The Anglo Luchador
“I think you’re hiding quite a bit of fear behind that mask.”
Few people on the roster know, but Tom Battaglia and Brandon Youngblood have an unstated friendship built on cigars and brown liquor. They don’t talk shop. They don’t promise to sharpen each other the next time they meet in the ring. It’s all about chemical release. It’s perhaps the most innocent relationship either man has been in since the start of the ReVival. At their last exchange, Tom gave Brandon a box of Cubanos he picked up from his cigar guy in Mexico at LUCHA ESPECIAL 2. In return, Brandon gifted him a couple of stogies made by a reclusive artisan in Japan, soaked in Suntory, that Amy brought back from her last tour of Bang!
Tom sat on the concrete pad right outside his backdoor on an Adirondack chair, staring pensively at one of them. In front of him, a mound of dirt sat on the edge of the concrete pad. The landscapers had visited the house today. Although they’d been coming to his property to manicure a lawn that both homeowners were too busy to maintain, they had just gotten around to putting the finishing touches on what he specifically had requested for the backyard, a compromise with a wife who, though environmentally conscious, didn’t want the neighbors talking about weeds planted intentionally. Tom wanted a rain garden with natural ragweed, wildflowers, and other native plants to provide respite for butterflies and honeybees in the paradoxical desert of lush grasses that dominated the suburban residential landscape.
The dirt mound looked like a mountain in his periphery. Tom focused on it and shaped the loamy soil into a miniature version of the geological feature most likely to be used as a metaphor for his industry. He alternated looking at it and his cigar that he intended to enjoy, thinking mainly about the man who gave it to him, how he once again crested that metaphorical mountain. To the champion, winning the title is certainly not easy, but to the one at the base, getting to the top from afar looks simple. Hanlon already did it twice, and he’s a baby compared to the other old souls who’ve held it. The Best kid? He’s even younger.
Time moves forward only. Either you move with it, or it moves you like a gale off the north face, unable to control where you land. One day, you’re the only singles champion in PRIME who hasn’t already lost his title, ranked number one in the company. The next, the young bulls of the company are all racing past you up the mountain, chasing the crest for themselves, destroying the footfalls as they rise, making following them nearly impossible.
Even in the short time between formation and that specific second, time had started to do a number on that mini-peak. The late spring breeze eroded the peak by carrying loosely packed dirt down the face, scattering on the concrete pad. That same breeze took the aroma wafting from the cigar, with its hints of the bright notes of ginger and apple that came with Suntory Toki. The contrast it held with the natural richness of the tobacco created an oddly satisfying smell that he wished to savor before lighting the initial cherry. There was beauty in beholding the stogie as it was, the final vision of a master craftsman.
But the craftsman didn’t just want the people lucky enough to gain possession of his wares to behold them. He wanted them to smoke those cigars.
Bodies litter the foot of the mountain, but not all of them are those who failed early. Take Caesar Vega, for example. Nova is one of PRIME’s most respected wrestlers for sure, but one would have to have blinders on to see how he’s struggled out of the blocks. A win over Youngblood marks his resume surrounded by crushing defeats. Cancer Jiles, twice. The Winds of Change. Randall Knox. FLAMBERGE. Paxton Ray. Ivan Stanislav. The Nova of old wouldn’t have lost all those matches. The Nova who stood beside Jason Snow as a member of FUCK YOU, an EQUAL, would have crushed them under his heel.
Tom counted Nova as a friend; don’t get it twisted. He didn’t look upon his run in PRIME with derision as some might. Instead, there was melancholy, not for Caes, but for himself. For all the strife Nova endured since returning, he still made it to the top of the mountain. He crested the peak and saw the world from such great heights. Perhaps that’s why his outlook remained measured at worst and optimistic at best. He didn’t have to wonder how he’d get to the top from a lawn chair in the back of his home like a certain Luchador was doing at that moment.
Said Luchador, however? If you wanted to be pedantic about things, yeah, he got to the top of the mountain before, but his stays always had a hollow feeling to them, due to the circumstances or the fact he never defended a title successfully. That was the biggest difference.
The thing about the past is no one gives a fuck about it unless it fits a narrative. A1E, ha, the people in charge of that Canadian shithole didn’t even care enough about it to keep the tapes from the incinerator. People around the scene still speak of Empire Pro with a hushed reverence to this day, but even if it was still active, would they have thought enough about The Anglo Luchador to put him in their Hall of Fame now? Nova made it. He’s only back now to search for replay value, a salve for a life of regret, maybe, but if he retired today, people would still adore him and respect his accomplishments.
