The Anglo Luchador
If FLAMBERGE is me when I was younger, does that make TAB me from another dimension?
“Doctors vs. The Anglo Luchador” is a rivalry so long-running that Tim Tillinghast should rename the “Feud of the Year” award in his year-end accolades newsletter issue after it. General practice doctors hate him for how little he regards his personal safety. Neurologists warn another concussion could be “The Big One.” His therapist is already seeing how Sisyphean the efforts of untangling the rat’s nest of mangled synapses in that head are going to end up becoming in less than a year’s time.
And his sleep doctor keeps warning him that if he slumps over on top of his desk sitting in that rickety old office chair of his instead of going to bed with his CPAP mask on, he might choke on his own spit.
You wanna know where Tam found Tom at 9ish on a Tuesday night the week following ReVival 23?
At least he wasn’t running off to Mexico again to pick a fight with whatever ostentatious mask felt like sowing their oats against a bona fide PRIME superstar. Or making plans to go throw punches with certified lunatics in the goddamn Mud Pits. Or shutting himself up in a hotel room in Las Vegas, high on hallucinogens, trying to figure out ways to take another wrestler’s eye. Was that even a year ago?
But he also wasn’t crying in a bathtub. Progress is progress, no matter how little.
She peered over his shoulder, his head resting uncomfortably in the crook of his right arm, drool pooling on the bare varnished oak that amplified his snores to decibel levels deemed hazardous for long-term exposure by OSHA. Part of her didn’t want to wake a husband that had been under stress enough to bend a steel beam, but another part didn’t want to be a widow. Nudging her husband’s arm did little to jolt him from the fruits of his exhaustion. It did, however, knock loose what he’d been toiling over before falling victim to the gentle hand of Ixtlilton.
It was his notepad. At the top of the page was written in big capital letters “PROMO IDEAS.” There was only one line inscribed beneath.
Once upon a time, Jerichoholic Anonymous was regarded as a “promo god.” Those days were long past as the fire for talking shit dimmed with the stunning realization that Tom did not want his children speaking that language. Looking back at the tapes was revelatory anyway. Some of those scathing diatribes held up, but most of them were just verbal tete-a-tetes against mental lowlights. How wrestling companies budgeted for promo time in the days before YouTube was a huge reason why they deserved to go out of business anyway.
Value in getting underneath an opponent’s skin is tangible though, making them rock off their tracks just enough that you can derail them, send them careening into a tree or off a cliff. Tyler Adrian Best has made a career out of being a discomfort merchant, as short as it has been to date. It’d be one thing to have all the advantages laid out before you, but one still must manipulate them lest they become wasted resources. Grandson of pirate millionaire Lee Best, son of the greatest HOW Champion, Mike Best. Trained from a young age under the tutelage of Lindsay Troy. You can fit the prince’s son with the finest sword, the strongest armor, and send them to the sagest of generals as a squire, but trappings alone don’t make him a warrior. As much of a head start as he had in life, Tyler still made a fine warrior in his short time on the battlefield.
Does it make him more or less of a success story than the man whose own father actively tried to sabotage his own son’s earliest bookings? Who trained in a dingy building that was once an energy company substation? Who had to claw his way up the ladder instead of being delivered out of his mother’s womb on the third rung from the top? It’s not so much a compare and contrast, an expression of jealousy. The starkness in contrast just hit him like a Lafayette Lullaby. TAB was a funhouse mirror image to TAL. Maybe this was enough to get him out of the “promo lull” he was in. Maybe he had one more great monologue left in him.
He had Troy send out a camera crew to his normal soundstage in the Philly area.
You’re never too famous to help family. Mom always considered calling Tom to take Dad to physical therapy as a last resort, but by a stroke of misfortune, all four of his brothers were otherwise busy, or in Luigi’s case, quarantined with COVID yet again. Lugging his father and his wheelchair and his canes all the way to Northeast Philly wasn’t the burden.
It was always the downtime and the threat of idle conversation that gave him pause.
The old pro was silent in transit from his South Philly rowhome all the way to the rehab facility. The hour spent in the waiting room watching HOW clips on his phone made the time pass quickly at least. Pleasantries with the therapist were endured rather than welcomed. He’s a stubborn old man. He’s not making enough progress. He seems to want to be in his wheelchair. Yadda yadda yadda, same story every time.
