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The critics can say whatever they want. They can make whatever excuses needed in order to find peaceful sleep once their heads come to rest on their pillows. History doesn’t life. It’s incapable. Facts are facts. And the fact is that Johnny Graves improved his CWF record to two and oh. The fanboys and the haters will be quick to point out it was merely a victory via disqualification. A disqualification brought on by a blatant low blow. A disqualification brought on by a blatant low blow because Freddie Styles knew he was being outclassed. He knew was in the ring with someone faster, stronger, more skilled, more hungry, and far, far more handsome. So he did the only thing he could do. He took the easy way out. The coward’s way out. The truth was it didn’t matter. Everyone watching the match could see there was nothing Styles could do Graves didn’t have an answer for. He controlled the pace of the match. He controlled the action. And despite the match ending, however it went down, Graves hand would’ve been raised in victory. By hook or by crook, Graves would’ve defeated Styles, proved his point, and moved on.
That was exactly what Graves was planning to do: what he had been planning to do all along. It wasn’t that he was overlooking Freddie Styles. Far from it. But Freddie Styles wasn’t the goal. He wasn’t the objective. The objective was simple. To capture the CWF World Champion and rule over the CWF as its rightful king. Styles was merely a stepping stone towards that goal. Much like Dean Coulter will be at Evolution 46.
“You okay over there?” Braelyn Kendrick’s voice rang into the ears of Johnny Graves over the hum of conversation and dishes clinking in the background. “You’ve hardly touched your food.”
The two sat in a booth tucked away in the corner of well occupied restaurant. The hour was early. Early for Johnny at least. But Braelyn just loved getting brunch and it was extremely difficult for Johnny to say no to her. For some reason.
Following Evolution, Johnny had jumped into his 1964 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 - yes that one - and driven through the night back to Las Vegas. He didn’t want to spend anymore time in Phoenix than he absolutely had to. He hated Phoenix. Always had. Always will. The only good thing about the city in his mind was the fact that he gained a victory over a Hall Of Famer. But now he was home. Where he belonged. Where things felt… normal.
All around them people were enjoying their food, engaging in lively conversations with their friends and family. Waiters and waitresses were taking orders and bringing drinks. Despite all of this, Johnny Graves was a million miles away lost in his own head as was common for the twenty-five-year-old. But now his attention had been drawn back to reality as his gaze shifted to rest on the face of Braelyn. He nodded slightly, a strained attempt to reassure her that he was, in fact, okay.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m good kid,” he assured, his voice sounding hollow and distant even in his own ears. “Guess I ain’t as hungry as I thought.”
Braelyn would frown in his direction, her head tilted slightly as she did. Her eyes locked onto his and he immediately recognized the look within them. He had seen it a thousand times before. Without saying a word he knew that she was concerned. At the very least confused. The more he thought about it the more he realized it had been awhile since he had spoken. But it could be salvaged. He could reassure her. Put her mind at ease.
“Don’t bullshit me,” Braelyn uttered dryly. Her expression hadn’t changed in the slightest. She knew the danger of allowing Johnny to delve too deep into his own head. He knew that. “Something is clearly going on with you. So why don’t we cut out all the bullshit back and forth and you just tell me.”
A sharp laugh escaped the lips of Johnny Graves. Again, a desperate attempt to keep his life long friend from delving too far into his current state. He liked to keep her at a distance. Preferred it even. It actually wasn’t any different from what he did with everyone he came into contact with. The only real difference was the fact that Braelyn could often times get past it and get him to open up and be honest with her. Still, there were plenty of times Johnny was able to keep her at an arm’s length. To avoid opening up and telling her exactly what was going on. But more than anyone else, she could get to the core of him. The laugh was little more than a defense mechanism to bide him some time.
“Freddie Styles,” were the only words he could muster, his voice low and emotionless.
