A phone call was made.
“Mister Colton? Nelson Hark here.”
“Nelson! How the hell are you?”
“Just fine. You’d asked me last week to fill you in on our boys’ progress after the event?”
“Of course, of course. So how are they doing?”
A sigh. “I’d hoped for better. Don’t get me wrong; they’ve made a lot of progress and their teamwork is improving, but they’re still lagging behind the field in that regard. Thinking of themselves as individuals instead of a unit.”
“Hmm. So their cohesion could use some work.”
Jake, wanting to be a good father, would do anything to help his kids. That involved using any asset at his disposal–and after all his time in the business, he’d piled up a lot of assets. And do you know what one of the most valuable assets is?
“I think I can find someone to help with that. Let me make a call.”
A text was sent.
Hey bud. Do you need a Helen Mirren standee?
A story was told. A lesson was learned.
The morning found Filmix & Colton, as expected, training. On this day they were working on their team continuity; tags, positioning for double-team moves, that kind of thing.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“What the hell are YOU doing?”
It wasn’t going well.
At this moment, the Nates were face to face and yelling at each other, while their training partners hung out in the far corner, making a point not to be involved. This was the scene that greeted Nelson Hark as he walked into the training center, followed closely by an unknown figure.
“Can’t leave them alone for a minute,” he muttered to the stranger, who laughed. “All right, you two!” Hark shouted. “Come on out of there before you kill each other.”
Filmix and Colton backed away and rolled out of the ring, each one still keeping half an eye on the other. Coach Hark let them calm down a bit before he continued.
“I brought a special treat for you boys. If there’s anyone who can take you to the next level, it’s this guy.”
“Hello,” the stranger said. He was a man of medium height with a thin frame, but in excellent shape; his reddish-brown hair framed a face whose distinguishing feature was some scarring on the right side. He wore jeans and a black t-shirt with a faded green outline of Minnesota; the bottom of a nicotine patch could be seen just below the sleeve.
Before Coach Hark could even say his name, both of the Nates recognized him. Filmix knew the man because of his voracious appetite for all things wrestling, including its history. Colton knew him from his brother’s poster…and action figures…and DVD set…and inability to shut up about him for the last fifteen years.
He was one half of the one of the most decorated teams in wrestling history. The Innovators of Tandem Offense. The high-flyin’est, death-defyin’est, chicken-pot-pie-in’est tag team in the world. Crash & Burn.
That was all years ago, of course. Now he was content to simply be…
“David McBride,” he said, holding out his hand. Nathan Filmix shook it vigorously, having beaten Colton there by mere seconds.
“I have so many things to ask you,” Filmix said.
David smiled and replied, “And we’ll have time for that, but I’ve got some exercises I want to run you through first.”
“Compared to what Coach puts us through every morning, I’m sure we can handle it.”
“Not that kind of exercise,” David answered with a chuckle. “But we’ll get to that.”
Meanwhile, Colton had peeled off and went for his gym bag; when he returned, he had his phone in hand. “I…I hate to do this, but can I get a picture real quick? You guys are some of my brothers’ heroes, and knowing I get to train with you first is going to piss him off SO MUCH.”
“Best reason to do anything. I’m in.” McBride stood in close next to Colton, then waved Filmix over. “C’mon, champ. Get in here.”
Reluctant at first, Nathan twiddled his thumbs for a moment before joining in on the picture.
“The last thing I want to do is intrude,” Filmix remarked respectively.
He eyed his partner just to make sure he was heard and it was that achievement of eye contact which confirmed everything. The three of them leaned in together for the shot.
Colton smiled wide as he snapped the photo; McBride’s smile was subdued. Filmix simply stared at the camera.
“Perfect,” Nate said, and quickly sent a text message. Moments later, his phone went “ding.”
Nate laughed, then tossed his phone aside. The phone got several more text alerts, but Nate ignored them, as well as a hundred more from his brother that came in over the next hour. Meanwhile, his partner Nathan, would glance over to his phone from time to time as it was doing nothing but collecting dust.
