Private: Phil Atken
Phil Atken had been called a lot of things during his stint in the wrestling industry, most of them so soul crushingly horrendous that you’d rather not speak of them in polite company. It’s surprising just how much a man can be impacted by the opinions of his peers. The feeling of the eyes of contempt raining down upon you as you enter another locker room, the sneers when you try to find a place for your gear…
All of it sends the same message.
You don’t belong and we don’t know why you are here.
For ten years, Atken tried to shake that reputation, he tried to train day in and day out to improve his in-ring game, he studied tapes, he watched the very best in the ring in action. It didn’t matter where a wrestler worked, if they had hype, Atken had very likely seen a match of theirs. Being a student of the game even brought some modicum of success when Phil dipped his pool into the independent wrestling scene. Smaller companies were willing to take a shot on him and he worked his arse off to try and repay that trust. He had even managed to get a few title belts around his waist.
Yet, his true peers just didn’t care. They would have preferred he stayed roaming the smaller wrestling promotion and didn’t stink up their locker room. To them it really didn’t matter what he accomplished on his “walkabouts” because none of these supposed accomplishments would dissuade them from a perception that had already been embedded.
To them, he was still the guy who was always a little too eager to please.
The guy who was always desperate for a morsel of recognition.
The awkward, needy motherfucker who just keeps showing up no matter how many times the door gets slammed in his face.
Deep down, Atken was convinced that if he could just be given a chance, an opportunity, to showcase everything that he was learning, to show how much better he was getting in the ring… that would change everything. People would finally understand he wasn’t the man hot shotted to the top of failing companies, only to become a champion of ash. No longer the harbinger of closure.
He was getting better.
He just needed a guiding hand.
Yet every time he reached out from the ocean he was drowning in, he high fived air. Every time he whiffed, he sunk a little bit deeper. The depths were swallowing him and there was no sign of a life raft. No preserver. No kind samaritan.
Eventually the sea swallowed the man whole.
The sad thing?
He welcomed it.
Dirk Dickwood didn’t expect to be so immediately emotional when the card for Great American Nightmare was revealed. He was actually at ease in the moments before the news broke. To him, it was quite simple, Phil Atken was going to take on Dusk and if the cards fell the right way, perhaps it would be for the Intense Championship. He’d even started to sketch out ideas of how Phil could prepare his aging body for the damage that a barbed wire contest was very likely to cause.
Still, to Dirk, it was more likely that Atken and Dusk would take each other on in a traditional wrestling match and were that to happen, Dirk was happy that Phil would “wrestlefuck” Dusk to death. Dusk was impulsive, he’d be running backstage with smoke machines and lead pipes, he was very much thinking with his heart not his head and there was a certainty that Atken could use this to his advantage.
What Dirk Dickwood was not expecting was the stakes to get raised very high, very fast. That wasn’t part of his game plan. That was not part of the Glue Factory strategy. In the grapple biz, most people would see an opportunity for the biggest prize in the game to be a reward. Dirk viewed it as a death sentence.
The Glue Factory’s entire strategy was to slowly sneak up on everyone. They encouraged the age jibes, they encouraged the mockery of names, the mockery of sticky products. They wanted everyone to miss what was right in front of them the entire time.
Phil Atken is a threat.
Yet, with a shot at the Universal Title now on the line, two problems were presented to Dirk.
The first, and most obvious, every single person backstage now had their eyes laser-locked on Phil Atken. Coming back to the ring at his age and having a rapid rise to the top tends to get a few people paying attention. The Glue Factory could no longer rely on opponents overlooking them and being overlooked was the primary match strategy. Atken relished the fact his opponents to date scoffed at him. It made everything much lower stakes. Atken was always confident of victory, but should he be caught on the day, it was simple to correct the course with a Hank-based assault and a new gummed up glue gimmick.
