I knew what happened the second it happened, though I held out hope for twenty seconds.
Twenty seconds that were longer than the past ten years of my life.
I’d managed to get out of Youngblood’s grip and slide behind him – he still had a ton of strength even if he was starting to slow, so I knew that this was my shot.
The second I heard Timo’s hand hit the mat once, I knew I was in trouble. I felt both my shoulders down, but I’d hit the suplex too high and couldn’t get them up without losing the cover itself.
Plus? And this is the truth. I was spent.
Then, I heard Timo’s hand hit the second time. I tried my best to shift, to get my shoulder up.
I could hear the fans. I could hear Rosie. I could hear my heart thumping in my chest.
I heard his hand hit for the third time, and I knew the best I could hope for was a draw.
How did I feel, lying on the mat when Timo ultimately raised Brandon’s hand?
I closed my eyes and found myself transported. Fifteen years ago, almost to the day.
Sitting in the Frontier Days arena in Cheyenne, Wyoming, March 15 2007, to watch New Frontier’s Western Conference Finals. My past mentor Eli Flair and my future ally Nova had already survived a triple threat match each to make it to the last match of the night, a match that turned into a Stairway to Hell match. After seventy minutes, barbed wire, ladders, and cages, Nova held the Golden Ticket to the ULTRATITLE Finals in his hand.
And just like Eli Flair did on that day, I closed my eyes and exhaled.
I rolled to my knees and started to push myself up, seeing the replay thirty feet high of Brandon getting his shoulder up at the last minute. He was still lying on his back, palms of his hands pressed into his eyes. I can’t say I’m surprised I was up first – he took the impact of that suplex, not me.
Timo looked like he was ready for something when I pushed myself back to my feet, but all I did was offer a hand to the Last Diamond, to pull him to his feet for a proper celebration as he finds himself three seconds away, once again, from the PRIME Universal Title.
“Man, I’m glad that was the three, cause I had nothing left,” said Brandon, loud enough only that I could hear him. Despite being on the short end of that three count, I laughed.
You’ve got a championship to win, sir, I told him, as I shook his hand. Because I’ll find a way to earn another shot, and when that day comes I only want to face the best.
Youngblood broke out into a huge grin and gave me a clap on the shoulder. I left the ring into Rosie’s waiting embrace and walked the aisle, giving my opponent his deserved celebration.
Unlike my mentor, however, I knew this was nowhere near the final chapter.
Losses are tough to take sometimes. I know I’ve got nothing to be ashamed of, I know I wrestled possibly the best match of my time in PRIME so far, but I’ve never been good at accepting that someone was better than me on a night. I really don’t even want to get out of my gear on those nights, because it’s almost like accepting that the loss happened.
Having to get into a car usually forces me along. It’s probably a bad thing that I didn’t even have to go outside to “go home” tonight. Apologies to anyone that had to catch a whiff of my sweaty ass walking through the casino.
You’d think I’d know better, though, because now I’m showered and changed and I’m feeling a lot better about dropping one to Brandon Youngblood. Yeah, someone needs to check my ego since nobody should ever NOT feel bad dropping one to him.
My thoughts about my last opponent immediately melt away when I see Rosie sitting on the floor by the window, looking out at the strip. She sniffles, and it’s a ‘I was crying a minute ago but I don’t want to let Knox know about it’ type.
Thirteen years in a relationship, friends. I know all her sounds.
Hey, I said, sitting next to her. What’s out there?
“Pastels,” said Rose. “Neon lights, Lucky buggers hitting a jackpot and sad sacks losing their kids in a poker game. Hookers and pimps, fabulous drag queens, and a thousand other types of people just here for a good time. And everything’s covered in glitter.”
I leaned in and hugged her, kissing her on the side of her head. And what’s in here, I asked.
“A little sad bear,” she says, “who likes it here and is really enjoying PRIME. And I want to go home and see my mom and our little terror kitty, or to the other home and get back to work in New Orleans, but I really want to stay here and I feel selfish saying it.”
