He knew something was wrong. Austin had been incredibly angry for months. Stomping around the gym, throwing things when he thought no one was looking. Things that would normally wash down his back like they were nothing becoming huge arguments and things that would set him off. Different members of the gym would go out of their way to avoid him, acting like they were walking on eggshells around the former world champion. It broke Alex’s heart. Seeing someone who he had cared for like an older brother spiraling down into a dark hole. There was definitely something wrong in Austin‘s personal life, Alex just didn’t know what it was and he didn’t know how to get there. Whenever Alex would try and talk to him Austin would change the subject, he would make everything about work, everything about the gym or the company.
It was maddening, Austin and Alex had started off as two people who didn’t know each other, all Alex knew about Austin was that he hated Austin‘s father. A dark history between the two men, involving a woman of course. But as time went on not only did Alex start to become kinder to Austin, his family, and the past, but Alex also made sure that Austin would be successful, he started to care about him.
He started looking at Austin like a younger brother. Someone who he could be there for not only in a business sense but also in a personal one. They got to know each other’s wives, Austin got to know Alex‘s children, had Alex was there when Austin's first and second children were born. Alex was there when Austin‘s sister came back into his life when Austin found out that he was an uncle when Austin became a world champion. Alex was there every single time, every step of the way, he had Austins back, and now? Now as Austin seemed so down, depressed, and troubled by everything in his life all Alex wanted to do was be there for his friend. To be a brother. Family.
Today was going to be different.
The second that Alex walked into the gym he could feel something was wrong. Everyone else was over one side, using the exercise equipment or the grappling mats. Nobody was in either of the practice rooms towards the far end of the gym. Nobody except for Austin. He stood in the larger of the two rings, his arms leaning on the top rope to either side of him as his back state against the turnbuckle. His eyes trained directly ahead, across the ring to the opposite corner. There was something different about him, a certain ora of anger that seemed to burn and radiate like heat off of his body.
Alex growled under his breath moving towards the ring past everyone else, they all stopped to watch him approach Austin. They tried to act like they were going to go about their business, grappling on the mat and lifting weights but all the while turning their heads and watching the leader of the gym approach his first in command.
Alex jumped up onto the apron, he leaned over the top rope with his hands clasped together. “Hey, got a minute?” Nothing. Not even an acknowledgment of his presence or existence. Austin just stayed staring forward, no emotion on his face but his body language showing what we all knew. He was fuming. Alex sighed heavily and stepped into the ring. “Aus? Gotta talk man.” This time Alex got a reaction. Austin’s had moved up until the side looking at his longtime friend and mentor. A simple shake of his head as he pushed off the ropes standing straight up.
“Sorry Alex. I have somewhere to be.” Alex moved in front of Austin, his hands up in a defensive position as he shook his head back and smiled at his friend. “Alex….move”
He shook his head again. This time moving his arms and folding them over his chest to stand strong in front of the much bigger man. “Aus, I know there is something going on here. Whatever it is, you don’t have to face it alone.” Austin growled, he reached out and shoved Alex to the side going to move past him. Alex reached out grabbing Austin by the shoulder, Austin turned and with his right arm, with very little effort, shoved Alex backward against the ropes.“Hey big guy….we’re all friends here.”
Austin took a deep breath and went to turn, out of the corner of his eye he saw Sonja. Instead of the usual authoritative look that she would have in her eyes, she looked at Austin with sadness and disappointment. This stopped Austin in his tracks, he shook his head and looked over his shoulder at Alex turning back around moving his head in a small note towards the corner of one of the rings to bring him over. “My sister…the scum bag she had a kid with…he’s not dead, he’s a lying piece of trash….I don’t know what to do.”
There was a book in Austin’s eyes. A look that many other people would mistake for anger. And while there was definitely some anger there, it was something else. Something that only someone who had been in the exact same place he was mentally would know and recognize. Alex swallowed hard, he reached out putting his hand on Austin's shoulder to make sure he looked right into Alex’s eyes “Don’t do it.”
“What?” Austin seemed confused, but not confused as to what Alex was talking about, confused as to how Alex knew what he was thinking.
Alex swallowed hard, trying to work up the confidence to share one of the darkest moments of his life with Austin. “When Dylan died, I wanted revenge. I was angry.” His voice started, it mixed with his breathing as his heart seemed to jump out of his chest and up into his throat. Alex had to swallow hard to push it back down again. “I lashed out, I went after his friends. The guys who…”
He swallowed his heart again, Austin raised an eyebrow. His expression changing as he realise just how much pain this caused Alex. “You don’t have t-“
“No. I do.” He closed his eyes getting ready to continue. Alex took a deep breath and moved around leaning against the top rope. “The guys who gave him the shit he took, that killed him. I sat outside, I was ready to go in there and…” He trailed off, his hands closing into fists. “I was going to make them disappear. But, that wouldn’t have helped. It would have hurt the family I had left….”
