ORDER, ANARCHY, AND IMMORALITY
It’s completely dark as we return to ringside, but not for long. The blaring opening chord of a song we’ve not heard for quite some time rings out and the arena is bathed in crimson. A red flag followed by a three dimensional hammer and then sickle whirl in front of the graphic, then slam together with a CLANG in the upper right corner of the flag itself. The crowd immediately voices its displeasure as the Soviet National Anthem begins. But two men, at least, aren’t upset. The first? Richard Parker:
Richard Parker: Yes!! I mean… DA!!!!
The second? Alexei Ruslan. He strides out from backstage in his brown overcoat and hat. But he’s not alone. While they don’t measure up to Ivan Stanisalv, he is flanked by four built Russian men in black suits and ties. They wear dark sunglasses, despite being inside, and walk in a square shape around Ruslan.
Nick Stuart: I heard the news that Ivan Stanislav had formally apologized to the men he had threatened when he was upset with me. Though I never heard an apology…
Richard Parker: You didn’t deserve one. You were the one who derided the Russian superhero!
Ruslan waves mockingly at the crowd and blows a kiss to one or two angry females. He laughs and marches to the apron and climbs into the ring. With arms spread, he whirls around and waves to the crowd with that same smug grin plastered on his face. Maybe he thinks it’s opposite day? Because very, very few people are actually cheering for him.
Yet Ruslan has been here several times, often next to Ivan Stanislav himself. It started in PCW, and moved to OSW. The brief stint in PRIME was nothing much to write about, and yet now, twenty or so years later, he’s back and clearly he is loving it. And why not? He is on the precipice of the Universal Title with his dearest friend. The more they boo? The more they jeer him? The more he knows that they are succeeding.
His four bodyguards move to the four corners of the ring, bring their hands behind their backs, and stand at attention as the lights return to their normal color. Ruslan produces a microphone from inside his brown overcoat and grins winningly.
Alexei Ruslan: Привеt (Hello!), Toyota Center in Houston, Texas!!
Ruslan continues to beam his smarmy smile.
Alexei Ruslan: I was hoping to hear a more positive response to the return of the greatest National Anthem in history, but perhaps you all just need for it to grow on you! Nevertheless, does it not feel grand to hear the glorious Anthem of the U.S.S.R. once more?!
Alexei shakes his head and paces left and right in the ring.
Alexei Ruslan: You know what? With Praporshchik Stanislav unable to attend this evening, I could have just not come to arena at all. Would you have rather liked that?!
This gets a pop as the crowd cheers at the idea. Ruslan laughs and flashes a gleaming smile and shakes his head.
Alexei Ruslan: Allow me to be first to say how happy I am to upset you once more! Hah!!
He must really trust security in the building and around his person, because the crowd begins to grow more unglued. No shortage of slurs are thrown his way as he waves to a few specific members of the audience and thumbs his nose at them.
Nick Stuart: This is fairly brave of Ruslan, even with his four guys with him. I mean, there is no Ivan Stanislav to protect him!
Richard Parker: He’d kick every Texan’s ass in this arena!
Ruslan stops in the middle of the ring once more and straightens his back.
Alexei Ruslan: Still, though you all barely have brain cells to think very far in advance, Culture Shock will soon be upon us! There, Universal Champion-pretender Rezin, Universal-loser Hayes Hanlon, and future Universal Champion Ivan Stanislav will all battle for what, one might say, is the honor of PRIME. But why, you might say, would I frame it in such a way?
Ruslan leans on the top rope now and talks conversationally.
Alexei Ruslan: Because no Universal Champion has represented PRIME with any shred of dignity. It is true! Why, there was Brandon Youngblood….
Ruslan shakes his head as the crowd cheers. He huffs.
Alexei Ruslan: …followed by Phil Atken, Cancer Jiles, Hayes Hanlon, and finally: Rezin. A who’s who of men who lack conviction, morality, and legitimacy. They pale in comparison to a man the likes of Ivan Stanislav!
The crowd voices their summary displeasure and pleasure for each individual Ruslan names off. Hanlon gets a strong pop, while Rezin is predominantly negative, but some anarchists out there cheer for him all the same.
