From the manuscript of the memoir “Renewed – The Rises and Falls of Jonathan Rhine” – to be released in Fall of 2027
For most of my career, I was on autopilot. I’d train during the week, give interviews, step between a set of ring ropes, and wrestle my match. It was instinct, the result of preparation and hard work.
But there wasn’t a plan. There were no set goals.
That didn’t change until Katie applied for a manager’s license to be my valet in SCCW. We were talking about how we were going to work together and she asked me “What’s the plan? What’s the goal?”
And I froze. I told her I had never thought about it. She said that without a plan or goal, I wasn’t doing anything in SCCW. I showed her the Heavyweight Championship that I had at the time, but she wasn’t swayed.
“You need something to work towards. A reason for doing this. If not, you’ll stay in the same place no matter what you accomplish.”
Turns out she was right.
New Orleans Louisiana
When Foster Nackedy renovated the wrestling academy, he wanted to make it feel like a business. So he added things in the front of the house to hide the fact that a bunch of fighting was taking place in the back gym. One of those amenities was a large conference room with a projector for presentations.
Problem was, there weren’t many presentations or meetings needed at a wrestling academy. So the room sat dormant until Shweta Kallemullah re-entered Jonathan Rhine’s life.
The two members of Fighting For Nora sit at the comically large table, staring at a screen. The TV has a large logo of the Fighting For Nora Foundation with the words FUNDRAISERS DINNER under it. Shweta stands near a laptop, a slide clicker in her hand.
“Who uses PowerPoint anymore?” grumbles Paxton Ray.
“I do appreciate your wit, Paxton,” Shweta says, looking at the screen and clicking the clicker. The screen now reads WHEN. “However, at this moment it is not welcome. Now, we have solidified the date and time for the Fundraisers Dinner: Friday night, May 27.”
“No Fridays off,” Paxton says.
Shweta sighs. “I know this isn’t your favorite thing. But it’s important.” She clicks the clicker and the screen changes to WHY. “And why is it important?”
“They should call you Segue Shway,” Paxton snaps.
“They should! It’s important because we have been very fortunate. We’ve received donations from wrestling fans, from anonymous people, from casino patrons. And we have also received large donations – one, in fact, from your new rival King Blueberry.”
Paxton sneers. “Really? Almos’ makes me feel bad for punchin’ him. But o–”
“Only almost, of course. Anyway, we also received an enormous donation from a company called FightRight. A nearly six figure donation. It’s done more for our foundation than the previous three months combined. And because of these generous contributions, they need to be rewarded with a night of delicious dinner, free drinks, and an obnoxious amount of back-patting.”
“You can do the back-pattin’. I’ll do the drinkin’.”
“Sounds fair.” Shweta looks from Paxton to Jonathan Rhine, who has not spoken or responded during the presentation. “Jon? Everything okay?”
Shweta was good for that. Setting goals, making sure we were up to achieving them. When it came to the Foundation and the tag team in general, Shweta gave us direction that led to our success.
The wrestling academy was different, though.
I was winging it. I had been the head trainer and gym owner for a few years and I still didn’t know what I was doing. And the more that Shweta took over the other aspects of my increasingly busy life, the more I realized how lost I was at the academy.
Connor Nackedy, Foster’s son and star pupil of the academy, was pretty much the only student besides Paxton who talked to me. There were a circle of students who were apathetic at best, openly hostile at worst.
And as I continued to sit through meetings about foundation hoopla and focus on the Tag Team Survivor tournament that had consumed my life, I feared that my issues at the wrestling academy would lead to me losing it like Foster had.
Jonathan looks up, blinking quickly. “I’m good. Almost six figures, huh? What’s the company do?”
“From what I can tell it’s a charitable foundation that focuses on giving at-risk youth access to boxing and wrestling gyms. I vetted it best I could and it looks legit. It’s great news, but it obviously puts pressure on us to put on the best fundraising dinner we possibly can.”
Jonathan nods. “Well you’re a planning master, so I’m not worried.”
“I appreciate you saying so, Jon,” Shweta says as she presses the clicker, leading to the next slide that reads WHAT I NEED FROM PAXTON AND JON. “But I won’t be doing it by myself.”
“Another great segue,” Paxton mutters, mock clapping.
“How can we help?” Jon asks.
“It’s not hard. I just need both of you to bring dates.”
“Dates?” both members of the tag team say in unison.
