We open on Dan Stein sitting in the locker room where he’d usually be accompanied by Toni and Tina, his bodyguards, and Molly, his wife. Instead, Stein sits in his pink and blue wrestling gear with the Iron Fist Championship over his shoulder, leaned back. One hand rests on his leg, the other holds the championship belt firm. Dan’s hair and beard have grown since we last saw him, it doesn’t appear that he’s been taking as much care of his appearance as he normally would.
Dan Stein: Tonight, the biggest match in Iron Fist Championship history takes place, out there in the middle of the Epicenter. Two former SHOOT Project World Heavyweight Champions, two three time Iron Fist Champions, two pillars of SHOOT Project step into the ring for this Iron Fist Championship.
Dan looks at the Championship belt, then to the camera.
Dan Stein: Tonight, X-Calibur gets his opportunity to take this Championship off of my shoulder and prove that he truly is the Iron God that he and his fucked up kid claim to be. What a crock of shit.
Dan spits on the ground next to him.
Dan Stein: X-Calibur is using this match as a way to rebuild his failing legacy here in SHOOT Project. This bullshit personality change that he’s going through to try and get back an edge he’s lost, either in his old age or just because the game’s gotten better, is just that – bullshit. Oh, it’s who X-Calibur truly is – a pompous, self absorbed, high and mighty fuck – don’t get me wrong, but it’s not going to help him when we meet in the main event tonight. I don’t care what vices you give up to try to better yourself, Eryk, you’ll never be better than me.
Dan sits forward, adjusting the championship belt on his shoulder.
Dan Stein: Your legacy is already cemented in SHOOT Project. This…feud? Rivalry? Whatever you want to call this tension that we have? It’s already cemented in SHOOT Project lore. I’m better than you. I’ll always be better than you. Every single time we do this dance, I prove it. I’m going to prove it again…tonight.
And even now that Molly is in the hands of two lunatics, even now that the health of my unborn child is unclear, even now that my entire world has been turned upside down for MONTHS by Void, I’m going to step into the ring with you tonight, and I’m going to beat you. I’m going to take out the months worth of anger that’s been building up inside of me on your ass. I’m going to use you to send a message to Void.
And then at Conquest, I’m going to destroy Void.
Dan again adjusts the belt on his shoulder.
Eryk Masters: I believe that’s Dan Stein issuing a challenge to Void!
OG: Dan wants so badly to get his hands on the man, it was inevitable. Let’s see what hoops Void has Dan jump through to get that match.
Dan Stein: Eryk Van Warren, you might legitimately be one of the best SHOOT Project technicians to ever step through those ropes. Ever. But you’re no Dan Stein. I don’t fear you. I’m not afraid of losing this Iron Fist Championship to you. Even when I look into your eyes across the ring tonight, there’s only one person who I’ll be thinking about.
And that’s Molly.
For SHOOT Project, this is the Ruination Main Event of the Year. It’s going to win Year End Awards. The fans will anoint it as the greatest match of all time. It’ll be a bloodbath.
For you, this is the match that rights all of the wrongs of your past. You’ll remember it for the rest of your life. Your son will remember it as the day his daddy’s dreams all came to die. You’re going to go to the grave with this loss on your mind.
Dan stands, holding the championship belt at his side.
Dan Stein: I’ve already forgotten about it. I’ve already forgotten about you. I’ve already moved on to more important things than X-Calibur.
God, it must suck for you to hear that and know that you can’t do anything about it.
Courtney Hatchett Vs. KIMO
The back of a man dressed in a cobalt blue three piece suit is shown. He stands on the balcony of a condo overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The sun sets on the beautiful waters before him. It is then that the most peculiar thing is noticed about him. He wears a mask. His brown hands tighten on the guardrail and he sighs.
Man: The Pacific Ocean is beautiful. Such a sight. Ferdinand Magellan saw these waters and he said to himself that he called it Pacífico.
His voice is clearly Hispanic in nature. The tassels on the back of his mask billow in the wind, as does his hair, carefully and meticulously tied up tightly into a ponytail.
Man: It…pacified him. It calms the soul to see it. After everything else he saw, Magellan saw those waters and he was calmed. He didn’t know it held the deepest parts of the Earth. He didn’t know it held the largest creatures, the most dangerous volcanoes. It was the unknown that was calming to him after his travels.
He chuckles softly.
Man: Magellan was killed by people that lived off of this calming sea. His body was never recovered. Even now, the seas are unknown to us. I have watched these waters most of my life. I fought in Japan, I fought in Mexico, I have gone everywhere. A lone soldier. Un soldado solitario.