Freddie Styles. The man who had robbed him. Robbed him of the opportunity to prove to the world who he was and what he was capable of. Johnny had won. He had been declared the winner and he would run his mouth as such. That’s just who he was as a person: at his core. But he could admit to himself that the victory bothered him. It felt hollow. He would’ve loved to drive his knee into the mouth of Freddie Styles, knock a few teeth loose, turn his lights out, and pin him: one… two… three. Or trap his arm and throat between his legs, wrench back on the neck and shoulder, feel the tendons strain as they threatened to snap and shred, hear Styles scream out in pain, until his hand would finally slap the canvas and the words ‘I give up’ poured from his lips. But it didn’t happen that way. Instead Styles gave in to his frustration and took the easy way out. Johnny was declared the winner… and he would run his mouth as such.
“What about Styles?” Braelyn questioned leaning forward in her chair just slightly as if attempting to focus Johnny’s attention solely to her. “You beat him. He couldn’t beat you, he couldn’t dictate the match, everything he threw at you you took and threw it back in his face ten fold. So he did the only thing he could do. It’s self preservation, Johnny. He knew he couldn’t get pinned or submitted by a rookie on national television. So instead of being a man and taking his lumps, he preserved his career, his legacy, and forfeited. Basically.”
Johnny would nod his head slowly allowing his mind to process and dissect the words she had offered him. She was right. Of course. Johnny knew that to be true long before Braelyn had offered the suggestion. But sometimes knowing the truth of things offers no real solace.
“Yeah, I get that,” Johnny confessed in a hushed tone: almost a whisper. He would bring his elbows to rest on the table top, his chin nestling into his palms. He turned to his right - away from Braelyn, away from those eyes - and stared at a table several yards away where a young family enjoyed a meal together. “But that’s the thing. He took that shit from me. He took the chance to pin or submit a hall of famer away from me. Muthafuckas are gonna run their mouths ‘you won the match, but it was by disqualification.’ ‘Sure you been successful thus far, buuuut you haven’t actually beat Styles.’ And that’s the shit that gets to me. I beat Styles. I beat him. Maybe not technically. Maybe not by pinfall or submission. But mentally. Mentally I had that muthafucka so broken he picked up his ball and went home…”
“And that’s all that matters, Johnny!”
Johnny would snap his head back straight, eyes locked on Braelyn’s. His level of his voice would raise slightly.
“You don’t think I know that?” Johnny snapped, his tone oozing with venom. It wasn’t intended for Braelyn even if it was directed at her. No this loathing burning within him, spilling into his very words was reserved for one man. “But how the hell do I demand title shots, more pay, better accommodations, better travel arrangements, how do I demand to be treated as a top star when they’ll always be able look at me and say ‘buuuut it was by disqualification?’”
Braelyn took a deep and measured breath, held it for a moment, and then slowly exhaled. She was biting her tongue. She was holding something back. Johnny knew that all too well. Given the circumstances that may have been the best thing she could do. She was at a crossroads, he could see that plainly in her eyes. She could rile him up or settle him down. He never really knew what she choose to do. Sometimes in situations like this: families and friends enjoying their meals she liked to cause a little trouble. Other times she kept Johnny under control and out of handcuffs or being asked to leave.
“So what do you want to do?” she questioned plainly turning everything back on him.
Johnny hesitated, taking a moment to contemplate exactly what it was he was upset about. What he wanted. How he was going to go about achieving it. Then finally - after several moments - he spoke.
“I want to destroy Freddie Styles.”
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“Aye, you alright there boyo? I haven’t been tossed around like that since that Camulus fucker sought to take the title from me.”
Johnny Graves sat on the blood and sweat stained canvas of a wrestling ring. His feet were planted, knees bent, forearms resting atop them, his chest rising and falling heavily with deep breaths, a layer of sweat covered his exposed skin reflecting the lighting from above. A few feet from him sat his friend, mentor, and trainer: Zeek Williams. It was Williams that had taken an angry, lost, and confused and turned him into the wrestler he was today. He had given Johnny focus. He had given him a purpose. And while Johnny could still - at times - lose that focus and fly off the handle, he was a far cry from where he was the first time he stepped into Zeek Williams’ training academy. Well, it wasn’t an academy persay. More like a wrestling ring set up in the middle of an abandoned warehouse that Zeek inherited when his father died. Zeek hadn’t taken on many students to pass his craft onto, but Johnny was one of the lucky few that Williams had decided to take under his wing.
