“You sure about this, big man?”
December 20, 2022.
New Jersey Route 42 North.
Henry “Mushigihara” Yamazaki stared out into the gray Jersey sky, from the passenger seat of a 2010 Toyota Corolla, his mind far, far away from the busy highway David Troy Jr. was navigating through. David looked to his passenger before giving him a little tap on the arm, causing the big man to come back to reality.
“You sure you wanna go back to Hawaii, Mushi?”
He paused a bit as The Royal Guardsmen’s holiday classic “Snoopy’s Christmas” softly played from the radio with a volume setting of 10.
“Mom’s gonna be alone. My sister and her husband and kids are staying in Australia. I’m the only one who’s close enough to spend time with her since my grandfather passed.”
The former sumo and college football player turned to his driver.
“Your family is very nice, though, David. Tell them thanks for their hospitality and treating me like one of their own.”
“Well, you know us Irish,” David chuckled, “if you haven’t tried to kill each other, are you really family?”
He cracked a smile, and the pair shared a nostalgic chuckle. Some eight years ago they faced each other in a Last Man Standing match that involved fire, swords, and lots of blood and rage. A perfect medieval epic, localized within a wrestling ring in Toronto.
As silence returned to the car, Henry began mentally making his plans for the year ahead. 2022 was capped off with a decisive win for the Dangerous Mix at Colossus, but he had always felt they could have had more success in PRIME. Both as a team, and separately. As the odd spittle of rain started to land on his passenger-side window, his mind started drifting towards how he was going to look out for mom in the years ahead.
“Hello… hm, Violet, is it?”
Mushigihara greets us, alone once again. We’re standing in what appears to be a fenced off backyard of indeterminate location. The big man is sitting on a short stack of steps between the grass and a modest patio, staring at us with intent and poise.
Mushigihara: I don’t like to cut this kind of promo on a newcomer, but since it’s really the only way for me to address you before our match at ReVival 21, I suppose it will have to do. My name is Mushigihara. I am thirty-one years old, and I stand six feet, four inches, and weigh two hundred ninety-four pounds. I am from Pearl City, Hawaii; I’m of Japanese ancestry, but I am a born American citizen. Which is probably why I’m not speaking with some kind of accent. Or why I’m speaking at all, seeing as until about a few months ago, all I ever said was the phrase ‘OSU.’
He pauses, pointing a finger towards the camera to emphasize his next statement.
Mushigihara: Real phrase, by the way. Not just something I made up. It’s not much as conversation material goes, but seeing as I can’t seem to find any information on you beyond your name, I suppose it will have to do.
Mushigihara: But seriously, Vi, I was a bit taken back by your blank slate. My usual sources for scouting out opponents came up empty-handed. Requests to PRIME management were answered with shrugs and that hum in the classic ‘I don’t know’ cadence. You know the one. For all I know, you could be a murderous, five-foot-one shtikicker who borrows her aesthetic from some long-forgotten death goddess in mythology. Or you could be a six-foot-five former center for the Washington Mystics. To say nothing of all the possibilities in between! You know, I used to have a manager who had a name for wrestlers like you. And that name was…
August 12, 2012.
“Oh you have got to be kidding me…”
Ryan Andersen sighed in exasperation as he typed away at the office computer in The Icebox Wrestling School. He’d got offered a booking for his newest pupil at a show in a Knights of Columbus hall in central Jersey that weekend, and was trying to Google the offered opponent. It would be his student’s first match since Ryan took him under his wing, and he wanted him to be ready.
Ryan’s ears perked up as his student stood at the office door, a burly ex-sumo by the name of Mushigihara.
“Good, good, you’re getting used to the whole bit, I see,” Ryan responded, before putting a Shop-Rite grocery bag onto his desk. With a big smile, the big man stalked over to the desk and grabbed the bag and pulled out everything inside. Having landed back in America after a stint in Japan dabbling in both football and sumo, Mushi was put on a diet by Ryan, also known as Eddie Dante, to drop some of the excess bulk and become a more imposing combination of raw strength and explosive, sustainable power.
Every morning Ryan went to the nearest grocery store and bought a clearance rotisserie chicken, a bag of salad, and once a week, a loaf of Italian bread. That was all Mushi would have every day, but the bread had to last him all week. Other than those three things, only water and hot sauce passed through his lips every day. No carbs after 3, and of course rigorous training to put all that nutrition to good use. Mushigihara was particularly hungry that day, but showed enough restraint to not devour everything then and there.