The second issue, with the stakes now sky high, failure would be crushing. This was no longer just a match with Dusk with a focus on marching forward with The Glue Factory mission statement, this was now a match to obtain the biggest megaphone in the wrestling world. If Phil Atken was to become Universal Champion, people would finally have to listen.
Dirk had been around wrestling long enough to know that this could be The Glue Factory’s only bite. A slow march to progress could suffer being derailed. A rocket crashing to Earth?
He wasn’t confident that he could rebuild that.
The Glue Factory have found themselves in their very comfortable but humble private dressing room at the conclusion of ReVival 10. You would think that given our hero had earned a big ole dubya, it would be a jolly atmosphere full of reverie. Instead, the locker room ambiance could be best described as a funeral.
Where someone had shat in the coffin in front of the grieving widow.
Then rubbed the coffin shit in the widow’s face.
It was uncomfortable, that was the point I was trying to make.
Now, considering one of the members of The Glue Factory is a mute, you would think that the occasional spell of silence would feel absolute part of the usual day to day affairs. This silence though, this one felt heavy. Phil Atken had managed a score himself another big dubya on the board, three in a row. Atken had his match with Dusk at the Great American Nightmare. Everything was looking up on the up and up for our pals The Glue Gang.
Yet, no smiles, no joy, nothing but tension as dense as a Bobby Dean bundt cake.
Atken for his part was sitting off in the corner, leaned up against a wall with a towel draped over his head, presumably used to try and absorb the lingering scent of cigarettes that came with competing against Pete Whealdon in a wrestling ring. Atken was rocking back and forth in the chair, occasionally glancing down to make sure he didn’t tip himself arse over teakettle.
Hank stood, arms afolded near the entrance to the room, ready to choke the life out of anyone who dared to try and enter. Yet, even though he was clearly still performing his role as Chief of Security, it was evident that he was taking extra special care to glare at the door very hard in lieu of making eye contact with whoever was in the room.
Dirk Dickwood, the strategist behind the Phil Atken relaunch, had paced up and down so much at this point that scientists estimated that he was already halfway to Australia.
As for Gary Tongueman, intern extraordinaire? He hadn’t been seen for the past few days. He was last heard muttering something about Burger King and an overpass while staring at his phone before he rushed away.
It was clear that everyone present in the locker room was deep in thought and none of them seemed willing to be the first to venture down the pathway of breaking the silence. Atken’s chair would occasionally creak as he rocked back and forth, resulting in Dirk quickly looking in his direction and then looking away again.
The minutes passed, everything remaining in perfect silence. It was hard to say how long it went on for. Five, ten, fifteen… it certainly felt like an eternity in that exact moment in time. Everyone stayed in their role, no one wanted to be the person to break the tension.
After a period of time that I couldn’t possibly commit to measuring, Phil Atken removed the towel from his head and made eye contact with Dirk Dickwood for the first time since they had returned to the locker room. The locking of the eyes caused Dirk to follow in ceasing his endless pacing.
Atken finally asked the question that was hanging over the room, the one that they were all thinking but didn’t wish to speak. Well, Hank was never going to speak it, but you get the point.
“What if I lose?”
So PRIME finally figured it out, huh? I really did think that it was going to take longer. I was certain we still had a few months of surface level derision and mockery to be fired in our direction. The old hacks that haunt the halls of PRIME… I was sure they were just going to roll their eyes at me like it was the good old days. Dirk had a spreadsheet made and everything. He thought we’d manage to choke out seven PRIME fools before people started to take us seriously.
You step away from the ring for a year or ten and no matter how well you live, no matter how settled down you are with a family, no matter how supposedly content your new suburban life is, the agony still oozes out of every pore. I don’t mean the physical aches of life on the road, that’s surface level shit.
I mean the sense of time wasted, of being unfulfilled, of lacking closure, of lacking purpose. No catharsis.