He turns to the camera. The mask is black, white, and purple.
Man: When I found a family, friends, a home, it was taken from me.
He hisses those last words out. “Wherever I May Roam” by J Balvin and Metallica begins to play.
Man: I am not one to hide or sneak up on my opponents. So pay close attention. Presta mucha atención.
Man: Me has jodido por última vez. No soy un Proper Villain. Godspeed no tiene nada que ver con eso. Soy una llama Soy una llama eterna. Hijos de puta, soy Fuego Eterno. Usted ha sido advertido.
He inhales deeply and closes his eyes, breathing in the salt.
Fuego Eterno: I am Fuego Eterno. Everyday I burn clearer, I burn hotter, I burn brighter. I burn…and I am coming to set a fire that will never go out. Y no vengo solo.
The camera fades on him, staring into the camera. We fade listening to J Balvin’s rapping over “Wherever I May Roam”
Ya son más de diez años metiéndole y todavía sueño como nuevo
Balvin no tiene relevo, me sobra el dinero, el respeto y los huevos
Yo cada movimiento que hago, el juego a otro nivel lo elevo
Tú soñaste, te apagaste y no lleva’ ni la mita’ ‘e lo que llevó
Y la real, parece que entre más viejo yo más duro me pongo
Envidiosos, respiren hondo
Ria Lockhart Vs. Robby Bingo
It’s raw footage. Verite, as it’s said. There’s no professional lighting, no makeup, no slick graphics. There’s just a man in his gym. We don’t even have sight of Jamie or Buck, no staged quarter speed grappling on the mats to make it look more active than it is. It’s just Nate Robideau, in his gym logo sweats, standing with his arms crossed. He’s smiling softly, and he begins to pace in a small back and forth motion as he speaks.
Robideau: I’m not going to make you promises. You may not become a carved statue of muscle. You may not become a fearsome fighter. You may not become a champion.
He stops and faces the camera again. He squares his shoulders.
Robideau: You will work hard. You will find your deepest reservoirs of doubt and crush them to dust. You will learn who you really are once you’ve burned away everything else. That’s what a gym exists to do. We are not building a new you. We’re refining the you that exists.
He begins a slow walk around the walls of the gym, for no purpose other than for the camera to follow him and show off how everything is in its right place. The mats, the walls, the mirrors, the bags, the weights, the bikes and ellipticals. He holds his arms out, indicating his kingdom.
Robideau: We are no-frills. You will find no massage therapists on staff, no juice bar, no branded towels.
He strides past the front desk to the door, pausing on a photo of him raising the Iron Fist Championship. It’s right next to the photo of him raising the big belt. He lingers for a moment, then looks at the camera directly, his face in an up-close.
Robideau: What you can find–what you will find–is purpose. Community. Strength–real strength, not measured by your max bench, but measured by your bearing and willpower.
He backs away from the camera to the front door.
Robideau: So if you’re ready?
He pushes the door open and steps out. The camera follows–after it adjusts for the sunshine, the cameraman turns around, where Nate stands next to the door, pointing at the logo on the glass in vinyl.
Robideau: Blackhawk Fight Gym. East Vegas. I’ll expect to see you soon.
He opens the door and steps in. As it closes, the view zooms tight on the logo–where it holds, prominently displaying the address and phone contact, before cutting to black.
They face one another, somewhere in the bowels of the Epicenter. They Are clad in their leather jackets, which continue to gain bits of fur, spikes, and plates of metal. Even in the act of standing and breathing, they rattle. When Superbeast and Power Devil speak, it’s what counts for an “inside voice” for them–less boom, but still an authoritative bark that makes every word feel like a punch.
Superbeast: Early in our careers, we were baptized.
Power Devil: Buried.
Superbeast: If we emerged we would be worthy. If we didn’t, we would have no choice but to retire.
Power Devil: Barbed wire. Steel. Wood. Blades. Glass. Tacks. C-4 explosive. Kerosene. Lighter Fluid. Cutlery. Hand tools. Power Tools.
Superbeast: With every new cut, scrape, wound, injury…we became stronger. We were forged into a tighter team at first, then akin to family, then brothers. Baptized in blood and sparks and fire. The Demons of Cyber Roppongi, fearful of no man, who eat pain and breathe destruction from our mighty lungs.
Power Devil: Even without our crowns…feared.
Power Devil: We cut a figure of dread across any ring we have graced. Multiple nations.
