What’s in a name?
Well, letters. Obviously. Different combinations of letters that hold some kind of meaning. I get that. But what kind of dad is so lazy that they just name their son the same name as themselves, but add a number or a “junior” to it? Well, it’d be my dad, I guess. My younger sisters should be lucky they weren’t all born dudes, or we might’ve had a George Foreman situation going on here.
Anyway, my dad’s name is known throughout a lot of circles of pro wrestling. I don’t think I need to repeat his accomplishments to anyone. He retired young, not far removed from his second world title, and could’ve realistically kept going if only he’d taken better care of himself.
Life’s funny like that.
Well, so are fart jokes.
Fart jokes are great.
A lot of people who know who my dad is ask me, “Why are you Joe Fontaine? Shouldn’t you be Joe Malone, too?”
And, I mean, I get it. It’d be easier to know who I am if I went by my dad’s name.
But “Joey Malone” is a lot to live up to, and I’m not my dad. Obviously. I’m way too fabulous. I get all of my dashing good looks from mom. It gets tiresome every time someone meets me, knowing who my dad is, and ask more about him than they do about me.
“Fontaine” was Allen Brown’s idea, by the way. The Codemaster, some used to call him, before he sold the name and persona to another guy. Sometimes, Allen would drop by the school just to see how things are doing. The guy knew my dad, knew Mr. Avalon, knew who I was, and knew all too well the perils of trying to follow in a father’s footsteps. So he helped me out. My dad helped me out by sending me to Seattle to learn under Coral Avalon. Mr. Avalon and Mr. Marchesi helped me out by training me. Sid’s helped me out just by hanging out and keeping me sane.
But I changed my name because, at the end of the day, I’m not here because of my father.
If he had his way, I’d be an accountant or something.
Do I look like someone who knows numbers? God. No. Math is the worst. The least fabulous subject. I hope that Pfefferman guy stubbed his toe on his way out of PRIME.
No, I’m here because I want to do this. I want all eyes on me. It doesn’t matter how many times I take a Canadian Destroyer from a mannequin, or have my ideas blow up in my face, or whatever. If it gets people talking about me, that’s a big W in the Joe Fontaine win column.
I’m not going to let a simple problems like my size, a lack of sports in my background, or the fact that my tag team partner – as much as I love the guy – doesn’t do anything other than powerbombs put a stop to me.
Modern problems demand fabulous solutions, after all!
-Joe Fontaine, on Instagram.
After the Survivor contest had concluded, Sid had gotten into a screaming match with Baron von Blackberry, and it didn’t go well for him.
It was over the fact that Blackberry had attacked Sid to prevent him from powerbombing another Enemigo during the contest. Sid was hot over Blackberry’s means in stopping him, but Blackberry was uncharacteristically magmatic in reminding Sid just how much the last incident had cost him.
Sid had only escaped paying more money than he actually had because of the generosity and support of Blackberry and his friends, but if he kept doing it, PRIME would’ve had little trouble in actually getting rid of the big lug.
And so, Sid lost the screaming match.
He’d been in a depressed funk since then, not even responding to Joe’s attempts to tease him, which drove Joe up the wall because he liked saying things that made Sid react angrily.
This lasted all the way until news of what the next contest would be, and Blackberry dragged Joe and Sid out from the comforts of the MGM Grand to the deserts just outside of the city. Blackberry drove the car in silence, being eerily quiet for a man known for being loud.
When they got out, it was at the side of a desert road.
Once there, Blackberry pulled out several objects from the trunk of his rental car.
Most of them were cardboard standees of Academy Award winning actress, Dame Helen Mirren, which Blackberry had received from senior referee Timo Bolamba a day after the recent Survivor event. Don’t ask why he had those. Let’s just say that you shouldn’t buy things with Google Assistant.
Once he got them out of his vehicle, he had Joe and Sid do stretching exercises to get them limber while he set up the standees.
Eventually, Blackberry handed the two of them something that baffled them.
A pair of baseball gloves.
“Listen up, minions,” Blackberry said, as he stood in front of seven beautiful images of the beloved actress, “The kid gloves are off. Although, I suppose, they never fit my hands in the first place. It’s hard to do that cool milk the cow pose that all of the cool guys do when wearing one. Not even sure why I have one, to be honest. Not like I have kids…”
Blackberry caught himself, and continued, “Anyway, I thought we’d do something different this time. I left you with puzzles, and clearly, that wasn’t enough to keep you two morons out of trouble.”
