One day I woke up, and I realized I was experiencing time differently. You know what I mean, Gamble? Some years I could remember only in wins, losses, odometered miles, hotel points accrued. Others where the only lasting memory was a particular moment of pain or joy or satisfaction or fear.
Fifteen years nearly to the day since I took what mattered from you, and stepped over your corpse to climb the ladder to the top of the sport. It’s a third of my life, and yours, that we’ve now committed to this prodigious mutual hatred. Congrats on our crystal anniversary, you nasty little worm.
We can’t be far from the end, Gamble. Closer to the end than the beginning, at least. Somebody, or somebodies, are out there coming for our spot. Hell, the kids set to follow in our footsteps at Ultraviolence in another fifteen years might be on our doorsteps now. We probably don’t see ‘em coming. I’d like to make it long enough to see how the past fifteen years, or the next fifteen, will create another Tsonda or, Christ almighty, another Gamble. Aren’t you curious?
I know it feels like you and I are destined to do this forever. But our bodies are time bombs. Knees, back, neck, which one of us gets the handicap window tag first? We’re not fighting for the #1 Uni contender spot anymore. Hell, maybe neither of us touches the top belt again. But we scrap and we claw and we fucking bleed for whatever shred of victory is left to grab.
You’ve been waiting fifteen years for some getback. I’ve been waiting fifteen years to double down and stamp “Tsonda is better” on your record forever. It’s weird, though. What does fifteen years mean for you? For me? For some kid watching Ultraviolence 2008?
Think about all that can happen in fifteen years.
Chandler is 32. He’s atop a steel cage.
The sound of the crowd is a sheer roar. The noise is a great wide maw, open for him to swan dive into. So full and loud is the stadium that Chandler, paradoxically, feels a deep quiet. He’s sure he’s never felt such an overwhelming hush as the joined screams of fifty thousand temporary lunatics wash over him. All those PRIMEates, out in the fall air at Soldier Field, beg and plead for the Model Citizen to jump.
Jasmine is 4. No steel cage for her.
She jumps. At home, in front of Ultraviolence on the TV, Jasmine leaps from one edge of the carpet towards the couch, joining her beloved Model Citizen in an airborne moment of glee. Jasmine comes to earth long before he does. She watches as her hero finds his mark, a decadent freefall disguised as a moonsault.
Jasmine erupts. Not words, just a body’s worth of screech. Her father shushes her from the couch, and says baby you got to keep it down but he’s got a glint in his eye. No school tomorrow for Memorial Day. He can’t be mad that she’s up so, so far past her bedtime. He can’t be mad that his little girl is riotous at seeing her hero take down the loathsome Tony Gamble. This is, after all, what Dale Jeong has always watched for: heroes, villains, underdogs, dynasties. Maybe a little, he watches for the sharp tang of nostalgia at his own memory of being a talented, burly amateur wrestler in Geoje. He is in his middle years now, but American professional wrestling has always helped him understand a foreign country, a foreign language, his foreign life. And recently, he watches for a new joy: to see his little girl begin her own love affair with the great violent carnie soap opera of pro wrestling.
Jasmine leaps at him, spilling onto his belly, and she just keep saying yes Chan yes.
Over Jasmine’s first four years, Dale has experienced the fullness of breath and the flutter of his heart at watching his daughter develop. This moment, he and his daughter laughing as waves of joy lap at their toes, is an explosion inside him. The delight on her face fills him, entirely and utterly. Dale feels like that baffling American Grinch (some kind of spirit?) that Jasmine wants to read about in the wintertime: his heart seems to grow three sizes.
He wraps his arms around her, and feels the vibration in her arms, as they chant together, sing song celebration yes Chan yes, yes Chan yes, yes Chan yes.
Tony is 31. He’s atop a steel cage.
The sound of the crowd is an unruly rumble. He’s got a vice grip on his best friend, and he wrenches back with all his might, suspending Devin Shakur twenty feet above a precipitous drop. Only he knows what’s going through his head. That’s not what this story is about.
Gio is 12. He’s sweating. And it’s not just the puberty.