Alexei Ruslan: The funny thing is that Ivan Stanisav fights for each and every one of you working stiffs! Those of you with barely two pennies to rub together? You know, the ones who sold your trailer or decided -not- to eat biscuits slathered in gravy for an entire week so you could afford these tickets? He fights to represent you, the working class, despite the fact that you all show an unprecedented lack of respect! Ivan is not some drug riddled anarchist! Ivan is not some Millennial who wishes to party all day and takes for granted all of what has been given to him! And so, I wish to bring your eyes to the PRIME*View, to watch a truly moving piece about my friend: Ivan Stanislav.
The lights in the arena dim as the PRIME*View lights up with the fluttering red, white, and blue flag of Russia flapping in front of a bright blue, cloudless sky. A narrator speaks in a booming voice that is very much a generic American accent.
Narrator: In a federation where ne’er do wells…
An image of Rezin sitting on the railing from ReVival 23, strumming his grime encrusted guitar…
Narrator: …wannabe heroes…
…a slow motion image of Hayes Hanlon taking flight out of the ring to the entryway, courtesy of Ivan Stanislav…
Narrator: …and broken dreams.
A still image of first Hayes Hanlon standing with the Universal Championship over his head from Colossus, followed by an image of Rezin clutching the Championship at ReVival 22. Both images remain on the left and right of the PRIME*View concurrently, but then become transparent. Behind them, still footage of tearful PRIME fans in attendance at some previous show is shown, as if to illustrate the audience reaction to both men.
Narrator: There is only one true man of culture, poise, and determination who can effectively represent PRIME.
All three images fade away as the PRIME*View goes dark. A burst of the Soviet Flag which bathes the arena in red once more before a proud image of Ivan Stanislav, with hands on hips, emerges in the center. Ruslan claps his hands and stands up straight. The crowd, on the other hand, is near riotous.
Nick Stuart: What the heck is this? Propaganda live?
Richard Parker: It is nothing short of the truth!
Narrator: Only one man in PRIME is capable of bringing order, legitimacy, and decency to the tarnished Universal Championship. Ivan Stanislav is a multiple top title holder…
Stanislav’s image switches to him holding various titles:
First the PCW World Championship.
Then the OSW World Championship.
Stanislav holding the PCW Tag Titles.
Then holding the Russian and Soviet flag aloft when he won his National Pride matches.
And of course, Stanislav holding a newborn baby. The wide smile on his face either shows happiness or a hunger to consume the small morsel.
Ruslan wipes his eyes. He is so moved with emotion.
Narrator: It is an easy choice. We should all accept the man with experience. The man with the determination. The man with the moxy to lead PRIME for through 2023 and beyond. Ivan Stanislav!
Ruslan’s joy is dampened when a piece of trash is thrown into the ring and it hits his hat and bounces off. He yelps and points over the top rope at the offending audience member. A soda cup flies in next and explodes across the canvas. Alexei brings the mic up to his mouth as the lights return in the arena.
Alexei Ruslan: You should all be ashamed of yourselves! Why, an American volunteered to narrate that cinematic masterpiece!!
More boos rain down as Ruslan fails to win over any contingent of the crowd. Still, he doesn’t let this sully his stride. He kicks the trash out of the ring and waves his hand through the air.
Alexei Ruslan: But I have more to show you. For after all, it is only fair that I represent the other idiots who would dare stand against Ivan at Culture Shock. Rezin and Hayes Hanlon. So please, let us look first at Rezin, shall we??
The PRIME*View switches to grainy black-and-white surveillance footage. Despite the video quality, we can plainly see current PRIME Universal Champion and all-around miscreant Rezin all lathered up and waist-high in sudsy water. A rubber ducky and various floating toys bob among the bubbles around him while he scrubs his back and arms down with a moldy-looking sponge on a stick.
He also happens to be bobbing his head from side to side to an equally bubbly Taylor Swift song playing in the background. For someone so “punk rock”, he seems to be enjoying this a bit TOO much.
