“I wasn’t s’posed to be here… I’m not the Champion any company needs. As it turns out, that’s what made me the right guy at the right moment.” - ‘Total Elimination’ Eli Flair
“You can be the best wrestler in the ring… the most talented, most intelligent, most aware - and you’ll lose, at least a third of the time. You need to be lucky, you need to be ruthless… or you need to be better than the best.” - ‘The Marathon Man’ Impulse
“I am my father’s daughter.” - Mariella Jade Flair
We fade in on Greensboro, North Carolina. Not the entire city, mind you; simply a very important part of both the city’s history and the sport of professional wrestling’s history. More specifically, CS Towers, the headquarters of CS Enterprises. This multimedia conglomerate has its hands into several forms of entertainment, but they are most well known as the owners and operators of defunct wrestling promotion: the CSWA.
Attached to the tower is a shorter, much wider building that contains two halves. The first is the Merritt Auditorium, the arena that has housed a wide margin of the most memorable, influential professional wrestling shows of the 1990s and early 2000s, and the second half is a CSWA Hall of Fame, containing memorabilia from the first twenty years of the company’s existence.
The Hall of Fame is more informally known to the wrestlers and staff that still work for the company in one capacity or another by a different name: The Jedi Archives.
At this moment, three people are standing in front of a floor - to - ceiling montage of images from the third ever IRONMAN of CHAMPIONS, a Round Robin tournament for the CSWA World Championship that took place in July 1999. Featuring former CSWA World Champions Hornet, Mark Vizzack and Eddy Love, former CSWA United States Champions Kevin Powers and Eli Flair, and perennial top contender Deacon, the largest image is of the final moments of the night itself: ‘Total Elimination’ Eli Flair, sweaty and bloodied, holding the CSWA World Championship aloft.
As luck would have it, Eli Flair is one of the three people standing there, alongside former three-time former World Champion Impulse, and former one-time World Champion, his daughter, Mariella Jade Flair.
MJF: Five opponents, random draws. How d’you even prepare for that sorta thing?
ELI: One at a time, kiddo. Don’t forget, everyone else has the same disadvantages. Look over here.
He points at the image of the second IRONMAN of CHAMPIONS tournament from a few years prior; specifically, the image of Hornet vs GUNS from the final match of the night, and the image of new Champion, Alexander Karelin, holding up the CSWA Unified Championship title.
ELI: Karelin wrestled all five’a his matches in a row; he won the first three easy as hell since his opponents were all worn the fuck out, then he lost to Hornet and GUNS in a row - but it was still enough for him to win the whole damn thing.
They continue to walk. These three have all been here many times before, but this is the first time that all three are here together as peers, and MJ sees things from a different perspective.
Impulse: I still wonder how I’d’ve done in this company. Hornet wasn’t the smallest guy, but Daredevil, Tsunami, Eddy? Radder? These guys were on the smaller side.
It’s true: Impulse may be the greatest pure wrestler in the history of the sport, but his size - he has never weighed more than a buck ninety - has always been his achilles heel.
MJF: Forget you guys, guys. How many kickass girls could’ve beat both’a you back in the day?
Eli and Impulse look at each other over MJ’s head.
ELI: Yeah, I’m not goin’ there.
MJ punches her dad in the arm, and he doesn’t react. It’s possible he has taken so much cumulative damage during his twenty year career that he doesn’t actually feel it.
Impulse: Smart man.
”It’s no secret, I come from a family of performers. Actually, when we were pre-teens, I had my cousin Shannon convinced that we were all hiding from a vengeful circus, his dad was an acrobat, mine was the strongman, and his mom was the ring master.”
“He believed me for almost a month. First time I was ever disciplined by my parents. Grounded for a month, but the fact that it made both of ‘em laugh, they cut it down to two weeks.”
“But they’re all performers. My dad was a fifteen time World Champion in his day, my uncle held at least five or six. They’ve both headlined Madison Square Garden separately, and twice, against each other.”
