Cosmic joke. Predictable track. Another geriatric turned antique, a life’s work realized at my expense in a haze of blood and sharp violence. The same number of successful defenses, the seasonality matching due to summer’s lasting stay. A finality, all those having lurched in the foothills suddenly believing that my curtain was closed. Ample opportunities in this world, now flowing freely, thanks to my full belly after spending so long at the head of the only table that matters.
And this is where the loss and reflection surge through, rending me stricken with grief, paralyzed in doubt. Everything questioned. Place. Measure. All those tried and true staples, now rising again, zombies from the mortuary, ichored self loathing sloshing through the stitches laced through their maws. Those having stood at pinnacle know too well the steps of recovery, know exactly what I’m left with and how I’m supposed to process vacancy. The road is there. Diverge. My path will be different. Less traveled. Robert Frost.
The results at the top of the sports spectrum carry mythological properties. End all and be all. Aspirational and referendum. Given UltraViolence, there’s expectation in the path forward and the inspiration beyond. Is this the moment I’m supposed to spill about the unfathomable grief as I stared back through the chain link in Chicago, watching as a man I hated paraded around my ring with my Universal Championship? That only hatred was burning in my eyes, so stark and consuming that I felt nothing else? How in that moment, I dedicated myself, in silence, to right this wrong and make it my overarching mission going forward until I reclaim what’s mine?
Let’s play the hits.
Fall into the tropes.
Or how about…fuck you.
Pariah was a mistake. Brandon realized it far too late. To conquer Hayes Hanlon, to take back the Universal Championship after falling in the Murder Rumble, he cudgeled the old hatreds that guided him in moments of uncertainty, in aftermaths, gaining interpersonal enlightenment and surmounting the very last of the old.
In the face of Ivan Stanislav’s challenge, of course he would completely unravel the seams of this through stricken animus. The bile and disdain harbored appeal. Helped up from the canvas by medical personnel as the Soviet National Anthem droned on and those remaining in Soldier Field continued to boo, he braced against the pair of male nurses from nearby University of Illinois Health. The Tower of Babel stared through the new Universal Champion and his flecking, quaking laughter. The glee in the Bear’s eyes was palpable, understandable. Nobody cares how they look when they’re atop the world, evidenced by the dry spittle lacquering Stanislav’s beard.
Pushing away the nurses who were his anchor, Youngblood fell to a knee. Through the brunt of the knuckles of his right hand, he pushed himself upward, locking eyes with the man who had ‘conquered’ him.
The laughter stopped. When sharing the ring, a sense of unwitting understanding is often derived, especially in the thinnest of atmospheres. There would be no love lost, and their senses toward the other hadn’t altered at any fundamental level, but for a brief moment, there was a nod. And just as quickly as it transpired, it was gone. Hunters probing the other.
I never should’ve trusted you to get this done. Even with all your honeyed bullshit about wrecking and destroying, you always were prone to burnout. I wish you were here to feel that, ‘old friend’. Instead, all you are now is Yezhov to his Stalin.
The Red Era. Nick Stuart and Richard Parker went off the air hammering on about how tonight was transformative, spiriting the monstrosity holding the richest prize in all of sports as if he was infallible. It’s the split seconds where the juiciest tells lie. Brandon could see that the Russian Bear’s breathing was labored beyond the strains of bellows; wrestling for as long as he had, his heart would’ve exploded if not for some miracle of genetic disposition. The blood flowing from his lips, the mess making up his face…
Youngblood had done that to this God with only one arm.
So much for the hyperbole.
And so he left, under his own power. Each step was a struggle, for sure. The ovation from the remaining fans was a distant hum, his focus on putting one foot in front of the other. It wasn’t just the match that strained his movement; it was the last few days. Shock was a natural mechanism. No matter how hard you try, eventually, it wins out. Brushing past the entrance, through Argyle, he was able to make progress.
Until, finally, he collapsed.
A jellyfish cursed with lactic acid filled joints. He didn’t know who rushed to him, if it was Killean or Lindsay or other production staffers, because his perspective vertigoed. Wrestling wasn’t a young man’s game by virtue of success, but for the ability to bounce back. To have the body not fail. Forty-four years old. Of course there was no getting up from this.
