September 18th, 2019
2:43 PM PST
Las Vegas, Nevada
“I hope you realize how lucky you are…”
Johnny Graves slowly pulled his gaze away from the engine of his Mustang to turn his head to the right locking eyes with Zeek Williams. The two men stood on the driveway of Johnny’s Las Vegas home. Johnny had spent the last four hours working on the car. More out of boredom and a labor of love than the vehicle actually needing any serious attention. There was a moment of silence between them before a soft sigh of resignation emerged from Johnny’s lips and he set the socket wrench down onto the engine block. Straightening himself he would turn towards Zeek fully and cross his arms over his chest.
“Okay,” Johnny offered, his voice making it abundantly clear that whatever sagely veteran advice he was about to receive was completely unsolicited. “I’ll bite, why am I so lucky?”
Zeek would simply stare at him in silence, his eyes offered a warning that an attitude change was needed. The two men stood under the Nevada sun, their skin covered in a thin layer of sweat, staring at one another in defiance. Neither willing to back down. This was not the first time Johnny had been insolent towards his mentor. In fact, as much as the two cared about one another, as close as they were, it was a game they often played. The pupil challenging the master in order to prove that he was ready to stand on his own two feet and climb out from under the shadow cast over him.
“Because dipshits like you don’t often get second chances,” Zeek stated bluntly adding a little venom in his words. “You were thrusted into the spotlight upon your arrival to CWF, boyo. You were given chances so early in your career - chances other people spend years chasing - because the company believed you were going to be the future. Now personally, if I was calling the shots around there it never would’ve happened. You weren’t ready. And look what you did. Exactly what you always do. Something doesn’t go your way and you pick up your ball and you go home. The very fact that you’re even making a return to CWF and being given a title shot right off the bat is ridiculous.”
Johnny tensed as he felt the anger swell within him. His eyes narrowed into a cold glare as he stood - on edge - staring down his mentor and one of his closest friends.
“I wasn’t ready?” he echoed in defiance. “I stepped into the ring with three other men - three other men who had been doin’ this thing a lot longer than me - and I walked out Impact Champion. Since the day I arrived I proved over and over and over that I was better than everyone else on that roster. I proved that I was on some next level shit. Shit, even Duce got taken to the limit and that scrub went on to become world champion.”
“And then you walk-”
“And as far as me leavin’” Johnny continued, interrupting his mentor before he could say another word, “I left because management needed to understand one thing. They needed me, I didn’t need them. I have made a damn good livin’ for myself since walkin’ out of CWF. I been good. Eatin’ good, livin’ good, feelin’ good. Don’t get it twisted. You know I have all the respect in the world for you and you know I appreciate everythin’ you’ve done for me. But it was CWF Management that came knockin’ on my door, askin’ me to be a part of this… renewal of the Impact Championship. Not the other way around. I didn’t beg my way back into the company. I didn’t beg my way back into contention. They came to me with an opportunity, slapped a whole buncha zeros on it, and told me when and where I was gonna get to knock some people out. Dipshits like me may not get second chances… but we damn sure get paid.”
Zeek would slowly nod his head as he studied his protege. The struggle to reach his young pupil, to teach him humility and self control had been an exhausting endeavor. He was impulsive, reckless, and at times: self destructive. But his biggest character flaw, as far as Zeek was concerned, was his arrogance. Sure, Zeek had always been an arrogant prick when the cameras were rolling or when the fans filled the arena. But when the lights went out and the cameras cut, he felt blessed. Blessed that he was making a living competing in the sport he loved. Not many people got to earn the kind of living he did doing the things they loved. It was an honor to be a professional wrestler and something that shouldn’t be taken so lightly. That is what angered him most about Johnny. He was talented, yes. He had taken to the sport like a fish to water. A masterful blend of athleticism and viciousness. But he still didn’t understand what it meant to step into the ring with his peers. His “me against the world” mentality was more than a character for the cameras. It was the angry kid inside of him that had lost his mother and father far too young and the life that those tragedies would lead to his doorstep.
