Private: Buster Gloves
“I need to explain to you why I joined PRIME.” Says the muscular bald man to his adolescent children. “This is something I have to do for ME.”
His kids, hungrier than a pack of desert wolves, barely look up from their plates. Half-price apps at Applebee’s after 9 and Dad is picking up the bill.
“I know I’ve asked a lot of you already, but if you just put your faith in me, I promise you that I won’t disappoint you. You must have questions. That’s why we’re here. Because I wanted to give you a chance to share your thoughts about me going to work for a new wrestling company.” Buster was incredibly anxious about the situation. It had been bothering him for a while. He had already signed a contract, but it was important to him that the people closest to the situation approved of the decision.
Buster’s kids, Dalton (14) and Swayze (12), who he lovingly called Dally and Sway, are both going to a new school in the fall. Seventh and ninth grade. Their mother used to call them ‘Irish Twins’, kids that were born less than 12 months apart, even though they were closer to 18 months apart. She had a lot of funny sayings like that. A great sense of humor, up until the end, when the cancer took her away. Not much laughter after that. The broken family of three had recently moved to Vero Beach, Florida, where Buster teaches submission wrestling to upcoming stars in the business. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to be more specific. It’s Buster’s forte, and he has a black belt to prove it. In fact, Buster spent most of his twenties competing as an MMA fighter, representing the United States Army. But those days are long gone. Professional wrestling is his life now. He’s good at it, but he’s still relatively unknown. A lone wolf. But you know what they say about the leader of the pack. They’re never the loudest.
“Yeh, I have a question.” Says Dalton as he takes down the last mozzarella stick. “What was wrong with the last company you worked for? I thought you liked it there?”
“It’s hard to explain, but the other fed is just missing something. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really grateful for the opportunity they gave me. They changed our lives. Gave us financial security. Helped me get my start. But I feel like I’ve outgrown the place a little. Know what I mean?”
“No, not really. I think it’s just about the money. Isn’t it?”
“That’s not it, at all. Yeh, the pay is a little better, but I won’t be working as much. It’s just that their shows are… bigger. Better production quality. Bigger audiences. A chance to really get my name out there. Maybe pick up some sponsorships or endorsement deals. And I can still work some appearances at the other fed. It’s not an exclusive contract. Look guys, I’m 34 years old. I should be at the top of my game by now. But I haven’t been in this industry long enough to be taken seriously. I’m way behind where I should be, and the clock is ticking. There’s only so many years you can be in a physical occupation before your body gives up on you and you can’t do it anymore. If I do this for a while, I should be able to earn enough money to pay for college… for the both of you.”
“I don’t know Dad. Not sure Dally is college material.” Says the younger brother with a smirk as he powers through his third glass of sweet tea.
“I just want you two to have a better life than I did. And if I have to get beat up a few times a month to make that happen, I’m willing to do it. It’s weird, I don’t mind getting beat up. I’ve always been able to take a lot of abuse. Getting knocked around, being sore, and coming back for more. Makes me feel like I can beat anything.”
The younger brother speaks up. “Be careful Dad. We thought Mom was invincible too.”
The comment injures Buster and throws him off track. He remembers when he was holding his newborn son, his second boy, and his wife told him about her cancer. He remembers her being so optimistic about beating it. He remembers the treatments. He remembers fighting in the cage as often as he was allowed to, just to pay for medical bills. Those days were hard. Inconsistent training. Pretending to be ok. Hiding injuries so that promoters would still allow him to fight. He was holding her hand when she died. And he sees her face whenever he looks at the two young men in front of him.
Buster pushes a couple cuts of his Bourbon Street Steak around his plate, choosing his words carefully. “I want you two to know that I’m doing this for the right reasons. I don’t care about being a champion. I don’t need to get rich. I just want people to respect my body of work. And I want you guys to be proud of me.”
The older brother picks food out of his braces with his pointer finger. “We’re proud of you.” The younger brother nods in agreement.
