This isn’t about titles.
It’s not about getting ‘back on track’ or sending a message.
A four month stay of execution. Bobby Dean doesn’t know this. Most likely, he wouldn’t care. But I do. What you did hasn’t been forgiven, hasn’t been forgotten. Some in the wrestling world claim you to be some loveable, harmless figure, a riot of fart and gorging and thirst pervert jokes.
I don’t think you’re funny.
I hate everything about you.
Those people are going to be upset with what happens to you on ReVival 15, going to look at the optics and think I’m some jacked up asshole, attacking someone to make myself feel better after losing the Universal Championship. That I’m nothing more than a bully showing his true colors.
But the reality? You’re as big a bully as they come. You just have farce and comedy for blinders.
I want you to know, from the moment you leave your feet, before you come crashing down on top of your head, before your world goes black, that I’m going to enjoy what I do to you.
Ashley Barlow is the only thing that can save you from me.
Know that you deserve everything coming your way.
May 6, 2022
Delilah DiBella stood from her floristry workbench after putting the final touches on a Sunshine Bouquet, flexing her wrists and brushing away stray flecks from the messy bun of her chestnut hair. In her mid-twenties, she was born into this line of work, her parents having run DiBella Flowers & Gifts for nearly a half century. Tucked away from the Vegas Strip, it stood across the street from University Medical Center, its facade a mix of muted mosaic stone and butterscotch stucco. For over a generation, the DiBella’s designed arrangements for all manner of weddings, funerals, graduations, and birthdays, taking pride in their work and helping celebrate the lives of their customers.
As she walked from the back room, she felt the warmness of the sun pouring in from the windows, her eyes catching one of the shop’s newest regulars. A massive tower of a man, he was hard to miss. She’d first seen him elsewhere, on the LED signage of the MGM Grand, a massive championship belt over his shoulder, a stern look on his face as he spoke with a quiet intensity about how the casino was the prime destination on the Vegas Strip or some such nonsense. But here, now, as his eyes went from scanning the bouquets along the far wall toward her, Brandon Youngblood offered her only the warmest of smiles. “Hey Delilah!”
There was a certain joy in his voice. Her heart melted from how cute it was seeing this mountain of a man carrying around one of the teddy bears from their novelties section. She brushed her fingertips over her apron, fiddled with the temples of her wide rimmed glasses, hoping he didn’t notice her chewing on the captive rings of her spider bites. She beamed, her hand waving toward him wildly. “Hey you!”
Coming to DiBella’s had become a ritual since the revival of PRIME. On the early afternoon of show day, he’d stop by, buying a small bouquet to take back home to Amy. For the Red Raver’s part, as much as she refused to admit she liked flowers, she couldn’t help but smile when he gave them to her.
Today, he’d decided on a Khiabet bouquet; a tight collection of sunflowers and roses with a glass bulb vase. He took his time, a slight limp from his left leg, his movement ginger. When he made it to the register, he put flowers and the teddy bear down. Delilah couldn’t help herself, taking the stuffed animal in her hands, giving him a playful squeeze. “So little Burton here caught your attention, huh?” She grinned as she sat him back onto the counter. “What’s the occasion?”
“Breakfast date,” he offered as he reached for his wallet.
“Well she’s a lucky girl.” After a few moments, she caught herself. “Or he’s a lucky guy. I don’t know. I’m not going to assume. Could be both. You be you, Boo.”
He couldn’t help but snicker. “Nothing like that. It’s for a close friend.”
“Well, Burton here? He looks forward to making friends with them.”
The stuffed teddy bear would make friends with pretty much anyone with a pulse. He looked so soft with his fluffy brown fur, his expression a red smile with swooping stitch lines connecting his mouth to his heart shaped nose. Around his neck was a red ribbon fastened in an exaggerated bowtie. A true Great Bear if ever there was one. “My friend has quite the gang of stuffies. Sully, this little octopus who she can reverse and he’s either happy or angry, he’s the leader. And then there’s Wally the Unicorn. He’s pink and has a rainbow horn. I have him talk to her in this gruff voice like he’s a drill sergeant or something.”
“So your friend, she’s a kid?”
“Yeah. Met her a few years ago at one of the hospitals near where I live.” Resting his elbows on the countertop, he continued. “She’s got histiocytosis. Hard to explain. But she’s a trooper. Doesn’t let it get her down. And she still beats my ass at Mario Kart.”