I never got a big final hoorah. No Hall of Fame ring, no final match. No kind recorded messages from peers. I wasn’t presented with a bunch of flowers and a standing ovation. I was unceremoniously dumped from the last big employer willing to touch me. I would say that I got kicked out of the door but that would imply that I was allowed in the building in the first place.
I decided at that moment it was time to move on with my life. To spread my wings, to find new avenues. I was sometimes even able to lie to myself and pretend that I was happy in my new life. I became a true family man, raising my little Glue-ettes while my beautiful wife, Mrs. Factory, took on the corporate world.
Sure, I had hobbies, I dipped my toe in the podcast pool, made a few appearances on television here and there but for ten years, I lied to myself. I lied to myself about stepping back into a wrestling ring. I lied to myself about how whole I felt. I lied to myself about how fulfilled I was.
Raising a family, living a good life. A life of dignity. That should be enough for any man, surely? Every day though, I went to sleep with a heart so heavy, I swear it was anchored by Satan himself.
In life, you can know what’s wrong, you can identify the pain. You know the hurt. That doesn’t mean that you ever end up doing anything about it. I couldn’t tell my family for years because fucking hell, I was still ashamed. The wrestling industry had made me feel ashamed of myself, like I was straight garbage, just absolute trash. Yet I still wanted to prove everyone wrong. Every day of “the ditch years” I fought the inner voice pushing me back here. Back to where we are now. I always told the voices that I knew the results were going to be the same.
Looked down upon.
If I was ever to come back, I needed to be cautious. I needed to make sure there was a clear game plan. One thing I was certain of, I learned there was no way that I could do any of this on my own. A wrestling locker room can feel like a desert island if you don’t have the right connections. I knew that, I knew no one was going to be excited to see me in a ring again. If I was to walk back in on my own, I would have been swallowed whole once more.
I needed to find people like me. I needed to find those who were abandoned by wrestling, tossed away like rancid meat during a freezer clearance. People who felt what I felt, who understood the emotional weight.
I could only come back if I found the right support group and I did.
I did it.
I found the misfit toys. Maybe we found each other.
I didn’t come back to wrestling alone. I didn’t come to PRIME just for me. I came to PRIME to remind the world that Dirk Dickwood has a mind for the game like no other. People spend so much wasted time laughing at his name that they forget how many championship victories that he has masterminded. Dirk Dickwood is the embodiment of the power behind the throne and he deserved better than being a forgotten relic.
I came to PRIME to show everyone just how terrifying Hank is. The man is an accomplished wrestler in his own right. He has single-handedly won Tag Team Titles. Yet, before Culture Shock, he was never a name on anyone’s lips.
I came to PRIME to provide opportunity. For myself and for my new brothers.
People haven’t really much asked themselves “why” when it comes to the existence of The Glue Factory. Sure, many have come to their own conclusions on the meaning behind it and hell, they have a lot of interpretations that are perfectly correct and valid.
Everyone has missed the final interpretation though.
The one that has the most meaning to me. To my boys.
The Glue Factory is a celebration of repairing that which is broken.
It was rare to get a glimpse of the life of any members of The Glue Factory outside the confines of the MGM Grand. Phil Atken had always requested privacy for his home life and the ACE Network camera crew had respected the boundary. With the Great American Nightmare show on the horizon, Atken decided to extend a small courtesy to the network, inviting them to film in his garage, where he had set up a training ring.
Joining Atken in his final preparations before perhaps the biggest moment in his entire career was Dirk Dickwood. The show was a few days away but they knew it was best to avoid over-training. Instead, the two men were going through Dirk’s match day plan that had been scribbled upon a whiteboard standing in the middle of the ring.
Both men had taken a step back, hands on hips, looking at Dirk’s creation. After a few seconds of silence, Atken turned to his strategist.
“Dirk, none of this makes a lick of sense.”
You may think a comment like that would put Dirk on the defensive. Instead, the stout Scot erupted in laughter, stating between chuckles “Well, yes, it’s a strategy for Dusk. What the fuck makes sense about the man?”.
