Monday, April 22, 2013
Fans of professional wrestling aren’t always predictable. Sometimes it can seem as if they’re never predictable. The reaction to the match at the time it was taking place appeared to be toxic. Alex was sure that his career was over.
Except the next day the reviews start pouring in, and they’re glowing! Perhaps having a little time to digest it changed their minds, or maybe they were too stunned while watching it to start the traditional “This is awesome!” chants.
What Alex has been failing to keep in mind is that he had been subverting expectations for so long that no one had considered that he would pursue any other route in the kendo match. Despite the misleading presence of a an entire kendo championship (Carson has also been floating the concept of a stretcher championship, and so far he hasn’t found anyone in the back willing to represent it), NOVA has been able to keep the reputation of being the latest indy mecca of pure competition, even with all of the attempts to integrate more of an entertainment factor to the matches themselves. As Alex has known from the start, NOVA is anywhere similar to Red Carnage Wrestling. It will never feature a death match.
Oliver has been distant all day, which is to be expected. Alex took a huge amount of liberties, and it wasn’t just the crowd that was taken by surprise. Carson threatened to fire him on the spot, which he expected, but instead took away his paycheck. Today Carson is singing a different tune, the telltale flipflop of his kind. He’s in love with Alex again. He’s already spitballing ideas for the next iPPV, Smokin’ Aces, maybe even a match between the two of them. It’s the first time the idea has even been breached. Carson has a manageable chip on his shoulder, and it’s most in evidence when he chooses who he’ll work with in the ring. He’ll never be a star anywhere else, but here in NOVA he considers himself a big fish in a small pond, even if wrestling observers are already calling the promotion breeding ground for the stars of tomorrow.
A match with Carson? Even in the headiest of days as kendo champion, when he allowed himself to believe he was the breakout star of NOVA, Alex never even considered it a possibility. He half-suspected that he’d keep the kendo title indefinitely so Carson would never have a reason to book them in the same match. Carson’s style doesn’t mesh with kendo sticks and probably never will. He’s comfortable. And yet for some reason he’s entertaining the possible of exactly that, because Alex proved last night he can step outside of his comfort zone. He’s proven to be versatile even in the confines of something he has had to adapt to everything else he’s been doing for his whole career. Even if he didn’t intend to.
The reviews are compelling like that. They don’t take into account the reality of it, but rather the show. Most fans are wise to the fact that it’s an act, but they tend to believe that everything is coordinated before the bell ever rings. It’s hard to believe that wrestlers will call shots during the match itself, although that’s exactly the tradition and what most of them, especially the experienced ones do and are expected to do.
Yet what Alex did last night was nothing like that. That’s the true nature of professional wrestling. There’s still a good argument that his reckless behavior should not be rewarded in any sense, that he put himself and Oliver in danger and that can’t possibly be ignored. And yet they’ve been given the thumbs up. Traditionally, in Rome the sign you wanted was the thumbs down. That was the positive indicator. It seems Alex is living it the right way again. He won’t be able to do anything like he did at Fluid Karma again. He’d be crazy to.
Fortunately, if Carson changes his mind and books a rematch between Alex and Oliver, there are two ways to go. One is the do that same match over again, give the people who didn’t get a chance to appreciate it the first time a second chance. Alex won’t even consider that. The other option is to let Oliver get his revenge. The benefit of this approach is that it will take the onus off of him and allow the rules to change completely. It will be up to Oliver this time, and he will be free to interpret his revenge any way he wants.
It’ll be interesting, watching all this play out. The buzz is already reigniting NOVA around it. Once again Alex finds himself at the center.
Sunday, April 21, 2013
The night’s already over. It’s all over and Alex is sure that everything’s over. The match was horrible. His deal with NOVA will be terminated. He’ll be lucky to work as a special attraction every couple of months. Every promotion will think he’s priced out of their league for any kind of regular basis. It’s back to being a regular joe, and Alex was never any damn good at that.