He would kill for someone to fix the air conditioning. August in Vegas has all the charm of the surface of the sun, and roughly the same temperature. He’s not allowed outside after sunset, and there are 110 degrees of reason not to go out during the heat of the day. This conundrum has left Gio with one option: find a weird corner of the internet to obsess over and where he can talk to strangers. He can lay in bed near the fan with his laptop open, ice pack on the small of his back to cool his skin, and move nothing but his index finger to direct the mouse. And that’s how August has passed.
Now, as the pinnacle of dry desert summer stills the air outside, Gio pulls his knuckles white and tight. Is Tony Gamble going to have his Colossus moment?
Gio doesn’t watch alone. No, his stepdad doesn’t give a shit; he’s got the Diamondbacks on in the other room. They suck and his stepdad watches them every night, surprised that they suck. His stepdad sucks. Gio’s gotta carry his stupid last name: Ancora. Gio’s mom works at a restaurant on the Strip where they have to cater to the Vegas schedule of 10 PM dinners. So there’s no one at the laptop screen with him, but he doesn’t watch alone. In the comments of his Colossus stream are dozens of other wrestling rats like him.
Shakur just playing possum one of the commenters writes. Gio can’t bring himself to type anything. He watches Gamble inch to the edge of the cage. He hugs his own bony shoulders tight with stress.
YES Gio shouts, and even his stepdad banging a fist against the adjoining wall, even the merciless heat, cannot stop him from jumping up on his bed in celebration. He kicks his feet into the mattress in a gleeful jig, and then has to dive after his laptop so it doesn’t fly off the bed’s edge. He feels his chest thump thump thump with adrenaline. As Tony Gamble, his hometown hero, celebrates on top of the cage, Gio is not alone.
Jasmine is 8. PRIME is gone.
She felt something like this when her halmeoni died, she was 6, but now she is 8 and she’s a big girl. She can walk to school, and to karate lessons, and home all by herself.
Chan isn’t dead. But he is, as far she can tell, never going to wrestle again. And that means his story is over. Why then did her dad tell her that a hero is someone who never stops fighting?
Last night her dad cried over the last Colossus ever. He cried when Chan wrestled his last match and vanquished Tyler Nelson. But he also cried when Wade Elliott won his last match, when Lindsay Troy won her last match. And her dad didn’t even cry when halmeoni died. Jasmine suspects something has changed. He talks on the phone in whispers a lot, and there are strange papers with his full name Dale Ji-hoon Jeong by the computer. The papers have weird graphs on them. What gives?
Jasmine is so happy she got to see a live ReVolution with her dad before the end, even though the thought of it makes her sad now. Feeling happy and sad together is a complicated big girl feeling. She’s sure of it.
October in Southern California doesn’t have foliage or the crackle of dry leaves, but the air does feel colder. Karate class always excites Jasmine, so she can’t figure out why she’s dragging her heels today. She’s getting closer to a yellow belt; she just knows it. But today her face feels like someone has strings inside of it, and someone has pulled at each one; it’s tight behind her tear ducts.
She sniffles, and then steels herself.
I’ll become a hero Jasmine decides. Simple as that. It’s possible her dad needs a hero. The world definitely needs one, if Chan is done being a hero. She will tell her dad tonight after karate. She won’t tell him that, in her secret heart, she wants to become a hero because then she will meet other the heroes and can ask them to bring PRIME back.
Gio is 17. He’s in air conditioning, and he’s still sweating.
Some jamoke has a hand on Gio’s singlet, and is trying to move him with an illegal tug on his lycra. Not happening. Gio is a 5’8 slab. He doesn’t get moved. You get moved he thinks. He gets low, double leg takedown. The whistle blows. Gio disengages, a satisfied grin on his face. His opponent —sorry, but Gio isn’t going to call some kid he tosses around in practice who happens to go to his school a “teammate,” and tag teams are for losers—mutters something under his breath as he heads to a water break.
Good form Gio says Coach Glenn. What could he have done better Coach asks, gesturing with a head nod to the kid Gio just dispatched.
Another summer in Vegas has blipped by. His stepdad still bitches and moans about the Diamondbacks, and still sucks. His mom still works second-into-third-shift hours to be able to afford their house. A lot of the neighborhood has turned over since Gio was a kid; no one seems to be here for good. In the burning heart of summer, with few options, an air-conditioned gym is a great place to stay cool. He lifts weights with noise in his headphones to stay focused. It’s solitary. But he’s not alone. You’re never alone on a billion person internet.