“Yeah, I’m good,” Johnny offered between labored breaths. “Just want to be ready.”
Zeek would offer a slight nod, his eyes studying his pupil closely.
“For what then?” Zeek questioned, his tone sounding friendly enough. “Way I hear it, boyo, you’re picking fights all over the damn place. Running our mouth on Twitter. Obsessing over this Freddie Styles fella. So tell me then, what exactly is it that you want to be ready for?”
Johnny would hesitate a moment. He lifted his gaze to meet Zeek’s and snickered confidently.
A smile would form on the lips of Zeek Williams as he relaxed. Leaning back he propped himself up on his elbows and lifted his face towards the ceiling of the warehouse eyes closed. He seemed to need a little longer to catch his breath than Johnny remembered. The things aging do to you. There was no doubt though, Zeek Williams could still go with the best of them. There was no denying that. Johnny could learn more in a hour long session with Zeek than most guys would learn in a five year career. Finally Zeek would lower his head and stare at Johnny accusingly.
“And what of Dean Coulter then?” Zeek would again question him. “You seem to want to fight anyone and everyone that crosses your path. Styles, that fucker on Twitter, the fan that wanted a picture as you were walking in here. Everyone but the one man you’re supposed to be fighting. Dean Coulter. So I’ll ask you again, boyo, you alright?”
A heavy sigh escaped the lips of Johnny Graves as his gaze lowered to the canvas between his legs. He offered a slight nod before returning his eyes to Zeek.
“I told you, I’m good,” he assured once more. He paused momentarily before he added, “I ain’t like the way things ended with Styles. I’mma handle that. And this thing with Duce… he’s a boy trynna be a man. I’ll deal with him too. You ain’t gotta worry about me, old man. I’m straight.”
Johnny’s eyes narrowed as he continued to stare at Zeek. Though now in confusion. There a momentary pause before Johnny would look to open his mouth again and speak, but he was cut off before the words could leave him.
“You’re running around thinking about what’s been and what ifs,” Zeek explained, his tone harsher than it had been. Like a father disciplining a child that he loved. Firm, but only because they long for what’s best for the child. “You beat, Styles. I could piss on whether it was by pinfall, submission, disqualification, or the fucker had a heart attack and the match was thrown out. You beat him. So stop whining over what could have been and fucking accept it. Next, turn your fucking phone off and leave your laptop at home. Stay off of Twitter, running your mouth and writing checks you may not be able to cash. I’m not saying you can’t beat that walking example that Humans did descend from apes, I’m saying you keep running your mouth and making enemies eventually they’re going to come to your gates. And I don’t care how good of a fighter you think you are, one man does not survive a fight against an entire locker room.”
Zeek would pause for a moment and Johnny would take his shot.
“This coming from th-”
“I wasn’t finished!” Zeek cut him off angrily. Like a child being scolded by his father, Johnny fell silent. “What you need to do then, what you need to be focused on is this match against Coulter. I hear you saying you’ll handle this and you’ll take care of that and I believe you will when the time comes. But that time isn’t now, boyo. You haven’t mentioned the fucker’s name once since we’ve been talking. So you can sit here and tell me you’re fine. But you’re lying to me and you’re lying to yourself. You may believe that you’re fine. You may feel fine. But your mind is all tangled up in bullshit that doesn’t matter. Dean Coulter is the only thing that matters right now. And until you figure that out… you won’t be straight.”
Another sigh escaped Johnny’s lips and he shook his head as if attempting to shake away Zeek’s scolding.
“I understand that,” Johnny confirmed, his voice confident if not slightly defiant. “But I’ve got this under control. I’m gonna do to Coulter what I did to Davis, Diakos, and Styles. I’m gonna beat him. I’m gonna hurt him. And I’m gonna walk away with another victory under my belt and another reason why I am the best thing goin’ in that company.”