It’s not selfish to want to stay here instead of going back to one of the other lives, I responded. Your mom gets it.
It took a few seconds to catch up.
Where are we going, I asked.
Rosie looked at me. “Run’s over, right? You really weren’t enthusiastic about coming here to begin with, I assumed that if you didn’t win the Universal Title we were out the door.”
I couldn’t help but stifle a laugh. Maybe that’s on me, I admitted, because we never talked about this as a short term OR a long term stay. But why would you assume one way or another?
“Really?” she asks, her eyes bugging out, holding up her hand. “New Frontier. Empire. Defiance. That tiny company where small fry worked that we did the tournament for. We’ve been stop – starting for like five years now, and I know it’s really your choice because you’re the one who has to go into the ring and do the wrestlefights but I love being there and I love when we get to go on the road or even just hang out in one spot and meet the fans and make them happy and get them, you know, feeling the all the feels when you win or even when you lose.”
Rosie headbutts me in the shoulder before hugging me tightly. “I’m just really happy when we’re doing the wrestling things, RK, and I feel like you are, too. I wish we could just go back to before everything about it gave you that look of mild disappointment, right?”
I just held her for a moment, I knew from experience that I’d put the quarter in, and needed to let the entire song play.
“And there’s some really cool people here that need us, babe. Angelo has his hands full with hairball, and Brandon has to punch Cancer out but Cancer has his minions, Bobo and the invisible guy, and JC and Vickie are so adorably clueless and I really liked going to Timo’s gym and that hyperbaric ride and I know we can do a lot of that if you’re not wrestling but it’s not the same, and Mom really needs someone dependable with all these cults and–what’s up?”
Take a breath, I said.
“But what are–”
She takes a deep breath, and another one. And she aims her big brown eyes at mine again.
Okay, I asked.
“Okay,” says Rose.
Where are we going, I asked. Who said anything about going anywhere?
“We always–” she starts. “I mean, that’s been the thing, right? We go to a place, we do a bit of the thing, and then we move on. What’s… why would this be any different?”
I lower my head, shaking it with some laughter. Rosie, I said. You are so adorably naive sometimes babe.
She tilts her head at me. I turn towards the window and look out on the strip myself. It’s so surreal, the brightness of Las Vegas against the night sky. Feels like we’re on another planet.
This is a good fit for us, I said, agreeing with her. And that’s the whole thing, I think. If we’re gonna do this, it has to be a good fit. You remember New Frontier, I asked her. You remember how that ended?
Rosie nodded. No, I’m not going into it in detail.
We stayed there way too long, I continued, and it really did screw up how I felt about the entire sport. Probably wasted my best years over it.
She leaned into my arm. “I wouldn’t quite call the past few years wasted.”
Of course not, I said. I didn’t mean anything about–
“I know,” interrupts Rosie. “I’m just skoshin’ around, silly. I get it, my part is promos and being bubbly in public and with the friends on Jabber, and your part is actually getting in the ring and doing it. And if it doesn’t feel right, you can’t do it.”
Not sure how essential a service I’d call Jabber, I said, mock defending myself from the elbow to the ribs I knew was coming. But if we’re gonna do this, I need to feel right about it.
I stood up, and took her hand, helping Rosie to her feet as well.
If we’re gonna do this, I continued, it has to be a hundred percent genuine, and it hasn’t been that for a long time. Even one percent saccharine, and it becomes all about a paycheck, and I can get that for a lot less pain back in New Orleans.
She smiles at me, and I lean in and kiss her on the lips.
“Mom’s running a good one here, huh?” asks Rosie.
Yeah, I agreed. I really don’t think anyone else running things today could command that kind’a respect.
There’s a title for ya.
‘Gold on the Ceiling’ by the Black Keys comes to an end, and I wait, feet up, ginger beer in hand.
“…Alright, welcome to the show. My name is Gary Bucci.”
“And I’m Ross Angle. And this is…”
“THREE! COUNT! WAVE!”
Yep. They said it together. That’s pretty cute.