Ripping at the straps of his arm brace, he yanked it off with his good hand, trying to wave off the help. “I’m fine…I’m…fine…” He was the only one believing it. If Ivan or Alexei were there to film, all this would make for great material in the propaganda film, as would the footage of him being loaded on a stretcher and taken to medical. A missed opportunity.
After all, it wasn’t like others hadn’t seen the Ace in such a state of vulnerability.
The natural instinct is to embrace failure of the self. To question and self-flagellate over the micro-moments in the processes leading up and the decisions made in the pressure of the fight. Then, you lay thpse wounds out, not to heal, but for them to scab over just so you can pick at them. The honeycomb of the hive, the support for the mine. Plunge deep and use that pick axe to gather nuggets of juicy self loathing, the pity, the questioning of if you were good enough, if you are measured by your failures. Weigh it at the scale. Trade the day’s work for points in depth.
I’m supposed to feel sad for the sake of it, Bobby, and I’m supposed to take it out on you. It’s comical how linear this all is. We did this before. Practically the same circumstances. I lost the Universal Title, meaning an end for your stay of execution for Burton. Not only that, but coming off a brutal, physical war, I was stepping into the ring with the Mythical Motivated Bobby Dean, not the slouch or the dumpster diving joke of boogers and farts.
And I got my pound of flesh. Yeah, you stuffed me. You hung around longer than most would ever think you could. But the message was sent. Here we are again. Should I expect another nine months in the wilderness before number three comes to pass and the Universal Championship returns to its summertime home?
How fucking delightful.
Doctor Astrid Fihlguud slipped off her nitrile gloves, tossing them in the trash bin. “Ivan looks worse than you, if that’s any consolation.”
An interesting statement given the sheer amount of scratches and abrasions across Youngblood’s face when first he came to see her earlier in the evening. He sat on the cushioned table, his every shift causing the paper underneath to loudly scrape. All he offered in response was a courtesy grunt.
“You took a lot of head trauma at the end there. I’m surprised, in all honesty, you’re clear of concussion protocol. Might have Timo to thank for that.”
Her proffered sentiment didn’t help, not with the Toradol wearing off. “What about…the other thing?” The entirety of his left arm was vulnerable. Limp. The nerve bundles felt laced with tiny glass shards, the most subtle of movements weaponizing striations into lacerators.
“Well…” she started, gingerly lifting his arm, running her hand underneath his elbow. “I don’t know how far along your tricep is, but I can say that the pop you heard wasn’t from a complete tear.”
He sneered from the pain, trying his best to contain a sudden yelp. In actuality, he was grateful she was the one manipulating the arm given how difficult it had become to bend and curl it. “Ain’t felt nothing like it before…”
“Given that you were lifting four hundred pounds in unstabilized, non isolated movements, you’re extremely fortunate. You’d know if you tore it.”
“And how’s that.”
For effect, she pinched at the skin of his elbow. “You wouldn’t be able to really move your forearm upward. And you’d have a snood here.”
“Know turkeys?” Letting go of the skin, she reached for his shoulder, but the moment her hands drew around it, he jerked away. “Not the large hanging nodule, but the slightly smaller one, near the ‘chin’. That. Doesn’t mean the tricep isn’t just hanging on though. Now given the angle of this shoulder–””
Her hands continued to try and stabilize it, yet every time, he yanked himself free, all until he finally got off of the table, snarling. “I got it, alright. I got it.”
“It’s a separated shoulder. That was the pop. And I don’t know if you’ve had shoulder issues in the past–”
“–then you need to know that it isn’t going to get better. It’s a ball and socket joint, so you can pop it back in place. But it gets easier to dislocate over time. It goes from hitting the ring post to bumping into the wall by accident or falling out of bed–”
As if to show her just how ‘good’ he was, he tried to shake his hand, to show off his motion. All he mustered was a pathetic flop.
“–or falling in the ring.”
The very notion caused him to spit on the floor, shaking his head. “So. Have a few weeks off. I lay out, I rest. Stuff should get better. Do some healing. I got the Almasy–”
“You do,” she started, slouching on her stool. “If you get cleared.”
