It had been some time since Johnny Graves stepped foot inside of a professional wrestling ring. Four hundred twenty-two days to be exact. After the collapse of RISE Pro Wrestling he returned to the world of mixed martial arts and picked up exactly where he left off. In the year away from wrestling, Graves was able to string together three consecutive victories in the octagon; bringing his career record to seven wins, no losses, no draws. He was quickly becoming a star in the world of mma and even though he wasn’t planning on turning his back on the sport forever, the itch to step into the squared circle began to gnaw at him once more. He wanted to return to the ring: needed to return to the ring.
But where to sign?
Truth be told, since leaving the business Johnny hadn’t paid much attention to the sport. He would periodically find praise on a particular match on social media. In those cases he would pull up YouTube and search it. Sometimes he was impressed, sometimes not. He knew the names of the sports current superstars but as far as the promotions, he was lost. So once again he would take to social media announcing his intent to return. Almost immediately the offers began pouring in. Meetings, courtings, and contracts began flooding in from all over the world. Every promotion wanting to get their hands on one of wrestling’s hottest young prospects. Someone who brought legitimacy to the sport of grappling, someone who brought a shoot style approach to wrestling.
Enter Championship Wrestling Federation.
There was one offer in particular that struck the interest of the Sin City Saint, despite the many others. The owner had contacted Johnny directly instead of sending a scout or a selected official from the front office. Johnny liked that. It showed respect. It showed what the guy must of thought of him as a talent. Or maybe the promotion was desperate for something. Anything. Certainly didn’t seem that way though. The promotion itself, from the little research Johnny had done seemed to be going fine. They seemed to have all their ducks in a row and could outlast the competition. So that was positive.
Johnny had been invited to attend their most recent taping of Evolution. He wouldn’t be competing on the show. He hadn’t even officially signed his contract yet. But as he sat in the backstage area and watched the show unfold and gotten to know some of the men and in women in the back he realized this was as good a place as any. In fact, it was better than many places he had found himself. The itch that had caused Johnny to announce his intent to return to the ring only seemed to intensify as he watched Evolution unfold. So much so he couldn’t stop himself from getting involved. He had never intended for it to be aired live on CWF television. But the cameras just happened to be in the right place at the right time allowing the CWF fans their glimpse at the Sin City Saint, Johnny Graves.
But more was to come.
“Johnny, you really should consider getting some sleep at some point…”
The television mounted to the wall of the living room was the only source of light in the otherwise darkened Las Vegas, Nevada home. The images on the screen flickering multi-colored lights on all that occupied the room. Including the one and only Johnny Graves seated on the black leather sofa, leaning forward, forearms resting on his knees, left hand wrapped around the right fist. His eyes were glued to the screen with careful interest, taking in everything their witnessed before them and sending the signals to his brain to be analyzed and broken down. He wore black Levi 501s, mustard colored Timberland boots, and a grey hooded sweatshirt. The hood pulled up over his head.
“You see how he baited him in?” Johnny questioned as if not hearing the advice that had been offered. “Playin’ possum, usin’ his aggressiveness against him? Crafty. Basic as fuck. But crafty.”
A low sigh escaped the lips of Braelyn Kendrick. She sat in the plush black leather chair to the right of the couch, positioned at an angle to get the best view of the TV possible from that location. She peered towards Johnny questionly from under the brim of her baseball cap. Her slender arms were folded over the tight-fitting white T-shirt she wore, the skinny jeans - strategically styled with holes and frays - intersecting with her crossed legs. The white Air Force One on her left foot bounced in silence impatience. She slowly turned her gaze back to the TV to continue watching the match that unfolded before them.
“His technique ain’t bad,” Johnny would continue, his attention still firmly on the screen before him. “I mean... it’s ain’t the greatest I’ve ever seen. But dude can wrestle. Respect.”
“It’s four-thirty in the morning,” Braelyn replied dryly.
For the first time in what felt like an eternity Johnny would divert his attention from the television to turn and look upon Braelyn. His eyes narrowed as he studied her solemn expression. The signature charming smirk tugged at the corners of his mouth as leaned further still, reaching out an arm to playfully swat at her knee.
“So it’s four-thirty in the morning,” he repeated, “you know where the guest bedroom is.”
