Behind Thanksgiving, Christmas was Brandon’s favorite holiday. A season for giving. For ages, The Diamond was a taker, fueled through want and self absorption. The love for Christmas happened in recent years, when the calm and forgiveness came in. A second, more peaceful life. Not many get such a chance.
He was doing his best to be worthy.
The house was decorated in full; a tree in every room, icicle lights wrapping around the gutters, a snowman as well as an inflatable penguin with reindeer antlers in the front yard. The scent of freshly baked cookies, all done thanks to the tag team effort he and Amy put together, filled the household. The cookies were important; they’d bundle them together in ziplock bags, taking them with them to the houses they would carol at with the rest of the neighborhood, putting them at the door alongside a homemade card. Getting a jump on the holiday was always important. More time to savor the season and help in the community. He might not have been born in Eau Claire, but that wouldn’t stop him from doing his part for civic pride.
This year was different. Getting so much done early had a more immediate, driving cause. Brandon had been retired from his first life, professional wrestling, for over a decade. Sure, there were moments of relapse peppered within, but for all intents and purposes, his career ended in 2010, in a PRIME ring. Life had become more fulfilling away from the squared circle for many reasons. Nearing three hundred pounds? Food was chief among them.
Sweat poured into his t-shirt as he curled kettlebells, grunts forcing their way out at the peak. The basement was a sanctuary, but now, it was invaded with free weights, a treadmill, an elliptical…how he hated the elliptical…a spartan set up. He exhaled deeply as he lowered the weights, dropping them to the carpet. The fabric of his shirt clung to his gut. It disgusted him. How’d he let himself get this out of shape? It hadn’t been that long since he’d stopped weight training, right?
Lindsay Troy didn’t call him to let him know she was reViving PRIME from the dead; she flew out, unannounced, with Killean Sirrajin and Matt Ward. Thankfully, Amy was running errands or else the impromptu meeting would be awkward. While Brandon and Lindsay had become friends in the years since PRIME’s closure, the relationship with Sirrajin was far more icy due to previous battles, culminating in a violent steel cage match for the 5 Star Championship. The Supreme Machine was the only man to ever defeat Brandon for the title. To his credit, he remained distant, all business. The Queen laid out her vision, the agreement with the MGM Grand, the roster she wanted to assemble. As she did, Brandon noticed Ward was sauntering around his house, looking at the pictures, nodding to himself before butting into the conversation. “Not a lot of stuff here from the old days.”
A story for another time.
Brandon appreciated Troy’s gesture, but he wasn’t who he once was, and in truth, he wasn’t sure he could even coax that part of himself from dormancy. And if he was going to wrestle in a PRIME ring? There were expectations. A standard to be met. Lindsay understood, had said that if he decided to join, that it would be worth his while. That’s when she let slip about the Invitational, about how they were going to honor the late Seymour Almasy, that it would be a shame if he couldn’t join them. Always the Queen, knowing how to tug his strings. As they got up to leave and offer handshakes, the former Tchu made sure to playfully slap the retired Diamond’s stomach. “Going to have to knock the rust off. Lose a few pounds. Don’t want to go out there as some tired legend and embarrass yourself, right?” His smirk was positively cheshire. Almost as if fueled by a Better Than You sensibility.
Talking it over with Amy went better than he’d thought it would. “It’s every other week, and it’s not some worldwide tour. It’s kind of perfect. That is, if you still want to do it. I mean, I thought I was done too…” Damn. He wanted the resistance. Wanted someone to push back. The bug hadn’t been caught in the Caribbean. This was different. This was PRIME.
The scale was near the leather recliner and the television. Stepping on it with bare feet, the truth hit him like a shotgun blast to the face; 309. “Shit.”
It was worse than he feared.
Cody Covington was shaking, his legs fidgeting as his wrestling shoes bounced off the gym floor. Breathing exercises didn’t help. The showdown between Matt Ziegler and Brock Halsley was pushing into its weaning moments, tied three all. 185. Whoever could get the next point would be the one to wrestle at the Eau Claire Memorial’s first meet against Superior. The two were upperclassmen, Brock a Senior, Matt a Junior. Right up against the weight limit. They jostled for position, sweat pouring, everyone watching, save Coach Hale who played referee. The whistle clenched between his teeth, he fought the urge to teach, instead letting the bout play out. Seniority didn’t mean you got a spot. It had to be earned.