Dirk managed to elicit a wry smile from Atken. Genuine emotion was something that the ACE Network had never managed to catch from the Proprietor of the Glue Factory and they made sure to capture the moment as best they could. The two men laughed for a few more seconds before silence filled the air once more. Unlike the locker room experience of days prior, Atken was quick to break the silence on this occasion.
“Dirk, do you really think we can do this? It feels like everything is on the line. Everything we have tried to build. A better future. The space for young talent to breathe. This could wither and die on the vine in a few days.”
Dirk pondered Atken’s words, nodding and grunting as he processed it all together.
“Or… you could become the most powerful man in the wrestling world.”
Another genuine smile crept upon Atken’s face.
“That’s what I’m afraid of”
Do you know what pisses me off about my match at Great American Nightmare? Do you know the thing that is currently keeping me up at night? The thing that is eating away at my very soul?
Dusk doesn’t give a shit about this. He doesn’t give a single solitary shit about the meaning behind this match. To him, I am merely another Monster of the Month.
In the world of Dusk, he is a serialised hero and I am the next enemy that stands in the way of moving The Ballad of Dusk forward. Replace me with any other supposed “bad guy” and he will continue to move through life in the exact same way. A win at Great American Nightmare to Dusk seems more like a statistical exercise than anything else. Another day, another notch. We are about to battle for an opportunity at the Universal Championship, the entire reason that people are in this company, and for Dusk, he ambles through it in the same way he would fill in his fucking tax returns.
That offends me to my core.
I am not interchangeable.
My boy Hank bounced Dusk’s head off the mat so hard that I was certain we were moments away from the live re-enactment of the movie Scanners. I stood in the ring and detailed every crime I believe he is committing the future of this industry. The Glue Factory has been selling a product with his name on it for months to remind him of the damage and hurt we continue to desire to inflict upon him.
To Dusk though? Fuck, he has the same passion about this match as he probably does disputing the housing boundary with his shitty suburban neighbour.
I take a great deal of umbridge with that, you fucking sentient fog machine. It’s no wonder that you carry that little smoke device around with you considering you permanently live in the bloody clouds.
Dusk is a perfectly vapid vessel. I think he cares more about his rigorous morning hair gel routine than he does being one win away from the PRIME Universal Championship.
I am the fucking iceberg that the Good Ship Dusk is hurtling towards.
Ten years of pain, ten years of people mocking me, saying that I was dead in a ditch. When I walk down to the ring at the Great American Nightmare, I will be wearing all of it. Every ounce of humiliation and shame that I have endured will be carried upon my shoulders and when the bell rings… I will cast those shackles upon you, Dusk. I will allow you to feel what I felt for ten long years.
I wish I could say I had any pangs of sympathy about what I am about to do but then I remember, I gave you an out Dusk. Me and Hank gave you an out. You could have hobbled out to the ring after Culture Shock and announced your retirement. You could have stood in the middle of the MGM Grand Arena, basked in one last “RAHHH” of the crowd and took that love and appreciation home with you.
Sadly, that was not to be. Instead, you chose to fight, how unfortunate for you.
You think a little migraine and some vomiting was the worst pain you felt in your life?
My friend, that was the appetiser.
By the time that Timo Bolamba manages to pry my arms from your neck, you will wish that you had spent the last ten years of your life living in a fucking ditch. You’ll wish you never brandished that pipe in Melvin’s office. You will wish you never pulled on your fucking Beetlejuice tights that night.
I am two wins away from finally being respected, being listened to. I will not let a jumped up little prick like you stop the good work that I have started.
For a week now, I had convinced myself that the fear and anxiety ripping through me was all about losing this match. That after finally becoming the wrestler I always thought I could be, it was all going to get taken from me, torn from hands before I could even get a grip on it.
Tonight I realised the true terror, for me, and for PRIME.
What if I win?