She shook her head slowly before dropping her head backwards to rest on the back of the chair. She stared up at the ceiling for several moments. Part in frustration and part because she didn’t want to look at Johnny’s damn smirk. That smirk that melted her every time. That smirk that had talked her into - and out of - so many things throughout their lives together. He was her weakness. She knew that. He knew that. In the same token they both knew that she was his.
Finally she would return her eyes to meet his.
“That’s not what I’m saying,” Braelyn explained, her voice sounding slightly more horse than usual. Probably because of the exhaustion that had began to set in on her body. “You’ve been doing this for days. How much more tape could you possibly watch on these two marks? I mean... damn. You planning on watching their entire careers from your couch? The show is hours away and you need to get some rest.”
“If I have to watch their entire careers to ensure the advantage in this fight then that is exactly what I will do,” Johnny stated defiantly. His intense stare bore into Braelyn’s eyes as he remained silent, studying her. “You understand how long it’s been since I’ve stepped foot in a ring. You know how long it’s been since I’ve hit those ropes and took those bumps. I’m not talking in trainin’. I’m talkin’ for real. When someone is looking to turn your lights out and pick up a victory against you. You’ve seen the tape as much as I have. These two don’t stand a chance against me. Facts. But you’ve been in this business as long as I have. You know damn well that sometimes skill ain’t enough to get the job done. Sometimes luck factors in.”
Braelyn scoffed at the final declaration made by her life-long friend.
“Then you should be just fine baby boy,” Braelyn assured him in a slightly mocking tone. “You’re the luckiest person I know.”
Johnny would further turn towards her, a puzzled look on his face.
“Oh please!” Braelyn exclaimed through a sharp laugh. “By all accounts you should be dead, Johnny. At the very least pushing a motorized scooter or some shit. The things you’ve done. The battles you’ve been through. Not just in the ring or in the octagon but in life? ...You might as well buy a Powerball ticket tonight cause I guarantee you, you’d win the fucking thing.”
“Preparation and anticipation,” Johnny corrected, his tone slightly more serious this time. “I have never - and will never - rely on luck. Everythin’ I’ve done, everythin’ I’ve accomplished, everythin’ I’ve survived; I did it because I did the homework, I knew the risks, I knew in the ins, I knew the outs, I had contingencies. Those who rely on luck fail. Those who rely merely on their talent fail. I am successful at what I do because I understand my opponents. I know what they want to do. I know how they react when their game plan goes to shit. I know the weaknesses they try to cover and the strengths they attempt to portray as a weakness. I know all of that by studyin’ them, by watchin’ them, by understandin’ their intentions and desires, their fears and shortcomins. You would do well to take a page from my book, kiddo.”
Braelyn would unfold her arms simply to wave her right hand in the air as if attempting to swat away Johnny’s words.
“Yeah, yeah,” Braelyn taunted, her voice dripping with sarcasm, “Sun Tzu, the Art Of War, and all that crap. All I’m saying is you can be as prepared as anyone has ever been in the history of competitive sports and it will mean nothing when you find yourself in a grueling match and you’re physically drained because you didn’t get enough sleep. Imagine it… the mighty Johnny Graves… falling in his debut match for a new promotion… on one of their pay per views no less… all because he didn’t listen to the one person that cares about him more than anyone else in the world and get some sleep. You’d never live it down.”
“You wouldn’t let me,” Johnny snapped back through a laugh.
“Damn right I wouldn’t,” Braelyn agreed.
The two old friends shared a laugh like they had done so many times before during their twenty years together. And for a moment - Johnny had to admit - the weight the world seemed to dissipate. For a moment he didn’t feel the anxiety attached to making your debut for a new company. Let alone on one of their pay per view events. He didn’t feel the relentless weight on his shoulders from a life he wasn’t proud of but certainly wouldn’t take back. For so long he was a prisoner of his own demons. He still was. But in this moment all of that seemed to leave him. If only for a moment.
Braelyn had that effect on him.
“Anyways, I am going to go home and get some sleep,” Braelyn suddenly interrupted. “Because some of us have things to do and actually want to be rested for them.”
Johnny narrowed his eyes and looked at her questioningly.
“What you have to do tomorrow?”
Timidly Braelyn looked down towards her lap. Her fingers played with the hem of her T-shirt. Finally she lifted her head and met eyes with her best friend.
“I uh, I actually have a date,” Braelyn confessed sounding far more confident than her demeanor would’ve suggested a moment ago. “I mean, maybe not a date date. But I’m going to hang out with this guy I met.”