“Yes, dates. There will be influential people there, and appearances are important. So you both need to bring someone.”
Jon sighs, leaning back in his chair. “That’s going to be tough for me, Shway. It’s been…”
“I know, Jon. But I’m not asking you to find a wife. I’m not even asking you to find a fuck buddy, though you probably need one, what with how glum you’ve been lately.” She smiles; Jon does not. “It’s just a pretty woman to grab your arm for pictures.”
“Can’t we be each other’s plus one?”
Shweta smiles. “Kinda obvious, don’t you think? I already have a date anyway.”
“Oh?” Jon says, leaning forward. “Who is it?”
“No one you know. Just a meaningless person for appearances. And if I can find one, so can you. Now, Paxton…”
Paxton scoffs. “I know a couple’a girls from back home but I don’t think you’re gonna want ‘em at a fancy dinner party. They’re more Boones Farm than chablis, get my drift?”
Shweta turns to him. “I was actually thinking of someone else for you. Someone young, sweet, smart. Someone whose name is in the Foundation and tag team.”
It didn’t help that distractions seemed to pop up for us every week.
There I was trying to figure out how to effectively teach students who hate me, and then I had to worry about acquiring a date to a dinner full of stuffy rich assholes.
I had already described my fears of moving on, but besides that I was mystified by how casual Shweta made it sound. “I’m not asking you to find a wife.”
Maybe not, but she was asking me to open myself up to the prospect. I had never been a casual dater. I only had two girlfriends before Katie, but they were both several month ordeals. Going up to a woman and asking her to go to a fancy dinner with me just felt like talking a different language.
And even then, the task asked of me was nothing compared to what Shweta was asking of Paxton.
“I already told ya…” Paxton starts, but Shweta is quick to interrupt.
“I know, Pax, I know. It’s a lot to ask. I know that Melissa is hesitant. But this dinner is a big deal to the foundation. So much money has come in, and I’ll be honest, I’ve heard a lot of people online who doubt Nora even exists.”
“What kinda horseshit is that? ‘Course she exists.”
“Of course. But Melissa’s protection of her is causing a problem for the Foundation. You guys are the face of it because of what you do, but she’s the name. She needs to make an appearance every now and then. And our biggest event to date seems to be a good time to start.”
Paxton looks down at the table, then sighs. “All right. I’ll talk to her.”
“Thanks, Pax. I arranged a flight to Lafayette later today. Obviously this is really your only task until next ReVival, so relax. Enjoy your hometown.”
“Ain’t much t’enjoy,” he says, standing up. “But it’ll be better than goin’ on a goddamn scavenger hunt.”
Shweta nods, then turns to Jonathan. “I have a flight for you too, back to Vegas.”
“Why?” he asks, raising his eyebrows.
“I figure it’ll be easier to find a date there,” she says, smiling.
He scoffs, standing as well. “That sounds like an escort joke.”
“There’s a reason it sounds that way.”
He sighs, then starts to walk out. As he enters the doorframe, he turns around. “Actually, can you change my flight? There’s somewhere else I want to go.”
“I’ll text you the details.” Shweta starts to protest, but Jon shakes his head. “I have a lot on my mind right now, and I need to clear it before I’ll be ready to put myself out there, okay?”
She looks at him for a moment before nodding. “Fine. Text me the details and I’ll take care of it. And Jon…whatever you’re going through. It’s going to be okay.”
Having a plan and goals is great, and it’s what Shweta was best at. However, sometimes my way seemed better. Her plans were static. They weren’t flexible, couldn’t be changed. And a lot of times they stood in opposition to what we wanted.
Take the decision to finally put Nora front and center in the foundation. That had always been the plan for Shweta. And as she said to us, it made sense. The name of the Foundation and the tag team was Fighting For Nora. Not Fighting for Rhine, Fighting For Paxton, Fighting For Kallemullah. She was the key. So it makes sense that the goal would involve her.
But she was still just seven years old at the time. Seven and in the biggest battle for her life. Imagine the info dump that Paxton had to give her that day. Imagine finding out that your father wrestles, and that he’s part of a group of people that you never met that have been using your name and story to raise money. Yes, money for your benefit, but still without your knowledge. Imagine how that would make you feel as an adult.
Now imagine how you’d feel as a child.
It may be that it’s late in the evening, or that this a rehash of a repeated fight, or maybe she’s just tired. Whatever the reason, Melissa Ray sighs and says, “Okay.”
