The entirety of the Gates of Avalon Wrestling School had fallen silent all at once.
Everything went into slow motion in a single moment, as the faces of the people watching slowly contorted as one into a small pond of shock. There’d been the sound of an impact, but a different impact that usually happened when a man with exactly one tool in his toolbox usually made. There was the sound of someone hitting the mat. There was the slow rumble of an eruption of sound as everyone watching realized what had just happened, simultaneously.
Sid Phillips stood in the center of the ring, and Franco Marchesi was half-sitting, half-lying on the mat directly in front of him. Franco looked dazed, but more importantly, he looked surprised. The man known internationally as the “Venetian Assassin”, Venice-born and American-raised, had just experienced something never before seen in the history of PRIME.
Technically speaking, it still hadn’t happened yet.
The only man not shocked by all of this, other than perhaps the man responsible for it, was Coral Avalon.
He stood with his arms crossed at one corner of the ring, serving as a pseudo-referee for the situation. By this point, the only two people willing to actually train with Sid were Coral and Franco, the two head trainers. None of the other students wanted a piece of the Pontiff of Powerbomb Alley.
Coral nodded his head.
“Finally,” he said to no one in particular, relieved in a way that he hadn’t felt in almost a year, “We’re ready for UltraViolence.”
July 2nd, 2022
“Got a second?”
From out of the ashes of their humiliating departure from Survivor, the Winds of Change would go on to amassing an amazing four match winning streak. The highlight of that win streak came just one day before at the Great American Nightmare, the match against Nova and Garbage Bag Johnny.
That one match had changed the fortunes and perceptions of the Winds, because absolutely no one expected a pair of rookie upstarts barely a year into their professional careers to upend a pair of quantifiable wrestling legends like Nova and Garbage Bag Johnny. With that win, they were guaranteed a championship match against the winners of the tag team championships: the newly rechristened “Kings of Popsicles”.
And that fact weighed heavily on Coral Avalon as he approached Joe and Sid.
The Winds of Change were sore the next morning after their huge performance, and the pair froze when Coral came up to them. Usually, when Avalon came up to them, asking for a second… it meant something was about to get very “Lemirrenade-y”.
“Yeah?” Joe asked, trying to sound cool and definitely not like someone whose voice was trembling.
“Sounds serious.” Sid observed, much more cool.
“Maybe a little.” Coral said, “First of all, I’m proud of you guys. Nova and Johnny are both incredible performers, and what you did out there last night was nothing short of a miracle. But as I know, and you know now, the only way you pull out that miracle in wrestling is with your own hands.”
Or, if someone else helped you out in the match, but Coral didn’t like rushing miracles like that. To him, that was the very definition of a rotten miracle.
“I feel like there’s a ‘but’ coming.” Sid said.
Coral smiled slightly.
“Franco and I are willing to help you win the tag titles. We’ve got a little experience in the tag game, and I’ve got a vested interest in seeing what happens here,” Coral said. He held up a finger, “Mind you, this ‘help’ I’m offering won’t be easy. Nothing I do ever is, and I can’t guarantee that any of it will work.”
Sid placed his hands on his hips, “You’re not exactly selling us on what you’re offering so far.”
Coral put down his finger, and instead gestured in the direction of the arena.
“Look. We all saw that war that the Kings and the Nora boys waged last night. So let me ask you guys this. If it’d been you in the place of Jon and Pax, what would’ve changed?”
Joe and Sid shared a look.
The two of them were dimwits, but even they knew what Coral was getting at.
Jonathan Rhine was a world champion-caliber wrestler. Check that, he was a former Universal champion in Sin City. Twice. He’d fought so many battles that should’ve gone against him so many times, and yet, it was often his arm raised at the end of the night. Paxton Ray had even less experience as a wrestler than either Joe or Sid, but his experience as a fighter far dwarfed the two of them combined, and he had a mean left hand that had uncouth things to say about your mom. And they worked together better than they ever had before last night, like a well-oiled machine whose gears were greased by inflicting pain and punishment.
And yet, the Kings overcame all of that.
Justine Calvin was an overnight sensation, and Jared Sykes had reasserted his credentials as a top level talent after months of shenanigannery involving forklifts, leaf blowers, uncomfortably tight pants, and a mannequin from a Tijuana Macy’s.