“My mom’s band sold out the Garden so quickly on their first headline arena tour that they added a second night… which also sold out.”
“I’ve been to the Garden… probably numbering in the hundreds. I’ve enjoyed an oversold arena and I’ve felt for the wrestlers and musicians that’ve played to half empty seats. One thing that all’a my trips to the Garden have in common?”
“I’ve always watched the proceedings from backstage. Or sidestage.”
“This is the most famous arena in the world, and, all my life, I’ve been a spectator. One way or another, that ends this year at Wrestle Fest IV.”
“Not good enough, though. Not fucking good enough.”
“So far this year, I’ve proven that I’m a competent wrestler. I’ve proven that I can take on anyone and beat ‘em, or, at least, look good tryin’. I don’t think it’s ego t’say so, just lookin’ at what I’ve accomplished in the past six months.”
“Not good enough.”
“I have to headline the Garden. That’s how I prove that I’m a Flair.”
“And the only way t’do that? I’m starin’ down twenty nine reasons why it’s impossible.”
Having moved inside the Merritt Auditorium proper, the house lights are up but there’s an eerie near-silence in the air. Eli Flair is in the ring, leaning on the top rope, taking in the sights.
ELI: Whew. This brings me back.
He walks to the corner and looks up, and he points.
ELI: Up there, that’s the owner’s skybox. Merritt can see everything from up there without any lighting stuff in the way. He told me, when I took the Nestea plunge in the cage match against Troy, it was the only time he ever considered tellin’ the ref to stop the match.
Chad Merritt, the co-founder of the CSWA and co-owner of CS Enterprises was currently enjoying a long retirement, but the building still bears his name.
ELI: You guys coming?
Outside the ring, MJ and Impulse are looking around from the floor, taking in the historical sights.
ELI: MJ. C’mere.
She turns around at the sound of her name, but she hesitates.
MJF: Is that okay?
Eli Flair had taught his daughter respect: part of that, as it relates to their shared profession, was the appropriate way to treat the wrestling business. MJ never put a Championship Title on the ground. She treated backstage interviewers with respect.
She never entered a wrestling ring that didn’t ‘belong’ to her without permission.
He smirks, and he waves both MJ and Impulse into the ring.
Impulse: Must’ve been pretty cool back in the day.
MJ doesn’t respond. She climbs from the floor to the top turnbuckle as she does before all of her matches; as her father did for nineteen years.
ELI: Looks good, huh?
MJF: This is the sexiest view in the world.
Both of the others laugh: partly because MJ’s description is ridiculous, partly because they agree with her sentiment.
MJF: Seriously, guys. Asses in seats, sittin’ up here? Anything better? I don’t think so.
Impulse and Eli look at each other.
Impulse: She’ll meet the right person someday.
ELI: Dude, that’s my daughter. Ain’t nobody good enough. But yeah, I feel you.
MJF: I’m sitting right here! Also, Daddy… ew, gross.
ELI: How d’ya think you got here, kiddo?
He may be the King of Extreme, the Original Nobody - but Eli Flair is still a dad, which means it’s his job to make his child uncomfortable.
ELI: Regardless. C’mere, MJ.
She stands up from her crouch and looks around once again, then drops down to the mat.
Impulse: So we’re here today t’get you ready for your Golden Intentions deal. You ready?
MJF: I think I’m ready.
Impulse: Are you ready?
MJF: Yeah, I’m ready.
Impulse: Anyone in this match you’re worried about?
MJ thinks for a moment.
MJF: I mean, there’s some people that I think are capable or more than capable… but there’s nobody that I really fear, y’know.
Eli and Impulse look at each other and nod. Impulse walks to MJ, hooks an arm around her leg with a fireman’s carry, and walks her over to the ropes, dumping her to the floor. MJ is too stunned to really react until she hits the protective mat.
