Out in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, Dan Ryan is occupying a booth at Goode Co. Barbecue. Seated with him is his fifteen year old daughter Cecilia and his wife, Alaina Troy-Ryan.
These ribs are amazing.
The younger Troy sister digs into her barbecue plate, not even looking up as she gnaws the meat from the bone like a barbarian.
Jesus mom, take a breath.
The youngest Ryan takes a drink from a glass of iced tea as she takes a peek at her phone.
The food is the best thing about Texas. It’s not even close.
Ryan gives his wife a look like “really?”
Well that’s certainly an ego boost.
Irony. Good one.
Ryan smirks internally, but remains stoic.
Sarcasm. Good one.
Seriously, why isn’t the barbecue this good in Florida?
All the cows are here.
That doesn’t make sense, but I don’t even care.
Alaina keeps her eyes on the prize, and digs in again. Cecilia shakes her head and leans forward on her elbows, turning her attention to her dad.
So dad, when’s Aunt Lindz gettin’ here? She staying with us?
Staying with you. I’ll be downtown all weekend. As for when she’s getting here, I’m not sure. She told me, I’m sure, but I don’t remember.
She hasn’t responded to my last text.
I’m sure she’s still in the air.
CECILIA: (looking out the window with a shrug)
You’re probably right.
Ryan eyeballs his daughter’s expression. He already knows what’s on her mind. She’s her father’s daughter. And being her father’s daughter, she shares her father’s ambitions -- unfortunately. But we’re not having that conversation again -- not now.
I talked to her last night though. She’s looking forward to seeing you. I’m sure she’s gonna grill you about how school’s going.
CECILIA: (rolling her eyes)
Cece, it’s important.
The teenager turns her attention to her dad and raises her eyebrows and in that lovely way kids do, says….
Really, dad? Remind me, which college did your grades get you into again?
Ryan’s eyebrows raise right back.
The University of whoopin’ someone’s ass, that’s where.
Alaina gives her husband a hard elbow to the ribs.
Ryan grunts, but doesn’t otherwise respond to his wife. He scowls at his daughter, though not in a menacing way.
What I did isn’t the point. I want you to be better than I was.
CECILIA: (eyes trained on her father, with maximum sincerity)
Maybe I will be.
Again, Dan Ryan knows what his daughter is really talking about. But again, now’s not the time.
That’s not how I mean.
Alaina Troy- Ryan knows this conversation well, too. Time to change the subject.
So, your birthday is next week.
Yes mother, my birthday is next week. Any guesses what I’d like as a present?
Cecilia turns and stares daggers at her father, who grumbles and gets up from the table.
They have a bar here, right?
Alaina sighs as her husband walks away from the table, then turns her attention back to her daughter.
CECILIA: (with a nod)
We Ryans don’t do subtle well.
You don’t say?
High above the city streets of downtown Houston in the penthouse suite of the Marriott Marquis, Dan Ryan sits looking out across the cityscape. Below him, people mills around the entertainment desk. A Texas-sized and Texas-shaped lazy river winds its way around the deck, and live music plays for the evening crowd.
Offset to one side, a pedestrian walkway connects the hotel to the George R. Brown Convention Center, where earlier in the day, Ryan fulfilled his contractual obligations, meeting fans and taking pictures.
He’s popular here, a popularity he never asked for, but the typical popularity that comes with being from a place.
Houston is home.
Even though the great majority of his childhood was spent in Osaka, this is home. Texas has always been in his blood. No matter where he goes, this is where he’s drawn to.
Well, not here EXACTLY.
The urban expanse of Houston proper has never been his scene. It’s a great place to see a show, a great place to catch a game and a great place to party, if that’s your kind of thing. But the peace and quiet that Dan Ryan craves won’t be found here.
He didn’t have to stay at the hotel. He has property out on the outskirts of town, of course, but it’s time to focus now. Having family around, on the eve of a shot at the World Championship, is just a distraction.
Just a distraction.
It’s that perspective that’s always gotten him into trouble.
How to balance distraction and focus with family? That’s always been the question.
But -- that’s for another day. Today is for taking care of business. Today is for regaining his spot at the top of the mountain, a spot he visits so often he might as well build a home there. One more little bit of business to take care of first.
Ryan turns and walks from the window and heads for the door.
Let’s take a walk.
Discovery Green, about a block from the Toyota Center. The main lawn area in front of the concert stage is a vast space with meandering paths winding around the edge. Along the path in measured distances from each other are wooden park benches.
