The Anglo Luchador
“I’m still trying to wrap my head around what you said last night. An open challenge?”
The desert sun is as oppressive at 5 PM as it would be in any other biome at noon in the summertime. East Coasters will complain about the humidity, and they’d be right if Las Vegas were situated a few hundred miles east in Utah. The sheer heat it radiates on roadways and deadlands and on cosmopolitan walkways in the busiest leisure city in America offsets heat indices with the ease and grace of a Michael Jordan dunk. Generally, what one does when faced with the blazing summertime is to find someplace cool, literally speaking, not the kind of cool Cancer Jiles speaks of. Figuratively speaking, in PRIME head official Timo Bolamba’s head at least, when the heat goes up on a wrestler, that wrestler should be smart about things. His friend, the newly crowned PRIME Intense Champion, was not being smart about things.
“You’re putting that title in a precarity for no reason at all,” he continued. “I know you have some misgivings about how you won the title. But you’ve got a target on your back from a beast that so far has only been stunned temporarily by black mist and the combined kitchen sink efforts of two other wrestlers.”
It was a good thing the air conditioning in Timo’s newly repaired Pontiac Trans-Am wasn’t on the fritz. The combined radiant heat from the Sun on the outside of the car might have killed The Anglo Luchador when paired with the fire coming out of his friend’s mouth. Granted, Timo meant scant little harm. Years of working the crucible of what would become the center of Primetime Central’s universe, the aptly named Primetime Championship Wrestling, gave him wisdom no philosophy course could impart. The Samoan Silencer was concerned, and rightfully so. Phil Atken? A threat who could be Universal Champion by Labor Day. Larry Tact? A dangerous man finding his groove again. Tony Gamble? Enshrined in the Hall of Fame. Balaam? Does he bleed? Did the old luchador write a check with his mouth that his body won’t be able to cash?
The counterpoint, in the luchador’s mind, that is, was that Timo could get away with the lectures with Ria. She’s still young, after all. He could go up to Nate Colton and read him the riot act, and Colton would respect him for it. Kid’s got moxie, but he’s still a bit of a square that needs his angles adjusted, not a bad thing, but not ideal either. The Anglo Luchador barely tolerated it when he was in a sweatbox in North Philly, taking lessons from a hardened Boricua too high-strung on the shit that makes Café Bustelo seem like decaf to expect less than perfection. It’s been years since he was a student. You can always learn something new, sure, but lectures are for young’uns.
“Uce,” he finally spoke up. “You can relax. Office gave me a non-title match this week anyway, not even against one of the people I named.”
“That tone feels awfully dismissive for Anna Daniels,” Timo snapped back as he was navigating the streets of Vegas. “You may have gone to war with her, but she was formidable.”
“I know. I don’t discount here. I’ve seen it up close and personal, and that’s even before the time-jumping shit that I wouldn’t expect her to keep hidden all the time.”
Timo groaned. “You don’t buy that, do you?”
“Look, I’ve talked to ghosts. My favorite restaurant in this city has a ‘DO NOT SERVE’ sign with a picture of the Chupacabra on it that looks far too photorealistic to be a gag. And don’t even get me started on what happened when I got off the plane earlier last week…”
“I get it,” Timo replied. “I really do. You believe in the occult. But let’s deal in reality here. She’ll punt you if you’re not careful.”
“Yeah, I know that,” the old luchador said as he looked out the window, “I feel it every day in this goddamn fed. I’m the guy who’s too weird for a promotion where no one bats an eye at Dr. Who come to life or a minotaur or someone who says he’s Jesus Christ and can seemingly do miracles described in Holy Scripture.”
Timo bobbed his head like Alonzo Mourning in that famous gif and nodded.
“I have to consistently be on my A-game to be taken seriously around here,” the old luchador continued, “and even that’s not enough. I still feel the welt under my chin from the superkick Knox landed. Sometimes, I wake up in a cold sweat with my airways restricted from being in that fucking Shotgun. It’s a constant reminder of my place in the pecking order around here.”
Timo looked over in disapproval. “Your place is in the top five with a singles Championship, which I am imploring you not to go dangling around in front of everyone like a carrot. Do you think Youngblood is any less a part of the vanguard here because he only defended his title twice so far?”
