From the manuscript of the memoir “Renewed – The Rises and Falls of Jonathan Rhine” – to be released in Fall of 2027
So I punched my old mentor in the face back in 2022. It ended up being a huge mistake.
Not actually doing it, which felt right and good. And not because of the criminal or legal implications, though there were a few days afterwards where I received some calls from someone claiming to be Foster Nackedy’s attorney giving veiled threats.
No, the reason it was a mistake is that it caused everyone to talk about it.
Jonathan Rhine leans against a turnbuckle, watching the action intently. While he does have his own room in Gray’s Wrestling Academy, on the training room floor this may as well be his office.
In the ring across from him, two young men are in an intense battle. Quinn, muscular and on the shorter side, sends Connor into the ropes with force. Connor, eighteen and skinny, forgets to turn and bounces off of the ropes backwards, landing in a heap. Quinn laughs and picks Connor up, hitting him with a quick chop and attempting to grapple him for a suplex.
However, Connor quickly grabs his arm and tosses him over in a hip toss, then stands and waits. Quinn ambles to his feet and runs at Connor again, who falls and takes Quinn down in a drop toe hold. But rather than press his advantage, Connor again stands and waits.
“Be aggressive, Connor!” Jonathan shouts, leaning forward slightly. But Connor still won’t move, giving Quinn time to get to his feet. Quinn once again shuffles towards Connor, his arms outstretched. This time he grabs him and lifts him high, but as Connor’s head moves up, Jonathan sees a smile on his face.
“Come on,” Jonathan mutters as Connor flips backwards in a hurricanrana. Quinn lies on the mat as Connor bounces up, laughing.
“All right, stop!” Jonathan claps his hands and exits the far ring to enter into the main ring. “Connor, your counters are great, just as they always are. But you can’t just wait for your opponent to move. You have to take initiative.” Connor nods.
“And you, Quinn,” Jonathan continues, bending over with his arm out. “You know Connor’s style; you spar every week. You have to anticipate his moves and come up with some counters of your own.”
“Whatever,” Quinn huffs, slapping Jonathan’s hand away. “I’m doing just fine without your pointers, boss.” Quinn rolls out of the ring and joins a group of students, who laugh and give him various forms of encouragement. Jonathan notices the stares he’s getting, and he doesn’t appreciate it.
“Hey, Jonathan!” calls someone from across the gym. Turning, Jonathan is relieved to see Shweta Kallemullah and Paxton Ray standing by the doorway. “Can we talk for a minute?”
Everyone that knows me has a pretty good idea of what I’m all about: the kind of person I am, the things I stand for, my general code of ethics. And while obviously I had punched countless men within the confines of a wrestling ring, punching a former friend outside of it caused people to question what they thought about me.
It also caused them to question me directly, which was tough to take.
In the span of one day, I got asked the same question several times:
Why did you do it?
Shweta barely waits for Jonathan’s office door to close before rounding on him. “So why did you punch Foster?”
Jonathan sighs and sits down. “Shweta, can we not?”
“No we can not can not,” she says, pausing to wrinkle her nose. “I feel like I’ve had to say this several times at this point: you represent a cause that is greater than just a wrestling tag team. You are part of a Foundation that is guided by principles of kindness, benevolence, and control. Striking someone, a friend no less, in the face is not a good exhibitor of those principles.”
“Former friend,” Jonathan says, looking down.
“Moreover, you owe an explanation to Paxton most of all,” Shweta continues.
Jonathan looks up. “How do you figure?”
“Ya made me talk t’people,” Paxton says.
Shweta sighs. “That’s not why. Well, partially it is. You lectured him on the same things I had to lecture you on just now. You preached about being diplomatic and measured in conversation. And then without warning you do the exact thing you told him not to do. And he deserves to know why.”
Jonathan looks at Paxton. “Do you feel that way?”
Paxton shifts in his chair. “Yeah, a bit.”
“Okay.” Jonathan walks over to his desk and sits down, then funnels through the left-hand drawer for a few moments. He pulls out a black ledger and rifles through it quickly, then finds a page and hands the ledger to Paxton.
“What’s this?” Paxton looks at the book blankly. “Money?”
Shweta takes the ledger from Paxton and her eyes widen. “A lot of money.”
“Sure is,” Jonathan says, grabbing the ledger back and stuffing it in the desk. “Between the loans, the abrupt transfer of power, and him ghosting on our joint investment, Foster owes me about thirty grand.”
“So it’s money shit,” Paxton says, nodding. “I get that.”
“Why haven’t you involved lawyers?” Shweta asks.
“Because he doesn’t have anything to give me. He was able to avoid it with the financial loopholes America gives all of us so we can skirt responsibility. And it’s not like I could sue the gym because I own the gym now. So I’m eating a lot of money, and it won’t kill me, but I’m not supposed to like it.”
