“You might actually be good at this wrestling thing.”
The words echoed inside his head, spoken to him at the end of his first week of training. His trainer, Cody, spotted him doing bare-knuckle fighting behind a bar one night, commented about the size of his arms and the lack of fat on his body, and offered him a chance to make real money.
For a kid that slept in the locker room of whatever gym he could find and ate ramen when he could put enough dollars together, he didn’t need to hear anything else. There was no future for him in what he was doing, and he was desperate to find anything else that could provide him with a life.
Now, Craig sat inside a wrestling locker room for the first time in his life and was absolutely lost on what was next. Six months of training had led him here. He sat in a chair against a wall, a duffel bag by his feet. His eyes wandered from person to person as everyone got ready for the show.
“Kid,” a gruff voice came from the side of him. He looked over to see a man with a long goatee and a bald head who could be between the ages of twenty-eight and forty-eight. “Your first night?”
He simply nodded. Apprehension coursed through his veins, not because this man scared him, but because he simply had no idea what he was doing.
“Mind if I give you some advice?” he asked a few moments later. Again, the man saw the confusion etched upon Craig’s face, who nodded once again.
“First, take a deep breath in. We’ve all been there. This shit is surreal. Going out there and competing is going to seem foreign to you. You’re going to feel like you’re butt-naked in front of everyone and on the verge of shitting yourself at any moment. It’s okay to feel like that, but the sooner you move on from it, the sooner you will remember the four moves you’ve learned in training and how to take a bump.”
Craig looked over at the seemingly-friendly man.
“Second, take it slow. No need to rush anything. You’ll want to move a million miles per hour in your head, get out of the ring, and hurry back here. Don’t do that. Savor every minute of it. Listen to your partner. Keep your ears open and be open-minded.”
He felt he should be writing all of this down and was scared everything was falling out of his brain when it hit his ears.
“Third, you only look as good as your partner does. If you make him look like shit, guess what? You look like shit as well. Make your opponent look like a million bucks. It will pay off tenfold in this business. Losing to someone will never hurt you as long as you make the time before then count. That’s the nature of this game we’re in. We all will lose. The only thing you can control is if the people remember how good the match was or wasn’t.”
Deep breathe. Take it slow. Make your partner look good. Okay, this is doable, he tells himself, but then wonders what happens if he trips on his way out to the ring.
“Fourth, and this is the most important, leave everything out there in that ring. No matter if you’re curtain-jerking, if your partner shits the bed, figuratively or literally — which will happen, I hate to inform you, or if you put on a classic. Leave it all in the center of that ring. You may win, you may lose, you may hold championships, but the fans will respect you regardless as long as they know you’re out there to give them a show they will never forget.”
Craig swallowed hard.
“Got it all, kid?”
Craig cleared his throat. “Y-yeah. Appreciate it.”
“We all were new at one point or another. So all we can do is hope we leave this business better than we left it,” he responded. “Tim, by the way,” he offered his hand, and Craig shook it before giving his name.
Tim smiled, revealing two teeth missing in the middle of it.
“Well, Craig. Take that advice, and seek out more wherever you can get it until you’re in a position to dish it back out, and you’ll do just fine in this business. I wish you luck.”
With that, Tim stood up, and Craig realized for the first time that Tim was naked from the waist down. Craig shook his head as Tim walked by him and out of the locker room to a place that Craig didn’t want to remotely know about.
As he took a deep breath in, he recited the advice he’d been given repeatedly until it was committed into the deepest recesses of his mind.
The following interview was conducted on September 21 by Walter Johnson as part of his coverage of PRIME’s Ultraviolence event and is being reproduced here with the explicit permission of ESPN.
Dusk: Walter, nice to meet you.
Walter Johnson: Trust me, the honor is all mine. I appreciate you giving me, well, your final interview.
Dusk: Shall we start?
WJ: So, it is two nights before your final match. I can only imagine the emotions running through your body right now. Can you put those emotions into words?