With Nova and Johnny, that was a case of two singles wrestlers teaming up. That could still be overcome with the teamwork that Joe and Sid had at their disposal.
But Joe and Sid both knew exactly what would’ve changed.
The match would’ve been over in ten, and it wouldn’t have been them that triumphed.
After Joe and Sid excused themselves to converse with each other, it was Sid who came back and said, “One thing, before we agree to this. What exactly is your vested interest?”
Coral chuckled, and then pointed to Joe.
“I wouldn’t be here today without Joey Malone. He got me out of a bad situation in New Orleans, trained me in some sort of nightmare hellscape that a part of my soul is still trapped in to this day… and then he got me into Action! Wrestling. He took me under his wing. He set me on my path. Without him, nothing that makes my life what it is today happens. So when he called me and told me he was sending you to me, I knew I was going to pay it forward. The same way he did for me.”
“Huh. Well, what about me?” Sid asked.
Coral shrugged, “Well, Sid, your old man betrayed my trust, beat the hell out of me, tried to tear my arm out of its socket, and made friends with my mortal nemesis.”
Sid nodded, though perhaps he looked a little paler at that assessment, “Oh. Well, knowing him, he’d do it all again in a heartbeat.”
“A lesser man would’ve trained you wrong, on purpose, as a joke.” Coral said, shaking his head. Then he laughed, “But relax, I’m messing with you. I don’t hold grudges.”
Except for the one he had for Steve Knox.
Fuck that guy, in particular.
“So, this is all because of my old man?” Joe asked.
“Mostly,” Coral said, “But also, wrestling is as much about ‘what’s next’ as it is about ‘what’s current’. It’s the duty of what’s current to eventually pass the torch to what’s next. Twenty years ago, Joey passed the torch to me.”
Coral smiled, “And you’d better believe that someday, pretty soon, I’m passing it on to you guys.”
July 31st, 2022
“Hey, got a second?”
After the Fourth of July weekend and some quality time spent with their families, Joe and Sid returned to Seattle in order to begin the routine that would carry them through their next three months in earnest. When Joe and Sid came to Seattle after each show, the arrangement was that Sid would stay with Franco at his apartment while Joe would stay with Coral and his wife, Annabelle.
Or was it Wakana? Mrs. Blackberry? Joe seemed to think that the names were being used interchangeably. Pick one! God.
Anyway, this arrangement went on for the next month.
Until Joe finally got the nerve to ask his trainer why something had changed in the routine.
“Why the agility training?” he asked Coral.
Coral considered the question.
In truth, he’d noticed a pattern in Joe’s wrestling. More importantly, he noticed the appearance – or the attempted appearance, anyway – of a move that hadn’t been in Joe’s arsenal up until now.
“Joe, you’re smaller than most people in PRIME’s roster, and rather than seeing that as a weakness, I see this as an opportunity to make it a strength.” Coral said.
Joe didn’t follow.
“No matter how strong you are, you can still get thrown around by a bigger dude. And PRIME’s full of bigger dudes. Some your size would try to bulk up to make up for it, like Boogie does, but I think you’d lose a lot of your flexibility trying to do that. So I have a plan.” Coral said.
Joe still didn’t follow.
Coral closed his eyes, and counted to ten in his mind. Math wasn’t yet destroyed forever in PRIME, so he was able to get to ten in no time flat.
“Joe, I want you to play to your strengths.” Coral said.
“Well, yeah, that’s why I tell people that I’m strong and love to fuck.”
One, two, ten…
“Alright, that’s… that’s cool, I guess.” Coral said, “My point is, it’s fine to want to emulate your dad, but I don’t think you should.”
It was Joe’s turn to wince.
“That obvious, huh?”
“I know a Malonestrom when I don’t see it,” Coral said.
Joe winced again.
The Malonestrom, a move which required lifting an opponent’s full body weight up onto the shoulders, was Joey Malone’s best-known finisher. It was a maneuver meant for a big man like Malone, and definitely not a small man like Fontaine.
And no, it’s not that Coral didn’t see the Malonestrom simply because it was attempted on Doozer.
“I know why you do it, and I think we can keep some of the old Malone tricks in there and be okay.” Coral said. “But you need to know that Joey was very cavalier about how he treated his body, we both know it cost him in the end. I don’t want the same thing to happen to you.”
