“Is this thing on?”
After much fiddling, the camera turns on and is in focus. Soft yellow painted hotel room wall, the blinds drawn, the lens tilted in an upward angle, a varnished wooden desk and a plate of decadent golden brown platanos maduros with ample scoops of vanilla ice cream. We hear the hum of the air conditioner, running heavy to drain the room of humidity, and when we see Brandon walk into view and take a seat, fork in hand, it’s clear why; his forehead is covered in a sheen of perspiration, sweat dripping from the tip of his nose. A black tank top can only hide so much.
“See, Lindsay, I’m good at cookin’, okay? I even threw a little bit of cinnamon on them, because, you know--”
From off camera, the venerated Queen of the Ring guffaws, her mouth full. “Ya, because that gut and those tits of yours--”
“Hey!” He cuts her off, his face a loose smile, his finger wagging in her general direction. “Camera’s on. Besides, I worked hard to get me some big ole titties, you know how lame it is slamming down grilled chicken breast and grilled chicken breast and GODDAMN grilled chicken breast, oh let’s hit the stairmaster for some cardio, not an ounce of body fat on me, shit please girlfriend, I got no desire to be livin’ that life anymore.” He stabs into his plantains and ice cream and shovels them into his mouth, chewing, breathing, drinking from a glass of ice water as Troy continues to lay down a soundtrack of rapid-fire giggles. “And you know, I’m going into a match with Hoyt Williams and I got ten pounds on him, so it’s all good. It’s all good.” He turns to face the camera, his brow furrowing for a moment, quizzical, but then he loosens up and continues. “Oh, yeah, this? I think I think I...think? I think the idea is that we got off on the wrong foot, CWF...do I...do I really have to call it out by name, Lindz, do you think I should do that?”
“Acronyms are your friend, Brandy. They won’t bite.”
“Says you, you got a strap.”
Another mouthful of plantains for the Queen of the Ring. “Guess you could say I’m Ben Stein because for dry, red eyes--”
The both of them, together, “CLEAR EYES IS AWESOME--”
They both laugh for a moment, and long after it’s comfortable, Brandon can’t help but deadpan a “Woooow.” In truth, this was on the tame scale of just how much shade the pair had been throwing in the direction of Silas Artoria and his ‘Passenger’ persona for weeks. From the very onset, Troy was open in just how difficult she thought the young buck was, thinking he was immeasurably greater and stronger than he truly was, his entire make up and aura tissue paper thin when put against the world both Youngblood and Troy had come up in. How could they not belittle and laugh at the Visine hero, the ignorant dipshit who tried to act like the most bullet proof man in the world while his ‘mentor’ crumbled to dust from a few love taps? A big part of Youngblood wanted to ragdoll Silas himself, maybe drop him a few dozen times on the top of his head with suplex, get the skull cracking and the brain fluid draining through his ears and nostrils. “You see, I don’t like acronyms, because, really, they’re drops in a bucket, just say this place here or name drop that place there, everybody does it, and we all have to act like we care so desperately about these letters, and in this case, CWF, and I’ll be honest, I don’t really care about this place,” he scoops some ice cream into his mouth, licking the drippings from his beard, “and I really don’t care about that belt...that...what belt is it Lindz?”
“Impact Title...Impact...Impact Title like what does that even mean?” His eyes are focused on the camera, his knuckles rapping on the desk. “Like, does it matter? How much does it matter? Is it shiny? Hey, Queen, can I, like, pop the plates off of it and melt it down and get something from the pawn shop for it or if I run it over water is gonna get all green and shit?”
“Now Brandon,” Troy’s cadence is on point in its sarcastic motherliness, “it’s a very important title and an important stepping stone in your career!”
“Career?!” He’s staring at her, deep belly laughs causing his chest and shoulders to shake. “Career?! I ain’t got no career. I’m just here because I like hitting people. And hurtin’ em.” He rubs his mouth, and as if a switch has flipped, the joy has drained from his face. His stare is piercing. “I used to have a home I built, with my own hands might I add, with a room that was a shrine to my wrestling career. And I had nice glass cases for all the belts from all the places I won them from, all nice and on display. Magazine covers. Awards. But what is that? It’s maintenance. It’s vanity. See, nobody else would see them but me in the brush and baked terracotta and volcanic ash in southern Texas. And I could sit in that room and stare at them walls, smoking a cigar, ruminatin’ on the past, but it would be on me to brush away the dust and the cobwebs, and all of a sudden, you’re just thinking about life in a loop, tied down to it all, and then you’re just dead.”
Sarcastic clap from the background. “Way to get morbid Grandpa.”
But Youngblood wasn’t deterred. “See, at one time that all would sound nice like to me, and I’d be fine, because my ego was just that big. But I moved on. And those things...those...trinkets...they weighed me down. Could sell em off, but why? I burned most stuff like that from the past. Distanced myself from it. See, I was the guy in the room who was made up of inadequacy and tried to be whatever the moment called for, and for the longest time, I had no personality. I got by on some form of natural talent and a whole lot of exposed trauma, because if you can’t carry the crowd with charisma, you have to make them look at you and feel something, like it’s a contest to see what tragic and horrifying thing you can live, some body horror aspect that rings out this hopelessness of the human condition, and in reality, to hell with all that.”
He scratches at his chest for a moment, paused, cracking his knuckles. Youngblood stabbed his fork at his dessert some more, taking a few bites, gathering himself. “I don’t know much about Bryan Ford, they say he’s some third generation wrestler, but that don’t mean much to me. It’s fitting with what he’s teaming against, but that don’t mean nothing to me. And Isaiah Luck, is he even going to show his face around here? I don’t know. I don’t care. It’s like my teammates on this. I got a handful of people I give two shits about in my life, and none of them are going to be in that ring with me in San Juan. But there’s a reason I am talking about circling back around because life has a damn funny way of doing that, wouldn't you say, Hoyt?”
"He's the Sushi Man!"
Youngblood chuckles at that. Again, scratches his beard. "So you got this name, huh? Key u Shushi? I don't really...I don't give a shit about that. And to be honest, I don't care about you. We go back, don't we brother. But things, they just don't change. You sure as hell haven't. You're still the same illiterate grifting cowboy wannabe you always were, talking about saving this, doing that, the Lord's work, all wrapped up in cultural appropriation whether it's from Japan or from Cook goddamn County, a Ditka joke here, maybe something to do with showing us shots of John Hughes films. Who better than me to face in the ring and show the world you're bullshit? Hell, you banished me from the world a decade or so ago under a different name, a different gimmick. But here I am. Still kicking. Still pumping. Bigger than you. More original than you. Spin a yarn about saving the world, it don't matter. I'm dumping your ass on your head until you can't remember your name anymore. That's it."
And, like that, the bell sounds. Game on.