The Anglo Luchador
There are two ways the dam can burst. External force, obviously, is the commonsense answer. Controlled detonation. A big-ass fuckin’ blunt object. Meteor. Brandon Youngblood broke the dam holding him back with a Randallplex, and the world rejoiced, as it should have. Everyone loves a redemption story, and The Diamond is The Diamond because his fist is unbreakable, blunt force trauma emanating from every knuckle. The water that nourished the flowers given to him at Culture Shock in 2022 was well-deserved, and no floricide can kill them. I come not to bury you, Brandon
I come to take your mantle.
Time waits for no man, and timing is no one’s best friend.
Biggest match in Tom Battaglia’s life. A crack at the top title in his home promotion for the first time where everything else lined up in his favor. His preferred opponent. Renewed vigor. Best shape of his life.
“Else” hung over his head like the Sword of Damocles, and the last fiber was fraying.
“I know you can’t tell me where they are, Shweta, but I need to know, are they safe?”
He closed his eyes with deep frustration, single tears squeezed out of each duct.
“It was my fault they weren’t safe. I left too many clues.”
A deep, exhaling sigh.
“You can say it’s not my fault all you want, but they found her. They. No time to face the music for what his bitch ass did to Atken, but plenty of time to…”
“I understand, yes. As long as they’re safe now. Thank you.”
He lingers on the line a little longer before pressing end on the call.
“Amigo, you gotta stop blaming yourself for things out of your control.”
Pedro Santamaria, the aged and wizened former Puerto Rican luchador and Tom’s primary teacher, limped over to the bench where his most successful pupil ever had just finished a harrowing phonecall.
“Everything you told me, you covered your bases.”
“If it’s MESSIAH after them. If those bastards…”
“I know it’s hard to say,” he said, sitting next to his protege, “but this problem, the right people are taking care of it. You have the absolute biggest opportunity in your career coming up in 10 days.”
The challenger sighed. His teacher continued.
“It seems like the dam is breaking all at once, amigo. It might be, but you know what? You can do one of two things. You either drown under the crush…”
Tom perked up.
“Or you ride the fuckin’ wave, my friend.”
The second way the dam breaks is from inside. Water, even the abyssal load that the dam was designed to withhold, exerts pressure. The wall degrades over time. A lot of men smarter than me talk about cyclical failure and material fatigue. All that tells me is the dam isn’t meant to last forever. Nature is a powerful force, and we can only commandeer it for so long. The deluge dug out the riverbeds, carved the canyons. Sooner or later, it breaks through the dam.
Concrete isn’t rock solid all the way through. There are pores. Water seeps in, and the pressure it exerts starts a chain reaction, eating through the weak areas where the cement and the aggregates aren’t in the right balance. The cracks form, and more water rushes in, keeps pushing outward. The cracks propagate and multiply. Then one day, if you’re not careful, the cracks become a fault, and you’ve got a free fountain on the side of the dam where you’ve engineered the water not to be. Those faults pile up, and sooner or later, the emergency is great. The water that the planners and the statesmen and the engineers don’t want there is there.
Then the dam breaks, hopefully after everyone’s been evacuated. And after that, the rebuild begins.
“Ride the wave, that sounds like a good plan, but…”
“You always with those buts, amigo. Why do you worry so much?”
“Therapist says OCD. Maybe a little ADHD. Dunno, the screening for that is not in the cards with how goddamn busy I am, but…”
Pedro took his cane and lightly tapped him in the back of the head.
“Relax. Nora’s in good hands.”
“I can’t stop worrying about her though. Like, what if…”
“No, you can’t. You care about Nora like she was a daughter, and you had her for what, six months?”
Tom nodded, the look on his face curious to see where El Mofongo was heading.
“You two must have bonded in that time. You, Tam, the boys, all of you did what you could.”
“You didn’t find out until everyone did on ReVival.”
“I could tell something was up though. All of you were so harried and tired, more so than usual, in the last six months. You don’t do that for something, for someone you don’t care for, someone you don’t connect with. Did she feel the same?”
He sighed again, bowing his head before popping back up to face his teacher.
