OCTOBER 4, 2019
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
An unforgiving Nevada sun hung high against a crystal blue backdrop. The hour was still relatively early in the afternoon and the temperature couldn’t exactly be described as oppressive. At least not to those familiar with the region. High 70s, low 80s perhaps. We had reached the point in the year when things mellowed out and people weren’t forced to run from air conditioned car to air conditioned store or home.
It had been an interesting couple of weeks for the man known as the Sin City Saint. From competing all over the world, to re-signing with the Championship Wrestling Federation, to recapturing the CWF Impact Championship, to having all matter of people crawling out of the woodwork to challenge him or declare their intentions of ‘taking everything he has.’ But regardless of your feelings towards him - love him or hate him - one thing you could never say about Johnny was that he backed down from a fight. He had always welcomed all challenges. Often times to his own detriment. But it was just who he was. It’s how he was wired.
Things were happening fast. And as much as many of those things were positives for the life and career of Johnny Graves, they had caused a lot of thoughts and feelings to emerge. Feelings he had believed he had dealt with; feelings he had believed he had left in the past. It was those feelings that had led him here: the Woodlawn Cemetery. Johnny stood before a pale pink marble headstone adorned with a large crucifix on top. The headstone stood about two and a half feet high and read: “Catherine Graves. 1968 - 2010. Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live. - Norman Cousins.”
Johnny stared at the headstone, his gaze fixated on the engravings scarring the stone. He wore a plain white T-shirt, dark blue Levis, and a pair of white, black, and red Jordan V’s. His body was tense, the shoulders in his shoulders and arms contracting. The time that had elapsed while he stood here - staring - causing them to begin aching. Thoughts raced through his mind: memories, regrets, vengeance.
“Dad said I would probably find you here.”
The sudden female voice behind him immediately yanked Johnny from his thoughts and returned him to the real world. Though startled at first, he quickly relaxed as his brain processed the sound and recognized the familiarity of the voice. Johnny slowly turned his head towards his left just as the young woman who had managed to sneak up on him would come to stand at his side. She didn’t look at him. Instead her eyes - much like Johnny’s had been - were fixated on the headstone of Johnny’s mother.
“Shouldn’t you be out partying?” Ciara Kennedy asked almost sounding as if she were mocking him. “Popping bottles of champagne and hooking up with… every girl you come across in some club bathroom or something? I mean after all, you are the CWF Impact Champion.”
Johnny didn’t answer. Instead he turned his gaze back to the headstone and began to let his mind wander again. He had partied. He partied the night he won the championship. And consequently several nights following. Though he knew that wasn’t the point of Ciara’s words.
“How long has it been since you’ve visited her?” Ciara questioned, her voice sounding far more concerned now.
“Not since I left for San Diego,” Johnny would reply after some hesitation. His tone was strange, almost emotionless. “Not since the last time he forced me to come.”
Ciara nodded her head slowly in understanding. She knew how hard Johnny had taken the lost of his mother. They were best friends. Of course she knew.
“Dad and I try to get out here every couple of months,” Ciara continued. “It’s hard when he’s running the business in Boston and I’m on the road so much. I don’t have to tell you what your mother meant to all of us. You, of all people, know that all too well. ...When’s the last time you spoke to Damon?”
Again, Johnny would hesitate for some time.
“You’re askin’ a lot of questions today,” Johnny observed as he would turn to face her, his features twisted in a look of suspicion and slight annoyance. “Your dad ask you to check up on me?”
“I need to be told to check in on my best friend?” Ciara accused sounding a little insulted. “You get like this, you know? Every time something good happens to you, every time you achieve something remarkable, every time life going well… you do this. You think about her, you blame yourself, you weigh yourself down with so much guilt that’s wrongfully placed. It’s like because your mother passed and you’re still here that you need to be punished. Like you don’t deserve the things you get”
“Save it, Ciara,” Johnny groaned as he rolled his eyes and allowed his gaze to leave her.
“I know I sound like a broken record,” Ciara confessed. “I know I’ve been saying this since we were kids. But one day you’re going to wake up and you’re going to see it. Until then you’ve got me to… what was the thing you tweeted out? ‘Keep you sane?’ Well, here I am.”
Once again he would turn his attention back to his long time friend and watch her a moment. There was a long moment of silence between. Finally Ciara would turn her attention to him, their eyes meeting one another’s for the first time since he had arrived. Johnny swallowed hard as if he were attempted to swallow his feelings to the depths of the void.
