Three wins. Zero losses. That is where Johnny Graves’ official CWF career mark stood. He had never been pinned. He had never been submitted. He was undefeated. It would be foolish, however, to act as though it had been a walk in the park to get to where he currently found himself. Moe Davis had put up a hell of a fight in Johnny’s debut. Freddie Styles… well okay, maybe not Styles. But Dean Coulter certainly gave it everything he had in an attempt to derail the hot start of the Sin City Saint. In the end though, they all fell. One by one, like the good little soldiers they were, they fell on the business end of Johnny’s blade. If everything went according to plan, Johnny planned on remaining undefeated for a long time to come. He planned to achieve the fate which he was destined for and rule atop the CWF as the undisputed best professional wrestler in the world today.
There was no doubt that Johnny Graves was one of CWF’s hottest young prospects. If not one of their hottest properties. He was putting on dominate performance after dominate performance. Victory after victory. He was positioning himself to great things in the industry. Building the foundation for the career that would lead to championships, hall of fame inductions, and more money than he would know what to do with. Two men at once, a hall of famer, and one half of the CWF Tag Team Champions - being the good little soldiers they were - had fallen on the business-end of Johnny’s blade.
But something big was coming. The opportunity Johnny had been salivating over. He just didn’t know it would happen the way it did. That he would receive the opportunity in the form that it came. But someone was watching over him and clearly loved the hell out of him. Whether it was the powers that be behind CWF or the Almighty himself: it didn’t matter. The opportunity was there, staring Johnny in the face, and he would be damned if he let the opportunity pass him by.
“Arthur he’s a child…”
Johnny’s mother’s pleads fell upon deaf ears. Arthur was not listening to his wife. He wasn’t listening to his son. He wasn’t listening to anything other than the rage and disappointment that swirled within him. It had been the fifth time in only a matter of months that he, along with his wife, had been called into the school to talk about their son and his behavior. It had started innocently enough. Mouthing off to teachers, writing dirty phrases on the bathroom walls, typical kid stuff. But this time Johnny had crossed the line. At least, the hypothetical line that existed within his father’s mind. He had gotten into a fight. He had hospitalized the kid. Well… hospitalization was a bit of an exaggeration. He had simply given the kid a concussion and broken his left arm with an arm bar. It was a move he had seen many of his favorite wrestlers use time and time again.
To be fair it wasn’t his fault. The other kid had started the fight. Calling Johnny an Oreo and claiming that he - a thirteen year old of all things - had fucked Johnny’s mother. Johnny had ignored it for the most part. He was used to the playground bullshit kids put other kids through. But eventually the relentlessness of the boys taunting pushed Johnny over the edge. Everything went black and then… then he saw red.
Much like his father now.
“Arthur please…” Johnny’s mother trailed behind his father and him still attempting with everything she had to reason with her husband.
Arthur’s thick hand was wrapped tightly around the back of Johnny’s neck. The pain of his father’s fingers digging into the flesh of his neck seared and his skin turned hot beneath the hold. Arthur all but dragged Johnny through the house towards the back. Johnny knew what was happening. He knew what was about to happen. That was the worst part. The knowing.
He struggled against his father’s grasp. Struggled to free himself. Struggle to keep pace with his father’s much larger steps. Several times he had fallen to one knee only to have Arthur yank him back to his feet by the back of the neck. Maybe he thought the sudden drop was a desperate attempt to break free. Maybe he wanted to prove to his son that he wasn’t man enough to break free. He wasn’t man enough to get himself out of the trouble he had found himself in. Maybe he wanted to prove that Johnny wasn’t man enough to start trouble.
“Arthur for Christ’s sake…” again Catherine would attempt to plead with her husband, to calm him down just a little.
“Back off, Catherine,” his father growled as he continued to drag their son deeper into the house. “No son of mine is going to become some low life piece of shit, fighting and stealing, wasting his whole life away. He’s got to learn there are consequences for his actions!”