“Low blow,” the luchador replied. “That’s like asking if I respect LeBron James even though he takes games off for load management.”
Timo arrived at the destination, a warehouse-looking building, scaffolding up on the outside.
“We’re here,” Timo said.
“What is this place? You aren’t going to murder me, are you?”
Timo shook his head. “It’s my school. I wanted to show you. Sometimes I think Maui sent you to me to punish me for my misdeeds.”
“Oh, now you’re the one who believes in the vengeance of the gods,” the luchador said with snark approaching 0.8 out of 1 on the Lindsay Troy Scale.
“I guess we all have it in us,” Timo replied with a laugh. “C’mon, the real main event is on the inside.”
If the inside of an unfinished wrestling school could be compared to a main event, it would definitely be the Nova vs. Tchu from the TEAM Tournament of Champions final in 2007. The vastness put to shame most other wrestling schools with more established pedigrees. There were four rings at the center of the big floor. Circuit training, heavy bags, free weights, and cardio machines lined up along the left wall, while on the right stood a fleet of whirlpools, cryotherapy chambers, massage beds, and a snazzy looking bar with a fleet of blenders and bins behind. However, the crown jewel of this school had nothing to do with the apparatus of training and molding. All the walls inside the building contained a continuous mural of the great wrestlers of past and present. Amy Campbell in her flare-legged skater pants flying gracefully above the fray. Tchu with a faceless body clutched in a sleeperhold, no doubt about ready to drop him with The Downfall. Dave Gibson, the epitome of Old School, standing over Timo sprawled out on a stretcher. Ivan Stanislav, Asa Fountain, Wade Elliot, Trash Can Man, Killean Sirrajin, Clinton Sage, the Hessian, the Queen herself, Lindsay Troy… all of them in lifelike detail adorned the wall. Even the bastards of the luchador’s current purview, men like Tony Gamble and Hoyt Williams, were impressive in their depiction.
What he saw next though, that’s what Timo brought him to see. At the center of the back wall, there were three wrestlers painted larger than anyone else on the mural. At the center was, of course, Timo, in his classic, glorious prime, face painted, chest bared, shoes nowhere to be seen. At his left hand was the gruff and grumbly luchador, formed from the clay that once sat beneath Lake Texcoco itself, El Temblor.
At his right… it was he. His own visage. His own likeness, larger than men who won the Universal Championship, the Elite Title, than Hall of Famers and legends from times of yore. Momentary paralysis took him, but it wasn’t from fear or terror. The warmth and gratitude bubbling up from his jellies seized control of his muscles from him. Only his tear ducts seemed to work at this moment.
“Well, uso, what do you think?”
No answer. Stunned, pregnant silence.
“You hate it, don’t you?”
The old luchador shook his head.
“Well then, say something!”
“I…” Tom trailed off. “I… don’t deserve it.”
He finally relaxed his shoulders. Timo put his arm around them almost immediately.
“Tom, I can’t stress enough how much you do, at least in my eyes,” he said, the same paternalistic tone he used before going from stern to avuncular without changing pitch. “You’re one of five people in a murderer’s row of a promotion to have a title. You’ve won two World Championships. People look up to you.”
The luchador sighed a gale force wind that put the National Weather Service on high alert. He shook his head and leaned against the railing on the stairs leading down to the training floor.
“Then you know why I have to put the Intense Championship in peril whenever I can. Because people look up to me, but because I can’t see myself in the same light.”
Timo looked as if he was going to say something, but the old luchador only took a beat to catch his breath before continuing.
“I feel invisible sometimes. Everyone’s quick to pat each other on the back and tell them how hard they are, their journeys, how great it is to see them succeed. I’m lucky if Atken tells me I’m holding people down because I eat liniment or talk into a bullhorn.”
He slumps further, sitting on the steps, leaning his back against the part of the mural where Jason Snow cocks his fist.
“Everyone talks up Daniels, she’s this paradigm people look up to. Buying her t-shirts, and whispering backstage that it would’ve been a matter of time had Gamble not intervened that she’d have my hardware. So what do I do? No one talks me up. And the people who do, like Ria, I gotta deal with the hurt I inflicted on her, and it feels hollow even though I have no doubts she’s sincere about it.”
Another F5 exhale.