MJF: What the fuck, Knox?
Impulse leans on the top rope and looks down at her.
Impulse: Lesson the first, MJ… when you can get picked up one handed by literally anyone else in the match, being ready - fearing nobody - isn’t nearly good enough.
She considers this. After a moment, MJ climbs to her feet and reenters the ring.
”Am I a threat in Golden Intentions?”
“Am I a favorite to win?”
“How do you define that? What makes someone a favorite to win a match like this? Is it being a former CWF World Champion? Off the top’a my head, that’s me, Duce and Jarvis. Former World Champion in general? Add Dane, Bronson, and Dick Fury t’the list.”
“Who’s been impressive so far in the CWF this year? Christian STARR? Freddie Styles? Payne?”
“Who’s got at least one other person in the match t’watch their backs? Tax, Shadow, and Dorian. Chris and Dan. The curious case of the Lost Boys.”
“For that matter, less than half’a the Ouroboros are in this battle royal. Where are the rest gonna be?”
“Am I a threat in Golden Intentions? Am I a favorite to win? There’s far too many variables t’really answer that question. The only consolation to the whole endeavor is that the twenty nine other athletes lookin’ to knock me out are also lookin’ t’do the same to everyone else.”
“Which means my best chance is also the weakest part’a my game: I’ve gotta fly under the radar.”
Impulse: You tape your hands and wrists, right?
There has been very little in the way of wrestling, though the three have been discussing strategy for nearly fifteen minutes. Eli Flair is leaning back in the corner, in the same position from which he usually cut his in-ring promos, while Impulse paces and MJ leans on the top rope.
MJF: Typically, yeah.
MJF: You were right; it helps me keep a grip on my opponent.
Impulse nods, but at the same time he locks eyes with Eli.
Impulse: Yeah, well, don’t do that. Get yourself some weightlifting gloves.
MJF: I mean, I have some… why?
Eli laughs. He pushes himself up and walks over to his daughter.
ELI: You know I love you, Mariella.
MJF: Yeah, but what-- HEY!
Without another word, Eli Flair scoops his daughter up and carries her to the opposite side of the ring.
ELI: I’m gonna throw you over the top rope - don’t hit the floor.
MJF: Wait, what? What are you--
It’s at that moment that he does just that. MJ is thrown with a decent amount of force, but low enough for her to grab the top rope and hold on as her body follows her hand, and she manages to get one foot on the apron as she goes over.
MJF: Ow! Fuck!
Once steadied, MJ looks a her hands: there’s a minor amount of rope burn on the palms.
MJF: Fuck that, Daddy. Child abuse!
Both Impulse and Eli laugh, while MJ remains stoically serious.
Impulse: The point, MJ, is that tape wears off. As we’ve just proved to you, if we wanted to pick you up and toss you, we can. Pretty sure anyone in this match is gonna be able to.
ELI: You’re gonna be spendin’ a lotta time tryin’ t’hold onto the ropes, and eventually you’re gonna rub the skin right off’a your palms.
She looks down at her hands again, and shudders.
Impulse: Trust me, you’ll want gloves. When I was in the JTP Invitational I was tossed over the top rope like thirty times in my two hours, I could barely grab anyone at the end of it.
ELI: Same with me and Gold Rush. Was all I could do t’keep myself in as long as I could.
Impulse: That was pretty impressive. Both rings, too.
The two men continue to reminisce while MJ reenters the ring. She gingerly runs her hand over the top rope, and closes her eyes. She replays both top rope tosses in her mind, trying to come up with various counters, only marginally aware of her surroundings.
ELI: ...submission could work…
Impulse: ...open to attack…
ELI: ...standing still…
Impulse: Hey, MJ?
Her name snaps her out of it. MJ spins around to look at the two men.
Impulse: Come over here and throw a punch at my face. Slowly.
