Kerry Kuroyama felt frozen in time.
Body rapt with tension.
Four words unconsciously slipped out.
“I don’t believe it.”
And yet, he was seeing it.
The blasphemy played out in beautiful, vibrant UHD, on a flatscreen that stretched ten feet from corner to corner.
Looking away wasn’t exactly an option.
In the ring, one battered and broken body flopped its way across the chest of another.
The ref’s hand slapped the mat.
A second time.
The bell sounded, making the result official.
Kerry felt his stomach turn.
“I don’t fucking believe it…” he repeated, as if trying to rouse himself from a living nightmare.
Nevertheless, he was wide awake.
And this was actually happening.
It was the tenth of February in the year of 2023.
Unquestionably the darkest day in PRIME history.
A dark day for the Pacific Blitzkrieg as well.
Looking back, he’d be inclined to call it the night his faith in professional wrestling was finally broken.
His own personal moment of apostasy.
The words of Vince Howard resonated through a deathly silent arena filled with dumbstruck fans.
Words that few, if any, ever believed they’d hear in their lifetimes.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of this match…
“…and NEEEEEEEEEEEWWWWWWW PRIME UNIVERSAL CHAMPION…
Son of a bitch.
There’d be no putting the toothpaste back in this tube.
Against all odds, Erik Black had claimed the Universal Championship.
The dope-addled, pants-shitting spot monkey who couldn’t even walk to the ring without tripping over his own legs and making an ass of himself.
To Kerry’s left, there was a low whistle of surprise.
It came from ‘The Kraken’ Henry Keyes, fellow Vae Victis compatriot and notorious aficionado of pancakes.
“Well, I’ll be… the wooden spoon actually did it.”
There was the slightest hint of esteem in the airship pirate’s words.
The two of them were down in New Orleans, lounging in the original Vae Victis suite.
Arguably the only clean, functioning room in the steadily dilapidating shithole known as the DEFIANCE WrestlePlex.
It was their bi-weekly routine, to cap off a stretch of hard work in the ring thumping skulls and putting the peasants in their place by sitting back and enjoying Lindsay’s show.
But there was nothing for Kerry to enjoy about tonight’s turn of events.
In his hand, the whiskey glass creaked in his ever tightening grip.
He thought it might shatter.
And a part of him, honestly, wanted it to happen.
But that would have been needless.
Even a dipshit like Black wasn’t worth the risk of lacerating his hand and potentially losing time.
Enough had already been lost.
He couldn’t remember when he finished his drink.
How long had it been sitting empty?
He held it out, giving the remaining cubes a shake.
In a heartbeat, a trained ape in a white waiter’s jacket was standing at his side.
“Another Suntory, Mr. Kuroyama?”
Kerry grunted affirmatively, handing over the glass.
Yes, it’s the cheap shit.
Literally any ordinary, butt-scratching Average Joe could buy it off the shelf at his local Target.
But there was no point in letting the good stuff go to waste when he was in no mood to properly savor it.
The attendant bowed and hastily departed with the glass, moving like a man who lived as though every second mattered in relation to his gratuity payment.
Fortunately for him, Kerry was a good tipper.
Not so much out of generosity, but because he pitied those who were too dumb and incompetent to support their livelihoods any way other than degrading themselves into serving others.
He wasn’t a regular smoker, but he often kept a case of Treasurer Luxury Blacks on his person.
“In case of emergencies,” he’d say
This was evidently one of those occasions, as he pulled one out and plucked it into his mouth.
“Wasn’t the Suntory supposed to be for ‘relaxing times’, or however goes the adage?” quipped the airship pirate.
Words aren’t going to be wasted explaining that reference.
“The fuck does it look like I’m trying to do here?” Kerry clapped back, striking a match and lighting the tip as he did.
The waiter returned with a Toki on the rocks and placed it on the table next to the Pacific Blitzkrieg’s plush, pink seat before, wisely, disappearing without another word.
Kerry raised the tumbler to his lips and tipped it back. Smooth gold ran past his tongue and into his gullet.
Flavorless, as expected.
But by this point, he wasn’t concerned with taste.
All that mattered was quieting the thunder in his chest.
“I’m no stranger to persiflage,” Keyes replied. “But the way you’re going about, one would think you just lost.”
“I was standing on the tarmac at Nashville International, waiting to board a jet to London.”
That was then.
Late July, earlier this year.