Whether or not people would give the same regard to The Anglo Luchador is up for debate, but in Tom’s mind, they sure wouldn’t. PRIME was a different mountain. It was… no, it is Everest. He meant every single word he said to Angie Brooks on that podcast. The burning desire to climb it even with each setback, each malicious competitor shoving him off ledges, consumed him more than anything else in his life. To see people glide up easily did not trigger anger.
It was another emotion.
Rocky de Leon has already shown flashes of being able to soar to the top of the mountain, at least that’s what Tom thought. Legends of his consumption of indigenous hallucinogens filtered through the PRIME locker room. Some thought they were tall tales meant to build a legend before it was able to be crafted in the ring. Tom knew otherwise. Native drug use has almost always been exploratory, mind-expanding. He respected it even if his own history with hallucinogens was, well, checkered.
Whether those stories were true, the spirit trip, the visit to the lucha elder, it was irrelevant. Rocky showed great potential. It didn’t always equal results, but all it took was one signature win to get people to notice, right? He was hungry, athletic, not jaded to the industry yet, but most importantly, he was unpredictable. All of these keys once were fastened to the Luchador’s ring in a time that felt as eldritch and foreign as it was distant. Another stream of rumors from the office said they gave Rocky this match as punishment for some arcane crime against mores and traditions.
But for whom was the punishment really intended?
The thought lingered in his head like a stale fart. It was a trap. Rocky was a rising star with athleticism and promise that could reach the caliber of TAB and FLAMBERGE, and the sheer fact that most wrestlers he’d defeated one-on-one were gone from the company: Redding, Johnny, Royko, Tact, Mephisto. No matter how many pep talks he’d gotten from his peers or visions of revelatory self-discovery he himself had, the worst times in his mind always found fuel in the cold hard stats. There was always an insidious fear hanging in the air around him.
Fear of being left in the rubble at the foot of the mountain.
Yeah, fear of legacy. He didn’t fear death or dismemberment or bankruptcy. He always feared the bullshit abstract. Things he couldn’t control. What others saw in him. That was one place where Tom was always weakest. Luckily for him the concussions were never severe, and he regained mobility in his back after a year of rehab and pain meds. But all you had to do to get inside his head was to tell him people might not remember him in five, ten, 30 years. Need I remind you that the reason his mind compelled him to get back into wrestling in the first place was a rube on social media sniping at a gif of him performing an old finisher.
The “you” in most cases were a nebulous chorus of voices imagined from peers and enemies alike, and that song rose loudest during deep slumps. It didn’t help that Arthur Pleasant seemed to creep around every corner and propel needles directly into his brain or that the wily Fully-Dicked Pterodactyl was lurking around the corner, looking to take down someone he looked up to. Tom wasn’t stupid. He noticed how Rocky took to him even if he rarely approached past casual hellos or idle chatter. The walls closed in.
As the claustrophobia grew in his brain, his gaze fixated on the cigar even more, less as an implement of pleasurable release through chemical assistance and more as a totem, or, more accurately, as a treasure chest, one that suddenly had terms and conditions attached to its enjoyment. Only closers deserved coffee, and only victors got to puff on cigars. He thought back to Youngblood’s triumph, how victory even over the hardest opponents always seemed to follow him, no matter what setback he’d have suffered, how easily he shook off adversity, how completely he was able to mete out justice to those who came back to receive it. His posture sunk lower in his chair as he squeezed his eyes closed.
The tears were almost always borne out of frustration these days.
The sliding door crashed with a thud as Vinny threw it open to tell his dad something urgent. He stopped dead in his tracks seeing his father leaking from his eyes, vulnerable for no reason he could think of.
“Dad! Why are you sad?”
Vinny was always this direct with his father, well, with everyone. It was part of his charm. Tom sat up.
“Oh, kid, you wouldn’t understand. It’s grown-up stuff.”
“That never stopped you before,” he said plopping on the chair next to his father. “Besides, you always tell me it’s good to talk about stuff.”
He sighed, hoisted by his own petard. Vinny had gotten to the age where “because I said so” wasn’t even a good stall tactic anymore.
“I’m just, well…”
He trailed off. Vinny didn’t reply, but his eyes grew more fixated on what his father would say in response. Tom shot his son a look that said “do you mind?” without uttering those words before he continued.
“I’m just really bummed out about my career right now.”
Vinny looked at him quizzically.