“We got a match for you Saturday night,” Ryan said, “but I can’t find anything on him. Nothing on the Internet. I called around to the other wrestling schools around here, and they got nothin’.”
He sighed and cursed to himself.
“Used to see guys like this when I was competing. Nothing on the promotion’s website at all, it’s like they were trying to be mysterious on purpose. Probably make a good first impression. Or maybe they think they’ll win more if the opponent can’t scout them.”
Ryan looked back from the monitor. Mushi had already left and returned, with a paper plate and plastic fork from the supply closet, as well as a very big water bottle. He’d already ripped a chunk of bread off the loaf, and was trying to delicately cut a quarter off the chicken.
“In about an hour we’ll start today’s training,” Ryan said, as his focus returned to the computer, “it figures, Mushi… your first match and we already got ourselves a-”
We’re back in that backyard with the friendly Kaiju. He’s now standing, pacing about as he looks up to the gray skies and holding his hand out to check for rain.
Mushigihara: The way he said it, being a wildcard meant it could be anything. A substitute. A dark horse. Or just a random figure with no rhyme or reason. The way he said it, it meant you had to prepare for literally any possibility, and that you had to be on your toes from start to end. The unknown and the unknowable, he liked to say, at least until that bell rings. It’s… somewhat appropriate, given the reason for the season; the prize that you, me, and seven others are vying for, in the Alias Championship; a title that by its very nature represents chaos and spontaneity.
Mushi turns his head to us, smiling.
Mushigihara: Oh, another thing about me, Vi. I used to be a sumo wrestler in Japan. And if any sport exemplifies chaos and spontaneity, it’s sumo, no matter what they say about all the ritual and tradition that goes into it. A match that goes longer than a minute is considered epic. It’s hard-hitting and fast-paced, considering your average rikishi tips the scales at over three-hundred pounds. Now consider that I’ve done that, took my experiences on the dohyo into the squared circle, and have dropped some bulk since then. So, yeah. The odds aren’t exactly in your favor, no matter what kind of physical specimen you are in the ring.
He stretches another arm out, giving a big shrug.
Mushigihara: Unfortunately that’s just the way it goes sometimes.
December 25, 2022
Pearl City, HI
Mariko Yamazaki was normally asleep in the morning, even on Christmas.
A nurse by trade, she was often working every holiday at Queen’s Hospital; all her family was spread throughout the world, and she didn’t have any reason to stay home and be reminded of her solitude, which made her visit from her son Henry all the more special.
“Merry Christmas, mom,” Henry said with a smile as he took a bite of rice from the traditional Japanese breakfast he’d made for both of them. After years of being taken care of by his mother and late grandfather, he wanted a chance to show his gratitude. He hated the idea of her being alone and the family broken up after Jiji’s passing, so when Naomi told him that she was staying in Australia, he made plans to spend his holiday with mom.
“How did you learn to make this, Henry?” Mariko said inquisitively; she’d never taught him or Naomi how to cook traditional dishes.
“Learned in the sumo stables, mom.”
A pause as she nodded and savored each bite.
His voice started to trail as he could feel his body quiver.
“How long did Jiji… know I was wrestling in the States?”
“Why do you ask?”
Henry sighed and looked down at his neatly arranged breakfast plates.
“I can’t help but feel like I… let him down,” Henry sighed again, “spit in the face of everything he ever faced as a kid. And that keeps me up at night.”
Mariko reached across the table, putting a hand on her son’s shoulder.
“Henry, he never felt that way,” she said, with sincerity and comfort in her voice, “that reminds me. I made you a present.”
Henry looked up at his mother, as she reached into the curio cabinet and handed him a big, wide book.
Without saying a word, Henry opened the book and was greeted by a collage of photos, the smiling face of Sanshiro “Sam” Hashimoto in the center of it all. Henry sighed as he flipped through the pages and was hit by all kinds of memories.
Sam and Henry, many years ago, carrying freshly-caught fish.
Chicken fights in a pool with Sam and Mariko carrying Henry and Naomi as children.
Various birthdays, graduations, and even a wedding, with the whole family there.
But the final page took Henry completely by surprise.
Sam Hashimoto, in his office at Ace Imports, smiling that big smile, and pointing to a poster on the wall behind him, of a hulking brute of a man in a wrestling outfit, poised for combat, his name across the top in big, bold letters fitting the man on display; “MUSHIGIHARA.”
“He was so proud of you, Henry,” Mariko said as Henry looked at her in tears, “you were always in that shop, up to the day we sold it.”
She handed Henry a long cardboard tube, presumably that poster.