“Yeah, I mean, it took a little while for her to warm up. That’s just her personality.”
“So you know she’d want you to focus on being the best wrestler in the best fuckin’ promotion in wrestling history, right?”
“She wants me to,” he said, pausing a beat to reflect on what he was saying. “She would. Absolutely.”
Brandon, I’m not you, and even though I love you as a brother, I wouldn’t want to be you. The Diamond is The Diamond. I am the water that fills the cracks.
You’ve had a troubled past, sure. You overcame it, but no matter what, people looked at you, from Jake Colton in your early days through the talent scouts at PRIME and Action! all the way up to Lindsay Troy, they saw a blue chipper. Broad shoulders and thick pecs. Encyclopedic knowledge of amateur wrestling counters and holds. Suplexes for days. You are the standard by which we all measure potential, and in the ReVival, you’ve realized that. I’m proud to be in the same ring as you all the time, in the Almasy, at the Murder Rumble, at ReV 32. You’re the dam that holds back failure and evil.
No one starts a wrestling promotion and says “The Anglo Luchador, now there’s a guy I’m putting in the vanguard.” I fill the cracks. I create the path where I succeed, I flow like water, because lucha libre is the art of ebb and flow, and outside of Mexico, no one has mastered it like I have. Not many within the homeland can say they have like me either. But I creep through, and then…
The fountain that no one wanted appears. My pressure is osmotic in nature. I force myself out of cell walls. I wash grains of sand off one shore and deposit them on another, bringing low the awesome power of a continental coastline, inch by inch. The great wave off Kanagawa that captivates the imagination of painters and strikes fear into the hearts of naval officers.
Promoters don’t want to see me until they have to reckon with me, like a leaky faucet. I creep in like unwanted spillage through the walls of the concrete. I am not the sledge. I am not the dynamite. I am not the meteor. I work patiently and strike when my opening is there after months, years of wearing it down.
Not even Diamond is immune to the fatigue.
“Of course,” Tom continued, “As much as she, or you, or the rest of my family want me to win, there’s the matter of Nora’s father.”
“Fuck that cabron.”
“Sure, but he’s still a threat. I can’t not account for him.”
“There’s a difference between that and letting him distract you.”
“You don’t think he’ll interfere?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he won’t. He probably will. But if you sit there and worry about him over your shoulder, you know what’s going to happen?”
The image replayed in Tom’s mind. ReVival 4. Belly-to-belly suplex. Half-nelson suplex. Karelin Lift. Lights the fuck out.
“The task in front of you will be hard enough. Some say impossible. If you keep worrying about that psychopath, it will be impossible.”
Tom slid down a little further on the bench before Pedro started in again.
“But I think you know how you are going to beat him and win that title. Right?“
“Oh yeah. Easier said than done, but I set the wheels in motion from before the first time I faced him.”
“Hell yeah. How far from Mike’s apartment you run every morning now?”
“Long enough to drag an Anger Golem into deep water.”
The last two times I broke through the dam, it wasn’t enough to change the landscape. The first time, the pressure wasn’t there. The crack was too high, and only a little water squirted through. It ran out of gas before it could take the dam down. The second time, the people in charge did everything they could to mitigate the crack before it burst through. I still made them shit their pants. The malcontent luchador, sitting on top of their fed. I’d like to think the sheer fact I broke through there is why they burned the tapes.
PRIME is different though. More than being in the best shape of my life or having merely a siblingesque rivalry with the boss instead of a blood hatred. Have you looked at our roster here lately? You can debate the contents of their characters all you want, but there’s absolutely no shortage of talent that would’ve run roughshod over any fed in the history of wrestling, past and definitely present. There’s no motorboat running on fuel with high enough octane that can cross this sea without running out of gas. Beating any of them would’ve been feather enough in my cap but there would’ve been something missing from each of them.
Atken, monumental wrestler, a man whose choke I felt firsthand. But his desire goes where the river takes him, home to home, some of them lazy streams and some choppy rapids.
Hanlon? That man is the future of this business, but fording the stream at the source, no matter how wide, doesn’t compare to doing it at maximum width.