“I keep telling you, I thought that was King Blueberry, not an Enemigo.” Sid muttered.
Joe chimed in, “And come on, Shweta shouldn’t have put up that drink stand right next to our competition in the first place!”
Joe and Sid shut up.
The two of them watched as Blackberry paced back and forth.
“As I have been saying for a while, now… the two of you, as you are now, are incomplete. You’re both weak in different ways, and while that can be covered up with good teamwork, your teamwork thus far has left something to be desired. So instead of preparing for the next challenge, I’m preparing your teamwork.”
“Uh. And that’s why there’s all these standees of this cool old gal behind us?” Joe asked. He waved behind him, at the seven standees of Helen Mirren that’d been lined up in a row next to them.
“Indeed,” Blackberry said, “Now, in a moment, a couple of gentlemen that I know will be arriving for the challenge. If even one standee of Helen Mirren is left standing, you pass. But if none of them survive, the two of you will be walking back to the MGM Grand on foot.”
Both Joe and Sid’s jaws dropped at this proclamation.
“Holy shit, what?” Sid asked.
“Are you crazy?” Joe asked.
As if on cue, a car pulled up just behind Blackberry’s car, and two men got out of the vehicle.
Neither of them were recognizable to the two members of the Winds of Change, but Blackberry recognized them quite well.
“Glad you could join us, Connor.”
Connor O’Reilly, once one half of the Princes of New England and a former PRIME Tag Team Champion, sauntered over to Blackberry and the Winds of Change. His beard was trimmed into a neat mustache and goatee, and his long brown hair was tied off into a snake-like ponytail. He wore the waistcoat-styled suit, with a black vest and slacks. He carried a picnic basket with him, only its contents weren’t exactly for a picnic.
Connor’s eyebrow was raised upon seeing Blackberry, and he nodded his understanding.
The other man carried a basket of his own in his hand. His other arm was held straight down by his side, and he made no effort to even use it.
Simon Knox was the other half of the Princes. His dirty blonde hair was parted to one side, and he wore sunglasses that made his eyes difficult to see. His loud Hawaiian shirt and jean shorts stood in stark contrast to his one-time tag team partner.
Years ago, their wardrobes would’ve been the exact opposite.
“Hey, BB,” Simon said, his voice a smooth calm, “Are these the idiots you were talking about?”
Blackberry nodded, and turned back to the Winds.
Joe was staring at Simon with particular surprise.
“Uh, wait, is that Uncle Simon?”
Simon winked at Joe, the typically smug look on his face that Joe had been accustomed to.
Simon was Joe’s uncle by marriage, having married into the Malone family through Joey Malone’s younger half-sister. He was the third wrestler to marry into the Malone name, though Joe hadn’t heard from his uncle Jeff or his uncle Keith in a long time.
“A long time ago, these two were once PRIME Tag Team Champions. They’ve moved on to bigger and brighter things since then, but sometimes, I give them a call. So, meet the Princes of New England. They’re throwing baseballs at Helen Mirren, today. Well, Connor is. The challenge ends when all of the standees get knocked down, or when we run out of baseballs.”
Simon can only laugh. It was ominous.
After a short period of waiting, Connor threw the first pitch.
It immediately blew up the center Mirren like it’d been hit by… well, a baseball. She fell flat as a fritter.
Sid and Joe watched her fall in what seemed to them like it was slow motion, mouths agape. They had no idea that Connor used to pitch baseball when he was a teenager. Granted, he was more known for beaning opposing batters than actually landing a pitch in the strike zone, but he could still throw a heater when he wanted to.
“Nice one, Connor,” Simon observed, “Score one for the Brotherhood of Awesome.”
“Ah, you remembered,” Blackberry said, cheerily. He and Simon shared a high-five.
Connor was much less impressed.
“For fuck’s sakes!” Connor shouted towards Joe and Sid, “That wasn’t even my best! Are you two even trying?!”
Sid had tried to catch the baseball, but Joe’s efforts in also trying to catch it caused the two of them to stumble into each other, and the baseball soared past their heads to cream Queen Elizabeth II.