“I’m glad at least one of us is popular and to be quite frank, I’m glad it isn’t me for once,” Filmix quipped genuinely.
“OK, gang. Let’s take it to the ring.” David McBride led the way, followed quickly by Filmix, then Colton, then Nelson Hark.
The whole time, and even for a few minutes while everyone was in the ring, Nathan asked more intricately complex questions, all of which the fabled David McBride was more than well-equipped to answer.
“So when I back step like this, should I expect my opponent to come rushing in too?” Filmix asked.
“Depends. I’d be more on the cautious side,” McBride started, “Look, I’ve watched some film on you two; I’ve got no concern about your in-ring skill. You’re both excellent singles wrestlers, but tag team wrestling is an entirely different animal. You could take the best wrestlers in the world and throw them together, and that’s no guarantee that they’d be successful.”
Nate and Nathan nod, understanding exactly where McBride was coming from. It all made sense too. They didn’t fail to realize the extremely lucky position they were in, after all. Luck? Or maybe it was pure skill that was meant to be. Maybe they wouldn’t be surrounded by integral skill and vision with both Hark and McBride if they weren’t lethal wrestlers in their own respects.
“I– We want to be successful,” Filmix reiterated.
McBride nodded, noticing the validity deep within his voice.
“However, I’ll be the first to admit that teamwork is not something that comes easy to me. I know I need to work on it,” The Wrestling Junkie admitted.
It wasn’t easy for Nathan to get those words out. He hated admitting he wasn’t anything short of spectacular at something. If he wasn’t, he usually went about it in a way to get better at it immediately so he could come back tenfold.
“Glad to hear that,” David said. “Desire is important, but so is honesty. So let’s work on your coordination. I want you two in the middle of the ring.”
Filmix and Colton immediately moved to the center and squared up. They were both smiling ear-to-ear; they knew that this was it. The moment that they gained rare insight from one of the best.
“Perfect. Now, Nathan–” Both men looked at him, and he shook his head. “Nathan Filmix, I want you…”
“…to think of a number, one through ten.”
Instinctively, both men moved to lock up, but then stopped as confusion set in. “What?” they both asked.
“You heard me. Filmix, think of a number; Colton, I want you to guess what that number is.”
Colton slowly dropped his hands to his sides as the young tag team tried, but failed, to understand. They were having a handicap match against complete bewilderment, and were losing badly.
“Umm…” Colton said, “I don’t see how thinking of numbers will help us win matches.”
“It’s an exercise, boys,” David responded. “Humor me.”
Nate Colton shrugged, and turned back towards his partner. “Seven?” he guessed.
Filmix said nothing; he hadn’t thought of a number at all.
“Nine?” Colton tried again, even less sure this time.
“This is pointless,” Filmix groused.
“It isn’t, but let me explain.” McBride shot an eyeroll toward Coach Hark–Kids, am I right?–and continued. “What I’m trying to do here is build the one thing every successful tag team needs, and it’s got nothing to do with what goes on between these ropes. You don’t have to have complementary styles, you don’t even have to like each other. Those things help, but there are ways around it.”
Filmix glanced at Colton.
“I don’t think anything like that is a factor. I like you. I think we have complementary styles. I think we’re more lethal together than separate,” Nathan stated.
“And that’s great. Those are fantastic building blocks to start from, but not everyone has that–or needs it. I could name a dozen legendary teams that had wildly different styles, or that would just as soon punch each other in the face as their opponents. Talent, skill, desire…those will get you a long way, but at this level, everyone’s got something special that normal people can’t do.”
“So what do we need?” Colton asked.
“You need to know your partner. Inside and out, upside and down. You need to know how the other man thinks. Being able to find your partner’s wavelength, and stay on it…that’s the difference between being Team V.I.A.G.R.A. and being…I don’t know, Total Violation.”
Colton was next to speak up. “But can’t we figure that out just by working together in the ring?”
“Yes and no. I mean, it’s possible, but it’s limited. Try to think outside the box on this, Colton. Understanding each other in the ring is all well and good, but I’m talking about a deeper connection. One that you can apply to all kinds of things–like this Survivor deal you two are in. It can help you push a boulder or eat gross stuff, or whatever crazy challenge is next, in a way that all your in-ring skill won’t.”
