PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - THE MORNING AFTER GOLDEN INTENTIONS
“A shocking turn of events indeed, Samantha, but from one big surprise to another, let’s shift our focus to the Championship Wrestling Federation for a moment, because my god, did their Golden Intentions pay-per-view deliver the goods last night!”
I don’t usually hone in on these sports broadcasts, especially when I’m on the road, but the CWF logo on the television screen’s top right caught my attention. Lying in my hotel bed, I gently lay the remote down by my side.
“Absolutely, Clark!” the female sportscaster responds. “It was a big, big night. Caledonia retained the CWF Heavyweight Championship, The Forsaken became tag champs, but the one thing everyone’s buzzing about is THAT battle royal, and the stunning return of a certain CWF veteran.”
“Andy Murray rolled back into the CWF for the first time in 15 years,” Clark chirps, full of enthusiasm, “but not only did the anointed ‘King Of Wrestling’ enter the Golden Intentions Rumble… he won the damn thing!”
God, it feels good to be on television again.
To be relevant again.
A couple months ago, I figured I was reaching my career’s winter. 40 years old, almost 25 years deep in the game, and I’d been reduced to, as my old “pal” Eric Dane might put it, “playing the ‘legend’ role in a trios match for some Japanese indie.” I was an over-the-hill special attraction. A hot tag and a cheap pop. A guy you book for nostalgia, not competition.
My top-level professional wrestling career as over, or so I thought.
Turns out I was wrong. Turns out everyone was wrong.
“Now Murray has been active in Japan,” Samantha continues through the television, “but his American wrestling appearances have become increasingly sparse over the past few years, and his injuries are legion. Just seeing him back in action, for a promotion that helped make him in the business, was shocking enough, but for him to win Golden Intentions? We haven’t seen anything like this in years.”
“Look, let’s not beat around the bush,” Clark says, raising his hands. I make a mental note to grab myself a new suit like the neatly-pressed navy number this guy’s network hooked him up with - fella looks sharp. “Andy Murray is a wrestling legend, but many assumed his best days were long gone.”
“That’s right,” she responds, “but look at the numbers. Almost an hour in the ring, he contributed to the elimination of eight different wrestlers, and he won. The question now is can the veteran go all the way, and unseat Caledonia as CWF Heavyweight Champion?”
The question is rhetorical. Instead of responding, Clark turns away from his broadcast partner and looks directly into the camera, pointing a pen down the lens.
“We’ll find out in due course, but we gotta head to a commercial, folks,” he says. “Join us in just a few moments for MORE exclusive analysis of CWF’s big night. This is Sportsline 109.”
My thumb finds its way to the standby button. With a press, the television flickers off, because as pleasant as it is to be talked about on television again, my ego isn’t so fragile that I gotta sit through two-to-three minutes of ads for more.
I close my eyes, lift my arms, stretch, yawn. It’s early. Sunlight pours past curtains I forgot to close last night, and as I loosen back up, I feel the last vestiges of sleep leaving my body.
Last night was unreal.
The buzz of the crowd when I stepped onto the stage. Fans I hadn’t seen in fifteen years, going nuts like it was 2003. What a thrill, what a ride. They carried me through 55 minutes of hell, because make no mistake, these Rumbles are chaos.
There are a thousand different people coming for you from a thousand different angles, and victory takes the right blend of skill, stamina, smarts, and good old-fashioned luck. Fortunately, I had all four in my corner, but it took a toll. Lord, did it take a toll.
It takes every ounce of strength in my body to will myself out of bed. This old, creaking frame doesn’t move like it used to, particularly in the morning. Put me in the ring and I’m a dynamo: an ageless ball of exuberance with the gas tank of a man half my years, but outside of it, when the adrenaline wears off? I’m as limber as a felled tree.
After tossing a couple painkillers down my throat and washing ‘em down with lukewarm water, I stumble to the window, placing one hand either side of the frame for support. It’s a beautiful morning in Philly. There’s not a cloud in the sky. Pristine sunshine bounces off every glass surface in a metropolis teeming with life. I wish I could stick around and breathe it in, but I’ve got a 2pm to Tokyo and all the stress long-distance travelling brings to worry about.