He watched the first match, which was unbilled, a pre-show special attraction featuring most of the locker room in a battle royal. It ran twenty minutes. That kind of thing never happens. There were a couple of new faces. Obviously Billy Swift, an up-and-coming Canadian talent working as Thunderbolt, is the star attraction of the night, someone Colt Carson is for some reason high on, a favor to Owen Smulders, the hottest Canuck on the indy circuit, a real technical marvel who can put on a show. Probably the only reason Smulders himself doesn’t appear in NOVA is that he would steal too much of the spotlight from Carson. Sometimes professional jealousies are bad for business.
From what Alex could tell, Swift is still green. His were some of the first but certainly not the last botched moves of the night. Still, he was pretty exciting. Carson will ride him as long as he can, which will probably be a few months. Crowd reaction was tepid, never a good sign for someone you’re trying to make a star, much less an instant sensation.
The tornado match that opened the iPPV was an unusually awkward affair. Maybe Carson has a good idea, keeping himself away from similar talent, or then maybe it’s just Clete Kubeck, who oversold everything, like a parody of what he was supposed to do. It also exposed the essential weakness of the tornado concept as a regular feature. He had absolutely no chemistry with Nemo, who is more of a refined version of Billy Swift. Every tornado match has a different set of what still amounts to tag team partners. The weird part is that of everyone who’s competed in these matches so far, it’s Kubeck, Nemo and Scotty who have the most experience, and all three of them were in that one, Scotty teaming with Carson.
It may explain things a little that Scotty mostly sat in the corner. Carson was in the ring as much as possible, and from a certain standpoint it made sense, considering that it was his first iPPV out of the main event, and to keep him somewhere and prominent only sounded like the right thing to do.
Yet in the night’s main event there was another title change for the NOVA championship, with two old pros doing their best to sell an awkward situation for everyone. Alex has nothing but respect for Phil Brodeur and Damian Goch, but even they couldn’t pull that off.
To make things that much harder, it was him and Oliver Pine that made not only a tough but crucial night that much more excruciating for everyone. It was all Alex could do to finally resort to exactly what every wrestler fan expects from a match involving a kendo stick. It was bloody and brutal and graceless and not even exciting on a visceral level. The more Alex panicked the more he forgot that he was supposed to help Oliver shine, regardless of how he handled the pressure of appearing on his first iPPV with the promotion.
Oliver was doing a poor job well before Alex made it easy for him. Even with basic techniques he was looking sloppy, and he was winded within the first few minutes. The saving grace was that while he was sucking wind and shedding blood, it became easier for the fans to confuse the two sensations. Alex didn’t appreciate this right away, but by the end of the match he finally began taking his time, and let Oliver sell the match himself, even if he had to do it the hard way.
The minute they stepped back behind the curtain Alex knew that he was in trouble. Carson was livid, and to watch a man who spends most of his time cracking jokes lose his cool is one of the most frightening things you can experience. At least he waited until the main event talent was gone to throw his tirade.
“You’re lucky you’ve already got name recognition, Helton. That’s the only reason I’m not firing you on the spot. You nearly killed Oliver! What were you thinking? You’re going to make this up to all of us. You’re going to pay, starting tonight. Your check is going to be spread around to the rest of the boys.”
Saturday, April 20, 2013
When the NX Cusatis appeared in orbit, I was in the middle of another dead sprint, and when I phrase it that way, that’s exactly what I mean. It was a run for my life. The rape gangs were out in full force, as always.
You have no idea what that’s like, and I hope you never do. What made it worse each and every time was that I knew they weren’t after me. They wanted my sister, my kid sister. I don’t know if Ishara ever appreciated what I did for her. I shielded the worst of it from her, and on top of that, after our parents were murdered I had to raise her myself. She was angry her whole life. I think it was because of the kitten, the tenuous link to a normal life, that I was able to escape such a fate. I had to hide it, of course, and the moment I lost track of it I never saw it again, and it’s not hard to guess what happened to it. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if my sister had bonded a kitten instead of fundamentalists.
The other thing that saved me was that I knew the life my parents led before they came to Turkana. My father’s brother had served in Starfleet. It was his early retirement that gave us access to the Federation passports. He was an administrator, and he was supposed to make the colony a success, but instead he was sent into exile within a year, a political pariah. The rest of us got to stay.