“It feels strange being back,” Johnny would allow himself to admit. He lifted his gaze slightly looking into the air for a moment before returning his gaze to Ciara. “The last time I was signed to the CWF, I was attemptin’ to destroy the company. Then I walked out. Now here I am, re-signed, and once again Impact Champion. I mean I won the damn thing my first night back. And I didn’t even it on my own. Yeah, I battled my way into bein’ one of the final two. And I went through fuckin’ hell to get there. But I didn’t put Maggie down myself. Nah, some masked man came in, swatted her with a steel chair, and dragged my body on top of her’s. It’s more than likely she coulda finished me at that point.”
Ciara nodded slowly, now understanding the mindset he was in.
“So you think you don’t deserve to be Impact Champion?” she questioned.
Johnny shook his head.
“Of course I deserve it,” he shot back shortly. “The title would look stupid around anyone else’s waist. Well... mostly anyone else. The fact is I don’t know who this guy was. What he wants. Why he did what he did. Is he gonna show up again? Is he gonna insert himself in my business on my behalf without my request? Who the fuck is he? And now after everythin’ that’s happened I’m supposed to team with Maggie come Evolution and somehow we’re supposed to co-exist and get the dub.”
“Do you trust her?” Ciara mused curiously.
Johnny would shrug and bob his head side to side as if debating his options.
“She hasn’t done anythin’ to make me not trust her,” he explained. ‘But at the same time it’s not exactly like she doesn’t have reason to take a shot at me.”
“You think she’s the type to jeopardize momentum for payback if it doesn’t serve her?” Ciara’s questions continued to pour in. “From what I understand she’s just getting herself back into the swing of things as far as active competition goes. She was given a huge opportunity at the Impact Title. She came up short, sure. The match ended on some shady business, we know. But what she did in the match was nothing short of amazing. Everyone knows that. She knows that. A win at Evolution would only serve to prove that she belongs. Losing to Jeff Jackson and Konrad Raab would do nothing to providing another opportunity.”
Johnny seemed to ponder this response for a moment. He knew she was right. Based on everything he had experienced going against Maggie Lockheart he could say - first hand - she was a fierce competitor. Tiny. Deceptively attractive. But damn if she couldn’t kick your teeth down your throat in the blink of an eye. Or stomp your face into the concrete. Someone like that wouldn’t throw an opportunity to advance away like that. He knew he never would. Well… maybe. Depending on who he was being forced to team with.
“Nah, she’s a competitor,” Johnny explained dryly. “I mean, I can tell you first hand… don’t her size or looks fool ya. That girl can throw hands… and feet… and stomp your damn face in the cement and you ain’t gettin’ back up. Someone like that, someone with that kind of dedication, passion, drive, heart, fight… nah, someone like that’s not going to sit back and let opportunities pass them by. Someone like that ain’t gonna do somethin’ stupid and prevent themselves from movin’ forward. That bein’ said though… it’s not like she couldn’t try a sneak attack after the match. Not like while I’m celebratin’ and bein’ handed the title back that she couldn’t swat me upside my head. Exact a little revenge. Prove that she ain’t done with this Impact Title thing.”
Again Ciara would simply nod.
“Maybe you should stop making so many enemies,” she teased.
“I didn’t make this one,” Johnny argued, “if - in fact - that’s even what she is. I don’t know. I haven’t talked to her about what went down at the Supershow. I explained through Twitter than I was disappointed in how it all went down, told her I respect the hell outta her for the ass beatin’ she gave me. I don’t know if it’s enough to convince her that I had nothin’ to do with that attack.”
“But did you?”
Johnny’s face contorted into an expression that could only be described as a combination of irritence, anger, and insult. Almost immediately Ciara offers a heartfelt laugh as she reached a small hand up and placed it on Johnny’s shoulder.
“I’m kidding, doll,” he confessed with a sly grin. “I know you better than that. If you were planning something like that I would be aware of it. And more than likely - with your trust issues - it would’ve been Caleb wielding that chair and he damn sure wouldn’t be wearing a mask. He might actually like being on camera more than you do.”
Johnny scoffs arrogantly.
“Fuck that’s supposed to mean?” he questioned.
Ciara just offered a slight smile.
“Nothing, doll,” she assured him. “Nothing at all.”
< =========================================================== >
MAY 3, 2011
CENTENNIAL HIGH SCHOOL
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA
“I have to say Mr. Graves, I’m impressed.