Filmix scoffed at this, and Colton shook his head as well. What could be more useful than their in-ring skills? David noticed this of course, and his fists tensed, but he took a deep breath, let it out slowly, and then turned toward Nate Colton.
“You ever work tag team matches before this, Colton?”
“A few times,” Nate replied.
“Mmm-hmm. And what did you think of your partners?”
Nate sighed heavily. “Can’t say I was a fan. Most of them didn’t take it that seriously; weekend warriors and guys who just did this for some extra money. One guy started planning the after-show party as soon as he got to the locker room. It was obvious that we weren’t going anywhere, and half the time I was amazed they could get through the match.
“I don’t have the time or patience for anyone like that,” Filmix interjected, “and you and I both know I’m nothing close to that. I’m a serious competitor. I eat, sleep and drink this sport to the bone. There’s a time and place to unplug and that would be after victories.”
David nodded. “I understand the feeling. Now, let me ask this. What could you have done to make those teams work better?”
“I–” Colton stammered. “I…guess I hadn’t really thought about it.”
“Of course you didn’t. That’s the way we’re all wired when we get started; we view ourselves as a solo act. Gotta do everything yourself; no time to worry or even think about other people. Changing that takes time, work and self-reflection. Here’s another question–why did you agree to form this team, and join in on Survivor?”
“Of course, I was really–” Colton started, but then he met McBride’s eyes. There was a spark of anger in there, as if David could tell that he wasn’t being honest. “I wanted to make sure I got onto Culture Shock. I had just joined, and they weren’t going to put a completely new guy in a match on their first big show. Survivor was a chance to get myself in front of the audience, even if it’s not what I got into wrestling for.”
Nathan simply folded his arms and continued to listen to his partner speak his mind. It became important to him because it was important to Colton and the true sign of a working partnership was attentive listening.
“So maybe I didn’t believe in this team very much at first,” Colton continued, “but I believe in it now. We’ve gelled in ways that I didn’t think were possible, and we’ve done better than I could have hoped.”
Filmix spoke up. “I also wasn’t interested in forming a tag team. I fully believed I could handle any challenge I was faced with. I don’t–didn’t think I needed anyone else. I certainly didn’t think I needed someone so preoccupied with his relatives.”
That drew a slight glare from Colton, but he allowed Nathan Filmix to continue. “Since we started working together, I have come to see him as a man whose passion for wrestling might compare to mine, even though it’s different. I never would have thought that was possible before.”
McBride nodded, obviously pleased with this breakthrough. “I’m very impressed. It’s tough to be honest with people in front of them, and you’re showing recognition of each others’ progress. That’s great!”
Filmix nodded, as if some sort of weird human side had emerged from the wrestling drone. Had this been something he needed sooner in his life? Or had it come at just the right time in order to set BOTH Colton and Filmix down the path of success?
“You’re off to a great start, but there’s a lot more to go. The true mark of a great team is being able to fully appreciate the other person, even the parts you don’t like. I’ll tell you my story; maybe that will help.”
“Back when we got started, I didn’t even want to be in a tag team. I was a lot like you, Filmix. I had a fixation on wrestling, and didn’t care about anything else. I certainly wasn’t interested in doing goofball shit with my goofball partner. And the first year or so was really hard, because we didn’t seem to be compatible. At all.”
McBride chuckled, remembering the times from all those years ago. “He drove me CRAZY back then. He wouldn’t focus on training, his diet was atrocious, and he could only watch about ten minutes of film before he’d switch over to cartoons. Matches could be a real struggle; I couldn’t even tell you how often we’d practice a sequence or a double-team, and when we got in the ring he’d miss his moment or be doing something else entirely. We had our successes in those first few years, sure, but we lost a lot of matches that we could have won, too.”
“What would you do when you lost?” Filmix inquired.
“Lose my temper. I’d get so mad at him for not being where I needed him to be, for not doing what I asked him to do. It was starting to look like our team was doomed to failure.”
