There’s a slow, but purposeful knock on the locker room door. The nameplate reads “Unholy Breedlove Empire” and the man standing at the door is none other than one of the Empire’s enforcer’s, KIMO. Clemson Dean answers and welcomes KIMO in.
Clemson: KIMO! Hell yeah. Glad to see you, brother. Come on in.
KIMO walks in and is greeted by Muratagi Hanzo, Cromwell Yarbury, and the SHOOT Project World Heavyweight Champion, Joshua Breedlove. Breedlove is sitting in the middle of the locker room, having fashioned somewhat of a throne for himself. He’s flanked on either side by Yarbury and Hanzo.
Breedlove: Man am I glad to see you, buddy. We’re settling in to watch this deal with SAIGO and our boys.
KIMO quietly looks around the room, getting nods from Hanzo and Yarbury.
KIMO: Gentlemen, do you mind if I have a word alone with Josh?
Yarbury: I think you mean Mr. Breedlove, mate.
Breedlove holds a hand up, interrupting the conversation.
Breedlove: KIMO doesn’t and hasn’t ever had to call me Mr. Breedlove. He and I go back farther than all of this. Take a walk, everyone.
Breedlove motions to the door and visually brushes them away. Cromwell snorts as he, Hanzo, and Clemson exit the room.
Breedlove: My man, what’s up?
KIMO: I think it’s time, Josh.
Breedlove: Yeah? You think so?
KIMO: Yes, sir.
Breedlove: None of that.
KIMO: Sorry. Yeah, I think it’s time. I need to…
Breedlove: Time for you to spread your wings. I get it. You and me? We always knew you’d want to get a little more of this business than you’ve gotten. No argument from me.
KIMO: I owe you, Josh.
Breedlove: You owe me nothing, uce. We are family, always will be.
KIMO: So then we’re good?
Breedlove: Of course we’re good. Consider your contract with the Unholy Breedlove Empire… terminated.
Breedlove smiles and KIMO extends his hand, which Breedlove clasps before pulling him in for a hug.
KIMO: Thank you.
Breedlove: Nah man, thank YOU. I’ll be watching to see what you do next, you know that. Maybe you end up across the ring from me one day.
KIMO: Maybe, but not yet. Not yet. I have something else on my mind. Someone else.
Breedlove smirks, nodding his head.
Breedlove: Anyone I know?
KIMO: Yeah, you know him.
KIMO keeps eye contact with Breedlove.
KIMO: The American Outlaw.
YOU’VE GOT THE TOUCH!
YOU’VE GOT THE POWAAAAAAAAH!
The SHOOT Project faithful erupt as Dan Stein’s music hits the Epicenter speakers. Dan walks out from the back wearing a VALOR t-shirt, and the Shut Up and FIGHT! Championship over his shoulder. Dan’s forehead is bandaged up from all of Void’s biting and gnawing.
Scott Kamura: LOOK WHO IT IS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN! Your Shut Up and FIGHT! Champion, the HALL OF FAMER! Dan ‘The Lights’ Stein! Fresh off the battle he and Void waged for almost TWO HOURS!!! at Master of the Mat!
Dutch Harris: And he looks the part, Scott. I don’t think we’ve ever seen Dan Stein look this tired and broken in his life. Void really did a number on him at Master of the Mat, and really, all year long.
Scott Kamura: He sure did, Dutch. This isn’t the smirking Dan Stein we’re used to seeing every week here in SHOOT Project.
“HALL OF FAMER!”
“HALL OF FAMER!”
“HALL OF FAMER!”
Dutch Harris: Listen to what the fans are chanting at The Lights!
Scott Kamura: He deserves it!
Dan walks out of the shadows and down to the ring, rolling into the ring under the bottom rope because taking the stairs is too painful. He quickly makes it to his feet and turns toward the hardcam, all of the bruising in his arms and face now clearly visible. Dan doesn’t dance around, he doesn’t gloat, he doesn’t bask in the cheers. Dan simply exists for a moment.
Scott Kamura: This is a changed man here, Dutch.
Dutch Harris: Definitely not the boastful, cocky Dan Stein we’re used to seeing.
Dan walks over to the corner opposite the hardcam and furthest from the ramp and leans back in it. He slowly puts the microphone to his mouth, and the crowd dies down. Dan rubs his forehead, reminding himself of the pain.
Dan Stein: I have so many reasons to gloat right now. So many reasons to walk this ring up and down and tout my abilities to the world, and all I want to do is crumble in pain in this corner and die. I was stretched, I was bent, and I was bit for nearly two hours at Master of the Mat. Two damned hours. I’m sore, I’m bruised, I’m stitched up. More importantly?
Dan steps out of the corner and onto the center of the SHOOT Project logo in the ring.
Dan Stein: I’m still…here.
The SHOOT Project faithful once again erupt. Dan takes the Shut Up and FIGHT! Championship off of his shoulder and looks at the face plate.
Dan Stein: I’m still YOUR Shut Up and FIGHT! Champion.
Dan raises the championship high in the air. As the fans continue cheering, Dan retracts the belt and again slaps it over his shoulder. Dan paces the ring briefly, speaking as he walks.
Dan Stein: There are those out there that claim Void failed; That Void didn’t accomplish what he set out to do. To them, I say, ‘that’s bullshit’.
Dan turns to the camera, holding up his thumb.
Dan Stein: Void set out to end The Golden Boy. He did that.
