Let’s go back.
Two days after ReVival 10. Joe and Sid were feeling the best they’d felt since they joined PRIME at Culture Shock. They took down Colton and Filmix, and they knew that the two men that awaited them were going to be their toughest challenge to date.
Coral Avalon had taken the two of them to a “war room” of sorts in the Gates of Avalon Wrestling School in Seattle. Wrestling DVDs lined the walls on shelves that covered the entire back wall of the room. A single well-worn couch sat in front of a large flat screen TV. It was currently paused on a key event in PRIME’s distant past: Nova’s Universal championship win over Tchu at King of Kings 2.
Coral paced in front of the TV, a towel wrapped around his neck. Dried sweat covered his body, the result of a workout long passed. Joe and Sid lounged on the couch, watching him pace. They’d made popcorn after workout, and the two were wordlessly fighting over the bucket with every handful they grabbed. Sid had bigger hands, but Joe had quicker hands. It was a back and forth battle.
The session went that Coral would show the pair a match featuring Nova or Johnny, and then talk through what he saw out of them.
“Nova’s about momentum,” Coral explained, “Chain wrestling makes him frustrated, and he’s not usually the first to start a brawl. He’ll want to start strong, hit you fast, and what makes him dangerous is momentum. If he starts getting his shots in, they’ll keep coming. They won’t stop. He’s flying. He’s fighting. He’s a whirling dervish. A typhoon. He’s all of those things. And he’ll keep doing that…”
He resumed play. Nova dropped Tchu for his Bourbon for Breakfast. The second one in the match. The decisive one.
He paused again as the hand came down for the three count.
“…Until one of you are dead.” Coral said.
Coral sighed and stared at the screen for a while.
This would be the closest he’d ever be to a Universal championship. Not in the ring, but standing here and demonstrating what Nova did that night in the twilight of 2006. Nova had won the top prize of PRIME more recently than Coral had an opportunity at any top prize.
The Crownless King, indeed.
“So, what do we do?” Joe asked, breaking Coral out of his thoughts.
Coral shook his head.
He had to remember that this wasn’t about him.
“Does it involve powerbombs?” Sid chimed in.
Coral gave Sid an aside glance, but as he thought about it, he turned to the powerbombing elephant in the room.
“Actually, yes,” Coral said, gesturing with his hands as though he couldn’t believe what he was saying, “The way you can stall his momentum is to pick a moment to hit him with everything you’ve got. Sid, I don’t know how or why everything you do turns into a powerbomb, but I’m willing to roll with it at this point. Just powerbomb him.”
Sid beamed, “Awesome.”
Joe pointed to himself, “So, what about me? Do I dazzle him with my own array of beautiful techniques?”
“Here’s the thing, Joe. You’re going to have to hit both of them with everything you’ve got. Outwrestling Nova won’t be easy. And Johnny…” Coral said, and then he trailed off.
Coral had only seen Johnny in spots. The Dual Halo was the big moment for him when it came to PRIME. But even that little was enough for Coral to consider his advice.
“Johnny is unpredictable. You don’t think he can do anything when you first see him. He’s all limbs and flailing. But then he catches you sleeping, then he’s coming at you from an angle you’re not expecting. For him, it’s not about momentum. It’s about not knowing how he’s going to attack. In other words, he’s the exact opposite of you, Sid.”
Sid scoffed, “Maybe I’d powerbomb him anyway.”
“Actually,” Coral said, before he turned to Joe, “Joe, you might be better equipped for Johnny.”
“You’re the unknown quantity of the team. They haven’t seen enough of what you can do. You’ve come far in the last year. You’re as ready as you’re going to be for those bright lights. If there’s any time to prove you’ve got what it takes, this is it. This is your spotlight. I’ll just be there to observe, for now.”
He knew why Coral would be there.
But for that…
Let’s go back.
The day after the Winds of Change were eliminated from Survivor, things were down. Way down. Sid got so thoroughly lost that he didn’t know which end of the maze was the ass or the mouth, and that gets awkward when you’re starting to describe the maze in orifice terms. Joe was seemingly murdered by a terrifying mannequin that may or may not have been sentient.
It was a bad time.
Of course, Joe turned out to be fine, just passed out. He would go on to have a hard time sleeping after that night, but neither Sid nor Baron von Blackberry knew if it was because of his immeasurable disappointment at the Winds’ humiliating departure from Survivor, or because of whatever he experienced.