Since I was very young I would hear stories of my uncle’s career, his time serving aboard the Stargazer, and that was how I first learned about Jean-Luc Picard. At this time he wasn’t widely known, and he certainly wasn’t heralded as one of the finest captains to ever serve in the fleet, but there was always something so heroic about the way my uncle talked about him. It was different from the way he talked about his other idols, men like Archer and Kirk. You’d expect that familiarity would take some of the shine off, but not with Picard. He was noble and held himself with a gravitas that had every officer follow him unquestionably, even after disasters like Maxia and the death of his best friend Jack Crusher, killed on a mission Picard had led personally.
I fell in love with the man before I ever met him. I loved him for all the reasons that made him everything I needed in a life that had nothing of his kind, when there were nightmares around every corner. I didn’t know anything about Starfleet that my uncle hadn’t told me, and all I remembered was Picard. It was my goal from the moment my parents died to join Starfleet. My sister obsessed over factions in the colony, and I never gave them a second thought. None of them had ever done anything for me, none inspired me. If I failed her at all, and I believe that this is exactly what she thought and will always think, it’s that I never gave her the same vision that saved me. Living in terror will cause lapses of concentration like that.
As I was saying, my life on Turkana was exactly the same up to the moment I finally escaped it. The Cusatis was the only ship Starfleet had that it would trust to visit the colony, and it was only an experiment, a prototype that wouldn’t go into active service for decades. As I record this log it’s still in development, refining some of the technology that is essential to its systems. It’s the only one that can land on a planet, though, the only one that can shock a population with a maneuver of that kind, and that was all that saved me. I look back on that day and that’s all I can think. I wasn’t going to make it. My sister had recently made her choice, joined her given faction, but the only way she would survive long enough to reach their headquarters was for me to provide a diversion.
It was a suicide run, and it was my only option, a dash through the heart of the colony, where the worst scum gathered and clashed on a daily basis. What passed for law enforcement on Turkana had abandoned this sector years ago. It was only because I’d grown up there that I had the instincts that would make it even tenuously feasible. The place was filled with abandoned complexes, most of which were still empty because even the most desperate wouldn’t risk being inside when they finally collapsed. This made them perfect for the most desperate to operate out of them when they didn’t want regular scum to bother them. That’s where I went. The rape gangs were at home.
As far as I can tell, the Cusatis laid down phaser fire that leveled several of these buildings. I don’t particularly care to speculate if sensors had already identified them as being clear. Once the ground was level, it landed right there. After dusting myself off I watched as security officers beamed directly in front of me. They knew to look for me because I had told them myself that this would be the unorthodox circumstances in which I would travel to my Academy entrance exam. There was no other way off Turkana at that point.
My uncle had left all his technical manuals behind. I studied them instead of sleeping at night, which was just as well because I wouldn’t have anyway. You let your guard down at your own risk. There were a lot of bright prospects at my exam, but I wasn’t impressed by any of them. I guess you could say that the colony made me competitive. In those days I don’t think anyone in Starfleet was as prepared for the Klingon and Romulan threats of the day as I was. They were empires at war, and no one else seemed to have a clue as to how to deal with them.
I constantly amazed my professors with my knowledge of warfare tactics, perhaps because I kept my past discreet, and those who knew were kind enough to keep my secret. I met Picard for the first time as a visiting lecturer, although he avoided the one maneuver that was already at that time bearing his name. It was this kind of modesty that helped make him real to me. He was a famous bachelor along with everything else. He had more than his share of admirers, and among my fellow cadets I was not the only one who couldn’t hide their own crush.
The trick to serving with him, however, was to become the best, and as I’ve said that wasn’t too hard. Entering the security division was a natural fit, and I worked to improve my prospects with every opportunity, and absorbed every bit of news that would facilitate them. It wasn’t widely known, but I knew as much as anyone about the Pegasus mission, so I was just as pleased when I learned that I had been assigned to the Enterprise as when I heard that William Riker would be its first officer.
