”My dad once told me that being a World Champion is like being a member of an exclusive club, only the membership requirements keep changing. Your first World Title, you’re in on a weekend visitor’s pass. You get to see everything and do everything, and you’re welcomed by the rest’a the club as someone who deserves t’be there, and you’re looked at with derision or envy by everyone on the other side’a the gate.”
“Then you lose your World Title and leave the club, and while some’a the members might’ve liked you and some might’ve disliked you, nobody’s really surprised. After all, you were just a visitor. It’s like gettin’ upgraded t’first class on the first leg’a your flight, then you’re put back where ya belong in Row 36 for the second. The second Championship is where they really tear ya up and focus on your flaws instead’a your strengths.”
“It isn’t until your third World Championship that the club sees you as a legitimate member. You’ve proven that you didn’t get lucky on your first win, and that you weren’t just an opportunist on your second.”
“I’m in the ditch right now, where everyone on every side is second guessing me and wondering if I really have the staying power.”
“Of course, dropping a match to Silas Fucking Artoria doesn’t help me much.”
“Of course, his manner’a victory should’ve come into play.”
“Of course it didn’t.”
“Tough luck on that one, MJ.”
“You’ll bounce back, MJ.”
“There’s always Modern Warfare, keep your chin up.”
MJ Flair’s father - like most wrestlers in general - had a few rules when it came to dealing with their fans. Don’t take pictures without asking, don’t take pictures of my family, don’t act like an entitled douchebag.
First amongst them has always been ‘don’t bother me when I’m eating.’ He wrestled in the era of 22 dates a month, sometimes approaching three hundred matches a year. All Eli Flair ever wanted from life besides the chance to wrestle was a meal, and the chance to get some sleep.
Adrian Evans sits across from MJ Flair in the patio area of Felicia Suzanne’s restaurant for a post-show meal, and unfortunately, neither Adrian nor MJ have the physical presence of the King of Extreme.
MJF: D’you think it’d be a problem if I winged an oyster shell at the next person that interrupts us?
Adrian Evans: Men are assertive. Women are bitchy. It’s a double standard, I know, but it’s life. Leave it alone.
“Sorry about the loss, MJ.”
She nods her thanks at the passerby, and rolls her eyes once they’re out of sight.
MJF: It’s so weird. Nobody’s ever been this outwardly verbose before when I’ve lost; I know it hasn’t happened much this year but even still… this was a non-title match. Nobody was this apologetic when I lost the belt to Caledonia.
She eats another oyster, chasing it with an ice cold beer.
MJF: What gives?
Adrian hesitates. He drinks from his own bottle, and takes a bite of his crab cake.
MJF: You’re stalling.
Adrian Evans: You don’t want to hear this.
MJF: If you’ve got something to say, dude…
Adrian Evans: Trust me, it’s not something you want me to say.
MJF: Jesus fucking christ, man, just say it!
Pause. Adrian takes a deep breath.
Adrian Evans: Because Silas Artoria is right here.
He points to his own head.
Adrian Evans: And the smart money says he’s going to win.
Adrian Evans: You don’t believe me?
MJF: No, not at all.
Adrian Evans: When’s the last time everything made sense?
She opens her mouth to answer, and stops.
Once again, Adrian chuckles to himself while he drinks.
Adrian Evans: ’Shit,' indeed.
”I’m in a million tiny pieces.”
“Yeah, that’s cliche, that’s stereotypically teenaged girl of me, but it’s true.”
“A million pieces.”
“But I’m not broken.”
“I’m more like a jigsaw puzzle that’s been dropped on the ground and broke apart. What do you do with a puzzle in pieces?”
“You reassemble it.”
“I was dropped four months ago, and it’s been a struggle lookin’ through the mess, but things take time. And I’m still young, with years of a career left t’put it all together. Besides, it’s simple once y’get on a roll.”
“What do ya do first when you put a puzzle together? Y’find the corners.”
“I beat Ataxia.”
“Then you get the border pieces, and you get a sense’a the whole picture.”
“I beat Colton Mace.”
“Then… then it’s a long slog, sometimes frustrating, always patience - testing, and that’s where we are now.”
“I’m not worried about the puzzle. Like I said, I’ve got time t’complete the puzzle, and overall, I’m confident in my ability t’win the long game.”
“But that’s my story; this match is something far, far different.”
“I’m a Modern Warfare semi - finalist. I’m an End Games semi - finalist. I was in the final four of the Golden Intentions match. Two - time World Champion, headlined both a wildly successful Far East tour and Wrestlefest IV. I’m comfortable with the idea that I’ve accomplished more in my ten months with the CWF than Silas Artoria has, his entire career.”