“Big show today, Ross, so let’s get right into it. The PRIME Wrestling revival has been picking up a lot of buzz as they push towards the end of the Almasy Invitational tournament at Culture Shock, and the crowning of a new Universal Champion. And we have a very special guest on the line today. Do you want to tell them?”
“You can tell them, Gary.”
Can someone, I ask, getting the laugh I was hoping for.
“Number two seed, semi – finalist… it’s Impulse. Randall Knox, how are you today?”
“And should we call you Impulse or Randall? Do you have a preference?”
Impulse is fine, I said. Or Knox. I’m not particular, and I’m not one of those wrestlers who insists on using their professional name all the time.
“Alright, Impulse, “says Gary. “Your match against Brandon Youngblood was a thing of beauty, and I think it was probably the best of the tournament to date. Do you see that as a success, in and of itself, or is it pretty meaningless if the outcome isn’t a win?”
Obviously, it’s disappointing to lose a match – especially that late in the tournament, I said.
“Totally obvs,” says Gary.
Totally, I agree, laughing. Obvs. But you need to remember, there’s thirty two people in the first round and only one of ‘em gets out of it undefeated. The odds are against all of us until it happens.
“Pretty healthy take,” says Ross. “There was some controversy around that three count, but the officials and the instant replay all seemed to agree with Timo Balamba’s call. Did you agree with it?”
Absolutely, I said. I’ve played a little flippant at times by saying the right guy won and the wrong guy lost, but that’s just ego and incredulity at how hard fought that match was. I can’t honestly feel like I was robbed when my shoulders were down and his weren’t. All I can do is go to the next thing and know I’ll get another shot down the road.
“Speaking of which,” says Gary. “You’re in a number one contender’s match at Culture Shock, taking on Teddy Palmer, the other semi- finalist – and the people that you both defeated in the quarterfinals, Julian Bathory and Anna Daniels. How do you feel about your chances there?”
“Well jeez,” says Ross. “Obviously he’s confident. What’s he supposed to say to that?”
I laughed at the conflict, but I also enjoyed the moment to think.
Look at it like this, I said. Everyone in this match has immediate history with one other person in it. I know how Julian works, so he’s probably gonna be looking to switch it up, just like I am. But what didn’t work for him against me in the quarters might be exactly what he needs to do to steal one from Anna or Teddy. It’s a crapshoot with more than one opponent.
An overhead plane stole my attention for a second, but I refocused. I’ve always said that the best wrestler doesn’t always win the match, I continued. Skill plays a massive role, but at the end of the day, you can be the worst wrestler in the world and get a lucky three count. The odds of that happening increase dramatically with multiple opponents. I think I’ve got a good chance of winning this match, and I think there’s pretty small odds that I’m about to get pinned.
Pause. That sounds arrogant, not confident. What the hell, I’m in it already.
But there’s even better odds that I’m gonna lose this match by being totally uninvolved in the pinfall at all, yeah? And you just need to be prepared for that if you’re gonna survive in this sport.
“Interesting take on it,” says Ross. “Let’s talk about survival in the sport for a second, and go for the jugular.”
“Dude.” interrupts Gary.
Nah, say your thing, I assured him.
“Most of the wrestling media had you pegged for hitting the road once you dropped one – either in the tournament, or if you won the Universal Title, once you were beaten for it. Why did you sign long term with this company when you’ve obviously been resisting for so long? Did Lindsay Troy just manage to come up with the right dollar figure?”
I let the question linger for a few seconds, amused by the sudden awkward silence.
“Dude, I think you ruined it,” says Gary.
“Impulse?” asks Ross. “Mr. Knox?”
Nah, I said, laughing, letting them off the hook. But it was fun listening to you sweat.
“I think you need to apologize,” says Gary.
Please don’t, I insist. So, here’s the deal. Randall Knox is a wrestler. Impulse is a professional wrestler. Duh, right? But here’s what I mean.