“So no one notices me, I know, boo-hoo, sob story. No one gives a shit about it because it’s whining. PRIME is a murderer’s row, like you said. I have to go out and work extra hard just to be the guy that can go to bed, whether it’s in my suite or next to my wife and feel like this thing I came back for, the reason why I gave up being a homemaker for a rich pharma exec wasn’t just me being an impulsive jerkoff again. I have to prove it to myself every night.”
He looks up at the Silencer.
“That’s why I don’t care how careful Youngblood is with his challenges, Hall of Famer or not. I don’t care that Rezin blew whatever combo of lung butter and joint ash to take a shortcut or that Hanlon only defended his title a bunch of times last arc because there was abject fuckery going on around his orbit. I gotta be the good guy, and the good guy in the lucha libre tradition? They gotta fight. Every week. Ritual warfare. The Aztecs fought to keep their world going. I have to fight to keep mine going too.”
Timo nodded. “I get it, uso. I do. There were times in my career that I felt like I had to go above and beyond. I mean, ask around if you want. I ingested enough caffeine to kill Tagaloa at one show, and sometimes, stunts like that felt like they got me nowhere.”
Another pregnant pause.
“Is this the part where you drop a salient and definitive ‘but,’” the luchador asked?
“No,” Timo replied bluntly. “I’m just saying I get it. I’m looking at things from the point of view of a wizened old warrior who accomplished everything. Maybe I’m wrong, and you do need some danger in your title reign. But one place I know I’m not wrong?”
He looked over to the centerpiece on the mural.
“It’s that you belong up there,” he said. “You may not believe it, and I get it. I’m in therapy right now, and you probably should be too. It helps. But people here, even if they don’t say it, they respect you. Well, most of them do.”
The old luchador let out a muffled laugh through his teeth and barely opened lips. “Well, the ones that don’t respect me are probably the ones I don’t respect back. One of them is the reason why I need to find my way, find my respect. Maybe it’s time I did tell you about what I saw when I got off the plane.”
“Tell me over the case of Vailima beer I got in my trunk,” Timo replied. “Tall tales go better with alcohol.”
“It’s all real, I swear!”
The old luchador rose to his feet, and after one last glance at his own visage on the wall in the back of the gym, exited to get back to Timo’s pride and joy Trans-Am.
Twelve beers, a faithful recounting of a chase through Las Vegas, and an Uber ride for the lead referee back to his own Vegas quarters later, The Anglo Luchador was, again, alone in his familiar suite at the MGM Grand. Vegas nights generally are said to be hot because of the nightlife, but summertime in the desert does not lend itself to the extreme temperature swings. After hours still brought suffocating heat, enough to keep air conditioning running constantly. The bane of the single mother is a swelter in the time of climate change. Yet, like a lizard man cold of blood, the old luchador’s thermostat was switched to “OFF” instead of “cool.” Propped up by three of the 12 pillows he requested for his king-sized bed, the old luchador stared into the mirror that sometimes spoke back at him.
“Anyone in there?”
No answer. The man in the mirror was on vacation, he supposed.
“Didn’t think so.”
He reached over to the nightstand by the window and grabbed the bottle of Pedialyte he set out to stave off a hangover. The cap fell carelessly to the floor, and within an instant, a quarter of the bottle was already careening down the hatch. He wiped his lips and cleared his throat.
“Anna Daniels though, why does she bug me? Why is she the avatar for everything that annoys me about this comeback so far?”
No answer again. At this point, he stopped expecting them.
“Ria likes her, looks up to her. Anyone Ria thinks is good people can’t be all that bad, even that birdbrain Sykes.”
He looked over to his liquor cabinet, but ever since that day before the Nightmare, when he unstocked all of it, he didn’t bother to replace them. Don’t tempt fate; keep it at arm’s length and you can enjoy it without making it a crutch. Another quarter of the Pedialyte bottle was gone. He took it out too early from the fridge; it started to warm up with the room.
“It’s probably not even her fault. I mean, so what, she’s a billion years old, hailing from the collaborative mind of a couple of British sci-fi nerds. Why is she over with the cool kids?”
Sweat beaded on his brow. The devil on his shoulder would be saying “it’s too fuckin’ hot for ME in here, turn that AC on” while the angel would retort “Eh, I see what you’re doing, but he may have a point” if this were a Looney Tunes short.