Still, I can’t stop thinking about Golden Intentions.
About hitting the ring. About crossing paths with Bronson Box again. About watching Alex goddamn Cain walk down the ramp. About going blow-to-blow with the new generation. About FINALLY getting that monster Eclipse out of the ring. About Ray Douglas belting out my name. About the glory.
… and about the goddamn pain in my right knee.
Sharp, agonising barbs course through my body, wiping the smile from my face.
It’s always there. A constant reminder of the price I pay to play this game at my age, with my mileage.
It’s never going away.
But neither am I.
CWF, it is my honour and privilege to stand here as your Golden Intentions Rumble winner, and number one contender to the CWF Heavyweight Championship.
It’s been a long time coming, but I’m back, and I promise you - I’m only getting started.
To those who support me, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and swear to do you proud every time I step back into a CWF ring from hereon out. And to those who doubt me? Well, I’m afraid you’re just gonna have to live with it, because I’m here to stay.
I’ve done everything in this sport. Wrestled on almost every continent, held more titles than I can remember, even walked into a handful of Halls of Fame. But I can safely say that as I stand before you today, hand on heart, that winning Golden Intentions is right up there with anything I’ve done throughout the past quarter century.
But I don’t wanna dwell on it. At this stage in my career, I can’t afford to look back. I don’t have the luxury of time. If I’m going to succeed, I need to do it NOW, and let me assure you - I’m not just here to make up the numbers.
After Golden Intentions, I’m coming for the throne, and I’ve never been more determined to do anything else in my life.
All roads lead to Wrestle Fest IV, Caledonia, and the CWF Heavyweight Championship.
A noble competitor. A champion I respect. A fighter who has more than earned their spot at the top table. But, ultimately, someone I must overcome.
I’ve no doubt Caledonia and I will run into each other before long, perhaps even at Evolution 25. Hell, if I wasn’t stuck in Japan at the time of 24, perhaps we’d have already crossed paths.
Caledonia isn’t the only CWF wrestler I’ll need to deal with, though.
Bronson Box. We’ve been at war from the moment we first broke into this business. I was hoping I’d get the chance to bury my fist in his skull at Golden Intentions, and while I did, it was all too fleeting. See you soon, Hollis, brother.
Mikey Unlikely. Another name I just can’t seem to escape. A cocky, jumped-up scumbag who doesn’t know a chinlock from a kneebar, but a guy with a bag of tricks deeper than an oceanic trench. That fucker tried to end my career when WrestleUTA folded. Best recognise I kept a receipt.
And then there’s Eric Dane, who I can guarantee hasn’t had a good night’s sleep since I threw his arse over the top rope. Ours is a complicated relationship, but whatever happens, it’ll probably be bloody.
But enough about everyone else, and onto more pressing matters. Let’s talk about Freddie Styles...
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - THREE DAYS AGO - AM
Nothing beats the southern Californian summer.
Hazy mornings gave way to brilliant sunshine sometime between 9 am 11 every day, with the mercury setting at a temperature that’s always hot, but never unpleasant. No matter the time of day, there’s always a cool, crisp sea breeze to take the edge off, and honestly, this Scot wouldn’t have it any other way.
I get back to the gym at around midday. The transpacific flight was fine, but the LAX connection? A nightmare. Last time I try to stuff my 6’7” frame into an American Airlines coach seat, that’s for sure.
The applause comes almost as soon as I swing through the doors. Sweet, sweet air conditioning hits my skin. The sound of clapping hits my eyes. This is the first time I’ve been home since Golden Intentions, and my students are happy for me as I am for them when they master a technique, nail a promo, or get their first deal.
Streams of them pour away from whatever they were doing at a time, be it hitting bags or practising submission attempts. Normally, that’d be a slap on the wrist, but these are special circumstances.