“Got cleared tonight–”
“It’s going to keep happening until you have it repaired. Surgery.” Batten the hatches for the dread bomb. “It’s easier now than later. There’s less to clean up, you do the physical therapy, you go home and rest your body and get yourself right, and you have the added bonus of spending time with your family–”
At first, a chuckle. It spread like wildfire. His tone was eerily reminiscent of the man who had beaten him mere hours before. Shaking his head, he locked eyes with her before pushing through the door. “Yeah. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years. Can’t wait. Ho ho ho!”
The door slammed with enough force to nearly break the hinges.
Most of this roster doesn’t know the man Seymour Almasy. And that’s fine. We celebrated his life, and those of us that did breathed new life into his torch. But know this; there’s nobody in this field who fought the man more than I did. It’s why my winning the Almasy last year was so fitting.
Not because of the respect we shared.
It was because of how thoroughly I destroyed him every time we faced off.
And he’d smile and chuckle at this statement if he was still here, Bobby. Because he pushed for, more than anything, the dominion of wrestling above all else. I’m not here to fight you to get back in the saddle. There’s no scurrying in the sand. You’re facing someone who has never been pinned or submitted in a PRIME singles tournament. The Jewel in the Crown and The Almasy. This is my domain.
And you’re trespassing.
After an night of stabbing pain, of waiting for the spasms to ease, this had to happen here and now, the lacking privacy of the Minneapolis St-Paul airport bathroom be damned. Sweat poured from Brandon’s swollen forehead as he sat on the toilet seat, gathering the wherewithal and courage for the next step. A handicap stall. More space to move. To dig in. His fingers flexed fervently, his breathing steadying. From deep within, a rumble. “Fuck it…”
He rose from the seat, commanding his left arm to flex. Dr. Fihlguud had a point in noting just how foolish a strategy of suplexes had been, but he felt he couldn’t compromise himself, especially with it being a point of pride from the Murder Rumble for Stanislav. Did it make him feel any better that after a few weeks of rest, when he got cleared, if he got cleared, he would be dealing with a man of nearly the same weight? Just over a year ago, Brandon had faced Bobby Dean, and it wasn’t as though The Man From Honalee had gotten svelte in subsequent time. When the bracket for the Almasy was released, Youngblood was more than aware of the possibility, and despite his effort, foolishness had thrust him into a potential gauntlet which made any notion of true recovery nothing more than remote.
Another Suplex Family Reunion probably meant the tricep would go. And that…would create a whole slew of issues. There’s only so many cards one can play to get in the ring if they’re severely hurt, and he’d burnt his best one just to get in the ring in Chicago. ‘He…they got to my kid, Astrid. They…got to my fucking kid.’ Desperation and fast thinking. The goings on with Sykes and Calvin made the sentiment plausible, and with enough opaqueness…
What happened with Cody, what his son knew and heard nearly a year before, that he’d kept bottled in until mere days ago? He was in just as much dark as to the how and why as Astrid was from the sob story he pulled from his ass. He didn’t believe in Russian boogeymen. There was no long game conspiracy from the Eastern Bloc.
It didn’t make him feel any better.
Palm and heel of left hand pressed against his ribs. A chickenwing. The stall door was open, and he stood parallel to the doorway. Resting his elbow against the stall, he suddenly dipped backward, the distinct pop alerting others darting in and out of the bathroom. “Fuuuuuuck!” The swelling in the joint had gone down, but not enough to make the process any less painless. If only he had metaxalone.
He grabbed his bag from the floor, limply carrying it with his bad hand. Given that it was nearly twenty pounds lighter, the process wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been. The absence of gold wasn’t worth the relief. If people came up to him to ask for autographs through the airport, he wasn’t aware. Instead, only focused tinnitus. Save the arm. Most would think for preservation. In truth, it was to avoid letting someone judge him out of the Almasy by medical clearance.
He wasn’t giving up his tournament without someone having earned it.
Leaving the breezeway into the attached parking structure of Terminal One. Early afternoon darted and blinded from the periphery, but it was no matter; he’d made this walk many times in the last two years. It’s just that, in all that time, he never had one of his most ready weapons taken away from him. Autopilot and repetition had keyed towards the wrestling style he was known for, his other skills having ebbed from the forefront. Over a decade before and forty plus pounds ago, the Diamond was known to throw the best dropkick in the sport. His amateur manner and ability to grapple were unrivaled. Striking moved to elbows, not the ground and pound knees and calculated fists he was adept at. Now, he pulverized with only killshots.