Buster doesn’t believe them. He still remembers the embarrassing knockouts at the end of his MMA career. He remembers his brothers in arms who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. He remembers how, for a while, he chose Oxycontin, over being a good father. There was a period of his life where he wanted to die. Consumed by addiction, PTSD, and debt. The boys were there with him throughout the whole process. They were probably too young to remember, or naïve to realize that not every family goes through these kinds of problems, but Buster still feels ashamed about what an awful person he was when they were young.
“I’m gonna do something meaningful at PRIME. They might bury me in the undercard. They might kick my ass every time I go out there. But I’m gonna do things the right way. I’m relentless. I don’t quit. And I I’m hungry. We need this.” Buster drives home this point. He kids are still apathetic about the situation.
“If you say so. Hey Dad. Does this mean we can get new cell phones now? My friends make fun of me because I have an iPhone 5.” The older boy says as he seeks to capitalize on the situation.
Buster is eager to oblige as a way to repay them for the sins of his past. “Yeh. Sure. We can get you guys new phones. And what about you, Thing 2. Do you have any special requests?”
Dalton pops. Swayze shoots an annoyed look at him and then his father about the nickname. He responds immediately. “I want a PS5. If you really do feel bad about before, you’ll get me one and whatever games I want. I don’t give a crap who you wrestle.”
Buster tries to work out of logistics of that in his head. “That can be arranged. So, boys, do we have a deal?
Dalton shrugs. “Fine by me.”
Swayze negotiates. “PS5 or nothing.”
“Alright, it’s a deal then.” Buster raise a hand and scans the room. He shouts at nobody in particular. “Waitress! 3 more sweet teas and a chocolate volcano, three spoons!”
“The most important thing to learn in jiu-jitsu is what your body is capable of doing. You need to know what your limits are. You need to be sure when you’re safe and when you’re in trouble.”
Buster paces the mats of the Champions Advantage Performance Center. He’s been the Head Submissions Coach here for about 4 months, teaching dozens of students and providing private lessons for countless other athletes. Today is much like a typical Monday. Morning class at 10am. Cardio at 1pm. Evening class at 7pm.
“In jiu-jitsu, you always keep working. For a better position. For points. For a finish. But nothing is more important than knowing when you are working from a point of safety. It doesn’t matter if you’re on top, or the bottom, or somewhere in between. If you’re reckless, you’re going to get caught.”
This coaching position meant a lot to Buster. It represented a change in his life. No longer will he be distracted by the pains of running a business. He’s able to just focus on the grappling. It gives him peace of mind.
“If you only remember one thing today, make sure it’s this. Keep… your elbows… in. If you’re in a roll, and you get your elbows out like a scarecrow, you’re gonna get caught. Someone’s gonna get their underhooks, they’re going to pass, they’re going to rip your arm off. KEEP… YOUR ELBOWS… IN. Be a T-Rex, not a Pterodactyl. You know what a Pterodactyl is, right? He’s that bird-looking dinosaur with the stupid wings and beak. He’s an asshole. Pterodactyls get eaten for dinner. Be the T-Rex. Short arms. Elbows in. Work small. Work strong. Stay safe. Got it?”
Buster’s been training on his own, preparing for his first match in PRIME. His submissions are elite level, and his striking game is solid, so he’s been working on his defense with the wrestling coaches. Takedown defense. Aerial defense. Power and positioning. He makes up in smarts, what he lacks in speed. Always methodical in the ring, and a pleasure for the experienced grappler to watch.
“Whenever you work, work from the inside. Control the wrist, inside the elbow, inside the collar, inside the body. If you aren’t working inside, you’re losing. So, let’s look at the most basic escape in jiu-jitsu; the shrimp escape. From the bottom, you keep your elbows in, you turn your hips toward your opponent, you drop your elbow in between, you create space, you scoot your butt out and you push. You escape. Not because you’re so good at popping your butt out. You escaped because you kept your elbows in. You stayed safe. You worked from the inside.”
