The Anglo Luchador
December 29, 2023
Lorenzo Battaglia was among the last of a dying breed. Road warrior. No home. Miles and money were the only thing that mattered to him professionally. Sometimes, his wife and children wondered if they were the only thing that mattered to him at all. After his heyday is when the business he dedicated his life to blew up nationally and globally. No longer were his peers consigned to a closed loop. Greensboro netting national television, the Windhams and Hornet and the like all spilling out of their vinegar-soaked hole onto the screens of children nationwide, changed the game.
If you asked a wrestling fan who grew up in Portland, St. Louis, Minneapolis who The Italian Stallion was, they might shrug. Some of them who read the industry mags may have recognized the name, seen a grainy black-and-white photo of him and remembered only his slicked-back black locks and workingman’s muscle. Still others would recognize him as the father of someone who had surpassed him within his first year in the industry.
But on the East Coast? In the territory centered at Madison Square Garden, dendrites spiraling out from its majestic epicenter into the northern and middle Atlantic megalopolis? Yeah, people knew the Italian Stallion, and they loved him. They cheered for him in Boston, popped for his name in Providence, reached hands over the guard barrier in Baltimore, hooted and hollered for him in Wildwood, booed his opponents in Washington.
But no place showered him with love like his hometown, the city he wore on his sleeve. Philadelphia.
While the business moved at breakneck speed in these days, his passing slowed the pace down enough for people locally (and some further away than a day’s drive, like Jake Colton) to take notice, to mourn, to remember.
The size of the crowd at Cannstatter in the Northeast for the memorial “beef-and-beer” confirmed the primal local love Philly had for him.
Tom got started on the memorial when he got back from Colossus. The purpose for the turnaround was twofold. One, he needed to get his mind off his father’s reality was, a gaslighting psychopath who waited until after he died, after he could escape the consequences of the unhealthy relationship he fostered with the only son who successfully followed him into the “family business,” and onto something a little more comforting. It was a lie, no better than the one Lorenzo had fostered over decades, but it was still one that could act as padding against a dual-pronged assault of an ugly truth he was unable to deal with and the grief that came with his passing.
The second purpose was, as always, to help raise money for a good cause. Tom saw himself as a community leader since coming back to wrestling, and community leaders didn’t just lord power or flaunt influence. They made sure people never went without. So he set up a pricey but affordable cover charge for the fete and allocated percentages for charities, simple in this case, only on, to St. Christopher’s Hospital, specifically the pediatric cancer ward. He would go onto say on Jabber early in the New Year that his gods had abandoned him, but the truth was he abandoned his gods, all gods, sometime in 2023. One could call him capricious for doing so thinking it a reaction to a losing streak or something unimportant, but he’d finally decided that gods who had the power to stop kids from suffering from cancer, be they eldritch mesoamerican ones or monotheistic and omnipotent ones from Judeo-Christian-Islamic heritage, weren’t gods worth worshiping.
A beef-and-beer in Philadelphia was as it was stated on the marquee: roast beef in chafing dishes with trays of American and provolone cheese, club rolls, and bowls of horseradish on the side, and as many kegs as you think a thirsty crowd would drink, increased by 20 percent because the combination of “Philadelphian” and “in the wrestling biz” meant increased tolerances. It was a real workingman’s party. No $1000-plate dinners, no butlered hors d’oeuvres, no valet parking. Just press tables with dollar store vinyl coverings, a DJ playing “The Electric Slide” and ‘50s doo-wop, and the din of a bunch of proletarian scumbags arguing over the state of the business or what the fuck the Philadelphia Eagles were doing or how much they all hated Larry Krasner. All of which would be fueled by Miller Lite and lunchmeat roast beef simmering continually in instant gravy. Low overhead to maximize money going to the kids.
With that much beer and that many egos in one place, arguments were always bound to happen. It wouldn’t be a successful beef-and-beer if there weren’t at least two heated arguments that nearly spilled over into fisticuffs. But few times do they make the local news.
“…fuck the police, and fuck you…”
December 18, 2023
“Don’t you think you should get your brothers involved, sweetheart?”
The little rowhome in South Philly felt colder than usual, even for December. Joelle Battaglia kept the heat up, but the interminable chill Tom felt had nothing to do with the actual climate of the room.
“You and I know Lou is useless, and Jimmy doesn’t care about planning anything. He just looks up from his phone when he has to write a parking ticket. Mikey, I don’t wanna put any stress on Mikey…”
“What about Guido?”
“What about him?”
Tom’s mom’s face turned stony.
“You know, I wish you two would start talking to each other again.”
“We did, yesterday, and all I got was nothing but snide comments before, during, and after I found out that Dad was doing his worst Andy Kaufman. Speaking of which, did you know? Did you know he was trying his best to be a real life fuckin’ heel?”