Johnny leaned back into the plush cushions of the couch. A look of amusement formed on his face.
“What guy?” he questioned. “Where’d you meet him? What’s his name? Where does he work? What’s his address?”
“Stop!” Braelyn insisted.
“What?” Johnny questioned.
Again, Braelyn would shake her head. Though this time it was out of sheer amusement and admiration for Johnny instead of annoyance and exhausted. But, she gave in to her weakness and relented. At least, somewhat.
“His name is Connor,” she confessed. “He’s a wrestler. I met him at a show I was doing in Texas. He’s… nice. Maybe too nice. Probably too nice. But whatever. He asked me out and I said yes.”
Johnny nodded slowly looking like the disapproving father not ready to let his little girl date but understanding that that time had come and there would be no way to stop her. Still though, you could embarrass the shit out of her.
“And this Connor,” he began sounding as pretentious as possible, “where is he taking you on this date?”
“Hiking,” Braelyn confirmed.
“He likes to hike.”
“I like gettin’ head,” Johnny countered. “I don’t ask girls out to watch.”
Braelyn scrunched up her face in disgust.
“You’re fucking disgusting!” she reprimanded him. “Those aren’t even the same thing! One is a perfectly acceptable date activity. The other is… ugh… those nasty ass skanks you pick up all over the strip. You wouldn’t even know what to do with a nice lady if one ever crossed your path you fucking degenerate.”
“Of course I wouldn’t,” he agreed. “I’ve spent my entire life with you.”
We open outside. The hour is late as evidenced by the black sky and a pale half moon hanging high against the backdrop. Few stars can be seen. Perhaps that’s because of the neon lights and spotlights that splash against the sky. We are on the balcony of some undisclosed hotel overlooking the Vegas strip. Before the CWF camera is the back of a hooded figure standing, arms resting on the railing of the balcony before them, they’re attention fixated on the activity of the city below. At least the part of the city everyone wants to talk about. The rest of Las Vegas is a far cry from the strip. Just as much crime and hardship but far less glitz and glamour. It was a filthy city really. Not in the way one could interpret the strip. No the city itself - away from the bright lights, bells, and whistles - was a truly a repulsive place.
But here the hooded figure stood. Overlooking the chaos of the street below. Observing those riding the high of winning intermingling with those who were on the verge of becoming hopeless. Either one were easy targets and before turning his life around - well mostly around - Johnny Graves had made a damn good living off of both.
“I need the fans of CWF to understand somethin’. Before my career within this company can commence, before I make my in-ring debut at Confliction, before I do battle with Moe Davis and Sebastian Diakos I need you all to understand somethin’. I am not here to pander to your whims. I am not here to be the good little soldier, followin’ orders, and maintainin’ the status quo. I am not here to simply be another name on the CWF roster. I signed with the CWF for one reason and one reason only. A mutually beneficial relationship. Beneficial for you because… well… you get the privilege of bearin’ witness to the greatest fighter goin’ in the world today. You get to watch a once in a lifetime talent do what he does better than anyone else walkin’ this Earth. Beneficial for me because the CWF was gracious enough to offer up some serious money. The kind of money you people could only dream of earnin’ at your pathetic, blue collar, work-a-day jobs. See I’ve gotten the questions. ‘Why sign with CWF?’ ‘Why not go back to your old stompin’ grounds?’ Because I have nothing left to prove in my old stompin’ grounds. I’ve accomplished everythin’ there is to accomplish. I’ve done it all. I’ve proven no one on their roster in on my level. But the CWF… now there’s a new challenge. There’s a whole roster of motherf[beep]ers just ripe for the pickin’. A whole new slew of names gassed up and buyin’ into their own hype - their own status - just beggin’ someone like me to come along and knock them the f[beep]k out! “
A soft snicker is heard escaping the lips of Johnny Graves.
“Which brings me to Confliction. My debut. Live on pay per view. Now as much as I appreciate everythin’ CWF has done for me and has promised me, I have to wonder… why? Why, when you have a talent the caliber of someone like me do you place them in a triple threat match against guys like Davis and Diakos? Why, when you have a talent the caliber of someone like me am I not on the billboards, the posters, the f[beep]in’ program? You think just because Johnny Graves is knew to the promotion these idiots wouldn’t pay their hard earned money to come watch him do what he does? You think just because Johnny Graves’ been out of the business for awhile these people wouldn’t let their children go hungry for the chance to watch him live and in person? You’re wrong!