Buster has made so many mistakes in his life. Every mistake. But making mistakes is the best way to gain a meaningful amount of wisdom. You have to get lost to learn the way. Think of anyone at the top of their craft. Guaranteed, they screwed up thousands of times. Intelligence… is about knowing what you know. Wisdom is about knowing what you DON’T know.
“I want each of you to partner up, practice the shrimp escape from side control. Do that until you’ve got it, then switch with your partner. Go ahead and get started. Oss!”
Teaching is a rewarding experience. It helps you reflect on what you’re doing in your own life. It gives you hope. There’s satisfaction in knowing that some bit of coaching you give will, someday, be used to prevent someone else from making the same mistake. Buster still remembers what it was like as a teenage boy living with a single mother, trying to figure out how to be a man, without having one around to show him. He made so many mistakes back then. So many regrets. There was so much to forget. A mentor could have guided him through that time. Young Buster could have achieved so much more, and at an earlier age. Maybe he would be a happier person? Maybe he would be more trusting? He wasn’t given that choice. But he can give that choice to his students. He can share his knowledge with them.
The class goes on for another hour. Thirty minutes of warm-up. Thirty minutes of instruction. Thirty minutes of sparring. More than thirty minutes of anything will turn your brain to mush. The shrimp escape technique is just the appetizer. They also cover the mechanic slide, the ghost escape, and the anaconda choke. Finally, the clock buzzer goes off and the session is a wrap.
The road ahead will be challenging for Buster. He’s starting at the bottom of the card and there’s an ocean of sharks on the roster looking for an easy meal. The competition level at PRIME is insanely high. He needs to put his head down and get to work. He needs to how the roster he can deliver on his promises. Being in the opening match is an amazing opportunity. He gets to set the tone for the rest of the night. His opponent has been struggling in the ring lately and is desperate for a win. If Buster sticks to fundamentals, he should be able to perform well. Of course, Buster had been studying Mortimer Kjedelig, his opponent at Revival 12. He’s been sparring with wrestlers of similar size and style. He’s been working on counters to the Mortimer’s signature moves. His plan is to focus on the things that he CAN control and let the rest take care of itself.
As the students bump fists and leave their coach behind, Buster contemplates the future. The first step towards salvation is always the most difficult. Buster does the little things. Scrubs the mats. Takes out the trash. Turns off the lights. He gives once last salute to the logo on the wall and steps out the door.
THE TWO WOLVES
How many times have you seen a new wrestler show up, talk a big game, and fail? They wash out. They call it quits. They evaporate. It happens a lot. They say they kick ass, that they’re the ace, they’re the future. This is NOT that promo.
I see a lot of big cats on this roster. Fierce and robust. And it’s true, that the tigers and the lions of the world are more powerful, more exciting. With their beautiful strong bodies and fearsome roars. But the wolf is the wiser animal. Through cunning and strategy, it fulfills its destiny. The tigers and lions get all the attention, but the wolf doesn’t even perform in the circus.
I’m not special. Wasn’t born with superhuman strength or good looks. Didn’t come from money. I’m no more significant than anyone else. I put my boots on in the morning. I take my kids to school. I cut my grass. I pay my taxes. But I HAVE seen how far deep the rabbit whole goes. I’ve hit bottom and know how bad things can get there. It makes you appreciate every day you get in this business. You’re only one botched move away from ending your entire career, and if you aren’t wrestling every match like it’s your last, then you’re doing yourself a huge disservice. You don’t want to look back on this time of your life, when your grandkids are too cool to hang out with you and wish you had done more. You have one chance to do this thing right. What are you doing with it?
Mortimer Kjedelig. A name that’s clearly been generated by some crappy website algorithm. He sounds like an NPC. One of the random townspeople you kill by accident with your horse. The name isn’t fooling anybody, Morty. We can all see you, hiding the truth. Your record suggests that you don’t even know your OWN truth. You’re a stranger to yourself. A man with no country, who has to watch ridiculous films from 30 years ago just to feel human. You wear a mask to disguise your feelings. You hide yourself in a single-wide trailer, somewhere in Flyover, America, because you’re afraid of the world. You have to give all of yourself to this business if you want to get anything in return. And you can’t even show us your face.