“It’s the story of my life,” he replied curtly.
The therapist nervously laughed before she went back to fetch old Lorenzo. He looked as grumpy as ever as she wheeled him out from another dreadful session, the futile attempt at repairing the number that years in the ring and deferred retirement did on his sagging body. He hated therapy as much as the docs hated him as a client. Perhaps he still went because he was tired of the chair, or maybe it was a peace offering to his wife that he at least keep up the veneer of trying.
“He’s your problem now,” the therapist said with an uneasy fleck of playful sarcasm.
Tom nodded and pushed his father’s chair out of the automatic doors. With near immediacy after they shut behind him, his father started.
“You know, the way you been acting lately? That Best kid’s gonna eat you alive.”
“Could we not, Dad?”
Lorenzo gave a gruff huff.
“I’m serious. You flying off the handle, acting a damn fool because you lost…”
“You know, I could push you into traffic right now.”
“But seriously, Dad, it wasn’t because I lost. It was…”
“I don’t give a shit the reason. He’s a world-class promo. He will get under your skin and have you scratching until, BAM, out of nowhere. Street Sweeper.”
A deep sigh. He was only half-jokingly threatening to push his dad’s chair into the cars zipping down the street.
“I know you don’t want to hear this, kid…”
He HATED when his father called him “kid.” Not that parents don’t earn the right to make diminutives of their children. But over the years, he’d lost that right.
“…but you gotta stand up to him. Find the guts. Be a real wrestler for once in your god-forsaken life.”
“That’s not my style anymore, and you know it.”
The elder Battaglia grunted his displeasure.
“Y’know, at least that kid listens to his dad and his grandfather. I would kill to have a son like that.”
The conversation was over.
All the thoughts scattered in his head remained suspended in cortical fluid like snow in a globe that floated in zero gravity. Usually, if he had something to say, those synapses fired into a molded thought, be it by design or serendipity. Every single thread he had to pull on with Tyler was frayed, unable to be woven into a rope strong enough to haul his feelings into the light.
The soundstage was slightly chilly and completely empty, save for a banner and some rigs for the crew to set their recording equipment up. It also wasn’t a soundstage by design but a storage locker Tom had bought out for times when he’d need to get a tape to PRIME offices. The biweekly schedule allowed him to have more intimate digs than in the old days, when the breakneck schedule had him flying across the country nonstop. Even these spartan trappings with their permanence felt cozy. It was the kind of place that made him feel like a real artisan of his craft. However, those feelings did not last too long.
The camera crew would be there in a half-hour.
Why is dad so miserable all the time, he thought to himself on the drive home. While Dad finally stopped instigating, the meanness stuck with him for the entire ride home. What could drive someone to be so callous to their flesh and blood?
Parking in South Philly is a vexing proposition at almost any hour of the day, especially on side streets barely wide enough to have both a lane of thoroughfare and parking that required residents and visitors alike to hop the curb just a little bit. Tom found a spot a block-and-a-half away from his parents’ quaint rowhome. The mood surrounding Tom wheeling his father back was as icier than the March air, which to be fair had warmed unnaturally thanks to climate change.
“Oh Tommy,” called a voice through the flimsy storm door, “Thank you again for taking him.”
“Mom, you don’t gotta thank me. It’s what a good son does.”
“Who said you was a good son?” snapped his father in his gravelly rasp as the wheelchair lift slowly rose him up the height of their stoop.
“Lorenzo, stop it,” Joelle reprimanded, “Tom, are you going to stay for lunch? I made a pot of pasta fazool.”
“You know what, Mom? Yeah, that sounds good. I don’t have to be up at South Street until around 3 or 4 anyway.”
As Lorenzo wheeled himself to the back of the house to stew in his own juices, Tom took a seat at the dining room table. Anyone in South Philly or the diaspora adorned their dining rooms with all kinds of decor other people might find tacky. Some littered the walls and hutches with proof of their love of Christ, bordering on performative. Others held family sacred in the pictures and knick-knacks.