But right now, the place where Kerry Kuroyama is standing is in a wrestling ring.
He’s wearing business attire.
Tights. Boots. Pads.
His business attire.
“I had just wrestled my last match in DEFLATULENCE the night before.”
An unfortunate loss to David Fox, for what it matters.
Y’all remember David, right?
One half of the Dangerous Mix?
Back when tag teams were a thing?
“Sonny Silver was there at the airport to see me off.”
Well, that was nice of him.
Savvy viewers will remember last seeing the Chairman of PRIME being put through a piano by Nova at last year’s Colossus.
Banger of a match, I hear.
“Right before I climb the stairs to board, he puts his hand on my shoulder, looks me in the eye, and tells me the following words…”
Kuroyama’s eyes are boring down the camera.
“‘Kerry, you need to stop holding back.’”
Kuroyama paused mid-sip on the Toki and threw a pointed look at his Vae Victis associate.
His remark was unsettling.
If there was anything Kerry hated more than being angry, it was being seen angry.
It always left him feeling mildly humiliated.
Feeling incapable of controlling his emotions.
And while it was true that to be that way was only human, exuding the image of being in control was paramount to the life and career of the Pacific Blitzkrieg.
One never really appreciates how essential it is to have agency, until some other dickhead comes and takes it away.
Nevertheless, he realized that Henry had a point.
Since he wasn’t actually a PRIME wrestler, Black being champion should have had zero effect on his life.
So why did it matter so much?
The twenty-second broadcast of ReVival was going off the air.
The lasting image was that of Ivan Stanislav, standing triumphant in the ring over the fallen, newly crowned champion.
A sign of things to come.
A sign that while others were out there getting what needed to be got, he was still sitting there.
Stuck in New Orleans.
Running out of time.
But at least there was some respite, knowing that shit-reeking punk would never get to bask in his moment of sacrilege.
The screen went black.
Kerry felt like he could breathe again.
“Maybe I just think it sets the wrong precedent,” he said at last.
Truthfully, even if he wasn’t on the payroll, he couldn’t help but admire the company from afar.
To a committed wrestling purist like him, PRIME was a vestal territory.
A place that had established itself as being the cream of the wrestling crop.
But tonight’s turn of events had left it tainted, in his eyes.
Still, the brow over Henry’s unpatched eye raised into an arch.
The universal sign for “please, elaborate on that.”
So Kerry took another sip of his Toki, another drag off his Luxury Black, and went on.
“I mean, Lindsay takes this old brand, busts her ass revitalizing it into a top-tier wrestling company, and within a year, it’s attracting the best wrestlers to ever be produced by this sport to come out and compete.
“So you’d think something like the Universal Championship would be considered the gold standard in this profession. The be-all, end-all for every wrestler in the world.
“Then this dipshit wins it. Practically by accident. Off a shot that he did nothing to earn. In a match that clearly has ‘fluke’ written all over it.”
The waiter reappeared, wordlessly taking Kerry’s emptied glass and putting a fresh one on the table.
Next to him, Keyes sighed.
“Just try to remember who it is we’re talking about here.”
The airship pirate snapped his fingers, calling for his own refill.
A squat person dressed in a seventeenth-century plague doctor outfit approached with an already prepared pontarlier of Le Tourment Vert and swapped glasses.
Keyes sniffed the absinthe before taking a sip and nodding to the blackened screen.
“Erik got lucky tonight… but the foozler was never one to handle the enormity of his own success. I dare say here in a month’s time, we’ll watch his vessel crash and burn before it ever leaves the airstrip.”
I’ll be fucked if history didn’t prove that statement to be true.
Still, to Kerry, it was a meager consolation.
Because what did years of hard work and sacrifice really mean if any random asshole could walk into the ring and win the sport’s greatest prize?
“Doesn’t change the fact that a circus clown just went and did what thousands of other wrestlers have spent entire careers busting their asses trying to get for themselves. Or hell, just to get within sniffing distance.”
Henry, perhaps hearing more than just the words that were being spoken, couldn’t help but pick up on Kuroyama’s implication.
“Someone like you, perhaps?”
Kerry responded with zero hesitation.
“Damn right, someone like me!”
So much for staying in control.
“Honestly… I didn’t know what to say.”
Kerry is looking at his feet, deep in contemplation.
“Especially considering it came from Sonny Silver.
“A man I always viewed as a legend, back when I was just a young, aspiring wrestler in Seattle.
