Something they never tell you when you first break into the business is that a life with a championship belt is always harder than one without, especially for a company like PRIME.
As a champion of a major company, you’re expected to make appearances. Endless photo shoots. Interviews. The occasional late night talk show appearance. Your responsibilities increase, as do both internal and external pressures.
It’d been almost fifteen years since Coral Avalon was a champion in PRIME, back when he was the workhorse of the Blue Rogues. It’d been even longer since he held a singles title for a major company. Sure, he’d held championships in many, many smaller promotions. The big fish in the small pond never had to worry about the responsibilities of a champion beyond showing up when they asked you to and fighting a surly man (or woman) who wanted that same belt.
But now, Coral represented the company that once spurned him, and he wasn’t sure how to handle it.
“How long’s this supposed to take?” he asked, standing in front of the bright lights of a photographer.
He wanted to be back home with Annabelle, trying to figure out what the next step of the whole “becoming parents” situation was supposed to be. With ReVival 27 having come and gone, all of his anxious energy was devoted to that. He wanted to be anywhere except in front of a camera posing with his shiny new championship belt. He tapped his toes within his wrestling boots, trying to not let his discomfort show.
For a man who made a living performing incredible acts of athleticism on a regular basis in front of thousands of people, Coral was often uncomfortable when outside of the ropes. He didn’t mind being the center of attention in a crowd, but being the center of attention for only a handful of people in full ring gear? He’d rather get a root canal. He’d rather Anna Daniels punt him in the head. He’d rather look at Jabber.
“Buddy, we’ll be here all day if you keep lollygagging,” the photographer said.
Coral mouthed that last word to himself, before he asked, “Who uses that word in 2023, Flash?”
Few photographers employed by PRIME were like Duncan “Flash” Bravo. He didn’t fit the mold, a widely built man who enjoyed his trips to Wendy’s more than his heart will enjoy in a few years’ time. His full beard and shaggy hair gave him a passing resemblance to a well-fed bear. He looked like he’d be more at home hibernating for the winter than standing around with a camera.
If you’re wondering… the answer was yes, Sid did hate him.
Much like Coral, Flash had been around the world photographing professional wrestling everywhere he could go. His bum knees wouldn’t let him anywhere near the ring, so the next best thing was to stand at ringside – as invisible as a grizzly bear can be – and photograph wrestlers and performances. When PRIME went back on the road, Flash’s name was floated as a road photographer to hire.
Coral wasn’t so much surprised to see him around PRIME as he was surprised that it took this long for a company to be willing to hire him.
“I do. Now quit fuckin’ around, and gimme summathat Blue Steel.” Flash said.
Coral gave him a look, “Did you just reference Zoolander in 2023, too?”
Flash glared back at him. For a moment, there was tension. Then he laughed heartily, “I’m just fuckin’ with you, Avy.”
His voice went up to a commanding volume, “Just stop posing like you just got thawed out from a cryogenics lab with your arms down and shit, and give me some goddamn dynamism!”
As if to demonstrate this, he flexed one arm while pointing at the sky with the other, his camera still in his hand. Coral looked at him incredulously. Never in his life did he pose like that. He was always in great shape, but he always valued function over form. Still, he had a job to do here, so Coral wordlessly pulled the title from his shoulder and held it towards Flash, while flexing with his other arm.
“Yeah! That’s the stuff!” Flash encouraged bombastically, his camera flickering. For all of his rampant unchecked energy and enthusiasm, Flash knew how to do his job very well. If there was a correct angle of attack, he would swoop in and take the best shot.
After a few more pictures, Coral held up his free hand before walking off the set for a moment, “Hang on. Let me get something.”
Flash laughed as he watched him, “That thing?”
“That thing” was the faux fur cloak that Coral wore to the ring as part of his entrance. Over the month-long holiday break that Coral spent in Japan, his wife’s side of the family had made him a new one to replace the patchwork, well-worn one that’d served him well since the end of the 2014 Terminus Complex. The most noteworthy part of the ridiculous cloak was the mock lion’s head mounted on the right shoulder, like a wearable taxidermy experiment (or mistake).
“Well, if I can’t be with my wife, this is the next best thing,” Coral explained to Flash as he threw it on.
Flash gave him a weird look, his head tilted, “You married your weird cloak, bro?”