Anyway, Joe and Sid had to pack up and leave their suite the next morning.
They left a room that had seen better days. The Winds of Change, unlike many of the other teams in the competition, had not left Vegas at all during the entirety of Survivor. Their room was in a state of disarray that was becoming disastrous, made all the worse by the fact that the “Do Not Disturb” sign had been all but superglued to the doorknob since their arrival. There was a smell, the kind of smell that went beyond beer farts and into the type of stench that… okay, a lot of roster members could achieve on their own without marinating their hotel room with their juices for almost two months.
They were out the door and headed for the elevator when a familiar face approached them.
Well, “face” was stretching it a bit.
“MINIONS!” Baron von Blackberry greeted the pair. He wore his usual regalia, which was his mask, his labcoat, and his lack of any shirt, “Perhaps you could spare your beloved manager a moment?”
Joe and Sid exchanged exhausted looks.
“’Beloved’ is a strong word for you, you know.” Sid said. “So is tolerable.”
“Ahaha,” Blackberry chuckled, “Would you like another demonstration of the Freshmaker, Minion #2?”
Blackberry meant the yakuza kick.
Sid did not want his fresh made again.
Blackberry placed his hands in his pockets, and seemed to stare at the two of them. Probably. It was hard to tell with an apparently eyeless mask.
“So, you’re out of Survivor. That’s a shame. I guess that means you have to earn the titles the old-fashioned way, then.”
Joe was dim, but he wasn’t stupid. He understood Baron’s meaning.
“So, by wrestling?” he asked.
“Indeed,” Blackberry nodded, “Listen. Real talk. I’m proud of you guys. You bucked up, and got as far as you did when no one knew who you were a few months ago. Sure, it didn’t end as well as you’d hoped. You almost died twice from food poisoning and, uh… the maze. We also can’t talk about mannequins any more, and that’s probably ruined the whole clothes-shopping experience you seem to love to do. It’s true that I gave you crap for doing this, but you still have a chance to come out of this better than you were coming in. So, come with me.”
Joe and Sid exchanged glances again.
That was not the usual Blackberry speech.
As they did, Blackberry reached up to his mask.
“Come with you? Where?” Joe asked.
At first, Joe and Sid thought it was for dramatic effect. But then he struggled to remove his mask, long enough that it became very awkward, about a good half a minute of trying to dramatically pull off a mask. All the tension drained out of the hallway in the moment, until Blackberry finally pulled the mask from his face.
“Good lord,” Coral Avalon muttered to himself, “Remind me to get a version of this stupid mask I can use whenever I do this whole unmasking thing in the ring.”
He braced the mask – more like a helmet than a mask – against his hip. “Anyway. You’re coming with me to Seattle. To the Gates of Avalon Wrestling School, for some additional training. We have to get you ready for the Nates.”
Joe and Sid both pointed their fingers at the man who’d been Baron von Blackberry this whole time, the main who trained him.
And they both yelled, in harmonious unison.
“WHAT THE FUCK!?”
And thus, the most thinly-veiled open secret in all of PRIME was finally revealed to Joe and Sid.
Jesus. It took them long enough.
Let’s go back.
The year was 2019.
Ken had the Shoryuken that should have taken the round blocked, and didn’t have the resources he needed to make it safe. He flew into the air with a fist outstretched in absolute futility. If Ken could make an expression, it would be the expression of a man who knew, in that moment, that he’d fucked up.
Rashid hit him as his feet touched the floor with a low kick. Ken recoiled as though his knees took a shotgun shell. Rashid then kicked a small tornado directly into Ken’s gut, and then the screen flashed and Rashid went into an elaborate pose.
And then Rashid himself became the fulcrum of a massive tornado, and Ken was blown to kingdom come. The announcer shouted “K.O.!” to signify his victory.
“Bullshit,” Sid said, “That should’ve chipped you out.”
“Ah, I think you can only win by chip if you use your super,” Joe said. He laughed. He’d gotten pretty decent at Street Fighter V, enough that he planned to go to the Evo fighting game tournament in Vegas next month. He didn’t know yet that he was going to get utterly bodied and go 0-2 and leave the show floor with tears streaked down his face after his opponent – a Cammy player – spent most of the last round teabagging him.
“I hate this.” Sid said.
“Yeah, Rashid’s pretty strong,” Joe agreed, still laughing.