“Arthur listen to me,” Catherine would persist as she reached out to place a slender hand on Arthur’s shoulder.
It would be to no avail though as Arthur quickly yanked his shoulder free from under her hand. As they neared the back door, Arthur reached out yanking it open. He moved through the threshold, dragging Johnny along behind him and soon they were in the backyard. The sun had already began to set and a few stars had already made their presence known against the pinkish-purple dusk sky. Arthur dragged his son onto the grass and roughly threw him forward. Johnny fell to his hands and knees. Even in the grass the impact brought forth pain shooting through his arms and legs. He closed his eyes, face mere inches from the grass, and wrestled back tears. His father - all six-feet-three-inches of him - stood over him glaring down at his back.
“Get a switch,” his father instructed, his voice completely void of emotion. That was the one thing Johnny remembered clearly. The cold tone with which his father spoke to him in that moment. He wasn’t angry. He wasn’t upset or annoyed. He was just there. The thought caused Johnny’s heart to start pounding against his chest harder than it already had been. Again, it was the knowing.
“Arthur, this isn’t necessary…” his mother would offer. Once again her words falling on deaf ears.
Arthur continued to glare down at his son.
“I’m not going to say it again,” his father warned. “Get a switch.”
Johnny sucked in a deep breath and proudly pushed himself to his feet. His eyes scanned the backyard for a moment, taking in everything that laid before him. He steeled himself, opened his eyes, and began walking towards the nearest tree to where they stood. With each step the pounding in his chest grew heavier until he could swear he could actually hear his heart colliding against his ribs. As he neared the tree he had silently chosen he reached up and wrapped his hands around a long, slender branch. He knew this game. He knew that if he didn’t pick a suitable weapon for his father’s discipline things would become worse for him than they already were. Steeling himself once more he began wringing his hands against the branch until it finally gave and broke free from the trunk. With one final defiant exhale he turned around and began walking back towards his father.
He locked eyes with his father. In that moment - at that time - it was the hardest thing he had ever had to do in his thirteen years. But he wouldn’t give his father the satisfaction of seeing his fear. He would never give anyone that privilege. Pain was temporary. No matter how intense, no matter how much you wish it would end, you have to remember it’s temporary. It doesn’t last forever and therefore it holds no dominion. It shouldn’t be feared.
As he reached his father once more he would break eye contact momentarily to look toward his mother. His eyes didn’t ask her for help. They didn’t ask her to intervene. Every tear Johnny held back behind his eyes seemed to somehow manifest themselves in his mother’s before streaming down her pale cheeks. He returned his gaze to his father and lifted his right hand offering him the switch he had selected for his punishment. His father immediately snatched the switch from his grasp. He was satisfied with the selection. His free hand fired outward, his fingers wrapping themselves around Johnny’s bicep. In a flash Johnny had been spun around, his back now to his mother and father.
Everything seemed to go quiet. The Earth didn’t move. For one second Johnny felt as though he had escaped to a timeless dimension where nothing existed. There were dogs barking, no car horns, no television sets, no fans in the windows of his neighbor’s houses. There was nothing. Until the switch he had plucked himself slashed against his backside sending searing pain coursing through his adolescent body.
We open outside in the backyard of Johnny Graves’ childhood home. The hour is late as evidenced by the pale moon that hung high against a black backdrop surrounding by thousands of tiny stars. In the distance, over the treeline and houses, the neon glow of the Vegas strip illuminated the horizon. Johnny Graves stood before the CWF cameras. He wore black T-shirt with a camouflage denim vest over it, black Levis 501, and black Timberland boots. In his hands he held a long, slender branch he had just recently ripped from one of the surrounding trees. He stared into the camera’s lens with an weird look in his eyes. Part intense, part uninterested in what was happening. In the distance the faint sounds of dogs barking, people yelling in excitement, police sirens, and all matter of city life could be heard. But for several long moments Johnny - himself - remained silent. Until he wasn’t.
