We fade into the office of a location now familiar to us. The small second hand mini fridge, the relic of a metal desk, the filing cabinets. The walls now look proper with photos of matches, posters from SHOOT events, and random shelving with various statuary, clocks, and even a full set of katana on a rack. For what was still unfinished, Nate Robideau has made it look remarkably lived in. He sits at his desk, looking over a somewhat obscenely packed manilla folder, his mighty brow furrowed. He finally closes the folder and sighs for a moment. He looks displeased.
Robideau: So, basically, you announce you’re training at my gym. Now as a result of that I have SHOOT Project’s legal team ringing my phone off the hook, talking about insurance protocols and wanting to make sure my gym is “up to the standards set by the Epicenter facilities”.
His eyes flash fiery and stare down whoever he’s speaking to off camera.
Robideau: That’s what you and your dad do? Pop on down and help the poor struggling wretch Nate Robideau get legit? Did it never once occur to you that this was something that I wanted to build, to my standard, something to be mine?!
He taps the desk a few times. The fire in his eyes dies down.
Robideau: Look, it’s not that I don’t appreciate the offer. And I know your father means well. But this has to be mine. Outside of SHOOT, my own. Because that ring is going to chew me up one day, and not a lot of people in this line of work get pensions.
The camera pans out. We could guess who he was talking to, but it’s apparent now: the Former Scion, James Johnson, who looks not so much as anything but a student in the principal’s office in this setting. He shrugs his shoulders—not dismissively, but in his own defense.
Johnson: Those things aren’t my call. My goal is just to be here and to train. That’s it. Whatever business that needs to happen between you and my dad is just that.
Nate thinks on this for a moment. Picks up a sheet of paper.
Robideau: Speaking of training. Quit Verde’s school—can’t blame you—and then learned the ropes from Eddie E.
He sets the paper down. Crosses his arms, leans back.
Robideau: Why me? What do you hope to get out of me?
The question is piercing in it’s directness, but there’s no malice in his tone or gaze.
Johnson: You’ve got something that I don’t have, and I’m trying to figure out what IT is. You have the same kind of grit and determination that I want but don’t understand, and essentially… I want it beaten into me. I want to learn it as much as I can, anyway. I know some of that can’t be taught.
Johnson: That’s really it, I guess. I need to be better at this whole thing. I’ve been really fortunate to get where I am already, but it’s not enough. I want to be able to stand outside of the shadow of my family.
Nate thinks on this for a moment. Finally, he smiles, standing to his full height. He walks around the desk and leans against it, eyeballing James unblinking.
Robideau: Hundred a month plus a twenty five dollar locker fee. I’d Uber here–that Lexus is like bloody steak to a starving wolf in this neighborhood. You show up early, you leave late, you do as instructed, and you commit?
He holds out his hand.
Robideau: Then we have an agreement. I’ll find out what you’re really made of. We both will.
James looks around, back in the direction of the car, nervously chuckles, then stands up–gripping Nate’s hand with a firm handshake.
Johnson: That’s probably a good call. $125 a month, essentially? You’ve got a deal. I’d say I’m looking forward to it, but I know that I’m about to be ground into dust. Either way, thank you. When do we start?
Nate chuckles and claps James on the shoulder.
Robideau: Gear up.
SAFEGUARD Vs. The Sin City Scoundrels (c)
As the Sexton Brothers are lifting their belts and celebrating their win, a figure leaps the guardrail–Teddy Palmer!! Teddy slides into the ring—Lucas aims to intercept—but Teddy dives forward with a wild elbow strike, upending one half of the Sin City Scoundrels!! He pops to his feet and rushes Michael, peppering him with right hands! Michael attempts to fight back, but he gets steamrolled against the ropes and clocked with a hard right cross! Reeling, he doesn’t have a moment to brace when Teddy BLISTERS his chest with a gunshot of a chop!! Michael doubles over in agony!
Dutch Harris: Teddy Palmer is here and he means business!
Scott Kamura: If you’re gonna go one versus two, it makes sense to wait until the Scoundrels are exhausted from a title defense!
Dutch Harris: Cowardly but effective, Scoots—whoa!
Teddy grabs Michael’s arm and smirks, clearly lining up for the Dirty Dangles—and gets clocked from behind by Lucas Sexton!! He takes a moment to make sure Michael is good, then both sneer and start laying soccer kicks into Teddy’s midsection!! He reels, rolling for the ropes to escape, but Michael cuts him off, and they start stomping him with bad intentions as the crowd begins to boo.
Scott Kamura: I hate to use the cliché here, but numbers game, Dutch!
Dutch Harris: Look, Teddy got his licks in. You reap what you sow!!