195 was next. Cody looked over to Chas Stube, watching the Senior play with the straps of his singlet. Their eyes met, a malicious smile spread across Stube’s face. The throat slash was the cherry on top of the bully sundae. Par the course. Chas took joy in making those around him uncomfortable. Just under six feet tall, with a crop of brown hair shaved close. When Cody started with the team, it was his own hair that got him in Chas’s crosshairs. “Shave that mop off your head, queer. Shit’s pissing me off.” His grip was strong. Coach Hale didn’t know about this. Would it have mattered? Stube had been the Varsity 195er for two years running, and after winning conference the year before, most were expecting more of the same.
The only reason Cody was even in the weight class was because he couldn’t fill out his lanky frame. Already six foot one, cutting below where he was at would be dangerous. “You’ll learn a lot wrestling against him” he was told. It didn’t feel that way, rather, just an excuse for Chas to have free reign to beat him up every day after school. The clock stopped the moment Cody heard a smack against the mat. Brock had swung and tripped Matt, getting the advantage, using his muscle to finally wrench him into a pin. A single slap. The whistle blew. Matt hung his head as he got to his knees, Brock reaching down to help him up.
Cody’s heart was beating through his chest with Coach’s announcement. “Covington, Stube, you’re next up.” Sure, he’d been wrestling since he was twelve. But that was different. He never had to face off against someone so much older than him. In truth, Chas wasn’t the only one with high expectations; Coach Hale knew the pedigree he was dealing with. And while genetics were blessing the Freshman with the beginnings of a body, there was a tentativeness in his movement. The kid had technique and great footwork, there was no denying. But part of the reason he put him up against Stube was to try and tap into his aggression. Bring out some kind of meanstreak. And if he didn’t?
Well, Chas would spend the next few months eating him alive.
While Stube was eager, taking the center of the mat, pushing between Brock and Matt as they exited, Cody took his time, staring at his feet. “You’re dead, pussy.” The whistle blew, and before he could even bring his head up, Chas was locked onto him, trying to shoot for a single leg takedown. Cody hopped on one foot, nearly giving way. He managed to stuff the attempt, using his longer limbs to try and smother over top of the older bully who was fixing to gain control. “You fuckin’ bitch.” Everyday in practice, this same situation had played out, and always, it was Stube having his way. The show of resistance had the rest of the team standing. “Only makin’ worse on yourself,” the Senior goaded, scrambling back to his feet.
Had Cody really stuffed that takedown? He knew Chas’s strength, had come to know it well. Now? It wasn’t as daunting. With growing confidence, he became the aggressor, locking up with his would-be mauler. The close proximity gave way to a headbutt. And before he knew it, Chas had raked his eyes. It was quick, easy to explain away. Hale didn’t stop the action. The advantage gained, Stube slammed Cody to the mat, working to try and pin him. Survival instinct took control. Suddenly, Cody weighed as heavy as basalt. His nervous tension burned into nothingness.
Hale stood them up when it was clear Chas couldn’t muscle him over. He lorded over the Freshman, a self satisfied smirk spread across his face. Cody took to his feet, forearm wiping at his eyes. He quaked in anger, his head rocking, his knuckles tightening. That the best you got, motherfucker? That the best you got?!
The two locked up again. “Got you right where I want you fa–”
Stupid bully. Never give a Youngblood an opening. The force with which he slammed Chas to the mat belied any age discrepancy. The wind driven out of the Senior’s body, he was ripe to be pinned. The rest of the Memorial wrestling team hooted and hollered, going crazy at what they saw. The whistle fell to the mat. Coach Hale was looking into the future of his program. The meanstreak to go along with the intangibles, and at such a young age.
Over the next few minutes, there would be no pin. Just point after brutal point taken from poor bully Chas, who couldn’t stop from crying when the score neared double digits.
It was okay. Tears, like sweat, are easy to mop up from a wrestling mat.
305. Brandon sighed. Been at it a fucking week, and that’s all?! The only good thing his parents had passed down were genes. Metabolism. Age conquers all. Or perhaps it was a slow start? Getting the proverbial gunk out of his system. Back to the elliptical. Burning through his thighs. The strain on his joints would be eased.