“The f[beep]k I look like to you? I have been in the CWF for three weeks. That means three separate times I have walked the aisle to a CWF ring. Three separate times I have gone up against CWF talent. Three separate times I have stood in that ring victorious even when no one believed I would be. Three times I have proved all the doubters wrong. Three times I have risen to the occasion and proved that I am the best thing goin’ in the industry today. And what do I get for it? Duce Jones. The number one contender for the CWF World Champion. The man that will go onto the next pay per view and challenge Dan Ryan.
But I don’t want any of you to get it wrong. I ain’t mad at it. In fact I welcome the opportunity to go one on one with Duce. Why? Because Duce Jones is a joke. He’s trash! He’s nothin’! He had a shot at the World Championship and he failed. What the f[beep]k makes anyone think he’d be successful if given a second chance? He failed to capture the championship while the very man he’ll challenge for the strap won the s[beep]t? Let’s be real about this. Ain’t that the point of these lil’ sessions? Duce, the biggest difference between you and me is that I don’t need second chances. If I’ve given an opportunity I rise to the occasion. I dominate and I win. I don’t lose and then walk out the next night moanin’ and bitchin’. Demandin’ another opportunity at a championship I just proved I didn’t deserve. Nah, bruh. See, when Johnny Graves gets an opportunity at CWF Gold - and he will - I will not fail. I will not make excuses. I will not demand another chance at provin’ I belong. Nah. When I get my opportunity at championship gold I will step into the ring and do what I do better than any other man or woman in this business. And when that three counts made and the bell sounds, I will be declared the NEW champion. Because that’s what I do!”
Once again Johnny falls silence allowing his words to sink in. A confident smirk tugs at the corner of his lips as he continues staring into the camera.
“See I’m gonna relish this opportunity. I’m gonna enjoy steppin’ into the ring with you at Evolution and droppin’ you in front of each and every CWF fan in attendance and watchin’ at home. As much as it benefits me to earn a victory over the number one contender, what it would do for my career, what it would do for my ability to demand more from this f[beep]kin’ company in terms of compensation and opportunity the truth is that’s secondary. More than anythin’ else I want to shut you up. I posted one thing on Twitter. One damn thing, Duce. And you came outta left field, panties all in a twist, runnin’ off at the mouth ‘cause why? ‘Cause you had to nut up and defend your mans? Because somethin’ inside you couldn’t allow you to just shut up and keep your nose out of other people’s business? Because deep down inside you know that you are nothin’ when compared to someone like me? Do I threaten you, Duce? Do I scare you? When you look at someone like me do you realize that this plateau you’ve been thrivin’ on isn’t the top? It’s just a rung on a ladder too tall for you to climb. Do you look at someone like me and know that the spot you’ve gotten so comfortable occupying is in jeopardy? Do you watch Johnny Graves and know that someone like me could end your entire f[beep]kin’ career? And I’m not talkin’ about a concussion or a torn ACL. I’m talkin’ about the fact that someone like me can expose you for the useless waste of space that you really are. Because I’ll tell you what, Duce… you should be.
Because someone like me will expose you for the blow heart you are. Someone like me will expose you for the subpar wrestler that you are. Someone like me will expose the fact that you don’t deserve to be in the main event, that you don’t deserve championship opportunities, that everythin’ you’ve achieved only came to be because I wasn’t here yet. But now I am. And you’re future… is over!”
Johnny takes a couple steps towards the camera and leans forward filling the frame with his face. He parts his lips, showing off his platinum and diamond encrusted grill.
“I’m gonna to walk into Evolution, I’m gonna bear down, and I’m gonna drop me a, Duce!”
Johnny returns to an upright position and goes to turn and walk away from the camera. Suddenly he stops in his tracks and raises his head towards the sky. His right arm rises and his index finger erects. He shakes it slightly.
“Oh yeah… and you can live with it or die from it.”