Dusk: I’ve had some time to deal with those emotions. In the match with Atken, I should’ve been full of fire, but I was fighting my body the entire way through. It was unbelievably frustrating. Doctors were already concerned that another concussion could lead to permanent damage. The only emotion I’m left with is a mixture of peace and frustration.
WJ: Your career has been one of great intrigue to everyone. You came to PRIME fifteen years ago with some prestige. Some would say you stalled and never kicked into the final gear everyone assumed you had in you. Does that frustration stem from the expectation that you would excel in PRIME?
Dusk: Yes. [Pauses] You’re right in analyzing my career from when I hit PRIME. I’ve had opportunities to grab moments, championship-crowning moments, and claim them as my own. It’s tough to look at the roster we had in ’06 and ’07 and not feel like an impostor, as if you don’t belong. Nova. Tchu. Sirrajin. Jason Snow. Chandler Tsonda. I mean, the best in the world were in PRIME then. So, I feel frustrated with that run in PRIME and this one.
WJ: You mention this current run with PRIME and feeling frustrated with it. For many, it seems like you lost a step. Is the frustration you feel now the same as the frustration you feel when looking back at the initial run?
Dusk: Yes. Because I wanted this run to be special. I wanted to show my family who I was in that ring. I feel like I let them down in some way. I felt like I had opportunities in front of me once again. All slipped through my fingers. I once again felt like an impostor, just this time with Brandon Youngblood, Cancer Jiles, Phil Atken, Hayes Hanlon, Rezin, Jonathan Rhine, King Blueberry, Great Scott, and the list continues. I felt like I didn’t belong once again.
WJ: Forty-eight hours until you wrestle your final match against Larry Tact. It’s fair to say you didn’t imagine this match would occur when you walked out in July and began announcing your retirement. What are your thoughts about this match and your opponent?
Dusk: Well. [Pauses] You’re right. I didn’t anticipate having another match two months ago. I firmly thought that was it, and yet here I am. Still, I get to perform one more time. It just happens to be a Last Man Standing match, and I promise you, I will do everything in my power to stand tall when that bell rings for the final time.
WJ: And what about your opponent?
Dusk: I could easily be Tact, feeling frustrated by the losses as they pile up. Frustrated because the spotlight is burning brighter for many other stars in PRIME today, such as Flamberge, Nate Colton, Anna Daniels, and Ria Lockhart. I’ve been there. The only difference is that I let that fuel me each night out, while Larry lets it fester and blames everyone else around him.
Dusk: It’s why he felt the need to attack The Anglo Luchador after he had a shot at the Intense Championship. He couldn’t understand the man standing across the ring from him was better than him on that night. That doesn’t mean if you run that match back that a different outcome wouldn’t happen. It’s just in our business, it’s one and done. You will lose when you compete against the best in the world. The difference is how you handle those losses and what you leave in the ring.
WJ: Can you elaborate upon that?
Dusk: Sure. I’ve learned that when you leave everything in the ring and come up short, it is easier to absolve yourself of that disappointment if left it all out there in the middle of that ring. It is easier to swallow knowing you controlled what you could. That’s the difference between Tact and myself. Tact doesn’t leave everything out there in the ring. He measures how much he wants to put into the match ahead of time, not wanting to give more of himself than he has to. That’s why we see the Tact that is out there currently. Angry, egotistical, self-centered. Because it’s about himself, about doing the most while giving the least, instead of extracting every ounce and being the best version of himself night in and night out.
WJ: And your match on Sunday? How do you look at it at this moment in time?
Dusk: I get a chance to do what I love one more time, and I’m thankful for that. Tact is in a lose-lose situation, though. He could’ve sat in the back and allowed me my chance to say farewell to the audience. Instead, he inserted himself into my story. If he wins, everyone sees him as the man who beat a man ready to retire two months ago. If he loses, though, he will be the man who lost to the man who was ready to walk out and hang it up. Either way you slice it, Tact’s brashness and short-sightedness have left him in a place where he will come out behind where he started two months ago. Regardless, I will do what I do every night and take that extra fire he has put into me to get my ten pounds of flesh.