“And with one tainted pinfall on me, none’a that matters. All of a sudden, I’m on my heels. All of a sudden, I’m the World Champion but I’m the underdog.”
“That part’s cool: I’ve always been the underdog.”
“And that’s the key to the puzzle.”
MJF: Seriously, it blows my flippin’ mind.
She and Adrian Evans have moved their post-loss memorial from Felicia Suzanne’s patio to Cobblestone Landing, right there on the Mississippi river, and they’ve left their official drinks behind in favor of Adrian’s trusty flask.
Adrian Evans: You don’t see it when you’re in it; don’t beat yourself up about it. But if you really think about it, that tag team match with Amber Ryan was where things started to go off the rails.
He takes a sip and passes the bottle to MJ. She drinks from it, but holds onto it.
MJF: I see it now, man. Win the belt, have a successful tour through Asia, we come home… Amber gets us disqualified and I wanna wipe that smug smirk off Silas’ face… then I lose to Caledonia and the rest’a the year up to the match with Ataxia is sort’a 50/50.
She takes another sip.
MJF: Fucking crazy, man.
Another sip, and she passes back to Adrian.
Adrian Evans: It makes sense, though. Your career here so far seems to be predicated on settling old scores when it’s the most dramatic.
He takes a sip.
Adrian Evans: Think about it. Who was your biggest rival during your first few weeks here?
Adrian rolls his eyes.
Adrian Evans: No. You settled things with him by taking the World Title: that’s how it works.
MJ thinks about it.
MJF: Marksman, I guess. He was the most tenacious, at least.
Adrian Evans: Very good, Ms. Flair. And that’s the nature of it - he gave you problems, and it’s certainly not inaccurate to say your victory over him was the high point of your first World Championship reign. Later, you return home and Silas Artoria insinuates his way into your life, and a week later you lose the belt to Caledonia. And, like you said - your career during your time without the Championship was ‘fifty-fifty.’
MJF: The funny thing is that I pinned Silas to gain entry into the End Games match, and now that doesn’t matter - one win and it’s like I’m trying to take my title back from him already.
Adrian Evans: Well, of course. Look at his track record this year. Silas Artoria was supposed to lose to you tonight. You were supposed to beat him handily. When that didn’t happen, doubt creeps in. You defeated the other top three wrestlers in the company for your first World Title; there was so much garbage wrapped around your second win that it was impossible to determine if you and Colton Mace truly were the top two wrestlers in the company.
Before she can respond, Adrian holds up his hand.
Adrian Evans: No offense, of course. I don’t want you to think I’m belittling what you’ve done, but at the same time it’s not dishonest to say that you four - you, Ataxia, Mace, and Ripper, were more or less chosen at random as people who have had past success but not necessarily translated to current heavy hitting.
MJF: Yeah… yeah I get you. It’s not fair, though.
Adrian Evans: Life’s not fair, Ms. Flair. All you can do is ride it out: either you make it through or you don’t.
MJF: Nothing t’do but to do.
She smirks at the saying.
Adrian Evans: It’s still good advice.
”My dad gave me some hard - to - swallow wisdom back when I had my first taste of real success in this company: he reminded me that he didn’t look like a superstar, so he was never treated like one. He had to take his career into his own hands and became a fifteen time World Champion against all odds. Nobody expected him to become immortal.”
“As the child of a fifteen time World Champion who also entered the sport, everybody expects me to become immortal.”
“Ya wanna give me credit or give me no credit, I don’t really care - the fact remains that whether I equal my dad’s accolades, surpass ‘em, or fail to match ‘em, I’m always gonna be compared to him. I’m at peace with it, and I’m happy t’just be in the conversation.”
“And another thing that he’s always said to me is that in this sport, three seconds can change the course’a the world. Anyone can beat anyone on any given night.”
“This is oddly applicable to you, Silas. Pay attention.”
“Wrestling promotions are built on box office draw, Silas. You need to win matches, sure - but that’s secondary to whether or not the fans’ll pay t’see you in the ring. They usually go hand in hand, but it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.”
“The more you win, the more you connect with the fans, either positively or negatively, the more opportunities you’ll earn. This is how legacies are created. This is how Champions are built from the ground up.”
“But it’s not a hard-and-fast rule. Sometimes it just takes the right circumstance in the right match.”
