’re kind of a “needs the last word” type of guy. Go ahead, Vanya. I don’t need the last word. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time to chat. Maybe real soon.
Stanislav’s eyelid twitches and Ruslan visibly bristles at the Vanya, but the stoic Russians try their best to show nothing. Ivan grumbles as he points a huge finger at The Alias Champ.
Ivan Stanislav: You are from old school, even if you do not look it. I give you pass for usupring my spot at Culture Shock Battle Royal. However, you get in my way again and I knock that pretty head off your shoulders.
Stanislav mutters something in Russian to Ruslan and trudges away. Ruslan lingers and gives Tsonda a bras d’honneur before turning on his heel and hustling away towards The Universal Champ.
We then cut to a very awkward moment unfolding before our very eyes.