Rocky de Leon
ANAHEIM, CA – “DAMMIT, I thought I had him dead to rights! Where did I go wrong?” Rocky runs his hands through his hair and whips water to the ground. He has just showered off after his loss to Zion and is getting dressed in the locker rooms at the Honda Center.
“Got excited, lost control. Normal rookie shit. It’s ok, you’ll do better.” Stu Weiler never looks up from his laptop during his response, continuing to enter data on his dossier of Darrin Zion based on his match observations at PWA-1 from moments earlier. “Good news, the crowd liked you. They were excited when you went for top rope flippy shit. At the appropriate time. The early squirrel… mistake. You know better. Do better.”
Rocky slams his locker closed. He sighs as he finishes buttoning up his shirt. “Yeah, I know better. Well… what now?”
“Now,” Stu closes his laptop and slides it into his messenger bag, “we eat and plan for your three-way with Mori and McGee.”
“I know what I said. Now, food.”
“No Whataburger in Cali. Closest you’ll find in Anaheim is In-N-Out.”
“Is it as good?”
Stu looks up at Rocky over the rim of his glasses, “…is anything?”
Rocky’s shoulders slump with a massive exhale, “Ugh, whatever. Let’s give it a shot. Did I really SKREE at Zion, or am I inventing that memory now?”
“Oh, you definitely did. Crowd loved it, though. I vote do it again. Worst case, your opponent thinks you’re silly. Best case, it’s highly distracting. I see no downside. Besides, better a skree than a honk.”
The two men hop into De Leon’s Volvo V70-R and speed off to obtain cheap calories. After some quick research into the secret menu items, Stu orders Rocky a 4×4, insisting he needs the protein. Through a large mouthful of burger, Rocky asks, “So I geff wuh haff a lot uhf wug tudu for ruhvivah?” Stu just stares at him with a look that channels the disappointment of seven million Texan mothers until Rocky takes a sip of his drink, swallows, and says, “Sorry. So, I guess we have a lot of work to do for ReVival?”
“Yes,” Stu softens with the return of decorum, “but not as much as you’d think. It’s actually easier to win a three-way match than a two-way match.”
Rocky clearly cannot compute what he just heard. “How the fuck is that possible? I have to take out two wrestlers. They have double the energy stores of one person. I’ve got to manage my stamina and be looking out for shots from all directions.”
“We’ll get into it later. Right now, you need to get out of your head, work on fundamentals, and just do some basic training. I’ll touch base with you later this week.”
[Two days later]
No pain, no gain, no glory.
Rocky repeats this mantra in his head as he pounds pavement, a synth wave track playing through his airpods acting as the metronome for his footfall as he sweats under the early evening sun back in Laredo. Despite being January, it is still in the mid-80s. That’s what you get in the South. People tell you, “It’s a dry heat,” or “You get used to it,” but none of those things matter.
When July comes and it’s 109 degrees out, it doesn’t matter how dry the heat is. You can’t get used to physical oppression blasting down on your body from outer space. Every Texan wakes up with the knowledge that the cosmos is punishing them for their choice of residence, and every Texan has the inner fortitude to flip off the gods and say, “Make me leave, bitch.” Rocky may have been away a while, but he is still a boy of Texas to the core.
The mantra was the same he used when he began his weight loss journey. It was almost like breathing now, and less of a motivator. He had internalized the phrase and it was a part of him. He might have lost to a honking idiot wearing lip covered pants, but he is part of PRIME now. If Mike McGee and Kohime Mori want him to roll over, they are going to have to wear him out harder than midday summer sun.
No pain, no gain, no glory.
He runs alongside McPherson Road – it is a convenient channel for long runs given his house is nestled back in Del Mar Hills. All his runs start the same way: first, he exits the neighborhood on the south side, over by Regina’s Schoolhouse. His mama used to drop him off at Regina’s before she went to work at 6:30, and it’s where she’d pick him up after school when she got off work. He likes to wave at the kids on the playground as he passes by. The teachers recognize him now, and no longer assume he is a creepy child predator, which he feels is good progress. He turns left onto C. Del Norte until it hits McPherson, then picks whichever way his muse guides him that day. On this day, he turns right. Right, as it happens, includes a number of temptations in the way of fast food and restaurants including one he is absolutely unable to turn down – Tacos Kissi.