Zeek perks an eyebrow curiously.
“You’re going to beat him?” Zeek questioned.
Johnny nodded confidently.
“You?” Zeek questioned again. “You, the punk kid who’s spent less time in a professional wrestling ring than my daughter, is going to walk into that show and defeat one half of the tag team champions? The punk kid who would rather run his mouth on Twitter than get his ass to this ring on time to train? The punk kid who two years ago didn’t know the difference between a wrist lock and a snapmare? ...”
“I knew the difference,” Johnny mumbled under his breath.
“Wise the fuck up,” Zeek continued as if he didn’t hear Johnny. He had. “You don’t win championship gold by fluke. You don’t get put into championship opportunities by mere luck. You have to position yourself for them. You have to earn them. And when you get the opportunity you have to be the better man. And once you capture that title, you have to prove that you are the better man night in and night out. I understand where you come from. I understand what you’ve had to do. You feel like you’ve had to fight and scratch and claw for everything you have while the rest of the world has just been handed everything. You feel like the only way you’re going to make something of yourself, to be accepted by these people, is through fighting. I’ve seen that in you from day one. Boyo, I’ve got to tell you… it was the reason I let your childish, defiant, stubborn, more often than not stupid ass step foot inside this ring. It’s why I taught you what I’ve taught you. It’s why I will continue to teach you what I will teach you. Because you are a fighter...”
Once again Zeek’s voice would trail off and he would fall silent. If only momentarily.
“...But you’re kidding yourself if you think you can handle all these distractions and walk into Evolution and defeat a guy wearing championship gold around his waist.”
Johnny’s features shifted. His eyes narrowed and his brow furled. His confident smirk turned to a slight snarl as he burned a hole through his mentor with his stare.
“So what?” Johnny questioned his mentor and friend. “You don’t think I can beat him? You don’t think I have what it takes to beat someone just ‘cause they wearin’ championship gold?”
Zeek would laugh at Johnny’s words.
“Johnny,” Zeek offered, his tone much more soothing than it had been a moment ago, “I think you’re capable of beating anybody this industry could throw at you. I think you have all the skill, athleticism, heart, and drive to truly be the best wrestler in the world today. But you bite off more than you can chew. You always have. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I told you one too many war stories without cautioning of the payments made for those successes. You have to crawl before you can walk, walk before you can run. You’re trying to run. You’re trying to take on the whole damn company by yourself. You need to learn how to walk first. You need to focus on Dean Coulter. Freddie Styles can wait. Duce can wait.”
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As the CWF cameras come to life and begin their transmission we open inside of a warehouse. The warehouse owned by Zeek Williams where he trained a very select few potential professional wrestlers. Most of the lights throughout the warehouse were shut off for the night. The few that remain lit hung directly over the wrestling ring set up in the middle of the floor. Inside of the ring stood the Sin City Saint, Johnny Graves. He wore a black zip-up hooded sweatshirt, loose-fitting blue jeans, and black, blue, and white Jordan VIIs. His hands were tucked inside the pockets of the sweatshirt and his hood was pulled over his head. Johnny’s eyes stared down the camera’s lens, his expression serious, bordering on angry. There would be several moments of silence as Johnny let the anticipation of his words fester.
“I can’t count the hours I’ve spent in this very ring. Trainin’. Honin’ my skills. The man that owns this place… tough ass old bastard… took a smart mouthed striker and turned him into a professional wrestler. But don’t get it twisted. It wasn’t without its adventures. The amount of times he would me until exhaustion. Sometimes…
Johnny would pause momentarily to allow an amused laugh at escape his lips.