He had the house to himself. Amy was in the UK, competing, as she had the previous three years, for Rapier: Battle Arts. This tour was all about her getting back the title she’d lost earlier in the year to Simeon Glasgow. The sly bastard had managed victory thanks to the scene he made after she’d punted him and his eye popped out. A stolen pin in the midst of the insanity. On that day, the world learned that ‘The Butcher’ had a glass eye. She’d be back well in time for Christmas, hopefully with The Unified Battle Staff in tow. After all, it always made for a dramatic showpiece around the book club crowd.
Given his current circumstances, he was envious of how quickly she could spring back into ring shape. Perhaps he should have done like her and taken up yoga and clean eating.
Who was he kidding?
Head down and pushing forward. With a contract signed came the furthering of the gauntlet; a number one seed in the Almasy, as well as a bounty on his head. Beating him would grant the victor a shot at the 5 Star Championship. But if he managed to go far? At this rate, he’d be lucky to make it out of the first round. Panting. At least it was getting easier to move, wasn’t it?
He didn’t hear the basement door open, but seeing his son knocked him from his stupor. That mop of dirty blonde hair sticking out from his Old Abes hoodie, hands buried deep in his pockets. “Doing alright, Dad?”
Any excuse to stop on the elliptical was welcome. Brandon slumped to a stop, gingerly stepping from the pedals. “Yeah.” He choked out before taking a healthy chug from a bottle of water. “Pounds are melting away. How about you? You ready for Superior tonight?”
The thought made his son smile. “Yeah. It’s just…”
“Didn’t expect it? To be wrestling Varsity already?”
“But did you?”
His son looked at his own feet.
“Look,” Brandon started, his arm wrapping around the shoulder of his son. “Your family believes in you. And you believe in you. You worked to get this. Just because it’s sooner than a bunch of people think doesn’t mean you enjoy it any less. And you know what?”
“It’s going to make it all that much sweeter when you get your first win tonight.” Years before, Brandon wasn’t capable of such a conversation. For so many reasons, he wasn’t father material. Break the cycle. He’s better off without you around. Damn the notion. He gave his son a big hug, not because he was about to go watch his son wrestle in high school for the first time, not because he’d managed to make Varsity as a Freshman…he hugged him because he could. “You did your weigh-in and all that, right? Can fix you up some dinner. Whatever you want.”
Cody rolled his eyes as his father mussed his hair. “Sure. You know what sounds good right now?”
“Bacon and eggs.”
“Scrambled or fried?”
“Is that even a question?”
Brandon chuckled. “Fried it is.”
Cody led the way up the stairs, his father following behind him. He looked over his shoulder to his old man, at the weights and cardio machines, before stopping. “Hey, Dad?”
The former Diamond came to a stop. “What’s up?”
“Coach said that I need to focus on getting stronger. But I kinda hate the gym. The machines and all that are boring. I was wondering…can you show me how to use the kettlebells? I think it’d be real cool to get good at using them.”
“Yeah…yeah…we can do that,” Brandon stammered. “Just don’t know if I’m really the one to show you right now. Not doing so well in the whole getting back into ring shape deal. Probably making a big mistake and going to embarrass myself.”
Without skipping a beat, his son hit him with the words that would propel him forward and build the Tower of Babel. “Don’t worry, Dad. I believe in you.”
January 15, 2023
A lot can change in a year’s time.
Sometimes, that change takes the form of a circle.
Clay Byrd was supposed to hurt Brandon. Was supposed to use him to take out all his sadness and despair. But The Diamond wasn’t the one clutching his jaw at the end of the night. He wasn’t the one who didn’t make good on his promise. Did it matter? It was The Behemoth who had his hand raised at the end of the night. The one who would go into 2023 with momentum at his back.
The victor in the battle of Wrestlers of the Year.
Youngblood sat in his locker, the straps of his singlet at his hips, eyes cast on his phone. Movement was ginger. The rear naked had choked the life out of the Monster from Plainview how many times? But like so many lately, he found a little something extra in the tank to overcome. To survive. All the Tower of Babel could do was cope. Perhaps Byrd had achieved his goal. After all, Brandon was far from happy.
The early morning stillness of the locker room shifted with the opening of the door. He looked up, pensive, a sarcastic chuckle bellowing from his lips. “Hey Kill.”