Now he holds up his index finger. As he speaks, he lifts another finger, and then another.
Dan Stein: He set out to prove that I was a horrible person, father, and husband. He did that. Void is a sadistic sonuvabitch. He’s twisted. But everything that Void set out to do, he did. Whatever fucked up mission he was on was successful in so many different ways. Everything, but one.
Stein waves bends his pinky finger up and down for a few seconds, then lowers his hand, looking into the camera.
Dan Stein: He set out to prove that all I did in the face of adversity was run, hide, and quit. THAT is where I proved him wrong. That is where I succeeded. That’s why I’m still here.
The fans erupt once again!
Dan Stein: That’s why I’m a SHOOT Project Hall of Famer.
The fans absolutely EXPLODE in cheers! Dan takes a moment to let those words soak in, rubbing the inside of his eye to help stop any tears.
Dan Stein: That’s why I’m still your Shut Up and FIGHT! Champion!
Dan slaps the faceplate of the belt, letting the fans cheer again.
Dan Stein: And I’m not going anywhere tonight until I have my next challenger. I don’t care if you’re a SHOOT Project Hall of Famer, or you’ve only been in the company for two weeks, come on down and get a shot at the Shut Up and FIGHT! Championship.
“5 out of 6” by Dessa hits and the crowd is unsure as to who that music belonged to until the Golden Goddess and newcomer to SHOOT Project, Lexi Gold appears from behind the curtain and walks out to the stage. The crowd cheers her on. Even those who were unfamiliar joined in.
Scott Kamura: That’s Lexi Gold, one of the newest additions to the SHOOT Project roster!
Dutch Harris: Everyone is super excited to have her in SHOOT Project, and it looks like she’s wasting no time in getting herself a title shot!
She smiled and surveys the crowd while placing a hand on her hip, looking stunning in a red bodycon dress with black sparkly heels and her golden way locks bouncing as she begins to walk down the ramp and as she reaches near ringside she claps a few hands, then proceeds to carefully walk up the steps and enters the ring through the bottom rope before walking to grab a mic, then she stands across the ring from Dan and eyes him up and down with a smile.
Scott Kamura: No backing down from Lexi Gold here.
Dutch Harris: She looks like a woman who knows what she wants!
She waits for her music to die down before raising the mic to her lips. The crowd tunes into this unexpected interruption from Lexi.
Lexi Gold: Hello, champ. I bet you were not expecting someone like me to come out here and interrupt you, but I’d figure I would come out here to introduce myself. I’m Lexi Gold. Newcomer to SHOOT Project, but certainly not new to this business and also another reason I’m out here is because I want to personally congratulate you on successfully holding onto that beautiful championship belt.
Lexi lowers the mic and starts showing her respect by applauding his hard efforts, then the crowd does the same. She simply nods her head as she looks at him. Dan nods, looking at her, then out at the crowd.
Dan Stein: I guess I should be the first to welcome you to SHOOT Project, Lexi. I just don’t think the only reason why you’re out here is to congratulate me on my match at Master of the Mat. Call me cynical, if you want.
She chuckles to herself, running a hand through her hair before continuing to speak.
Lexi Gold: Well, you did issue a challenge as I was backstage listening, so yeah you are right. I may be new here, but I want to be able to prove I have what it takes to be in the ring with the very best wrestlers around. That includes you. When the time calls I would like to challenge you for that championship. What do you say?
Dan rubs his forehead again, smirking for the first time all night. Dan turns back to Lexi.
Dan Stein: You’re not… you’re not going to pummel me within an inch of my life right here in the ring? No…sneak attacks, no chair shots? Just…competition for the sake of competition, is it, then?
The fans in the arena erupt as Dan Stein sticks his hand out for Lexi to shake.
Lexi Gold: No tricks, no attacks just a good old fashioned wrestling match between two respected wrestlers who are willing to give it their all.
She extends her hand out to him and the two shake hands as the crowd cheers on the respect being shown. Lexi runs a finger on his title and then places it on his shoulder. Dan steps away from the finger on his shoulder and looks at her, still shaking her hand.
Dan Stein: You want a shot at the Shut Up and FIGHT! Championship, Lexi? You’ve got it!
Scott Kamura: And just like that, a Shut Up and FIGHT! Championship match has been set up for the near future here between Dan Stein and Lexi Gold!
Dutch Harris: I’m excited to see this newcomer to SHOOT Project in the ring, and just as excited for what’s next for the SHOOT Project Hall of Famer, Dan Stein!
Scott Kamura: Should be an absolute spectacle when they step into the ring against each other!
The two soldiers in the ring break their handshake, “The Touch” by Stan Bush plays over the Epicenter speakers again, and the camera fades as they stare at each other with smiles.
SAIGO Vs. Unholy Cyber Army (c)
Otherwise deserted, the man paces. We know his cauliflower ears, preponderance of scars, his shoulders and blackhawk gym hoodie. Lost in his own pre-match regimine, the former Heavyweight Champion – and possible future Rules of Surrender Champion – barely notices the figure approaching from behind him until their arm is on his shoulder.
Nate Robideau instinctively goes for an arm lock, trying to gain an advantage, only to be spun around into a sleeper hold.
Ayumi Seppuku: And I thought I had trust issues…
Ayumi raises her arms and steps back as Nate yanks out his ear buds and looks the Ronin Wraith up and down, confused.
Nate Robideau: …my apologies. But you should take better care in the future, Ayumi Seppuku. We go to interesting places before we do battle.