“Language, I’m still your mother,” she replied, deflecting slightly. She inhaled deeply before continuing her answer, knowing whatever she was going to say wouldn’t be enough to heal her oldest son’s hurt. “But no, I didn’t. I swear on the cross hanging above my bed. But this isn’t about your father…”
“It isn’t? It all is. This thing I’m planning, like, I can’t get my mind off it or him.”
She sighed again.
“Maybe trying to hash things out with your brother will help.”
“I tried. I tried a lot, and I got the same sort of bull…” he stopped himself short of cursing in front of his mother again. He was 42 years old, but good sons of Italian mothers don’t make the same mistakes without the appropriate passage of time. “…crap every time. So I stopped. I’m not going to nod and agree with him when he calls real live human beings ‘animals’ just so I can have some kind of peace.”
“Bullheaded as usual. But it’s your peace, I suppose.”
“I’m not the one who brought him up. Look, Mom, I’m sorry not all your sons get along with each other. I really am. Sometimes, that’s how the cookie crumbles. But no matter how messed up our family is, I still wanna do something that’ll honor Dad’s memory, no matter how mad I am at him right now, and that’ll help out people who need it.”
“Your mother raised you right, whoever she is.”
Tom rolled his eyes and sighed with a laugh.
“Alright, I gotta get outta here.”
He got up off his mother’s vinyl-coated couch and gave her a kiss on the cheek before walking out the front door. He stopped at the bottom of her two-step stoop momentarily and pulled out his phone, scrolling through his contacts. He stopped on “Guy” for a few moments before pressing the button for “send message.”
August 13, 2014, on Facebook
August 13, 2014 1:23 PM (Public post icon)
Black Lives Matter
23 likes 108 comments
Glad to see my own brother hates me because I’m a cop
That’s not what I wrote. Can’t think of any read on that status where I said that.
If you meant that, you’d have written “all lives matter”
Ridiculous. “All lives” aren’t under attack right now
You’ve said enough. Have fun being a cop hater and a race baiter
December 19, 2023
December 29, 2023
Tom spent most of the evening hobnobbing with vets and peers alike. Old legends like Oil Can Timbers and other names he only caught in passing, guys Jake Colton would be able to talk about at length had he been able to make it. But he and Nate making it for Lorenzo’s funeral services were enough. The peers who showed up filled his heart, guys like Suleimon, a surprising social butterfly given how much he outwardly stated he hated white people. Maggot showed up in his best gray sweatpants and the MBE polo shirt with the least number of stains. Miranda flew in from Vegas to be there for Tom, although she mostly stuck with their shared teacher Pedro most of the night. It was uneventful for the first few hours.
Then he showed up.
The doors burst open from the force of the entrant’s shove, a portly man in a Philadelphia Police logo polo shirt, tucked into khaki pants hiked up to his bellybutton. The man, black slicked back hair, thick moustache, and wide eyes, outstretched his arms.
“Alright, alright, Lorenzo’s favorite son is here, the party can start.”
Guy Battaglia had arrived. He scanned the room looking for someone, anyone to talk to. He never hid the disdain that he had for his father’s business, even before he fell out with the only son who succeeded at it. He looked around to find someone to talk to. Wrestler. Wrestling fan. Lawyer. No one.
He found his brother, who was listening to famed ring announcer Kenny Gantry talk about the famous MSG main event from April ‘83, when the devious Shadow Master defended the Worldwide Championship he won underhandedly from “Leather Jacket” John Jefferson in Boston the month before in a shocker title change against a charming luchador named El Mofongo.
“And there he was, he had the champ on the ropes!” Kenny retold the story as if the epic battle had occurred in 2023 and not 40 years prior. “He…”
“Excuse me, sorry to interrupt your story, but I would like to speak to my brother.”
Tom turned around to see Guy. His eyes widened. He sighed and gulped slightly.
“But I’m just getting to the good part…”
“I know, Ken,” Tom replied. “You’re gonna be here for awhile, yeah?”
“I may be up there in years, but I can still party like I did in ‘79!”
Tom nodded as he turned to his brother.
“Glad you came, Guido.”
“Beef-and-beer though? I thought you were a classy wrestler type.”
“Since when does the pro wrestling industry evoke class and grace? It’s what would’ve fit Dad anyway. Not sure what he would’ve wanted because it turns out a lot of what he told me was a lie anyway.”
“Still on that, huh? Why don’t you get over it?”
Tom’s cheeks grew redder, but he closed his eyes and breathed deep. Not today. At least not right now.
“I mean, whatever.”
“No, not whatever. Maybe if you, like me, spent time with Dad instead of doing this wrestling bullshit…”
“Hey,” Tom interrupted. “I’m glad you’re here, no cap, for real, but this isn’t the place to have this conversation.”
