This is it: things have gotten real. The gloves are off, and other applicable cliches.
Darin Zion was first – it was a feel good moment. PRIME is back, huzzah, huzzah, everyone is friends and we all love each other.
Then we had Rezin. An old adversary that’s living ten years ago with a state of mind that’s two decades past its’ sell-by date.
Julian Bathory? Tough as hell. Another dragon to slay with an entire organization behind him.
But these were just the opening acts. James Brown is still waiting in the wings to pop the crowd bigger, harder, and louder than any one of us has so far.
This is what it comes down to, honestly. I’m sure that I’d be able to earn another shot at the Universal Championship at some point in the future. I’m sure that – provided I work hard enough – I’ve got at least one other pay-per-view main event in me during my time here in PRIME. But there’s only one person that’s gonna hand The Last Diamond his first loss during the PRIME revival.
Title? Only one matters.
We need you in the arena tomorrow, said the voicemail. No problem, I said.
Bring your gear. You won’t be asked to wrestle but it’s important that you look like you’re about to. On it. And I appreciate the realization that gear is business attire, it isn’t leisurewear and I’m not comfortable in it unless I’m working
Keep it quiet, it said. This isn’t something for the dirt sheets to know about, or even the main roster except for a very select few that you’ll understand when you get here. I can do that. I’m barely on Jabber so the temptation to tell even a few of the roster is low to nonexistent.
Bring Cally, she’ll be a fun addition, it said.
Well now, you’ve just gone greedy. You want it quiet, you want me early, you want me with Rosie. You can have the first two, or you can have the last one.
“Step aside, step aside,” says Rosie, as we walk through the casino, already busy at seven in the morning. Or still busy. Probably still busy. “Important PRIME business in the joint.”
I got around the need to get Rose up early by staying up all night with her. She’s a little punchy and a little stoned, but that’s pretty much her natural state.
Easy, I said. This is supposed to be on the down low.
“Everything we do is on the down low,” she replies, all evidence to the contrary. “I’m ready to shout it out from the mountaintops. And then I need some breakfast foods. How do biscuits and gravy sound?”
Positively heavy, I honestly replied. Especially if we’re bout to do this thing, whatever it is, and then get some sleep.
“Biscuits then,” says Rosie. “And the gravy is the friendships we made along the way.”
Gonna let that one simmer. I’m accused a lot of being too serious, and there’s truth to it, but Rosie keeps my life interesting. I remember one summer we were at the mermaid parade on Coney Island and she showed up in a yellow rain slicker carrying a fishing pole and tackle box and really sold it as being the horror movie villain.
All I could do was watch and laugh and tell the rest of our friends, this is my life now.
Wouldn’t change it for a thing.
I nodded at the security guards who stepped aside to let us into the arena entrance. I’ve never been here before PRIME, so I only know its professional wrestling setup and really can’t picture it any other way. Through the rest of the now-empty security lines and vacant merch and concession booths, it’s a pretty fast walk until we’re at the top of the bottom, a hundred feet from the ring.
Angelica Brooks is between the ropes, chatting animatedly with a photographer. I assume this based on the amount of camera gear he is currently carrying and fiddling with.
“Mr. Knox, Ms. Callasantos, good to see you,” says Angie, keeping things formal. She extends her hand and I shake.
Thanks, Angie, I said. What can we–
“OH,” says Angie, as Rosie gives her a hug. “We’re doing this, hmm?”
“Hi!” says Rose, “Good to see you!”
This is my life now.
“So anyway,” continues Angie, as Rose starts looking around the arena from the corners, “We’re just looking to do some quick photo ops with the Final Four and we’re starting with you.”
Angie picks up the bag at her feet and unzips the sides.
And I’m transported.
To UltraViolence 2005, when me and my best friend hitchhiked to Boston to see Karina Wolfenden defend.
