It was all the way back in the year of 1992 in suburban Kansas that a young Swanny discovered precisely what he wanted to do with his life. Seated in front of what is now regarded as obnoxiously large television, the 8-year-old boy sat wide-eyed, staring in absolute awe of what he saw on the screen: larger than life characters battling it out, good and evil, real life superheroes and villains! He loved every aspect of it from the colorful costumes to different styles of wrestlers, the brutes, the technicians, the high flyers. He loved the drama of it all and was compelled to watch as much as he could week after week. Professional wrestling had sunk its hooks into him–hooks that still hold steady 30 years later.
He hadn’t had much support for this particular dream, particularly from his parents. They had comforted themselves with endless affirmations that this was surely a phase, not something that he would really try to do. Kids always have crazy ideas of what they want to become, after all. But as weeks turned to months and months turned to years, without even the slightest wavering in his commitment, real worry set in. They understandably tried to direct him toward a more conventional, if boring, career path. Something with higher chances of success and less chance of injury and, perhaps most importantly of all, to them at least, something normal. Even his friends didn’t quite understand:
Don’t you have to be, like, a tough guy to do that?
You don’t even know any wrestlers!
That’s not for people like you.
As one might imagine, rural Kansas was and is not a particular hub for counter-culture. In Lebanon, KS, quite literally the middle of the country, Swanny stuck out like a proverbial sore thumb. And his parents, while certainly not bad people, had very little interest in sticking out. It was difficult enough that their son was a punk rock obsessed miscreant refusing to cut his “ridiculous” hair, but they could handle that. But wrestling? Men in tights rolling around a ring? That was a step too far for them, thank you very much.
You have to go to college!
Do you want to be a loser flipping burgers in your 30’s?
What’s wrong with a normal life?
What if you fail?
You’ll never make it.
Whether it be by choice or necessity, Swanny had learned to accept a certain level of humility with respect to his wealth, status, and property ownership. Now officially in his 40’s, a time when most of his peers were relatively settled, he made due in a very small condo in the comparatively sprawling metropolis of Wichita, Kansas. It had taken him most of his adult life to afford it, but he owned it outright (on an independent wrestler’s salary, no less) and he was content with his lot.
His home didn’t have much by way of possessions; he still rocked the same Mr. Coffee he had stolen (“tactically acquired”) from his first apartment he shared with four friends directly out of high school. His spartan furniture and decor were all secondhand, having become something of a thrift store and yard sale sommelier over the years. But in his humble two-bedroom abode, Swanny had taken particular care with what would technically be considered his office. It was in this room that he had chosen to chronicle his career in wrestling. The closet housed all of his gear and his tattered rolling suitcase he’d taken to every show for more than the last decade.
It’s a good thing Swanny hadn’t gotten into the professional wrestling business for the money, that’s for sure. If he had, he would be sorely disappointed. But, as he looked around this room, he recognized the sacrifices that he’d made to chase that childhood dream. The majority of his friends had checked all of those boxes that his parents desperately wished he would have. They had all the trappings of success that one typically uses to judge it: they were married, had children, and working in their chosen normal career fields.
But as he continued to scan the room full of his history and accomplishments in professional wrestling, he didn’t feel shame or guilt for not pursuing that normal life. Instead, he felt an immense pride. He had taken his path and, while it was not the most lucrative or safe one, it had been his. Every inch of the walls were covered with innumerable event posters, ticket stubs, and photos of him with various wrestling legends, personalities, and longtime local fans. They chronicled year after year of his life in professional wrestling and there was one constant: in every single photo, without fail, he was absolutely beaming. A broad smile was across his face for every moment. The wins, the losses, the injuries, even the periods of self-doubt, always smiling and grateful for the opportunity.
Even now, only getting a real shot at the big leagues at 40 years old, he was smiling. He was like wrestling’s Billy Chapel: he stayed in not for the money or the fame, but for love of the game.
As he zipped his ragged rolling suitcase, freshly packed for his trip to Buffalo for Revival 41, he reflected on his opponent, Tony Gamble.
Like Swanny, Tony had been at this game for a long, long time and had the accumulated experience and skill that comes from a lifetime of perfecting the art. Not that there were any “easy” cards to draw in PRIME, but Swanny knew that he had his hands full for his debut.
He’d be lying if he tried to say the nerves weren’t getting the better of him. Sure, he’d been at this a long time, but there are levels to this sport and Tony Gamble had been competing at a much higher level than Swanny for so long that he definitely had some concerns about his ability to hang in there with him. That said, he had every intention of giving it his all and really testing himself against the best competition in the world in PRIME.
The time had finally come for him to show his family, his friends, the world, and himself that he made it. He belonged in the big leagues and all his years of pushing for this had not been in vain
As the plane landed at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, Swanny switched his phone off from airplane mode and scrolled through his contacts. He paused on one in particular.
He selected her contact and went to send her a text message.
Hey! I know it’s been a while, but I just landed in Buffalo. Would love to meet up if you have the time.
He hastily deleted the message, muttering to himself.
“Come on, man… be cool. You sound like a total fuckin’ dweeb.”
“What up!? I’m in town, wanna..”
Another hasty delete.
“What up? What up? What’s wrong with you, dude!?”
After the second instance of his muttering, he realized he must look positively insane to the timid elderly woman with the unfortunate seating assignment next to him. She cautiously side eyed him, and what a sight he must have been: a 40 year old man with salt and pepper stubble, unkempt gangly long hair, covered in tattoos, angrily talking to himself. He flashed her an apologetic smile that, while warm, did little to ease her discomfort with the clearly crazy man next to her.
He stuffed the phone back into his jeans, leaned back, and let out a frustrated sigh.
He didn’t know what to do.
Admittedly, Swanny had never been particularly “smooth” with the fairer sex. Not that he was especially awkward or anything like that, but he had a decidedly below average success rate. The conspicuous lack of a ring on his left hand was evidence of that, a fact that his mother reminded him of ad nauseam. Most women seemed to like him enough, but there was always this hurdle that they could never get past with wrestling. Some saw it as immaturity, while others couldn’t handle knowing they would be playing second fiddle to his career, but he could never maintain anything long-term.
Sarah had been different. She accepted him and even seemed to sort of admire his passion, even if she didn’t fully understand the appeal or the pull wrestling had on him. For the first time, he felt like somebody finally got it and understood him.
He exited the plane and made his way toward baggage claim. As he waited for his bag, Swanny reflected back on the time they spent together. Even though it had been more than a decade ago, the memories were very vivid for him and he thought about her often (probably too often). Maybe more than any other decision he’d made in his life, Sarah was his biggest “what if” question. What if he had handled the situation differently, what if he had been more mature, where would they be right now?
He retrieved his weathered roller and started toward the exit.
In a spurt of confidence, he stopped dead in in place and quickly pulled his phone out and called her. When she answered, he froze.
Come on, man!
Use… words… you… idiot
“HEY!” he said, entirely too loudly. “I’m, uh, I’m in town and I know it’s been a long time, but..”
He stopped as she responded immediately that she’d love to see him.
“You would? Oh, wow. Ok, where should I meet you?”
He nodded, a broad smile on his face.
“That sounds great! I’ll see you soon.”
He hung up the phone and put it back into his pocket. He put his Oakley’s on and nodded to himself.
“You still got it.”
He made his way out the airport with a little extra swagger in his step, feeling like things were finally coming together for him.