Private: Balaam the Mask of Malice
To their most invested of fans, wrestling is everything as their fan base is as rabid, frothing at the mouth, and crazy eyed as any political gathering you have ever seen. Blind loyalty and a plastic bond with their stars or brands create complete and utter dedication from the fan. Even if the fan is being sold an illusion by masterful storytellers and brutal violence.
I hate pro-wrestling. I am not one of those guys who cares about it. So, when I was asked to author a story about PRIME, and it’s Almasy Invitational instead of March Madness, I was less than thrilled. I guess that’s not full accurate. I was asked by Sports Illuminated to write about March Madness, but the madness of March happened under the Ides of the MGM cameras, and I lost my opportunity.
The problem here is I took a stipend with an advance to write a story on March Madness from the perspective of the sports books of Vegas. Being early for most jobs is a good thing but coming early to Vegas for a degenerate gambler and an alcoholic is another. Soon the strong amber currents from the ever-flowing bar taps started pulling my raft of sobriety into the rough waters of debauchery and hell followed. I missed my deadline, I missed my opportunity, and I missed a few calls home to the old lady.
What I did get was angry calls and texts from both my editor, possible ex-wife, and the legal team. They wanted their money back and to be honest the casino already seized most of my assets in a hostile mugging by a one-armed bandit followed by a steady beating from hookers, blow, roulette, Manhattans, DMT, and a betrayal from my own sense of worth.
Thankfully after a long and arduous negotiation the fine folks at Sports Illuminated made a deal with me that I could keep staying in my hotel room, but I would have to cover PRIME’s Almasy Invitational or at least get a story from it. Bent over and greased up with nowhere to run I just had to accept the offer and let the press credentials slide into my DM. Often circling in questions of legitimacy, fixed contests, and narrative driven rants to hype shows I realized this assignment wasn’t that far off from MARCH MADNESS or the NCAA.
PRIME was one of, if not the most popular of wrestling companies at the peak of the genre’s existence garnishing lavish profits and sky-high television ratings. But fads like eagles, dollar bills, and the sense of trust in one’s government fly away until one day they are out of sight. PRIME closed.
Seven or so years later after closing, a reboot is happening on the ACE NETWORK in partnership with the MGM Grand. Nobody is sure if it is a feel-good nostalgia cash grab like Ghost Busters or the millionth Star Wars movie or if it legit is trying to recapture a fun genre bringing it back to life. Time will tell for this upstart once behemoth of the wrestling industry.
All things have a start even those reborn. To crown a new champion and really the figurehead of the company (think starting QB or the leading role in a play) a tournament was created by management to discover that individual. Simple enough. Thirty-Two athletes in a single elimination format that finishes at Culture Shock for the Universal Title.
Brandon Youngblood a heavy odds Vegas favorite was able to grapple his way to a predictable win in the ROLO bracket. Nothing fancy, just straight ahead win after win. The other bracket came down to the 8Th seed Cancer Jiles who pulled a shocking win defeating another odds on number one seed favorite in Nova. Along the way Jiles did get a fluke win by being choked out by a crazed man who was disqualified name John Kennedy Royko Jr. This will be important shortly which is why I mention it here.
The story of Youngblood versus Jiles isn’t very exciting from a storytelling standpoint. Two very good wrestlers who managed to craft their way into the finals. The best man will win and by most accounts that will be the number one seed Brandon Youngblood. Jiles who is often known more as a guy in a group rather than a singles star has broken out and many would love to see the underdog go over although he is not a very popular person. If this is the story I had to tell we probably could finish right here. I thought I was screwed until I got a message from the front desk that was both ominous and intriguing.
A woman named Aurora Jennings the pregnant wife of John Kennedy Rokyo Jr. claimed her fiancé is wrestling against his will and is being brainwashed by a vindictive psychopathic conman with a God complex. Given my skepticism of wrestling this all seemed like a rouse until I started doing some research and found some credibility in the fact, she was trying so hard to get the police involved. Looking for company during my free continental breakfast I decided to listen to her story, and I was sold even more. Below are the relevant excepts from the interview.
