The Anglo Luchador
There should have been catharsis.
He pressed his finger down on the remote control. Two-hundred-fifty pounds of psychotic redneck writhed on the floor of a training room within the PPG Arena. A dose of his own medicine given back to him, like a child’s hand held over a stove burner.
The thing about that mode of punishment is that it’s child abuse.
Was Tom no better than an unfit parent?
The thing about heroes is they don’t act out of vengeance or spite, nor do they revel in pain. The goal should never be punishment. Instead, the good guy should be a harbinger of justice. All the mental anguish he underwent before Great American Nightmare and Ultraviolence last year went for naught in that moment, when Paxton Ray hit the floor with a thud.
He couldn’t walk into the apartment where they all agreed to stash Nora and Melissa Matthews without hearing dogs live their lives with Australian accents. Nora loved Bluey. Wherever Shweta took her, Tom hoped that’s the only thing she let her watch. Not ReVival 33, not after what he did to her father. What he’d said to Paxton then was true. Nora still loved her daddy.
Kids see the world for what it really is.
I saw the way you interacted with Randall Knox, Hayes.
Yeah, we’re not supposed to mention him anymore, and I get it. Dude was high on his own supply, even if he was always decent to me. But history doesn’t not happen because bad actors drove the plot. I have to wonder, Hayes. Was your beef with Knox because he was a prick, or did you not like him because he wasn’t one of the guys you watched on TV growing up in West Linn?
You, Brandon, everyone will say it’s because of the former, but I never got any visits from you. No Chris Farley Show cosplay. Is the reason that I’m an outsider too? Maybe I’m reading too much into things. You’re young, reckless. It’s not the worst quality to have as a wrestler, but I know from personal experience the brusqueness can push people who might be in your corner away.
Not that I need personal reasons to want to beat you. In a little over a year, you’ve proven yourself as a top dog here. You’ve done one thing I’ve never been able to do in my career.
You won the top title back after losing it.
Her distaste for wrestling, violence really, stemmed from what her father did to keep the bills paid. Bills. What a country. Little girl got severely ill, and a man had to fight in mud to keep her from facing the second prong of abject poverty. She’d lived as much of a life in eight years as Tom did in time quintuple-fold.
There were times when he’d developed a thirst for rank violence, sure. A man would not enter the Intense Championship division if he’d not had the wherewithal and the desire to taste blood, his own or that drawn from another willingly unwilling victim. Maybe the sanctioned violence was enough for him to stomach. Maybe it was all the extracurricular activity. Phil Atken’s dead-eyed stare, a product of a sneak attack that, if one is to be real, he might have perpetrated had he the chance. The annihilation of Jared Sykes at the hands of the Russian Bear, one Tom had run from because another man threatened his own family. And the reason why a little girl no longer was deemed safe around her father.
Seven Lafayette Lullabies and a brainbuster.
Kids don’t see things through the lens of relativity. Relativity is learned, why bad things happening in one context aren’t so bad even if on the surface they look the same. But their stories tell them that it’s possible for the good guys to rise above the sewer tactics. Tom believed that in his heart, maybe more before 33 than he did afterwards. But his dream for PRIME was a place where the best in the world got together and competed on their merits. Nora hated violence, but kids could be perceptive. It’s why she asked him not to hurt “Mr. Jared” before their Tropical Turmoil qualifier.
Dropping her father with a shock collar crossed every single line.
He dug his cellphone out of his pocket.
“Mike, hey, you home? I need to go on a run.”
You and me are square on the scoreboard overall. Two topline Championships, zero successful title defenses. The difference is you’re still green in this business, and you accomplished all this. Maybe you think I’m beneath you, cuz you knew you had that dawg inside your ribcage. I never took you for the arrogant type though. Always with deference, boyish reverence. The only time I ever see you not headstrong and reckless, in the arena or out, is when you’re with the elders here. But I don’t think it’s because you and I have the same experience level in this company.
Is it because you’re like one of them whose whispers are poorly hidden in the hallways and locker rooms, acting like I can’t hear it when they call me a fraud behind my back?
Have you always seen the “real” Anglo Luchador? Maybe it’s because I didn’t come barging into your locker room meetings like Knox did. Maybe that’s why you and I were never on a collision course that was interrupted by whatever the fuck it was that got him booted from the company. But you have to think I’m clueless if I don’t hear people, people I thought I’d be friendly with, talking their shit behind my back.
And the worst part is, I believe them sometimes, especially now. Does a hero torture a man with a shock collar? You kids, you’re more empathetic and kind a generation than my group of assholes could ever hope to be. You have to know.