His eyes filled with tears, Alex pushed everything down again and looked up right into Austin’s eyes. Austin swallowed hard and his body seemed to relax. He exhaled for what seemed to be the first time in minutes. There was silence between them, Austin cracked a small smile before ordering one word. “Thanks”
A few months later….
Alex felt good. The best he had in a very long time. Walking into the gym he felt confident, he was happy. He was ready to train and ready to spend time with all of the people that had come to train with him. Not only the established styles like Austin and Alicia but some of the new kids who had been on fire recently. He wanted to work with them all, speak to them all, give them the knowledge that he had accumulated in almost 20 years of professional wrestling.
He smiled, he gave a note to a group of the younger kids. He gave a wink to his wife who smiled at him and went back to her paperwork.
He moved around to the back of the gym. Finding Austin in the ring with a group of the younger guys. He was working out with them, hitting the ropes, explaining ring awareness and where they should stand, explaining how they should be close enough that they can move a limb to the ropes or under the bottom row as it will cause a break. Austin was working hard to help. Night and day compared to who he was a few months ago.
Austin smiled as he saw Alex jump up onto the apron. “Alright guys take five.” The group dispersed, Alex stepped into the ring and moved over to Austin with a smile. “Good kids…”
“Yeah. It’s good to see.”
“You see everyone looking at you champ?” Austin laughed and tapped Alex on the shoulder Alex simply shook his head and moves towards the ropes.
“You know….I don’t know if I’d have done it without you.” Austin went to protest. Putting his hands up and stepping forward going to open his mouth. Alex shook his head and put his finger up. “Let me finish…” he waited, Austin took a deep breath, and folded his arms over his chest waiting to see exactly what Alex would say. “Sometimes, you need that support. I never thought I needed it. But this gym. All of you. We look out for each other..so..thanks” Alex held out his hand. Austin went to say something, instead, he looked at Alex’s head reaching out to take it shaking it with just a smile and a nod. And understanding between them, that is what family does.
He takes a deep breath in. Calming himself down before starting the usual promotional material before a match. But this is not a usual match. Championship matches are never what you would call ordinary.
”Redemption. It is a word that’s thrown around a lot. Especially in this business where everyone wants to write themselves a good story. Revenge, redemption, justification. All of these things are words that were used to describe our motivations in the business that we love. In this competition, you have to be the best. You have to be striving to be the best because the truth is, if you are not trying to be the best and you are not trying to be the top champion in a company that you shouldn’t be in that company or in this business. I always want to prove that I am the best. Whether that is winning a world championship, or stealing the show with a match against another top opponent. That is what you should do as a professional in this business. Always strive to be the best whether that means being a champion or putting your best foot forward.”
“For the longest time, I didn’t put my best foot forward. I have not been able to shake this feeling that I wasn’t the best that I could be. I would sit there and I would look in the mirror, and the man looking back at me was a reflection of a man who was broken and confused about his place in the world and his place in professional wrestling. This is all I have ever wanted to do. From the first time I saw it on television, from the first time I witnessed a professional wrestling match in person I have wanted to do this. However, that does not make me unique.”
“We all want that.”
“Legitimately, we all want to do this if not we wouldn’t be doing it. And so many origin stories have started with that exact visual. A little kid sitting on the floor of his lounge room, eyes glued to the television watching heroes of his time move around a professional wrestling ring and making magic. But very few of us get to climb the top of the mountain and look at themselves in the mirror and say that they are the best. And mean it.”
“But, I get to look in the mirror and say that. And mean it.”
He gives a small smile. And for the first time, we noticed where he is. A place where we have seen his stablemate, Alicia Lukas. Her family’s home. The plantation in Atlanta Georgia. Behind him he’s a long table, a beautiful white tablecloth stretched across the entire thing. A dinner party was planned for the members of Wolfslair. In Alicia’s hometown
“When I lost the world championship, When I felt it slip away and I heard the bell rang and I heard Jack Washington get announced as the new world champion a part of my heart broke. A part of my soul died. And confidence in myself and respect for who I thought I was faded away. I watched disappear, I felt it disappear and I hated that feeling. I went home I looked in the mirror and I saw a man who was a failure and for the first time in my career, for the first time in my life I had no answer.”
“Every other time I had lost a championship, whether or not that was a world championship or some other title every time I lost it I would go home I would look in the mirror and I would have an answer as to why. A mistake that I made, something in my preparation or something in the match that I screwed up with. Whatever it was manufactured or not it was an answer. It was a reason for me to get up the next morning, have my coffee, go for a run and then go to the gym. It was a reason for me to get up and keep going and striving to be the best and climb that mountain again. But when I last lost this world championship? There was no answer which means there was no motivation for me to get up in the morning.”
“Do you understand what that is like?”
“Do you understand what that means?”
“This is all I ever wanted to do and it was what I was made for, and I wake up in the morning after losing a incredible championship that I wanted to hold and after having an accomplishment that I was proud of slipped through my fingers I woke up and didn’t want to do this any more. And it was my own fault. It was my problem, my responsibility, and my motivation. That feeling deep down inside breaks you. And I needed to change it. So, instead of getting angry and coming out and demanding an automatic rematch…I took a step back.”