To Revolution 107 in the Meadowlands, where two future allies, Nova and Lindsay Troy, were on opposite sides of a six person tag team match.
To the 2009 Dual Halo, where I went sixty two minutes in my first official introduction to try and earn my own shot.
To Revolution 237, where I was in the audience at my own expense to see Hessian overcome my opponent, my adversary, my Great White Whale, Castor V. Strife.
I’m face to face with the PRIME Universal Championship title belt. I’m almost afraid to touch it, since it doesn’t belong to me.
At the very least, not yet.
She holds the belt out towards me, and I stare at her like a drooling idiot.
“Is there a problem?” asks Angie.
“Little bit,” replies Rosie. “Let’s have a chat over there, please and thank you?”
Let’s get the obvious out of the way, Brandon.
I feel like we have a lot in common, sir. We’re both serious – some would say too serious – about our craft. We’ve both waged wars over a place we’ve called our home.
This is your home turf, Brandon – and I’m the outsider. I make no illusions about that. There’s no commentary here on new blood, old blood, freshness, retreads, the past, the future.
Because it’s all crap.
Weeks ago I said that my dream tournament would include facing Nova in the finals, after facing you in the semi-finals. I’m glad that half of that wish is fulfilled, even if the other half has no chance of it. Congratulations to both of us, not only for doing it, but for doing it the right way.
This match is mine to win, and it’s yours to lose, Brandon. Either way, you’re in line for a title shot at Culture Shock. Either way, you’re adding to your legacy or you’re writing a new chapter.
Assuming you win your title match at Culture Shock, which – there’s no reason in the world why you wouldn’t. But which would it be?
You’re already the only three-time 5-STAR Champion in the history of PRIME. Do you go for four? Or do you leapfrog past it and reach the one that’s been eluding you so far? Will you walk out of Culture Shock as the PRIME Universal Champion?
Whether or not you win your title match at Culture Shock is up to you, Brandon. And I believe you will win whichever match you’re in when the time comes.
Which match it is, however?
That’s up to me.
We’re pretty much on a level playing field here, Brandon. I look at this era of PRIME as an entirely new company, which means that the rankings are accurate – you, me, Teddy, and Cancer are all at the top with three wins and no losses. Based on that, this is a toss up.
But that’s only half the story, isn’t it? And it would be foolish to not at least recognize the other.
PRIME Wrestling has a Hall of Fame, and only one of us is in it. Will I be there someday? Maybe. I’d like to think I could be.
But there’s a whole world of difference between ‘potential future Hall of Famer’ and ‘actual literal Hall of Famer’ when it comes to this sport.
You are a Hall of Fame wrestler. Even someone who might claim you’re past your PRIME has to admit that, by rote of reality.
(Also, pun fully intended.)
You think that’s intimidating for me? Just a little bit?
You think it’s an enviable position to be in?
I beat you, and I’m robbing some fans of the chance to see Brandon Youngblood finally win his PRIME Universal Title, a championship that could have, should have been his years ago. Robbing the fans of what could be the greatest redemption story in years.
I lose, and who knows if I’ll even have a match at CULTURE SHOCK.
That’s why I can’t think about the finals, Brandon. That’s why I won’t touch that title belt until and unless it officially belongs to me.
That’s why I’ve tried talking about or thinking about this match for as long as it was a possibility, holding off until it became an inevitability.
The path to the Universal Title rightly goes through Brandon Youngblood for this half of the bracket. As it should.
If I can beat you, Brandon, then maybe I’m worthy to hold the Universal Championship.
If I can’t?
If I can’t, it’s just as well, because there’s no way in hell I’d deserve to even have a shot at it.
But I think Brandon Youngblood, even subconsciously, is looking for something bigger than just the belt.
“Great, can you turn this way a bit and put your arms around his neck? Awesome.”
I have to say, as little as I like photo ops, this one has turned out to be pretty fun. The photographer – Paul, his name – has a pretty good eye for what looks good between the ropes. We just finished a series of the belt around my waist and me leaning up against the ropes in various stages – hands on the ropes, arms crossed, etc.