Riker was one of the brightest officers in the fleet. If he hadn’t gotten the Enterprise he would have assumed his own command. Everyone knew it. But the embarrassment of riches continued. We would also have the android Data in our crew, and the Klingon, the only one in the whole fleet. I knew Worf would be a key member of my staff. There was also Beverly Crusher as ship’s doctor, who was intriguing because she was Jack Crusher’s widow, and she would be bringing her son with her. Wesley was said to be the next big wunderkind, the second coming of Pavel Chekov, a wiz kid whose school science projects were being displayed at the Daystrom Institute. Geordi La Forge also intrigued me if only for the fact that he had been born blind. If he had been born on Turkana, he wouldn’t have lasted five years.
Finally there was Deanna Troi. I often wonder if things had been different that I might have just as easily led her life. She became a psychiatrist, a gifted interpreter of human emotion, partly because of her Betazoid empathic abilities, but that wasn’t what made her special. I barely knew my parents. By all accounts she barely survived hers, or at least her mother. Yet where I became defensive, she decided to help others in a different way. If I had been more like her, I wonder if I could have helped my sister a little more.
I couldn’t help think that way about all of them. For whatever reason, I had lived among the worst people imaginable only to end up with the best, and it wasn’t simply a matter of contrast, that anything would have seemed better compared to the colonists. I have been in constant awe of my colleagues aboard the Enterprise. There is plenty of pettiness in Starfleet, I’m sad to report, plenty of officers who will entertain their base instincts. This crew is different. These are the best minds of my generation.
The best of them, the one they’ve all gravitated toward, is Picard. I’m still in love with him. I can’t help it. I hope it doesn’t affect my judgment. I try to keep my cool, try to be as detached as possible. Despite my background, I’m an unabashed romantic. The rape gangs never got me. I think that’s the difference. There are always two sides to me, though, in competition. The feminine side is what I fight. The feminine side almost got me killed. But it’s always just below the surface. I can seem remote, and that’s the reason why.
If I weren’t being so careful…There’s only been one time where I let my guard down. It was that stupid omnipotent clown that did it, and the one who finally identified the elephant in the room. Picard of course was discreet about it. What else would you expect? I felt like a fraud. I was humiliated and vulnerable, and that was before the clown even said it. I think that’s the main reason why Picard didn’t notice, or could pretend so well that he hadn’t.
What can I expect from the future? That’s been the question of my life. I’m always hoping for the best, but part of my wonders if I haven’t been preparing for something worse. How will I be remembered? I hope as being worthy of the position I’ve found myself in, worthy of standing on the shoulders of giants.
Monday, April 15, 2013
With Fluid Karma on Sunday, Alex is a nervous wreck. Despite Scotty’s assurances, he can’t help but feel the scripted kendo championship title loss as personal. He knows he shouldn’t be selfish. He knows it’s all fake. He knows he’s held the belt since last September, which already represents the longest championship reign in the promotion’s short history, longer even than Colt Carson’s run as the NOVA champion, which ended last month.
One of the many problems Alex finds in not taking it personally is that he’s dropping the title to Oliver Pine. Oliver Pine’s first iPPV for the company is in fact Fluid Karma. Oliver started with NOVA not long after January’s Idolwild, which saw a massive influx of talent reflecting the early success of the company. A lot of the boys saw Idolwild as a threat, all those big names suddenly here to steal the spotlight, and yet Alex now sees that the real threat wasn’t from the ones anyone would have known but the ones that might be able to use NOVA to build their name, much as Alex has been doing. Oliver is about to do exactly that.
Oliver isn’t so bad himself. They’ve worked out together, been on the road doing house shows, preparing for Sunday’s match. Alex has been teaching Oliver a lot of what it means to have a good kendo match. It’s not just whacking each other bloody. Alex has only been learning this himself in recent months, but there’s a real art to it, as much as there’s an art to all of professional wrestling. Part of him is very happy to be sharing what he’s learned. Part of him is scared shitless that he’s about to lose what has only just made him special.
It’s a valid concern. A lot of those boys are already feeling vindicated about Idolwild. Instead of becoming more successful with the wider exposure, business has been down. It was apparent at Pink Mist, with such a limited card. It will be that much more limited at Fluid Karma, where three matches will only have an hour fans will be able to stream on the Internet. It’s not such a great price they’ll be paying for this privilege, either. Everyone on the card will have to be at the top of their game.