AJ = Aurora Jennings MM = Memphisto Morris
AJ: Thank you for meeting with me. Nobody will hear me out. I’ve tried the company, the hotel, the police. Nobody will listen.
MM: So, let’s get down to brass tacks you think your fiancé has been abducted?
AJ: Yes, John Kennedy Royko Jr. He was a wrestler in the tournament whose knee was no longer able to support him. He called it quits, we were leaving the arena, I went to get the car after he was stopped by a weird man, and next thing I know he’s missing. I don’t see him again until the match he was supposed to not be able to wrestle in – only now he’s wrestling in a creepy mask dragged around by an old cowboy holding him by a chain. A fucking chain.
MM: Its professional wrestling and all this sounds very…professional wrestling. How do you know this isn’t just part of a story?
AJ: I’m pregnant with our first child. We are all we’ve ever been for each other, and I can tell you this is some shit. HE wouldn’t just disappear. He wouldn’t play a game like this one me. Not now especially, but not ever.
MM: Who has taken him “hostage”?
AJ: A religious zealot named Hoyt Williams. I former PRIME Universal champion who has returned to…I don’t know what the fuck! He claims to have put a mask on JK with supernatural powers. I know this sounds fucking crazy. It is fucking crazy, but this is my life right now and I don’t know what to do.
She began to cry into her hands which given the situation I felt helpless in fixing.
MM: Did you go to the police?
AJ: Given it’s America a frantic black woman making outrageous claims gets dismissed like the cold stale coffee they pour down the drain at the change of a shift. They won’t listen. The first time I went to them they told me I couldn’t file a missing person’s report for a guy they just saw on TV. The second time when I went in with more details, they told me to contact PRIME. The third time they damn near put me in a rubber room. My father is a lawyer, and I still do not trust the cops. Absolutely useless. Also, the Sheriff is friends with this Hoyt fuck whose face I want to bash with a baseball bat.
The perfect storm. A marginalized woman making claims of a Svengali abducting the father of her soon to be born child in a profession with a shady reputation. In some ways what she was saying was making sense, in other ways I cannot really blame the police.
MM: I’m not mocking you or pressing to offended I’m just trying to understand. Do you think the mask is magical?
She threw her hands up in total frustration.
AJ: Do I believe in hocus pocus? No. I’m pre-law at the University of Alabama. I’m sane. I’m stable. I come from a good family. I’ve never bought into conspiracy theories or ghost tales prior to any of this. This is my reality right now. I KNOW he wouldn’t just abandon me. I also KNOW what I saw on TV, and that was JK with a knee that seemed healed wearing a creepy fucking mask. I remember JK and I watching a Netflix show on the Heaven’s Gate cult, and we both laughed wondering who would fall that deep into another person’s spell. IS that what this is?
MM: I mean from a base of logic that seems sensible. Had he been acting weird lately?
AJ: He’s been going through a lot lately. His Knee. His father died just before the start of the tournament. His football career ending. It’s been a whirl wind. Yoooo I just remember a text thread I had with him the day his father died. He saw a strange older man dressed like a cowboy. This might sound crazy but the old dude who drags him around on a chain fits that description.
MM: DO you think they had a hand in his fathers’ death?
I remember her eyes widening as the winter is long pondering how deep this kidnapping goes. I always listen to the craziest of conspiracy theories because sometimes in the rantings of insanity the strangest and unlikeliest of truths can be found. It’s our nature to only see what makes sense and write off what doesn’t. We look at the 1% of high school players who make the NFL draft as inspiration while we don’t even consider the 99% who fail – despite their lesson being the probable outcome of most dreamers. We would rather be inspired than hear the truth.
MM: Who knows where this thing really began. You don’t think murder?
AJ: His father died of a mysterious virus but had been sick for a long time.