“A legend I had the honor to train under for the better part of the last year.
“And here he is, telling me I’m holding back, while I’m on my way out.”
“When have I ever held back?
“In the ring, I’m a beast.
“In the gym, I’m on the balls of my feet.
“Every facet of my being is dedicated to continuous improvement.
“All to be not just the best of what I can be, but the best in the world.
“How could I be holding back when literally everything I’ve done has been in an effort to push myself forward?”
Kerry stares at his hands, rubbing his palms together.
“Had plenty of time to think about it while I was across the pond.
“Also had plenty of time to think up a few choice words for Sonny the next time I saw him.
“But then it hit me…
“And I realized what he was trying to say all along.
“Being relentless in the ring isn’t everything.
“To succeed in this sport, you have to be relentless of the mind.”
His fiery gaze finds the camera again.
“So listen closely, PRIME…
“Cause I won’t be holding anything back.”
If he was going to be pissed, then the world was going to see it.
Because he was through with denying the feeling.
The FACT that it should have been him in the ring in Orlando, holding that belt over his head.
PRIME should have had a Universal Champion that fit their standard.
And it should have been Kerry Kuroyama.
Instead, it got Rezin.
Whatever the fuck that was supposed to mean.
A reign as pointless and short-lived as it would inevitably become forgettable.
“You know, I had half a mind to join PRIME last year…”
Kerry’s admission wasn’t exactly a major revelation.
It was either plainly known or at least widely suspected among the other members of Vae Victis that he had been showing dwindling interest in their dealings with the red and black.
All the while fostering ambitions to switch to blue and white.
It was also known that he resented having to choose between one or the other.
Lest he divide his precious time.
“But I held off,” he continued. “I told myself, ‘There’s more to do here before I move on’.”
“And look where that got me…”
The words came rattling out in a contemptuous growl.
This time last year, he could at least say he was in a good place.
Towing the line with the lower-tier belt, sure, but he knew he was building toward something bigger.
Something that would have put him in the next echelon.
A bid that, tragically, ended with him walking away empty-handed.
Because of some fucker with the last name Fuse.
Henry couldn’t help but see it another way.
“It got you here, didn’t it?”
The airship pirate held out his arms, gesturing to the room at large.
Or rather, all of its opulence and splendor.
It was a valid point. After all, how can anyone complain while sitting in the lap of luxury?
With all the high-end Japanese whiskey a man could ask for, to fill the championship-sized hole in his heart?
“More importantly, though, it got us here,” added Henry. “Maybe not what you had expected for yourself, but if your reason for staying was that you felt there was more to do, then I’d say you succeeded, chum!”
Kerry felt he knew exactly what the airship pirate was getting at.
If he had jumped ship last year, he wouldn’t have been the one to knock on their door after the unfortunate business with Dan Ryan came up.
Nor would he have filled that massive void that the Ego Buster left behind.
Which begged the question: could anyone else have done it?
One might go as far as to say that had Kuroyama taken his talents to PRIME a year ago, Vae Victis would have likely never risen to greatness.
And now, DEFIANCE had the champions it needed.
Champions that could be respected.
But where did that leave him?
Being seen as the goddamn lackey?
The chump who takes one for the team?
Kinda like he did just a week ago inside the steel cage up in New York?
Again, to some fucker with the last name Fuse!?
“If you’re saying I have no right to be angry…”
Kerry trailed off, once he saw Keyes shaking his head.
“On the contrary, ol’ chuckaboo… you should be angry.”
“Here’s the thing about me…”
Kerry’s intense gaze overpowers the camera.
“I take this sport seriously.”
Emphasis on sport.
“Some might say too seriously…
“Because, admittedly, I don’t have a lot of patience in dealing with the carnies and criminals and chicken-biters and other attention whores that this profession attracts.”
Emphasis on whores.
“My father and grandfather also took this sport seriously.
“They had to, in order to support their families.
“To give me, their scion, every opportunity I needed to go far in this industry.
“To go far in life.
“And yet, I know that the two of them would be spinning in their graves if either one of them had to see what this business has devolved into.
“Or the bullshit I’ve been forced to endure in my pursuit to live up to the family name.
“Bullshit, that’s forced me to understand the value of my time.
“And just how much of it has been needlessly wasted.
“To wannabe mentor figures that convinced me they were working in my best interests. Like the junkie that left me stranded down in New Orleans eight years ago.”