“Why? You haven’t wrestled in a month! I mean, Uncle Nate lost a big title on the last show, and when I was texting with him, he just kept saying ‘it’s okay, just onto the next challenge.’”
“You didn’t hear me, I said…”
“No, no, you’re texting with Nate?”
“Ahem, he’s Uncle Nate! And he’s my second favorite uncle after Uncle Mikey. Of course I’m texting him!”
Tom began to regret getting Vinny his own phone for Christmas.
“I mean, Uncle Nate has been kickin’ ass lately. Maybe he’s onto something? I dunno. You’re still my favorite wrestler, dad.”
Tom placed the cigar on the endtable next to his chair and got up to hug his son.
“I love you, kid.”
“I love you too, dad.”
Tom leaned back and grew a quizzical look of his own on his face.
“What did you run out here to tell me?”
Vinny’s face went blank.
“Uh, um, I forget.”
Vinny turned tail and ran back into the house. As Tom arose from his seat to shut the sliding door his son haphazardly left open, the gravity of what Vincenzo said to him started to weigh on his brain. He looked over his shoulder at the cigar. Moving onto the next challenge sounded easy enough. Nate Colton didn’t have the years on him that Tom did, but it’s not like he didn’t see upfront how the wrestling business could grind a man into submission. His father Jake, much like his own father, was more a regional hero than a national one. Yet the whole family had this attitude.
The past was the past, and Tom promised to stop trading in it to his wife that night before Culture Shock. It wasn’t the past that scared him though. Being knocked off the mountain didn’t hurt anymore. The future though, having to make the climb again, with the aches and the weariness in the muscles and the fear of one misstep erasing miles of progress.
But then he thought about his cigar buddy again, about the Shotgun and GREAT SCOTT, Anna Daniels and that Big Stupid Hat. He didn’t just snap a finger and get back into position to win the big one again. He outlasted everyone except the winner and runner-up in the Murder Rumble, the most grueling and competitive match of The ReVival. He and Sykes went toe-to-toe with the then-Universal and Five Star Champions. If anyone in the fed knows the value of a countout victory, it’s the man who used his guile and cunning to outsmart a monster at Culture Shock in ‘22. But that journey started with a single step, which was a single footfall on the throat of Tony Gamble.
Granted, having to make Rocky De Leon a footfall on his climb back up the mountain wasn’t the first choice Tom would have made. Game does recognize game, after all. Rocky always showed deference and honor to lucha libre traditions. He didn’t pay Tom’s dues, but the Luchador is not a gatekeeper. Had it not been for luchadores like Pedro at his school or Guapo recently, who knows where he’d have gotten to in his career or life. Everyone needs tough love every once in awhile, anyway. There were no hard feelings. Hell, Tom’s ultimate dream was a PRIME, nay, a wrestling world where guys, gals, and non-binary pals got into the ring and engaged in friendly combat without malice. But even in those contests, there were winners and losers. Those whose climbs continued unabated, and those who fell down the rocky face, needing to restart their journeys.
Arthur Pleasant talked a lot about fear, and his words jabbed into the Luchador’s side because they were true. But fear itself isn’t bad; it’s just an evolutionary survival mechanism. It’s how one reacts to fear is how destructive an emotion it can be. You can turtle in the face of what can go wrong, or you can stare up at the rocky incline and steel yourself to whatever result comes from the climb. The only thing you can do is put your hand on the bump on the wall, steady your foot on the ledge, and look for the next place to catch your breath.
ReVival 28 was a little over a week away though. He had time to assess the situation on the whole. But as he wiped the tear from his eye, the last tear he’d ever shed over this fucking business, he thought to himself, he realized that he couldn’t keep wallowing, couldn’t keep maintaining a cycle of self-pity and revelation, only to throw the revelation away like it meant nothing.
He looked upon the pile of dirt he created and decided that the first step in his journey would be symbolic.
He tamped his foot atop the peak of the mountain he had created. With it, he saw a vision in his head, one where he would stand on top of a much steeper cliff, looking down, not at the other climbers, but at the view, breathtaking and majestic, the spoils for a career well-wrestled. It was not guaranteed to him, but he knew he had it in him for one last run, one to start at ReVival 28. Until then, he had a friend who was kind enough to share a gift his best gal brought back with her from Japan, a friend who showed him the way forward and upward, and it would’ve been rude not to indulge in it. He pulled the Zippo from his pocket and lit the cherry.
The first drag was sweet and satisfying.
(In Tepetl is Nahuatl for “The Mountain”)