“I hope you don’t let that worry drag you down, Henry. You were always his champion.”
Henry was at a loss for words, and he could only reach out and hug her, a burden lifted from his back at last.
“That’s not to say I harbor any ill will towards you, Violet.”
Back to the present day, and Mushigihara leaning up against the wooden fence in the backyard.
Mushigihara: I’m certainly not going to go the extra mile to make an example out of you; that’s just not what I do these days. I don’t wrestle to maim, I wrestle to win. It’s just a little harder to win when you don’t know what to expect from your opponent in their big debut. And a bit annoying, too. It’s just unfortunate that whoever you are, you got stuck in the ring with a guy with nicknames like “Kaiju,” God-Beast,” and “King of the Monsters,” and the reputation to match.
The big man nods off to the side.
Mushigihara: I guess I better just accept it as an indoctrination for the whole concept of the Alias title, if I want to go on and win it. They say the champion sets the rules on how it’s defended, as well as the actual NAME of the belt while they hold it. No, I don’t know what I’ll call it if I win it, or how it’ll be defended. But I do know that I’m going to have to give it my all against the likes of Mortimer Knightingale, Ned Reform, and Darin Zion. But if I can’t hold my own against an opponent I know literally nothing about, then what business do I have saying I can take those guys on?
Mushi pushes himself off the fence and takes a few steps forward.
Mushigihara: The most important holiday in Japan isn’t Christmas, like it is in much of the world; it’s the New Year. They call it “shōgatsu.” It’s considered a time to reflect on the past year, and make plans and anticipations for the year to come. For me, personally, 2023 is about showing PRIME and the wrestling world as a whole that I’m much more than a big man who can only say one phrase. Winning at Colossus was a good start; but there is still plenty of work to do, and it starts at ReVival 21.
The Kaiju turns his gaze to us, the friendly demeanor giving way to a stern, serious glower.
Mushigihara: I may not know anything about you yet, Violet Samuelsson. But when we face off in Tampa, you’re going to get a first-hand demonstration of the kind of power I bring in that ring. I just hope you’re ready for a fight, because that’s what’s coming against Mushigihara.
Without any warning, the big man pumps a meaty fist into the air, and bellows out a mighty…
May 4, 2014
RICOH Coliseum, Toronto, ON
(Back here again… but why?)
The secret bag of tricks Troy Matthews brought to the fight were useless. As Mushigihara raged on, either oblivious or impervious to the burning sensation on his face from his mask being set ablaze by Matthews’ main squeeze Saori Kazama, the God-Beast had the so-called Slayer of Giants dead to rights. Eddie Dante had tossed his signature cane into the ring for Mushi to use as a weapon, taking special care to call out to his client for a hidden feature in said weapon.
“The handle, Mushi!” Dante screamed, “look at the handle!”
Mushigihara did as he was told, and saw a button that, when pressed, caused the body of the cane to give way, revealing a brilliantly shining blade… this cane was a sword!
(This is clearly a dream, right? I can fight this, control what I do here… but why am I back here in the first place?)
Mushigihara raised the deadly blade in the air for all to see, soaking in the jeers as he looked down on his fallen opponent, and went in for…
The God-Beast willed himself to resist the flow of time, the actions of the past. He forced himself to refuse to repeat what he did in 2014, much less reenact what he did the last time he dreamed of this encounter. He would not go for the throat of Troy Matthews. He was not a killer, a brute. Not anymore, at least.
His hand steadied the blade near Matthews’ throat, and felt the roar of a mighty “OSU” well up in his own. But as he kept chanting to himself not to do it, almost like a mantra, the mighty Mushigihara loosened his grip, but could not resist the vicious downward force dragging his hand down.
(Wait… why is it being pulled down?)
The God-Beast looked down to see what was keeping the blade from coming up, only to find two sights bringing him great horror.
The first was a bloodied hand, yanking the blade downward towards Matthews’ throat… Matthews’ own hand.
The second, Troy Matthews’ rapidly bleeding face, no longer stricken by fear as it was back then… instead, he was grinning from ear to ear, and laughing maniacally with all the poise and confidence of a man who knows he has finally won the war.
The last thing Mushi saw was Matthews running the blade along his own throat.
Mushi snapped to consciousness, looking everywhere he could to see that he was not still in that nightmare. The first thing he saw was David Fox, the man in his dream who he had fought and refused to kill, only for him to do the honors himself.
“You OK, man? We’re almost at the airport.”
Mushi looked forward, seeing the highway ahead as they passed the stadium.
It was all a dream. Again.