Hey, let’s not bang on Rocko. He’s doing well, and in a good place.
“To psychopaths who intentionally tried to put me out of commission. Either out of jealousy, or just to prove a point. Pathetic pieces of shit, who should have never been given jobs as professional athletes in the first place.”
Yeah, they can all get fucked.
“So forgive my bluntness, PRIME.
“But for all the effort…
“For all the labor…
“For all the sacrifice, discipline, and persistence that I’ve put into my professional career…
“Sometimes it pains me to feel I’m consistently being overshadowed by fucking buffoons.
“And sometimes, I can’t help but feel like I’m part of a dying breed.
“The kind of competitor that still feels that wrestling should be treated as a sport.”
“My advice, Kerry? Harness that anger. Let it motivate you to take what’s yours without remorse.
“Because Lindsay and I didn’t bring you into this unit to be our lieutenant; we brought you in because you’re a dratted daimyo.
“And if it took Erik winning that title to get you to see it, then, my friend, I’d take it as a blessing in disguise. Because here, you’re only ever going to be seen the same as how you allow yourself to be treated.”
Henry looked to Kerry with his one good eye.
“So stop wasting your time, and get to doing what you know you were meant to do.”
Keyes was right.
Eight years with the company, and what did he really have to show for it?
Where was the payoff?
Kuroyama got lost in his drink, swirling the triad of icecubes in a steady, mystifying loop.
Time just kept ticking away.
How much was he really willing to let go to waste?
“My contract is up in July.”
Or maybe blinked.
Honestly, it was hard to tell with the eyepatch.
His glass came up.
“To our expansion, then?”
The Emerald Apex raised his own.
“To our expansion.”
Also known as the most recent baggage handler to come into the employ of Vae Victis.
But you didn’t hear that from Kerry.
He is a man of class and character, after all.
“I’ll give you this…
“You have a way of thinking and acting on impulse
“As a competitor, I admire that.
“It’s a trait any success-driven athlete would be envious of.
“As a strategist, I hate it.
“It’s playing chess with an opponent that thinks he’s playing air hockey.
“Be as it may, it’s qualities like that which have brought you to our attention.
“The world looks at you, and sees an idiot.
“Vae Victis looks at you, and sees potential.”
Somehow, he manages to say that with a straight face.
“In the interest of holding nothing back, there’s much more I wish I could express to you…
“Unfortunately, Scott, I feel it would be a waste of breath, given the obvious communication barrier between the two of us.
“Fortunately, when it comes to the language of violence, nothing ever gets lost in translation.
“So let’s use this chance match-up of ours as an opportunity to finally bridge the gap.
“A few minutes in the ring with me is all you’ll need to understand just where I stand, as well as what I’m capable of doing to you if you were bold and/or stupid enough to step out of line or drag down the good name of Vae Victis in any way.”
Kuroyama’s teeth grind.
His eyes burn.
His voice thunders.
“I want you to understand something, Scott…
“Representing us means you’re expected to live up to a standard.
“If you can’t live up to that standard, then you’re going to quickly learn that we are not the company you should be keeping.
“This is more to me than just a first round match.
“It’s a first step.
“An opportunity to make a first impression into a new wrestling frontier.
“I’m through with wasting time.
“I came to PRIME to get results.
“Until now, people here have only seen me as a man talking from a chair.
“But when that bell rings, I’ll finally have the opportunity to show them what I want them to see.
“The power. The skill. The athleticism. The drive. The killer instinct.
“The sheer brutality…
“Everything that goes into being an upper level professional wrestler.
“Everything that represents who I am.
“Because I’m not about taglines.
“I’m not about t-shirts.
“I’m not about stupid dances, and fancy flips, and goddamn cornball vaudeville routines.”
Take that outlaw mudshow bullshit back to the indies, you fucking scrubs!
“I’m here for graps, taps, and straps, and I’ll cripple any and every motherfucker that gets in my way.”
THE VIVID HARMONY WHERE OLD MEETS NEW
As taken from the Suntory website:
“Toki means ‘time’ in Japanese. It’s a concept rich in meaning the world over, but particularly in Japan where respect for tradition and reinvention sparks a powerful creative energy. Inspired by that interplay, Suntory Whisky Toki brings together old and new – the House of Suntory’s proud heritage and its innovative spirit – to create blended Japanese whisky that is both groundbreaking and timeless.”