Superbeast: Blood. Destruction. Violence. Mayhem. Anarchy. Combat. War.
Power Devil steps forward, taking up almost the entire frame. His eyes are wild, the paint making their whites pop even brighter. As he speaks his skull shakes, as if he’s having trouble keeping a lid on his aggression.
Power Devil: How many have bowed and become supplicants to the fury of the Unholy Cyber Army? How many have cockily discounted us at their own peril, making a mockery of who we are and of what we represent, only to find their sternums reduced to confetti and their faces coated in their own viscera?! CYBER Power Devil, CYBER Superbeast—mocked until we are forced to do something about it!!
Massive mits grasp him by his shoulders and pull him backwards until the Demons of Cyber Roppongi are side by side once more. They yell, to the sky and the camera, Superbeast holding out an accusatory finger, Power Devil beating his chest with every other word.
Superbeast: Michael and Lucas can you hear the wolves howling?!
Power Devil: They Thirst!
Superbeast: Michael and Lucas do you cower even now?!
Power Devil: The chattering of your teeth robs me of rest! I will remove them one by one with my fists!!
Superbeast: Sextons can you feel the icy hand of your own defeat drawing closer to grasping you?!
Power Devil: You stoke the flame but you cannot warm the chill in your bones! Your every moment is suffering!!
They turn to one another. Power Devil Clubs Superbeast, and receives a hammer blow in kind. They each grasp one another and THUD–smash their foreheads together with a sickening dull crack!!! They take a moment to recover, reeling.
Superbeast: You will know freedom from your pain!
Power Devil: You will taste the mercy of a long rest!
Superbeast: We will relieve you of your burden!
Both men are bleeding. They step forward , shoulder to shoulder, their eyes unblinking. The Unholy Cyber Army break into a big grins.
Power Devil: There will come a time very soon where you will be laying on the mat. The crowd has deafened you and demons who are truly better than you have torn your every defense to rubble, have fractured your bones, have soaked the canvas through with your blood itself! The crowd chanting and begging you, pleading with you to witness–
Power Devil: –the ascent of the rightful kings of this division! We have been gone too long, our thrones grow dusty, our subjects restless! They have been stomping their feet and rattling their sabers at the gate, Sextons! They want to see you Bowed!
With that, they stomp down the hall. Out of the light and into the darkness, screaming for war all the while, Hounds of War howling. We cut away from this…
Teresa Ames Vs. Devan Derbyshire
Backstage, we see a group of people talking. Among them are one of the medical team and Nate Robideau, who is having a conversation with her that involves him showing off the range of motion on his bad side–far improved from when we last saw him, it’s worth saying–and indicating to his ribs. The conversation seems warm, jovial even, but Nate’s face drains of any warmth into a stone countenance when someone enters his field of vision.
She strides over slowly, her gaze and his never faltering from one another. The medical tech excuses herself, casting a glance in the direction of Judy-E, and Nate walks over, his steps still ginger.
Judy-E DeMitri: Ignatius.
Nate smirks, chuckling softly.
Robideau: Is this the moment? Is this the moment when you stride up to me backstage, we have a terse conversation, then you blindside me when my back is turned? Break something over my head, make me so angry I storm off to Mr. Johnson’s office and scream at him through my rage–demand that he put it in writing that I face NEMESIS for the belt?
He steps in close, very much in her personal space, and leans forward. His voice drops to a low, menacing rumble.
Robideau: If you’re going to try and hurt me again, do it to my face. And you better knock me out on the first swing.
Judy-E looks up at Nate, maskless. It’s hard to tell from the angle, but her right hand is tapping against her hip. It’s difficult to narrow down if it’s nervous energy, a tic, or something else. However, her face remains locked in, unaffected by Nate’s advance.
Judy-E: There’s a part of me that thought about it. Just kick down that door behind me and make sure everyone knows where I am, and just come at you like a wild animal. Let that part of myself go and give it what it wants. It’s been…difficult. Not to let that happen. Not to just do what everyone expects me to do. To fall into the same goddamn pitfalls turn into the exact same psychopath that everyone is waiting for me to be. That you expect me to be, from what you just said.
She takes a deep breath, and it’s shaky. She doesn’t step back though, she doesn’t back down from the physical imposition Nate lays down.
Judy-E: I…need to beat you.
Nate’s eyes narrow somewhat, and Judy-E cuts him off before he can say it.
