Before PWA 1
The Honda Center bustled with activity mere days away from the first joint promoted event in Phoenix Wrestling Alliance history. The center of the wrestling world. A launching pad for 2023. To see the network of promotions coming together, from SHOOT Project to Missouri Valley Wrestling to Sanctioned Violence Organization was a sight to behold.
But PRIME and High Octane Wrestling?
Nobody would have predicted such a partnership. PRIME’s resurrection had changed the landscape, the company surging back to a prominent place within the sport in short order. Lee Best and those within HOW viewed the rise through hostile eyes. No matter what outward appearances were offered by GOD and The Queen of the Ring, the battle lines were clear. Anaheim would play host to a competition with supremacy on the line.
“Crazy to think how far everything has come in only a year,” Angelica Brooks opined, notepad in hand, designer bag slung over her shoulder. PRIME’s Lead Interviewer was a respected journalist and figure in the world of combat sports, her prowess outstripping her diminutive size. “I never imagined that not only would PRIME have taken off so fast, but that we’d be so willing to–”
“Work with others. Especially them.” Brandon Youngblood interrupted.
“Yeah,” she turned toward him, away from the stage being built into place by support staff from all five of PWA’s member promotions. A network of steel served as bedrock for a massive high definition video board. Flames bellowed from the Phoenix, its warm hues painting the ramp. “I wasn’t involved with PRIME in the time before it became a member of PTC. It was just baked into the company’s identity.”
Wisconsin winter made the warmth of California inviting. Brandon folded his arms across his chest, surveying, scanning the workers as they snapped pieces and parts of staging together. “From what I was told, it got named PRIME in the first place to take the piss out of Primetime Central. The owners, Sebastian Starr…not so much Taun Pham…didn’t like the air of superiority PTC had. They didn’t want that getting out though…especially when the place became the crown jewel of the whole thing.”
Angie couldn’t help her journalistic instinct. “And who told you that?”
“Pham. Didn’t have a lot of good things to say about Sebs. By the time in 05 we all…I mean…the pillars…Karina, Nova, Amy–”
“Switching the lineup I see…”
“Don’t know what you’re talking about, Angie.” The less said about The Deville, the better. “When we came in, he was already more focused on making PRIME the best it could be. Signed the best talent. Put on the best shows. Did a pretty damn good job of it, too.”
She couldn’t help but chuckle. “And here we are…”
Youngblood’s eyes caught the side screens near the main wall. Out of all the bouts announced, PWA 1 was tent poled by a double main event of dream match ups. On the left wall stood the figures of HOW World Champion Christopher America and PRIME’s Ivan Stanislav. Within moments, the figures began to move. America placed his hand over his heart, a bald eagle soaring above his shoulders, gripping a flag of vibrant stars and stripes. Stanislav pointed outward with uncompromising eyes, his stance evoking Lenin at the Tribune, the faces of Marx and Engels looking upon him with beaming pride. The Cold War reborn. Nobody could argue Lee Best’s patriotism, regardless of the panache.
To the right stood the other headliners of the event; Brandon Youngblood and Clay Byrd. Wrestler of the Year of PRIME versus Wrestler of the Year of HOW. Their figures were on display, a surging flame to their backs in place of propaganda. If Stanislav and America gave Kennedy and Khrushchev vibes, then The Behemoth and The Diamond was the Space Race. They were two of the hardest hitting, most physical athletes the sport had to offer. Synonymous with their homes. And while neither man pantomimed, their stoic intensity was just as notable.
Looking toward The Beast From Plainview, he couldn’t help but smirk. His tone was muted. “And here we are.”
HOW is the Pyongyang of professional wrestling.
A bankrupt shithole filled to the brim with emaciated third class citizens bred from birth to believe the greatness of its ruler. Shows done in warzones regardless of how tone deaf and tasteless it is. Nonstop hex code references and track suits. All glory to GOD, Eternal Supreme Leader, even in the throes of a coma. A Fisher Price brain trapped inside a pigeon’s body. If you sell your soul and bend the knee, you too can become a member of The Best Alliance.