To move forward, to persevere, Brandon Youngblood would have to take his newfound weakness and figure out a way to overcome it. And his mind was spinning with possibilities, in trying to ascertain just what strategies he’d have to concoct to do what he wanted to get done.
Bobby Dean was as good a test subject as any.
His senses were startled as he drew closer to his truck, narrowing eyes focused on the figure pressed against the tailgate, arms folded across her chest, her scowl bringing him back to the world he’d been using wrestling to escape from for the last few days. Growling, her words were pointed. “What. The fuck. Happened. Brandon.”
He didn’t stop his approach as Amy scowled at him, his free hand fishing in his pocket to unlock his truck, opening the rear driver’s door and slinging his bag inside the cab.
“Did I stutter, motherfucker?”
He glowered at her, his lips straining. “The fuck you drive all the way out here for?”
“Oh, I don’t know.” Her back moved from the tailgate, her arms ready as though she could strike at any moment. “I got your goddamn ex-wife blowing up my phone all hysterical because you’re not answering her calls, and you damn sure haven’t been answering mine.”
Standing his ground, he tried to press his knuckles into his hips. Only one arm was able to easily manage. “Now’s not the time, or the place. I need to think, alright?”
His manner turned her stomach with worry, her ferocity softening to deepening concern as she advanced toward him, looking up into his eyes. “Brandon…what happened between you and Cody?”
Much as he was trying to hide it, there was a shimmer in their corners from the welling of tears.
We both know your success in this moment isn’t going to be measured by whether you win or not. It’s how long you survive. That’s all you’re measured by. And that’s fine. I just took The Red Era to his physical and mental extreme with one arm. Sound pyrrhic?
You can stick around for a moment. You can stuff me and get another moral victory. You think that’s humiliating? I have losses to Peter Vetra and GREAT SCOTT. There’s nothing you can do that can stain my soul worse than that.
One arm becomes one and a half by the time we face off.
Time for you and your daughter to go back to the buffet.
Minute Maid Park was filled to capacity, but Fan Appreciation Day was quickly souring after Hunter Brown fastball was launched to left from the bat of Salvador Perez. 5 to 2, Kansas City Royals. Candace Youngblood peered up from her phone after hearing the crack, watching the ball as it streamed into the stands. Despite her orange shirt and the glove in her lap, she never cared for baseball.
It was her new beau’s favorite pastime, something to occupy his time working as a personal trainer and sucking down Michelob Ultras. He let out a bleating whistle, booing ferociously.
“Silas, if you don’t stop that…”
Stricken, he stopped immediately, sheepishly digging his hands in his pockets. “Sorry…it’s just…they’ve been awful on this homestand.” Before the Astros started banging trash cans, he couldn’t have named a single player on the roster.
His submission drew from her a smirk. “It’s okay. I’m just trying to read this book, and the sounds you make are distracting.” At least he had abs to go with that chiseled jawline.
In the process of their conversation, Nelson Velazquez was at the dish. A knuckle curve bottomed out for a ball, then he got caught looking on a fastball up and left in the strike zone. Brown’s splitter appeared to catch the bottom of the zone, but Home Plate Umpire Ryan Additon didn’t agree, calling it a ball. Most of the crowd took to booing, but with a sharp look from Candace, young Silas made nary a peep.
She was only able to notice the notification pop on her phone from the vibration. Incoming text. Unknown number.
‘The other half of the agreed upon fee has been deposited into your account. I know I speak for others in the Federation in thanking you for your generosity and diligence in this matter.’
Hunter’s four seamer traveled high. Ball three. A quick e-mail ping flashed across her phone. A Large Deposit Has Been Deposited In Your Account. Her fingers were quick to respond. ‘It was no trouble at all. Thank you for making me whole.’
Velazquez dug in, readying himself for the next offering. Four seamer in the zone. Heavy contact. The ball sailed over the fence in right. Another notification. A response. ‘Now that he’s been neutralized, there are many who would prefer that he stay that way. Would you be willing to help in this regard?’
‘I’ve already been working on that for personal reasons. But if you want to pay me, I’m more than willing to take your money.’
The world around her bayed for blood, the boo birds overwhelming, yet all she could do was smile. Little Silas could make all the noises he wanted to now.