The Anglo Luchador
CW: sexual assault
Artie, I want you to heed well my words. You should have just corrected me when we first met in that hallway at ReVival 26. You have no idea the sentinel you’ve woken up in my soul.
Georgios Karagiannis made quite a mark in the wrestling industry. He wasn’t particularly known for his in-ring work as “Thunderhead” Johnny Cumulus. He only stuck around local indies in Chicagoland and Milwaukee because his cousin, Teddy, was a well-connected promoter. He had no real influence on any promotion, major or minor. No, Thunderhead was notable, especially today, for what he’d awakened in Tom Battaglia’s brain.
“Are you sure about this, babe?” he asked for what seemed like the thousandth time since they agreed to do the UndergroundCast. “It’s not my story to tell.”
He paced in his upstairs office as Tam sat on the couch adjacent to his computer desk.
“You’re only half right. It’s our story to tell, but it certainly wasn’t Felix’s. Didn’t stop him, and I don’t think I’m comfortable to do it nor was I his target. You can do this.”
“You have to do this,” she continued. “If this has to get out, we might as well give our side, right?”
Almost immediately after she finished, the Final Fantasy chiptune text tone assertively shoved Tom out of the way before he could answer. It was Angie. She was ready for him.
The wrestling industry in 2008 was a strange place. Some feds were able to stay open continuously and keep a schedule per the demands of their television contracts. Empire Pro was no such place. It was common sometimes not to have shows run for weeks, even months at a time. Guaranteed contracts aren’t so guaranteed if there’s no income, and sponsors don’t necessarily enjoy giving money to companies that don’t give them deliverables. Although Tom had reached the upper echelon of the promotion by this time, the money didn’t last long when it wasn’t regular. He and Tam had just gotten married, found out they were going to be parents too.
He didn’t want to take just any date, and local indies to their homebase were just not paying well enough. He knew his worth but also did not want to bankrupt a local promotion just to have him go out and annihilate whatever townie tough guy happened to rule the roost. The most lucrative indies around the country had real financial backing. Brew Crew Wrestling had that cold one money, and this was 2008, so it wasn’t some craft brewer that got too big for their britches. It was macro.
Tam had long past decided to leave her “Lollipop” persona behind, but she still traveled with Tom to each show, at least until she got super pregnant. After all, she always had been more than a valet for her now-husband. She was his analyst, his emotional support, his biggest fan. There wasn’t much to make her regret the choice to remain on the road.
Until Brew Crew.
“So,” started Angie Brooks, “I guess we shouldn’t pull punches to start this thing. We all know by now the story that Felix Mullen broke on another podcast. I want to know. You didn’t categorically deny the accusations. Are they true?”
Tom looked back at Tam while seated at his computer on Zoom. She sighed and nodded, silently pleading with her eyes that she was, in fact, fine with this. He turned back around and nodded with closed eyes.
“Yeah, the part about me beating the shit out of a guy.”
A beat. A sigh.
“I ended a man’s career in a locker room.”
You like to talk about me like I’m a fraud, repeating heated over talking points not just from heels who were here and got to know firsthand, but from other supposed allies in the locker room. I hear the whispers. I’m not stupid nor ignorant. People think I branded myself a paladin or a white knight because I am trying to fool everyone into thinking I’m better than I am.
I’m well aware that I fuck up constantly.
And it shouldn’t bother me when people like you use that in a cheap attempt to gaslight me into thinking the perception of those who only know me from the outside is reality. It shouldn’t bother me when Ivan or even Justine do it, no matter how callous, bitter, or shortsighted they are. But what comes with the territory of wanting to do the right thing is a lack of confidence that what you’re doing isn’t actually the opposite.
I don’t know if what I’m doing is right, but I do know I’m at least trying to do it for the right reason. Artie, you did your Jigsaw impersonation on me and a kid who just wants to review wrestling shows. You surveilled me and my family in an implied promise of violence. You threatened the people I care about. Does it make me a bully if I do to you what I did to Thunderhead in a locker room 15 years ago? I don’t know. I truly don’t. But I know that what I did then was a reaction to a threat against someone I loved then and love now.
And I would – and will – do it again.