“Damn right you ain’t,” Paxton says, standing up. “Well I can be your debt collector next time you see him. I punch harder than you.” Smiling, he walks out of the office. “Speakin’ a’punchin’, I want to spar someone today. Smackin’ the Blueberry has me itchin’ to hit someone else.”
Jonathan laughs, then sees Shweta staring at him as the door closes. “What?”
“Why did you really punch him?”
I told Paxton a partial truth, but not the full truth.
Did I trust Paxton at the time? A little. But not completely. I couldn’t trust him completely. I barely knew him.
We had both gotten over our initial hesitancy of teaming together, and our odd couple dynamic was actually working great at the time. We were clicking, and even though the Tag Team Survivor wasn’t going exactly our way, both of us were working well enough together that we had avoided elimination through the first two stages of the tournament.
Side note: a lot of people asked me how I felt about the Tag Team Survivor, which was an innovative and fun way to crown a new tag team champion. And I said as much when asked at the time, but now that I’m removed from it, I can be honest: I just wanted to fight in the ring.
Our first match was a win. And then we went straight from that to moving boulders, putting puzzle pieces together, even trying disgusting dishes. And it was heralded as great television at the time, and so of course I’m happy for PRIME and the ACE network that the event was a success. But I didn’t come out of retirement after 12 years to be part of a gameshow.
Anyway, things were going well with Paxton. But I didn’t know him nearly well enough to tell him the full reason.
“What do you–”
“Uh uh,” Shweta says, standing up and putting her hands on the desk. “This isn’t about money. Maybe Paxton will believe that because he doesn’t know enough about your financial status. But I do. Even if you’re owed 30k, the investments and savings you’ve made put you in a position to not worry about it. And this is the first time you’ve ever brought it up, and if I know anything about Jonathan Rhine, you would’ve said something a long time ago.”
Jonathan stares at the Chairperson, opening his mouth and then closing it. After a moment, he opens the desk drawer again, then pulls out a picture and flicks it like a frisbee at her.
“What–” she says, fumbling to keep the picture from falling. She fails as it flutters to the floor face up. Bending down, she stops as her fingers grasp the picture. “…oh.”
The picture is of the three of them: Jonathan, Shweta, and Foster. They’re standing in front of the wrestling academy, all three smiling. Jonathan stands a few feet away from the others, but Foster and Shweta are intertwined: fingers locked, arm on shoulder, Foster looking at Shweta instead of the camera.
“This was a good day,” she says, smiling.
“It was, but the days after weren’t good.”
“They weren’t.” After a moment, she hands the picture back to Jonathan and brushes her hand against the corner of her eye. “So you punched him for…me?”
Jonathan sighs, grabbing the picture. Instead of putting it back in the drawer, he props it against his pen holder and looks at it. “Listen, Shway…I know our history is complicated. I know how you came into our lives. And you did some terrible things to us. I forgave you. I thought Foster did too. But as you know when you guys gave your relationship a real try…he obviously didn’t. And he hurt you. Maybe not more than you think you deserved, but…”
He stands up and sits next to Shweta, grabbing her hand. “It was way more than you deserved. He did a lot of bad things over the past few years, and that punch was for all of them, but he was way worse to you. And so when I saw him, and saw the way you reacted…I lost my cool.”
Shweta looks down at their hands, then slowly pulls her hand away. She looks up for a moment and their eyes meet briefly. Then Shweta stands up, looking at her heels. “Okay. Well, I don’t condone violence, and we’ll need to give a formal apology. You can write it yourself if you want. I’ll take care of the rest.” She walks towards the door, then turns, her hand hovering on the handle. “If you did…if you punched him for me, you didn’t need to. But thanks.”
She leaves, and Jonathan stands up and moves over to his desk chair, putting his face in his hands. When he looks up, his dead ex-girlfriend Katie Malick is sitting across from him.
“You’re such a fucking liar, Jonno.”
I told Shweta a partial truth, but not the full truth.
Did I trust Shweta? Mostly. But not completely. I couldn’t trust her completely. I knew her too well.
As I outlined in my SCCW time, Shweta worked for Desade, and her number one goal was to get close to me through Foster, who she was pretending to date. She poisoned me, weakened me mentally and physically, and left me helpless when Desade and Amy Campbell came for me. Until Katie died, Shweta was directly responsible for the worst moments of my life.
I eventually forgave her. And I know that those things she did didn’t define her, and the traits she exhibited in my destruction eventually were used for a great purpose in The Foundation. Honestly now I barely think about the bad things Shweta did, because the good things she has done for me and my life have more than made up for it.
But I still couldn’t tell her why I really punched Foster.
“You again,” Jon says, sighing.
“Me again,” Katie chirps, crossing her legs. “By the way, I saw your breath stop for a second when you held her hand. You looked like a seventh grader. It was really cute.”