As Teddy doubles over into a fetal position, doubling over to protect his ribs, the crowd reaction flips from disdain to excitement. We see why in a moment—sliding into the ring, shirtless and in their workout Zubaz, are Power Devil and Superbeast!!
Dutch Harris: Oh I don’t like this one bit…
Scott Kamura: They declared war—the Scoundrels rebuked them—and now here we are!!
The Unholy Cyber Army rush Michael and Lucas, who try to get out of the ring, but they’re caught by the hair and dragged into the ring! One set of stereo headbutts later, and The Demons of Cyber Roppongi drag both men away from one another. At the opposite side of the ring, they grin, and then Irish whip the brothers with AUTHORITY—right into one another!! They scream a loud “WITNESS” and snatch them up, hearing a return from the crowd. Superbeast lays a headbutt right into Michael’s face, crumpling him with a bloody nose, and both the members of the UCA pull Lucas to the edge of the ring facing the announce table. Dutch and Scott stand up, waving their hands…
Dutch Harris: Hey! No, don’t you dare!
Scott Kamura: Unholy Cyber Army now Pulling Lucas to the apron…hauling him onto their shoulders…Dutch, we may need to move fast!!
Sitting atop the shoulders of both members of the UCA, Lucas gets his bearings and tries to wriggle free. Superbeast and Power Devil Nod to one another, scream, and LEAP OFF, pushing Lucas face first and PUTTING HIM THROUGH THE TABLE WITH AN ELECTRIC CHAIR DROP FROM THE APRON!! The crowd erupts as Lucas Sexton lays reeling, pieces of announce table strewn about him!
Scott Kamura: Holy sh—wow!! The Unholy Cyber Army weren’t joking when they said they declared war, and now one half of the Sin City Scoundrels lies in a heap!!
Dutch Harris: And they’re going back to the ring! Michael, look out!!
They roll into the ring, and find themselves face to face with the now-recovered Teddy Palmer. They look to one another, then to Teddy. Then all three look to Michael Sexton. Power Devil leans over and whispers something to Superbeast, who gets a maniacal grin and nods enthusiastically. We can’t hear them over the crowd noise, but they’re excitedly explaining a scheme that involves them both making throwing motions with their arms to Teddy Palmer. He thinks on this for a moment, rubbing his ribs, and then nods.
Scott Kamura: What are they planning…?
All three descend on Michael, who is trying hard as he can to get to his feet, blood pouring from his nose over his mouth. Teddy gets a hold of him and hauls him into a pumphandle—he picks him up onto his shoulders…but doesn’t drop him down with the UnscripTED! Power Devil and Superbeast sandwich him, back and front, both men grabbing him by the waist of his jeans and under his arms…with a squat, they use their immense strength to LAUNCH Teddy Palmer a solid FIVE FEET into the air, and he brings Michael to the mat with a massive Death Valley Driver!! The crowd explodes!!
Scott Kamura: SUPER UNSCRIPTED!! Michael Sexton is out cold!!
Dutch Harris: Call security, call the medics!! Lucas, bro, you good?!
Superbeast and Power Devil help Teddy to his feet. Each raises one of his arms and bellows a “WITNESS” so loud it can be heard over the crowd noise, and they respond in turn, as “Come With Me Now” by KONGOS queues up. We cut from the ring as the Cyber Army and Teddy Palmer exit the ring, celebrating as they back up the ramp…
Ria Lockhart Vs. Anthony Moretti
The camera cuts backstage. Courtney Hatchett is seated on the bench in the women’s locker room, lacing up her boots. She has her purple tights pulled all the way up, but she only has on the black sports bra she wears underneath her spectacularly custom made matching purple top.
The crowd watching from the SHOOT JumboTron gasps as the camera pans out to reveal an uninvited guest. NC-17 is peeking around the corner of a row of lockers, taking in the sight of Courtney Hatchett in a somewhat vulnerable state. Having that feeling of being watched by someone (or something, as we usually say), Courtney slowly draws herself up into a fighting stance as footsteps approach her, revealing a strangely sweaty NC-17.
Courtney Hatchett: Right. So now we’re sneaking into the women’s locker room. Got it. How long have you been standing there, just out of curiosity?
NC-17: Don’t worry, I didn’t see anything…scout’s honor.
The Epicenter crowd erupts into an uncomfortable laughter. Courtney looks unamused at not only NC-17’s reply, but his being there altogether.
Scott Kamura: Jeez, can’t a girl get a little privacy? Where’s security when you need them?
Dutch Harris: 2nd amendment rights, people…this is why we need ‘em. Not a guy I’d want watching me through my window…
Seventeen wears his trademark powder pink tights and white tassels as he casually inspects the locker room- specifically, where Courtney Hatchett is preparing her gear.