Rezin, a man I respect more than a good three-quarters of the wrestlers I’ve ever faced at least, did not represent PRIME as much as he represented anarchy, a chaotic jet stream, changing course, spawning El Nino, wreaking havoc.
Jiles? That eggy bitch is the fucking Salton Sea.
No, if I had to announce myself, if I had to burst the dam, Brandon, it had to be against you. You’re the dam.
You’re the standard.
Tom got up from the bench and strode over to the well-worn training ring. He stopped short of the apron and flopped upon it, resting his elbows across his chest and his chin dangerously close to the musty old mat that Pedro hadn’t cleaned in far too long for any one of his students’ liking.
“It’s a lot to take in, maestro. I know I can do it. And I know he’s not invincible either, but it took so much to take him down when he had that title the first time. I know I can do it. I fuckin’ know I can, but…”
Pedro hobbled over next to his pupil and put a hand on his shoulder, turning his head to face him.
“It’s a lot of work. You’re swimming with sharks, amigo, but that’s where you wanna be, right? It’s what I at least tried to prepare you for.”
His gaze wandered back to the ring.
“You know, I had a lot of students come through here. They thought they could swim forever, but the first hint of leg cramps, and they double-timed back to shore. First hint of adversity, boom. Nothing.”
He turned back to Tom, pride welling in his eyes.
“I’ve seen you hit so many walls, mang. Politics. Losing streaks. Injuries. It might take you awhile, but you keep coming back. Don’t matter what. That’s why you’re about to win the biggest chingando title in all of the sport.”
They both shared a laugh before Pedro asked him another question.
“Why did you come here anyway? You walked in, and then you got that phonecall.”
“Honestly, I wanted to get some last minute training with the man who taught me the foundation of what I know without teaching me even a fraction of what he knows.”
“You give me too much credit, amigo. There’s only so much you can learn about wrestling in a training ring. Sometimes, you just have to let go, like the river. No planning or thoughts, just water rushing down, carving a path where it must.”
“You know, maestro, I’m shocked that I don’t have to piss yet with all this water talk.”
“Not like you could anyway, the toilet isn’t getting fixed for another three days.”
Tom stared a hole through his teacher while he let out a big guffaw.
“I’m just kidding, amigo. Go piss if you need to.”
“Nah, I think if there’s nothing left for me here, I’ll just go and clear my mind. Just do me a favor. Pick me up in the morning if I don’t come back for my car.”
There’s a yearning inside of me. I did not get into wrestling to clog up the middle of shows like a hairball in a drainpipe and top out as some nerd’s choice of being the best ever not to hold the big prize at best. When I retired initially, there was an epically sized whirlpool inside of me, sucking down the joys of everyday life. I did what I needed to so I could recover and help build a family, but something was always missing.
Then I got to PRIME.
I had my chance last year, but I wasn’t ready yet, just a stream finding my way down from the source. Now I am ready to reshape the land, having charged through barbed wire and unholy automatons, wannabe mafiosi and bad fathers with sociopathic streaks, spoiled brats with undeserved laurels and jackwagons who don’t know how to socialize with other humans. But I survived through the tough patches that would’ve turned me into a lake with no mobility, and I crashed through the successes, roaring like the mighty rapids that make it perilous to cross.
And I’ve finally reached the dam. I’m ready to break through it.
Pedro’s gym to Mikey’s apartment is a 20-minute drive. On foot, depending on whether one is running or walking, that time can shoot up to three hours. It didn’t matter to Tom. He had time, and he needed to steel his innards for the long fight ahead, bolster his stamina, attend to the thoughts in his head. Philly is not a quiet city, and it never has been. However, the chatter of the cicadas in the air, the children laughing as they scampered underneath fire hydrants fitted with illegal sprinklers, cars zooming by on the Boulevard, all of it was white noise compared to the roaring, crashing breakers constantly churning against the rocks in Tom’s head.
He thought about all the players in his life, how they were pointed at him at this opportunity.