Her cheeks suddenly felt far too hot. “That’s so cute. I’m…” she stuttered, “sorry about that though. The being sick thing, not the you getting owned in video games thing.”
“Think the diagnosis on that one is terminal,” he smirked. “We meet every once and a while, her with her parents, me and my girlfriend, and have breakfast. And let me tell you, she absolutely destroys a stack of pecan waffles.”
“What’s her name?”
“I like Athena.”
“Easy to say when she ain’t kicking your ass in Mario Kart.”
It was her turn to chuckle. “I think I’d live.”
A shared laugh. He began petting Burton’s head. “So, you guys make the bears?”
“No,” she reached for Burton’s price tag, entering it for the register. “He’s local. There’s a family that my parents have known for years, and they make them. Not this big corporate operation. They’re not Build-A-Bear.”
“But can they do something more custom?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I’ve been doing some research into UMC just down the road from here. Nevada’s biggest children’s hospital. I’m putting together something of a pitch for my company. Figure if we’re going to try and be a part of the Vegas community, maybe we should do more than cape for sportsbooks and weekend getaways. Show we actually care.”
She nodded. “I guess you could do something with them. They’re made by hand.”
His fingertips began stroking Burton’s ears. “I know someone near where I live that works in embroidery. What I want to do, maybe, is get the names of the kids that are staying long term at UMC, get them their own bear that’s wearing a shirt with their name on it. Maybe saying something or having a big heart. I dunno…”
The thought of it made her tear up. “That…sounds awesome. Really awesome.”
“But not him. Not this Burton? He’s going to find himself a nice home with Athena had make lots of friends.” He shook the little guy’s hand. He couldn’t help himself.
The eGG Bandits would have the world believe everything they touched turned to gold.
In reality, their gold was pure shit, at least for their victims
At ReVival 7, it started with Bobby Youngblood. The Man from Honalee trudged to the ring during Cancer Jiles verbal skewering session ahead of his golden ticket Universal Championship opportunity, brandishing all the salt he could muster after falling in the Almasy Invitational Finals. Bobby Dean played his part with his ill fitting singlet, his prosthetic bald cap, his Universal Title toy replica. All told, he looked like he’d rather be anywhere but in this charade, perhaps guided by discomfort in what he was being asked to do.
More likely, he was worried about what Brandon was going to do to him.
When the Tower of Babel came to ruin the skit, Bobby disappeared from the ring faster than any other time in his life. After Youngblood’s verbal evisceration of the COOLYMPIAN, his challenger struck, violently attacking his already injured left knee, leaving him in a heap. The only thing that prevented further carnage was Impulse.
If only the night ended there.
Dr. Astrid Fihlguud managed to get him ambulatory with a compression sleeve and crutches. A further diagnosis would have to wait. He did his best to fight through the searing pain enveloping his knee, everything about it front and center in his mind. For now, all he wanted to do was go to his suite after collecting his things.
When he managed to get the door to his locker room door open, all that went out the window. It had been utterly trashed. Couches broken and tipped over. Pizza boxes and greasy pepperoni matted all over the carpet. Split pea soup staining the walls. His clothes were thrown around and covered in yolk and broken egg shells. The centerpiece was the Halliburton, propped up like something from the Temple of Doom. Inside? Cocaine’s severed head. Cancer Jiles white steed had sacrificed his life for a spell of spite, his blood pouring over everything in close proximity.
A play at comedy, or realized illiteracy? The answer was probably both.
It was then that he noticed his duffle bag was still wide open.
A sudden wave of panic washed over him. Slumped in a chair, he grabbed for his bag, pulling it into his lap. Nothing inside it had been spared of Banditry.
Not even Burton.
Brandon had left the bouquet in his suite. But the teddy bear? He’d brought that to the show to show him to Lindsay Troy and pitch his idea about getting bears for the kids at UMC Children’s Hospital. She was over the moon for the idea, wanted to get Chief Marketing Officer Michelle Johnson in on logistics. She even mentioned that, if things went well, she’d get Wade Elliott to play Santa Claus at the hospital come Christmas time.
The idea had them both howling.
There was no laughing now.
Burton’s fur was covered in horse blood. He was missing an eye, and his left leg had been ripped clean off, stuffing puffing from the wound. This wasn’t a mistake; it was a message. Brandon looked around, trying to find the missing leg, but it was nowhere to be found. Most likely, it had been presented as a trophy of sorts to the Bandits leader. ‘Look what we found. Tough guy carrying toys around. What a damn joke.’