WJ: Thank you for your time.
“You know, it’s weird how light she is when she’s playing around, but the moment this child falls asleep, she weighs like two sacks of potatoes.”
Rose stood over Adeline, fast asleep, in her father’s hotel suite. She began to bend down to pick her up, but Craig stopped her.
“Here, let me,” he offered, walking over and scooping her into his arms. She lay there, nestled in his arms, as he walked into the second of the three bedrooms in the suite. Gently, he laid her down on her bed, pulled the covers over her tiny body, and kissed her on the forehead. As he stepped out, he saw his daughter beaming at him while he closed the door gently.
“I have to say, you being the best grandfather in the world just warms my heart.”
A smile appeared on his face. “She makes it pretty easy,” he responded before grabbing the paper plate off the coffee table that contained remnants of a pizza crust, which he promptly put in his mouth and devoured in one fell swoop.
Rose ran her hand across her father’s back as she walked to the kitchen sink. “Your interview came out just a little while ago. I checked it out. I thought it was pretty good.”
“Thanks, I just said words that made some cohesive sense.”
She chuckled. “Is it going to be weird for everything to be done?”
“You know it is,” he responded as he looked over at her. “Wrestling, outside of you, has been the most consistent thing in my life. I was doing it before I met your mother. It’s the one thing I’ve known how to do. It’s the one area of my life where there was actual training.”
She slowly nodded her head as she washed and dried her hands. “I get it. Especially now with me grown, married, and with a child. Adeline is in school every day. So I understand the want to get back in that ring and compete. I’m just… happy is the wrong word, but the only word that comes to mind… that you’re able to have this final match and come home for good.”
He wrapped his arm around her and kissed her softly on the forehead.
“You know,” she started. “You said some choice things about Tact in that interview.”
“Oh, did I? I’m sure it had to do with the fact that he’s a Grade-A asshole.”
A small laugh escaped from Rose’s lips. “Fair enough. That match is going to be brutal, isn’t it?”
“I would imagine so,” he ruefully responded. “It’s going to be one you might not want to show Adeline anytime soon.”
She sighed. “Just know you’re coming home afterward. No need to go all out if it doesn’t make sense.” She began to walk away from him, grabbing a few more items from the dinner the family shared.
“Well, your husband is telling me differently.”
She side-eyed him as the words left his mouth. “My husband just wants to support you. But, on the other hand, I want you to come home with as few scrapes and bruises as possible. No sense in having you come home with stitches and be laid up for months.”
Rose then looked around. “Where is that husband of mine?”
“He went down to the lobby to grab a package for me,” Craig replied, and as he did, the door to the suite opened, and Brian stepped through with a large manilla folder.
“Delivery,” Brian said as the door closed behind him. “Care to share what is in here that you insisted I go get?”
“Open it up,” he responded, and Brian did just that. As he opened it and dumped the contents out, he began to sift through everything and found plane tickets.
“What is this?” Rose inquired.
A smile appeared on Craig’s face.
“We are going to Japan for two weeks, starting Monday.”
Rose looked over at her father in surprise. “What?!”
“Yeah, I figured it was time to go back. It’s been—“ but before he can finish, Rose interjects.
“You took me there when I graduated high school. It’s been, by far, my favorite trip ever.”
Craig smiled. “Exactly. I know you still talk about it and figured you would enjoy a family trip, all four of us, going back there.”
As the words left his mouth, Rose hug-tackled him and wrapped her arms tightly around his waist. Craig returned the hug with one of his own and pulled her in tightly. He closed his eyes and felt the peace he’d felt in the past two weeks return to him. As the duo stood there, another pair of arms wrapped around them.
Craig opened his eyes and looked over at Brian.
“What are you doing?”