So, I continued, I’ll wrestle ya. Any time any place. You want an exhibition, you want a workout, you wanna train yourself to try and avoid holds and counterholds? Call me up, I’m happy to do so. But the second the cameras turn on, or I’m in an arena fulla people that paid money for their ticket, or if I’m doing on-camera interviews or a photoshoot or whatever, I’m being paid to be a professional wrestler. And to me that involves a lot more than just working my ass off to try and beat my opponent. I need to make whatever I’m doing entertaining for the fans who paid money to see me. I need to push myself as hard as I can, even if my opponent on a given night is someone I could beat with ten percent effort, I owe the fans a hundred percent, at least.
“So Lindsay Troy–”
At the same time, I interrupted, not stopping to apologize because I was on a roll, that money’s gotta smell right.If you’re paying me to do a job, then yeah, I owe you the most I can give you. But if the only reason I’m doing it is the money, then it doesn’t smell right to me and it’s not out of a genuine love of the competition.
I guess that’s why here, why now, I finally summed up. Lindsay Troy offered the right money, for the right reasons, in the right place at the right time. I can work here and still look at myself in the mirror knowing that I’m here because I can help keep PRIME on the right track for the forecastable future.
Any other questions while I’m on a roll, I asked.
Finally, some laughter.
“We need to take a quick break and then we’ll be back,” says Ross.
Not to belabor the obvious, but I’m a professional wrestler.
Yeah. Duh, right?
Except it’s not a foregone conclusion these days. Look at my opponents for Culture Shock.
Julian Bathory is a cultist, and it’s a little sad that I can say that in PRIME and have to follow it up with ‘Which one?’
Anna Daniels is a Timelord. How that translates to the here and now? Couldn’t honestly say. At least she’s not an edgelord.
Not like Teddy Palmer, at least. Trying too hard to be too hip for the room, blissfully unaware that the room ain’t all that hip to begin with.
I don’t exist on their levels of reality, where salvation is within grasp as long as your credit card clears. Or space hopping between realities to save them from damnation. Or wondering if you can really be the funniest person in the room without a hanger on telling you that you’re the funniest person in the room.
Their level of reality is no more or less valid than mine – I don’t exist there so I’m not about to trash talk it in the slightest. Julian’s cult is just as real as Anna’s Tardis is just as real as Teddy’s sense of validation.
But the number one contender to the Universal Championship is going to be decided in a wrestling ring. That’s my house. And while I don’t think it gives me any kind of advantage, I know I won’t be caught unaware by any of my opponents – or all of them.
Maybe I’ll win. Maybe I’ll lose. I can’t really say for sure until we’re in there in the midst of it, and neither can any of them. I do have to wonder, though… where do we all go from here?
A Julian Bathory win will be empty and meaningless. Since he’s not the head of his own cult, I can’t imagine that fighting someone else’s battle will give him much sense of satisfaction. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe this’ll be the thing that gives him his own voice, and not the one that he’s using to spill Violence Jack talking points.
Of anyone else in this match, if I don’t win it, I’d love to see Anna Daniels pull it out. I think she has the most underrepresented potential of anyone in this company, and I think she just needs one big, public statement to pull it all together. Sure, she has a different way of looking at herself and at the world around her, but who am I to judge?
I’ve been with Rosie for fourteen years, don’t forget.
Teddy needs this, though. Teddy has a need to keep this train going. Making it to the semi finals, followed by winning a top contender’s match, followed by another chance at the Universal Title? That’s a three-shot that’d be impressive for someone who wasn’t closer to forty than twenty five.
There’s nothing wrong with being a late bloomer though, Teddy. Just remember that it’s your dad’s job to teach you how to shave.
It’s not natural for me to go for the low hanging fruit, so I’ll leave it there. And I’ll see you three at Culture Shock, but I have to caution you, I’ve got everything I need for this match.
Right time. Right place. Right owner. Right vibe.
What else do I need to earn another shot at the Universal Title?
Determination. And I have all I’ll ever need.
Wait. Fade back.
And if it ends up being me against Jiles for the Championship when the time comes, I promise the entire world of professional wrestling, I’ll get the ‘Cure for Cancer’ joke out of the way at the top, and never say it again.
Now we’re done.