MM: Even if they didn’t cause the death they certainly could have been grooming or seeking out a man in a vulnerable state. What did PRIME say when you called them?
AJ: I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten through to the right person. I was told by somebody who answers the phone that the company does not get involved in personal affairs of their wrestlers. Like we’re having some kind of domestic dispute here. They assured me that the well-being of their wrestlers is of the upmost importance and that if JK wrestled his knee must have been cleared by a doctor. Like so many cracks in our society the mental state and well being of a person’s mind isn’t important as long as they show up and do their job.
MM: I know you are pregnant should you walk away from this and give it time?
AJ: Do not underestimate the determination and strength of a woman whose family is being fucked with. No, I can’t just walk away I will do everything in my power to get my fiancé back. This Hoyt Williams may have some cult like voodoo shit, but I got Black girl magic and trust me when I tell you this, I will get Royko back.
MM: You wanted to be heard and I hear you. What do you want to come of my story?
AJ: I want people to understand what is going on here and that I need help. If one person in PRIME hears this and can assist me, please reach out. If the fans read this understand a man is being subjugated to labor that he is not doing of his own free will. This is slavery in 2022 and it’s happening live on ACE. There is no story here, there is no con, this is truth. I need you to trust me and help me.
MM: Culture Shock the imprisoned essence of John Kennedy Royko now called Balaam is facing the Angelo Luchador do you have any comment on the match?
AJ: Angelo Luchador, TAL. If you read this, please help me. This must end at Culture Shock my life is in shambles yo. I know physically that’s my fiancé, but I have to ask you to beat him down hard. Break him to the point you can rip that mask off his face. I don’t know if suddenly he’ll snap out of it once the mask is off, or if he’s so far gone all hope is lost. I’m not sure what will happen, but I need to find out. TAL I’m begging you to get the mask. Hoyt Williams from the little I’ve seen and researched is a disgusting, bigot, swindler who will do whatever it takes to get what he wants. I need you to do whatever it takes stop him. Please. This Hoyt Williams has a charm, and dumb people enjoy it. I’ve seen the fans fall for it. I’ve seen people laugh at his jokes he uses to disarm them. He puts on this act of a fun entering guy, but you’ve seen him on Jabber. You know it’s a long con. Fuck him up. For all of us. FUCK-HIM-UP.
She cried and I lied to her that it would be all right which indeed may be the case, but I certainly have no way of knowing. Could John Kennedy Royko Jr. just be playing a role while also escaping a crazed ex-lover? If we’re to consider a magical mask and Santeria certainly we must also here the other side.
I made some phone calls and managed to get through to someone in Hoyt’s inter circle who told me Hoyt Williams would be willing to meet with me for five minutes in his luxury suite.
From a table at the continental breakfast in the lobby to an elevator ride to the penthouse it was time to come face to face with the alleged kidnaper, savior, Svengali Hoyt Williams. I knocked on his door and he opened it greeting me in an aggressive manner with stern posture. He welcomed me in. His suite had a kitchen where he stood at a countertop island slicing a grapefruit. I stood across from him and admired his silk pajamas, for a moment.
HW = HOYT WILLIMAS MM = Memphisto Morris
HW: I’m a busy man, in a busy world, being visited by a busybody – so I’ll be pithy. You have until I finish this grapefruit to ask me whatever it is you need to know for your little story.
MM: Are you the son of God?
HW: Aren’t we all his children?
MM: Are you the Second Coming?
HW: Actually, it’s like my third or fourth time in PRIME if you count mini vacations.
The conversation was not going where I wanted it to.
MM: Can you perform miracles?
This upset the holy man as he made a sour face before tearing into a spoonful of grapefruit.
HW: Do you think I’m some kind of a circus act Mr. Morris? Do you want me to fill up a bathtub and dance upon its waters? Do you want me to cure a leper in front of you? Did you bring a leper? Do you know where we can get one? Perhaps what you want from me is to give you what you truly need. How about a turn this here water into strong Vodka so you can give us a taste of your true self?