Congratulations. Handshakes. Backslaps. Hugs. They come so thick and fast that I can’t keep track of ‘em. Still, it does nothing but bring a smile to this old Scot’s face.
I hate the term “role model,” and I’m reticent to call myself one, but I’m supposed to set an example to these guys. I set this place up with the goal of giving any performer who’d fallen on hard times a shot at redemption. Thus, when I go out at 40 years old and somehow win the biggest battle royal in American wrestling, I want to see it as something they can do too.
So I take every well-wish, platitude, and compliment with a “thank you.” I’m tired, my limbs are weary, and my knee’s on fire, but damn if I don’t feel good.
“Where’s Cayle? Didn’t he travel with you?” asks Dylan Starling, one of my star students, from beneath his mop of curly blonde hair. He has trained extensively with my brother, particularly over these past few months.
“Nah, he’s got a couple dates around Osaka to get though,” I respond, croaking. “It’s not easy being the champ… or so I hear.”
“Hey,” Dylan smiles, “that’ll be you in a couple months.”
“Ideally, yes,” I respond. “But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Hey, not to be rude kid, but has doct--”
My gym’s all concrete, so every little sound bounces around these walls as if it were a cave, but I’d pick up Dr. Toombs’ voice regardless. His tones are calm - soothing, almost - but I fear these bi-annual medical checkups like nothing on earth.
That’s just how it goes when you’ve got a body held together by gum and tape.
“Doc,” I nod, glancing at my watch. “Hope I haven’t kept you waiting.”
“Good to see you,” he says, extending a hand. I shake it as the bulk of the group go back to whatever they were working on.
I met Calvin Toombs a few years ago, not long after ending my first “retirement” from this business. Turns out wrestling was an unscratchable itch. I had to go back, and I needed a doctor I could trust to give me the all-clear, so on my brother’s recommendation, I hit up Dr. Toombs.
Since then, he’s been the only guy I’ll deal with outside of whatever medics are on hand at the promotion I’m working for at the time. Someone once told me that the money and the miles are the only real things in this business. Toombs commands a lot of the former, but helps me deal with the latter like nobody else.
We trade small-talk for a few minutes, but I soon cut to the chase. “Let’s get this over with,” I tell him. “And again, thanks for coming to me. There’s no way I would’ve had time to get to your practice today.”
“It’s nothing,” he says, as we begin our journey towards the medical room me and Cayle converted from a pantry about a year ago. “You’re limbing. Badly,” he says.
I groan. “Aye…”
“How long did you go in that battle royal again?”
“Oh, good lord,” he says. “This might take a while, then…”
Mr. Styles, our paths are only just crossing, but I have no doubt you are one of the finest wrestlers in this continent.
If you weren’t, you wouldn’t have been CWF Tag Team Champion.
Now granted, you’ve got one hell of a partner, but I don’t believe in “carrying.” At this level, that doesn’t exist. You earned that gold on merit, and I’m looking forward to testing my mettle against you. Seeing if I’ve still got what it takes to go up against one of CWF’s finest outwith the confines of a crazy Rumble.
The differences between us are colossal.
I’d already been wrestling for two damn years by the time you were born. We may as well be from different universes, mate, but that’s the beautiful thing about this sport of ours. I respect what you’ve done in this company, and I respect you for having the stones to step up and accept my challenge.
But I’m not just gonna stand here and put you over. I’ll shake your hand before the bell - and after, if it pleases you - but I’m coming to Evolution 25 to win. I’m coming to kick your arse, mate.
Don’t assume that because we’ve never crossed paths, I don’t know what you’re about. I’ve done my homework. I’ve watched tape, studied the finer points, and formulated a gameplan. Why? Because I’m a professional. Because I know I’m a standard-bearer in the industry, but recognise that a wrestler is only ever as good as his last match.
If I can’t beat you, Freddie, then my million dollar legacy ain’t worth a dime. So rest assured, come Evolution, I’ll have done my homework, and if you haven’t done yours… well, let’s just say you’re in for a long night.
