The man known as Mr. Ballgame is pacing back and forth, wearing a path into the cement floor at the Bradley Center, tomorrow's host of Evolution. He has a hood on over his head, masking his expression, which one must think would be determination. The unbuttoned dark blue Atlanta Braves jersey covers his torso, allowing a glimpse of the white wife-beater he wears underneath. He has on a pair of tan khaki pants and shoes which round out the ensemble. He continues pacing until a man in a black polo shirt walks into the room, an audible bang as the door closes behind him. He signals Freddie, notifying him that the taping process will begin shortly. Freddie looks at the man, watching him through the strands of hair covering his face. He reaches up and pushes the hair back behind his ears, showing off the intensity raging in his hazel brown eyes. His goatee is surrounded by considerably more stubble than usual, almost taking the shape of a full beard. Freddie digs into the right hand pocket of his shorts and pulls out a pack of Marlboro Lights. He extracts a cigarette from the pack and replaces them in the pocket. He pulls out a lighter and lights the cigarette, the slow smoke beginning to furl up towards the ceiling. Freddie takes a deep drag and closes his eyes, feeling his mind relax and go light as the nicotine does its job. The man behind the camera begins a countdown from five with his fingers, Freddie opening his eyes at one. The red light flashes on the camera, and Freddie exhales the drag. He looks into the camera
They say that in order to defeat an opponent, first you have to understand him. You have to know what makes him tick; know his next move before he does. I've made a career out of learning about my opponents, before we even step foot in that ring. And, after studying you for the past few weeks, I have to say I'm not overly impressed.
Zach, you're nothing but a fraud. You've proven it time and again. You hide behind long, painfully drawn out expositions, which you use to overwhelm your audience with, in hopes that after you've finally finished speaking, they'll be fooled into believing you actually said something of worth. But, the thing is, you never do.
You're like a college student, who is tasked with writing an essay. He wants to impress his professor, but unfortunately, he hasn't the faintest idea about the topic which he's writing on. So what does he do? He writes two or three generic points of interest, but repeats them over and over, until he's able to turn one page of actual information, into a ten page essay containing little of substance, but a lot of filler.
That's you in a nutshell, Zach. And I'll be willing to bet Warren Buffet's fortune that that's what you'll come at me with. You'll likely focus on something I've said, or something I've done, no matter how minute. Then you'll concoct a theory about it, and go on to explain, in a dry, humorless twenty minute speech, about why I said what I said, or why I did what I did and run some video game reference within it.
For a while, you might even succeed in fooling the audience. They'll sit back, after your rambling monologue, impressed by the eloquence in which you've just spoken. But then, a couple of minutes after they've turned off the television set, they'll pause, their thought process kicking in, and say, "Wait a minute. Zach didn't say a damn thing of consequence". And then, with the audience cluing in to your shtick, they'll realize you duped them into believing your words held merit, and see you for the pretender that you are.
But, you know what, Zach? I'll be a good sport and give you a topic to ramble on endlessly about. Here's the topic for you: The one hundred and one ways that Freddie Styles is better than Zach van Owen. I'm sure you can spin that into a twenty minute diatribe for us.
Freddie pauses, allowing the time to take another drag from the smoke. He watches a particular strand of smoke rise into the air.
This is your chance, isn't it, Zach? Your opportunity to prove your accomplishments measure up to mine. That's what eats at you, even if you won't come out and say it. But here's the thing. You'll never measure up to me. You could retain that title for the next two years, and still your championship reign won't even come close to matching anything I've ever done in the CWF. All the wins, all the accolades, even the title losses I suffered...even the one to you. So what that you won in one shot...what have you done with it? The Impact title is worth less than dirt right now. You've drained all the prestige from it. Bottom line, the fact of the matter is, anything you can do, I can do better. Anything you've already done, I've done better. How does it feel, to live in the shadow of a hall of famer, even after you lucked up and beat him? How does it feel, to have your every movement scrutinized, and compared to a legacy you can never live up to? How does it feel, to know that your time at the top will always end with the statement, "he was good, but he was no Freddie Styles"? Tell me, Zach. How does all of that feel?
Even your own body knows a loss to me is inevitable. You're suffering from what appears to be a mental breakdown, not because of the stress of your past matches, but because your subconscious realizes your match against me is right around the corner. Your date with destiny is right on your doorstep, and your mind and body are attempting to cancel that date because they know the result. So really, how much of a chance do you stand in defeating me, when even your own body is betting against you?
He lets a sarcastic chuckle escape from his lips.
This match, our match, must seem like both a Godsend and a curse to you. After all these weeks holding that belt, you get a chance to step inside the ring with a legit champion..the rightful owner of the belt you hold. So win or lose, you'll have a match to brag about to your grandkids. Yet, at the same time, you're coming face to face with a living legend in this sport, one that you know deep down that you cannot defeat.
For me, however, this match will just be another footnote in my storied career. If you browse the internet, there are various sites that like to catalog the history of Mr. Styles, and you'll see sections on my greatest opponents I've faced over the course of my career. But the thing is... you'll never be on that list with the likes of Flair, Ryan or Duce. No, you'll be in the same category as men like Lance Larusso and Billy Anderson.
My advice to you, Zach, is to come to terms with being second best. It's not that bad, really. Look at guys like Bobby Dean. He's made an entire career out of being the runner up. I'm sure you can always go to him for advice on how they cope with it. But there's one thing that's for certain: you'll never be the best, not as long as blood still coarses through my veins.
Freddie begins pacing again, pulling his gaze from the smoke and beating that path a little harder, taking another drag from the cigarette, slowly exhaling the smoke into the air.
I have earned everything I've gotten in CWF. Two CWF tag title reigns. Impact champ. Final 4 in last's years' Modern Warfare. Your current, reigning WCWA tag champion. What chance have you earned Zach? You got a GIFT from a man in a burlap sack. I worked, scrapped and clawed for ALL OF IT, on my own. I never needed to attach myself to the man in charge to get anything.
Freddie lets the cigarette fall out of his mouth to the floor, where it continues smoking.
Despite the losses, despite the failures, every time someone has told me I couldn't win, I won. Every time I was considered a one-in-one-thousand underdog, I made somebody who bet on me very, very rich. I've faced men who you couldn't hold a candle to even on their worst day, and I defeated them. So even if you believe you're the favorite -- and maybe you are -- the fact of the matter is, favorite or underdog, I've slain them all. This time won't be any different.
He rises from his knees and spreads his arms wide, in a welcoming manner.
At Evolution, we'll meet in that ring. I fully expect you to throw at me everything you've got. The belt may give you confidence. And I know you believe this will be enough for you to defeat me. But, as God is my witness, I cannot wait to see the expression on your face, the moment you hear the referee's hand hit the mat for the third time, and as you're staring up into the rafters, the realization dawns on you what has just occurred.
Freddie grins at the camera and lets his arms fall back to his side. He shrugs and continues.
Zach, I hope you've enjoyed your title reign, and all the perks that come along with being champion: the limousines; the bump in salary; everything. Because once that bell rings, your time as champion nears its end. So do me a favor, go out and celebrate like you'll be dead in a week's time. Parade that gold belt everywhere you go, take as many pictures with the belt as your camera's memory card can hold. Because after Evolution, those pictures will be the only thing you'll have to remind yourself of what it was to be a champion. I'm coming for my title, Zach. And when I'm done beating you, I'll remind the world what a real Impact champion is.
Freddie lowers his head and the red light from the camera turns off. He turns and walks off, pulling open the door and exiting, letting it slam behind him. The production guys are speechless, the raw emotion still filling the room.