You have to.
“Wait,” Mikey shouted between breaths, “THAT’s why you dragged me outta my house for another one of these fuckin’ twilight runs?”
Tom slowed down to a crawl and then stopped, slightly bending over, breathing heavily with Mikey following.
“I feel gross,” Tom replied. “Like, how can I call myself a good guy after that? Calvin was right…”
“Hollup, hollup there bro. For one, I don’t know what world she’s livin’ in. I mean, wrestling is fitty percent marketing anyway. Did she really ‘spect you to be some goody two-shoes or some shit?”
“Mike, I shocked a guy with a thousand volts. I waited for him, and I ambushed him. It was premeditated.”
“An’ why you gettin’ so pearl-clutchy now then?”
The frankness of Mikey’s assessment of his brother’s buyer’s remorse shook Tom to an upright stance.
“Fuck. I really am a fraud.”
Mikey threw his head back and rolled his eyes.
“Shut da fuck up, okay, T? Like, this woe-is-me bullshit, I coulda been watchin’ Back to the Future on TNT instead of hearing you piss and whine.”
“You think I wanna piss and whine?”
“Yeah! That’s all you do anymore! You know, you sit around and mope because wrestling ain’t this noble pursuit bullshit of exhibitions every fuckin’ week. And look at what that gotchu? You’re a fuckin’ footnote in that French punk’s winning streak! You lost to that little shithead who turned tail and ran when Youngblood beat his ass! Sykes! The dinosaur-lookin’ dude! Even the title match! You’re way up your own ass about everything, and what was the results?”
Tom swiveled around, holding his face.
“Yeah,” Mikey continued. “It wasn’t good, and I gotta think it wasn’t cuz you can’t hang with them bouls. Cuz you can. You had the Uni, bro. Who’s the only guy you beat during that run?”
“I can’t fuckin hear you, bro. Speak up.”
Mikey smirked as Tom sighed.
“You know the reason why. You didn’t give a shit about no grand bullshit exposition, no fugazi Opera Cup shit, no for the love of the fuckin’ sport.”
“This is different though.”
“How? You kept tellin’ me, Nora’s part a your family, an’ you all of a sudden care about this shit?”
“He’s her father.”
“And it’s war. All’s fair in love and war, and you love that little girl and you’re in battle with her jitbag dad.”
“You heard me. COLLATERAL FUCKING DAMAGE.”
The volume and intensity in Tom’s voice made the stragglers out in the hazy Philly summer dusk turn their heads and gawk.
“I am not going to stoop to his level if it means I traumatize a little girl.”
“I thought you was the smart one in our family, buh. But you wanna climb up on the fuckin’ cross. I think you wanna be a fuckin’ martyr more than you wanna be the best in this business. And if that’s the case, we should go back to my fuckin’ apartment so I can watch Back to the fuckin’ Future.”
Tom dropped to his ass on a random lawn and put both his hands behind his head as he leaned forward.
“You shocked that jitbag once as a warning shot, buh. You didn’t beat his defenseless ass wit’ a weapon while havin’ me hold his daughter to make her watch. You certainly didn’t hit your finish on him seven times and beat him into a fuckin’ wheelchair. You act like you’ out here bombin’ a fuckin’ hospital when all you did was fight him on terms he’d understand.”
Tom didn’t raise his head. Mikey knew his big bro was always the most emotional one of his family too, so he did what he would always do. He sat down next to him.
“I fucked up, Mike,” Tom said. “I got in way too deep over my head. I didn’t think MESSIAH would get involved. And now I gotta go fight this kid who already did in 18 months what I did in the first decade of my career, all while zooted out of his fucking mind half the time. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore, and people are getting hurt.”
“And it ain’t your fault, big bro.”
“But it is. Where does the buck stop? No one seems to want to do anything about it. Or if they want to, they keep getting dumptrucked. I didn’t wanna come back to a backstage crimewave.”
“But that’s wrestling, big bro. I mean, you forget I was in this shit too,” replied the former Empire Pro Intercontinental Champion. “Hell, you was there at ringside for the end of it. You wanna do sports, you shoulda done dick punchin’ in the UFC or some shit. This is where the real shit happens.”
Mikey threw his arm around his big brother.
“Now, tell me what’s really botherin’ you?”
“Is this business passing me by? Like, the calendar changed and everyone seems to be racing past me. Every decision I’ve made has caused just embarrassment or pain for me or my family or someone I care about, one to the point where she’s a totally different person now. I don’t recognize this place anymore.”