“So that’s it then, boyo?” Zeek questioned after a moment of contemplation. “You’re a mercenary? No loyalty to anyone in the back, any company, any fan base? You just show up, beat some people up, collect a cheque, and then go home?”
“Pretty much,” Johnny mused with a careless shrug.
Again Zeek would nod slowly.
“And what happens when the phone calls stop?” he would question his student. “What happens when your short temper and childish behavior makes promotions no longer want to work with you? Let’s be honest, boyo, you can claim that the company needed you more than you needed them - and yeah, it sounds great in a promo - but it’s a lie. And you know that. Four months ago you walked out on them and did the company crumble? Did they stumble? Did they even miss a beat? This business is built on the idea of next man up. You leave, someone else takes up your spot, your title, your role. You burn every bridge you have and eventually you’re going to find yourself stranded on an island. And when all these promotions all over the world stop calling because they don’t want to deal with your shit… do you really think the fans are going to care about a guy they never see? All the trash talking on Twitter and Snapchat… do you really think the fans are going to retweet a guy who hasn’t been on TV in months? Because it will happen and the money that you love so much… it’ll be gone.”
Once again the two men stood in silence, their eyes trained on one another’s. Finally a heavy exhale escaped Johnny’s nose as he relented to the words of the man who practically raised him. He couldn’t take it any longer and broke the stare turning away to look at the engine of the ‘64 Mustang. He knew Zeek was right. Hell, Zeek was always right. There hadn’t been a single day when the words of his mentor didn’t ring true. For better or worse. Finally he would return his gaze to Zeek, his eyes far less intense this time around.
“You told me to stand on my own two feet and be my own man,” he explained thoughtfully. “You told me that if I just went with the flow and accepted what was handed to me I would be the most talented competitor on the roster to never have a run with the big belt. You told me that closed mouths don’t get fed. You told me if I wanted to be anythin’ in this business I had to speak up, I had to ruffle feathers, and I had to do whatever it took to put the spotlight on me. And that is exactly what I did. Now you, or management, or the boys and girls in the back, the fans… ya’ll can say whatever you want. Ya’ll can say I picked up my ball and went home. That’s fine. I really don’t give a shit about the opinions of others. But I got put in a bullshit situation and I wasn’t gonna play ball. I got stuck with a bunch of has-beens and never-will-bes and told ‘go out there and revolutionize professional wrestling.’ How? How am I supposed to change the landscape with people who can’t even compete? You can’t destroy the status quo if your army doesn’t even measure up. And week in and week out I was told go out there and make these guys look like a threat. A fuckin’ threat? I was the only threat in the group… barring Ciara of course...”
Johnny shook his head and his tongue slid across his bottom lip. The Nevada sun was brutal today and his lips were dry and chapped from being in it for so many hours.
“So I did what I felt I had to do,” he continued. “If you think the opportunities that they gave me are lost on me, you’re wrong. But those opportunities were not handed out freely. I earned those opportunities. I earned the right to test myself against the number one contender to the world title and I hung with him. I earned the right to challenge for the Impact Title. And in the end, I earned the title of champion. Yeah, maybe I didn’t handle shit real well when I left. Maybe I should’ve stuck it out. Shit, maybe I should’ve just blew the whole thing up on live TV and taken out each and every one of ‘em. But what’s done is done. It’s the past and right now all I’m focused on is takin’ back -my- championship.”
“And what then?” Zeek inquired. “What happens after you become champion? You going to get upset over some creative differences, maybe have a little testosterone fueled scrap in the locker room, maybe run your mouth to management and say something you can’t take back? Then what? You’re home on the couch for another month until you decide you want to wrestle again?”
Johnny shook his head sucking on his teeth.
“Nah,” he would counter, “ain’t happenin’ like that. Not this time.”
Johnny paused. He took a moment to gather his thoughts, settle his feelings. He knew the words and he understood the emotion behind them. But in four months he had never said out loud. To anyone. Not even himself.
“Because CWF… is home.”