I don’t care who’s on the card. I don’t care what titles are on the line. And I don’t care how the card is shaped. I am the headliner of this show. I am the man those people want to see. I am the best fighter in the world. I send one tweet - one g[beeeeep]mn tweet and pay per view buys double. I go do a radio interview here, a podcast there pay per view buys triple. Those are facts.
But I get it. I’m new. I have to earn my place. I have to prove myself. I respect it. Some kid moves onto the block you don’t just let him run with you and your boys. He’s got to prove himself. He’s got to prove he belongs. He can talk that s[beep]t, he can back it up, he can throw them hands. Well everywhere I’ve gone I’ve proven I can throw them hands. I knock out the competitors billed as the biggest and the toughest and the baddest. And at Confliction, I’ll prove that.”
Johnny falls silent for a moment while the sounds of the strip take over the audience’s attention.
“From my understandin’ Davis and Diakos were tag team partners for awhile? Didn’t have much success so they decided to go solo? I’ll be honest with you boys, I watched your last match. No punches pulled… you’d be a lot better off if you tried to work them tag team issues out at Confliction. ‘Cause trying to win as singles? You boys are gonna get hurt. And hurt badly. ‘Cause two eh… semi decent wrestlers teamin’ up has a much better chance than goin’ it on their own. But I don’t know. Maybe you two hate each other. Maybe you two blame each other. From everythin’ I saw at Confliction you two definitely didn’t seem to be on the same page. So maybe it’s best you go your separate ways.
I mean hell, Davis seems like he’s okay with losin’. He seems like he’s happy just to be here. And you know what Davis? That’s fine. You’re a professional wrestler little buddy. You’ve defeated all the odds, you’ve proven your doubters wrong, you’ve made it onto the roster of the CWF. A contracted wrestler. Congratulations! So what if you don’t win? So what if you don’t win at Confliction? That’s not what’s important! What’s important is that you made it! You’re here! You’re sharing the ring with Johnny Graves? When this career of your’s comes crashing down - and it will - you will be able to sit with a grandkid on each knee, point to the TV, and say ‘I wrestled him in his first match with the company.’ And that… that Davis is an achievement. How many people get to sit there, looking upon true, unlimited, unadulterated greatness and say ‘yeah, I went toe to toe with him?’ It is truly a special, special thing. So when the bell sounds and all is said and done I want you to do me a favor…. When you leave my ring I want you to walk back to the locker room with your head held high. Because you’ve done somethin’ that no one else will ever be able to take away from you.
Now as for Diakos, the powerhouse of the team, the big man, the one that doesn’t seem so okay with losin’... I get it. I understand your frustration. I know what it’s like to be given an opportunity, a chance to prove that you belong, and then have it taken from you. I mean, not personally, but I can see how that would be frustratin’. So much like Davis, I want to offer you the same advice. When the bell sounds and it’s my hand the referee is raisin’ don’t freak out. Don’t punch walls. Don’t get angry. Hold your head up high. You may have lost to the Sin City Saint but I’m sure you’ll get some shots in. I’m sure you’ll make a good showin’ of yourself. And who knows? This could be the turn around of your career! The people in back, the powers that be, could sit there and say ‘damn, look at the way Diakos is holdin’ his own against Graves! This guy could be our next… I dunno… somethin’ champion. This guy could carry our early shows until we get to the main event.’ You never know. When opportunity comes knockin’ you’ve got to answer, Diakos. You’ve got to answer big man! Because who knows when it’ll knock again? You shouldn’t see defeatin’ me as the opportunity - because you won’t - but the do have the opportunity to at least look good while losin’ to me. So I implore you… you’ve ditched the dead weight… don’t squander this chance.”
Once again Johnny falls silent for some time.
“But this message isn’t just for Davis and Diakos. This message is for the entirety of CWF. As I said in the beginning I am not here to maintain the status quo. I mean here to do what I do. So Freddie Styles, Clyde Walker… you’re on notice. Zach van Owen… you’re on notice. Shadow, or whoever leaves Confliction with World Championship… you are on notice. I will hold CWF gold. I will leave a trail of broken, battered, bloodied bodies I ascend to the top. And I will be CWF World Champion. It’s all just a matter of time. But as things go, it takes time, it takes a process. And Confliction… Confliction will be step one.
Your day just got f[bee]ked up!”