“Timo’s right though. Results matter. But more than that, it’s not even just wins and losses, right?”
Another big pull off the bottle left a sip, maybe less.
“It’s the battle between optics and reality. What am I more concerned with? Looking like a winner, or winning?”
He tossed the now-empty Pedialyte bottle across the room in a Tim Tebow-like spiral. Miraculously, it found the wastebasket.
“Not even that, is being a good person, being good enough to look myself in the mirror without having a fucking conversation like this, the result of pure drive, or do I need to look the part too?”
The heat was getting to him. His shirt and pants soon found the floor in a frustrated, crumpled heap. His hand slipped between his boxer briefs and his hip for complete Luchador Au Natural until he stopped suddenly. The realization sprang into his head like a jaguar on the backside of a whitetail deer. He kept the underwear on, rolled over, put on his CPAP, and went to sleep.
“Aye Tagaloa! It feels like the insides of a volcano in here!”
The old luchador never relented on his warped, fatherly desire to keep the AC shut off for the night. His sheets showed more evidence of placement on a leaky waterbed rather than memory foam. Sweat rash had started to form on the old luchador’s arms and forehead. He was fresh as a daisy though, frying eggs in shorts and a custom tee-shirt that read “CHOP CHOP RADIO DONKEY X5 BUCKET.” Tom’s t-shirt guy is quick, for the record.
“Yeah, I just felt it appropriate. Builds character,” he said to his referee friend, back at the Grand to pick the car he left overnight so as not to drive irresponsibly. PSA kids, impairment starts with the first drink. If you’re gonna imbibe, don’t you dare drive. Anyway…
“Character? Were those beers tainted?”
“Nah, Timo, I need to get right in my head,” he replied. “That means I have to follow my heart and do what I think is right to become pure enough to look myself in the eye and not cringe.”
“How is sweating your plantains and coconuts off going to accomplish that?”
“It’s all trial and error,” the luchador replied with a smile and a muffled chuckle. “I have to feel right. I know one thing that feels right. Putting that belt in peril as much as I can.”
He lifted the spatula out of his pan and pointed to the Intense Championship that sat atop his luggage for the trip home to PHL later in the day.
“I’m a wrestler, Timo,” he continued. “It’s not in my DNA to sit idly back. So I’m not defending the title this week, but I’m fighting for something a lot more important.”
“Your pride, uso?”
The old luchador nodded as he flipped his eggs. The yolks on all three of them broke, causing an almost involuntary “FUCK” to burst out from the pit of his diaphragm through his neck and out his mouth.
“Eh, creamy yolk or not, that’s still a protein-packed breakfast.”
“But I still don’t understand something. If you’re fighting for your own pride, why go out every week and put that title up against any challenger who wants it? Isn’t that just preening?”
He sprinkled some kosher salt on the eggs before removing them from the pan and putting them on his plate.
“It would be if I was just doing it so that Youngblood would stop me in the hallway to say ‘hey, good job, I just bought some WarmCold because you wrestled for eight straight ReVs.’”
He cut what seemed to be an entire egg’s worth of his plate and shoved it into his mouth.
“The only time I want to talk to Youngblood while the cameras may be rolling,” he said chewing with his mouth full, his mother somewhere in the aether shaking her head, “is when I’m telling him I’m coming for his belt.”
Timo nodded and a smile began to form on his face.
“You know about the Aztec concept of ritual warfare?” the old luchador continued. “They fought wars not for conquest or animus, but because they thought the bloodshed would appease the gods. The prisoners they captured would be offered up as sacrifice at the plaza. They fought because they needed to. They didn’t care about what northern tribes or, later on, colonizers thought. They did it for themselves.”
Timo again nodded.
“I’m doing what I’m doing for myself. I’ll fight every week for myself. I’ll go out with a sock on my dick and have Baron and Ria and Cally throw rotten tomatoes at me for myself, especially if I’m fighting Atken that week.”
Timo was smiling ear to ear now.
“And I’m going to put Anna Daniels in the ground this week, not for anyone else but myself.”
As the old luchador finished his breakfast, Timo put a hand on his shoulder.
“Tom, I think you finally get why you deserve to be at the centerpiece of my mural.”
The old luchador smiled as he put the plate in the sink. He gathered his bags and his belt, and the two left the suite.