NC-17: You know, it’s R-
Courtney Hatchett: Hang on a sec, bub.
She holds up a finger as she grabs the purple top. Sliding it on, almost purposefully emphasising her breasts to NC-17, Courtney sighs.
Courtney Hatchett: If you’re gonna be in here talking to me, then the least you can do is zip me up. Pretend it’s the prom night you never got a date for and you’re simply helping out a friend who IS going.
The audience laughs at this. She turns her back to Seventeen, bravely trusting the Cream of Obscene to not do anything rash. He shrugs, and begins zipping up the back of her top.
NC-17: So, as I was saying? It’s Ruination 9 and instead of me and you fighting for that Shut Up and Get Me The Manager Championship, it looks like you’re about to be dry-humped to a boring UFC decision loss by Nate Robatussin. With that said…
He finishes zipping her up and steps back a foot or so. She feels up her back to make sure the top is tightened and then turns to face her intruder.
Seventeen then draws a step closer and cracks his knuckles.
NC-17: If for whatever reason you beat that fuckin’ snoozefest, does that mean I get a shot at both titles? Asking for a friend…
Courtney Hatchett smiles.
Courtney Hatchett: Ahhh. THERE it is. We finally arrive at the point!
She pauses and cracks her neck from side to side. The veins in her arms seem to bulge as she tightens her muscles, prepared to fight off the much larger man if need be.
Courtney Hatchett: Here’s what’s gonna happen, Seventeen. I can call you that, right? Because that’s the age level I see you operating at here in SHOOT. I mean, at least you can get into R-Rated movies without an adult present, right?
Seventeen’s knuckles tighten as the audience laughs at this shot.
Courtney Hatchett: When I beat Nate Robideau and become the SHOOT Project World Heavyweight Champion, I’ll be a double champion. You can grasp that concept, yes?
She nods as if she’s talking to a child.
Courtney Hatchett: Good. We’re making progress. Now, as you oh-so subtly reminded me, I called my shot for the Shut Up and FIGHT Championship- a title you clearly don’t even respect, by the way. With that in mind, you get a shot at that title regardless of what happens tonight. I wanted this for a reason, and so far, you’re legitimizing my reason more than I thought you would, you creepy little shit.
The crowd OHHHH’s for a moment. Even Seventeen is caught off guard by her swearing.
NC-17: Oh shit! Should I get the swear jar?! Or what about some soap?
She shakes her head, sidestepping his comments.
Courtney Hatchett: But if you think for one second that you can weasel your way into a World Heavyweight Title match without proving a damn thing to the rest of the SOLDIERS of SHOOT? Then you’re even dumber than I thought.
She gets right in his face. Through gritted teeth, she continues.
Courtney Hatchett: Beat me and THEN we’ll talk about the future. Now get out of my face before I smash the ugliness out of it. You copy?
Seventeen actually smiles. He pats the top of her head in a patronizing way, but she quickly slaps it away.
NC-17: So fuckin’ feisty. I love it. See you soon, Karen. Keep that strap nice and warm for me. May’s been unseasonably cold.
Teresa Ames Vs. Joshua Breedlove (c)
Two weeks ago, on Revolution 158, a contentious war of words between Dan Stein and Lindsay Troy resulted in an instant classic within the Epicenter. The two battled back and forth for over 13 minutes, but in the end it was the Queen of the Ring who emerged victorious, casting her Final Judgment and pinning Dan for the 1, 2, 3.
Now, on the ninth edition of Ruination, they’re gonna run it back. And this time, the stakes are even higher.
Lindsay doesn’t have the Iron Fist Contendership opportunity on her mind. It’s no time to get ahead of herself. As she walks the halls toward the curtain, what runs through her brain are all the different ways she can beat Dan again; all the different contingencies and counters she’ll have to employ to avoid defeat. Because it’s not enough to simply talk a big game…you have to back it up, too.
Two weeks ago, she did just that, and she needs to keep the momentum going.
Out of the corner of her eye, Lindsay catches sight of a woman she hasn’t seen before – one that looks almost exactly like her same build, but Japanese. The woman’s arms are crossed in concentration as she is observing the show from backstage.
As Lindsay steps beside her the woman’s body turns towards her and looks her up and down before smiling and extending her hand.
Ayumi: Hi, I’m a bit new here but my name is Ayumi Seppuku… and you’re…. Lindsay Troy, right?
Normally, Lindsay wouldn’t be so eager to reciprocate. When she hasn’t been the only woman on a roster, she’s always been the biggest and the strongest one. So to stand side-by-side with someone who appears to be her equal would, in any other situation, cause her to bristle.
But this, as Ayumi is about to discover, is a unique circumstance.
Lindsay reciprocates the gesture, clasping Ayumi’s hand in hers.
