“Honey, I’m home!”
I laugh at Rosie’s declaration the second we step through the faded, familiar door of TC’s Pub. Partly because she’s right – this building was her home in more ways than one for a few years there, and partly because there’s only two people in the room.
She’s silly for her own amusement, not to pop anyone else.
I turn my head and kiss her, squeezing her tight, as she goes left and I go right. Left is the bar, where her handpicked manager Becca was doing what I assume is inventory. Right is the stage, where a table, two chairs, and some recording equipment have been set up.
Good morning, I said, walking towards Brian McGinnis, hand out. He shakes, and pats me on the shoulder.
“Glad you were free,” he says, gesturing to the chairs. “I’ve got a decent sound editor but this is still the best acoustic spot in the room. Ironically, the alley would have worked even better if we didn’t need to worry about ambient noise.”
Not being a tech guy, I just nod. Brian was once a hot prospect as a risk taking high flier, but injury and a growing family ended his career less than a year before it started. I’m glad he’s been able to find ways to keep himself involved, even if just as a hobby.
“So I’ll do my quick intro, and bring you in. We didn’t get a whole lot of questions but it’s a decent number with only one day’s notice. Cool? And obviously anything from the bar is on the house.”
I figured, I said, laughing and taking my seat.
After all, his sister co-owns the place and my partner kept things running smoothly for half a decade.
We sit, and I instinctively clasp my hands and begin to roll my wrists, like I do before…
“Hello, podcast listeners, and welcome back to The Art of Self – Destruction, where we do our best to get into the mind of the professional athlete who just came up short in a championship or other high profile opportunity. As always, I’m your host Brian McGinnis, and it’s my honor to be sitting here with three time former World Champion and personal friend, just off a tough loss to PRIME Universal Champion Brandon Youngblood…”
…Like I do before a fight.
‘Revolution’ by SIRSY starts to play, and I almost correct him on his choice of music, but I don’t. Maybe there’s something I need to focus on to right this ship.
“…On a collision course with PRIME Hall of Famer Nova at ReViVal 12, may I introduce Randall Knox, better known as IMPULSE.”
Thanks, I said. Great to be here.
But I’m not really here, am I? I’m two thousand miles away and fourteen years ago…
I didn’t know anything about PRIME at the time, or the PTC Coalition, or about a large majority of professional wrestling. That’s not unusual; the saturation of this sport for the past thirty, forty years into our consciousness pretty much guarantees you only have enough hours in the day for so much of it.
So I’m sure Nova will forgive me for assuming that his victory in Ultratitle Season 2 and World Title win over Dan Ryan () was the peak of his career to that point. It had always been an interesting bit of trivia to me that you and I both had our career – defining moments on the same night, in dramatically different ways.
Forty Five minutes with the Champion saw you walk out with the gold, while a hundred and eighteen minutes in the JTP Invitational left me empty handed… still searching for my first professional victory, and still trying to prove that I belonged.
I didn’t realize, for months, that the moniker ‘The Marathon Man’ would become more significant to my career than any match, opponent, or accolade earned inside the ring. Still things come full circle, and when we last interacted – my holding that same World Title and you and Jack Harmen setting the world on fire as the SupaFly Express, I didn’t expect either of us to see each other again.
That’s one of the reasons why I said what I said during the Almasy Invitational – that my perfect bracket would have seen me defeating Brandon Youngblood in the semi – finals, and then you, Nova, in the finals. Not only would I feel like I’d earned the Universal Championship by overcoming two pillars of the company’s past, but I would have had a chance to wrestle one of the few athletes from my early career, still relevant on the other end of it, that I’d never wrestled before.
Obviously, things didn’t work out quite the way I’d hoped. Jiles managed to sneak past you and my own experiences with the other PRIME legend left me… Let’s say… underwhelmed.
So here we are, set to face off for the first time ever – and I’m so eager for this one to get started that I can barely sit still. I’m a little surprised that LT’s booked this bad boy for the semi – main of the television show, in my opinion, not giving it the attention it’s earned, but that’s not my decision to make.
And it’s a strange situation to be in, seeing as we’re both in the afternoon of our respective careers, we’re both multiple time World Champions in multiple companies, and will probably be remembered for our contributions to the sport for at least a few years after we call it quits for good.
But I still somehow view this match as being one between an upstart kid with something to prove, and a legend who’s done it all.
Maybe seeing Hayes Hanlon stop short of treating you like his own personal Bobby Rayburn drives it home for me: we always look up to those who came before us. At least until we’re given a reason to stop.
Maybe I’m just a little bit envious of the way you’re able to relax in the afternoon, while I feel an almost obsessive need to continue moving forward towards sunset.
“So that’s all it took,” asks Brian. “Lindsay Troy sends a contract your way and you decide to end your four year exile from the sport? Seems awfully convenient.”
I shrug. It’s hardly convenient to relocate from New Orleans to Las Vegas, especially for a revival of something that so many people were so loyal to. I guess it’s similar to the way there’s a line out the door to help out every time the smallest press release comes outta Greensboro… nostalgia done right is more powerful than innovation.