A sixteen year old Jonathan Graves sat in black leather chair situated in front of the desk that belonged to Dr. Tomlinson. Tomlinson was the principal of Centennial HIgh School and someone that over the past few months had spent a lot of time with the youngest Graves boy. Though, not in any way any parent would be particularly proud of. He glared up at the man who stood before him and then rolled his eyes in annoyance and set his gaze upon the window that overlooked the courtyard. And beyond that… the football field. Johnny’s football field.
“You nearly made it an entire day without incident,” Dr. Tomlinson mused, though his deep voice came out almost in exhaustion. “Would you care to tell me why I have a student currently in the nurse’s office awaiting the arrival of his parents so that they can determine whether to take him to urgent care or not?”
Johnny shifted in his chair to better see out of the window.
“He started it,” he muttered.
“Son, that excuse is getting old,” Tomlinson scolded before he sighed and his tone returned to normal. “Everyday you’re in my office, sitting in that chair, being lectured by me about personal accountability, about responsibility to your community, about being a leader. Everyday the sun sets, it rises - bringing with it a new day, a new chance - and yet here you are. Making the same mistakes. Using the same tired excuses.”
Tomlinson stared down at the young pupil he believed held so much potential. Since first meeting the young Graves, he believed the child had the intelligence and drive to be someone special. Seeing him on the football field and the basketball court, the baseball diamond, it didn’t matter, his drive and passion to succeed only shone ten fold. The young man simply lack focus. He lacked self control.
“I told you the last time you sat in my office that the next time you’re in here for fighting I was going to suspend you,” Tomlinson would continue. “Do you remember that?”
There was a moment of hesitation.
“Yes sir,” he would again mutter in defiance.
“Johnny we are all aware of your loss,” the principal offered. “Every student, teacher, and administrator in this building empathize with you for what you and your family have been forced to endure. To lose your mother so young - so terribly - it scars you. I know that. But son, you cannot live in the past. You cannot let your grief and your anger control you. I have seen kids just like you - good kids - lose their way and fall between the cracks because they couldn’t keep out of their own way. They lacked the self discipline necessary to overcome the obstacles life had placed before them. I will not stand idly by and allow the same thing to happen to you.”
With another soft sigh, Tomlinson turned and slowly moved around his desk to take his seat on the other side. He turned his attention to some papers on his desk and began shuffling through them.
“But I cannot in good faith allow this behavior to continue,” Tomlinson continued to explain. “For the safety of this school’s student body I am suspending you for a week. I only hope that you take it upon yourself to take that week, decide what kind of man you want to be, and - hopefully - return to this institution ready to be a leader. Your father is on his way to pick you up.”
Johnny’s gaze was finally pulled from the window and his eyes widened slightly.
“I can get myself home,” he countered.
Dr. Tomlinson would shake his head slightly.
“You are a minor,” he explained. “Lawfully, I cannot release you from the premises, during school hours, unless to a parent or guardian.”
< =========================================================== >
What is a man?
A man is not flesh stretched over bone. A man is not the heart that pumps blood and oxygen through the body. A man is not the brain that controls the entirety of his physical being. No. A man is little more than a collection of personal triumphs and failures. Joys and tragedy.
We’ve all experienced tragedy.
I would be no more bold to say that my triumphs and tragedies are any more remarkable than those of others, as I would say I am anything more than a man. So many walk through life portraying themselves as something more than they are. Something more along the lines of what they wish they could be. Afraid to look in the mirror. Afraid to embrace who they truly are. We pretend and we dress the part effectively putting on a performance for those around us for their entertainment and acceptance. Actors on a stage. No more genuine than those beautiful celebrities you revere so loyally.
But I do not hide.
I am not afraid to look in the mirror. I’m not afraid to accept who I really am. I’m not afraid to live the life I was always intended to live.
That is true strength.
To stare your demons in the eye and say unto them, “consume me.” To revel in the dark and twisted thoughts that swirl through the minds of even the most normal of human beings. The thoughts that we reject because we know if we embrace them the world will cast us out. Judge us. Condemn us. So we lie to ourselves. We convince ourselves that we don’t want to hurt that man, we don’t want to hurt that woman, we don’t want to indulge in the temptations life offers. We bury those desires keep down inside and never let them rise to the surface.
All the while we die. Slowly wasting away. Losing ourselves to the demands of this world. To an idea of perfection.