He stops running. He bends over, hands on his knees, panting, sweat pouring down his face and back. He looks at the outdoor seating for Tacos Kissi and smiles. His favorite waitress is passing off drinks to a table when she sees him, squeals, and jumps with joy. He half-jogs into the restaurant.
“COUSIN CARLOS!!!” A slim girl standing about 5’1” tall comes bounding around the corner. Her black hair is thick and flows with gentle waves and curls (her friends called her Esmerelda after the Disney character for this reason), and her smile can light up the darkest place on earth.
Rocky beams then quickly opens his eyes wide and puts his hands out palms forward, “Luisa, wait! DON’T HUG ME!” They pause for a moment and look at each other. “I’m sweaty and gross,” he adds, hoping to alleviate the confusion on Luisa’s face.
Luisa’s smile returns, “I don’t care!” she exclaims as she throws her arms around Rocky. Just as quickly, she pulls back. “I lied, I care, you’re slimy. That is disgusting! Why would you not shower before coming to see me?!”
Rocky laughs, “Last I checked, there wasn’t a public shower on my jogging route.”
“There’s a hose out back. Come on, I’ll spray you down.”
“Haha, I appreciate the offer, but I’ll pass. How are you, Conejita?” He asks as he brushes hair out of her face.
“Carlooooos! Don’t call me that!” She swats his hand away. “I’m an adult. And besides, if I was going to be some kind of animal, it wouldn’t be a bunny.”
“Disagree. You will always be my little bunny. Now hop off and get me some water.”
Luisa playfully sticks her tongue out at her cousin and heads off to grab a glass of water, picking up a few tabs along the way. Rocky watches her work. She’s really grown up. Tia better be watching out. She’s gonna need something like a giant bug zapper to keep all the boys in the neighborhood away.
Luisa finally returns with a big mug of crisp cold water. “Ai! Gracias, prima, it’s like drinking straight from the Comal river.”
“Anything for you, Carlos. Why are you here? Not to sound unhappy or ungrateful or anything, but I thought my cousin was a big shot writer and wrestler, off traveling the country without any time to spare for us poor, boring little folk.” She knocks him on the shoulder and grins. She teases, but Rocky feels a pang in his gut for the time he’s missed with his family the last three years.
“I decided I should come back and remember what life is like among the little people.” Rocky says, and Luisa roughly ruffles a hand through his hair in response. “No, but really, I don’t know. I was just… I was missing Mama tonight, and I thought what better way to help that than to come see you.” He stares off into the reddening sunset as Luisa hugs him properly, no longer bothering to avoid the sweat.
“How do you think she’d feel about your new career direction?”
“She’d probably hate it, but Papi would love it.”
“Yeah…” Luisa sighs, “Yeah, he would.”
“How are Tia Juanita and Tio Diego?”
Luisa almost imperceptibly flinches when Rocky says his name, “…the same. Now get out of here,” she orders as she slaps him gently on his back. “I have a shift to finish and my manager is glaring at me.”
“Run rabbit, run!”
Luisa punches Rocky on the shoulder before running back to a table where a lady has her hand in the air, waving.
Rocky stands up, admires the woman his cousin is growing to be, places his airpods back in his ear, and begins to pound pavement back toward home. He asks Siri to add a reminder to check in on Diego later.
No pain, no gain, no glory.
[The next day]
Rocky slams his locker closed. He slings his backpack over his shoulder and starts to huff his way to his car. Cindy calls to him from the office, “Rocky? Everything ok there, darlin’?”
Rocky almost doesn’t turn around. The last thing he wants right now is to have to play nice with Donny’s dau- he feels a tap on his shoulder. “Rocky?”
He takes a deep breath and turns around. “Hey, Cindy.”
“You ok? Whatcha doin’?”
“I was… training.”
“Yeah, Ah know that, Ah saw ya beatin’ up on that kickboxin’ dummy so damn hard Ah figured it must’a found a way to insult yer mama. I meant whatcha doin’ now? Where ya goin’ in such a state?”
The strap for Rocky’s backpack slouches just a little off his shoulder as he releases a bit of the tension he is carrying. “I just… I need a break. I’m training and working on fundamentals so I don’t get disgraced by Kohime and McGee, and Stu says it’ll be easy but he won’t tell me why or how yet, and I lost to a dude that uses the word love for every fourth word of his vocabulary, because I did the flying squirrel too early, but then I did it at the right time but it didn’t work, and at some point I think I SKREEed at him, and I think he fucking honked at me?, and…”
“Oh, honey, take a breath now.” Cindy grabs Rocky by his biceps and looks in his eyes, “No more words, juuuust breathe. That’s it, easy does it. OK, come on, let’s you and me walk down to Waffle House and you can buy me a coffee and tell me about it there.”
