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Event: ReVival 36
Location: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN
Match: MAR vs ROB WILLIAMS vs SEÁN O’NEILL
“Well, I guess its official then…”
He could feel the anxiety rising in his stomach, it had only just been a few seconds since he’d read the message but he could feel his throat tighten and he was struggling to catch his breath. His insides felt like he’d walked straight into a tornado and his head was already throbbing. He let his phone slide out of his hand as it rested on the counter.
He reached up to rub his temples to try and soothe the sudden pain; it came as no surprise to find his forehead glistening with cold sweat. He looked up and glanced across to the mirror in his hallway, he looked awful, worse than awful.
Stumbling, he darted as best as his feet would carry him to his bathroom and threw himself towards the bowl of the toilet. Just in time.
Pathetic! Absolutely pathetic…
He knew that voice all too well; knew that it wasn’t really there, and knew that it never really left him alone. Of course he’d hear it now as he wretched up the contents of his stomach.
Look at you, you fucking joke. I thought you wanted this, what happened to the idea of “One last shot”. You’re a fucking wreck, a broken down, good for nothing, never amounted to anything piece of shit. Go on, keep hurling, I’m sure there’s something more left you haven’t thrown up yet.
He crawled to his feet, grabbed a roll of toilet paper and wiped the sweat from his head. His eyes had been watering too; he wiped them dry and looked blankly at the reflection staring back at him. Already a fresh layer of sweat had replaced the one he’d only just wiped away. His throat felt raw as it always did when he threw up, it had always been that way with him. He tried to clear his throat but that only sent a stinging pain down into his stomach, as usual. He closed his eyes.
Just quit, run away like you always do when the pressure is on. Let’s face it, this is what they all expect you’ll do anyway, that is, it’s what they would expect if any of them even remembered who you were. How many times are we going to play out this charade?
He filled the sink with lukewarm water and washed his face, he still felt like crap, but at least if only for a little while, the other voice had left him alone. Another splash of water around the face and through his hair had him starting to come around a bit. He set off towards the kitchen, to the drawer where he kept his medical supplies and rummaged through for some paracetamol. Grabbing a glass of water, he knocked back the painkillers and the water before refilling the glass and heading for his lounge. For the briefest of moments, as he took the painkillers, he wondered as he often had before, would enough of these shut that other voice out. He dismissed the thought; for one thing these were over the counter painkillers, not strong enough. No wait, that wasn’t the point. That’s one dark road he wasn’t prepared to go down.
Reaching his armchair, he set the glass of water down and collapsed into the chair. Within the space of a few moments he had lent forward, head between his hands. Was this really going to be how it would go? His thoughts were running away from him, as they so often did. At first there didn’t appear to be any design to where they roamed, however they soon started to form a pattern.
He was twelve years old, sitting in a packed crowd at Wembley stadium. American wrestling had come to the UK to put on the biggest show these shores had ever seen. His best friend, Logan, sat beside him as did the rest of Logan’s family. The two boys were enthralled, surrounded by seventy thousand people all congregated for the same purpose, to witness history. Even young as he’d been, he felt incredible gratitude, knowing he was only there due to the generosity of Logan’s father George, who had paid for everything, the tickets to the show, the accommodation, and the flights from Belfast to London, all of it. This was the day it had all begun, it had been this day he and Logan had both decided there could be no other path for them in life, they simply had to be professional wrestlers.
He was fifteen, wearing an untidy attempt at his high school’s uniform, his scruffy hair already growing out longer than the school’s strict rules allowed. He was sitting in front of his Head of Year, which in itself was nothing new, he’d been sent to see her so regularly by teachers infuriated with his attitude and lack of discipline. She’d once told him that in her thirty years of teaching, he was the worst student she’d ever encountered. It wasn’t that he was unintelligent, far from it; it was his determination to throw his education away she couldn’t accept. What was unusual about this meeting however, was that for once, he wasn’t in trouble. This was the meeting every student had, where they would outline what their career plans were so the school could ensure they were studying the correct topics in their final years before going off to university. The look on her face was more of defeat than shock or disappointment.
“Say that again Seán?”
“I’m not coming back for sixth form; I’m going to England, to start my training.”
“To be a… wrestler?”
She pinched her forehead, sheer exasperation written across her face.
“What did I do to deserve you Seán O’Neill? Perhaps it’s for the best you don’t return for the sixth form either way; it seems we are just as much a waste of your time as you’ve been of ours.”
He was almost seventeen, his now shoulder-length hair tied back behind him. He locked up with Logan, dropping to one knee he pivoted behind his friend and ducked the back elbow he knew would be coming his way. Acting quickly he trapped the arm and dropped to his back, taking Logan down with him, body contorted as he struggled to escape the hold.