EPU gimp mask not included.
As much as I ‘whine’, this feeling isn’t new. Years ago, Lindsay Troy coaxed me out of retirement to do a tour in the Caribbean. Fun little jaunt. We ate delicious food, tanned on the beach, and when the chickens came home to roost, me and her and Dan Ryan (before we found out about his addiction to ‘gout medication’) held every singles title in the little company. It meant so much to me that I can’t even remember the promotion’s name or who signed the checks, just that there was some guy claiming to have a demon inside his brain and red eyes because he thought they were thirsty for Heinz 57. I stripped the title for scrap and put the profit into a pot for the Chippewa Valley Veterans Foundation.
Better that then doing what I said I was going to do with it; lay it underneath my toilet so it could soak up my piss.
Then the music stopped. I think it’s because the owner went to jail, or maybe they were bringing in someone with morals that would be right at home in OCW. Lindsay would be a better person to ask. She thought she’d gotten the hooks back into me. That I needed to be in the ring. And with the industry stuck in perpetual gas leak, pickings were slim for a place to call home. But the Queen and the Ego Buster had a wild idea.
How about we go to High Octane Wrestling.
I laughed in their faces.
HOW was the land of Scottywood and Noah Hanson. While the Best family wants the world to think this sport only started mattering in the late aughts, those two made such asses of themselves years before, to the point that they were running jokes in the last inter-federation that mattered; Primetime Central. Hell, James Varga won legitimate championships there! They paid poverty wages where every contract signed came with a pamphlet on how to apply for government assistance. And then, there was the tilt of the pinball table. Constant stacked decks in favor of whatever Papa Lee deemed Best.
I’d like to say I wished them well, but that’s a lie.
I wasn’t about to lend my credibility for a vanity project that could’ve had hatchetmen and nobody would’ve blinked an eye. And what do you know? I’m sad that people like Lindsay and Andy Murray debased themselves and their reputations for a place that thinks a Hall of Fame with Scott Stevens and Bobbinette Carey is ‘the only one that matters’. Don’t get me wrong; HOW has housed some tremendous talent. It’d be foolish to deny the chops of Cecilworth Farthington, the best HOW World Champion there ever was. And as much as I’d hate to admit, I would have loved to test myself against Mike Best. But how many Iconic 2021’s does it take before people realize the whole thing just isn’t worth it?
Car crashes are funny things. After all this time, with all this being said, why am I here? Why am I doing this? Mere months ago, I would’ve mocked any involvement with PWA if it meant doing anything with HOW.
Lee, you and your sycophants might think it has to do with company superiority. It’s not. We both know the truth; that no matter how you might dress it, the man I’m facing in the Honda Center isn’t one of yours. He doesn’t get the full push of The Machine because you’re too busy thinking the wrestling world is screaming for the likes of Aceldama.
Clay Byrd is one of the very best competitors in the sport.
He’s not one of your toys.
That’s what makes him worth fighting.
December 18, 2022
Emptiness is a damning thing.
A bitter Sunday. Brandon lingered in New York City after Colossus had drawn to a close, locked away in a hotel in the shadow of Madison Square Garden. Two nights of sell outs both at the ticket window and at the merchandise stands. With it, peers like Jared Sykes, The Anglo Luchador, Nate Colton, and Hayes Hanlon had cemented their statuses on PRIME’s grandest stage.
They, alongside Ivan Stanislav and Coral Avalon, were the ones to watch in 2023. And that said nothing for the dread of coming in the cross hairs of Paxton Ray and PRIME Cancer Jiles.