Angie was good enough to get Tom Steps from the liaison’s office to bring us a replica title belt to ease my hang ups about the real thing. Now, I’m in the corner, Rosie is sitting on the top turnbuckle, and her arms are draped over my shoulders.
She kisses the side of my head, bringing out a smile to my usually stoic face.
“What’s your take on the final four?” asks Angie. “You’ve got one side with relatively high seed numbers, and on the other, the Number One and N–”
“Here we go again,” interrupts Rosie, laughing. “You got enough tape in your tape deck?”
“Huh?” asks Angie.
It doesn’t mean anything, I clarify. The Number One seeds matter – two Hall of Famers who deserved consideration. The rest of us?
I shrug. Paul gives me a look as he continues to take pictures like, really? Can’t you talk without moving?
No. No I can’t.
Literally the only difference between me at number two, and Teddy Palmer at number fourteen, I continue, was luck of the draw. None of us had an easy path to this point, and we’d all be smart to remember that.
“This is a big deal, ma’am,” says Rose. “Everyone left is here for a reason, and RK and I don’t think anyone needs to be put on a pedestal OR left in the bin.”
“Some would say you and Brandon are fighting over who’s going to be the hero at Culture Shock,” says Angie, and I shake my head.
“This company needs the hero!” calls Tom Steps from the floor. I didn’t realize he’d stuck around after delivering the title. “Great from a branding perspective, it’s something we can put the marketing department on.”
He enters the ring and holds his hands up like an old timey movie director. I didn’t believe people did that at all, let alone anymore.
“We’d have to do something about the tattoos and purple hair, but there’s something to work with here,” assures Steps. Rosie puts her hand to her chest like she’s clutching pearls. Sarcasm, sure – but she doesn’t like being told to change who she is.
Sure, Tommy, I said. After that we’ll work on the Bobby Dean Blow-Away Diet. I don’t know if he caught my sarcasm but Angie and Rosie were both laughing. Even Paul had to stop taking pictures for a second.
“Great, sounds good!” he says to me, with a thumbs up. He then leans down by Paul and whispers, but loud enough for us to hear.
“Can you turn them ninety degrees that way?”
“The lighting doesn’t work as well from that angle,” says Paul. “We tried it but since this is the direction the hard camera faces, it’s got the right lighting setup and we don’t need to move anything.”
Tommy holds up his hands like he was just attacked. “Hey, I’m not the photographer here. But taking pictures that way” – and he points again – “shows off the arena logo. I think we’d do well to keep this relationship healthy, don’t you think?”
Me and Angie exchange a look. Anyone in the business would know ‘the look’ – the one you share when the office goons show up to make demands.
“Okay, super duper!” he says, giving me two thumbs up. “Let’s sell some tickets!”
And he’s off.
“Who the hell was that?” asks Paul.
From the liaison’s office, I explain. We sort of saved his bacon on the first day and he’s been hanging around ever since.
“And he used to be such a nice boy,” laments Rose.
There was a wrestling company based out of Greensboro, North Carolina, whose heyday was last century, Brandon. It closed and reopened a few times, every one but the first to increasingly diminished returns. And yeah, a lot of the industry busts on them often and for good reason, but there’s two things that really stick with me about this place that I was never signed with.
People that I love and respect in this sport swore by it, even to this day.
Every time they announced a reunion, no matter how brief, no matter how ill-timed, there was always a line out the door of alumni who were ready to do their part for the comeback.
And I think there’s a bit of that with you and PRIME, Brandon. Just a bit.
Why are you here, Brandon? The obvious answer is the correct one – you’ve missed multiple opportunities in the past to become the PRIME Universal Champion, and you want at least one more crack at it before you call it a career. Becoming the Universal Champion would be the validation of all the wars you’ve fought before.