It started with lewd comments. Tom would be out for his match, leaving Tam alone in a backstage area with only a folding table and some chairs set up. Only the young boys would stick around past their matches because they had to be the ring crew too.
Thunderhead was one of the few stragglers who was there when he didn’t have to be there.
The first time, Tam was eating a spicy sausage sandwich at the table. Thunderhead called to her from behind.
“Hey, you know what the shit that makes that shit spicy is called?”
She ignored him, but he was persistent.
“It’s called capsicum. And I’d like to capsicum down your throat.”
She turned around with a look of fiery disgust on her face.
“Calm down, you bitch. I was just making a joke.”
She was so mad that she slammed the half-eaten sausage on the table so hard that it slid off onto the floor. She stomped towards the exit, but Thunderhead moved to block it.
“I ain’t letting you leave until you apologize to me for this rudeness.”
She tried moving him out of the way, but he wouldn’t budge. At least until a sweaty Anglo Luchador appeared.
“What the fuck is going on here? John, what…”
Thunderhead turned around with a look of shock on his face. He threw his hands up.
“Oh, uh, it’s just a misunderstanding.”
He stepped to the side and let Tam past.
The harassment would happen more, each comment made more ribald than the last. The problem was clear.
“He sounds like a real creep.”
“Yeah, it was uncomfortable to say the least. Tam was in a rough spot. Like, she had never experienced that treatment in a locker room before, ever, and she wanted to keep coming back everywhere I went but the situation got untenable there. And at the time, Brew Crew was the furthest promotion I worked, but also the most lucrative.”
“So did you try anything before the drastic measures that were reported?”
“Yeah. I tried.”
Teddy Karagiannis’ office wasn’t so much an office as it was a broom closet shoved somewhere in a crevice of an industrial park. In order to make it in the pro wrestling promotion game, you gotta cut down on overhead. He sat hunched over a small card table on a steel folding chair looking over invoices when Tom swung the door wide open.
“Hey, Luch, show ain’t for a coupl’a days. Why…”
“Ted, we gotta talk about your cousin.”
Teddy’s face grew flush, noticeable even against his olive Mediterranean skin. He wiped the sweat from his brow before forcing himself to sit up straight.
“Yeah, we do. It seems your wife got into trouble with an assault on him.”
Tom’s face grew contorted.
“What the fuck are you on, Ted?”
“She kicked him in the jimmies. We can’t have…”
“Bullshit, Ted. Bullshit. This is the first I’m hearing of that, and even if she did, she has every right to do so at this point. Has that mewling shitbreather told you what he’s been saying to her?”
Teddy sighed. He knew Tam wasn’t the first person Georgios got much too close and personal with, but the stone expression he kept on his face with all his might held his front strong.
“No, he hasn’t. And you think I’m going to believe a hanger-on backstage over my cousin, a member of the locker room?”
“Excuse me? Okay, I hate pulling this card, but Georgios, Johnny, whatever you wanna fucking call him? You think his jobber ass is worth defending over me, your biggest draw? Tell me, how did trying to get Shawn Hart here work out for you? Or Boogie Smallz? The guys in Highland Park? They didn’t even pick up the phone, man. But I’m here.”
“Only because you need the money. I remember that sob story during negotiations…”
“Yeah, well, I don’t need it that badly to make my wife feel unsafe here.”
“Well, have you considered not bringing her?”
Tom fumed for a few beats.
“You know what dude, giving you an ultimatum. Talk to your cousin. Tell him to stop being a creep. Maybe don’t book him since he’s just a fucking jobber anyway. Because if he even so much looks at Tamara cross, I’m walking.You got that?”
“Okay, okay, I’ll talk to him. Sheesh. But you’d serve yourself best by not talking to me like that.”
Tom’s gaze grew even stonier.
“I talk to Dan Ryan like this when I need to, and he shits out bigger turds than you after a light snack. You ain’t special.”
Tom slammed the door on his way out. Teddy rolled his eyes and went back to his receipts.
You tell someone you’re a good guy, and they expect that you have to be a goodie two-shoes. It’s more than just “not cheating.” They expect restraint, decorum. They want you to go high no matter how low they are willing to stoop, and let me tell you, Artie, you’re lower than the dogshit in my shoe after haphazardly walking in the park. It’s not fair, sure, but they tell you life isn’t fair.