Ayumi leans back and crosses her arms.
Ayumi Seppuku: And here I thought I was being cordial coming to wish my opponent a good match, no hard feelings, and so on and so forth.
Nate sighs and shakes his head.
Nate Robideau: I am not used to people wishing me well before a match. I keep very tight company, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. But to wish me luck…my information is readily available. You could have called, or stopped by the gym, rather than sneaking around in the shadows like some serial killer.
Ayumi Seppuku: How do you know I’m not?
Nate doesnt move–an unstirring mountain as always–but cocks an eyebrow and stares at his opponent.
Ayumi Seppuku: Kidding. Kidding.
Robideau sighs and takes a small pace. Ayumi can sense that he’s gathering his thoughts, and elects to stay silent, though the smile fades into a set jaw and a look of expectation. Nate finally stops, levels, speaks.
Nate Robideau: Every single day for twelve years I fought for my life. I didn’t really know what I was going to do when I got out, because I was not sure that I was getting out. But there were nights when things were quiet and my blood was too hot, and I thought about this. These moments. Returning to the ring. And I thought to myself…who would I dream to face? Who would I one day like to rub shoulders with?
He looks at her with a penetrating gaze.
Nate Robideau: You were one I dreamed of. The pipe dream of a man being crushed to death behind a cage. But a dream nonetheless.
Ayumi opens her mouth but doesn’t know how to respond. Nate steps forward and pushes his face right up into Ayumi’s, this time causing her to be the one to take a step back.
Nate Robideau: Don’t you dare disappoint me out there.
With that, Nate throws his towel back over his shoulder and walks away from the scene, putting his ear buds back in.
As he exits, Ayumi lets out the breath she had been holding in with a choked, nervous laugh. The Ronin Wraith looks up at the ceiling and sighs, shaking her head.
Ayumi: Well… shit. Now I don’t know whether to be honored or scared.
Dutch Harris: Up next, ladies and gentlemen… a triple threat match featuring Cal Crawford, the uncanny Bobby Dean, and…
“Fur Elise” by Cole Rolland
Dutch Harris: … this man.
As the rock version of Beethoven’s classic echoes throughout the arena and the lights take on a purple hue, Ned Reform… excuse me, DOCTOR Ned Reform… appears at the entrance way dressed for competition. Same exact look we remember from all those months ago: purple and white singlet and unmistakable smirk of superiority. Reform pauses at the ramp with both arms behind his back… until he reveals that one of those hands is holding a microphone. He makes the “cut it” motion to signal his theme should fade out, and he patiently waits until it does to bring the mic up to his lips.
Ned Reform: Greetings… miscreants and scoundrels.
The fans let The Pedagogue of Pain know exactly how they feel about him. Reform shakes his head.
Ned Reform: I’ve been led to believe… well, I’ve been told there is a sizable portion of SHOOT Project fans that believe I… what was the term? Owe them an explanation?
Another smirk. As the boos rain down, the announcers catch us up to speed.
Dutch Harris: At Master of the Mat, Ned Reform returned to SHOOT Project… apparently at the invitation of CK Butcher. Butcher seemed to think that Reform had come back a changed man… but Ned quickly proved that not to be true with a brutal beatdown.
Reform holds up a hand.
Ned Reform: I assure you, children… you will soon understand. Because although I am about to make my triumphant return to the ring, I am first going to answer all of your questions. But before I do, I would like to try a little exercise with you all, yes? If you’ll direct your attention to the big screen…
Reform points up, and on the tron appears a single word in white lettering on a black background: INHERENT. The Good Doctor smiles and then slowly begins to walk down the ramp, narrating his instructions as he goes.
Ned Reform: Our word for today is inherent. Now… take a moment, children, and put your imagination caps on. I want you to go to a place in your mind. Go on a journey with me. I want you to think of a quality that you consider to be inherent in yourself. This might be a personality trait, a skill, or some other feature. I’m going to put two minutes on the clock…
Reform momentarily stops walking toward the ring to again point at the big screen, where the word “INHERENT” disappears and is replaced with a countdown that reads: “02:00.”
Ned Reform: …and I will ask you to take one minute to think about something in yourself that you consider inherent. With the remaining minute, I’d like you to find an elbow partner… yes, just someone near you… preferably someone you do not know… and I would like you and your partner to briefly share your answers.
Reform stops walking halfway to the ring.
Ned Reform: Do we all understand?
The nerve of this asshole. The fans, obviously, are not playing along with whatever stupid game he is playing. But none of this seems to penetrate the delusion of Ned Reform.
Ned Reform: Okay… GO!
On the tron, the countdown begins. The Good Doctor resumes walking toward the ring. As he does, his head is on a swivel: he looks all around the arena and begins to narrate what he’s seeing.
Ned Reform: It would appear that I have less than 20% of you engaging in my activity… excuse me sir, but we’re supposed to be thinking right now, not talking… I see a young man in front who is making an obscene gesture toward me when he should be deep in thought… I see a young lady over here who appears to be asleep…
As he speaks, Reform is up the ring steps and steps into the ring. He looks around at the fans who are booing him relentlessly but otherwise not following his instructions. He looks perplexed for a moment… and then he whacks himself on the forehead.
Ned Reform: Of course!! What a fool I was not to see it. Stop the clock!
The countdown ends at “1:15.”
Ned Reform: It didn’t occur to me and for that I apologize, children. The reason you weren’t engaging in my activity… you don’t know what inherent means, do you?