“Let’s be honest, Silas: you didn’t earn this World Title shot on your 2018 record. You earned it because’a the right three seconds in a non-title match. You could just as easily win the World Title with the right three seconds at Evolution 31.”
“As long as we call it what it is.”
“You could win this match and become the CWF World Champion, Silas.”
“But can you be the CWF World Champion?”
“Tell me… do you know the difference?”
The hair dryer drowns out most of the noise, but MJ sticks her head out from under the hot air to listen.
It happens again: the knocking.
Annoyed, MJ turns it off and wraps her bathrobe more tightly than it was, and bends over to tie a towel around her head to keep her thick, heavy, still - wet hair from dripping everywhere. Her steps leave damp footprints on the hotel suite carpet as the knocking continues.
MJF: Coming… coming…
The deadbolt and safety lock are still in place on the door, and there hasn’t been a call of ‘Housekeeping,’ so she’s more annoyed than hurried - but MJ hates being interrupted in the morning.
She stops and looks through the peephole, and closes her eyes wearily. Head rested firmly on the door, she exhales.
MJF: Tabby, ten AM in the restaurant means ten AM in the restaurant, not nine fifteen AM at my door.
Tabby: I know, I know - but there’s a bunch of sheet writers downstairs waiting for you and I wanted to scoop them.
MJF: Why would I talk to them before you?
MJ gently bangs her head against the door once. Twice.
MJF: Fine, Tabby… you can come in. The photographer stays outside.
Slowly, controlling her rising temper, MJ unlocks the deadbolt and cracks the door a bit, showing Tabby her current state. Tabby looks at her, looks at the official CWF Magazine photographer standing behind her, and looks back at the Champion.
Tabby: Wait outside, please.
MJ closes the door to open the security lock, and reopens, hiding behind it as Tabby slips inside.
Tabby: What are you--
And she stops talking as a flash goes off behind her. She catches MJ’s eye and turns her head.
The reporter slips inside and closes the door. MJ reapplies the locks and walks back into the room. She pulls the towel off her head and starts to dry her hair manually.
MJF: I’m annoyed, Tabby… but I get it, so don’t worry. But seriously, now that you’re here can we do this up pretty quick so I can go eat? There’s a belgian waffle station at the buffet and I feel like gettin’ comfy.
Tabby: So you’ve got Silas Artoria in a sixty minute iron man match this coming Evolution. You’ve had a pretty up - and - down year with him; you’ve had some success but never in a one on one encounter. I think it’s safe to say this next match is likely to be your final encounter. If you could sum it up in one sentiment, what would it be?
She thinks about it for a moment.
Tabby writes this down while MJ disappears into the bathroom again.
Tabby: In what way?
MJF: Can you toss me a shirt?
Tabby gets up and looks in the open bag on the bed.
She digs a bit and finds a black tank top, and hands it to the champion.
MJF: All’a this really comes down to respect. Look at the three losses I’ve taken solo this year. There was Jace, which was predicated on his dismissal’a everything I’d done t’that point.
Tabby: You didn’t call him ’Jacehole.’
MJF: I really don’t like kickin’ a guy in the head when he’s got two broken legs, y’know? But that filled me up with a fiercely obsessive sense’a injustice, like I had to right a wrong, right? I didn’t feel that way when I lost to Caledonia. Why?
Tabby continues to write, but the silence tells her that MJ is waiting for an answer.
Tabby: ….Ummmmm, because of respect?
MJF: Exactly. Caledonia and I shared a mutual respect. Jace’s win was just as legitimate but his attitude’a entitlement made me wanna murder him with a guitar string. Cali respected me as a Champion and I respected her as a challenger. The problem with Silas Artoria is that there’s no respect whatsoever between us.
She reemerges from bathroom wearing the tank top, a pair of spandex shorts, and what appears to be a comb stuck in her hair.
Tabby: Do you need help?
MJF: I deal with this daily; it’s all good.
The struggle continues.
MJF: But seriously, here’s the thing. I’ve been wrong for disrespecting Silas, but at the same time, he’s been talking since that first confrontation like my Championship - specifically my Championship - is his birthright or some shit.
She pulls a pair of faded black jeans out of her bag and begins to pull them on.
MJF: I guess… Well, it wouldn’t’ve been as frustrating if there was the slightest indication from Silas that he respected the role that the Champion plays and the job I’d done with it so far. That’s the thing of it, dude. Respect’s gotta go both ways, and when he doesn’t respect me, I’ve gotta do the same. And if it doesn’t start with the challenger I’ve gotta take initiative and do it myself.