The voice had been Jaymes, their trainer. Seán released the hold and the two clambered to their feet, Logan scowling at the broad grin that waited him. Earlier that morning Jaymes had told them both they would be debuting on the coming card, against each other. Under normal circumstances he’d explained, they would each be paired with veterans for a few months. Training was just about learning the basics after all; it wouldn’t be until they were out there, in the ring, with the spotlight on them, that they’d really start to learn. But it had been a long time since Jaymes had seen two trainees with the potential these boys possessed, so he’d taken the decision to trust in their understanding of each other. He also suspected they would be less nervous facing off against each other instead of someone who may look at them as a rival for their spot on future cards.
“I think you both know how much of a risk I’m taking in putting you two in there together? Don’t let me down…”
He was twenty, sitting in a cloud of smoke in a busy pub in Düsseldorf, Germany. His tag-partner of the last eighteen months, Ryan Dynamic, had just told him of his plans to stop wrestling. He’d fallen in love with this new concept of mixed martial arts that was gaining popularity across the globe.
“I’m sorry kid; I know this wasn’t the original plan. I dunno, maybe I’ve just fallen out of love with wrestling, or maybe…”
“Maybe you’ve given up on making it to the big time?”
Ryan shrugged; not willing at this stage to commit to whichever he felt was more likely.
“Hey, look at it this way; at least you can start establishing yourself without this stupid gimmick around your neck now!”
O’Neill almost choked on the pint of Guinness he’d been sipping. The two men fell about with laughter; neither seemed all that upset about the end of “The Dynamic Duo” tag-team.
“Maybe I’ll keep the cape; it was really starting to grow on me ya know!”
“They love that sorta stuff in Japan kid.”
Neither man had mentioned it, but they both knew that would be what he’d do now. If Ryan was going off to find his path, Seán would do the same. There was nothing more left for him in Europe, his path led to the Land of Rising Sun.
He was twenty-two, sitting in his sweat-drenched attire in a dressing room of the world famous Tokyo Dome. He was trying to give his attention to the TV screen showing the main event action from the ring. It was a struggle to do so though, he was filled with a mixture of sadness and excitement that he was trying to get straight in his head. This had been his last match in Japan; the fans had even given him a standing ovation. It was no secret he’d signed a contract with High Octane Wrestling in the United States.
He was going to miss this place though, the last two years had been the most productive he’d ever known. His in-ring ability had come on leaps and bounds. It wasn’t just his wrestling that had improved, here was where he’d really begun to understand presentation and piece together his character. But the time had come to take that step towards the final frontier; America. He was ready to take that step now.
A few months had passed. Lee Best stood up from his desk, his face red with anger.
“What the hell do you mean you’re leaving? You signed a contract asshole, you work for me!”
Glancing up at Lee, he shrugged his shoulders. He was trying to remain calm, the last thing he wanted to do was push the wrong buttons. He knew the other’s temper was worse even than his own.
“It’s just not working out, no offense Mr Best, I’m just not a good fit here. I think it’s in everyone’s best interests that I go.”
“It’s only been a few months, how can you have decided already that you don’t fit in? You’ve not even tried to! I pay you a lot of money for a rookie you know. You think you’re going to get a better contract somewhere else? Ha, I don’t think so. I should have you do the job for every guy in the locker-room for even suggesting this.”
He’d felt there was no choice, everything he’d told Lee was the truth; he wasn’t a good fit for the promotion. He hadn’t settled in at all, and that had been reflected in his performances in the ring. He knew he could be better, but he also knew, somehow, that it wouldn’t be here. In the end he’d made the incredible choice to offer to refund the company every penny they’d paid him to be released. This wasn’t about money, he wanted to belong.
Another short jump forward to early 2003, he’d just turned twenty-three. He was lying in a hospital bed, watching wrestling on a small TV set.
“ANNND NNNNNEEEEWWWW, DWO WOOORLD HEAVYWWEEIIIGHHTT CCCCHHHHAAMMMPPIIIOONN… KAIOWAS!”
He knew he should be happy for his friend, but the thought tasted bitter in his mouth. They had joined the promotion together a year earlier, he had headed a faction for the first time; The New Breed. He was the one who was going to be the star, right? That’d been the intention, certainly it’d been the expectation.
He shifted his weight in the bed and a ripple of agony ran down his spine. That’s where it had all gone wrong; Donny Diamond had dropped him on his neck and almost paralysed him. Whilst he toiled, trying desperately to recover, Kaiowas had broken out as the real star of the group. He shot to heights O’Neill could only dream of. The rest of the group all established themselves to varying degrees, all whilst Seán lay in bed, truly unaware of how greatly this injury would impact him over the coming years.
He was fast approaching his twenty-fifth birthday; again he was flat on his back, however this time he was in the middle of a ring. It wasn’t a DWO ring however, Callisto Bane had closed the promotion’s doors for good whilst he’d been recovering, this was a Primetime Central Ring, and this was the fifth edition of the Primetime Central Golden Turnbuckle Tournament. He’d just been pinned and could hear the announcer proclaiming Jack Murphy the winner and so progressing to the next round. He sat up, wiping away the sweat that had run down into his eyes. This hadn’t been the plan; this was supposed to be his glorious comeback.