Joe nodded slowly. His father meant a lot to him. Coral guessed that he was using some of Joey’s tricks in his wrestling without understanding why he did the things he did. Joey used his size and athleticism to his advantage. A 6’4” man executing a springboard dropkick would fuck a lot of people up, after all.
“In any case, our goal here is to get you and Sid to the tag titles. Franco’s got Sid. He’s the only guy in the school that could handle that gorilla without humiliating him. That means you get me.”
Joe nodded, slowly.
He understood what Coral was saying.
“So, the agility training is for…”
“As I’ve mentioned, a key part of wrestling is to eventually pass the torch to the younger generation,” Coral said, “Obviously, Joey’s passed his torch down to me, and eventually, you’ll be carrying that same torch when we’re both good and ready to pass that on. But I have another torch I need to pass down, too. One from a peer, instead of a mentor.”
Coral walked to the door to the media room, and opened the door.
He invited Joe inside.
“So, quick question, before I start showing you my goal.” Coral said, as Joe walked towards the room, “How do you feel about Final Fantasy?”
August 15th, 2022
The Gates of Avalon had been abuzz with activity for the past month. The two wrestling rings had been in constant use as Coral and Franco not only spent their time training newer students, but also spent their time preparing themselves for the upcoming Flynn Cup in two weeks and preparing Joe and Sid for the big match at UltraViolence.
Sid was Sid, of course.
Teaching him a move as simple as an elbow has turned into an exhausting, frustrating exercise. But he was making progress, however small. At least he seemed to go for it before pulling up at the last minute.
Joe, on the other hand, had been flying.
His movements had noticeably quickened, even compared to the match with the Bandits and the match he would soon have against SGRNR. The crash mat was pulled out, and Joe would fly off of it in ways he hadn’t before attempted. Sometimes, he’d crash and burn, and he’d lay there in hurt for a little while after another flare-up of the longstanding disagreement between gravity and human bones. Then he’d simply get up and keep trying.
Coral would observe this, and make choice pieces of advice on how to make his landings better.
The short version?
“Keep trying, and don’t land on your head.”
Fortunately, Joe was agile enough to complete his flips. Which was good, because winning the championship hinged on Joe not killing himself before the match even happened.
When Joe had enough of falling with style, he sat on the apron and watched Sid not elbowing anything.
“So, uh… question. Do I do this stuff against Boots and Boogie?” he asked.
Coral answered immediately, “No.”
“Why not?” Joe asked.
“I’m being cautious about this,” Coral said, “You have the title shot regardless of whether you beat Solid Gold or not. Which I think you will. But what I’m teaching you is risky, and something I don’t usually advocate for my students. You’re a quick study, but even then, what I’m trying to impart in you isn’t so easily implemented that I can just teach you in a month. Really, even in the two months we have for this.”
Trying to emulate another wrestler was a tough ask for anyone, after all.
Except Avalon, of course.
He continued, “More importantly, Jared can’t know what we’re planning. He simply can’t. The first time he sees what you’re doing that’s different, he’s going to know, and then the jig’s up. You guys are up against two far more experienced wrestlers, so we’re gonna have to go with some trickery… well, my kind of trickery, if you’re going to win. So I want him to find out in the middle of the match, when he least expects it.”
Joe nodded, slowly.
His head was still swimming in the physical trauma from a day’s worth of attempting to throw himself to the ground and missing.
“I’d been meaning to ask for a while now, but are you sure about this?” Joe asked.
“Asking me to wrestle like this Seymour guy.”
His thoughts swarmed in his head like a horde of bees. Not the bitch bees, just the regular kind. The name “Seymour Almasy” formed the majority of these bee thoughts. “Sultan Strawberry” formed a small, but vocal bee minority.
Then he nodded, “Yeah. Pretty damn sure.”
“Well, from a practical standpoint, Seymour usually wrestled accounting for his size. The guy was never the biggest man in the ring. He made Tony Gamble look like Tony the Tiger. The biggest lesson I want you to take into incorporating his style into your own is that you have to do the same.”
Generally speaking, he’d come to agree. Wrestling professionally at his size wasn’t easy, especially when he’d been trying to use the style of a man who was seven inches taller than he was up to this point.
He still wanted to use the Malonestrom, though.
“From the standpoint of the team, Sid can’t just powerbomb all of the Winds’ problems away, especially in this match. I need you to be better than you are now. I need you to wrestle as though you’re a legend.”