This is only making Alex nervous. Usually he’s not bad at making a good impression. Clearly he has already proven he can deliver in a high pressure situation with NOVA. Yet when he actually feels nervous…
When he was a boy, Alex was constantly a bundle of nerves. He could never relax. He was not very impressive in school, or the few athletic activities he pursued. It was only when he got older, and worried less about everyone that he knew judging him, that he began to thrive. He found serenity in being surrounded by strangers.
Now that he’s worried about being judged by his peers again, the nerves have returned. Oliver seems fine, but then anyone who makes a living as a professional wrestler ought to have a certain amount of bravado, real or imagined. Alex isn’t sure which one Oliver possesses. Some of the boys have a hard time separating their real lives from their professional ones. Alex usually tries to steer clear of the latter. Of course at the moment he doesn’t have a choice.
Scotty is telling him not to worry. It’s easy for him to say. He’ll be teaming with Carson for the card’s tornado title match, which promises to be a crowd pleaser, with Carson matching comedic instincts with Clete Kubeck for the first time, the opening match. Alex and Oliver will have to follow, and then current NOVA champion Phil Brodeur defending against Damian Goch. Alex isn’t worried about Brodeur or Goch. He knows both of them can deliver. He’s worried about himself. He’s worried about Oliver. He can’t make any assurances about his match. If he fails in putting Oliver over, that will not only spoil one of three matches for the night, but tarnish the start of Oliver’s reign, and put a bad note at the end of his own.
He’s petrified about all of that. He fully expects that even one bad showing after all the success he’s recently enjoyed will ruin everything. The company is struggling. What’re the odds that it will continue to support him if he fails it in the hour of its greatest need? It’ll be back to obscurity. How will he ever survive it again?
Monday, April 8, 2013
Part of what worried Alex about the news that he’d be dropping the kendo championship was that part of him saw it as a sign that NOVA would be like many of the other wrestling promotions he’d worked for. Sure, part of it was selfish. He liked having the title, liked how it gave him immediate prestige in the eyes of the fans.
But there was also that constant fear. For whatever reason, though wrestling itself was reliably good business, wrestling promoters were just as reliably bad businessmen. They had no idea how to run their companies. They maximized profits by limiting the flow of money. Sometimes Alex would work on the weekend in the early days for nothing but a promise of pay, and sometimes even when it came it wasn’t nearly what he’d been promised.
The worst example he could think of was Red Carnage Wrestling. RCW’s fans thought the company was the best wrestling promotion in the world, and for the fans it absolutely was. Owner Brandon Pope was also clearly passionate about wrestling and he could easily get anyone to work for him, and get some completely devoted to him, but any objective viewpoint clearly saw that there was a fly in the ointment. Pope could make a small number of people completely rabid about his product, but only in a way that made it impossible for growth. Any company without real growth was always doomed to failure. The only way to fake it was to fake profitability. In other words, Pope would have to be a bad businessman who actively further engaged in bad business.
It was worth considering that Alex knew most businesses ran that way, but he knew it best in the world he knew best. He only worked for Pope a handful of months, and that was all he could afford. The benefit of working RCW was that it attracted the attention of other, more respectable and stable companies like Ring of Gold and Pro Wrestling Incorporated, both of which were still around when NOVA made its debut, which was not the case with RCW, which was one of the more famous example of the periodic implosions that affected any economic sector generally run poorly (which would be all of them).
If Alex had any sympathy for Pope, it was his young son Joe, whose fortunes as a wrestler were constantly affected by the decisions his father made. Alex liked Joe, thought he had a great amount of potential, but of all the wrestlers associated with Brandon Pope, it was Joe who benefited the least.
It had become easy to assume in the giddy early months of great success for the budding NOVA that Alex wouldn’t have to worry about any of this again, especially with his own fortunes rising so clearly with the promotion around him. His struggles seemed to at last be behind him. Yet whether it was his own pessimism or reality getting ready to slap him in the face again, there was a new cloud forming over Alex’s head.
He tried not to let it show. Scotty always had his back, regardless of what was going on around him, but he was also completely honest, so Alex asked him point blank what he thought was the prognosis, whether NOVA would even survive the year.