Fifteen years. A lifetime contract. He was going nowhere. So why couldn’t he shake his malaise? He’d failed in winning the 5 Star Championship, but wasn’t that by choice? Choking out FLAMBERGE, Gridlocking the French Super Athlete, making him helpless as he watched his title reign evaporate to nothingness? After losing the Universal Title thanks to the prick’s interference, The Tower of Babel should’ve been thrilled.
All he felt was the void.
Not even Inhuman citrus challenges could coax feeling.
His return to the sport of professional wrestling was as ferocious as a lion. As the year came to a close, though, his efforts were as meek as a lamb. A finger of bourbon and a Maduro. The room had a no smoking policy, but he didn’t care. The city that never slept was right outside his door, and yet, he sat alone in his room, hungry, bored, so lethargic he couldn’t muster the energy to leave. Perhaps it was the winter blues.
Perhaps it was the fear that he’d lost a step. Something within was broken, and he hadn’t figured out how to put it back together. Glue and soccer kicks and Shotguns. A sandblasted and threadbare husk, just as Ozymandias’s other monuments.
A random flipping through channels before a ping from his phone. The Phoenix Wrestling Association app. Iconic 2022 was about to go into its main event. He rolled his eyes, tossing the phone onto his bed. Like he’d stoop so low as to watch that shithole after everything he’d said about High Octane and Lee Best. It was bad enough that he’d fielded the call from the GOD of HOW when word of his free agency broke. The Machine Never Stops, and Brandon was sure the tweets from Best would be dramatically different had he actually accepted the offer to become 97Red.
Drawn curtains obscured the night. Tedium. Was he really considering this? It’s not like you have to pay to watch it. The voice in his head betrayed his scruples. Disgusted, he grabbed his phone, sliding his finger across the screen. He felt the overwhelming need to take a shower.
There were worse ways to kill time.
I need you to know this, Clay.
It had to be you. Not because of stature. Not because of the rah rah from the peanut gallery of Jace Parker Davidson’s and Scott Stevens’s. All they’re good for is writing bad checks, hoping their betters will manage to cash in and gift them some sweet trickle down. Bottom feeding fungi blighting the shade underneath your branches.
I might’ve been born in Canada, but I grew up in Texas. Bandera. That’s about six hours out from Plainview. Most of that is, what, US-83 and 84? For whatever reason, AAU liked doing their amateur wrestling tournament out of the Lubbock Municipal Coliseum. So close to your home. We drank the same water. Only a few years separate us.
We’re relics, Behemoth, growing up like all the other kids back then, obsessed with professional wrestling. Our perspectives on the sport are different, given your pedigree and head start. You were born into it. Bred for it. I watched that legacy first hand on those Sunday mornings after church. Can you believe they aired those shows on The Christian Broadcasting Television station? Would never fly today.
It’d be far too convenient to call you a chip off the block. You’ve outstripped your old man. Probably pisses you off to hear me say that, but it’s a compliment. Championship Wrestling from Dallas. And while Robert Byrd never did become the top man in the territory, nobody could deny his toughness. He never quit. He just kept fighting. I’ll never forget Battle Bowl 91. Live from the Dallas Sportatorium. Bullrope Match. Robert Byrd versus ‘The Carpetbagger’ Dalton Early. Maybe your old man didn’t tell you about Early. Surly bastard. Ran down your ranch and kicked in the windows of your father’s truck real good. He was around our age when your father took him on for that final time. Robert had the size and strength advantage, but that bell, that rope, it equalized everything. I could feel the heat from the crowd. Could damn near taste the blood. He won that night. Took everything he had, but he won.And while Early was fighting for the state of Louisiana, your father made it clear he wasn’t fighting for the honor of Texas. No, he was fighting for himself.
I’m starting to think the world enjoys playing little tricks of foreshadowing.
He didn’t hate Texas like you hate HOW. Assumption? How could you not hate your home? After everything it has done to you? So while Christopher America prattles on about red ladies and jingoism and the sanctity of 97Red while he pisses himself before the Praporshchik, the world will be watching the two of us lock up for something far more important.