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September 20th, 2019
1:13 AM PST
Several miles outside of Las Vegas, Nevada
The sounds of police sirens can be heard in the distance on an otherwise quiet Las Vegas night. Several miles away the sounds of slot machines and drunk tourists would’ve made it impossible to sleep. It wasn’t the Strip that had the Sin City Saint, Johnny Graves up at this hour. No. It was the adrenaline. The excitement of knowing that in just a few days he would climb into a CWF ring for the first time in four months and compete against some of the business’ best. And in the end, the last person standing would be crowned CWF Impact Champion. It was a title Graves had already captured once in his career. Before everything happened. It was a title he would capture again. It didn’t matter the cost. Didn’t matter what he had to put himself through, what he had to put his opponents through, what he had to make the fans bear witness to. He was walking out of Lanxess Arena as Impact Champion.
Johnny stood - well leaned back - against the driver’s side door of his Mustang. He had parked in what could only be described as the middle of nowhere. Cacti and small shrubbery littered the Nevada desert floor, barely visible in the cover of darkness. A pale moon hung against a black backdrop surrounded by thousands of tiny stars. Johnny wore a black hoodie with the hood pulled over his head, blue jeans with holes and frayed fabric over the legs, and black Timberland boots. His hand he held a black and red Easton Thunderstick. He had requested that the camera crew meet him out him because he didn’t want to address the CWF fans and talent from Germany. In fact, he was a little irked he even had to travel to Germany. He had been there before for three months. He hated it.
“Five months ago I declared war on the CWF. I declared war against the status quo. Five months I fired the first shot in that war when I defeated Zach van Owens, Freddie Styles, and Moe Davis to become CWF Impact Champion. But the war was short lived. ‘Cause a month later I walked out on the company that heralded me as the future. And I got it. Can’t even lie. The fans, and the journalists, and the so-called experts all jumped on the bandwagon. ‘Johnny Graves Throws A Tantrum; Walks Out,’ the headlines read. ‘Johnny Graves takes his ball and goes home,’ all the critics said. Fuckin’ marks. Everyone thinks they know exactly what’s goin’ on. Everyone’s always got the hot opinion. Truth is, you don’t know shit. You never have and you never will. You watch people like me on TV and you think you understand who the fuck I am. But you don’t. Nah man. You just project whatever it is you want me to be all over me until you just get so riled up inside you’ve just got to log in to your Twitter and at me. But it’s all good. I’ve always been a lightning rod for hatred. I’ve also been the guy people love to hate. But I have also been the guy that people don’t fuck with because I’m the guy that’ll knock your teeth down your throat, step over you, and not think twice about it. I been that way since before I stepped in the ring and I damn sure am gonna be that way when I can no longer do this thing anymore. So you all can have your little opinions, run your mouths, talk all the shit you want. But the fact of the matter is you know - deep down inside - that when I step into the ring you are gonna get your money’s worth. You are gonna see somethin’ that’s gonna pull you from your seat and getchu on your feet. You’re gonna see some shit.”
Johnny pauses for a moment as his eyes stare directly down the camera’s lens.
“And come September twenty-fourth, Evolution, live from the Lanxess Arena… oh, ya’ll gonna see some shit. Ya’ll are going to witness one of the most brutal matches to ever take place in a CWF ring. Though given the stipulation I don’t necessarily believe the match will end in the ring. But you understand what I’m sayin’. Falls count anywhere. No disqualification. The last competitor standin’ will walk away the -new- Impact Champion. Not just the next person to hold the title. But the first person to hold it in it’s new identity.”
Johnny shivers mockingly.
“It’s so exciting.”
With his mouth opened, his tongue slides across his top teeth before a snicker escapes his lips.
“I gotta be real with you though. I’m walkin’ into this fight against four people that I know absolutely nothin’ about. Four people I have never been in the ring with. Four people that seem to want to carry that title as much as I do. I mean, that’s what it feels like anyway. So I guess in the interest of promotion and entertainment I’ll be a good little soldier and cut a promo before we head into Evolution. Shout out to Ciara Kennedy and Bishop Kingston by the way!