Alex slides his hands into the front pockets of his tight-fitting black jeans. A button-up white shirt over his upper body with the sleeves rolled up. A smart casual look with his hair tied back away from his face and his beard trimmed.
“I realised I had to fix it. I had to start from square one. I went back to the beginning and I promised I would fight back up from that position and God help me I did. I faced some of the best of the best and I watched as they overcame me and moved on. Some of the best in this business left me in the rearview mirror and went on to become better. And then came the roulette championship. I faced Cassian Reed who by all accounts was going to be the next big thing in this company. But I looked in his eyes and I saw someone who wasn’t ready. He lost. “
“And I had a championship in my hands that I never wanted, that I never wanted to represent. But, in being a champion I’ve always had a certain sense of pride and I always want to do my best. So I did. And I wanted to go on and be the best roulette champion that this company has ever seen and I believe I made a good case but what would’ve put it over the top would have been me breaking records. I was seven days away from breaking the longest single reign record.”
“But, I had that taken away from me. In a way.”
“Mac Bane challenged me. He challenged me and in the end both championships got put on the line. And I got why. How would it have been fair for Mac to be putting his championship on the line and me have nothing to lose? So I get it. I understand. But in Mac wanting a credible opponent, he robbed me of being able to say I was the longest raining Roulette champion of all time. And it was either because he wanted a name he could put on his resume as someone who he beat while my name still has some relevancy, or it was because he wanted a legitimate challenge and which ever story it is you believe you have to realise that it was his decision.”
“And it was the wrong one.”
Alex shrugs, he moves across the freshly cut green grass. The sun going down and leaving a beautiful purple and orange hue in the sky.
“Just like demanding a rematch against me is the right one. You see the world championship has been treated horribly over the last couple of months. Jack Washington won it, Lost it and walked away, Mark cross want it, lost it and walked away. I will give you all the credit in the world Mac you didn’t leave. And I’m not about to stand here and tell the world that you are not a great champion because the truth is as brief of a run you had with the championship you are still a dominant human being who knows how to get in that ring and beat the hell out of anyone in front of them. You put everything on the line every single time you get in that ring.”
“You are a hell of a competitor. You are someone who many people should be intimidated by to get in the room with.”
“I’m not going to take that away from you. The truth is I couldn’t even if I wanted to. You, I’d like a certain other two people stayed in this company. But it goes further than that. Kris Ryan’s lost and bailed too. So did Griffin and as much as I hate myself, and have a certain amount of regret in that situation, the truth is that so many of the former world champion to help this title over the last year and a half have disappeared after losing it. So the fact you have stuck around makes me smile. But the difference between you and me is that when I lost I went back to square one and I earned my way back up until I was undeniable. Until even you the world champion had to recognise that I was a threat.”
He can’t help but chuckle again, turning to look over at his stablemates who have now all arrived as well as other members of the gym. The food getting ready to be brought out signaling Alex to come over and eat in the gentle Georgia climate.
“Do you remember what you said to me right before our match at violent conduct? You talked about how my group was a shell of its former self. You talked about all the things you have done since you got here and about how you are a triple Crown champion. You ran me down and spat on my legacy while saying that you were dominant, basically repeating what I already said. You then said if I was able to beat you that it was not something your pride would allow.”
“Apparently Mac your pride wasn’t hurt enough that you couldn’t go crawling to Chris and Mark to beg for your rematch, of course that’s after telling Jack and Mark they would have to “earn it” aren’t you lucky I’m a fighting champion?”
“This is, I was happy trying to dominate the roulette division. I was happy trying to break those records and facing the best that division had to offer. The people who you decided to shit on. And it’s funny because I repeatedly called out Caleb storms for somehow getting championship opportunities handed to him time and time again. Now, while you have a right to get an immediate rematch, being the former champion, the fact you decided to throw yourself under the bus with your comments before our championship match at violent conduct really doesn’t help you does it?”
“You said you wanted the Black Dragon. And at violent conduct, you’ve got him. You want to talk about my group like we mean nothing when Austin is dominating the mixed tag team division with Tempest, when Miles Kasey, who is a member of my gym could be the next roulette champion? When Johanna Krieger has still destroyed almost everyone she has face and Alicia is a bonafide legend who is the only person who would actually be a challenge for your wife? You talk about how you have dominated in such a quick fashion. I see someone who can win championships but can’t actually hold onto them. I have too long rains with other championships in this company under my belt as well as one short one with this championship that broke me. And you think for 1 second that I’m going to allow that to happen again? You are a great professional wrestler Mac and you are someone who is a dominant human being, but I already beat you once. And I’m not afraid of you, I’m not intimidated by you, and I am going to do what I did last time and throw everything I have at you because this might be my final shot. And this is my redemption…”
And with that Alex turned, making his way to his friends and family. The people who mattered most.