But while I respect the competitor, I’m not so sure about the man. I saw you on Evo last week, cursing like a trooper, talking all kinds of dirt to Eclipse - a competitor who outlasted everyone bar me at Golden Intentions, including yourself.
Understand that if you talk that shit to me, I’ll hit your mouth so hard the only thing you’ll be able to taste is my knuckle meat between your teeth. Yeah, I’m a professional, and yeah, I believe in respect, but I’m no fool. Show me the same contempt you did Eclipse, Mr. Styles, and you’ll soon learn that this dog’s still got plenty of fight left.
And contrary to what one Shawn Carter claims in that entrance theme of yours, you will lose if you don’t take this seriously. Consider this your only warning.
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - THREE DAYS AGO - PM
Let’s just say the examination didn’t quite go how I’d wanted.
“Twelve months, tops,” he said, but that was the optimistic verdict. As things stand, unless I get surgery, I’m lumbering around with a knee that could go “pop” at any given point in the ring. So says doctor Toombs.
We knew it was bad, but not this bad. The ligaments are strained to breaking point. The cartilage is so busted up, there are little bits and pieces just floating around, leaving bone to rub on bone, grinding it down with every stomp, boot, or leap.
The symptoms can be mitigated with painkillers, bandages, and braces. I can live with the pain - it’s been there for years, and I’m not about to start complaining about it now - but the risks are real.
Surgery will take all of that away, of course, but we’re looking at a full year’s recovery for a knee replacement, and even then, there’s no guarantee I’d be cleared to return again.
I can’t do that. Not after coming back to the CWF. Not after winning Golden Intentions. Not with Freddie Styles on the horizon next week, and Caledonia next month.
The news hit me harder than I’d like to admit. It’s late, the sun has gone down, and I’m sitting on the rear terrace of my beach house, with only myself for company. The sound of waves gently rolling in along Pacific Beach is soothing, but not as soothing as the booze in my system.
Or the touch of my fiance's hand on my shoulder.
“You trying to drink yourself to sleep or something,” she says, catching sight of the bottles on the table. Didn’t even hear her slide out of the house, but for some reason, it doesn’t catch me by surprise. “Or is this all just another layer to the ‘moody old Scottish man’ aesthetic you’re rocking tonight?”
Viv pulls up a seat at the table. I divert my gaze from the moonlight’s shimmer on the Pacific Ocean, and to her, hoodie-clad and probably a little pissed that I’d chosen to spend the past few hours in my own company rather than hers.
“Guess I am being a little antisocial tonight,” I concede.
“I get it,” Viv says. I know she does. It wasn’t long ago that chronic concussion issues took her own wrestling career, and when Father Time eventually takes mine, I’ve no doubt she’ll feel every drop of pain that I do. “Been there, done that. But look, it’s not like you haven’t adapted before… remember?”
“Heh,” I grunt, taking a swig of beer. “Do I ever.” It was 2004, I was working one of OCW’s many revivals, and this fucker Kannon threw me from the top of a cage. Took an awkward landing. Fucked my back up something rotten, and I was in and out of hospitals for the best part of a year. My athleticism and mobility were never quite the same after that, so it forced a wholesale change in my working style.
“I dunno though,” I say. “This feels a little different. When he puts a specific timescale on it, it’s hard not to feel a little worried, y’know?”
“Of course,” she replies. “It’s all about finding little workarounds, I guess. Look at Eric Dane--”
“Eric Dane is a piece of shit.”
“Eric Dane is a smart piece of shit,” Viv says, leaning towards me for extra emphasis. “He’s older than you, probably a little more beaten up than you, and still finds ways to get the job done. I know you will, too.”
For many wrestlers, “working smarter” is an excuse for bastardry. It means loosening up your morals, taking shortcuts, cheating.
I’m not that guy.
… but she does have a point.
