Alex Helton begins the year as an improbable lead act of the fledgling but increasingly popular wrestling promotion known as NOVA. For a few months, "popular" means really only among the best informed fans, in a strictly cult sense. The company is doing such poor business that in March and April it appears everyone is working not year to year or even month to month, but rather week to week. Brash owner Colt Carson is quick to assure them that everything is fine, everything is okay, the money will be there. And miraculously, business improves in May.
For Alex, May is not as wonderful as it is for everyone else. He's booked to lose his second straight iPPV match, which is a rematch against Oliver Pine, who took the kendo championship from him at April's Fluid Karma. Losing to Oliver again at Smokin' Aces only further hurts his momentum. It helps that they have a far better match this time. Alex is so hesitant in the early going, he's afraid that he's letting them both down, but something clicks after a few minutes. Oliver starts innovating. That's the whole idea of this particular gimmick match. If either of them were only doing the expected, they would be hurting everyone in the long-term, no matter what Carson thinks. By doing something special, they make NOVA itself special. It's the one thing Alex is brave enough to say to Oliver before the match. Back in the locker room, after they've finished performing, the boys give Alex a standing ovation. Perhaps it's when Carson sees this that he decides Alex is ready to take the next step. At June's iPPV, Alex will be facing Carson himself.
Maybe it helps Alex's ego a little, when he learns what Billy Swift's fate will be on the same card, Alpha Dog. It'll be Billy's last card with NOVA. He's being buried, in a blow-off match against Nemo, a similar competitor, just one month after his big splash. If Alex had faced similar circumstances just a few months ago, how would that have affected his career? Billy will struggle, at first. He'll head back to Canada, where talent toils in obscurity. Although it is excellent breeding ground, Canada is no place to make a name for yourself in this business. A few years from now, Billy will reemerge, rechristened from Thunderbolt to the Canadian Dragon, and then begin competing under his own name for the first time. He will become a great success, and that will be only the beginning.
As he watches Billy now, though, Alex sees something very different developing. He sees resentment. What will that look like in a few years? At Alpha Dog, Alex is booked to defeat Carson, and the match comes off pretty well. Carson plays his part, and Alex pushes himself to mesh with a different style, something he'd only previously considered working alongside Scott. It seems to go well, until he reads the reaction to the match on the Internet, and then he realizes why Carson did it. To get the rub from Alex. To steal his thunder. Alex has been used.
He realizes it more keenly when he sees the plans for July's iPPV, Golden Age. Carson is booked solidly near the top of the card, in a rematch against Phil Brodeur, who in March was given the honor of unseating him as the company's champion. And Carson is booked to win. And where is Alex? Much lower, matched against one of NOVA's raw talents, Elston Hamilton, who has been struggling to find his groove. If Alex fails in this match, he'll make them both look bad, and he won't have a championship to hide under through any of it, just his wrestling skills.
As he feared, Golden Age is hardly one of his best moments, but in a spark of inspiration, Alex grabs a kendo stick near the end of the match and barely has time to warn Hamilton about it, because of course this was not featured in any of their plans and definitely not approved by management, and just starts to wail at him. One step back in terms of development, but really good for his character.
Carson, of course, is furious, but he keeps checking in with the fans, and the fans loved it, and so scripts are rewritten, and booked for August's Three Rules is a rematch with Oliver for the kendo championship. To throw everyone for a loop, Carson decides it won't be just any kendo match, but a kendo-on-a-pole match. Alex initially groans. He hates item-on-a-pole matches. As far as suspense goes, they're fine, but the payoff is exactly the opposite of everything he's tried to make his kendo matches. If fans don't agree with him, he could be looking at disaster all over again. So he talks about it with Oliver, who comes up with the idea to use the pole in the innovative fashion Alex has come to favor. And so that's what they do, and so by the time Alex has grabbed the stick, he feels comfortable to use it in exactly the sense everyone always thought it should be used in a wrestling match. Because of that first match against Oliver, the fans were even
expecting something like this. That thought had never even crossed his mind.
August marks the end of NOVA's first year in business. The exciting talent known as Ian Maust is champion as of July, someone bigger promotions had no idea what to do with. Scoring him, utilizing him, is another major and defining coup for the promotion. It energizes everyone all over again, and for Alex, has the effect of taking some of the pressure off him. No matter if he has another of NOVA's championships or not, he no longer has to be the most impressive performer in the bunch. He knows he isn't, in fact, for the first time. Seeing Ian in action, inspired, makes Alex realize that no matter what he previously thought of his own career, he still has a ways to go. If only he could tell Billy Swift that.
For the Unleashed II card, the anniversary of NOVA's first iPPV, Alex is booked against a hardcore legend, Red Hook, who was a Red Carnage Wrestling staple for years. He knows exactly what kind of match he needs to perform, and again he thanks his lucky unconscious foresight. That match goes off without a hitch. He gets the idea that he really is starting to impress Carson when he learns his Cold Snap opponent in October will be Phil. This may very well be the defining match of his run with the promotion. Understandably, Alex grows nervous. It's only when Phil speaks with him, calms him down, reminds him that everyone has a starting point, everyone wants to be their best no matter how they're booked, that he feels better. Actually, a little worse. Again, he really let Billy Swift down.
But what does Phil mean? Phil's as big a star as NOVA has seen, an indy legend, done everything there is to do outside of the Big Two. Alex realizes that Phil already knows he's accomplished everything he will ever be able to brag about, if he were the kind of guy. He will never become any bigger a star. He's gone as far as he can. Alex will at some point eclipse him, and perhaps Phil knows that, and maybe that's what he was saying, without saying it.
Their match is magnificent. At a certain point, Alex realizes he's doing things he's never even considered, much less practiced. It's insane. If he'd had a chance to think about some of them, he probably wouldn't even have attempted them. The whole match goes against everything Alex ever believed about professional wrestling. It's the best match of his career to that point. Carson acknowledges that too. For November's Thriller, Alex finds himself book in hallowed ground. He's in the main event. It's his first time ever to receive this honor.
The honor comes with a caveat, however. It'll be the first time since the very first NOVA iPPV that the main event is anything but a singles competition. It'll be a triangle match, against Ian and Ken Brand. Alex's kendo title is not even considered in the equation, nor Ken's tornado championship. Still, it's an incredible career development, completely unexpected from the point Alex was sitting in only a few months earlier, when he was convinced that his contract would be cancelled.
As with any triangle match, most of the pressure is off to even consider a normal approach. Like his recent kendo matches it'll be exactly what's expected, the impact spots, whatever makes him look best. It goes against all his ideas of what makes a good match. But the fans like the results. He always appreciates that. For December, Ian is given a match against Carson. Alex finds himself on the Sudden Impact card competing against another relatively raw talent, Dustin Wallach. Dustin is a Carson project through and through, so Alex is as aware as he's been recently that the owner's eyes are on him. The match is fine for what it is. Alex finds himself itching for a challenge again.
What does 2014 have in store for him? The same it has for any wrestler who is coming off an unexpectedly good year. It will be a challenge, all right. NOVA will grow quite a bit, and that will bring its own challenges, more spotlight that Alex will have to learn to share. He'll begin asking himself whether it's Billy Swift who should be worrying about career development...or himself...