“We can tell her?” Paxton says, cocking his head to the side.
“You can tell her,” Melissa says. “This is your little foundation, so you tell her.” Melissa stands and walks up the stairs, closing her bedroom door shut behind her.
Muttering under his breath, Paxton slowly climbs the stairs to his daughter’s bedroom. He opens the door to find her in bed, reading a book.
“Hey angel,” Paxton says. She throws the book aside and gives him a big hug. “Must have surprised ya again since ya didn’t meet me at the door.”
“I heard you an’ momma talking,” Nora says.
Paxton sighs. “Yeah, I bet ya did. Listen,” he says, sitting on the bed and setting her down. “Do ya know what a dinner party is?”
“Like a tea party?”
“No,” he says quickly, then shrugs. “Actually, kinda. We all eat dinner, and adults talk, and people come by with fancy plates fulla weird food.”
“Sounds boring,” she says, wrinkling her nose.
“Sure is,” he laughs. “Anyway, I wanted to tell ya something. Daddy and a few people he works with have worked hard to help you with your fight. And they want you to come to this dinner party. So people who have been helpin’ raise money can meet ya and hear your story.”
“I don’t have to eat yucky food, do I?”
“No,” he laughs, “you can eat only the good stuff.”
“Okay.” She smiles, then looks away. “Daddy…you said you planned it with people from work. Is it the people from the grocery store?”
Paxton scratches the back of his neck “No, baby. Daddy doesn’t work there anymore. I…I do a new thing now.”
“What do you do?”
He sighs. “I guess I’ll just show you.” Paxton takes out his phone and after a few minutes brings up highlights of his first match in PRIME. Nora watches, her eyes widening. She pushes his hand away and buries her face in her pillow.
“I’m sorry,” he says, putting his phone away. He watches her breathe heavily under the covers, then puts a hand on her back. “You okay?”
“You hurt people?”
“I…yeah, I do. For money. To help you an’ mom.”
After a few moments, Nora’s tiny hand moves to her bookshelf and pulls out a book. She tosses it in Paxton’s direction. He picks it up and reads the title, sighing. “Hands Are Not For Hitting.”
“You bought me that book,” her voice calls, muffled from the pillow.
“You’re right. I’m sorry.”
Nora eventually raises her head from the pillow. “Will there be a fight at this dinner?”
“No, baby. Just gonna be old people talkin’.”
“And you aren’t gonna hurt people unless it’s for work?”
He stops patting her back. “What kinda question is that? ‘Course not.”
She nods, then lays back down, looking at the ceiling. “Daddy?”
“Do you like hurting people?”
Paxton doesn’t answer. He leans back, staring at the stuffed animals that sit in the corner of the bed. Finally, he shakes his head. “No.”
Sometimes when the plans and goals would get too much, I felt like I had to escape. Because when you live your life by an outline, there’s never time to breathe.
I could go to Vegas, like Shweta wanted, and find someone. Ask the boss if she knew anyone. Talk to Cally and Knox. I’d never call an escort line, because that’s just not me.
But I also knew that if I met that goal and came back with a date, I’d just be met with another task, and another, until I was too busy to realize that the wrestling academy was slipping out from under me.
So I boarded a plane to Indianapolis on a whim. No plan, no goal. Just winging it.
Jonathan slowly walks into the locker room of University High School in Carmel, Indiana. He’s a bit tired from his quick flight and drive, but more than that he appears nervous as he slowly walks into the room full of wrestlers. This is his former hometown, these are his people, and yet he feels like an intruder.
He soon finds the man he is looking for. The man is middle aged, with gray hairs popping up all over his brown hair and moustache, and is dressed in cowboy boots, blue jeans, and a brown “RBW” shirt. Not terribly flashy, but Jake Colton had always believed in style over substance.
At this moment, Jake is giving last-minute advice to his daughter, Jennifer, who is making her in-ring debut tonight.
“All right, kiddo. Remember not to try and do too much right away. Gotta wear him down a bit, then go in for your bigger strikes. If you’re throwing haymakers right away, Mullins will lock you down.”
Jenny chuckles. “I think I can handle it, dad. Dude hasn’t won a match in about forever.”
“HEY!” Jake barks. It was true, but Jake still had to put his foot down. “Any opponent can be dangerous, especially if you take them lightly. And no matter how bad his losing streak is, he’s still got more wins than you.”