I have seen perfection. I have seen it in its purest form. When you cast away the chains that this life has placed upon you; when you allow the darkness into your soul; when you revel in the symphonies of pain and pleasure. When you no longer live as a slave to their demands. You have found freedom. You have found perfection.
How I savor the sensation of feeling the bones crack and snap under the force of my heel; muscles and ligaments tearing as I contort a human being beyond their physical capabilities; the warm crimson life pouring from wounds inflicted by my hand.
I am never satiated. I am never satisfied. Every new victim only intensifies the desire for another. To break another physical form. To break their will. To break their desire to continue. I crave it. A caged animal pacing back and forth fed up with the scheduled feeding times of those that would consider themselves my superiors.
Waiting for the opportunity to unleash the full extent of my fury and devour…
< =========================================================== >
OCTOBER 5, 2019
“There’s definitely a judgement comin’”
As the camera comes to life we find ourselves focused on the seated image of Johnny Graves. Casually slouched in a green stadium chair surrounded by thousands of others completely empty. It would appear with the exception of Johnny there isn’t another soul in the home of the Portland Timbers. Though still clearly daylight, the sun’s position in the sky signifies that soon it will disappear behind the horizon and leave the city of Portland cast in the darkness of an autumn night. Draped across his lap is the CWF Impact Championship. Johnny stares down the camera’s lens an arrogant smirk on his lips.
“Hi CWF fans! It’s me! Your CWF Impact Champion, Johnny Graves! I’m in Portland, Oregon checkin’ out the sights, seein’ what the city has to offer, gettin’ a feel for what to expect Tuesday. When I walk into the Moda Center and climb into the ring with Konrad Raab and Jeff Jackson in a lil’ tag team action. Of course, ya boy ain’t gonna be walkin’ into this thing alone. Oh no, no, no, no, no! Ya boy will be teamin’ with quite possibly the most excitin’ thing to happen to CWF - since your’s truly - in the sexy form of Maggie Lockheart. Is it Maggie or Magdelena? I never know what to call her. I don’t think we’re like… cool enough with each other for me to really just be like ‘hey Maggie, what’s up?’ But maybe after we take turns beatin’ on a couple of so-called -competitors-. I hope so at least. And I’m sure you’re all wonderin’ and the answer is no. Magdelena did not accept my offer of a drink after the Supershow. In fact, I couldn’t find her in a single bar anywhere. Weird, right?”
Johnny nonchalantly shrugs his shoulders as if waving off the thought.
“But let’s get down to the business at hand. Evolution. Tag team match to kick off the show. On one side of the ring you’ve got Konrad Raab and on the other you’ve got Jeff Jackson. The ‘Judge’ himself. On the other - as I’ve mentioned - you’ve got ‘The Artist’ Magdelena Lockheart and ‘The Sin City Saint’ Johnny Graves. I mean just say that outloud. Say it like three times. Go ahead. I’ll wait…
It sounds dumb, right? On one side of the ring you’ve got the finalists in the Make Your Impact Melee, two of the hottest things goin’ in CWF today, the two people that damn well stole the show that night… goin’ against Raab who couldn’t get the job done and Jackson who… well I guess sometimes he’s active on Twitter.
Raab, you couldn’t get the job done on your own turf. You had a -huge- home field advantage. You had the entirety of the German people cheerin’ you on, willin’ you to win. And what’d you do? Exactly what I said you would do. You failed. You failed and so too did any hope of you havin’ any relevance whatsoever. So now here we are… my home country… my fans… and you think you’re gonna step into that ring and hang with me? Me? -Your- Impact Champion? Boy please. I really don’t even want to take the time, rackin’ my brain, trynna even come up with insults for you. ‘Cause at the Supershow in the Make Your Impact Melee you punked yourself harder than I ever could. When I pinned you and eliminated you from ever wearin’ this shiney lil’ piece of leather of gold around your waist. Or on your shoulder. Or in your hand. Wherever you would’ve chose to place it. Doesn’t matter. The point is you will never touch this title. The closest you will ever come to this championship is watchin’ me enter the ring carryin’ it myself. Facts is facts, and you Konrad… you just don’t add up.”
Johnny takes a moment to adjust himself in his chair and get a little more comfortable.