Another round of boos.
Ned Reform: Well. I will try to find a way to explain that will help people like you understand. Inherent is… well, it’s something you are born with. A personality trait, or ability, or skill that… you don’t have to work for it, yes? It’s in your DNA. For example: I was birthed with a knack for deep critical analysis that sets me apart from the majority of my peers. Both a blessing and curse, I assure you. It has led to some… well, social isolation might be the best term for it. Not many people truly understand someone such as myself, and that leads to resentment as I’m sure you can understand. But… try as I might, I cannot change it. I cannot change who I am.
A slow smile spreads. Now we’re at the heart of the matter.
Ned Reform: And neither can you. And neither… can CK Butcher.
Reform begins to pace around the ring as he speaks.
Ned Reform: Some may find my brutalization of Mr. Butcher at Master of the Mat barbaric. Unnecessary. Unbecoming of a man of my stature. But they fail to realize that CK Butcher is a man who only understands violence. Yes… I know his current persona preaches a positive outlook on life. But those are the words of a man who is deeply in denial, children. You see: I believe Mr. Butcher’s intentions to be good. I understand that he believes himself to be an earnest man of conviction. I do not accuse him of lying to us or deceiving us… but I do believe he is deceiving himself.
Reform stops pacing. He looks up into the air as if remembering.
Ned Reform: It was a simple matter. A phone call. All I had to claim to Mr. Butcher was that his words struck a chord with me. That I was not the Dr. Reform of months prior. That I had grown into a…
Reform pretends to shudder.
Ned Reform: …a fool like the rest of you. And within days, Mr. Butcher had convinced the SHOOT brass that I deserved a second chance.
Reform looks directly into the camera. His smile is nausea inducing.
Ned Reform: And then I kicked him in his testicals and left him a broken mess. I did this because… well, because it’s who I am. I cannot pretend to have gone soft. I cannot pretend to have debased myself by others’ weak sense of morality. I am Dr. Ned Reform. I am a man among men. I am the Philosopher King. And I will never change.
Reform’s smile melts away.
Ned Reform: …and neither will you, Mr. Butcher. Your mission to improve others lives, while admirable, is foolish. You will change no one. We are who we are… and while you can smile at the camera and profess otherwise all you’d like, you are still the red skinned terror who struck fear into the hearts of the SHOOT Project. I have returned to SHOOT Project for this reason: I will make it my mission to strip away all your pretenses. To lay bare the essence of who you are. To show you… and everyone… that the old CK Butcher is the real you.
The dark smile.
Ned Reform: And Dr. Ned Reform will expose you… one layer at a time.
The final emphasis on the word ‘time’ vibrates off Reform’s lips as the crowd turns their heads simultaneously toward the stage because they hear the chorus of Micheal Mahendere’s “Salt of the Earth”.
Dutch Harris: Here we GO, Scott!
Scott Kamura: Cal Crawford and Bobby Dean may not get to see the ring if this goes the way I think it’s going to go!
Reform shares the crowd’s intrigue as his dark smile grows and his eyes focus on CK Butcher and Elbow Jackson walking onto the stage. The casually dressed Butcher isn’t preparing for a battle and totes a microphone while his associate mockingly claps toward the ring. The crowd is relatively excited to see the slow moving, smiling Butcher as his theme music gradually fades. The two men, who call themselves The Silver Linings, pause for a brief moment as they proudly absorb the crowds chant…
CROWD: SEIZE! SEIZE! SEIZE! SEIZE!
Butcher closes his eyes, tilts his head back, smiles, and inhales deeply. The chants continue as Reform is seen in the ring with his fingers jammed into his ears. CK reaches over to Elbow Jackson and smacks him on the chest. Both men raise their left arms into the air and then pump their fists as they finish the chant with the crowd…
CROWD, BUTCHER and JACKSON: …SEIZE IT!
Now Butcher is ready as the crowd’s volume decreases. He points toward the ring and raises the microphone to his lips.
CK Butcher: Did I…or…did I not…hear you ask for us to find…an ELBOW partner?
Butcher immediately looks at Jackson and Jackson immediately looks at Butcher. Their eyes widen as the crowd cheers. Butcher points at Elbow Jackson and he can be lightly heard through the microphone saying “that’s you!” We can lightly hear Jackson say “that’s me! I’m the Elbow!” Butcher turns his attention back to Reform.
CK Butcher: I can come out here and review what you did at Master of the Mat, but I don’t think the greatest fans in the history of this sport deserve to hear any more about that…
More cheers follow the compliment, and CK continues.
CK Butcher: …I’ve nursed the minor injuries and I am more than happy to absorb your deception. Wow, there’s a lot to digest…that was a fantastic lecture, and you’re right…there was a bit of foolishness involved in this debacle. However, there’s no excuse. I’m not going to go on and on about why we’re standing here tonight following a gut-wrenching curveball attack from a coward. No, Ned, I want to move my piece up a square or two and begin the defensive. I want to seize this moment. You’ve been awarded a second chance to showcase your talents; you’re welcome, by the way. So, to reciprocate for what these wonderful fans pay to see…I’m going to suggest that we continue this the old fashion way. See, we’re wrestlers, Ned. We fight for a living. We can do this sort of thing all day long but nobody really wants to see that. This isn’t the typical university racket where people actually have to pay to hear you speak, Ned. So, let’s give these beautiful people what they pay…to witness.