“What do you want?”
“I want you to be honest about why you punched Foster.”
“And why do you think that is?”
Katie laughs. “I know I’m in your imagination, but I’m not going to say it. You have to say it.”
Jonathan picks up the picture again and stares at it, putting her thumb over Shweta’s face. “He abandoned me.”
“Ding ding ding!” Katie says, clapping. “You weren’t supposed to own a wrestling academy. You weren’t supposed to be a head trainer. You weren’t supposed to still be living in New Orleans. So when you step into these halls, you feel like you’re living Foster’s life, and he isn’t living it with you.”
“I like running the Academy. It gives me a purpose.”
Katie shrugs. “Sure it does, but you didn’t get to choose it. He chose it for you. And now you have two other things that give you purpose, things you certainly feel more in control of. How dare Foster show up in your new life in Las Vegas? Celebrating in your new home with your new tag team partner and your new Foundation? What if he somehow gets entangled in this and abandons you there too?”
Jonathan shakes his head. “I wouldn’t let him. Not this time.”
“You say that now, but you love him despite everything. And somehow you’d let him in, you’d get invested again, and he’d dip. So no, you didn’t do it for money, and you didn’t do it for Shweta, you little heartbreaker you. You did it…”
“I did it for myself,” Jonathan finishes.
“There! The truth! Does it feel good?”
Jonathan is about to answer, but there’s a knock at the door. When he looks up, Katie is gone.
“Come in,” he says.
I even told myself only a partial truth. But not the complete truth.
I wouldn’t admit it to myself or my manifestations of my ex-girlfriend because I knew myself best of all.
If I tell myself I punched Foster out of a selfish feeling of abandonment, I can use it as motivation to stop being so selfish. To live out my life as a gym owner and trainer with more passion and resolve than he did. And I can use it as a reason to never abandon the people I love, because I don’t want to feel the way he made me feel.
It also let me live comfortably knowing that I was doing something I didn’t want to do, but it wasn’t my fault. I was thrust into this position, and if I ultimately failed, it was because I was put in the position to do so.
But I knew the real reason, of course. And only one other person knew the real reason at the time.
“Hey coach,” Connor says as he slides in the room, his skinny frame shifting sideways rather than opening the door wide.
“Connor, what’s up?”
Connor sits down and looks at Jonathan, his eyes wide. “I just wanted to –”
“You want to know why,” Jonathan answers. “You want to know why I punched your dad.”
Connor Nackedy tilts his head, then shakes it. “No, I know exactly why you punched him. You punched him for me. And for Dustin.”
Jonathan stares at Foster’s son for a few moments before nodding, grabbing the picture of Foster and Shweta, and putting it back in the drawer. “Yes. I imagine even with everything, you feel conflicted about it.”
“I do,” the young man says, looking down. “But I thought about it, and I realized…I would’ve done it too. And I just wanted to say thanks.” When Connor looks up, he’s smiling. “I know you hit a lot harder than I do.”
“You’re welcome,” Jon says, laughing. “I saw the looks from Quinn and the others. I guess they’re mad at me because I punched their old coach.” Connor’s smile drops and he looks down again. “Is that not it?” Jonathan asks.
“No, they…they’re mad because they think you’re a fraud.”
Jonathan takes a sharp breath. “What?”
“The whole, um, Paxton thing. With his daughter. They think you’re just doing all these nice things for her and for him because it looks good, and because it gives you another shot at the big time.”
After a few moments, Jonathan nods. “And what do you think?”
“I think…” Connor looks at the wall of belts and pictures and focuses on the one of his father. “I think intent doesn’t always have to matter. You’re doing a good thing. It can be for optics, or it can be selfish. But that money still comes in. Nora still gets treatment she wouldn’t get otherwise. And it’s not like the people judging you are doing anything to help. Plus, you’ve done enough for me that I know better than to question why you help people.”
“I appreciate that, Connor.” Jonathan stands, causing Connor to as well. “I am sorry that I hit your father. I didn’t really want to. But what he did…I haven’t forgiven him either.”
Connor nods. “I know. Maybe one day we both will.”
“Maybe so. Hey, can you grab Dith for me?”
“Sure.” Connor walks out of the office. A few moments later, Aaron “Dith” Timble pokes his head inside the office.
“What’s up, boss?”
“Set up a match between Quinn and Paxton in ten minutes,” Jonathan says, smiling. “No holds barred.”
“No holds barred?”
Jonathan shrugs. “Paxton told me he wanted to hit someone.”
I punched Foster for a lot of different reasons. They were all true. But unfortunately for me, at the end of the day it didn’t really matter what those reasons were. Because it was a huge mistake.
It was a huge mistake because people talked about it. But even bigger was that, no matter my reasons for it, my punch gave Foster a reason to come after me. And that led to my ultimate downfall.