She looks from Impulse to her dad, then back to Impulse. MJ shrugs, walks over, and fires a half-speed fist at him. He leans back, grabs her wrist with one hand and spins her around into a two-handed lock that bends her over at the waist, and sends shooting pains up her arm.
MJF: OUCH! Shit shit shit I give!
He lets go with a grin. She turns and backs up, holding her arm gingerly.
Impulse: Someone goes for the face, put ‘em in a double wristlock.
Eli nods in approval while MJ considers this.
Impulse: Stops ‘em in their tracks, damages the arm to make it more difficult to life you and toss you, and you’re on your feet and in a defensive pose just in case anyone else takes advantage. Saved me more than once.
ELI: That’s good advice.
Impulse directs MJ to the middle of the ring once again, and this time he sends a fist towards her. Instead of trying to connect, he guides her hands to the appropriate place, and shows her exactly how the trap is sprung.
They work on it again.
Practice makes perfect.
”I did the math.”
“Amber Ryan isn’t in this battle royal. Autumn Raven isn’t, either. Caledonia, obviously. Officially, that makes me the smallest, lightest competitor. Which makes me wonder, how’s it gonna end?”
“Do they go for me first, because I weigh the least, and can much more easily be gorilla-pressed and dropped? Do they save me for the end because I’ll offer the least resistance and there won’t need to be a temporary alliance to muscle me over the top?”
“It’s a real possibility, but I’m not worried. The temporary alliances and the common enemies work just as well for me as they do for anyone else. I don’t trust Eric Dane, or Bronson Box, or Freddie, or Duce, or The Shadow… but if there’s at least one Oreo Bro still in the ring, or at least three other athletes between us and a cleared ring, I don’t fear ‘em the way I otherwise might, or should.”
“Oh, but Dick Fury. Dick, Dick, Dick.”
“That Valor Championship Wrestling title belt is still hangin’ up in my closet. Just had to say it.”
“What’s important here isn’t who’s in the ring with you at what time, or how long you’ve gotta be in there, or how many people ya toss. What’s important is how intelligently you handle who’s in the ring with ya at any time.”
“What’s important is knowing who the enemy is.”
“And there’s the rub: in a Battle Royal, the enemy is a constantly shifting value.”
“Recognition of that fact might be the greatest weapon any of us can wield.”
“Well… that, and the ability to break an arm.”
It’s been hours. His knees shot, his body worn out, Eli Flair spent most of it instructing or offering advice. Impulse, a much younger man in much better shape, trains with MJ on the logistics of staying in a ring during a battle royal.
Showered, changed, and refreshed, the trio are now sitting in a corner booth at a little place in downtown Greensboro called JR’s. There’s beers all around the table: IPA for Impulse, black and tan for Eli, and birch for MJ. Eli has an inch thick steak in front of him, Impulse has a trio of chicken sliders, and MJ has a full rack of ribs in her hands (and not a small amount on her face).
Impulse: These are important matches: they can make your career. Even holding the big belt for a few months earlier this year, that’s big but anyone can get lucky once.
MJ stops chewing and stares at him, dead-eyed.
Impulse: Not that you got lucky, dial it back, crazy-eyes. But if you get the second belt, that shows staying power and that you’ve got the chops to get there more than once, ya know? Otherwise, do something amazing. That Amber woman, she won that ridiculous cage match - even if she loses, she’s made her mark. Look at me.
He holds his hands out, palms up.
Impulse: I got the nickname ‘The Marathon Man’ for coming in third in the JTP Invitational and being one of the final four eliminated when Joe won the whole shmear. One hundred and eighteen minutes; nobody else even came close. That got me more notoriety, I think, than winning the New Frontier TV Title would’ve at that time.
MJ nods, taking another bite of rib, but she pauses.
She drops the bone, wipes her hands, and looks at him.
MJF: You didn’t win that match?
Impulse looks perplexed.
Impulse: No, no I didn’t. I won the TV Title later on that year once Joe became New Frontier’s Champion.