It couldn’t have been Jiles. In the short time he’d been aware of the COOLYMPIAN’s existence, it was clear the man took his grooming seriously. He wouldn’t sully his fingernails doing dirty work. No, that fell on his flunkies. His hangers-on.
That fell on Bobby Dean.
A whirlwind of resentment. To be made of a fool of, to be hurt? It was professional wrestling. Heavy was the head that wore the crown. But to cross this line? To destroy his personal effects? To destroy a present for someone they didn’t know, that they’d mock if they had? Anyone remotely close to his locker room could hear his roar of rage, could feel it rattle the ground underneath their feet.
The Tower of Babel wanted to bathe in their blood.
May 7, 2022
“…You’ve got to be fucking kidding me Lindsay!” The earthquake was continuing, having moved to the 28th floor of the MGM Grand. Brandon stormed his suite as best as he could, his knee bloated within his compression sleeve. His night didn’t end once he got back to the suite; he’d gone into the wee hours of the morning trying to launder his clothes. Phone in hand, his fingers trembled. Sweat poured down his cheeks. This exchange had been going on for some time.
“You keep saying that, but I’m not. So how about you drop it?” The Queen of the Ring and CEO of PRIME was stern. She was used to having to deal with all manner of outbursts, knew her Universal Champion sometimes needed a stern hand. He’d see reason, eventually.
Until then, they were in for the ride. “Fine them? You’re gonna fuckin’ fine them and that’s that? Destroy the locker room, piss on your fuckin’ feet–”
“It’s going to be heavy. Don’t act like I’m just slapping on the wrist here. We all know they crossed the line–”
“Crossed the line? Crossed the line? You let them run around here having goddamn free reign! Since when did PRIME become All Bandits fucking Wrestling, Lindsay? Would you let them shit in your mouth and do–”
“No!” He was bellowing now. “I told you to put me in the ring with ALL those pieces of shit! All! One after the fucking other! Like you would if they did that to you. You know I’m right.”
A moment of silence.
“Well? You gonna do it, Lindsay?”
Despite herself, she couldn’t hide her snarl. “I’m not putting you in a damn Bandits Gauntlet, Brandhole. We both know how that goes down. It’s all part of their plan. Get you worked up and flustered and thinking about how bad you want to kill them. And then, they chip away at you, piece by piece. Until Jiles swoops in and kicks your teeth down your throat and takes your title. That’s what they want. I’m not rewarding their bullshit by serving you up on a silver platter.”
“I don’t need protecting–”
“Protecting? Hell, I can’t even count on you making Revival since I don’t know if you’ll be medically cleared.”
“I will be cleared no matter what the doctors say.”
“Well thank god that’s not your decision to make.”
Slumping onto the couch, he lost steam. Everything she was saying was true. It didn’t make his feelings any less intense. As he tried to deal with his thoughts, he looked to the end table, Burton slumped over its top. He’d run the poor guy through the wash, trying to get as much blood off as he could. Even still, he was in a sad state of affairs. Brandon reached for him, taking him into his hand. He wasn’t as soft anymore, and looking at his face made him feel an immense sadness. “They have to pay, Lindsay. They’re bullies. Not just Jiles. All of them. And I know I can get my hands on Jiles. But the rest of them…Doozer…Bobby Dean…”
“I know you don’t forget,” she started, “but neither do I. Cancer? He’s only getting a shot because of the bounty he won off Nova. But Bobby Dean?”
“He hasn’t earned the right to challenge the champion.”
“You said it. Not me.”
He settled Burton to the seat next to him. “So let them keep throwing rocks at me?”
“Didn’t say that either,” she sighed. “Look, there’s going to come a time when the smoke clears. Don’t know when. And when it does? You’ll have all the bundt cake you can handle.”
“I got your word?”
“You know me, Brandon. When have I ever let go of a good grudge?” A chuckle. Perhaps a clearing from the storm.
His tone was cutting. “Not good enough.”
She thought that she’d made herself clear. That they could move on. Few knew how to push her buttons like her Universal Champion. Her blood boiling, she was ready to go another round, ready to verbally Koji Clutch her Diamond into reason. “Brandhole–”
He cut her off before she could start. “Burton wants a piece too.”