Lindsay: I am. And I know who you are.
Ayumi pauses, looking at Lindsay intently.
Lindsay releases the handshake and nods.
Lindsay: One of my students who competed in Japan mentioned the name Seppuku – said she went to an off-book fight club sort of place and there was a woman there named Seppuku who cleaned house.
Ayumi’s expression stays muted, but a grin begins to spread across her face.
Ayumi: It’s possible. Seppuku is kind of a legacy name… and it’s sort of become a unifying banner for women fighters in Japan. But, hey, since I’m the only Seppuku here in SHOOT I’ll take the compliment regardless. Now you… I’ve seen your work and boy oh boy. I look forward to seeing more in the flesh.
A slow smirk tugs at the corner of Lindsay’s mouth.
Lindsay: Keep your eyes open then. I’m about to leave a crater where Dan Stein’s face currently is.
Ayumi: Look forward to seeing that. And hey… you may not know me from Eve but I just want you to know I want to be someone who wants to make a statement, not for myself, but for those of us who have been dismissed and discarded.
Go kick his fucking ass, Lindsay.
Lindsay: Always do. Be seeing you, I’m sure.
On that note, the Queen resumes her trek down the hall.
As she does, Ayumi resumes her position to watch, transfixed on the match about to happen.
Dan Stein Vs. Lindsay Troy
Backstage. Backstage will wash anyone out, the combo of fluorescent tubes and camera lighting leave nothing but the truth of what’s in front of us. Pacing slowly, head down, is ‘Blackhawk’ Nate Robideau. Shirtless, in his gear, his gloves properly secured–and around his sturdy waist, the SHOOT Project World Heavyweight Championship. His pacing finally slows. He looks up to the camera, idly scratching the back of his buzzed head.
Robideau: I’ve had a lot of time as of late to reflect. This, this belt…
He slaps it lightly.
Robideau: …it finally feels real. And that puts me in a bit of an existential spot.
Looking down, Nate takes a moment. Gathers himself.
Robideau: Courtney, I try to keep myself in a very zen place. Coming from where I came from, You have to embrace the futility of certain things. And I can fight anyone here–well–but I’ll never fight the march of time. The grind of injuries. Erosion. And so I’ve tried to keep myself zen. Calm. ‘Accept that you may lose, that this may be that moment’.
His eyes meet the camera dead on. There’s an intensity in his gaze, but not malice. He is being as direct as possible.
Robideau: ‘Accept that you may lose–that this may be her moment.’
He shakes his head and rubs his face for a moment, taking his time. No need to rush. He keeps looking to the floor, but raises his right hand and points at the camera.
Robideau: That was so, so easy. But the belt finally felt real.
Nate puffs his chest up and raises his head. Gathering air for his words in his massive ribcage. There’s a fire in his gaze, a light of activity that flashes even in the production lights.
Robideau: The scope of what this is finally crystallized in my head. The scale of what that means for me professionally. The rarity of being able to call myself Nate Robideau, World Heavyweight Champion–how many people can claim that in all the world, Courtney? Fractions of percents. Fractions of those fractions.
The Champion takes a moment. Walks a small loop, stretching his shoulder, eyes closed. When he returns he looks directly into the camera, closer than he was, lightly tapping his temple. His next words are soft, almost a whisper.
Robideau: So keeping a zen mindset is hard. I meditate and meditate and meditate. Hoping every time that I can break through and catch that feeling again. But it’s slipping out of my grasp.
He backs up and locks eyes with the camera again. With the workers in the back. With the audience at home. With everyone.
Robideau: And now when I meditate? All I can think of is breaking you. Busting your nose, taking you to the mat, wrenching on your joints until either you give up or your bones do. And it’s not that I dislike you! I have the utmost respect for you. But I close my eyes and I visualize it, so clear I can feel the sweat on my brow. Courtney Hatchett. Buck Dresden. Azraith Demitri. KIMO. Anyone…broken and begging for help, while I raise the title above my head once more.
Nate undoes the belt and raises it high.
Robideau: Because it finally feels real.
Lowering his arm, he snaps it back around the barrel of his waist once more. Punching his hands, rolling his wrists, popping his neck as he walks off frame, towards his match. The camera cuts to Dutch Harris and Scott Kamura, both shaking their head and looking at one another.
Scott Kamura: Dutch, we’ve been seeing a ‘new’ Nate Robideau for a while now, but I think what we just saw was the nearest example of what that actually means.
Dutch Harris: His time is limited and he’s through with feeling sorry for himself. And honestly Scoots? There’s going to be collateral damage!
Scott Kamura: We’ll see if Courtney Hatchett is a winner or collateral damage this time–we have championship action coming up right now!!