The last game console that the Phillips family had was an old Playstation 2 that had been gifted to Daniel by Joe’s Uncle Keith, one of Daniel’s oldest friends in and out of the business. Joe had all of the game consoles, by comparison. Sid usually came over to Joe’s house to play any of the newer games. So it’s little wonder why Joe was good at them, he had more time to practice.
They hovered on the results screen for a while. Sid had hit rematch.
“Hey, Sid,” Joe said, “I think I’m gonna get into pro wrestling. Like, actually doing it, I mean.”
Sid turned to Joe, looking at him like he’d just grown an extra set of arms, and they were all doing the dab.
“Fuck you, no you’re not,” Sid said, “You’re going to get killed.”
Joe ignored him, “So, I’m going to Seattle in August. A guy named Coral Avalon’s supposed to train me. Weird name, right? Like, that’s definitely a super fake wrestling name.”
Sid rubbed his hand with his face.
“Joe. I’m going to ask you this one time. Why?”
Joe smiled, “Why not?”
Joe shrugged, “Because I’d be awesome at it.”
“Joe, all that drama club you did isn’t going to turn you into ‘Golden’ Glen Miller,” Sid said, “I think you have to be an athlete for that kind of thing.”
“It’s cool. Dad said there’s plenty of guys who come into the business with no athletic background. Like, his friend Simon. Not Uncle Simon. Different Simon. He was an actor, apparently. And hey, if it doesn’t work out, I’ll do something else. Actually, you should come up to Seattle with me. I bet you’d be awesome at it, too.”
Sid stared at Joe.
“That’s the dumbest idea you’ve ever had. And it’s you, so that’s saying a lot.”
“That wasn’t a compliment!” Sid complained.
Still, Sid thought about it.
Football didn’t go too bad for him, but his scholarships didn’t go to any major program in the country. He was hardly the star standout player on his team, but he was athletic and big. He could’ve made a splash with the right coach.
Sid knew he should think outside of the box.
And so, two months later, he went with Joe to Seattle. There, he discovered that the outside of the box was a truly terrifying place. He would miss the comforts of his box. It was warm and safe and he could hang out with Solid Snake, who was pretty cool.
But as long as Joe still needed him, he’d be there.
That’s what friends were for.
Let’s go back.
The year was 2009. Joe Malone Jr. sat in front of the television, watching some crazy and violent wrestling match. He had no idea what was really going on. A lot of people had been coming and going. There was a giant butt, he guessed. It looked like one. By the way, he was seven, and he shouldn’t be watching this. Where were his parents?
They were right there next to him.
“Why did you order this pay-per-view?” Keri Malone asked. “You don’t even know anyone on this show.”
“Hey, that’s not true! We know Flyer,” Joey Malone said, laughing and holding up a finger. “The 5-Star Champ! Who knew? …Oh, he’s gone. That’s a shame.”
The match was some crazy dual plexiglass structure that looked like a butt with some rings inside it. Joey laughed when he saw it. He’d been in weirder stuff than the Dual Halo in his career, but for some reason, Joey got a kick out of seeing the thing. Probably because it looked like a butt. And if Joey got a kick out of it, then so did Joe Jr.
High Flyer, an old friend of Joey’s from the IWO days, had just been eliminated. Various other wrestlers that none of the Malones knew would drop like flies, leading to two men. One was the newly crowned and soon-to-be longest reigning Universal Champion, Jason Snow. The other was Garbage Bag Johnny. After Snow floored Johnny with a series of superkicks, he went up to the top rope to finish him off. Only to be met up there, and dropped like a sack of garbage by a man who probably had as many chicken bones in his beard as he did hair.
A three count later, and Johnny had won the Dual Halo.
After listening to the crowd’s disbelieving, raucous reaction, Joe turned to his father.
“Dad, why did the dirty man win?” Joe asked.
“If I had to guess, son, it’s because he probably made Mr. Snow three inches shorter with that piledriver.” Joey said.
“Oh. Does he need to drink milk to get taller again, then?”
Joey laughed, “Yup. He’s going to need to milk a whole cow himself.”
“Nah. The dirty man won because he’s tough. He’s been in a scrap or two. He’s not so different from your old man. Just… with more than one working wheel, I guess.” Joey said.
He cast a glance at the cast on his leg.