You don’t need it to cement your legacy, Brandon – you’re a Hall of Famer and a well deserving one. I think you want this title because you’ve spent a career earning it and just need that one last push over the hump to get there. And I think you’d freely tell anyone this fact.
But I think there’s something else, too. Something you might not even be aware of.
I think you want this title, Brandon, because you want to see PRIME succeed in this revival, and you want PRIME to outlive your career. And you don’t necessarily trust anyone else in this tournament to get things moving in the right direction.
I get that.
That wrestling company I mentioned just a minute ago – it brought back the old guys and it brought back plenty of new blood every time it reopened its doors, but the new blood never showed their staying power. The old guys wanted to hand it off to the next generation, but there was never anyone who showed that they knew what that meant. So it kept on keeping on, eventually shuttering completely because there wasn’t anyone left with the ability to keep the torch lit for the future.
And I see a lot of that in you, sir. You’ve fought your wars. You’ve sacrificed the better parts of your private life in service of making PRIME better today than it was yesterday. You’ve done some things right and some things wrong, but you’ve always done them with eyes on a larger prize than yourself and a Championship.
I respect that.
The fact is, every wrestler who steps between the ropes has an expiration date stamped on their forehead, and every war we fight ticks the date up a little bit closer. Yours is coming, Brandon. It’s not today, it’s not tomorrow, it’s not even next week, next month, or next year. But it’s coming just the same, just like mine is. It makes sense that you’d want to win the Universal Title at least once before you cross the threshold, not just because you’ve earned it but because this company owes you a debt for the amount of weight you’ve carried over the years.
I understand that.
I’ve said that this is the only match so far that truly matters for me in this tournament. If I can beat Brandon Youngblood, then I’ve earned the right to compete for the Universal Title. Obviously, since this is the tournament semi-finals, but less obviously because that will prove to the fans, prove to the company, and prove to myself, that I have the chops to hang with the giants of PRIME, and that I won’t be crushed under the weight of what holding that Championship actually means.
Can I win this match? I don’t know. I think I can. Just like you think you can.
Will I win? That’s up to me.
But that’s just what I think, Brandon. What do I know?
I know three things.
One. You will enter Culture Shock and wrestle in – and for my money, win – a match for a Championship.
Two. You will leave ReViVal 5, either with your hand raised or without it raised, but with the knowledge that I’m prepared to carry PRIME just as hard as you have all throughout your career.
Three. With the first two covered, you’ll do something I don’t know that you’ve done since Lindsay Troy first sent you your contract.
The future of this company is up to us, Brandon. It’ll be what you and me make it. And no matter who wins, we all win.
I believe that.
Hey, I said. I thought Rosie was asleep, but I can make out the vague shape in the dark of her turning towards me in bed.
“You nervous?” she asks.
Honestly, I asked. No, not really.
“Hmm. That surprises me,” says Rosie. “You were a bundle’a nerves the past few shows.”
Same, I replied, rolling over to look at her. But this one’s different. I’m good with it.
Beyond the ring rust thing, I said, trying to find the words, I felt like I had an obligation to win the last few matches.
And I paused. Like, what’s the rest of this tournament gonna look like if the cult guy moves forward? Or the fecal king? Or Darin Zion? What would that do to PRIME? Like, I had a responsibility to the contract we signed to keep a little dignity in the tournament, yanno?
But here? What’s the choices? An oldhead who fights for PRIME’s future? Or a newcomer who fights for PRIME’s future?
I shrugged. I don’t see how there’s a bad choice here. And maybe an opponent that I can understand and respect on a level beyond ‘you’re another wrestler who’s made it this far’ is good for the tournament as a whole and good for me as an athlete in particular. That’s really the only thing that matters, far as I’m concerned.
I couldn’t see it, but I could feel Rose smiling.
“Title?” she asks.
PRIME, I said.
Because that’s why we’re all here.