“Look,” Viv begins, reading the conflict in my eyes, “I’m not saying I want you to turn into Supervillain 5000 overnight, but would it hurt you to take the odd powder here and there? Cut down on the highspots a little? Attack limbs and work holds instead of, y’know, showing off? You can’t be the spectacle forever, Andy. I know you want to be a showman, but just like I was a couple years ago, you’ve gotta start finding new ways to win, because you’re body might not be able to sustain the old ways for long.”
Goddamnit, she’s right.
Golden Intentions was one of the biggest wins of my career, but if I’m wrestling on borrowed time, I do need to tighten a few things up.
Maybe I’ll start against Freddie Styles.
“Anyway, I’m not trying to lecture,” she says, flicking strands of blonde hair from her eyes as she rises to her feet. “I just want you to be able to walk down the aisle next year, ‘kay?”
And like that, she’s gone, back into the house.
Vivica doesn’t need my words for affirmation. She knows.
I need one last mouthful of lukewarm IPA, then take a deep breath of cool, night air. There’s a twang in my knee - there always is - but I flush it to the background.
Time to adjust.
Time to change the goddamn game.
My name is Andy Murray. I am, without exaggeration, the most successful sportsman my country has ever seen.
I’ve soared to the greatest of heights, and swept down to the lowest of lows. Through 25 years in this business I’ve accomplished everything my heart desired and then some. I can’t say I’ve lived my dreams, because even as a kid, I couldn’t imagine I’d have ever made it this far.
And I’m grateful. So very, very grateful, not only for everything I’ve been through, but the opportunity to still be doing this in 2018.
Make no mistake, I recognise how lucky I am, and that’s why I intend to make the most of what is probably my last shot in a major American wrestling promotion.
Golden Intentions was only the beginning, baby. The King is coming for the crown once more. Caledonia, keep that throne warm. Freddie Styles, bring the very best you’ve got. Everyone else? Pay attention, because if what I did at GI didn’t convince you, the coming months surely will.
I’ve slowed down. The gas tank isn’t what it used to be. I can’t pull off my old moves with the same pop anymore. All these things are true, but I’m smarter, craftier, and wilier than ever before, and I’ve got a burning heart that won’t ever burn out.
But I’m not looking too far ahead. Right now, my focus is on Freddie Styles, because I know he’s more than capable of putting me away if I spend too long worrying about Wrestle Fest and the CWF Heavyweight Championship.
Step one: get past him.
Step two: reassess, readjust, and rebuild.
Step three: reconquer the throne.
And it’s not about the fame, the gold, the glory, because lord knows I’ve had enough of all three to last a lifetime. I’m content with my status in the game, and I’m happy with what I’ve accomplished.
This is about repaying every single person who cheered their lungs out when I stepped out onto the stage at Golden Intentions, because lord knows I owe them about the world.
This is about my son, Marvin, walking tall, know his old man’s still out there doing him proud.
This is about anyone I’ve ever toppled, who can rest easy knowing there’s no shame in one of the greatest of all time, and everyone who’s ever defeated me, so they know I took it in my stride, adapted, and came back stronger.
In 1993, I walked into my first ever wrestling gym with nothing but a bag full of gear and a head full of dreams. In 2018, I plan on writing my name into the history books once and for all.
And when it’s all said and done, the name ‘Andy Murray’ will rule the wrestling world once more.
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - THREE DAYS AGO - PM
I drag myself back inside about 15 minutes later.
I’m done moping. Done feeling sorry for myself. Done worrying about an injury I know I can work around.
When I hit the living room, there’s no point hitting the lights because there’s nothing to see. Compared to the here and now, nothing in this house has any value. Not the 80” 4K television on the wall. Not the title belts, awards, and other heirlooms from a long, long career. Nothing.
There are countless things around me. This house, and its contents, are worth millions. They belong to me. They are my empire. An empire built with blood, sweat, tears, personal sacrifice, and the indomitable resilience of the human soul. But none of it is worth a dime if I can’t live up to my past glories.
If I can’t beat Freddie Styles.
If I can’t still be the fuckin’ MAN in this business.
I pull my phone out my pocket, open up Google Calendar, and book myself in for a double training session tomorrow.
I’ll worry about the pain later.