Simon casually tossed another ball to Connor, who caught it without even looking at it. Then he wound up and let loose a pitch that should have been challenged by Sid. Instead, Joe jumped up in front of him and attempted to catch it himself. He did not. The ball flew past him, then flew past Sid as he reacted late, and then it wrecked one of the stars of the hit film RED.
Sid snorted like a man considering solving this problem the only way he knew how.
But he didn’t.
Or rather, maybe he couldn’t. Blackberry had a mean yakuza kick, after all.
Connor rolled his eyes, and held his hands out.
“Seriously, BB, this is what you got to work with?” he asked, “A big clumsy oaf and one of the fuckin’ Hobbits?”
Blackberry stood with his arms crossed, watching the Winds of Change intently. He knew what everyone except the Winds knew – unlike the Winds, the Princes had always been on the same page. In wrestling. In life. They might not wrestle today, but they always had the teamwork. Without that teamwork, they’d have never won the PRIME Tag Titles all those years ago.
“Why don’t you come over here and say that to my face?!” Sid shouted back at Connor.
Connor laughed. Simon tossed him another ball as he did, and Connor caught it as effortlessly as though he were taking a beer out of the fridge.
“I look at the two of you, and I see two kids who don’t know what the fuck they’re doing,” Connor said, as he bounced the baseball up and down in his palm, “Take it from me. No, take it from us. This ain’t a playground. When the fun and games are over, and you’re not riding on some fuckin’ playground slide putting together jigsaw puzzles, what then? Do you think you’re getting in a wrestling ring and winning? With that teamwork? Fuck you!”
His next pitch was even more ferocious than the first two. It whizzed dangerously close to Joe’s head, and Joe’s attempt to protect himself only deflected the ball. The deflected ball barely clipped a Helen, though it didn’t knock her down.
“Hey, what the hell, man?!” Joe shouted. “What kind of training is this?”
Connor took the next baseball from Simon, carelessly tossing it up and down as he did so.
Blackberry cleared his throat, “Connor, if you don’t mind, try to aim for the Helens and not the minions. It would defeat the purpose of the training if you started beaning them in the head.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Connor said, dismissively, “Whatever.”
His next pitch aimed right for the Helen that had been clipped earlier. Once again, both Joe and Sid moved to intercept. However, Joe bumped right into Sid in his efforts, and fell to the ground. The ball whizzed past Sid and destroyed the third Helen.
“Man, we brought sixty of these, too. Maybe we over-prepared for this.” Connor said. “Here’s what I don’t get. How did you even get invited to this Survivor thing in the first place? Were you really the best twelfth team they could find?”
Simon shook his head as he handed Connor the next ball.
“The big guy’s gonna pick a fight with you, if you keep that up,” Simon said, “I probably won’t help you if he does.”
“You and I both know that they both need to hear this.” Connor replied.
He ripped the next fastball at the next Mirren.
Joe attempted to go after it as well, but Sid shoved him out of the way and managed to deflect the baseball before it could do any damage.
Connor let out a long sigh, and turned pleadingly towards Blackberry.
“This isn’t going to work, BB,” Connor said, “Like, any of it. The training, the teamwork, all of it. It’s all off. They need to feng shui their way out of Vegas.”
Simon chimed in, “Hey, where did you get the standees for Helen Mirren, anyway?”
“Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to, Simon,” Blackberry said. “Connor, give me a moment.”
Blackberry uncrossed his arms, and walked towards Joe and Sid.
Joe was still on the ground after getting knocked over in Sid’s attempt to knock away Connor’s most recent throw. Sid barely relaxed his stance when Blackberry approached, and he wordlessly turned to help Joe to his feet.
Blackberry put his hands on his hips.
“So, what’s the problem?”
Joe and Sid pointed fingers at one another.
Blackberry placed a hand on his eyeless face, and for a moment, it seemed like he considered removing the mask entirely. Instead, he let his hand drop.
“On paper, you should be a great team. Sid, you’re a natural athlete. Joe, you pick up wrestling faster than most people are capable of. In practice, your individual weaknesses are glaring. Sid, if you don’t control your anger, Lindsay Troy is going to fine you into a cardboard box next to Rezin. Joe, if you don’t control your ego, you’re only going to ruin yourself.”
There was a pause. Both Joe and Sid seemed to find their own feet more interesting than the masked face of their manager.
“But it’s more than just that. You’re not trusting each other to have the other’s back.” Blackberry said, “You’re just two individuals that happen to be aligned. That’s not a team. That’s an alliance of convenience.”