She spins her head to her father.
MJF: And I know you didn’t win Gold Rush.
It’s true. Four separate rings of Battle Royals saw the winner and runner up moving to a final ring to compete for the CSWA Unified Championship. Eli Flair’s “outer” ring was contested for a Unified Championship shot, and he came in second to eventual, overall winner Dan Ryan. He would then come in third in the Unified Championship ring, two athletes short of victory.
ELI: No, no I didn’t.
MJ leans back.
MJF: Have either of you ever won a battle royal?
Impulse and Eli look at each other.
Impulse: I… yeah, no, never.
ELI: Let me think… No, no, no, no, no, no… Yes. I won a Battle Royal in the CSWA to qualify for the final spot in the Ironman of Champions that we were lookin’ at.
MJF: … That was literally last century, Daddy.
ELI: The classics never go outta style.
There’s a few seconds of silence, but MJ and Impulse eventually join his laughter as well. MJ picks up her next rib and takes a bite.
MJF: I tell you this, guys… there’s something really twisted about the fact that I’m sittin’ here with two legends, and one Battle Royal win could put me on par with both’a your accomplishments combined.
She adds a squirt of barbecue sauce.
MJF: You ever go back to wrestling, Knox… you come see me for some pointers.
”And so. This is my confession.”
“Why do I want to win Golden Intentions? To achieve parity with my parents’ accomplishments? To become a two-time CWF World Champion? To prove my prior title win wasn’t a fluke? To solidify this as my home?”
“All of the above?”
“Because there are people in this match who, if they win, would be bad for the CWF? Because the Ouroboros cannot win? Because the last thing this company needs is for Silas Artoria to think he’s important enough to headline the biggest show of the year?”
“”All of the above?”
“Even as someone who carried the big belt this year. Even as a semi-finalist in the Modern Warfare tournament, as an athlete that carried this company through the Far East tour and back. Even as someone that’s lost two singles matches all year - one to the eventual Emm-Dub-Eff winner and one to the current World Champion, I feel like I’ve got something to prove.
“Be it my age, my sex, my experience, my pedigree… there’s a sense I get from a large portion of this company that I’m not to be taken seriously. It might be my imagination; it might be misreading the room.”
“But I don’t care. If there’s one thing that I want my twenty nine opponents to carry with ‘em into Golden Intentions, it’s that this is not personal. You want to headline Wrestlefest? Our motivations are the same. But this is my match to win.”
“Except for Dick Fury, Silas Artoria, and the Oreo Bros. It’ll give me no small amount of personal satisfaction t’see your feet hit the floor.”
“And this is still my match to win.”
“I was told something, some months ago: as the offspring of a legend, the expectations are through the roof for me. Winning every night - winning in dominant fashion every night - in some ways that won’t be enough t’meet what I’m expected t’do.”
“Anything that isn’t ‘Be a Champion and win all of the defenses’ is seen as a failure. Even by myself. Which means, even if I was comin’ in at number one, both legs broken, neck in a brace… this is my match to win.”
“It has to be. There is no other choice.”
“I’ve been shittin’ all over the Childlike Empress and the Ouro Borealis all year, because they’ve talked big and been absolutely abysmal at backin’ it up. That’s apparently changed quite drastically in the past few weeks, as they’ve gotten bloody organized and they’ve gotten long-rangey with their plans.”
“So have the rest of us. The most wonderful part about the Ouroboros gettin’ uber-organized, is that it’s prompted everyone that doesn’t enjoy cultlike behavior t’do the same. And I think I can speak for the Forsaken, and the DEFIANT ones, and Smokin’ Aces, at the very least… that our biggest goal is t’make sure that none of the Ouro Bros win Golden Intentions.”
“After that? All bets are off.”
“So I asked before… how’s it gonna end?”
“I’ll tell you.”
“With my fucking hand in the air.”