“Oh, I see. Dodging the tough questions. Typical. Go back to hearing a bunch of has-beens talk about their glory days.”
“Alright, you know what, we can have this conversation, just not in this room.”
Guy nodded as they both went out the main banquet hall into the foyer. Tom let the door slam behind him before turning to his brother.
“Alright, why are you really here?”
“The same reason you’re throwing this thing. To honor Dad. Although…”
“Don’t although me now. If you wanted to honor Dad, why come over and pick a fight right away? Like…”
Tom trailed off sighing, visibly frustrated.
“You’re the only person I care to talk to in here. Lou and Jimmy, I talk to them all the time. Mike’s nowhere to be seen. Guess he doesn’t love Dad like I do…”
“You know why Mike can’t be here.”
“Oh yeah, because he should be in prison with all the other junkie lowlives.”
Tom’s face grew as red as the storm raging on Jupiter’s southern hemisphere. He closed his eyes in an attempt to diffuse the oncoming rage vibes, but he didn’t have it in him to bind his anger longer. The combination of the cheap beer and the intense storm of insults he’d suffered after having a lovely evening entertaining the ghost, the kayfabe of what his father represented and not the ugly truth, didn’t let him.
“Okay, you’re trying to goad me, but for what reason? Because I’m a wrestler? Is it because of Facebook? What is it, Guy? What the FUCK is it?”
Guy smirked and laughed.
“I think you’re projecting. I’m just here to have a good time, that’s all. It’s just your fault that the first thing I have to do when I come in here is critique how haphazard a job you’ve done at honoring your father.”
He knew the game his brother was playing. Textbook on how he would do it to get out of blame from Mom when they were younger. Textbook on how he would goad someone into giving him a reason to use his baton on the job. He wanted to erupt again, but he had to calm down. He was still hosting a party with hundreds of people in attendance.
“Were you planning on anything?”
Guy took a moment to answer.
“No. I wasn’t, but that’s because I loved Dad on a personal level, not for show. This is what you do, you throw things to show how outwardly you’re such a good guy, but deep down, you’re the same woke coward who passes off terroristic slogans on social media.”
Tom didn’t answer. He wasn’t going down that road again.
“And furthermore, who are you raising money for? Probably that skank bitch you were plugging when you stashed her and her kid in that apartment. What was her name, Melina? Melina Ray?”
The bass in his voice caused his brother to step down momentarily.
“This is why my kids don’t call you uncle, Guido. You’re miserable. You provoke and provoke and for what reason? You can’t have shown up here just because you hold a grudge.”
“No, it isn’t. I’m mad because you poisoned our father’s mind with your woke bullshit. That’s why he didn’t leave me the house like he should have.”
“What? That’s what this is about? You have a huge house in the Far Northeast! You selfish…”
“No, you’re the selfish one. I’ve had it with you and your type. You think you can do whatever it is you want, and you flaunt it. Meanwhile, hardworking men like me…”
“No, we’re not doing this. You’re trying to get me to flip my shit and say something like ‘fuck the police and fuck you,’ so you can go running back to Mom and say that mean old Tommaso was bullying you again. No. You can stay, honor dad, have a beer or twelve. Drive home drunk like you always do, and then crow about how you told me off or whatever. I don’t care. Just don’t fuckin’ talk to me now. And don’t fuckin’ talk to me again until you’re ready to listen instead of pontificate.”
Tom turned off in a huff and went back into the party. Guy waited until the door latch caught and then let out a little smirk and laugh.
February 2, 2024
Ike’s “Into Philadelphia” blared behind him on the speakers as he stood on top of the stage. Dressed in his Jason Kelce tribute Mummers costume, the emotion almost overtook him. The Anglo Luchador, main event, hometown. And yet, the throngs cheering him on were almost deaf to him compared to the dotted hecklers, jeering him. Holding up their signs, “We support the PPD!” “TAL is anti-cop!” “Fuck the police? No, fuck TAL!” A million supporters are never as loud as one hater. A maxim of human nature.
The thought didn’t leave his mind, not once between the stage and the ring. As he disrobed, all he could think about was his brother, his small, shitty brother, trying to ruin his moment. And then he saw him.
Not in the crowd.
But in under the lion’s hood at the liminal space between the ramp and the ring.
Truth be told, Tom had a lot of trouble working up the hate for Cancer Jiles. Yeah, he was, well, is a slimy bastard. Duplicitous. Rulebreaking. Backstabbing. But he knew Cancer Jiles, even if he didn’t know Cancer Jiles. The kind of person King Bandit was? That guy was the archetype for all his friends in school. Yeah, Jiles was scum and other people had reason to hate him, guys like Coral, Brandon, Atken. But not Tom.
When he hallucinated his brother’s face on the former Universal Champion? He found his reason to tap into his inner psychopath.