Iron sharpening iron.
Lindsay knows why I’m here.
Hopefully, Lee won’t have the audacity to try and cloak you in his colors.
Clay Byrd could smell blood in the water. A crushing spear connected with full force, nearly taking the HOW World Champion Christopher America out of his boots. The Monster from Plainview was close. So very close. Forty years old. Never a World Champion.
Not until here.
Not until tonight.
It had been over a half hour since the match began, and despite himself, despite all of his feelings about the company he was watching, Brandon couldn’t look away. Excitement crept up his spine.
America was in survival mode, clutching his ribs, trying to roll underneath the bottom rope. Respite. The only way he’d maintain his grip on High Octane. The Behemoth’s eyes were glassed over, spittle lacquering his beard. He let out a wild roar from deep within as he grabbed the Champion, ripping him from safe haven, yanking him to his feet and wrenching him by the gut for a powerbomb that had to break the boards of the ring. The cover was academic. Head Official Matt Boettcher made the count.
Like others in the orbit of Lindsay Troy, Brandon had known about Clay for some time. Vae Victis. The two had similar roads to friendship with The Queen of the Ring. Even still, it was from a distance. But here, now, he was watching the culmination of the man’s life’s work, an echo from his own experience earlier in the year.
The Almasy Invitational. The launch of the ReVival. Jonathan Christopher-Hall and Miles Lucky and The Anglo Luchador and Impulse and finally, finally, PRIME Cancer Jiles.
Victory comes with so many subtle sensations. Deep within the forearms as you lift your opponent when they have nothing left to give. Like film over your teeth. Prickling underneath your fingernails. Every movement is light as a feather. Distilling the feeling would surpass all other drugs.
How many times had Clay been here? The cusp. A taste from the chalice. Battered and bloody before having a chance to show his true mettle in War Games 2022. Robbed of his earned Iconic 2021 Main Event by Michael Oliver Best. Beaten down over and over, softened to mush so Mike Best could pick him clean. A glass ceiling constantly slammed against. Now, he’d silenced the doubt. The dread. Finally, he became The Man on terms he dictated. Sure, the road ahead would be filled with suffering. When you were hated in the House of Best, there was always a blood price.
It didn’t make this moment any less worth it.
That is, until Christopher America kicked out.
Forty minutes had passed. A laboring sigh from The Champion. Lactic acid filled every joint. Frayed. The World Championship was slipping away as a Monster stalked him, lifting him up. One more Texas Lariat was all it would take. Clay loaded up and charged the ropes. Like a lash of lightning, a steel chair connected with the back of his head, splitting it open instantly, blood spurting out in disgusting bursts. He crumbled. Everyone watching could only wince and groan. Deflated. The beaten Flag Man drags himself over by his elbows, limply drawing his arm over the Behemoth’s chest. Despite how America would go on to talk about how superior he was, it wasn’t by his own hand that he’d retained. He needed to thank Dan Ryan, the man given life again in a sport he should’ve been given the death penalty from.
A weird deja vu. New York suddenly felt like London. Wembley. A Culture Shock a lifetime ago. Jason Snow was the Champion all others measured themselves against. Over a full year as Universal Champion. The most singularly dominant reign in PRIME’s history. And yet he could barely stand, blood pouring from his head, eyes blackened, chest lacerated and bruised. Brandon had brutalized him, suplexed and chopped him into paste. The path to this moment wasn’t given, but earned. Jewel in the Crown 09. Just over four years since he’d been fired from PRIME.
Yet just like America, on this night, it was Snow’s hand that was raised.
He remembered feeling his life seeping away. The numbness through his limbs. The outright despair. Everything he’d had poured into this one moment and it wasn’t enough. It would never be enough. Shrink. Run away. Hide. Call it a retirement. On that night, you’d have beaten all other champions in PRIME’s history you tell yourself. There was nothing left to prove.