Rezin: Gonna shake shake shake shake shake… something something Tay Sway Sway Sway… Shake it off! Shake it off! (whoa whoa whoa) Shake it off! Shake it off! (bro bro bro)
He becomes aware of someone off-screen, and pointedly glances in their direction.
Rezin: …can I help ya? I’m takin’ my monthly bath here.
Sharp zoom out, revealing the aghast mother standing with her two young children standing next to the public fountain inside of a bustling mall. She’s too paralyzed from revulsion to say anything back.
Rezin: Well, watch however long ya want. Whatever gets your rocks off, lady… although it’s pretty sick of ya to be doin’ it front of kids!
He goes back to scrubbing down.
Rezin: BABY YOU’RE A FIIIIIIIREWOOOOORK!! NATE COLTON IS A STUUUUUUPID JERRRRK! CAN’T WAIT TO HEAR HIM “AAH! AAH! AAAHH!!” WHEN I KICK HIM IN HIS NUH!! NUH!! NUUUTS!!
Cut to black.
Richard Parker: What the heck did we just watch?!
Nick Stuart: I think Ruslan had a spy watch Rezin?! Oh and, uh, Rezin bathing in public?
Ruslan shakes his head. The crowd is certainly dumbfounded and confused by what they, as a collective unit, just witnessed.
Alexei Ruslan: Hardly Universal Champion material, right? A man who risks exposing himself in public, bathing in a glorified bird bath, and perhaps most shocking? He does so in a den of capitalistic indecency: a mall! But let us not forget about the boy wonder, Hayes Hanlon…
The crowd pops loudly and roars at the name. It forces Ruslan to lose a hint of his cool and he stomps his foot petulantly.
Alexei Ruslan: You know, Hayes Hanlon totally ripped his mustache style off of Comrade Stalin! He made that mustache style popular over one hundred years ago!
Nick Stuart: I’m not sure referencing a murdering dictator is the right way to go…
Richard Parker: Potato…Po-tah-to…
Alexei Ruslan: Let’s take a look at Mr. Squeaky Clean Hayes Hanlon!
The PRIME*View shifts, bringing us back to the Las Vegas Strip. The video is clearly from someone’s cell phone, shaking a bit as it settles on the entrance to the Peppermint Hippo, one of finer “gentleman’s” establishments in Sin City. The disheveled frame of Hayes appears from the entry, one arm around the shoulders of his older brother, Paul. Hayes, in between hard sniffs from his nostrils, does his best to keep his wobbly brother on his feet. However, Paul falls from his grasp and plants his hands against the outside of the building, vomiting on the sidewalk to the disgust of the many passers-by.
Richard Parker: Oh Gawd….
For effect, Ruslan simply shakes his head as the sounds of Paul’s retching and the splattering of internal fluids flying externally against hard surfaces continues to roll through the arena.
Alexei Ruslan: Not looking too good there, are you Hayes? Out and about wanting to see naked girls and drink in excess along with his good-for-nothing brother. One might call it youthful indiscretion and make excuses. But when Ivan Stanislav was his age? He was fighting a war and protecting his country, not wallowing in sin and barely making it home under his own power!
Alexei giggles to himself and shakes his head again as the PRIME*View returns to a looping, fluttering Soviet flag. He laughs again.
Alexei Ruslan: But who knows? At the rate that most of you hicks are going tonight, you may be right there puking against the walls and holding one another up by nights’ end as well!
He grows serious and shakes his head as he stares at the hard camera.
Alexei Ruslan: So we have a current champion who bathes in public with a moldy brush, and a former champion who is one sort of person in front of the cameras, and another sort of person when he thinks he can wallow in his vices. But Ivan Stanislav has -never- deviated from his course. What you see, is what you get. And what do you all have on your hands? *he snickers and speaks in a sing-song voice* Well, dooon’t say weeee didn’t warn youuuu!!! Behold!
Ruslan gestures broadly towards the PRIME*View as gold words emerge in front of the Soviet Flag:
Footage of Ivan Stanislav and Alexei Ruslan on the PRIME*View after they announced the new match at UltraViolence. Stanislav roars loudly.