“But,” Rocky objects, “is it ok to leave the office unattended? Won’t you get in trouble?”
Cindy laughs, “Please, Daddy won’t yell at me even if he is mad. Plus, ah made sure Stu wouldn’t leave the office for at least another hour.”
“How’d you do that?”
“Ah broke one of his Excel formulas when he went to the bathroom.” Rocky’s eyes go wide with horror and disbelief. “Oh, relax! I made a backup of the file first. Come on, now, Ah’m thirsty.”
The two slide into a small booth at the Waffle House. A nice middle aged waitress seems to recognize Cindy and immediately brings over a pot of coffee that she leaves at the table. Rocky orders a t-bone steak and eggs with an extra side of scrambled eggs. Cindy’s eyes get wide as she hears how much food Rocky orders. “Stu said I need the protein.”
“Mmmm.” Cindy sips her boiled bean juice. “So. Ah take it yer havin’ some trouble gettin’ over that loss at PWA-1?” She said this as though it was a reasonable conclusion drawn from context, and not as though Rocky had just word vomited on her ten minutes prior with a stream of consciousness that practically yelled “I’M FEELING INSECURE.”
“You might could say that.” Rocky says, and he shuffles sideways in his seat a little, like a child getting too much attention from a teacher. “I just… I should have won that fight. I should have, but I fucked it up. I’m better than that, and I just… if I lost THAT fight, what on earth makes Stu think I can win the next one?”
The waitress interjects to deliver Rocky’s steak and mountain of eggs. “Here’s yer eggs. Try not to think about where they came from.” She saunters back to another table carrying a carafe of syrup. Cindy stares at the eggs, a look of dawning comprehension and disgust crossing her face as Rocky pays no mind whatever to the server’s statement and shovels the golden, delicious fuel into his mouth.
Cindy shakes her head. “Well Sugar, Ah’ll tell you this much – it ain’t gonna do ya no good focusin’ on what ya shoulda done, so let’s talk about something else fer a bit, ok? Why doncha’ tell me what brought ya here in the first place?”
Rocky swallows a bite of overcooked shoe leather masquerading as steak. “When my Mama died last year, she left me her home in her will. I was between writing gigs, and… I’m not sure, but it felt right to stay rather than sell the place.”
“Aw, that’s sweet. I’m sorry for your loss.” Cindy reaches out and grabs Rocky’s hand, looking him in the eye as she speaks. Rocky gets the sense it’s genuine and not just a rote statement from Cindy. She lets go of his hand, takes another sip of coffee, and asks, “But I didn’t really mean what brought ya back to Texas, yeh can’t really ever make a Texas boy happy somewhere else, I was more wonderin’ what brought ya to muh Daddy’s gym in the first place.”
“I told y’all – I joined PRIME and needed to learn how to be a better wrestler.”
Cindy laughs, “Are you intentionally this dense? Why did you decide to wrestle in the first place? Aintcha some fancy pants writer?”
Rocky stares out the window for a moment, before turning back toward Cindy. He looks at the swirl of cream in her coffee as he speaks, “Well… I guess, I think maybe I did it for my dad. I grew up watching PRIME with him. He loved it – he knew all the great matches by heart. He had the heart and fighting spirit of a real Mexican. He always said someday he was gonna throw his hat into the ring. I don’t think he even wanted to win, necessarily, I think he just wanted to be able to say he got his ass kicked by someone famous. Before he passed, he kept telling me he was going to be the world’s biggest Luchador – the Lion of Laredo.”
“Was GOING to be?”
“Yeah, he was gearing up to audition for PRIME before he lost his legs.”
“OH MY GOSH, Ah’m so sorry! That’s just awful. Was he in the war?”
“No, he just woke up one day and they were missing. Never found them.”
Cindy blinks for a moment.
“I’m kidding. Story for another time.”
“Hold up, Ah think Ah heard you say that name on TV before the last ReVival. That Lion of Laredo thing – didn’t you say that was yer name?”
Rocky perks at the question, “…you saw me on TV before I came to your gym?”
