Welcome to Mason, Ohio. A large town like any in the country. Filled with all kinds of people, all kinds of ideas. All kinds of hopes and dreams.
Just like this event hall. Maybe it’s a school gym; maybe it’s an armory. That doesn’t matter. What matters tonight is that it’s full of hopes and dreams…and of course, all kinds of people.
Those people are here to see the latest event from Rust Belt Wrestling, a small company that has been making waves in the area over the last year. Tonight’s card features names from all levels of the industry—past legends to future stars to the quickly gone and forgotten.
This is where Nathan Colton’s story opens, though maybe not where it begins.
Nate is currently in the ring, going at it with “Total” Lee Amazing, a promising prospect out of Philadelphia whose high-impact offense and showmanship provide an interesting contrast to Nate’s technical skill and precision.
But strangely, we’re not focused on either one of them.
Instead, we’re looking at a man sitting at the edge of the front row. He looks to be around sixty years old, with gray hair and a bit more stubble than he’d like. He sits at a strange angle, as if he is using his arm to hold on to the back of the chair, to keep from sliding out. A pair of forearm crutches rest on the ground beside him.
His name is Frank Mazurskiewicz, a man who does freelance work for numerous wrestling organizations. His legs haven’t worked in a long time, but his mind is as sharp as ever.
As the match goes on, he scribbles in his notepad.
LA: grt lk xlnt crdwk wl b pplr
2 cky; lks fks
trnstns slpy nds prkts
dfnt str ptntl
And on like that.
As he writes, let’s listen in to Colin Miller, who is laying down the live play-by-play for the future internet release.
“Vicious backbreaker by Lee Amazing! He’s taken firm control of this match—and he’s looking to end it right now! Double underhook, there’s the lift—no! Colton slips through and reverses with a backslide! One! Two! Kickout! Amazing is back up, he goes for a lariat, Colton with a block—oh, and a NICE transition into an arm trap neckbreaker! The tables have fully turned now, folks! Nate Colton has Lee right where he wants him now—inverted suplex! He rolls over, this could be it…yes! Colton Clutch 2, right in the middle of the ring!”
Lee Amazing’s hand slaps the mat, leading to a raucous cheer from the audience. Nate Colton releases the hold, and the ref raises his arm.
“The winner of the match, by submission…NATE COLTON!”
3 scp optns msd
With that, Frank closes his notepad and slips it in his pocket. Then, he grabs his crutches and slowly pushes himself to a standing position. With his legs providing as much support as they can, he makes the arduous journey from his seat to a side door.
At every wrestling show, there’s someone who has to keep things organized. That’s…this kid. He probably has a name.
“Savage, Laughlin, you’re up next! Has anyone seen Robinson in the last half hour?”
Another man, significantly older, replies. “Go find the biggest mirror in the building; he’s probably there. Let him know he needs to start getting ready.”
“But Dad, I–”
“It’s fine, Blake. I can handle things for a few minutes.”
Blake—his name is Blake, apparently–nods, hands the clipboard to his father, and runs off. The father tosses the clipboard aside, shaking his head.
“Thinks I need that thing? Like I’ve never run a show before?”
Everyone knows who this man is, of course. That’s Jake Colton, a twenty-year ring veteran who sold tickets and impressed crowds all over the world. His battles with “Hangman” Jerry Gallows, Max Disaster, and the Four Aces are the stuff of legend. He once even beat the dreaded Baron von Killyourfamily. Sure, it was well into the Baron’s mid-50s and he hadn’t been in regular competition for years, but as the man himself would tell you, “Shut up, it was awesome.”
But those days were long, long ago. Now, he contents himself with his small wrestling school and his small wrestling company, surrounded at all times by his large family.
A blonde man with several face and arm tattoos approaches and growls, “Guy here to see you. Says he wants to talk.” He points a thumb toward a random hallway.
“Thanks, Savage. I’ll check it out. Tear it up out there.”
The wrestler grunts in approval and heads toward the entrance, his sweater vest and cargo shorts providing a weird contrast to the aforementioned tattoos. He calls himself the Suburban Savage, because indy wrestling is insane and we love it for that.
Jake looks down the hallway, where he sees Frank Mazurskiewicz approaching. “Frank, you son of a bitch!”