Joe nodded at this, too.
The biggest weakness of the Winds of Change was the reliance on Sid bulldozing everything in their wake. Joe knew he was the weak link, especially if the obvious weakness in what Sid did was exposed. He had to step up. He needed to. He’d be a terrible tag team partner if he didn’t.
“And from a personal standpoint… and this is going to sound selfish, I’m sorry. I want to see something resembling Seymour in the ring again. He was one of a kind. And while I know I’d rather you be the first Joe Fontaine than the next Seymour Almasy, it’s never a bad thing to take from those that came before you. I should know.”
Joe tilted his head.
“You’re also asking me to start doing this against that Jared Blueberry, though.” Joe said. “Wasn’t he part of your whole… uh, berry crew? With Seymour?”
“He’s the one that got us together in the first place,” Coral said, “Jared’s the heart, Seymour was the brains, and I was, uh… you know, I’m not sure what vital part I was, but I’m sure it was really important.”
“I came up with this idea the moment I first met Cal and we talked about what the Kings of Popsicles meant to us. Keep in mind, no matter what happens here, Jared’s my friend. No one denies this. In fact, part of me thinks that Jared would want this, too. After all, it isn’t a full reunion of the Kings without Seymour there. Or, well… I should really say Sultan Strawberry.” Coral said, and then paused, feeling a tidal wave surging in him somewhere. “So, for one night, I need Jason to live one more time. He has to.”
Joe’s shoulders felt heavy, all of a sudden.
It was a lot to take in.
But he smiled, and then added, “I guess… that’s one more torch for me to carry.”
September 16th, 2022
It’s the end of the last day of training, before Joe and Sid would fly back to Arizona before UltraViolence to spend time with their families.
Unlike most days when the training ended, Joe and Sid were invited to a steakhouse to celebrate the end of the arduous journey that had taken from the lows of Survivor to the highs of a long winning streak ahead of the pay-per-view. In one week’s time, Joe and Sid would have the biggest match of their professional lives to this point.
Apart from Joe and Sid, Coral and Franco were there. Coral’s wife, Annabelle (Wakana? Mrs. Blackberry?) was there, as well.
Joe made a mental note: Get a lady-friend.
“So, uh, what’s with the fancy meal?” Sid asked. “What’s the occasion?”
Coral and Franco exchanged glances.
It was Coral who spoke first, “Joe, Sid. You should probably know this by now. Franco and I have only been doing this for a couple of years.”
“Been a bit of a lark.” Franco deadpanned.
“Point is, we’d only been in operation for a year when Joey called and asked me to look after you two,” Coral said, “And now, you’re the first ever graduates of our school to have made it this far, challenging for a championship in a major company.”
“Avy’s trained champions before, but always as part of somebody else’s school,” Franco said, “Bang! Pro’s dojo, uh… Danger’s school, too, I think.”
“That’s right,” Coral said, “And I think there’s a lot of promise with this year’s slate of students. But, you should understand, there’s nothing bigger than PRIME to me. So as far as we’re concerned, it’s cause for celebration. Because win or lose, you guys made it.”
There was a silence, nods of understanding.
Then Coral added, “Of course, we’d all prefer that you win.”
“Oh, uh. One other thing. We’re all going to be there. Obviously, I’ll be in your corner,” Coral said, “Franco and Annie will be sitting front row, too.”
“Hi!” Annabelle chimed in.
“And also, I’ve taken the liberty of inviting your parents and your sisters.”
Joe’s stomach did a shooting star press.
And by the look on Sid’s face, his upper intestine must have performed a powerbomb on his lower intestine.
They were stunned into silence.
Coral, seemingly aware of the effect this news had on his students, hastily added, “So, uh… no pressure or anything, but we’re all rooting for you.”
Annabelle giggled, and cheerfully said, “Remember to invite us to the celebration when you win, too!”
“As if I’d forget, you steak glutton.” Coral said, laughing.
Joe and Sid smiled nervously, teeth showing.
Their dads. Joe’s mom. Joe’s three little sisters. Sid’s older and younger sisters. Coral. Franco. Annabelle (Wakana? Mrs. Blackberry?). The memory of Seymour Almasy, to be embodied for the first time by Joe Fontaine. The lessons Coral passed down to them by being his top students. The Gates of Avalon Wrestling School itself.
That’s a lot of torches to be carrying.