Dutch Harris: Are we going to see CK Butcher versus Ned Reform? TONIGHT?
The fans’ cheering escalates as Butcher cuts into their acceptance to continue.
CK Butcher: You want to discuss inherent? That’s what’s really inherent. You, me, Elbow, we were born to do THIS. It’s in our DNA. We tie up, we square up, we bust knuckles and break bones. We suplex people across the ring, and try to shred ligaments and snap cartilage. The goal of what we do is to dominate someone for a grand total of three seconds, knock them unconscious, or make them submit. And…we were born to do that. Inherent. It’s what we do. We. Not just real men. There are REAL women that do this, too, and they do it better than you…and me. So, let’s drop the charade. I will still be more than willing to extend my hand to a friend in need so that they can better themselves, and that’s me being me. I do that for free because nobody should have to pay for friendship, support, and love. I will continue to do my part to inspire greatness in others. It’s not my career; because I’ll do that for life. The thing that puts clothes on my family, food on their plates, and a roof over their heads…is THIS. So, I won’t “deceive” myself, but I’ll be honest with myself and everyone in attendance. You didn’t just pull the wool over our eyes and sneak back into SHOOT. You’ve decided to give CK Butcher and the Silver Linings a pay day. That’s one thing that’s never changed: I’m DAMN good at what I do…and I’m MORE than happy to show you the better end of a CK Butcher ass kicking…
Elbow suddenly smacks Butcher on the shoulder while the crowd cheers. Jackson is signaling for the microphone, and CK hands it to him. Jackson glares at the Doctor.
Elbow Jackson: I’d say me first, Butch, but let those other homies take care of Neddy tonight. Fact of the matter is, Doc, I don’t do well with blind attacks. You shoulda KILLED me em-eff, because putting me down for a coupla’minutes aint do you no good. There’s a reason why we call ourselves the Silver Linings…because we’re the HOPE…and we’re the HYPE. So, C, I will say ME FIRST when it comes to US…because next week, on Ruination, Doc, it’s gon’be YOU…and it’s gon’be ME…and we’re gonna GET PAID…while you get SLAYED.
An annoyed Ned Reform shrugs his shoulders with a half smirk. He nods, mouthing “if we must” as we take another look at Jackson and Butcher.
Elbow Jackson: And…YOU…CAN…
Jackson and Butcher put their arms in the air and the crowd joins in as they fist pump, and then fist bump…
CROWD, BUTCHER and JACKSON: SEIZE IT!
Suddenly Cal Crawford’s theme music hits as Butcher and Elbow Jackson part to make way for the new SHOOT superstar.
Scott Kamura: There you have it, folks! Next week…it’s going to be ELBOW JACKSON…taking on DOCTOR NED REFORM…one on one…here on RUINATION!
Dutch Harris: This is going to be an interesting quarrel, Scotty. I am very, very intrigued; and I cannot wait to see how this all unfolds!
Dr. Ned Reform Vs. Cal Crawford Vs. Bobby Dean
Dutch Harris: That was a heck of an introduction to the Apex Tournament, Scott! I can’t wait to see what this next match has in store for us with a dominant Buck Dresen taking on a rising star in Ignatius Albert Martin.
Scott Kumura: You’re absolutely right, Dutch, we’ve-
Your butt is minnnnnnne
Gonna tell you right
Michael Jackson’s “Bad” hits the speakers as Blaze Claymore steps out onto the stage, microphone in hand – as he does, a chorus of boos rain down from the crowd.
Scott Kumura: …we’ve got company.
Dutch Harris: Great. Just… great.
As Blaze walks down the ramp a chant begins to rise from the stands echoing the meme emerging from the SAG Award-Winning* actor’s first unofficial victory in SHOOT Project.
Crowd: CUCKMOOOOORE. CUCKMOOOOOORE. CUCKMOOOOOOORE.
A visibly irritated Blaze steps into the ring and rips off his designer sunglasses to look at the crowd.
Blaze Claymore: HEY! STOP THAT! RIGHT NOW!
Clearly not a student of reverse psychology, Blaze recoils as the crowd doubles down on their chants, even those who weren’t in on it to start have joined in.
Scott Kumura: It’s been no secret that Blaze has been the focus of a lot of Spitter jokes recently – it’s really united a cross-section of SHOOT fans, which is certainly impressive.
Dutch Harris: Blaze has done NOTHING to endear himself to fans since he stepped into SHOOT, Scott. Between taking advantage of Kayden Paulton, faking a heart attack in his match with Courtney Hatchett, and his cocky attitude – can you blame them?
Blaze Claymore paces around the ring for several seconds before lifting the microphone back to his lips, trying to shout over the crowd.
Blaze Claymore: JOHNNY PATRIOT! WE NEED TO TALK!
The crowd switches from chants to cheers as Blaze calls out the man who he defeated at Master of the Mat.
“AMERICA! FUCK YEAH!”
The crowd comes to life as a dressed-down Johnny Patriot slowly makes his way from the back, looking confused.
Crowd: Johnny! Johnny! Johnny!
Dutch Harris: Blaze has certainly got the crowd galvanized for Johnny Patriot; but I have no idea what’s going on here – Blaze WON so why is he out here?
Scott Kumura: I think we’re about to find out, Dutch.
Blaze Claymore: JOHNNY! Good to see you. I trust there aren’t any hurt feelings about how things turned out and me being crowned Master of the Matt.
Johnny shrugs and tries to say something that no one can hear.