Killean Sirrajin was immaculately dressed, his long locks tied back in a ponytail, his signature sunglasses framing his face. In the year since PRIME’s return, the cool relationship between the pair had gotten significantly warmer. I wasn’t sure about you originally, but you proved me wrong. You proved everyone wrong. “Tough break out there, Brand. But you have nothing to hang your head over.”
“Yeah?” The words spurted from his lips in a torrent. “Funny. You guys sure you didn’t sign a lemon to a fifteen year deal?”
The Supreme Machine’s hands were in his pockets. “You just took on one of the best in the world. He didn’t beat you. He survived. And coming off what he went through–”
The Diamond cut him off. “I talked shit about that company for over a year, Kill. Dogged them hard. And what did it mean in the end?”
“It doesn’t count against your record–”
Brandon’s finger dug against his own temple. “It counts up here.” A defeated slump. “Maybe I should’ve just sat this one out. Focused on PRIME. But Hell, I don’t even know if I can even do that right.”
Sighing, Sirrajin took a seat next to the Ace of the ReVival. “Look…you need to understand something. You’re in a place where you look at every single thing you do under a microscope. Especially after losing the Universal. You’re not alone. You know how many people were riding the top, only to lose, and then stumble in the dark for an extended period of time? We both know wrestling has its peaks and valleys. Right now, you’re in a valley. But what you need to do is stop trying to rehash everything after the fact. It gets to be too heavy. Trust me, man, I know.”
Their eyes locked. “It’s like quicksand. And I know the more I struggle, the deeper I go. I just need to relax. But, man…I just…”
“Just relax and do your thing. Focus on what’s in front of you.”
What was in front of him? Another person looking to get their groove back. Someone, like he, who had a Hall of Fame pedigree. Someone in the throes of desperation. “Gamble?” His gaze broke away, his head shaking before once again looking into those sunglassed eyes. “Can I be honest with you?”
“Part of me envies him.”
“Because he had his moment in the sun all those years ago. Jewel in the Crown 06. You remember then? Because nobody on this roster here would. But Tony Gamble was a damn killer. He had the whole world in his hands. And then…poof…it all went away.” The pantomime of blowing dust away was added for effect. “And ever since he’s shown back up? Hell, even for years before? He doesn’t give a shit that it went to pot. He doesn’t care that he never got to the top of PRIME. He’s happy with his little niche, his little Syndicate. People have been using him as a speedbump this whole time. And with where I’m at? What if he’s the next one to find his mojo? Where does that put me in the grand scheme?”
Sirrajin’s paw clasped against his shoulder. The idea of having a heart to heart with the once Pariah was something he’d never have foreseen. Old dogs had learned new tricks. “Brandon…I mean this with all sincerity…but shut the fuck up.” There was no hesitation in his bluntness. “Gamble is in the Hall. There’s no easy outs on our roster. And part of the issue is that you think these draws, these losses, that it is because you’ve fallen in ability. Read the tea leaves. Even in the valley, do you know how close you are? If Tony Gamble beats you…if he draws with you…it says he stepped up to the standard…not that you’re a failure.”
“I just…I can’t accept that Killean. I really can’t. Not another one. Not to someone like him, after all the Standing With Rhine bullshit.”
“Then relax. Hell, you didn’t think you’d be able to accomplish what you did in 2022 when we first met with you. And look at what you did.”
A nod of acknowledgment. “Maybe you’re right…hey, can I show you something?” Trailing off, Brandon reached for his phone. To show him what he’d been watching to get his mind off the Byrd match. “It’s my son. From earlier today.”
The stream wasn’t the best quality, but what was important was the action. 195 couldn’t contain Cody Covington anymore. His lanky frame had filled out in developing muscle. 220. An open invitational. Like a dart, Cody latched onto the kid in front of him and violently bull rushed him to the mat. A flick of the finger. Another match. Another vicious slam and pin. Over and over. Laying waste to everyone put in front of him. Each victory punctuated with a primal roar of dominance. Sirrajin’s eyes went wide. “Jesus.”
“Sixteen years old. And he’s undefeated. Shit, he’s getting letters from Oklahoma and Penn State already. And he’s still growing.”
“Looks like the next era.”
“Yeah…” with fatherly pride, Brandon beamed. “Welcome to the new era…”