Judy-E: Just…just shut up and listen to me. You’re the only person in SHOOT that’s beaten me, Nate. I’ve lost. I’ve fought and tried and lost and I’m enough of a competitor to know that. My record isn’t anything to put on a pedestal…but you have this uncanny ability to get through…everything I can do. It’s the same feeling when people can’t talk to me without bringing up my fucking father. They think they know my story before it’s written. You wrestle me…
Another shaky breath, the cold in her eyes turning into anger, her jaw trying it’s best not to clench as hard as her fists are right now.
Judy-E: You fight me like you already know how it’s going to end. Like you’re going to stuff this newcomer loudmouth in the fucking trash with all the rest. I’m another foregone conclusion in the life and times of Nate Robideau. That’s why I need this. That’s why I’m here right now, fighting every primal urge in my body not to reach up and just wrap my hands around your neck. That’s why I’m SHAKING right now instead of making every same “DeMitri Mistake” into a path of alcoholism, ostracization, and self-destruction. I am fighting THAT urge. Not that you give a shit.
Not that you fucking care.
Not that you should.
You wanna fight someone else? Fuck it. Do it.
A shaky hand comes up, and she places it as gently as she can on his shoulder. Not as any kind of intimidation, but as something genuine. Whether that’s genuine rage, or fear, or admiration, or just pure nerves, it was truly hard to tell with her.
Judy-E: It took every part of me not to put on the mask before coming in here. You deserve to look at my face when I tell you this. I…need to beat you. If I have any chance of being anything more than a fucking footnote in history. If I have any chance of earning VALOR’s respect…of any of their respect…I need to do this. So do you want me to walk outside and have me come back in and to this the way you expected me to…?
There’s a long moment. A tense one. Though his nostrils flare and his eyes narrow, he makes no move to remove her hand from his shoulder. Instead, he locks her gaze. His next words are soft, no boom in his chest.
Robideau: I understand that drive.
He smiles, an ease of tension in his stance that she subconsciously reciprocates.
Robideau: I even understand why you want to mash me to paste right now. Which you do. Want to know how I know there’s that good murderous lust underneath your facade of control? Because my pulse isn’t even up and I know how good it would feel to put you in the hospital. To feel your blood on my face. To hear you beg in absolute agony. To hear you plead. Because we have that fire in our veins. Otherwise we’d work in offices, wouldn’t we?
She blinks finally, possibly surprised at his frankness. After a moment, he steps away. Takes a few steps in a small circle, clearly thinking.
Robideau: You gave in. You gave in to that desire and you decided to take it out on me no matter the cost. Why? Don’t dress it up. Don’t tell me that you need to prove you can hang or prove that you aren’t just Azraith’s daughter. All of that is meaningless. It’s justification. You swung on me and cracked my ribs because it felt good. You did it because somewhere in the caveman part of your brain, somewhere in that bit of cold reptile we still have, you saw I was exhausted and figured I was easy pickings. You did it because you wanted me to feel desperate and hurt and weak. Because that’s how I made you feel.
He gets back within spitting distance, his face surprisingly not angry. He looks placid. At peace. Her eyes do not falter, even if she’s wearing the ghost of a scowl.
Robideau: I can’t find it in myself to hate you. When you attacked me I felt the strikes of a young man who I’ll never be because I went too far. But Judith, understand…I really, really want to hurt you.
For the first time since stepping into the room, a small smile curves Judy’s lips. Her hand steadies, and rests at her side.
Judy-E: You don’t understand how much I wanted to hear you say that, Nate.
She lets that sit a second before looking down to her hands.
Judy-E: It felt so…fucking…good, Nate. I’ll admit there’s a lot of things you could teach me, and in another world I’d probably be the first person in line…but the absolute last thing you need to teach me is how that quiet part of the back of your skull gets really loud when there’s blood on our hands. That feeling? That drive? That’s my fucking birthright. Not a spot on a roster. Not a last name. Not a legacy. My curse since knowing that I could throw a punch is how absolutely easy it is to just…keep…throwing them. You want to teach me? You want to hurt me?
She takes a step back, her smile one of someone that knows exactly the fire she’s stepping into. Her arms raise up at her sides, palms up in the universal symbol of “Let’s Fucking Do This!”. Her excitement the opposite side of the coin to Nate’s stoicism.
Judy-E: Then you know what to do.
He takes a moment. When he shakes his head it’s not rueful, just a man absorbing data and processing it. His words are carefully chosen.
Robideau: There’s not a circumstance where you aren’t going to get this fight, Judy. You know that. I haven’t made a career of backing down, and I know this is going to be under your skin until it’s finished, definitive, through.