Scotty scratched his head and thought about it for a moment, and surprised Alex with his answer. “You and me have seen a lot, buddy, but the one thing I’ve seen that you haven’t is you. It’s true. I’ve taken to using you as my barometer, and I’ve never seen you perform better under pressure. This is the best we’ve ever had. We both know that. And you’re the one who’s made the most of it, and look how far you’ve gone. This is just the way things go. Very few champions have long reigns. You’ve seen the ones who do. It messes them up. They start having all kinds of weird ideas, and it’s not just them, but the promoters. Promoters are screwed up enough to begin with. They don’t need the help.
“Put it this way: if you held that belt for even one more month, even I would have been pounding Carson’s door for a title change! Sometimes even a poor substitute like me is better than someone better like you. Know what I mean? The fans don’t always appreciate what a champion brings to a title. Sometimes it’s not about the prestige. This is not the beginning of the end. It’s the end of the beginning.”
Monday, April 1, 2013
It wasn’t until NOVA that Alex was even aware that he had a national reputation. Unless you compete in the big leagues it’s always hard to tell, so it’s better to assume that you don’t.
Yet the first iPPV brought together an array of talent from all over the country, including Hugh Hardy, who had worked WPW as the Patriot and was still friends with “Iron Man” Mike Drummond. Alex was shocked when Hugh walked straight up to him and said, which Alex would always remember distinctly, “So, you’re the guy who does all the monkey flips.”
It was true. Alex was that guy. He did so many of them, and it was such a signature element of his repertoire, that to the boys in the locker room, no matter where he went, Alex was known as “Monkey Flip.” It wasn’t much of an impact move, and there was no reason for the fans to care all that much about it, but he started hearing cheers every time he performed it, and then chants of the term, and soon promoters were making sure that he would do it in their matches, too.
Not that he wouldn’t have. The monkey flip, so-called because it was a maneuver that made the wrestler who executed it look like a monkey, thrusting his opponent onto the mat with his legs, was one of the first things he’d learned, and he’d been so proud of how quickly and naturally it had come to him that Alex did it in each of his first seven matches, and by the eighth, it was so much a part of his act that he couldn’t even fathom not doing it.
Still, there were always detractors. Another “name” on the first iPPV, Unleashed, was Charlie Dawson, who was part of an established wrestling lineage. His father was a marginally successful talent named Steve Dawson, while his grandfather Chris Dawson had used a cowboy gimmick for decades to considerable acclaim. Charlie tended to have an ego, even though he’d never made it big himself. Whenever he landed in a new promotion, he could command attention on name recognition alone, and he was dismissive of anyone else’s chances to gain any traction.
Except it was different in NOVA from the start. The moment Alex found out that he would be featured on the Unleashed card by capturing the promotion’s first championship, he could feel Charlie’s disdain grow. It was just as well. By November’s Lasting View card, Colt Carson had wisely used the backstage heat in a match, so that Alex found himself defending the kendo title against Charlie. It wasn’t one of the best matches he’d ever had.
Thankfully, at December’s Sudden Impact card, he had a much better one against Damian Goch, another of the big names NOVA had secured from the indy scene.
He still couldn’t begin to say how anyone had heard about him at all. He was proud of his emerging body of work, but none of it had been on any kind of significant stage. It was all word of mouth, maybe even some tape trading. Or perhaps it was simply that everyone had heard about the guy obsessed with monkey flips, and Carson’s interest had started out as a joke, a sort of let’s-see-how-he’ll-do-that-with-a-kendo-stick dare.
The real shocker was when the new Ringside 100 was released at the end of the year and he was not only included for the first time ever, but ranked fifteenth! He couldn’t believe it. He thought it was just Scotty ribbing him, but then the magazine was placed in his hands and he saw for himself. Sure it was entirely kayfabe and partly a testament only of how NOVA had used him in the closing months of the year, when the grading was at its most serious, but it was also incontrovertible evidence that all his hard work and dedication had indeed been noticed.
It was also a tall order. At January’s Idolwild and February’s Original Mission, Alex suspected that he was beginning to be downplayed, put in less spectacular matchups. There were two other championships besides his own now, making even something as outlandish as the kendo title less noticeable on the card. And then he was told what was in store for April’s Fluid Karma. And like the saying said, karma was a…