“Sean Fuller. Sir, you are the most generic, half-assed, white bread, frat boy lookin’ ass dude I have ever heard in my life. ‘Uhhh they’ll all try to outlast me and fail because I am Impact.’ The fuck does that even mean? You’re Impact? You’re a verb? Let me be clear when I tell you there ain’t a ‘nere person on this planet that gives a shit about how many championships you’ve won in your career. Least of all me. Shit, you could come to the ring holding twelve different titles from nine promotions and I would still laugh in your face because the -only- title that matters come Evolution is the Impact Title. My title. Boy I swear to God I hope your bite is better than your Disney ass talk cause if it ain’t… you gonna be the first motherfucker to get silenced. And that’s not arrogance. That’s not being cocky. That’s just cold, hard facts.
“Then we got Konrad Raab. I mean… do I have to? Look at the dude’s name. Roasted. I knew a guy once who’s last name was Raab and he was without a shadow of a doubt one of the most talented in-ring performers I have ever seen in my life. I mean the man was a fuckin’ artists in his brutality and his ability to make his opponents look silly. I mean he was head and shoulders above each and every person who stepped into the ring with him. And you - good sir - without a shadow of a doubt are in no way, shape, or form anything remotely resemblin’ him. You make me sad. You make my heart hurt. If you are what the fans have to look forward then I must’ve been right all along. The industry needs to be destroyed. I may have to bring the band back together. Created a little… disOrder. I really hope you get your groove back. Maybe take a vacation to Jamaica or somethin’. Maybe just hop on a plane now and do it like Stella… ‘cause I promise you, you ain’t gettin’ back on track at Evolution. If I were you, I wouldn’t even put myself through the hassle. Just some friendly advice…
“So I guess that brings us to Ariel Shadows. The six-foot-one, hundred forty-six pound widow. Life doesn’t like you, does it? I mean damn. You drew all the short straws. I mean I know God don’t like ugly but I didn’t know the wrestling gods shared that sentiment. Way I see it, you’re pretty much in the same boat as our buddy Raab. You might as well not show up. See, I came into CWF and within a month I was crowned Impact Champion. A month. A punk ass, smart mouthed kid like me. Can you believe that? The fuck were they thinkin’ even givin’ me a platform like that? It’s crazy, I know! But if you think you’re gonna step on the turf that I stick my cleats in and walk away with the thing that belongs to me… you gonna suffer a lot more tragedy in your life. See, I get off on hurtin’ people. I get off on puttin’ people in their place. I get off on lettin’ people know they ain’t in my league. And despite… ya know… all that you got goin’ on, I believe everyone deserves love. So fuck it, I’ll get off all over you.
“And -finally- that brings us to Maggie Lockheart and I admit, ladies and gentlemen, I was savin’ the best for last. Girrrrrrrl you sexy as hell. Misinformed as a Trump press conference. But you bad. So there’s that. See, what you don’t understand is that Johnny Graves returnin’ to CWF and competin’ for the Impact Championship is not a feel good story. It’s somethin’ that’s gonna get the fans all excited and emotional and overwhelmed. There won’t be tears of joy when I win. There won’t be parades and celebrations. No. Because the last I stepped in a CWF ring my intentions were clear. I was gonna destroy this company. I was gonna break each and every member of the roster until there was nothin’ left. Just me, standing atop a pile of broken, useless, so-called competitors. And the thing is baby girl… nothin’s changed. Now I’m not someone who enjoys inflicting harm upon a woman as beautiful as you. But I will to reclaim what is rightfully mine. This isn’t a feel good story, baby girl. This isn’t a tale of triumph over injury. No. This is a story of the best thing in wrestling today emerging from the shadows to take back what belongs to him because the so-called talent in CWF - and around the globe quite honestly - do not deserve to have it. But aye, when all’s said and done and title’s back in my hands… maybe I can buy you a drink sometime.”
Once again Johnny falls silent. His right hand slowly rises, lifting the Thunderstick in front of him, his eyes examining it closely.
“Evolution’s gonna be fun. See you kids soon…”