Joey had been planning a comeback from retirement, working out something with his brother-in-law, Jeff Garvin. They’d convinced the fWo to make it happen. He even brought in his third student, Franco Marchesi, to help with the comeback. One last match to show his children what he was capable of.
And then, last month, his knee tore itself apart as he was training. It simply exploded landing from the same slingshot over the ropes he’d done a thousand times before. A freak accident. Doctors told him that he wouldn’t be able to wrestle again. Hell, he wouldn’t even be able to walk the same again.
Joey watched Johnny, knowing that he could never reach the heights Johnny reached that night ever again.
Joe watched his father, knowing that he was sad, but not knowing the reason.
After Joey turned the TV off, he stared at his own reflection in the black screen for a very long time.
Wrestling didn’t come back to the Malone household for years after tonight.
It was a burden too great.
Let’s go back.
Sidimus Maximus stood ready with his gladius at hand, waiting for his next challenger in the Colosseum. Soon, he would take the head of his next opponent for his ruler. Surrounding him were the freshly slain corpses of a dozen who’d challenged him, strewn about like leftover turkey on Thanksgiving.
It was a time before the Princeps ruled away from Rome, a time of opulence and splendor before the life of Rome’s ruler became that of constant conquest and re-conquest for an empire too great.
Once a simple grain farmer, Sidimus found himself in the Colosseum as result of a series of tragedies and happenstances that occurred to him. He found himself a slave. A gladiator, who fought to the death for the amusement of a crowd looking for entertainment in their dull lives.
With his latest victory, the Princeps looked upon this gladiator with calculated disdain.
A hush came over the crowd as the Princeps, who wore a stupid topknot that might seem familiar in the far flung future, walked out to the balcony that loomed over the Colosseum grounds.
The Princeps hesitated, his fist hanging deliberately in the air.
And when he gave the thumbs down, the roar of the crowd could’ve registered as a localized earthquake if Richter scales had been invented back then.
The gates opened, and a starving, angry lion came rushing out to meet Sidimus.
The crowds gasped.
One-on-one with a lion? He’s screwed!
Wait, what’s Latin for “you’re fucked”?
Sidimus roared in defiance, matching the lion’s own roar as it went for the fresh meat in its vicinity. The lion charged at him. Sidimus charged at him. The lion pounced, its paws reaching Sidimus’s shoulders. A gladius plunged its way in the creature’s guts as it tried to clamp its jaws into Sidimus’s throat. Sid managed to avoid this, but still took the monster’s jaws in his shoulder. The shock of the sword entering its body only made the bite that much more excruciating for Sidimus.
And then the lion fell away, collapsing to the ground. Injured, but not dead.
Sidimus clutched his bleeding shoulder. An injury that could eventually take his life, if not tended to immediately. In the moment, he knew what he must do.
Mustering his strength, he grabbed the creature by the waist.
He hoisted it high over his head.
And then he brought its back down to the ground violently.
The crowd gasped in shock.
They gasped even more when Sidimus lifted the damn thing back up and did it again.
Look, we won’t keep talking about this horrible animal cruelty going on. Kids, don’t powerbomb lions. They’re endangered, and that’s just fucked up.
We can safely say that Sidimus won his freedom that day.
But we will also say that there’s one curious bit of historical curiosity about this event. Scholars debate to this day whether this was history’s first instance of the “holy shit” chant.
Wait, what’s Latin for “holy shit”?
Okay, I think we went too far back.
Let’s go forward.
There was one particular fan in attendance on that night in 2006, the night of Nova’s greatest triumph. You wouldn’t know it unless I told you, though.
He sat with his mother and father, on the side of the hard cam. The father wore a hat that did a half-decent job at hiding his features, and his business casual suit hid his familiar scars. The mother was a few months pregnant with her fourth child. And the first of those children – four years old at the time – sat there uncomprehending at the violence being displayed.
Maybe don’t take your kids to a PRIME show back in 2006, I’m just saying. Angelo Deville was there for God’s sakes, and that dude wasn’t even for adults. Not the smart ones, anyway.
Nova was making his way around ringside. In one hand, he carried his newly won championship. In the other, he was cupping his balls after the Illustrious Face-Eater did something that went against his name.
Nova gave a look to the four-year-old in the crowd. The arch of an eyebrow. The curious expression of a man who didn’t expect a kid his age to be there.
Then he left, not knowing that they’d meet again in a far flung future.
After we go forward, of course.