Gio’s clicked far and wide, into the distant past. You can find any part of PRIME’s history if you have unlimited free time and strong broadband. Gio’s studied every minute of his guy Tony Gamble. His promos, his wrestling, scraps of his life since PRIME closed. And the thing about Gamble that Gio respects—he maybe loves?—is that Gamble was always out for Gamble. In every era, every incarnation.
Gio Ancora wants to be out for Gio Ancora. His mom is a chump who works her ass off to be a day late and a dollar short. He supposes he loves her, but she is weak-willed, and lets her obligations to others weigh her down. Gio’s stepdad is a barnacle of a man who never met a bare minimum he cared to exceed. Gio just wants to be 18, so he can move out, and get started on a life without these anchors weighing him down.
Well Coach Glenn says, as if the word itself is a question.
Gio looks at his coach. He respects the man’s skill and expertise, and how he’s honed Gio from ore to iron. But Tony Gamble outgrew Devin Shakur, even though Shakur had been a Universal Champion. It’s just business, not personal, that Gio will outgrow the usefulness of his coach soon. He’s already outgrown the usefulness of everyone on this team. Coach that kid ain’t my problem
Jasmine is 12.
It took her father four long years to die. Colon cancer. Her fathrer’s friends called him a fighter the whole time. Years ago, one of his friends, a guy named Herb, had driven with Dale and Jasmine five hours to Tempe to go to ReV 248 to see PRIME in person one final time. Herb came up to Jasmine at dad’s funeral and choked back tears as he held her hand, and fumbled some words about how all great wrestlers hope to go out on their back, and how Dale had done just that. Herb hadn’t been there at the end, though.
Jasmine knows that cancer doesn’t send you on out your back. Cancer clubs your head in. Cancer scrapes you clean. Cancer fights dirty, sand in your eyes and poison in your everywhere. Though she has a fleeting feeling of what fun she and her dad and Herb had together, today she can’t make it that memory of ReV 248 feel like anything but hurt.
Jasmine’s aunt and uncle sit with her in the house, the quiet, quiet house. Do you want to watch some of your dad’s old tapes they ask. Everywhere are burned DVD’s of the old shows, some Jasmine remembers, some she let her dad re-live and show her, some she’s never seen. No she says.
Her dad didn’t have grand last wishes. Jasmine sat with him so much in the last months. He couldn’t do much but sit. Jasmine thought he might want to meet some of the great heroes they had watched over the years. Maybe with Twitter or Facebook, she could appeal to a hero to come and bring a spark to him. Instead, Jasmine was his last wish. To sit and talk, to tell his daughter what he hoped for her, to ask her to follow him into the past with stories about the two of them that raised his spirits, to encourage her that her blue belt will become a brown belt, to remind her that when he died he would go home to be with halmeoni and harabeoji.
It feels wrong to put on her dad’s favorite shows without him. But it all feels wrong, regardless of what she does.
A hero is someone who never stops fighting. Jasmine doesn’t know if she can do it.
Gio is 22. They are trying to take his dream away.
A spreading sickness, and government warnings, have everyone sheltered at home. Gyms are closed, here in Florida, even back home in Vegas. Gio feels like he’s going crazy. He came here to get signed, and it’s weak as hell that anyone would tell him to wait one second longer.
He’s at his athletic peak. He’s a bundle of coiled muscle, pushing 215. Even better, stronger, and more dynamic than his idol.
Gio’s tryout for one of the elite feeder feds was scheduled for April Fool’s Day. Gio thought there was something very Gamble about the date. And now tryouts, sparring, the weight room, it’s all effing closed and canceled. Gio feels the walls of his little Winter Park apartment closing in. But he’s not alone.
People shout and scream in the online void where Gio’s friends are about how unfair this is. Gio understands. He wants what’s his. He boils inside. These people, other people, sick people, scared people, people unwilling to take risks to get ahead in life, they aren’t his problem.
Jasmine is 17.
She lays into the heavy bag.