It took her a moment to realize what he meant. But when she did? “You–”
“They jumped him. He wants to suplex them too.”
Her snicker escaped like a released pressure cooker. She couldn’t stop shaking her head. “They ruined Burton the Bear too? Sounds like a Bobby thing to do.”
“Long set up for the punchline.” Brandon patted the head of his new friend. But when he spoke, his tone was drained of all humor. “Just know…they’re dead men.”
September 2, 2022
After draining Brandon’s knee, after talking him through a hurricane of hatreds and wounded vulnerability thanks to Cancer Jiles, Amy Campbell took one look at Burton and assured Brandon of one thing; “We have the technology, we will rebuild him.” After all, her needle point game was strong thanks to all the costumes she’d been doing for cosplays. She gave him a peg leg made of cotton as well as a totally threatening eye patch. He still had horse blood stains, but he was a survivor.
These were his battle scars.
That same mentality extended to his friend. No longer the Universal Champion, Brandon’s face was still trying to heal after his battle with Phil Atken. His nose required surgery, and that would be bad enough, but it was made worse thanks to bouts of insomnia. Losing wasn’t what kept him up at night; it was sleep apnea. Because his neck was so thick, the only way he could manage rested sleep was through CPAP. He hated the masks over the mouth, feeling claustrophobic while wearing them. He used nasal pillows.
Until his nose healed, he wasn’t allowed to use them.
Unable to rest, he trudged to the basement, flicking the light switch, his bare footfalls smacking against the stairs and then the concrete. The space was spartan, with simple wooden walls and joists. While he kept the trappings simple, there was space for him to workout. Kettlebells as well as resistance bands resting on a small carpeted space, alongside an adjustable bench. Hanging from one of the joists was a beaten and worn heavy bag. He cracked his knuckles wiping flecks from the corners of his eyes. The only way he was going to force himself to sleep was by burning some energy.
He wasn’t alone.
The basement had become Burton’s home. Well, at least this Burton. Athena had gotten one of his brothers. He sat in a plush chair in front of the television, a king of his domain. “It’s time, buddy.”
Brandon had gotten Cancer Jiles blood on ReVival 8, breaking his shell, forcing him to spit out his yolky guts. He’d retained. But now, he wasn’t the champion. He didn’t have the obligation of fighting number one contenders. Didn’t have to focus only on title defenses.
Lindsay Troy kept her word.
In the time since that night in May, he’d learned the truth; while the horse head was Jiles plan, the rest of the carnage was on the shoulders of Doozer and Bobby Dean. Between the two of them? It was Beautiful Bobby who took the greatest joy in turning his locker room into a trash barge. For them, the whole thing was something of a bonding experience.
Perhaps Brandon should’ve shrugged it off as merely a case of excitable Stockholm Syndrome. So many in the sport of wrestling claimed the Man from Honalee to be harmless, an underdog, someone you can’t help but root for. But how real was that? Brandon had experienced his brand of harmlessness first hand. How harmless was it to have Paxton Ray and Jonathan Rhine, one of the sport’s legitimately top tier tag teams, constantly harangued by egg volleys? How loveable was it to strike Chris Kostoff with a shovel and lock him in a bear hug, playing his part in turning a man into a human candle at the behest of one of wrestling’s most loathsome figures?
Perhaps it was all worth it for a little cowboy hat and a goofy smile.
Many of the Bandits’ best ‘bits’, those Bobby defenders would say, involved cardboard cutouts of wrestling figures. It was only on brand to have such life size stands of themselves. All Brandon wanted was a Bobby head. He paid for it under the table, making sure Dean wouldn’t see a dime of his money. The Only Diamond wasn’t here to feed Bobby’s porn habits. “Best seat in the house.” Grabbing the roll of masking tape and the head, Brandon tore a few strips and put it on the heavy bag.
Oh, how he’d waited for this moment.
He launched his full body weight into the sharp, cutting elbow he buried into the face of the Everlast of Honalee. The cardboard had already given way, its nose punctured open. A heavy grunt followed the next elbow. And then another. And another.
The masking tape didn’t hold out for much longer, the massacred face falling lifelessly to the floor. And yet, Brandon reached down, scooped it up, putting fresh tape on the frayed and broken pieces. A cascade of elbows. Over and over. Ceaseless.
Continuing until all that was left were tiny pieces.