Scott Kumura: Would someone get that man a microphone please?
A stagehand quickly runs from behind the stage, crouched down to avoid being seen and doing so very poorly, holding a microphone up for Johnny to use.
Johnny Patriot: Congratulations, Blaze. Really. You proved me wrong… is that what you wanted to say – why you wanted to bring me out here?
The crowd begins to grumble at Johnny’s remarks and at the implication Blaze is just trying to make fun of him. Blaze, for his part, shakes his head and holds up his hand in protest.
Blaze Claymore: Not at all, Johnny. But… the fact is that match we had? It was a mess. I didn’t give you my best. I didn’t give this amazing SHOOT Project crowd MY best.
The crowd boos in response, but Blaze shrugs it off.
Blaze Claymore: A match between Blaze Claymore and Johnny Patriot? That’s bigger than Master of the Matt. That’s bigger than being recorded on security cameras in an empty training facility – it deserves a LIVE audience.
The crowd buzzes as Johnny lowers the microphone, looking skeptically at Blaze.
Blaze Claymore: Just like Rocky and Apollo Creed, our story isn’t done just yet.
Dutch Harris: Is he comparing himself to Rocky? Really? Or is he saying he’s Apollo Creed?
Scott Kumura: I think the audience knows who is who in that comparison, Dutch.
Johnny Patriot: What is it you WANT Blaze? Just spit it out.
Blaze Claymore smiles, knowingly, as he points at Johnny Patriot dramatically.
Blaze Claymore: I’ve claimed Master of the Matt, but now I want to be Master of the MASK.
Dutch Harris: Oh for fuck’s sake.
Blaze Claymore: We have a PROPER match, Johnny. You and me. Right here in the Epicenter. And if I win? If I go 2-0 against Johnny Patriot? Then I get to BECOME Johnny Patriot – you hand over EVERYTHING to me and lose the right to EVER be called Johnny Patriot ever again.
The crowd explodes in boos, but Blaze holds up his hand to stop them.
Blaze Claymore: But if YOU win, Johnny? If you become Master of the Mask? I’ll wear any mask you want – Danny Deutschland? Sergei the Soviet? Gary the Gimp? It’s your call – and THEN we’ll each have a win – and we can meet one final time – the best two out of three – to see who’s the best. No excuses. No name calling. No internet trolls.
Crowd: CUUUUUUCKMOOOOORE. CUUUUUUUUCKMOOORE.
Blaze Claymore: Are you IN? Or are you a COWARD?
Johnny Patriot laughs out loud, shaking his head.
Johnny Patriot: You’re a crazy guy, Blaze. You want to be Johnny Patriot? You’ll NEVER have what it takes to wear these colors… you want a rematch? You want to sign your own death warrant?
YOU’VE GOT YOUR MATCH.
The crowd explodes as Johnny accepts Blaze’s “Master of the Mask” challenge as the two of them lower their respective microphones and stare each other down.
Ignatius Albert Martin Vs. Buck Dresden (c)
“American Venom” continues to play as Buck stands there looking down at IAM. IAM, groggy though he may be, is quick to get up out of instinct. He stands there, unaware or unsure of his surroundings, though he is working to get himself ready. Buck stares at him, Iron Fist Championship on his shoulder now, and reaches forward, offering his hand.
Scott Kamura: Big move from Buck Dresden here tonight!
Dutch Harris: The man has said he won’t respect anybody until they set foot in the ring against him and earn his respect and it looks like Iggy Martin might’ve done just that tonight!
Buck pulls IAM in and whispers in his ear. Both men nod at the words being spoken between them. Buck pulls back and holds IAM’s arm up in respect, bringing the fans to cheer. IAM steps back, bows his head respectfully, and exits the ring. Buck stands there for a moment until he motions for a microphone. After a beat, “American Venom” shuts off and Buck is armed with a live mic.
Buck: Three things I wanna say.
He holds his fingers up.
Buck: One, that man I just banged knuckles with is a champion, title or none an’ I’d be damn proud to have him in my corner any day.
The fans applaud and cheer for IAM, who nods again in respect as he walks up the ramp.
Buck: Two, thank y’all fer comin’ out tonight. This here’s a warzone each an’ every time we set foot in the ring an’ we do it each an’ every time fer each an’ every one of y’all!
The fans cheer yet again, a small “BUCK BUCK BUCK” chant begins. He quiets them down.
Buck: Three, I got one question fer them boys in the locker room. X-Calibur, Arthur Pleasant, Ignatius Martin. Who else wanna skin their smokewagon an’ see what happens when you draw on Big Iron?
“You can run onnnnn for a long time…
Run on for a long time
You can run onnnn for a long time.
Sooner or later god’ll cut you down…”
Scott Kamura: Who is this?!
Dutch Harris: Great question, Scotty. Guessing we’ll find out soon!
“Death Messiah” by Vinny Paz hits the PA and the large, lumbering visage of former Unholy Breedlove Empire associate, former Shut Up and Fight and REIGN Champion, KIMO appears at the top of the ramp. He keeps his eyes glued to Buck Dresden as he starts to walk the ramp to the ring.
Dutch Harris: Did NOT expect that. KIMO JUST broke away from the UBE earlier tonight, and here he is, seemingly about to get in the face of Buck Dresden!
Scott Kamura: If you’ll recall, KIMO and Dresden took each other to the limit the one and only time they’ve fought, so it seems like there may be some unfinished business between the two?