For the Battaglias, the dining room was a shrine to Lorenzo’s career. Tom sat, and for the first time in years, he took notice of all the posters on the wall, the photos of his father triumphant in the middle of the ring, a replica of a title belt sitting on the credenza. After a few minutes, he noticed a pattern. The locations on the posters, his biggest matches in history, all had similar venues. The Spectrum. Nassau Coliseum. Boardwalk Hall. The furthest venue he had on display was in Pittsburgh, the Igloo, where he wrestled and defeated “Iron Hands” Dick Fleming for the centrally-placed title belt, the USWF Mid-Atlantic Heavyweight Championship. Not World, Mid-Atlantic. He never drew in New England. Never went west of Ohio or south of DC. People didn’t know him like the Windhams or Hornet or Dan Ryan.
The deep, chronic venom in his voice when talking about wrestling with, or more accurately at, his son made sense now. His dad was deeply unhappy. Hurt people hurt other people.
“Tommy, here’s your soup. I forget, do you take grated cheese in it, or is that Luigi?”
He was shaken out of his examination of the past of his father at Mom bringing him in his piping hot bowl.
“Oh, no, this is usually flavorful enough without it. But I would like some crushed red pepper.”
“Ey, Tommy, how long you think this promotional piece is gonna take?”
He didn’t have an answer. Calling a camera crew out for a video session usually meant you had a rough outline of what you were going to say in your mind. Tom couldn’t let on he was still processing all his thoughts together for how he would verbally attack the offensive machine that was Tyler Adrian Best.
“Oh, uh, maybe a couple of minutes, but you know we’ll have to do multiple takes, see which one has the best cadence. Usual.”
“So, an hour?”
Visiting South Street was uneventful but delightful as always. It took Tom’s mind off his dad long enough to drive home without the weighty cloud in his brain. He walked in the door, and Tam reminded him immediately.
“How was your father today? Grumpy as ever?”
He laughed under his breath before answering.
“Does a bear shit in the woods?”
Flopping on the couch for a brief respite before taking care of his familial culinary responsibilities, he flipped through his phone on the Jabber app, looking for all the people who kept triggering his erratic behavior.
Ivan Stanislav, inarguably more successful than his dad, but still a deep misery choked his soul, like weeds strangling the roots of prize azaleas. A communist in a capitalist world that has passed him by. Few people wanting to give him respect that he commanded from his days of dominance in OSW and PCW.
Eddie Cross, child crushed under the massive weight of an absentee father. Unable to find a foothold in PRIME despite the finest tutors in his corner. Trying to straddle two worlds while both consumed on either side.
Tony Gamble, Hall of Famer unable to gain any traction in his grand comeback. A gangster whose Cosa Nostra had only two members willing to listen to him. Easily lured into broom closets despite his best efforts.
They were all hurt people. Hurting other people. Deeply unhappy in their stock in life, letting that misery drive them to do evil, hurtful, or stupid things. That train of thought led him to examine something closer to home.
Was The Anglo Luchador that unhappy?
“Guapo! Glad you found the soundstage.”
El Guapo Grande kept his promise from that night back in San Luis Potosi and came up to convene with Tom.
“Sorry I called you here. And you really don’t mind watching the kids tonight? I know that’s a big ask, more for my wife than you…”
“Oh ho ho muchacho, I love niños. No worries at all.”
“Good. Because I’m going to have to ask a little too much of you again.”
Tom grabbed Guapo’s wrist and slapped a couple of Benjamins in his hand.
“I’m going to need you to go on a sandwich run for the crew when they get here.”
“Gringo hospitality? Or are you stalling for time?”
Tom gave a wry grin as he pulled up the PRIME YouTube channel on his phone. In the search bar, he swiped in his search term.
Tyler Adrian Best.
Thinking about his own happiness vexed him. Self-examination often required eyes further away than he could look himself. The hyperfixations made the view too murky. Those distractions could be deadly holding a sharp knife trying to cut potatoes in the kitchen. His self-reflection was unceremoniously but pleasantly interrupted.
Tom turned his head to see his younger son, Vinny, charge into the room with his Nintendo Switch. He placed the knife down onto his cutting board and turned all the way around. His son stopped a hair short of his dad’s face, shoving the viewscreen right up to his eyes.