“Sometimes he’d have in here takin’ bumps from the top rope for hours. Bump after bump after bump. It wasn’t to teach me anything about wrestlin’. Nah, it was more than that. My technique was flawless. I could grapple with the best of ‘em. It was about respect. See, I had a tendency to show up late. Do things my own. On my own terms. But when you do that, someone, somewhere, is gettin’ their time wasted. I wasted his time. And you do not waste Zeek Williams’ time. So in turn, he wasted my time. Instead of teachin’ me anythin’ about the sport, he kicked the shit out of me for hours to teach me respect. I got to honest with you, standin’ here right now I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that I respect that man more than anyone I have ever met in my entire life.
But it’s a funny thing: respect. They say it isn’t given, it’s earned. So my question is, why do I feel like I’m bein’ condemned for not respectin’ these so-called ‘icons’ of the wrestlin’ game? What? I’m supposed to hear that Freddie Styles is a hall of famer and suddenly I’m supposed to respect him? I’m supposed to hear that Dean Coulter is one half of the CWF Tag Team Champions and I’m automatically supposed to respect him? Bulls[beep]t! Don’t get me wrong. I have nothin’ but respect for those that came before me. I have nothin’ but respect for those who have dedicated their lives to this business, contributed so much to this business, made this business somethin’ that punk ass kids, like me, would want to get into. But that’s from a fan’s perspective. That’s not from a peer’s perspective. And like it or not, rookie or not, that is exactly what I am. Their peer. Their equal. Freddie Styles had the chance to prove the respect he garnishes from the fans and the locker room is justified and what does he do? He takes a cheap shot. He takes the easy way out!”
Johnny would again fall silent as his head would shake disapprovingly.
“And now there’s Dean Coulter. One half of the tag champs. Let me start off right now by sayin’, Dean I got nothin’ against you, brodie. I mean in all honesty, you’re the only person the CWF has put in front me that actually carries championship gold. That right there already puts on another level. Above Davis, above Diakos, above Styles. So respect where respect is due. You accomplished something plenty in this business only dream about. Congrats. And I know you’re ridin’ high followin’ that championship victory and given all of that I hate to be the one that says it but that high…? The s[beep]t is comin’ to an end at Evolution. Because I ain’t layin’ down for anybody! Champion or not, I don’t care. I am gonna walk into Evolution and I’m gonna do what I do better than any man or woman walkin’ this Earth. I’m gonna beat you up, I’m gonna look damn good doin’ it, and I’m gonna beat. Clean. Because that’s what I do. I win. I’m a winner. I’m destined for this s[beep]t. It is my destiny to stand atop the CWF and reign as the best wrestler in the world today. That’s what I’m on.”
Johnny slowly takes several steps towards the camera until he can rest his forearms on the top rope and leans into them slightly.
“I have said it since day one and for some people it seems as though they’re… I dunno… hard of hearin’? Stubborn? So wrapped up in their own hype they can’t see the greatness through the weeds? I dun-f[beep]kin-no! What I do know is that one day it will be undisputed. One day it will not just be the opinion of some. It will be a fact known to all. Johnny Graves is the best wrestler in the world today. He is the best wrestler in CWF. He is the only man deservin’ of bein’ called World Champion. I proved that at Confliction. I proved that last week at Evolution. And I will prove it again this week.
I don’t hate you, Dean. Hell, I don’t even dislike you and that’s sayin’ a lot ‘cause I pretty much hate everybody. But come Evolution one thing is true. You will be standin’ on the other side of that ring opposin’ the rise of the Sin City Saint. And I’m can’t have that. I can’t come to terms with that. I can’t accept that! So we’ll lock up. We’ll grapple. We’ll strike. You’ll get some shots in. I’ll get some shots in. But at the end of the day this thing is only gonna end in one of two ways. You’re gonna tap out or you’re gettin’ knocked out. Because that’s just how it’s got to be. It’s the only options in front of us. You can argue it. You can deny it. You can do everythin’ in your power to fight against it. But you’ll never change it. I am gonna hurt you, Dean. I’m gonna humiliate you, Dean. I’m gonna beat you, Dean.
Live with it, or die from it!”
With that Johnny pushes himself off the ropes and casually takes steps back towards the center of the ring as the CWF cameras die, ending the transmission.