KIMO reaches the ring and rolls into it, taking a microphone on his way in. He gets to his feet and walks directly at Buck Dresden, stopping short of the SHOOT Project’s Iron Fist Champion.
KIMO: I have nothing but respect for you, Buck. We’ve been in a ring together before, there was no clean finish. There was NO finish at all. I admire the honor you carry yourself with and respect the grit that you bring to this organization.
KIMO begins pacing in front of Dresden.
KIMO: You talk about earning your respect through the fight, through the violence of the majesty that we create in this ring, and if there’s one thing I know… one thing I understand from my time here in the SHOOT Project… it’s how to be a violent, violent man.
KIMO pauses and cocks a sly smile at Buck Dresden.
KIMO: So consider this your next challenge. The liberated KIMO Apana. I stand here before you now, with that respect… with that admiration… but the next time we step across from one another? I will only seek violence.
Buck looks KIMO up and down. He nods his head as he absorbs what he just heard from the monstrous badass standing before him.
Buck: Glad to hear it, big man. Glad to hear it. Come seekin’ that violence, brother, because I promise you’ll find it.
Buck: Just don’t come lookin’ fer this here Iron Fist Championship because you might not like how your search ends.
Buck extends his hand.
KIMO: Sounds like fun.
KIMO extends his hand, clasping Buck’s. “American Venom” picks back up as the two men drop the microphones and say nothing. Buck slowly lifts the Iron Fist Championship to chest level between the two of them. KIMO looks down at the title and breathes deeply, while Buck begins to nod his head and jawjack. KIMO looks back to Buck and once the eyes lock again, Buck falls silent. The two of them deathly still, staring directly at one another.
Scott Kamura: I can’t believe it! A rematch from the Shut Up and FIGHT Championship run of KIMO’s coming to the Iron Fist division! Buck Dresden is putting his title on the line against KIMO!
Dutch Harris: That’s the solitary KIMO, Eryk! KIMO and Buck have no allies, no friends, they’re just two warriors who want to beat the living hell out of one another! I can’t wait!
Scott Kamura: We STILL have Nate Robideau and Ayumi Seppuku to come! I can’t wait!
Cut back to the commentary team.
Dutch Harris: Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome back, and as we ease our way toward an unbelievable main event to start the new year let me just say that I am just over the moon with excitement for SHOOT Project in 2022…
Scott Kamura: I couldn’t agree more. We’re falling out from the after effects of Master of the Mat. We’re now on the cusp of something even more intriguing: The Apex. This roster has grown since Master of the Mat, the talent level continues to rise, and the opportunities for our unbelievably legendary athletes are endless. That’s what tonight and tomorrow night is about: opportunity. This is the opportunity to participate in a tournament to crown a new…Rules…of Surrender…Champion.
“Did someone say…opportunity?” is lightly heard through the commentator’s microphones as Ben Bronson spins a desk chair around and slams his butt onto the cushion. He spins to face Dutch and Scott. He slides his grinning face through a headset and then slaps his hand onto the table.
Ben Bronson: Gents. Good evening!
Scott Kamura: Wha…whe…why?
Dutch Harris: That’s a great question, Scotty. Why is Ben Bronson gracing us with his abysmal presence?
Ben Bronson: I thought you’d never ask, Butch.
Dutch Harris: It’s Du –
Ben Bronson: I simply asked management if it would be apropos as a key participant in THE APEX to join you two dunderheads and bring a bit of flair to a tournament I will be winning.
Scott Kamura: I highly dou-
Ben Bronson: However! However, there’s always a caveat. Am I right? The Big Bad Beautiful Bronson doesn’t just waste time sitting next to two washed up schmuck-faces. There’s too many rhetorical questions to discuss! Such as: who’s going to win the Apex? Me! Or, who’s the hottest bad guy in SHOOT? Me! Or, who’s the most athletic performer in the ring since that Cade guy? ME! We just don’t have enough time for obvious dialogue.
Dutch Harris: Someone cut this guy’s mic.
Ben Bronson: Here’s the real meat of the matter. Intel. That’s right. Intel. I’m doing research. Homework. My master’s thesis. I’m observing. This is about a potential future fight, but it’s also about the future of this company. Something it appears only I care about. I’m putting some pieces together. I’m building a bigger picture. What then, you ask? Then, you two ugly chumps, I’m going to do what every great artist does post-creation…and I’m going to celebrate my beautiful work by destroying it. In my own special way, of course.
Dutch Harris: I think you’ve grabbed the wrong curriculum, son, because the next match is going to be as advanced as it gets.
Scott Kamura: Two former world heavyweight champions square off in our main event! It’s an Apex Showcase, and it’s NEXT!
Ben Bronson: Hmph! Sure…
Ayumi Seppuku Vs. Nate Robideau
“Somewhere in the Desert”
The light in the distance is like a halo. Nothing but pure black before it, nothing but pure black after it, but this bare flood bulb chases off the ink of the desert night and stands steadfast. A beacon. But it doesn’t seem to be calling many.
Except for one.
The pace isn’t a steady stride. Hell, at this point, the very word “stride” might be far, far more credit than his motion deserves. Even ‘stumble’ implies some level of attempt to recover. But this is the walk of a dead man. This is the shamble of a zombie. When the soul is gone but the flesh still moves, it doesn’t even seem real. We know he breathes, we know he’s ambulatory, but he’s a facsimile of a moving human being, stop motion in the midst of real life.