Maybe they’re right. Maybe I’m not a paladin, a white knight, a hero if I’m willing to get my hands bloody for what I want. Maybe I’m a throbbing hypocrite. I don’t know. The thing I do know is that in all my years fighting in America, Japan, especially Mexico, the one thing I learned is that the tecnicos don’t fight fair for the sake of fighting fair. The good guys don’t always hit above the belt or pull punches. The one thread that was the same though is that they fought for justice. Do you know what justice is, Artie?
Justice isn’t punishment. It’s a reckoning. It’s reconciliation. It’s a promise that the wrong that happened before will not happen again. If you can rehabilitate the aggressor, that’s great. Some people can’t be rehabilitated except through blood and force. Are you the former, Artie? I don’t think you are, given what I heard about you from the other places. I get the feeling you’re not gonna stop your bullshit until someone puts the idea in your head with feeling.
Things seemed on the up-and-up. “Thunderhead” Johnny Cumulus was nowhere on the card. A last minute sub from one of the young boys filled the need for Crusher Bratwurst to continue his long winning streak anyway, although that replacement put up more of a fight than Thunderhead ever would have.
That didn’t mean Georgios wasn’t at the show.
“I think you should come out to the ring with me for this match, babe,” Tom said as Tam was tying the strings on his lucha mask. “Even if you gotta sit with the timekeeper…”
“You said you had a talk with Teddy though,” she replied coldly. “Shouldn’t I be…”
“I don’t know if that fuck is here or not. Just, I dunno.”
She tied the knot tightly and tapped him on the shoulder.
She nodded. They exited the locker room and began the trek to the ring area, but halfway there, Tam leapt up in surprise.
“Shit, I left my bag in there.”
“I’ll come back with you.”
“Nah, you gotta get out to your match.”
She doubled back and reentered the locker room, a deep exhale of relief at her bag remaining on the bench. The relief sublimated from her body the moment she turned around.
“There you are, you bitch.”
Thunderhead loomed like a sleep paralysis demon over her, stopping her in her tracks.
“So you had your meal ticket yell at my cousin, huh?”
“My husband you…”
“Shut the fuck up, bitch,” he replied, shoving her with both hands. She stumbled back, landing against the wall, able to break her impact by swinging her hands back at the last moment. She held her wrists, both scared for her life and thankful she was able to save her child from impact.
“You’re gonna feel what it’s like to have a real man inside you,” Thunderhead said as he cocked his arm back to strike her. As he thrust forward, he felt resistance.
Tom had grabbed his wrist. Thunderhead turned around and all he saw was white hot rage in the Luchador’s eyes, seemingly a matchstrike away from lighting his face, the room, the entire arena on fire.
“I… I can exp…”
Before he could get the word out of his mouth…
A left jab rocked his jaw. Georgios went tumbling to his side, crashing into the steel lockers. With laser focus and swift motion, he swooped in with a knee to the would-be assailant’s ribs. Thunderhead lay knees down and back arched up on the dirty cold floor before Tom flipped him over violently and mounted him.
He drew blood on the third hammer blow, a geyser of splatter shooting up from the force of the punch, the bridge of his nose destroyed with reckless force like Allied bombs on Dresden in World War II. Tom paused in the spray, allowing Thunderhead to get his hands up. The fear was palpable; a man who had gotten away with stealing innocence, security, peace of mind from more women than his own wife finally saw consequences. He thought for a moment before making his next action, but before he could cock his fist back for one more blow, another wrestler tackled him.
Neither Tom nor Tam could remember what happened afterwards in the hazy din of voices shouting in an all too claustrophobic space, stained with blood and shame. They both agreed on one thing; the shame that hung in the room belonged to neither of them.
“So you caught him in the act?”
“Well, Ange, thankfully I caught him before he really started. I had a bad feeling, like I knew the talk I had with his cousin wouldn’t have mattered for shit, right? Like with calling the cops after Pleasant showed the drone footage. You learn from early on that the proper channels shouldn’t be considered proper.”
“That certainly adds a lot of color to the story, and I can see why Lindsay has shown you so much support. What happened afterwards? Why wasn’t such a beating more publicized?”