“You know what though? E’ery week you go out there, it’s a chance for you to fuckin’ kick ass again. Like, I ain’t gonna lie, it’s gonna be hard to change what’cha doin’ every week, especially with our fucked up Battaglia brains.”
Tom lifted his head up and laughed.
“Still, what am I gonna do?”
“The same thing you do every week you wrestle, buh. Be the best in the fuckin’ world.”
The two brothers leaned over to hug each other until they heard a FWOOSH and a CRASH of a door opening.
“Alright, alright, that’s enough, get the fuck off my lawn,” shouted a middle-aged balding man in an A-shirt, flannel boxers, and crocs.
“Hey, me and my brother are having a moment here!” shouted Tom in reply.
“I don’t give a shit what’s going on; do it on your own property or I’m callin’ the cops!”
“Alright, let’s give Carl Brutananadilewski his space,” Tom fired off before he and Mikey started their walk back to his apartment.
Hayes, I don’t really take you for the spiteful type though. I don’t think you see through me. Maybe I’m projecting because this business is nasty without vacation. It’s rare to see someone come in with such deference and the desire to learn from his elders instead of cut them down like the other young’uns who come in and think the world should be handed to them. I look at myself for what I want to be and not realize that even the best among us fail all the time. That’s where the elasticity of youth comes in. Wrestling can be cruel, and the dangers of the industry cut down some of the most promising stars, but no one should ever think about how it can end. Hayes, you brush it off because you can. You have decades, not years or months or weeks left.
Me? I don’t have that luxury, so every match has to count, every action, every single fucking breath. Time is catching up with Tommaso Battaglia, and I already let one shot at immortality, a golden ticket into the Hall of Fame, slip through my fingers. So you’re damn right when I look at Youngblood reversing a pin to keep his belt, it makes the other failings, like a press conference where I ate linament or a weeklong drug holiday or shocking someone with a thousand volts, sting even more.
I have to make things right. My word soon will be the only thing I have left, so you have to forgive me if I take things a little too personally. I’m sorry to have dredged up the name Impulse, but I can’t leave the same impression on you that he did. But if you don’t know who I am, don’t care who I am, don’t like who I am now, I need you after ReV 34 to respect who I am. I do not want to end my career as someone who was just here to pad resumes and eat time on ACE Network without feeling like I did something worth doing. I need it to be real. One last time.
No one thinks about how or when it’s going to end, but the ghost is looming over me, Hayes. Do I want to go out sad, the guy who could only make a mark with sneak attacks and shock collars? Or do I want to go out a legend in this industry?
I think you know the answer. And if it works? You’ll be hanging around my locker room a bit more often, wanting to hear what life was like in the other big leagues that weren’t on your television when you were a kid.
Tom plopped on the loveseat in his upstairs office/film room. There were certain rituals, coping mechanisms if you will, that helped him when things were especially tough on his brain. Tam was asleep, so sex was out of the question, and he wasn’t about to raid his liquor cabinet, not after he’d once again gotten a good burn after a long run, no matter on whose lawn it ended. The other fallback? He’d watch lucha libre until he was tired enough to fall asleep.
He focused on the luchas de apuestas, the grimy, personal brawls that ended with one luchador losing something dear to him, usually mask or hair. He put on his tapes, fastidiously fast-forwarding, looking for the matches featuring the gallant tecnicos waging gutty war against the rudos.
One match he settled on had his rapt attention. From 1986 in Arena Mexico, La Sirena del Golfo vs. El Gran Satanás. The rudo put up his mask, but the tecnico, in an unheard of move at the time and ever since, put up her status as an exotico. The battle was hellacious. Satanás used all the weapons he could to strip Sirena of her very essence. Chairs, chains, even a cinderblock. But the thing that grabbed Tom’s attention the most wasn’t that Sirena fought “like a tecnico.” Everything Satanás threw at her, she threw back and then some. Chairshots. Choking with the chain. And then the dramatic finish, where she hit a flying headscissors on the Great Satan with his head crashing down on the cinderblock. Everyone in Arena Mexico stood on their feet and clapped when she ripped the mask off his face after the fall. No one stopped and considered she’d dabbled in untoward tactics to gain an advantage.
She was in a fight for her life, and her enemy was never playing fair.
Hayes Hanlon would play fair, sure, but if Paxton and Foster would conduct a mass beatdown after mere words, what would their game be after one thousand volts? The fog of war was dense. But the facts were as such.
He was in a fight for his life. The enemy played unfairly before he even knew there’d be hot battle. In that moment, before he shut his eyes to sleep on the loveseat out of exhaustion and convenience, he realized one thing.
If he had the chance to do it all over again in Pittsburgh with the shock collar? He wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.