Coral returned the look, “No, of course not! That’s silly. You’re being silly. I mean that she helped make it. Well, her family did. It’s complicated, okay?”
“Sure. Just a grown man and his weird-ass cloak. Ain’t gonna judge!” Flash said, as he snapped photos.
Coral shook his head as Flash’s misunderstandings grew, but he accepted that nothing will get done with his “lollygagging”.
The cloak over his shoulders had been an immutable part of Coral’s identity since becoming the Crownless King. A constant reminder that he didn’t get here on his own.
No king ever did.
After all, what’s a king without his kingdom?
A picture is worth a thousand words.
However, because of narrative limits, only a hundred can be spared.
Coral Avalon stands at the center of the shot in his wrestling gear. His cloak, not yet weathered from years of use like his old one, clings to his shoulders and falls to his sides to leave an opening to expose his bare chest. The gray and black hues of his cloak accentuates the blue of his gear. Held at one end with both hands is his newly won 5-Star Championship, as though he is trying to pull it from a stone.
Even though he wears no crown on his head, the Crownless King finally had his prize.
As an international wrestling participant (I mean, star), Coral Avalon had been on airplanes many times for his work. In particular, he’d been on the trip from America to Japan more times than he could count. Always flying coach, of course, the man wasn’t made of money.
He could count the number of times he’d gone to Japan on a private jet, though: Once.
As in, right now.
Coral had asked a lot of questions about why Merlin Avalon was getting more involved in his life. His younger brother had been popping up more often lately. And with Coral needing to go to Japan for a couple of days in order to watch his two protégés duke it out for Bang! Pro Wrestling’s top prize, Merle stepped in to offer a ride.
Merlin was impossibly wealthy, such that he could easily be compared to a legendary basketball player (you know the one). So he naturally owned his own jet.
Coral didn’t make the trip from America to Japan alone. No, Annabelle was tagging along so that she could visit family and tell them the good news that she and Coral were about to become parents.
“I’m tellin’ ya, Cor,” Merlin said as he lightly twirled the contents of his martini in his hand without managing to spill a drop, “I’ve been chompin’ at the bit over here to lend a hand to ya.”
Coral sighed, rubbing his face with his hands.
It was true, of course.
Merlin had cast some sort of curse on his cell phone in the last month, and that curse was in the form of e-mails and text messages. It was a fucking deluge. All sorts of ideas on how to improve the Coral Avalon brand. This was in spite of the fact that Coral hadn’t agreed to any of Merlin’s help beyond the jet ride, since he didn’t really want help from the Avalon family.
This was weird. This was all very weird. Like a version of weird that Coral was genuinely unfamiliar with in the weird world of wrestling, which was saying a lot considering that Beef and El Janito were among the first few numbers in his phone book. You don’t get to call yourself normal when you’re willing to field phone calls from wrestling’s premiere misfit circus. You just didn’t.
But Coral still wasn’t used to Merle being in his life again. The man was a whirlwind. If you didn’t keep yourself grounded, he was liable to sweep you into his winds of bullshit.
“The jet ride’s fine, Merle,” Coral said, “I don’t need your help with my career, though. I’ve got fifteen extra pounds of luggage for this trip that tells me that I don’t need it.”
“Sure, ya say that now,” Merle said, “But my big brother took way too long to get back to wrestlin’ nationally. Always fuckin’ about in Japan.”
“Yeah, because my options for a long time were to either work in your city where I have no fond memories, or that empire of dirt and eyepatches in Chicago,” Coral said. “Japan was fine. It was home.”
Merle made a scoffing sound at the idea of Japan being home, but he didn’t argue so much as he changed the subject.
“You know I ain’t much on that weird hippie-ass perspective you’ve got on this whole wrestlin’ thing, anyways. Might as well get together with that Pontiff fella and sing folksy songs.”
Coral went wide-eyed, “Is that what you got out of that conversation I had with Sage? Because that guy was like five seconds away from sending me to a hospital before the biggest match I’ve had in years.”
In truth, the encounter with the Bodhisattva had shaken him. The Glue Factory? The Love Convoy? The eGG Bandits? They didn’t shake him. Maybe they could all beat him. Maybe they would try to drown him in glue or chocolate or egg yolks or any number of other very questionable substances. But they’re all familiar to him. Wrestling always attracted groups like that. He built one such group, after all.