Brian looked sheepishly. “I just thought this was what we’re all doing…”
Rose opened her eyes and pulled Brian in tightly. “We are,” she said matter-of-factly. Craig rolled his eyes before he nodded and welcomed Brian in for the tight hug between father and daughter.
The Las Vegas lights can only be appreciated in one way, from the top of one of the high rises in the city. This is where Craig found himself hours later, less than twenty-four hours before his final match, sitting on the edge of the high-rise he was staying in.
A half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels sat next to him, which he lifted to his lips and took a long sip from. He felt every year, every moment, of his career dancing upon his skin. His thoughts returned to moments when he heard the crowd roar, the ring announcer screaming his name, the feel of gold in his hands, the proverbial best-of-montage.
Part of him couldn’t help but wonder if his best days were behind him. If he would forever be living in the shadow of far greater moments than he was simply capable of achieving. His wrestling career was about to be put on ice, and while he loved his family, he knew there would be a gnawing feeling in the back of his mind. One that made him feel worthless and useless.
Being a grandfather was good in spurts, but he knew his family didn’t need him. He knew that their lives would return to normal after a few months, and he would be left in his home yearning for something, anything.
He grabbed the bottle and placed the glass against his lips when he heard a voice that felt like home and foreign simultaneously.
“Drinking alone,” she inquired, already knowing the answer.
A smile appeared on his face.
“Not anymore, I gather.”
A soft laugh hit his ears from her voice, and he felt her presence as she sat next to him. He looked over at her and found himself lost in her hazel eyes, wanting to just disappear forever with her.
“Didn’t think I would find you here,” he chuckled as he placed the bottle down on the sliver of concrete that separated them.
“And yet,” she started before she took the Jack Daniels and took a sip of her own. “I knew exactly where I could find you. I wonder why that is.”
He chuckled. “I have a good idea as to why.”
“I’m sure you do,” she started before her eyes looked over the edge and found herself lost momentarily with all the lights. “I hate when you feel morose. I wish I could take the sadness out of you sometimes and hold onto it for you.”
“Tomorrow, it swallows me whole.”
She shook her head, her light brown hair bouncing with her, grazing her shoulders.
“I miss you,” she whispers, loud enough only for him to hear.
“Same here,” he responded.
A long silence passed between them.
“What scares you more than anything?” she inquires.
She knew exactly what he meant. Slowly, her head turned back towards him, and a smile appeared on her face. She inched closer to him, placing her right hand gently against the left side of his face.
His eyes closed, feeling her electricity as it coursed through his body.
“Rebecca,” he breathed.
A smile appeared on her face. “It’s okay,” she whispered before she moved in and kissed him. He pulled her into him, his left hand caressing her face, and felt her melt into him.
He’d exist in this moment forever if he could. If only…
“I wish it weren’t a dream,” he whispered, his voice cracking as their embrace broke.
It’s how she could be here, could find him. Because as real as it felt, none of it was.
The distance appeared between them once again, more pronounced than previously.
“I think you should give yourself more credit,” Rebecca started. “You’ve done a far better job raising her, raising our granddaughter too, than you’re aware of.”
He sighed. “It’s been hard.”
“It would have been hard if I’d been here too, I hope you know. Just a different kind of hard.”
“I could have managed significantly better if you were here, though.”
A smile appeared on her face. “You say that, but I think you would have stayed in your comfort zone. You were forced out of your comfort zone, and as many battles as you two have had, you are better for it. She’s better for it. I promise you.”
He nodded. She grabbed the bottle again and took a long sip before kneeling beside him and brushing the tears from his eyes before kissing him on the side of his forehead.
“I’m glad you chased your dreams and her.”
She then pressed her lips against his ear.
Then she whispered in his ear, the words sending a shiver down his spine.
Back in his hotel bed, Craig shot up in a cold sweat and pressed the palms of his hands against his eyes. It’d felt so real, he told himself.
He still felt her lips against his forehead.
Her lips against his ear.
And the words she whispered.
“But you’re not done yet.”