When she feels sad, she trains. When she feels alone, she trains. Upset? Underestimated? Mad? She trains. And she’s felt them all. American men—she refuses to use language any less specific than this, it’s always them—have been targeting people who look like her. One of these American men just walked into a nail salon, got a pedicure, took a piss, blew away several Asian women, and got in the car to do it again. Jasmine can’t breathe when she thinks about it. She trains.
Gruesome as it is, the murderous rampage is emblematic of a rising tide. What’s old is new again, and maiming, brutalizing, and killing Asian-Americans is back in horrifying vogue. Jasmine has learned in school about things like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and she’s a well-informed kid. Her aunt and uncle are polite go-along-to-get-along Korean-Americans, and Jasmine has to worry that some maniac will take their kindness for weakness. Or worse, take their skin for a death warrant. She trains.
Jasmine thinks she has learned something about her father, in the years since he went home. Maybe he was a simple guy who enjoyed a Wednesday night in front of the TV with his daughter. But there was a lesson and a gift in showing her Chandler Tsonda. She hears his voice: people who look like us people who look like you they fight and they win. She trains.
Her father wouldn’t have used the word representation. And it’s a little foolish, quite naive, to think that a Southeast Asian on a TV screen doing moonsaults has any impact on a madman with a pistol. The two ideas feel distressingly hard to reconcile. What can she do in the face of madness? She trains.
Jasmine shows mercy to the heavy bag. Steps out for a water break.You hear PRIME is coming back one of the other girls asks as they refill their Nalgenes.
On a stage that big, Jasmine could show the world that people like her fight back. She saw a hero do it with her very own bright eyes at Ultraviolence all those years ago. It’s sappy. It’s childish. She knows the world is more complicated than that. She’s not a kid anymore. I’ll become a hero Jasmine decides.
Tony is the Gamble Champion. Golden again.
Chandler stays home. He won’t travel to Chicago until 48 hours before the supershow. He wants to stay where there are good distractions. Like the gym in Carlsbad that he’s turned into his own little slice of wrestling utopia. It’s not Gray’s Wrestling Academy or Silver Lining School, but kids like Jaime keep coming in and churning out good work, in preparation for getting The Call someday soon. Tsonda spars, and he grapples, and he trains, and he stays ready for Friday.
Gio knows that his skills outpace his station in life. It’s obvious. But The Call doesn’t come. Two years of VFW halls and armories. He’s improving. No one needs to tell him so, which suits him, because he doesn’t talk backstage. He’s got no one, needs no one. Tony Gamble was a late bloomer, he reminds himself. His finisher is “The Wisecrack,” a pulverizer of a thrust kick to the jaw, and an homage to the man who showed him what it takes to get ahead. Maybe he’ll have to be passed over again and again too. If no one sees that he’s got it, he’ll make them see. He’ll become undeniable. He’s not far away.
Jasmine can finally occupy the ring with her hero without a cold sweat. A year ago, she wrestled an indie show in front of fiftyleven people and barely thought twice about it, other than fixating on her poison rana botch. After the match, she got a text from a 619 number: hey it’s Chandler Tsonda you were good tonight – stop by the gym sometime and come train with us PS no this isn’t a fucking goof, the address is and there it was. It’s not The Call, but a door has opened. Jasmine spends most waking hours at the gym. She printed out the Ringer article with her name and sent it to her aunt and uncle. Her hip toss needs work, but the martial arts background gives her an edge against some of these boys who’ve never done anything but mat wrestling. She uses a very familiar springboard corkscrew body press to finish matches. Chandler and the other guys say she’s getting better everyday. She’s not far away.
Friday night comes. Gio watches from his laptop in Florida, Jasmine from her dad’s TV in Carlsbad. Four stories swirl in and around each other, some closer to the beginning than the end. We’re in the great unknown of the future, the next fifteen years. It’s just a guess, storyteller’s intuition.
Maybe somewhere down the road, Chandler gets his wish. Maybe he sees, for better or worse, how the industry, how PRIME, and how two people’s paths, create another Tsonda, and Christ almighty, another Gamble.
What, now, though? Flashbulbs. Screaming fans. A bell ring.
Chandler is 47 and 32. Gio is 25 and 10. Jasmine is 19 and 4. Tony is 44 and 29. They all think about what can happen in fifteen years of waiting.
And the wait ends…