The old scout, who has managed to work up a sweat in his short trip to the back, grins widely. “That’s ‘magnficient son of a bitch.’”
Jake runs—well, after a fashion; that knee hasn’t gotten any better—down the hallway and shakes his friend’s hand. “If I’d known you were coming back now, I’d have sent one of the boys to help!”
“Don’t need it, but I appreciate the offer. Good to see you, Jake.” Frank accepts the handshake, which is maybe a little stronger than he’d like it. But Jake is definitely one of those “firm handshake” guys, and sometimes there’s just nothing you can do.
“Glad you made it, Frank. Enjoying the show so far?”
“It’s been a lot of fun. Wish I could stay for the whole thing, but I’ve got work to do tonight. Besides, I’ve seen Robinson’s act, and it hasn’t changed a lot in the last ten years.”
“You ain’t wrong, but the fans love it. He’s doing me a favor; I’m lucky he had another show in Cincy last night, or we wouldn’t have a main event.”
“Oh, you’d have figured something out. Hell, you could pull a Jackie and put the title on yourself.”
Jake gives a single, hard laugh. “Jackie. That fuckin’ guy. What is he, seventy? And still he’s—hell, I could go all night, and you’ve got shit to do. So, what did you think of Lee Amazing?”
“Lee Amazing,” Frank repeats, as he fishes out his notebook. “Name’s a bit corny, but that might be making a comeback.” He opens the notebook and leafs through a few pages, before finding the entry in question. “I think he’s there on style. He’s flashy, he keeps the crowd involved…he’s not big, but he acts big, if that makes sense? He’s got a chance to really connect with the audience. They love a good peacock.”
Jake nods in agreement. “How about the in-ring work?”
“He’s still a little sloppy, especially in his transitions. Needs to practice those. He’s also too cocky for his own good; that’s what cost him tonight. And I saw three good chances for him to take control back at the end, and he missed them all. I think he can get there…but he ain’t there yet. If he buckles down and improves his focus, I think he’d be good enough for a tryout in six months to a year.”
“Okay. I’ve got a good feeling about him; I think he’ll really step it up at the next level. But if you think he needs to stay down for a while, then that’s what we’ll do.”
Mazurskiewicz nods…then slowly cracks a wry smile. “But that’s not who you really called me down here to see, is it?”
Colton grins, because he knows he’s been busted.
“Thought so. Don’t bullshit me, Jake. We’ve known each other for too long.”
“All right. So…what did you think of Nate?”
Mazurskiewicz thinks for a moment. “Obviously talented, and very well trained. Rough in a few places, but he’s a hell of a lot more polished than that video you sent me last year. His moves are crisp, slick transitions, great counters. If I didn’t know better, I’d guess he’s been working the road for a few years already. You’ve done a hell of a job with him, Jake.”
Jake smiles with pride. “Yeah. Out of anybody, he took to it the quickest. He wrestled in college, too. That helped a lot.”
“Damn near made All-American, didn’t he?” Frank knows it’s a sore subject—Jake’s scowl prove that—but it was important to be thorough.
“Goddamn point and a half. If that stupid ref counted that reversal like he shoulda–”
“And he’s been training under you since he was sixteen. Learning two styles of wrestling simultaneously…that’s incredible. In terms of his in-ring work, Nate is more than ready.”
Jake nods again; whether Mazurskiewicz’s assessment matches Jake’s opinion about his son, or his own sense of pride, is unclear. “But…”
“But.” Frank takes a deep sigh. “Is he mentally ready? He’s never been out from under your wing before. This is going to be a huge step.”
“You ain’t gotta tell me.” Jake runs his hand through his thinning hair, no doubt recalling the dues he paid in his own youth. “Every time you jump up a level, it’s like starting over from scratch. I’ve done everything I can to prepare him; I just don’t know if it’s enough.”
“Right, right. Like I said, no concerns about his skills. It’s…everything else. You remember what the big companies are like. Everyone’s used to being the big fish. Egos run completely unchecked, and management encourages that because it makes for good television. Between the politics and the travel, it’s a meat grinder that has chewed up better wrestlers than you—or him. And on top of all that, he’ll have to deal with a higher level of expectations because of whose son he is. Your name is going to open a lot of doors for him, but it’s also going to put a target on his back. Is he going to be ready to face all that?”