“So I’m watching film one day–alone, because he saw something shiny and ran off to investigate. I’m going through our last match, which we lost to some pair of jokers who shouldn’t have been at our level. And I don’t know why, but this time I looked at it differently. I started to pay attention to what Charlie was doing, instead of what he wasn’t. I began to understand why he did things; usually, the reasoning was as simple as ‘this is gonna be awesome.’ And once I understood that, I saw that the problem had been me the whole time.”
“Bullshit,” Nathan spoke.
There was that word again. That familiar word.
“I went back to work. I focused more on how I could complement him. I would set up opponents for the big crazy stuff he loved to do, or take advantage of the chaos he’d created. I stopped getting mad when he tagged himself into matches, and trusted that he saw something that I didn’t. The next time we faced those guys, it wasn’t even close.”
“Once that clicked into place, we took off like a rocket. And pretty soon, the damnedest thing started happening. Charlie started taking the training portions seriously, because now he was motivated to do so. It didn’t work when I told him that lifting weights or watching tape would make us better in the ring, or help us win titles, or earn us more money. But by that point, he thought of me as a friend…and Charlie Beckett is a man who will do anything for his friends. Even if it’s painful…or worse, boring.”
“It’s that connection, more than anything, that made us the stars we were. Embracing our differences turned out to make us better–my focus reined in his irresponsibility, and his passion for fun toned down my obsessions. When we were at our peak, when we got our chaotic personalities in just the right mix, there wasn’t anyone in the world who could stop us. And even though we haven’t wrestled together in almost a decade, we’ve still got that connection.”
With that, David retrieved his own phone, and activated his talk-to-text. As he did, he held up two fingers with his left hand.
“Hey Charlie,” he said. “How many fingers am I holding up?” He hit the ‘send’ button, but as he did, he raised a third finger.
Moments later, a reply came. David showed the screen to his trainees.
Hey, Charlie. How many fingers am I holding up?
“See? He may not have known how many fingers I had up, but I knew exactly how he was going to answer. I don’t even have a connection like this with my husband. But then, he hasn’t been my best friend for a quarter of a century.”
The importance finally sank in for the young wrestlers. Hearing this man, this legend, talk about his own struggles–both with himself and his partner–made their own issues less unique, less insurmountable.
“Now,” David continued. “Let’s try this again. Filmix, pick a number. And Colton, I want you to tell me what that number is…but I want you to concentrate. Don’t just guess. Think about your partner, and who he is as a person. Get in his mind, and tell me what you find there.”
Filmix and Colton turned back toward each other. Nathan Filmix gave a slight nod, to show that he had chosen.
Still not sure what I’m supposed to do here, Colton thought. He doesn’t think about numbers; he thinks about wrestling. Every waking thought he has–
Okay, a slightly different part of his mind told him. Use that.
Right. Could be four; there’s four corners of a ring, the Figure Four is a famous hold…but, maybe three, for pinfalls. But then again…he mostly uses submissions, so if there’s a rope break…
“Five,” Colton said.
Filmix’s eyes…shifted downward. “Two,” he said softly.
“Of course,” Colton said, shaking his head. “Number of people in a tag team.”
“It ain’t success, but it’s progress,” McBride chimed in. “Now let’s try it the other way.”
Filmix cast an unsure glance at Colton, and then closed his eyes.
Colton is a technical wrestler tag team partner very good holds and suplexes passable submissions trained by his father so was most of his family brother and cousin are tag team sister graduated recently younger brother in training talks to them all the time very important to him…
“Four. Your siblings and cousin.”
“I…wow. Yeah, you’re right.”
“Nicely done,” David said. “This is a great start; obviously there’s a lot more to it, but you’re on your way. And now, we can work on the fun stuff. How much do you know about blind tags?”
From there, the training session continued in a more traditional fashion, with McBride teaching his charges many of the techniques he’d learned and perfected over the years…but those weren’t the important lesson Filmix & Colton learned that day. In that brief but teachable moment, they had taken a small step.
But also, a very big one.