Yet no one in PRIME reminded him of the last man that tried to murder him under the guise of a wrestling match as much as Sage Pontiff did.
Nothing shook him like a true believer.
Merle just laughed, though, because he didn’t know any of that.
“Betcha ten bucks that he’s the guy you defend that thing against first,” Merle said. “Just seems right, y’know?”
Coral smiled, his mind’s eye dancing with all of the great opponents he had an opportunity to face first for the belt. Jiles. Hall. Rocky. TAL. Tsonda. Rezin. Hanlon. Maybe even a rematch with Stanislav. Pontiff belonged more in the Intense division, a world that Coral wanted little to do with regardless of who held that belt. Odds were good that Pontiff would be back in the hunt for that title.
Odds were good that it’d be a while before he’d have to solve the Sage Pontiff puzzle.
Coral Avalon sighed outside of a hotel room in Denver, two weeks later, looking for a nice spot on the ceiling to stare at.
After a moment’s hesitation, he knocked on the door.
Merle didn’t take long to answer, and he had a grin better suited for the Cheshire cat than for a man plastered on his face. He’d been expecting this. He’d been waiting for this. He didn’t even need to say a word.
Coral shook his head, reached into his pocket, and slapped a Hamilton into Merle’s hand.
Without a word, he turned and walked away to go solve a new puzzle.
Merle didn’t even need ten bucks, but a picture of a bet won was worth a thousand words.
The jet still be jettin’.
That’s what jets did. They jet.
God help everyone below if they didn’t.
Soon, it’d touch down in Sapporo, the site of the last day of the Bang! tour on May 15th. Coral had wrestled on that same Hell’s Blazing Garden tour just a year ago. Back then, his life was still simple. He was freshly employed by PRIME on a manager’s contract. He was there to guide the sons of Joey Malone and Daniel Phillips as they navigated the cutthroat world of the national wrestling scene. He wasn’t the 5-Star Champion.
Merle could only smile at him, knowing in his heart that his future was all about the Hamiltons, and that the future would award him thusly.
“So, mister big fish in a small pond,” Merle said, as his attention was on watching the ocean and the clouds zip by them from outside the window of the jet, “Y’all got any clue what you’ll do when you ain’t able to do this no more?”
“What, wrestling?” Coral asked.
“Yeah. Shit like this got a shelf life, don’t it?” Merle asked, tipping his martini glass towards Coral, “Sure, you get your Atkens and your Stanislavs tryin’ to capture the glories of their yesteryears, but y’all tell me how Philly A.’s doin’. Y’all tell me how long ‘ol Ivan’s gonna still be kickin’ around.”
Coral winced at the words “Ivan” and “kicking” being used in the same sentence. In retrospect, it’s a miracle that he had a child on the way now after that match.
“Yeah. My window is closing.” Coral admitted, “Do you think I don’t have a plan when my time’s up?”
“Way I understand it, you didn’t have a plan goin’ in, can’t imagine you got one comin’ out.” Merle said with a smile.
Coral smiled back, “Au contraire, mon frère.”
Coral explained his plans to become a full-time teacher once he started stagnating as a professional wrestler. Teaching had become his legacy as a pro wrestler in the last few years. The reason why he was going to Sapporo in the first place was to see his two best students do battle for one of Japan’s richest prizes. He knew the cartoon was still an option, too, though he hadn’t heard much on what was going on with it. If all else failed, Lindsay Troy could definitely find a role for him to play backstage.
He could see it now, the sign on his door when you walked into PRIME offices: Coral Avalon, Manager of Magnificent Morons.
That was Plan M. For Moron.
Merle listened to Coral until he was done, and then he took a sip of his martini.
“Well, color me impressed that you mashed together a couple o’ brain cells to come up with that,” Merle said, “Though… you gotta keep in mind, Cor, you got a bun in that oven over there.”
Annabelle just glared at him. Coral laughed nervously, knowing that Annabelle had a riot down in her central nervous system, one that her rational brain was trying to quell. Because if she didn’t, she and Coral would have to answer for an attempted high-altitude strangling. Coral rested his hand on hers to calm her.
“Easy, Annie,” he whispered to her.
“This motherfucker needs to stop treating me like I’m not in here with him,” she said through clenched teeth.
Meanwhile, Merle’s constant grin faded slightly as he set his martini down. He tented his fingers, leaning forward like he was in prayer.