Cindy blushes briefly, “Ah’m askin’ the questions here – didn’t you tell that microphone holder that YOU were the Lion of Laredo?”
“Yeah… yeah, I did. I was trying it on. I wanted to see if I could do it. If I could be the Lion for mi Papi.”
Cindy smiles and places a hand on Rocky’s face. “Aw, darlin’, bless yer heart. If that ain’t the fuckin’ cutest and stupidest thing I’ve ever heard you say.”
“Ya can’t go tryin’ on someone else’s lucha dream, Rocky. Ya gotta be you. Besides, I know damn well that weren’t no lion outfit you took to Anaheim.”
“….no. No it was not.”
“What was it?”
Rocky mumbles something inaudible.
“Speak up, darlin’”
He gets slightly louder, but still unintelligible.
“Ah said speak up, don’t make me beg now.”
“…I thought the wings would look awesome during top rope flippy shit and the pterodactyl is my favorite dinosaur, er, pterosaur, technically, see it’s not really, um, a dinosaur because, you see….” Rocky trails back off into silent embarrassment.
“Now that there is somethin’ genuinely you, and the more you can lean into that,” Cindy gives a fierce smile and makes a “go get ‘em” motion with her right arm. “The more yer gonna kick ass in that ring. Now, pay the tab and go home, rookie.”
[Two days before ReVival 21]
“Look,” Stu says, “All you gotta do is play these two jokers off each other.” Stu shows Rocky a simulation he has programmed based on the estimated sizes of each of Mori and McGee, their known move sets, and their personal tendencies. “This is just a simulated render, and its predictive model isn’t as strong because I don’t have a ton of triple threat data to go off for these two, but it should give you a general idea. Here, watch each of these scenarios.” Stu turns one of his monitors toward Rocky. On the display is a crude wireframe rendering of the three wrestlers, crude enough that their names are labeled above their heads. The wire frames perform a handful of simulated matches.
“You see that?” Stu points at one of the simulations taking care not to touch the LCD panel, “Even with a mediocre performance, you should easily win this. Mori is going to need a LOT of energy expended to move either of you around much. She may be strong, but you each have at least 40 pounds on her and unless I missed something the laws of physics haven’t changed recently.”
Stu turns to face Rocky, his eyes focused and demeanor stern, “Don’t let her hit you, but don’t be afraid to let her throw you in a way you can roll out of without getting hurt. Even if she uses good technique, it’s going to take a lot for her to repeatedly throw 215 pounds. She’s also extremely gullible, so use feinting to your advantage.”
“Hold up, Stu, how do you know she’s gullible?”
Stu pauses, and looks down at his phone as he responds, “Did you know baby deer have no scent? Well, very little anyway – practically none detectable. If they just don’t move, the odds are pretty darn good no predator will spot them. However, if they stand up and sprint to their parents or are just plain stupid…” Stu turns his phone toward Rocky displaying a chat app Rocky is passingly familiar with, “…and stand up on Jabber to show everyone how ignorant they are, well… I mean that’s just game over.”
“I should really read this more often.” Rocky looks over the stream of trash talk.
Stu rubs his temples, “If you don’t use all the tools available to you, you’re not going to make it far in PRIME, Rocky. Anyway, She should be winded first and fairly fast. Then it’s all you vs McGee.”
“I’ve read up on McGee. I’m ready for him. Middle management silver spoon baby with a Freudian complex that his therapist’s bank account praises God for every night. Dude has had his life and his wrestling career handed to him on a platter and has no idea what adversity looks like. He might have fought hard to sign for the title on his Kia Sorento, but in Laredo we fought on the streets to survive. He’s going to feel my boot in his face and get a taste of what real struggle is.”
Stu chuckles, “Well, nonetheless, don’t underestimate him. Remember, no more rookie mistakes. Think of it like Tai chi – you are out there to direct the flow of energy. Turn one into the other until only one remains, then hit ‘em like a truck.”
“It’s ok.” Rocky says, his eyes steeled, “I’ve got this. No more rookie mistakes. I’m going to win this. For mi Papi, for Luisa, heck even for you and Cindy, but mostly… I’m gonna win this one for me. I was inches away from taking down Zion, and neither of these two are the wrestler he is. I’ll convince Kohime that tapping out is her victory condition and will show McGee the meaning of adversity. Nothing will be left on the table at ReVival.”
It’s these motherfuckers who need to be sure not to underestimate ME.