A lie to help you sleep better at night.
As the broadcast began to fade, his focus became singular; Hatred braided The Monster From Plainview’s crow’s feet. Quaking. Fists clenched. If it wasn’t for being utterly spent, Dan Ryan would be a stain on the canvas. America too. Though wounded, Byrd was far from dead. Maybe it was the freshness of the moment, but there was no concept of a road forward. No questioning how he was going to get himself back on track. It didn’t matter. Clay Byrd didn’t give a shit. Not when Farthington broke his arm. Not when he was dragged out like a corpse at War Games. When that happened? He screamed “You ain’t no Daisy” and took the HOW Television Title from Papa Lee’s new toy, STRONK GODSON. Frank Dylan James called him a coward, and all he got in return was brained in Alcatraz.
None of that should’ve mattered. That all happened in HOW. But if a man can have his body broken over and over, if he walks forward even though he knows he’s facing certain death, and all he offers is a scowl and a challenge to take your best shot? The layers of bullshit get stripped away real quick.
Brandon hadn’t realized he was pacing until moments later. So deep in thought. When he’d come back to the ring, it was easy. The wins kept piling on. He’d trenched his way through everyone put in front of him. He was unconquerable. Unbeatable. Unyielding. And he did it because he was free. Unhindered. Unburdened by the task before him and the desire to be the very best PRIME had seen regardless of era. And then, Phil Atken came along. For the longest time, he thought losing the Universal Championship was the root of his funk. It wasn’t. It was worrying about the path forward. Worrying what the din of noise from what those outside had to say. It was getting lost in the weeds in the problems of Jared Sykes and Justine Calvin. It was trying to find some kind of finality to losing the Universal Championship by dealing with the man who played such a key role, FLAMBERGE. The quiet thoughts about Nate Colton and whether he was now PRIME’s true Diamond.
Brandon cycled through his contacts, stopping when he found who he was looking for. Lindsay answered on the third ring. There was no small talk. No pleasantries. Just a simple declaration. “PWA 1. Byrd.”
Only a madman would be willing to be the first person to step in the ring with the Behemoth after tonight.
The Tower of Babel beamed at the thought.
I think your father would be proud of what you’ve accomplished. Then again, from what Lindsay tells me, that’s a complicated matter.
Complicated because, as much pride as you take in the ring, outside of it, you could care less. That’s why you’re still sporting a Best Alliance tracksuit. Why your stallion is filled with wrappers and garbage, needing to be brushed aside so you can use your gym bag as a pillow as you sleep in the cabin of your truck. Again, might piss you off, making you think I’m taking digs from some posh position. After all, PRIME looks down their noses at HOW.
But here’s the truth; you’re the best wrestler HOW has to offer, Clay. That you thrive as you have under the boot of oppression and disdain says as much. But just surviving isn’t enough, is it? A question asked with the answer already known. No, you want more. That’s why it had to be you. Because right now? I think you’re the only other person out there who can understand where I’m coming from. Because even as we look back at 2022 with shiny new plaques celebrating how good we were, what we did just wasn’t good enough for ourselves.
I’ve been to the top of the mountain. Thought I’d be able to take a seat at the summit and finally feel content. And for a few moments, I did. But then, my eyes wandered, looking for a higher peak. Or maybe I would go back to the floor, just to climb back up it again. Find joy in ascending the throne.
That’s not for men like us.
You’ll understand that when you reach your summit. Imagine it’ll be sooner than anyone realizes.
But in the meantime, I need you to do me a favor. When you look at me, think of Dan Ryan after he hit you with that chair. When you look down into my eyes, see the face of perhaps your greatest rival, Mike Best. Shouldn’t be hard from what I’m told. Think of all those beatings you took at the hands of the EPU. Think of Christopher America peacocking around with your World Championship. Think of your fellow Highwaymen. Think about all the obstacles in your way.
And in return?
I’ll give you the hardest fight of your life.