“Look! I finally caught one! A shiny Pokémon! Cetoddle! The coolest looking one!”
His eyes lit up at how excited his son was at his catch. He felt an overwhelming warmth. The clouds started to lift a little.
“That’s so cool, kid. I’ll trade you a Skwovet for it.”
“No way! Skwovet sucks!” Vinny replied with laughter.
He ran back off into the living room to continue his Pokémon treasure hunt. Before dad could turn his attention back to potatoes, his wife walked in.
“Hey, don’t mean to interrupt, but did you make reservations at El Vez for Saturday after your promo thing?”
“Oh yeah,” Tom said as he was getting back to his upright position. “Anniversary dinner. Wouldn’t fumble that bag for the world.”
“What about the babysitter?”
“I got it. El Guapo is coming up and…”
“I’m still not sure about that. Remember last weekend for Temblor’s wedding? That Chick guy, when we got back, the only thing Zo talked about were SICK GAINZ and Vinny was drinking pre-workout.”
“Shh, don’t worry. Guapo is much less extra than Chick.”
“If this goes wrong, you’ll be on probation,” she said approaching him. “But I’m still looking forward to our date, handsome.”
“God, me too.”
She kissed him gently on the lips.
“I love you, babe.”
As his response of “I love you too” left his lips, the clouds parted even more. She melted the ice like she had ever since the day they met. When all the frost dripped away, the epiphany that his life outside the ring was, in a word, fantastic.
Tam slinked out of the kitchen, but Tom didn’t go back to cutting potatoes. His mind wandered back to the credenza at his parents’. The Mid-Atlantic Title. In his mind, it morphed into the A1E World Championship and then the Empire Pro Title. The top of the mountain, worldwide, sure. But he didn’t need either hand to count the times he defended either successfully, because those wins did not exist. Was he happy with a career that was merely good in ephemeral moments?
The feelings inside him were hard to process. If he retired today, he could come to grips with his career, but it would be a struggle. Did he do all that he could do? Did he win the PRIME Universal Championship and defend it? Being happy didn’t mean the same as being satisfied. He was still hungry, even at age 41, even with the young wolves beating down his door, be they temporary threats like Tyler or persistent hunters like FLAMBERGE. It finally came together in his head.
Wanting more doesn’t have to make you miserable.
He watched every minute of Tyler on camera in PRIME. Re-read every Jab. The blithe arrogance seeped out of every word like pus out of an infected scab. With each prod about “purple prose,” each dismissal of the legendary Timo Bolamba, the dismissal with which he talked about any obstacle at winning gold, absolutely denigrating Jared Sykes’ personal struggles, glibly burying Nate Colton and Anna Daniels, even his shabby treatment of Melvin Beauregard, a man who’d deserve shabby treatment from nearly anyone else on the roster except him, the body of what Tom would say came together in graphic detail.
Tyler Adrian Best was a deeply unhappy individual because to him, nothing was ever enough. When greed permeates a man’s soul that deeply, nothing he says can hurt anyone else unless they let it. That was where Tom found the perfect wrestling promo.
“Okay, I think we’ve waited long enough, Tom. You ready?”
The luchador, having just tied the last knot in the strings on the back of his mask, nodded. He took his spot on the stage, in front of the PRIME banner. The PA counted down from three… two… one…
Tom stood defiantly in front of the camera. Several beats passed, both Guapo and the production team looking upon him quizzically. Finally, he moved his right arm, fist pointing the sky. He squinted his eyes at the camera and pursed his lips. Finally, he made another movement.
It was the middle finger on his right hand pointing straight up in the air.
He left the one-fingered salute in the air for a good 30 seconds before the PA yelled “CUT! CUT!”
“What the hell was that? I thought you were cutting a promo!”
“That’s it. That’s my promo. It’s all I need to say to him. It’s all he deserves.”
“I can’t believe we came all the way up here for that,” the PA muttered under his breath. They broke down and left the soundstage. Guapo burst into fits of laughter at the luchador’s audacity, but it worked. For the first time in a few weeks, Tom felt a modicum of calm.