On one of these benches sits the former CWF World Champion, Dan Ryan.
Fight. Scratch. Claw. Blood. Sweat. Tears.
That’s what you said to me at Vertigo. That’s what you said you had to do to get where you are. You said it like you’re the first man in this business that had to work hard. You said it like you were talking to someone who got handed everything he ever earned on a silver platter. You said it like I hadn’t already fought, scratched, clawed, bled and sweated my way to the top.
Ryan shakes his head, looking off into the distance at people playing frisbee on the main lawn.
You get by on this straight talkin’ motherfucker persona, but you’re just recycling the same old shit everybody always recycles when it comes to me. None of you ever take a minute to do even one ounce of research on your opponent, because it’s so much easier to just run your mouth off the cuff. You even spin your pathetic lack of preparation behind this whole “keepin’ it real’ bullshit. You’re all “I’m supposed to check yo’ background like you checked mines’. You brag about how stupid you are, and instead you go down the same old bullshit path that everyone goes down.
Ryan waves a hand dismissively and leans back, stretching his massive arms out on the bench to each side of him.
You all spin that ‘outsider’ bullshit, like I give a damn about invading companies and playing that game over and over. You spin that ‘oh, big shot thinks it’s easy around here’ bullshit. You think that because I’m an asshole, and yes Duce I am very much an asshole, but you think because I’m an asshole I must’ve done all of this with shortcuts. Nah man. I did this by fighting my way into and out of the crowd. I did this by walking into hostile territory and facing down overwhelming odds time and time again. You didn’t see me come into CWF with a posse, did you? You didn’t see me bring some gang up in here to overwhelm the hometown crew and rebrand shit in my image, did you?
Ryan shakes his head.
I was INVITED to come in and take part in a tournament and fought my way through just like everyone else. We all had the same chance. I didn’t come in here with a name and namesake myself to the top, as you put it. I didn’t get a first round bye. I came in with a name and let everyone know how I got that name in the first place. Hell, I had to get through a TRIPLE THREAT in the first round. What were you doing while I was fighting through longer odds than anybody else in that tournament, HUH? Out scoutin’ the best herb? Comin’ up with some other nonsensical BULLSHIT to say?
Ryan’s face stiffens up, and he cracks his neck to one side, unperturbed.
The logic of your bullshit is lazy and contrived. Maybe you need to call yourself the underdog because you need to psych yourself up. I don’t know and I don’t give a shit either. But I’m gonna call a spade a spade. You’re a fraud, Duce. You’ve always been a fraud. You’re not this badass get in your face motherfucker. You’re the same hypocrite almost everyone in the business turns out to be. You say one thing and do the other. You’re always scheming and manipulating your way into position just like everyone else, while comin’ out on TV and professin’ to be the plucky hero.
Me? I’m just what I’ve said I am. You don’t mean dick to me. Almost nobody means dick to me. At least I’m honest about what I am. What was it you called me? A washed up 90s wrestler? That’s funny. More lazy bullshit trash talk. I’ve been dominating every year since I debuted in this business. I won the CWF World Championship THIS YEAR. Not in the 90s. I won it in my seventh match. These people didn’t know me. I came in and dominated.
Your trash talk is just that… trash. I’m a disgrace to the CWF World Championship? No one even gives a shit about you holding that belt. You get into some meaningless verbal spat with Mia Rayne and crickets chirp all over the world because no one cares about you. I say two things in public and I have half a dozen companies fillin’ up my voice mail box wantin’ me to take part in their tournaments or sign with their companies. Names don’t get that kind of attention, son -- TALENT does. Names don’t win championships -- CHAMPIONS do.
See, THAT is why you do your research, Duce. You keep talkiin’ about the past and how ‘none’a dat shit matta’.
Ryan leans forward on the bench, deadly serious.
But everything we’ve ever done matters. This isn’t a one-off where I get rolled up in a factory, you get rolled up in a factory and we get dropped into a ring like some fantasy. No. I wasn’t gifted this name of mine that you hate so much. I MADE THAT NAME.
And it’s pretty fuckin’ funny to me, for the record, watching you rail against me for holdin’ the title and then goin’ and gettin’ employed by another company.
How many companies are you doin’ shows for these days, Duce? Two? Three? How many shows are you whorin’ yourself out to?
Ryan makes his best ‘get the fuck outta here’ expression.