Tabby raises her eyebrow, puts the tip of her pen next to her mouth for a second, and writes some notes.
Tabby: Why do you have to do it? Just because you’re a woman--
MJF: No! No, no… It’s because I’m the Champion. That’s the thing I don’t think Silas understands about this entire back ‘n forth.
She completes her ensemble with a pair of rainbow striped socks.
MJF: As Champion… he’d have to put the CWF before himself in every case. I don’t think he can do it, man… at best, Silas Artoria would be some schmuck that carries a belt to the ring.
Finally, MJ reaches into her bag and pulls out the CWF World Title belt.
MJF: This is bigger than Silas’ stupid ego. It’s bigger than my stupid ego. I mean… maybe he just needs to learn, but for now?
She stops herself. Tabby makes some more notes, and MJ puts the belt away.
MJF: He’s just not ready.
MJ reaches under the bed and pulls out a pair of boots. Tabby finishes writing while MJ zips up the sides.
Tabby: Okay, I think that’s about all I’ve got. Now… you said something about waffles?
MJF: You betcha.
Tabby: You’re never gonna let that go, are you?
”Here’s the problem, Silas.”
“Being a Champion is a huge responsibility.”
“Some people can handle it: others break down.”
“Which one are you?”
“Think about it, Silas. First of all, despite your track record this year, you’ve been struttin’ around the locker room like you deserve t’be the Champion. And - yeah, ten outta ten for confidence, but that’s kinda puttin’ the cart six to eight miles before the horse.”
“What kinda champion would ya be, Silas? Would you be a Champion? Or would you be the guy starin’ at yourself wearing the title in the mirror, buildin’ yourself up in an echo chamber about how you deserve it, while duckin’ and schemin’ your way outta defending it?”
“Think about it. You earned this shot by hookin’ my tights and grabbin’ the ropes. No judgement, I know the end result is the only thing that matters, but let’s call things what they are.”
“Like I said - you’ve got confidence, Silas. Confidence, though, can be a killer if it’s puffed up so much that it becomes a delusional self.”
“Pump up a basketball or baseball or balloon too much and it explodes. And I’m pretty sure you’ll make more of a mess than a ball’a hot air.”
“This Championship is important, Silas. If nothing else, I need you t’understand that. This Championship is the life’s blood’a the CWF. Look at the path it’s taken between Summer Games and Wrestlefest. There was no CWF World Champion, and things hit a ridiculous wave’a uncertainty.”
“Am I the best Champion for the CWF? I can’t answer that, and I don’t think anyone else really can without proper perspective, years from now. But I think it’s clear that I’m the only Champion this company has had this year that’s put the CWF and it’s World Championship first.”
“Duce didn’t have enough time t’really understand it, Jacehole was a self-centered douchebag, Eric Dane was a more talented Jacehole, and dear, sweet, Caledonia was understandably more interested in using the power of the Championship to take down the Oreo Bros and get her husband back.”
“I think it’s safe t’say I’m the front runner in the ‘Treat this responsibility like the responsibility it is’ camp.”
“What would you bring to the table, Silas? Would you let your ego take a back seat to the greater good? Would you stand up for the CWF, even if you were outnumbered and overwhelmed, because it’s more important t’get your shit kicked in and get back up than it is t’retreat and not dirty your pretty, prima donna face?”
“These are the questions you’ll need to answer, Silas. Can you?”
“Because the fact is, the CWF needs its Champion.”
“Loki Synn is out there. She’s the biggest threat to the CWF that we’ve seen.”
“Not because she doesn’t care about the CWF. You don’t care about the CWF and you’re not a threat to the company.”
“You, Silas - you care about Silas.”
“Loki Synn wants to see the CWF burn.”
“I’d be at peace with losing the CWF World Title to you if I knew you’d be the Champion that we needed, but I can’t honestly say it.”
“The CWF needs a Champion with substance, Silas. I’m almost there. I’m almost where I need to be.”
“The corners are in place, the border is assembled, and the background is nearly put back together.”
“You’re the box the puzzle came in. Pretty picture, substantial dimensions… but hollow inside.”
“You, Silas - you’re the scoop’a mashed potatoes in the ice cream commercials. You look fine, but you’re a substitute for the real thing because otherwise, you’d melt under the lights.”
“This is important, Silas. This is the CWF World Championship.”
“Treat it with the respect it deserves, and respect’ll finally come your way.”
“Treat it like you have been - like it’s your fuckin’ birthright - and it’ll eat you alive.”