“I hear you. I’ll feel a lot better about Benjamin when it’s his time; he don’t let a whole lot bother him, and he doesn’t listen to me half the time anyway.”
“But his skills aren’t up to par with Nate’s, are they. Did Ben wrestle in college, or…”
Colton cuts him off with a laugh. “Oh, hell no. We always said that Benny was gonna go places. College just ain’t one of ’em.”
“He did really well tonight, though, in that tag match. His partner, Dennis…he’s not yours, is he?”
“My sister’s. But we were talking about Nate.”
“Right, right. Like I said, no concerns about his skills. But this is going to be throwing him in the deep end.”
“With sharks. And alligators. And probably some weird kind of sea monster with–”
“I get it. Yeah, I’m worried about that too. But on the other hand…there’s the first rule.”
“Ah yes, your famous first rule. Well…what do you think?”
“I think we should ask him.”
The locker room.
The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, the smell of sweaty dudes, all in one place. It is in this place that Nate Colton sits on a bench, changing out of his ring gear. As he takes off his boots, he is surrounded by handshakes and congratulations from the rest of “the boys.”
First and foremost among them are the two men flanking him on the bench. The smaller one is his brother Benjamin; the larger is his cousin Dennis. They’re a few years younger than Nate, but they’re skilled wrestlers in their own right, and currently making waves in Rust Belt’s tag team scene.
Benjamin claps his brother on the back. “Dude! You killed it out there! Keep at it and you’ll be almost as good as me!”
Nate laughs. “You wish, dick. Lee would have torn you apart.”
Ben’s response is cut off as others crowd around. Nate smiles at everyone and accepts their gratitude…but if you were to look closely, and you knew what to look for, you’d see the smile becoming a little less real as time goes on.
The words become a buzz in the air, with Nate trapped in the middle of it. He even tries to distract people by asking, “How’s the match going? Been hearing good things about Shark lately.” But of course, everyone only wants to talk to—and about—him.
After the show, Russ “Shark” Laughlin will ask for feedback, and he won’t be able to get any.
Finally, a voice louder than the rest takes control. “All right, you vultures, clear out. Got some family business.” Everyone recognizes it as the voice of Jake Colton, and they scatter as ordered. Backstage at Rust Belt, Jake’s word is law.
As the crowd parts, Nate uses a nearby towel to wipe as much sweat as possible off of his head. Nate looks up at his father, who is followed by an older man on crutches.
“Son, this is Frank Mazurskiewicz. He’s an old friend of mine, and a talent scout. I called him in to watch your match tonight.”
Nate’s eyes go wide. “Scout?” He hears a whispered “oh shit” from the corner of the room, because of course Ben hadn’t actually gone away.
Frank nods. “Nate, I’m really impressed by what I saw tonight. You’ve definitely got what it takes in that ring. How’d you like to do it on a bigger stage?”
“That sounds…well, it sounds amazing, sir!”
“Thought so. I’ve got some connections, and if you can make it out to Las Vegas next week, I can get you a tryout with PRIME.”
Nate starts to feel lightheaded; he’s just been hit with several life-changing statements in a few seconds. “You’re kidding.”
“I’m not. I won’t lie to you, Nate. This isn’t a contract offer; I can’t get you one of those. But I can get you a chance. The rest is up to you.”
Nate looks up at his father. “What do you think, Dad? Do you think I’m ready for this?”
Jake shrugs. “What’s the first rule?”
Of course, Nate knew it by heart. “Life isn’t going to wait until you’re ready.”
“So I damned well better be ready.”
Nate Colton turns away from his father, and toward Mazurskiewicz.
“Let’s do it.”
“Fuck YEAAAAAAAAAAHHH!” Benjamin screams. Nobody could ruin a moment like him.
Nate shakes hands with Frank, then hugs his father. Moments later, he’s surrounded by the rest of his family—brothers Benjamin and Blake, cousin Dennis—and soon after that, he’s surrounded by his other family—the rest of the locker room.
And suddenly, he’s enjoying his big news a little less.
This, as previously mentioned, is where Nate Colton’s story opens. Though maybe not where it begins.