“Jeff Jackson. The Judge. The man who decided to take it upon himself to come out of left field and write some cryptic ass tweet and then mention me in it. Who are you? Where did you come from? I mean, I’m lookin’ around and far as I can tell you’ve been the poster boy for takin’ ass beatin’s this entire Alpha Omega Tournament. What are you in like seventh place? Eighth? Nineth? Homie you suck. You’re terrible. You’re awful. Garbage. Hot ass. Buns. You think you’re gonna come at me on Twitter runnin’ your mouth about judgements and trials by fire? That’s fine. It won’t be the first time ya boy’s sat before a judge on trial. And to be honest it might not be the last.
I’m a very bad boy.
See this is the problem with bein’ a champion. Don’t get me wrong, I looooooove bein’ a champion. But the thing is… when you’re champion suddenly all these insignificant, bottom of the barrel, nobodies come out of the woodwork thinkin’ they can cut their teeth on you. Thinkin’ they can make a name for themselves by callin’ you out and maybe - if they’re lucky - gettin’ a pinfall against you. -The Judge- couldn’t even make his mark in the tournament. So what? You failed at makin’ any noise there so you decide to turn your attention to another perceived opportunity in Johnny Graves and the Impact Title? That’s the thing about people like you… you try and try and try, never gettin’ anywhere. Never tastin’ success. Never knowin’ the joys of actually bein’ relevant in this business. But still, you don’t give up. You keep fightin’, you keep pushin’, you keep takin’ the beatin’s. I mean, I guess in that sense you kinda are a champ. Good on you!
But Tuesday is not gonna be your night. Tuesday is not gonna be the night you pick up a big win and prove that you belong in the same league, in the same breath as someone like me. And you factor in the fact that I’ve got someone every bit as talented, vicious and gorgeous as I am and you’ve got… well… who you’ve got… what chance do you honestly think you have pickin’ up a win? You’re gonna lose. You’re gonna get hurt. You’re gonna get embarrassed. But like the good lil’ soldier you are, you’ll just keep chuggin’ along. Beatin’ after beatin’ after beatin’.
You’ve called out the wrong son-of-a-bitch! You use words, I use fists. This literature. This ain’t some fairy tale. Hell, this ain’t even a horror movie. This is real life. And the pen is not mightier than the sword.”
Once again Johnny falls silent momentarily.
“But the winners of this match are not the question on everyone’s minds. No. The real questions on everyone’s mind is ‘can Lockheart and Graves coexist?’ I mean, there are those that would argue she was mere seconds away from capturing the Impact Title before outside interference cost her the win. There are those that would argue that on that night Maggie Lockheart was better than Johnny Graves. There are those that say Maggie Lockheart deserves to be Impact Champion. And to those people, I say… I agree. Maggie Lockheart did get the better of me on that night. Maggie Lockheart did push Johnny Graves to his limit unlike anyone that has ever come before her. And solely based on her performance that night, Maggie Lockheart does deserve to be Impact Champion. But Maggie Lockheart is not Impact Champion. I am. Just like I was the last time Rishel tried to put ya boy’s back against the wall and give him a shot at the title in a multi-man match. I win. It’s what I do.
Now… I need everyone to understand one thing. I have no idea who attacked Maggie. I didn’t hire him. I didn’t talk him into doin’ it. I didn’t blackmail him into it. You’re confusion is every bit as equal to my own. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to speak to Maggie directly. But I did reach out. I offered my innocence and I made it clear that any time she wants to challenge for the title - to have another shot at winnin’ it - I’m game. Any time, anywhere. But that’s not the question.
The question is can Johnny Graves coexist with Maggie Lockheart? Can Johnny Graves trust Maggie Lockheart? Can Maggie Lockheart trust Johnny Graves? The simple truth? Yes. Because we have to. Because we have no choice but to. We’re steppin’ into the ring with two men with somethin’ to prove. Yeah, they’re dumb and they suck and blah blah blah… all the things I said before. But still there’s two of them. You would be a complete idiot to voluntarily turn that into three opponents by betraying or not trustin’ you partner. So yes, I will coexist with Lockheart. I will trust Lockheart. As I hope she’ll trust and coexist with me. And once we put Raab and Jackson away, -then- we can focus on the Impact Championship.”
Johnny smirks. Moving his hand to the strap of the title belt in his lap and wraps his fingers around it and lifts it off his lap. Holding it up for the camera to get a good view of.
“The point is - boys and girls - Johnny Graves is once again your Impact Champion. And if you want to step over me to get to where you want to go, you better pray that I am dead. Because as long as there’s breath in my lungs I will continue to be better than any man or woman doin’ this thing today. Facts is facts. You can either live with it… or die from it.”