A rebuked Jennifer slinks back on the bench a bit as she buttons up her Colton Academy ring jacket. Jake switches back into Supportive Dad mode.
“Just keep the match playing into your strengths, and you’ll be fine. Do me proud out there, girl. Big hug.” He opens his arms wide, and Jenny stands up to embrace her father.
Jon watches Jake Colton with a smile, then watches Jenny leave. He gives Jake a few seconds before walking up. “Mr. Colton, you’re an awesome motivator.”
Jake turns to look at the speaker and smiles. He’s never met Jon Rhine face-to-face before, but recognition is instant. “Thanks. Rhine, is it? You should have told me you were coming; I’d have put you on the show.”
“I’d love to some day. And yeah, sorry for springing this on you, but I’m having a really hard time with work balance, and after interacting with your son a little in PRIME, I figured you were the guy to talk to.” Jon sits down on one of the benches. “You run this. You have a literal army of wrestling prodigy children. And I know you didn’t stop dipping your toe in the ring while it was all happening. So how did you keep focus?”
“Wasn’t easy,” Jake sighs. “It helps a lot that my career was slowing down right as Nate was about ready to start training. Since I wasn’t on the road as much, I had a lot more time to be a father and husband, and with all the kids taking to the business, I got to spend even more time with them when I opened up the school.
“But the real key is Mallory. She’s the only reason this whole thing works. I was barely home for the early years, so she had to do all the hard work. Raising the kids, at least until Nate was old enough to help, taking care of stuff at home…she did it all. I called as much as I could, but that’s not the same as being there.
“Folks like us, who have to go out there and chase our dreams, we need a rock in our corner…and this whole time, my wife has been a goddamn mountain.”
Jon nods slowly. “That’s…that sounds amazing. I want something like that. Hopefully I can someday.” Jon stands and the two men walk towards the gym, where they watch Jenny in the ring, putting Mullins in a headlock. “Another question. What do you do when your students are mad at you? When they…hate you?”
“Mad’s easy. Most of the time it’s ‘cause they’re kids and their emotions are out of control. Just gotta let ‘em blow off steam and then they’re fine. Hate?” Jake thinks for a moment. “Hate’s a lot tougher. I’ve had that happen a few times, and didn’t always get it right–lost some damn good students that way. I guess all I can say is to try and talk it out with them…and make sure you’re listenin’ more than you’re talkin’.”
Jon doesn’t answer immediately because he’s watching Jenny in the ring. She’s leaning back in a move branded the Colton Clutch 2, a cobra clutch from the crossface position. Mullins doesn’t take long before tapping, and the bell rings. As Jenny celebrates, Jon smiles at Jake. “I know I picked the right person to go to. You’ve got this all figured out.”
The opening beats of “Heartache Tonight” by the Eagles fill the gymnasium, mixed with cheers. Jake beams with pride at both the compliment and his daughter’s success. “I’ve learned a lot the hard way,” he says. “Always glad to help others avoid that.”
“I appreciate it. And I’ll definitely work a show here in the next few months.” They shake hands, and Jon starts to walk along the backstage area. After a moment, he nearly runs into Jenny Colton, towel in her hand. “Hey, Jenny. I’m Jonathan Rhine. I was just in to see your dad. Great match.”
“Thanks!” Jenny says, desperately trying to catch her breath. “It feels so good to get out there and do it for real.”
“It definitely does. You look like you’ll do great. And I know I don’t have to tell you this, but listen to your dad. He’s the kind of trainer I aspire to be.”
She rolls her eyes. “Oh God, don’t tell him that. Now he’s going to bring it up a hundred times on the trip home.”
“Then I apologize for your ears,” he says, smiling. “Well, good luck going forward. See you later, Jenny.”
“Bye,” she says, then starts wiping the sweat off her face as she walks toward the locker rooms.
Jon turns around and walks a few steps, then stops, nodding. He whirls around and calls, “Hey, Jenny?” As she turns around, he smiles. “Want to go to a fundraiser dinner with me two Fridays from now?”
“Umm…wow…” she stammers. “Yeah, that sounds great.”
“Excellent! Here, give me your number, I’ll call you with details tomorrow.” Within a few minutes, Jon walks out of the high school gym with a new phone number and a large grin.
Sometimes winging it helps you achieve your goals, it turns out.