He then turned to Sid.
“Sid, what are you doing here?”
“Is there another Sidney Phillips in this desert that I’m unaware of?” Blackberry asked, bemused, “Yes, you. Why are you here?”
“Uh, you dragged us out to the desert for some bullshit training.” Sid said.
Sid considered himself fortunate that Blackberry was too close to deliver another yakuza kick to him, because he felt a glare from the masked man that probably would’ve wilted flowers.
“Fool! You’re thinking too small. Why are you in Vegas at all?”
Sid stammered, but couldn’t come up with an answer. Words failed him.
So Blackberry pointed at Joe, “You’re here because he’s here! That’s the reason.”
“Yes, you. Who else do you think I’m talking to? And why are you in Vegas?”
“Uh, to be the biggest and the brightest.” Joe said.
Blackberry palmed his masked face again.
“So, to reiterate. Where he goes, you follow. That doesn’t make you a team. That makes you the Glue Factory.” Blackberry said, removing his hand from his face, “A good team is better than the sum of its parts. Two plus two is four, but what if it were five? What if it were six? That’s the point of a good team, and the start of that is trust. Knowing the strength of your partner, knowing their weaknesses, and knowing how to cover for them.”
Joe and Sid exchanged glances.
“So, think about that. Connor’s about to throw baseballs at Helen Mirren again. Protect her and her identical clones with your lives, if you have to.”
With that, the Devil Fruit spun on his heel and walked back to where the Princes were lounging around.
Connor took that as a cue to pick up the next baseball.
Joe and Sid exchanged glances again, nodded to one another, and got into position.
Sid and Joe laid side-by-side in the heat of the Nevada desert, utterly spent.
Blackberry was gone. So were the Princes.
And so were all seven cardboard Helen Mirrens, the ruins of which laid strewn about the desert behind them. Amid the ruins were the forty-eight baseballs it took before Connor had successfully beaten them. With that, the terms of the training were made abundantly clear to the Winds of Change, and the other men departed for the city of Las Vegas, leaving them to stew in their most recent failure.
“What the fuck,” Sid finally said after minutes of silence.
“No kidding. What the fuck?” Joe agreed.
“Seriously, what the fuck?” Sid repeated.
“I agree, what the fuck?” Joe agreed, again.
It went back and forth like that for a little while.
After a while of this back-and-forth exchange, the two men sat up. Sid was the first to notice the change in the scenery.
“They took the cars,” Sid said.
“Yeah. What the fuck?” Joe asked.
“Did you bring a cell phone?” Sid asked.
“No, the psycho with the growth on his head told me it wasn’t necessary.” Joe said.
“What the fuck?” Sid asked.
Joe and Sid stood there with silent contempt. Both of them, together, nodded an agreement that they would take some kind of revenge on Baron von Blackberry for this.
With little to do, they started walking towards Vegas. The only things they carried with them were the baseball gloves that were provided to them by Blackberry. The Nevada sun beat down heavily on the two of them, and they knew that they had several miles to walk before they reached the city – let alone the MGM Grand.
“That was some bullshit.” Sid said.
“Especially when Baron joined in.” Joe said, “It’s not fair that they’re so good at pitching.”
“Not just that. The shit they were saying about our teamwork.” Sid said. “We’re not that bad, are we?”
Joe thought about it.
“Well, it’s true that we hadn’t had great teamwork in Survivor so far. We probably should’ve made that Rhine dude take the puzzle and I came up the stairs with you. And we definitely should’ve powerbombed that Blueberry jerk more than once. And, well… no more mannequins.”
“This really hasn’t gone right for either of us so far, has it?” Sid asked.
Joe nodded in agreement.
No, this hadn’t gone the way he’d hoped at all. People were talking about the Winds of Change, but it wasn’t with any of the same respect afforded to their fathers. Then again, his dad never took a Canadian Destroyer in his life, much less from a mannequin.
As the two were about to finish their first mile on their trek back to the hotel, a car rolled up next to them and slowed to a stop. The window rolled down, and a luchador stared back at them, wearing a pristine white suit with his white and blue mask. He looked the two men up and down, and then spoke with a cool, deep-voiced baritone.
“Hey. Sup. Name’s Cosmo. Blackberry’s showing you mercy. Get in.”
Well, at least something’s gone right, for a change.