He poured a glass of water in front of me and smiled a sickening smirk that I wanted to punch so bad as he watched me over the glass gulping it down. Being a 5’7” journalist with integrity I certainly had to compose myself up against a 6’6” athlete. How did he know of my past? Maybe he does know-all and see-all or perhaps he just has google.
MM: I’m not asking you for a God damn miracle I’m simply trying to understand if you have the ability to enslave a man by placing a mask on his face.
HW: Blasphemy again and I’ll throw you out and give you Chron’s Disease. What does this enslave comment mean? Free will is the divine nature of the American enterprise. Balaam is nothing more than an independent contractor working for me. He has free will. If you think he doesn’t, call the police!
At this rate about half a grapefruit was gone and he was eating faster.
MM: What crime has been committed?
HW: My point exactly. Even Jesus had to answer to the laws of his time. Remember it was the state who legally executed him. If I’m this task master as you claim, certainly the laws of today would stop me.
He giggled while he ate more grapefruit, and I never disliked a man-eating fruit more.
MM: Let me talk to Balaam. Let me hear from him that he is fine, and I will move on.
HW: I’m sorry. He has the biggest match of his career in less than a week and is in deep training. It’s the difference between my protegee and the rest of the PRIME roster. The focus and determination of Balaam is unearthly, and his destruction will be unstoppable. But a man needs to train, and training is what he is doing. By the way where are you getting all this enslavement stuff from? The crazy ex-girlfriend? I do hope not as she’s been off her rocker since Balaam broke up with her.
MM: Tell me about the mask Balaam wears?
HW: Mr. Morris I’m almost done with my fruit. You should watch ACE as all this has been…pardon the pun…covered before. What is a mask? A symbol? A disguise. A projection of what we want people to see, or not see? We all wear masks Mr. Morris. The alcoholic journalist pretending to care puts on straight sober face. The sexual deviant who walks around hiding who they are hoping for the world never to…again pardon the pun…not be exposed to their real selves. The abusive drunken father who plays family head at the office Christmas party. The lonely woman who cakes her face in make up hoping her powder mask gets her noticed by the boys or the gals – it’s a whole new world. Whatever the situation the mask is ever present in the entire human existence.
MM: I saw your return to PRIME you claim Balaam will crucify The Angelo Luchador after stabbing TAL’s hand on live television. Shall the law be informed of the upcoming crucifixion now?
HW: We’re done here but let me say this. You want a story. How about covering the fact we have a referee on a public platform conspiring against me? The opponent sending me fecal filled parcels through the mail. How many coaches in the March Madness had to ask the NCAA not to allow their referee to wear war paint to the game? This is the religious oppression I must tend to while you spin yarns about adult slavery. Please. It’s entirely laughable.
He pushed a button and the room went dark red except for a portrait on the wall of the gruesome monsters mask highlighted in a neon white light.
HW: At Culture Shock all the laughing ends Mr. Morris. All the pain beings. We use symbolism to teach our children and tell our morality stories. You see there is no need to call the police as we’re not going to crucifix this luchador in the ways of Jesus. To a wrestler death is being nailed down to a role stuck in mid-card purgatory for an eternity. When an aged man in a rather cheap mask in the only other singles match on the card is flogged, beaten, and humiliated by a rookie monster his crucifixion will be clear. He will be defined as a broken old sad luchador whose best days are behind him and ours just getting started. I’m going to pray for you tonight, along with Ms. Jennings, and the fading soul behind the cheap Angelo mask. Now be gone Mr. Morris I have industries to manipulate.
He threw the grind into the trash as I left. That night I didn’t find salvation instead my sobriety mask fell off again when I met the old cowboy in the hotel bar, and we did doubles until I damn near missed another deadline. At Culture Shock I hope to GOD Angelo Luchador beats Balaam and takes his damn mask as I know evil and its present. Something weird is going on in PRIME and I hope someone does something soon before it’s too late.