He now smirks and leans forward.
Robideau: I also know that if we went out there right now and you won? You’d be just as in your own skull about it. ‘Was he one hundred percent? Can I beat him when he’s fully healed?’ That’ll eat you up as sure as any other doubt. It’ll leave you hollow and numb. So even though I can plainly see just how ready you are to destroy me, your blades are going to bed without tasting my blood. No, if you want me, we’re going to do this proper. A nice big stage–pay per view. Middle of the ring. Both of us rested. Both of us ready to give everything to make the other give up. Not because of any gladhanding. Not because I think you’re just an easy stat pad. Not because of your legacy or who your dad is.
With a speed that always seems shocking for the stockiness of his build, he swoops close until they are literally nose to nose. Judy-E doesn’t flinch or back down–instead she leans her head forward, pressing against Nate’s skull. His next words are at a menacing hush of a growl.
Robideau: Because you messed up really bad when you picked a fight. And now we’re going to see if you’re made of anything stronger than what you brought to the table last time. If you are, then I’ll raise your hand myself.
He pushes forward, shoving her slightly, and they separate as he leans back. He raises an eyebrow.
Robideau: But if you aren’t?
He lets the question hang in the air, pregnant. He offers no follow up. Instead, he keeps her gaze as he slowly steps backwards, rolling his shoulders ever so slightly. She makes no effort to move, to puff up, to even fire off another bon mot. The only sign of her even reacting is her right hand, which curls into a tight fist and shakes. We cut away from this back to the announce team, who both are shaking their heads.
Scott Kamura: They keep saying that they dont hate each other, that this isnt about getting one up one someone, that this about pride and competitorship–but this just feels to me like two people who rub each other the wrong way finding a good reason to hurt each other. Dutch?
Dutch Harris: Not like I can disagree with you there, but I do feel like Nate is still treating her like she’s not a real threat–and he should know she is!
Scott Kamura: Fans coming up we still have one big match left, X-Calibur facing the Iron Fist Champion Dan Stein–and that action is next!
X-Calibur Vs. Dan Stein (c)
Eryk Masters: I don’t believe it!
Other Guy: Believe, Eryk. History was just made tonight.
As X-Calibur stands victorious over the fallen Dan Stein, the sold-out Epicenter rains the boos down upon him. Tony Lorenzo raises his hand and looks to the time keeper for the Iron Fist Championship, but Arthur Pleasant is already there. The Hand of Calamity swipes the championship off of the small square table holding one of SHOOT Project’s most prestigious and storied titles. Looking at the sea of pissed off fans, Pleasant can’t help but cackle at their woes.
Eryk Masters: I guess the Son wants to be the one to present the Father with his spoils?
Other Guy: Oh no. Here they come!
Dan Stein heads up the ramp while Bronson and Victor Thane emerge from the back. Clearly heartbroken having lost his championship to his nemesis, Dan Stein pays neither Thane nor Bronson any mind before disappearing into Gorilla. Thane and Bronson head up the ramp, clapping the whole way.
Eryk Masters: Proper Villainz seem to be right on the cusp of sheer domination over SHOOT Project right now.
Other Guy: This is scary.
Clutching the belt like a newborn, Pleasant carefully pulls himself up onto the ring apron with his free hand. X-Calibur rips his sweaty arm away from Lorenzo as he sees his own flesh and blood bringing him his record-breaking fourth Iron Fist Championship. Pleasant kisses the belt and sneaks up behind his Father, snapping the straps closed around The Iron God’s waist.
Eryk Masters: You have to wonder what is going through the mind of Kitsune right now.
Other Guy: Honestly? I’m thinking more about what’s going through Azraith DeMitri’s right now. After the way X-Calibur turned on the Avatar and joined the Proper Villainz, I feel like those two SHOOT Project Titans are on a collision course for an EPIC showdown. Talk about a dream match between two Hall of Famers!
The Iron God simply stands there with his head up and his arms crossed as the newly won Iron Fist Championship glistens under the Epicenter lights. Thane and Bronson enter the ring behind the unmoving X-Calibur. All present members of Proper Villainz shower their Iron God with heaps of praise as “The Iron Foundry, Opus 19” by Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony blares over the sound system.
Eryk Masters: We’re outta time, folks! We’ll see you tomorrow at Revolution!
Other Guy: We’re one step closer to Conquest!
Just as the copyright hits the bottom right corner on everyone’s respective device, the camera zooms in on The Iron God’s face. His lips slowly form a shape as he mouths something.
“…pray to me.”