You can’t be half pregnant, Morty! This is an all-or-nothing business. You have to let it wash over you. You have to invite it into your soul. Good things seldom catch people flat-footed; they find people who work hard and work smart. And right now, you’re not working at all. You’re floating around, adrift in the aether, waiting for your breakout moment to happen to you. But that’s not the way this goes. If you want to win in life, you need to take it. You need to create your own luck.
I acknowledge that I’m a fresh fish and that my word isn’t worth a wooden nickel. I have a lot to prove before anyone takes me seriously. But confused naiveté for weakness. You want to haze me, put shaving cream in my locker, drop a deuce in my gym bag? Fine. I can take a joke. Let’s have a laugh. But don’t you dare pretend like I don’t know how to wrestle. Those credits transfer regardless of what federation you’re working in. It doesn’t matter what language you speak. Doesn’t matter who you voted for, or what color your flag is. Game recognizes game. It exposes who you are and what you’re made of. When I finally get in that PRIME ring, and trust me, I can’t wait to be there, the wrestling world will see me, for better or for worse, with clear eyes. I know exactly who I am. Look at my face and tell me I don’t love this business.
It would be foolish of me to pretend like I know the history of PRIME or the individual histories of the roster. I don’t. But I’ve spent days and days studying for this match. There’s a cork board with pictures and red strings in my living room. And I can’t tell you who Keyser Söze is, but I can tell you that Mortimer Kjedelig doesn’t have the stones to humble me, on my first day at the new job. There’s so much content to observe about him. His questionable past, his unhealthy obsession with outdated 80’s movies, the injuries he has to his face. It’s true, he was robbed at the Great American Nightmare. He should have won that match. But Morty is the kind of guy that ALWAYS find a way to lose, snatching defeat from the mouth of victory. He’s hapless, hopeless, and heartless. The man is made of spare parts. I’ll shake his hand if he beats me, but he’s gonna have to earn it first.
This match is meant to humble me. It’s meant to show the world that the best in one fed can’t beat the worst of another. I’m supposed to lose to the guy that needs a win. Someone wants to make an example out of me. But I’m not here to fill up at catering and do the job for any jabroney in the locker room. I’m not that guy. I’m no charity case. My childhood wish was not to fly out to Vegas to count the lights for some anonymous guy in a gimp mask.
I take this job very seriously. This is my life. The ring is my church. I come here to pay homage to the wrestling gods. I didn’t come to PRIME to be happy. I came here to pay my pound of flesh. When Suffering knocks at my door, I invite it in, and we get real weird with it. Can you say the same, Mortimer?
Your life is a bad movie. Being watched by the wrestling gods and the history books. You get to write the script, but somebody else gets to decide on the runtime. When it’s over, the lights come back on, your eyes adjust, you leave the theatre, and you have to reconcile with yourself what it is that you just experienced. You author your own story, Morty. So, what’s it gonna be? You can hide from the truth for a while. But it will find you.
There’s a battle going on, inside each of us, between two wolves. One is evil, filled with lies and anger. It is the ego. The other is good, made of truth and kindness. It is the spirit. They war within us whenever we are tested by adversity. The one that wins is whichever one you feed.
You need to fight for more than a paycheck. For more than glory. Because when the lights go out, the money dries up, and the fans go home, you still have to live with yourself. Every time in the ring is an opportunity to do something meaningful. To be an artist, telling stories on your canvas. If the effort you’re putting in isn’t substantial, and it doesn’t make your audience feel something real, then you’re just pretending to be something you’re not. You’re a fraud. An imposter. And you may want to reconsider what you’re doing with your life.
Revival 12 in Las Vegas. It’s Mortimer Kjedelig vs. Buster Gloves. The day is almost here. I can smell blood in the wind. The road to this place has been long and full of terrors, but I love this business and Wrestling…is forever.