“Y’know, all yer plans kinda hinge on you still being able to walk away, don’t they?” Merle asked.
“You don’t think I would?” Coral asked.
Merle’s suddenly morose expression didn’t change.
“Nah. Ain’t a question of ‘would’. More a question of… could.”
The silence grew heavy after that.
Coral knew what Merle was getting at. The road he walked on was paved with the blood and sacrifice of many wrestlers who didn’t get to walk away on their own terms, after all. Merle’s growing familiarity with Coral and what he did meant that he was familiar with some of the sport’s victims. His former ace student only had one working arm. Joey Malone needed a cane to get around. Jonathan Rhine was still in a wheelchair.
That’s just the ones still alive.
Now that Coral was the 5-Star Champion, the highs would be very high. Yet too many people wanted that belt, and didn’t care who they trampled over to get to it.
And he didn’t know it yet, since this was still the past, but Sage Pontiff was going to be the first to come for him.
If a mere picture was worth a thousand words, then the tapes told thousands more.
Coral Avalon watched Sage Pontiff fly at Hoyt Williams with all of the grace of the Hindenburg disaster, and come crashing down on the guardrail.
He’d spent some time reviewing Sage’s in-ring acumen, and he came away with some thoughts.
Sage Pontiff flew like a blimp on fire, and that wasn’t a knock on Pontiff’s aerial ability. No. This only made him more dangerous. He flew with little control, as though he was hoping a limb would hit in just the right way to draw blood. How he landed was immaterial as long as it was on top of you.
Sage had no care in the world for how much pain he was in. Pain wasn’t even a secondary thought. It was somewhere in the tertiary region. Coral suspected that he might even enjoy the pain. As long as his opponent was broken before him, Sage Pontiff would keep fighting. Relentlessly. Mercilessly. Because he truly believed he was helping.
The true believers were the ones that shook Coral the most.
But the jigsaw pieces in his head still fit together the same as they always did. Every storm, no matter how powerful, eventually burned itself out and dissipated into mere clouds. All Coral had to do was weather it. All he had to do was look Sage Pontiff in his mismatched eyes and dare him to do to him what he did to Hoyt.
All he had to do was let Sage destroy himself.
Coral arrived in Sapporo with no further incident.
He watched his two protégés battle it out in the main event.
“Big Iron” Gorou Ichikawa, the leader of the Ironhearts. Claire Merci, the woman who inherited the Kingdom.
Coral had been the one to realize that the elder Ichikawa sibling was the future of Bang! while he was on excursion, and worked tirelessly to help realize his potential. The cowboy-themed wrestler out of Fukuoka had always credited the Kingdom’s leader for helping him, even as he pursued a path outside of and sometimes even against the Kingdom.
Claire was Coral’s understudy in Bang!, the only additional member of the Crownless Kingdom after the original four. The Montreal native had a meteoric rise in Bang! since breaking away from Coral during this same tour last year, culminating in the reformation of the Crownless Kingdom under her command.
The elder Ichikawa brother and the Quebecois striker had gone back and forth for a punishing forty minutes, until at last, Claire caught Gorou with a piledriver that Coral hadn’t ever seen her use before. She could barely get on top of him afterwards. All or nothing.
The referee’s hand hit the mat three times.
The end of an era, and Coral was there to witness it.
The Kingdom celebrated under the veil of the crowd’s stunned shock. Coral entered the ring well after the rest of them did, letting them have their moment.
It was only once Claire saw him that he offered his congratulations, “You did it.”
Though exhausted, Claire smiled her defiant little smile.
“Of course I did.”
A picture is worth a thousand words.
However, because of narrative limits, only a hundred can be spared.
Claire Merci held two championship belts across her shoulders. The protégé of Coral Avalon, the woman who inherited the Kingdom. Covered in sweat, the rare grin on her face and the middle finger she held for the camera conveyed confidenxce. The other members of the Japanese branch of the Kingdom, champions as well, surrounded her. Gavin, the goofy yet dangerous “Lunch Lawyer”. Ignacio, the rookie sensation already exceeding expectations. Anubis, indomitable and carefree.
Coral Avalon stood behind them to let Claire’s Kingdom take center stage.
Yet the championship belt he held shined just as much as theirs.
Thy kingdom come.