But I knew LT from the old days, even if it was mainly just in passing. Rosie knew her and liked her and she was really pushing to change up our routine and do something magickal again. It was on the strength of LT’s vision and Rosie’s enthusiasm. With corporate sponsorship I figured it’d at least survive the tournament and if nothing else, get rid of the professional itch I’d started to feel again.
He nods his understanding, and he leans forward. “Culture shock?” he asks.
Hah, I said. We went from a damp decadent city with six bars on every corner to a dry decadent city with six bars on every corner. The shock was being in a locker room again, not as a trainer but as someone who was actively competing with the others at the arena. And of the thirty one people on the roster on the day, I’d only previously met two: Nova, ironically – and Rezin, who I faced off with – once – over a decade ago when we were definitely completely different people.
“And it didn’t just last through the tournament. With two successful pay per views under its belt, a pro wrestling collective in the works, and rumors of a national tour, the PRIME revival looks to be at least as strong as other revivals in the past few years – High Octane Wrestling is the most prominent example. But you had your Universal Title shot at the Great American Nightmare and came up short – not just short, but you left that match with a pretty serious injury. Can you put is into your headspace? So to speak.”
Decent dad-joke from the father of four, Rosie even played a rimshot on the bar from across the room in response.
I don’t ever want to downplay a head injury, I said, but the docs post – show told me that I was as lucky as a concussion recipient can ever expect to be with the severity and symptoms. I don’t remember much of anything from the last ninety seconds or so of that one, but obviously the miracle of video showed me how things ended. It was another hard fought match, and I don’t think I’m speaking out of turn when I say that Brandon was pretty lucky to have left the arena with the belt. Just like I would’ve been if the reverse had been true.
“Rumors of an off – camera blowup notwithstanding, of course,” he said.
Telephone, telegraph, tell miss Ivy. The number of people who have heard about the Jabber argument has turned into the stuff of legend. And it’s been exaggerated past the point of credibility.
Water off a duck’s back, I corrected him. I can respect his accomplishments as a wrestler while pointing out the absolute fact that he’s been on a steady diet of Impulse and Cancer for more than a fiscal quarter and, if nothing else, Phil Atken taking the title at ReV 13 assures something new in the Universal Title picture.
“So you’re not against the current Champion, then,” asks Brian. I can tell he wants to move on, but he doesn’t like leaving threads.
Not as an idea, I clarified. I can understand the frustration of working to win the big one for years and then suddenly having it in your hands, and the instinct to suddenly start to believe your own press and cop an attitude. But it’s a dangerous thing in this sport when the only thing standing between a winner and a loser is a three count – something anyone’s capable of taking on any given night.
“Which leads us to the next phase of your PRIME career, post – Universal – contendership. Nova is your first opponent after what Youngblood referred to as his ‘Unfinished Business’ tour ended with you at Great American Nightmare. As another PRIME Hall of Famer, do you expect the same sort of attitude-”
No, I said, cutting him off. And there’s no reason to think that he’d have one.
What I want to be in my career, Nova, is you.
Not the Eagle Star, or the King of Hallucination Nation, or the other superlatives dumped on you during your run.
But the Hall of Famer. The Legend. The athlete who doesn’t sweat the little things because he’s already proven himself a dozen times over.
Let’s face it, there’s only consequences for one of us in this match. I lose, that’s two in a row to high profile opponents. That’s a sudden questioning of, did I ever belong in that Universal Championship match to begin with?
I do not deserve the Universe.
You’ve lost already. Against Jiles. You and Johnny didn’t win the Tag Team belts. You and Johnny didn’t win the number one contendership.
But nothing changes. You’re already in Cooperstown.
Maybe it’s different from your perspective, but I’ve felt like my career has been under a microscope since the first day I stepped between the ropes. Expected to fail. Disregarded as a fluke when I didn’t and held up as an ‘I told you so’ when I did.
Do you ever feel that way, Nova?
Were you trained by a legend whose name seems to be invoked at every failure? Like your opponent defeated that legend instead of you? Are you held to a standard you never asked for, just because your previous actions could have aligned to that standard?
Or are you as cool and unaffected underneath the surface as you appear?
I hope so. Hashtag career goals.
It’s an old idea, I said. Everyone in the world, there’s always an Event Horizon that you cross where your memories start becoming more important than your goals. We don’t realize it, of course, but at some point you start focusing less on what you want to do and more on what you’ve already done.
I could be wrong, of course, I continue, but I feel like Nova is there. I’m not.
“You’re thirty six years old,” says Brian. “How much more do you feel you have to prove?”
That’s a loaded question, I respond, I don’t need to have sixty World Titles on my wall to feel like I accomplished something, or a framed collection of massive payoffs to prove how much money I might’ve drawn. I’ve proven I can make it to the top, but I’ve never had the opportunity to prove I can stay there.
“Is that the only thing?”