Paxton Ray and Foster Nackedy. Two small men, small in morals, small in security. Threatening him because he had the temerity to help protect a scared mother and a confused little girl. Possessive. Spiteful. Violent. They mattered, but Pedro was right. They didn’t matter now.
The sun drew closer to its nighttime home in the west, casting golden blankets upon the parked cars and dilapidating buildings. He stopped for a moment at Wyoming and Whitaker, waiting for a red light to turn green and allow him passage and looked upon the city standing in front of him. A broken but still surviving metro, bathed in golden light.
Tam and the boys. The woman who stood beside him even as she was derided, assaulted, left sitting alone in hospital lobbies while her man was being treated. Lorenzo and Vincenzo, two kids who were the sons of a superstar wrestler but never got to see him reach the bounty of the ocean. Both dad’s title wins came before they were born. What cruelty. All of them deserved to ride the wave with him, but they were passengers.
Oxford Circle. Dusk permeating the air. Lightning bugs coming out in the summer haze, glowing bright green, like the lycra of his gear. He was reminded of a girl who loved seeing them buzz by the second story window of her apartment before she was whisked off.
Nora. The daughter he never knew he needed. He had to win it for her, yet, the wrestling business, its sordid base in violence, never grabbed her like it grabbed his two sons. Still, he felt there was unfinished business with her. Winning the title wouldn’t get him there, but maybe it could give him extra power to protect her.
Thomas Holme Apartments. His brother’s front door. Where it all started. Redding, in retrospect, wasn’t the challenge he thought he’d be. Garbage Bag Johnny’s heart wasn’t in it. It was always going to be Brandon Youngblood who was the measuring stick. This is where he started to take his comeback serious. This was the place where he’d finish preparations to put the exclamation point on.
And he realized there was only one way this ended.
With him fighting for himself, beating the man who welcomed him into PRIME, first rudely and then as a friend afterwards, and putting his flag down on the golden island after his long voyage. Asserting himself as the thing he knew he was all along.
The best wrestler in the business.
Aztec mythology treats the rain as a cleansing element, and Tlaloc, its guardian, the master of healing. There’s a reason why those who die unnaturally in times of peace head to his realm of Tlalocan to heal from their wounds in life. The PRIME I see now isn’t the PRIME that held promise when I came back to the sport. I don’t blame you at all, Brandon, but it’s clear the brute force and stone strength you represent isn’t the way forward. The land must be cleansed with the flood, cleansed of psychotic gaslighting harpies and their vanguard, maiming with chocolate and rusted metal. Cleansed of the men who break the necks of those closest to them. Cleansed of mouthpieces of Vladimir Putin and their mealy-mouthed hypocrisies. As long as you stand at the forefront, these villains will attack with force.
When the waters cleanse the land, a new order will come to pass. One that values technique and finesse. One that can out-snake the snakes and wrangle the behemoths into submission without playing their game. You can’t do this without sweeping change. You must call upon the gods to make it happen.
Brandon, I am the Deluge of Tlaloc. I am the one who will sweep the waters of healing across the land and create a PRIME anew in the mold of lucha libre, the sport of the gods themselves. Like I said before, I am not here to destroy you. When it’s all over, I will reach out my hand for you to take it in solidarity. I know you’re the kind of wrestler who can adapt and change over time too. I’ve seen it firsthand. But you can’t get rid of this much rot without doing something drastic.
And what’s more drastic than breaking the dam and flooding the plain?
Mikey answered the door in an A-shirt and basketball shorts as if he was roused from sleep rudely and abruptly.
“The fuck, bro.” He looked his brother up and down. “You look like you’se just ran a fuckin’ marathon.”
“Technically no, it wasn’t 26-point-two miles. But yeah. I ran here from Pedro’s.”
“So what’chu want?”
“Let’s go for a run. Close the loop. Get my stamina up so I can take the Diamond out to deep enough waters where he’ll sink.”
Mikey rubbed his eyes and gaped his jaw a beat before answering.
“It’s like 9 o’clock. I’m tired as hell. I did a job for fuckin’ Pat Croce today. You know how much land he got? How much longer can you run anyway?”
“As long as it fucking takes to get me to the ocean, to the Universal Championship.”