How full of shit does a man have to be to run his fuckin’ trap to me about goin’ and signing on with a second company like it makes me less of a champion somehow, then turn around and do the SAME DAMN THING himself? Huh? Let’s hear you explain that shit away, hero. Tell me all about it. Tell me about your adventures in OCW. Tell us ALL about ‘em. You just throw shit against the wall and see what sticks, don’t you? You didn’t think I was gonna notice that shit? Well, you don’t get to be a hypocrite around me, CHAMP. I pay attention, which is a hell of a lot more than I can say for you.
And you still talk big because you don’t take what you say seriously in the first place. Look at that, everyone! Some of my shit is sticking! Yeah, it stuck. Once. Then we put you in the hospital.
Ryan shrugs and holds his hands out to the side, palms up.
And you didn’t even make it stick. I stuck it up there for you.
But you’re STILL gonna act like you’re the hero of a one man crusade to destroy ‘what I represent’. Turns out, I represent being the best fucking wrestler in the entire world. That’s what I represent. That’s what I’ve always represented. You don’t know shit about that though. You’re just floating around here like the feather on Forrest Gump, talkin’ shit to talk shit.
Ultimately though, I’m still in control, and that’s what it’s all about. What do you think Duce? Deep down in your heart of hearts, what do you REALLY think? Do you think I could’ve taken that chair shot?
Ryan’s eyes narrow, his speech a mocking, questioning cadence.
Do you think there’s a chance I could have kept going that night at Vertigo?
I wonder, a man like me, a man who’s had glass shards dug into his face, tearing his skin to ribbons and refusing to lose -- me, a man who has gone the full sixty minutes plus in Iron Man matches to become a champion -- me, a man who has TIME AND TIME AGAIN risen to the top of EVERY COMPANY he’s ever worked for. And Duce, I’m being absolutely dead serious here. There is NO company that I’ve EVER worked for where I have not risen to the top and won their World Championship. NONE. EVER.
So you tell me, right now, or no, even better, ask and answer YOURSELF. Did you beat me at Vertigo? Did you? Be honest with yourself.
I smiled at ya, Duce.
I SMILED AT YA.
I smiled and gifted you a World Championship, then we dispatched that irritant brother of yours and threw you off the stage to the concrete. You started your victory lap too soon. But the victory lap isn’t yours to take. I’m the one who gets to say when you get to celebrate, and I say…. You DON’T.
Ryan nods his head back slightly.
Guess what? I’m gettin’ my ‘paws’ back on the belt this week. THIS WEEK. Weird, I ain’t even in that retirement home you were talkin’ about. You’re gonna sit there and lecture me about the responsibilities of being a champion. I’ve been a champion in my life more days than I haven’t been one, and I’m including my childhood in Japan. You’re tellin’ me about needin’ to be on top of your game. Look in the mirror champ. You don’t even know the rules of the game you’re in the middle of right now. You’re playing my game, not yours. I control the board, I roll the dice, I make the moves. You just slide around the board until I’m tired of foolin’ with your goofy ass.
And let me tell you something else. You think there’s gonna be treachery here. There’s not gonna be any treachery. You’re gonna learn some valuable lessons. I’m gonna continue beating on you until you, in a moment of poetic justice, look up into my eyes and hand me the CWF World Championship. You’ll smile, the way I smiled, and you’ll thank me for the time I’ve given you. You’ll beg for mercy, but you won’t get any until that flash of fleeting comprehension washes over your face and you understand finally what this is all about.
You don’t know what you’re walking into, and even if you did know, you wouldn’t understand it. Research ain’t yo’ thang, Duce. Understandin’ ain’t yo’ thang, Duce. But you know what? We’re in Houston, Duce. We’re in MY hometown, Duce. Or didn’t you know? Nah, you didn’t notice. How could you. It’s in the notes, and you don’t read the notes, do ya… DUCE? No, you don’t read the notes. You don’t need it.
I made your stupid ass matter again, and now…. We’re done.
Ryan waves one hand out to the side.
I’ll continue to be what I am while you continue to say what you are. But you can SAY whatever you want to SAY. We can see for ourselves what you really are. I’ll put that belt around my waist one more time, and you’ll just be Duce Jones, a pale shadow of a true champion.
Ryan stands up from the bench and shoves his hands in his pockets.
It’s all you’ll ever be.
Ryan holds his gaze for a brief moment, then turns and walks away.