“Well, as much as the Queen and I butt heads, we go back a long ways and know things. But as for the second question, well, I threatened to go to the cops afterwards, which after what I just said, yeah, but I didn’t know better then, even after meeting with the cousin didn’t bear a lot of fruit. But him, the attacker, other wrestlers, they all got spooked. There was something more to the story, something that they didn’t wanna get out in the open. Even if did just end up being our word vs. theirs, not sure the beer company would’ve wanted to spend money on a trial like that.”
“Wow, well, I don’t even know what to say except I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, I am too, Ange. I am too.”
Justice isn’t blind, Artie. It can’t be. Sometimes, the only thing you can do to make sure you serve it is to leave the person wronging you with scars deep enough to make them recoil every time they pull their pants down, every time they try some psychological stunt, every time they throw their fists and then shirk back saying “Who, me?” You can say it’s too violent. I doubt the sincerity of it coming from you, but I’m well aware of what the world considers too much.
Consider this. Did you want me to wait around for you or that troglodyte Russian you hang around with actually to do something with that footage? Once upon a time, I waited too long to act, and a monster nearly hurt someone I love really, really bad. Heroism isn’t waiting for a catastrophe and reacting. It’s trying to do the right thing all the time, in preparation or in aftermath. Sometimes, the right thing is aggressive deterrence, even if it looks extreme to the naked eye.
What I’m going to do to you at Tropical Turmoil? Yeah, a lot of naked eyes will think it’s extreme.
The silence was awkward, hanging in the air of their apartment. Tam didn’t really speak a whole lot after the incident, only when necessity forced her hand. After a few days, Tom finally had enough.
“Are you mad at me?”
She sighed slowly at first.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t.”
He said “shit” under his breath before sighing himself. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up while every other muscle in his body collapsed in on itself, causing him to fall onto a rickety old chair.
“Look, I’m sorry you had to see that, but I just snapped. I…”
“No,” she interjected, “I’m not mad at the beating. In fact, like, I’m glad you fucked his shit up.”
He leaned forward, puzzled look on his face. After an all-too long uncomfortable silence, she started speaking again.
“If I’m mad at anything, it’s that you didn’t do that to him the first time it happened.”
He mouthed the word “what” and leaned back, stunned as if someone just tased him.
“I don’t get it.”
“Yeah, because you’ve never been in my shoes before. It happens all the time. No one cares. You know that firsthand after talking to that rotten asshole Teddy.”
The revelation washed over his face like a foamy wave retreating back into the ocean during calm seas.
“Yeah. You’re right. I’m never gonna let that happen again, not to you, not to the kid in your belly, not to anyone I love.”
Tam got up, ambled over to her husband, and gave him a soft kiss on the forehead.
“I’m going to hold you to that, you know.”
“One last question, do you regret doing that?”
For the first time during the whole podcast, Tom did not look back at Tam for approval.
“Ange, like, it’s what she said to me after. Men do get assaulted like that, but generally speaking, if you’re a woman or non-binary, I mean gender is the biggest work ever, but you catch my drift, right? You’re a woman, you’re in danger almost all the time. And the criminal justice system does jack and shit to protect you. Woman gets assaulted, they ask her what she was wearing. Fuck that. I read a stat a few weeks back saying less than one percent of anyone charged with this shit goes to jail. Like, mind-blowing. So no, my only regret? Not doing it sooner.”
He exhaled deeply, PRIME’s senior interviewer still hanging on his words.
“And I hate to use this to promote a wrestling match of all things, god, but that’s why the shit with Arthur Pleasant has struck such a deep chord. I’m not promoting a wrestling match though. I’d like to think I’m advertising justice. Justice for Craig Hamburgers. Justice for my family. It’s time to do to him what needs to be done.”
“No, Tom, I understand. Completely.”
Artie, Tropical Turmoil, maybe what I do will seem uncouth. Maybe it’ll seem unbecoming of a noble warrior, a paladin if you will. But no matter what anyone else says or thinks, I know what needs to be done. It won’t be pretty, but it’ll bring justice.
Maybe if you’re lucky, your career won’t end the way Thunderhead’s did. For the sake of everyone you’ve tortured then and will torture again, I hope you’re not.