When we last saw this we saw quick movement, headlights. A Spirit on the wind.
Now we follow the toned shoulders. The stuttering steps. He’s dragging his feet, closer and closer, trying to reach that light. That beacon. That halo. Past the Great Basin Highway sign. The building is weathered and nondescript. Two vehicles are parked outside–a roughly kempt Pontiac Sunfire and a blistered, powder blue early 1980’s ford pickup truck with a hood stained a deep copper over years of use. Then we see the sign over the door.
The man pauses. No longer just backlit shoulders, we can recognize the face of Victor Thane, though he looks more haggard than usual. More beaten. Notably, it looks like he’s still in his gear–he appears to have quite literally walked directly here from the Epicenter. He looks over the building. The cars. Looks to the sky, briefly, in question. Then thinks better of it. Shakes his head to clear something away, be it a remembrance or a doubt. He sets his jaw. Exhales through his nose. Crosses the threshold.
“I tried to kill the pain, bought some wine
And hopped a train
Seemed easier than just waitin’ around to die”
The warbling, tinny music from a mostly busted jukebox greets the man. The place is in disrepair–truthfully if it weren’t for the music or the hot pots of rotgut coffee slowly reducing on heating eyes, one would consider it deserted. There’s a film on everything he can spy–the windows, the fixtures, the menu board, the pie case. There’s a wall mounted phone that hangs half to the floor from it’s cable line. The receiver is on the floor. No sound comes from it. Victor Thane looks to his left, to his right. Softly begins walking, his movement illuminated by flickering lights as if the bulbs are going bad or the electrical system is two seconds from failing. He looks through the expo window–doesn’t see anyone. Finally, a voice picks up. It fills the room for lack of anything else to fill it, but it is not booming. The voice is a rusted screen door, tires on gravel, the whisper of rot on the grave.
“Time came not too long ago, someone found where I had made my home. Never liked unexpected callers. Funny that, since I seem to always do that to others. Suppose that’s what the Book calls reaping what one sews. But I ain’t know him to be a revenuer, police, an enemy of mine. Darn near split him from crotch to chin with a roofer’s hatchet ‘fore I heard the voice speak to me.”
Thane turns on his heel, his surprise winning over his weariness. It’s then that we see the figure. Bulky, broad shoulders. A filthy ball cap bearing some sort of logo under the grime and blood. There’s an exhale of cigarette smoke. Then the figure chuckles hoarsely.
“He said ‘Listen.’ So I did. Time later when He told me to be here. So here’s where I have been.”
The figure snuffs their smoke and clambers to standing. She doesn’t move with fluidity. She moves with the bulky, universal monster pace of someone who has spent most of her days breaking her back to survive. The boots, the massive scar running down one arm. She thuds behind the counter, motioning for her guest to sit at the bar. Pulls a fresh cup from the counter. Fills them both with coffee. We know her now. In the light, yellowed and cancerous as it is, her face is well known to us. Hair dirty blonde. Eyes the sort of pale blue one would associate with death. Skin pockmarked, lips dried and chewed into a hundred little split wounds.
Charlie Jay Hitchens.
He sits down warily. Grasps the warm cup gratefully. She eyes him clinical, not a hint of emotion on her face.
“Time not too long ago was, I’d slap a prong collar ‘round your neck and haul you down that highway until you weren’t much more’n a stain. Because you enabled great evil, and that evil befell one of the only people I’ve called friend.”
She leans close. He is not questioning the validity of her words. He looks mortified.
“But He told me. ‘Listen.’ So here I am.”
There’s a long moment where the mournful country guitar warbles from the broken speakers. He sips idly on the coffee, barely concealing his disgust. There’s a soft rapping against the wall somewhere, which he ignores. He looks to the countertop, not wanting to meet her eyes.
“…you own this place?”
She glances back to a door marked “Employees Only”. Turns back.
He thinks. Then the lights come on. His easy smile slides on without warmup. His voice returns to a warm tone of engagement. Mask secure.
“When it comes to Arthur Pleasant and his issue with Buck Dresden, what I will say–”
Within a second, within a breath, the Buck 110 hunting knife is free from it’s sheath and pressed against Thane’s neck. Her other hand shoots out and grabs him by the shoulder, holding him in place. Her eyes meet his. There they remain locked in a sort of embrace, the blade pressed so tightly we can hear the hair follicles prickling against the edge. He looks at her with undisguised fear. She looks at him with dispassionate, sad eyes. The thudding on the wall–a door, maybe?–continues with more insistence. When he speaks to him, her voice is but a whisper, the last bit of breath exhaling from a corpse before they shuffle off.
“No justifications. I am here to listen to an accounting of your sins. You will lay them before me or you will have made another choice. You are at the fork, Victor Thane. Decide.”
He nods. She releases him and removes the blade, leaving him with a trickle of blood from a shallow wound which he doesn’t bother to wipe away. He locks eyes with her. No mask.
She sheathes the knife.
“Let us see what kind of a penitent you make.”
Charlie Jay places her hand on his shoulder. Softer, this time. A grip of reassurance as Thane’s shoulders sag. One could mistake this for crying, but his shoulders do not shudder. It’s more that he’s finally allowed the weight to overtake him. The thudding, the banging, reaches a fever pitch of insistence before trailing off.
“I got me a friend at last
He don’t drink or steal or cheat or lie
His name’s Codeine
He’s the nicest thing I’ve seen
Together we’re gonna wait around and die”