Ivan Stanislav: PRIME! Stanislav and Ruslan invaded your airwaves long ago and you barely survived! Come UltraViolence, The Russian Bear returns! I will be there. Alexei will be there. And little Hayes Hanlon? You will be leaving arena sipping through straw!
A Red Declaration
Footage of Ivan Stanislav standing in the ring, berating the audience.
Ivan Stanislav: PRIME came begging for Ivan Sergeiovich and Alexei Gregorovich to come to roster. After flakey, lazy roster had hole in it, they needed true dependable men to bring some level of legitimacy to this flagging organization, and so here we are!
Stanislav roars in the middle of the ring, prior to destroying everything in his path.
Ivan Stanislav: I will make each and every PRIME viewer cry for their heroes while they are demolished before their eyes!
Oops! I(van) did it again!
Stanislav stands behind a podium during his “apology” to the backstage technicians. He flattens the podium and laughs uproariously as the workers flee in terror.
Ivan Stanislav: Run little ants!! Go run back and suckle on Mother Troy, little piglets!!
For Merit to the Fatherland
Shortly after Ivan Stanislav was given his medal for defeating Christopher America. Ivan roars into the camera.
Ivan Stanislav: I will grind every enemy of The Red Army into paste and use their entrails to shine my boots! Stand against me and be destroyed. Watch your heroes shatter, week after week, against the full power of Mother Russia! DYAAHAAHAA!!
Ivan Stanislav stands in front of two flags. The Russian flag to his left. The Soviet flag to his right. Wood paneling is behind him. The realization dawns on everyone that this isn’t a recording, but live, and gives the impression of some larger than life threat bearing down upon all in attendance.
Ivan Stanislav: You have done well Alexei! I appreciate you being there in my stead!
Ruslan smiles up at the PRIME*View.
Alexei Ruslan: My absolute pleasure, old friend!
Ivan nods his head and his face twists into a grimace. His grizzled salt and pepper beard glints in the light as he sneers down at the arena.
Ivan Stanislav: One man is from a culture of anarchy and lawlessness. A man devoid of morals and bereft of self-respect. The other man is from a culture of youthful ignorance and lack of self-control. But Ivan Stanislav is a man of rigid order. A man of singular purpose. A man of unshakeable resolve who not only practices basic human hygiene, but does not take for granted the heights to which he has achieved. Lindsay Troy cannot politick her way out of my inevitable victory. No amount of controlled substance will dull the agony I put Rezin through! No level of mustache wax will soften the callouses I permanently imprint on Hayes Hanlon after I beat him to a sobbing pulp! And each and every one of you in attendance, and those idiots in the back, will choke on their tears when they see I am crowned Universal Champion.
Ivan Stanislav: PRIME! You had eight months to prepare for what is inevitable. Your stay of execution is over. PRIME turns red at Culture Shock! Remove the blinders and realize that not only will I be the winner, but also be the man who is worthy of holding said title. DYAAHAAHAA!! Alexei? I see you in Moscow tomorrow. You send them off. You know what to do!
Stanislav’s enormous face blinks from the PRIME*View as Ruslan is left in the ring with his four goons. The crowd continues to boo as litter rains down in the ring, but Alexei sidesteps to and fro as is necessary.
Alexei Ruslan: We have said it every time. You simply do not listen. But I will say it once more to try to drive it home.
With a big grin, Alexei Ruslan stands at attention. Twenty years later and here he is, with his old friend, on the cusp of another title it only made sense to end this the same way he had started in PCW when Ivan Stanislav debuted.
Alexei Ruslan: He is unstoppable!! He is unbeatable!! He is indefatigable!! He is Praporshchik Ivan Stanislav! And come Culture Shock, Rezin and Hayes Hanlon will be the next casualty in our Great Patriotic War!!
Alexei laughs and throws the microphone out of the ring and motions to his goons, who move around him. The Soviet National Anthem blares once more as he exits the ring and makes his way up the entryway.
Richard Parker: I swear, Alexei and Ivan should be filmmakers! I could have watched that multimedia extravaganza for hours!
Nick Stuart: I hate to say they might be partially right, but they have never minced words about their intentions. But can you imagine if Ivan actually won? I’d better start taking Excedrin now…