Was it ring-rust? This had been the longest he’d gone without wrestling since he first pulled on a pair of boots. Had his rehabilitation not been enough? No, he’d worked harder to return than anyone could’ve believed. He knew, deep down at his core he knew, he’d just lost to the better man. The realisation didn’t ease the pain he felt. He had really been counting on a good showing at this tournament as a way to announce to the wrestling world that he was fighting fit and ready to go. Defeat in the first round was surely not going to have done his hopes of attracting a new employer. I mean sure, he hadn’t expected to win the whole thing, but he had rather counted on making it through the first few rounds, he would’ve been bound to catch someone’s eye.
Dejected, he rolled out of the ring, allowing Murphy the spotlight his victory had earned. As he started to make his way to the backstage area, a hand from the crowd caught him by the bicep. He spun, his anger flaring, ready to introduce whichever fan had grabbed him to his clenched right hand. He caught himself in time to stop and let his hand fall to his side, he knew this man; Matthew Warr, the owner of the World Wrestling Alliance. Warr’s eyes followed O’Neill’s hand before he flashed a grin.
“Easy there SurReal. I’ve been hoping to have a chat with you; I think you’ll want to hear what I’ve got to say. Swing by the Marriot after the show if you’re ready to talk business.”
He was twenty-eight, and sitting across from him was John Mark Blackburn, the president of Ringside Wrestling. He’d been calling all employees into his office, surely he was aware that everyone already knew the worst news, the company was folding. Yet still, he’d taken the time to speak with everyone from the ring crew to his Champions individually, he was just that sort of man.
“I’m sorry Seán, I know you’d really found your feet here. I could understand how you’d feel this couldn’t come at a worse time for you, but I don’t think it needs to be that way. You’ve impressed a lot of people since you got here, I don’t think you’re going to have any trouble getting a contract somewhere. As it happens, there have been enquiries about your plans already.”
“Oh?” Despite having known what Blackburn would have to say, he was still struggling to conceal his disappointment. Things really had been going well for him here, as a matter of fact he was really delivering on his potential at long last. No matter what was to come, it would be a kick to the gut when the final curtain would fall on the company in a few days from now at the Center Stage pay-per-view.
“Yeah, we actually have an offer to buy-out your contract, I believe you know the promoter; Lee Best?”
His jaw dropped, he didn’t know what he’d expected Blackburn to say, but it certainly wasn’t that.
“You… haven’t accepted the offer have you?”
“No Seán, I know your first time there didn’t go well. I told him he’d need to approach you directly, and not until after Sunday. There was another promoter who got in touch though; Steven Caldera, runs Global Championship Wrestling.”
His eyes darted up to meet Blackburn’s.
“GCW is interested?”
“It seems so; just do me a favour please Seán. Will you wait until after Center Stage to speak with them? I want to go out with a bang, leave the fans with something incredible to remember us by, I need everyone focused on their matches.”
O’Neill nodded his agreement. He owed this man so much, of course he’d wait. But already his thoughts started running wild with the thought of some of the dream matches he could have with the talent on that roster.
Coming out of his reverie, he picked himself up out of his armchair. He had no idea how long he’d been lost in his thoughts. There was still a dull ache in his temples, but it was definitely fading, the painkillers doing their work. He tried to focus his thoughts for a moment, they were cloudy. Were his life on the line he honestly couldn’t have listed off the memories he’d been reliving, but he felt certain he knew what they’d be, some of them at least. Each had been a turning point in his life, in his career, neither entirely positive nor entirely negative. A song lyric came to him then.
“The road is long, with many a winding turn, that leads us to who knows where… who knows where.”
The smile came unbidden as he considered the words. He knew where the road led; another chance to lace up his boots, another chance to prove his quality. For too long he’d been letting that other voice win, for far too long. Clarity washed over him, he knew there were no guarantees, especially that things would go as he’d hoped. He knew the standard of competition he would face was unlike anything he’d faced before; the wrestlers of PRIME are unrivalled. He thought of the words that had haunted him, uttered by Christian Zenith so many years ago now, yet now his grin broadened. Zenith had told the world that he was “far too comfortable in being mediocre”. He’d let that eat him alive for thirteen years, but the words bounced off him like rain this time.
Never a truer word, you should’ve listened to him and stayed buried in the hole you’ve hidden in. Run away O’Neill, you can’t do this, you never have……
The voice faded into nothingness as he managed at long last to shut it out. He remembered who he was now, he remembered what he could do, he remembered that every victory and every defeat, every high and every low, every bump along the road had led him here. And this was where he was meant to be. He’d spent too long worrying he’d be a footnote in history, he’d let himself forget he had a say in that. He’d been so focused on the idea that this was “his last chance”, but now he saw clearly this was just “the next chance”. Who knows, maybe all it will take is just one chance, but if not, then he’ll keep going, keep pushing, keep fighting until they all know. He belongs here, amongst the best wrestlers in the world, he is one of them.
Seán O’Neill had been walking in the weeds for too long, it was time to step back on to the road that leads to who knows where.