Maybe, I said, truthfully shrugging my shoulders. Maybe all I need is one chance to steer the ship to either prove I can or prove I can’t. Right now it’s an opportunity I don’t want. The timing is wrong, the players are wrong, and it’s long past when we should be seeing more athletes take a swing. It’s like what I was trying to explain to Rezin when I was clearly gatekeeping him – this is the land of Devo, P-Funk, and the Ramones. Everyone is welcome, everyone should be able to take a turn.
“You either die a hero or live long enough to be Cancer Jiles,” says Brian, and we both laugh at the statement – slash – turn of a phrase.
Exactly, I said. Except that I’m not a hero and never claimed to be.
Where does this leave us, Nova? Second from the top in the middle of a cycle. Makes me wonder what could’ve been if I was medically able to wrestle at ReViVal 11, would this match have happened there? Would we have different opponents and continued on our respective careers without ever having locked up?
What – ifs could kill a man, Nova, and as much as I try to avoid them, I always seem to end up waist deep in a pit of ‘em.
Imagine how free I could be if I could just let go.
But I can’t.
I always wonder if my path is the one I should be on. How does it affect me? How does it affect Rose? How does it affect the world around me?
I’m a man of principles. My experience is that they often line up with what professional wrestling fans would call ‘heroic.’ Sometimes they don’t, and I still stick by them. To do otherwise would be hypocrisy.
Been cheered for it. Been booed for it.
Never been given a pass for anything just because they were so excited to see me perform. And I don’t think I should. I don’t think anyone should.
But you do. And I don’t begrudge it.
Hashtag life goals, remember?
And that puts me in a precarious position. I’ve come off a match with PRIME Legend Brandon Youngblood who lied on me and kept the fans in his pocket. I’m coming into a match with PRIME Legend Nova who’s coming off a run of Tag Team Survivor shenanigans and some tough losses, to boot.
I win, is it a moment of triumph for me where I get myself back on the right path and keep myself moving toward my long term goals of immortality? Or am I reviled as the man who dared kick a legend when he’s down?
I lose, am I too far gone to take on an aging veteran and immediately get dropped into the cellar where I’m already too old to start from zero? Or am I a wily veteran who was outfoxed by an even wilier veteran, losing nothing in the process?
I’ve made the girl love me so many times without having the chance to prove I love the girl, I don’t trust making it past the Worst Case Scenarios.
Maybe that’s my problem, Nova. I don’t have any trust.
There’s no fate but what I make for myself. Old Nova might understand that, if he hadn’t been erased from history.
“So you have no problem with being booed by the fans,” asks Brian.
Not sure I’d categorize it quite like that, I replied, but if doing what I think is right makes them turn on me? Wouldn’t it be worse to say ‘my Rules of Engagement are negotiable depending on your reaction to them?’ To me that’s worse than having selfish ethics – that’s called having no ethics.
“And do you expect the fans to be against you at ReViVal 12 against Nova?”
I expect the fans to be interested in a good, competitive, exciting wrestling match. I don’t see either of us doing anything strong enough to turn them against either of us. Now, if I can hit the kick and score the three, I wouldn’t hold any boos against them. Just like I don’t expect Nova would do the same if anyone boos his pinning me for the victory. But I don’t expect to hear any of that. Perks of being a legend.
Brian nods, looking through his notes. “Just one more at the moment,” he says. “A year from now, assuming PRIME is still going and you’re a part of it, where do you expect to be?”
Easy, I said. Give me one of the kids. Give me your Ria Nightshades, your Hayes Hanlons, your Flamberges – give me someone not even in this company today with rising stock and something to prove to themselves, and give ‘em to me for three, six months. I love seeing that moment in a wrestler’s young career when all of a sudden, they get it. And everything falls into place. That’s the one thing I immediately miss about BRAZEN, not being there with the kids.
“Interesting,” says Brian. “And the Universal Title?”
If I’m ever able to get another shot, I said, I’ll make the most of it just like I do everything else. I’m a realist, I assume I’ll be in the position to earn one again. Will things turn out differently?
There’s that ‘what if’ again.
Where do we go from here?
My path had been pretty well set from my first day as a PRIME athlete. Wrestle in this tournament to win the UNIVERSAL Title. The moment I lost that opportunity, I was suddenly the number one contender.
We know how that ended up.
For the first time in seven months, there’s nothing in my sights but possibilities. That includes the prospect of continuing a downward slide.
It’s strange to think of wrestling a legend like you as a demotion, Nova, but anything after the Universe would be considered the same.
But I’m not going to go away that easily.
There’s nothing in my sights but possibilities, which includes stopping the bleeding right here and reestablishing myself where I think I belong – near the top of this company.
And maybe I’m overstating myself. But it’s my own point of view.
I’m coming for you, Nova – because I want this to be the fight of your career. I’m not so arrogant as to think that I’ll be the hardest opponent you’ve ever faced, but I can’t go into any match against any opponent without that state of mind.
This will be the hardest fought victory you will ever have to earn.
It’s all good, though. Win or lose, victory or defeat, you’ll never lose the label that matters most of all.
I’m not a hero, and never claimed that label. But this match will be one more step on my road to becoming a legend.
Not you, of course.
You already are.