(Cut to the ring. The crew have just made the finishing touches on erecting the steel cross-barred cage structure that surrounds all four sides of the ring.)
DT: Ladies and gentlemen, we’re obliged to announce again that tonight’s show is sponsored by William Zane Iron Working... the manufacturers of the OFFICIAL cage used in the EPW King of the Cage Tournament!
DM: Absolutely remarkable! I don’t think we’ve ever seen a structure of such design and marvel grace the Empire Pro ring!
MN: William Zane Iron Working! If it ain’t Zane... it ain’t SANE!!
DM: That’s not their pitch line, Neels...
MN: Well, it SHOULD be...
(CUE UP: “Holy Mountain” by Sleep. The opening notes BLARE over the PA, drawing an immediate reaction from the crowd.)
MN: Uh oh... something out there is smelling kinda CRISPY!
(A fog machine fills the entry-way with a white mist... although we could also assume it’s some other kind of smoke. With red lights washing over the stage and the Fallen’s video package cycling over the EmpireTron, “DOPESMOKER” ERIK BLACK staggers through the haze, adorned in his robe and sunglasses, holding GEEZER up high over his head.)
TF: Ladies and gentlemen... the following contest is a PRELIMINARY ROUND MATCH in the KING OF THE CAGE TOURNAMENT! Introducing first... hailing from the HOOSIER HEMPLAND of Indianapolis, Indiana... he weighs in at 218 pounds... HERE IS... ERIK BLACK... TTHHEEEE DOOOOOOOOPESMOOOOOKEEEEERRRR!!!!!
(The DOPESMOKER comically jigs up and down the stage for a moment to pump up the crowd. The freaks and geeks of professional wrestling give the alternative icon a supportive and warm welcome while the traditional fans and parents in the audience boo disapprovingly. A few moments later, he struts his way down the stage.)
DT: Empire Pro’s resident DOPESMOKER seems to be in his usual HIGH spirits, even after coming up short in the bout for the Television Title at Black Dawn!
MN: I don’t think he CARES, Dave! He’s probably too stoned to even remember that match...
DM: He may not be the Television Champion, but Erik Black has made it clear that walking away from Black Dawn with the belt was NOT on his agenda that night.
MN: If that’s really the case, then what purpose did he even have being in the ring competing for a title?!
DM: I... really can’t answer that, to be honest. Black has what you could call an “alternative view” on the sport of wrestling. The way this guy defines “success” and “failure” is very different from how an average wrestler would interpret them. In his mind, he probably took more satisfaction in having a hand in “New School” Layne Winters’ defeat.
(As the DOPESMOKER reaches the cage, confidently smirking at the towering walls of steel that loom several meters over his head, he turns to give the audience a demonstration of Geezer’s burning abilities and his remarkable lung capacity, sending a cloud of smoke billowing off into the air where the arena’s ventilation system picks it up. Black throws off the robe, slips out of his moccassins, and delicately removes the shades before jumping through the cage door – stumbling the first couple of steps before regaining his balance himself and playing up to the crowd again.)
DT: It’s hard to truly comprehend what goes on in the DOPESMOKER’s highly afflicted mind. He is a completely unpredictable force in the ring... perhaps only held back by his perceived and highly unsual lack of motivation to win matches. It leaves many to wonder... is he the psychedelic visionary he believes himself to be, or just some ranting and raving madman?
MN: Well, he hangs out with nutjobs like Stalker and Omega... so what does THAT tell you?
(CUE UP: “Worldwide Suicide” by Pearl Jam. The spotlight falls back to the stage as the fans turn their attention to the entry-way. A montage of action clips from NAPW and various indie federations plays on the EmpireTron, featuring Donovan Astros at various stages of his career. Moments later, DONOVAN ASTROS steps out onto the EPW stage for the first time, dressed in his ring gear, proudly and confidently posing for the first time in front of a major audience.)
TF: And his opponent... making his EMPIRE PRO DEBUT... hailing from the CITY OF ANGELS, Los Angeles, California... he weighs in at 237 pounds... PLEASE WELCOME... DDOOOOOONNOOOOVVVAAAAAANNN AAAAAAAASSSTRRROOOOOOSSSSS!!!!!
(Astros pumps a fist in the air as he strides down the ramp, eyes intent on the steel cage surrounding the ring. He gets a decidedly mixed reaction from the crowd, but pockets of indie fans can be heard cheering him on. The camera gets a brief flash of a sign held over the ringside barricade that reads “DONOVAN ASTROS – WELCOME TO THE EMPIRE”. Astros briefly points to the sign while smiling to the camera.)
DT: Here’s our first look at Empire Pro’s newest signed talent... Donovan Astros, a man of many years experience in indie leagues, breaking into mainstream, global-scale professional wrestling for the first time in his long career! Should be interesting what he can offer us!
DM: I’ve watched some of Astros work up in Alberta... and I can safely say, Dave, that he’s a welcome addition to the Empire Pro roster! A top-notch wrestler, if there ever was one. Hardly young anymore, but not quite past his prime just yet.
DT: Astros has had an illustrious, if not overlooked, career... but only NOW does he find the opportunity to perform in a major company renown over the entire planet! This is a much-anticipated moment in his life, and you can bet he’ll be determined to make a statement here tonight in that very cage!
MN: If he’s so great, why’d it take him so long to get here to the big leagues?
DM: As someone with an actual WRESTLING background... I can tell you from heart that this is NOT an easy industry to find success. It comes only after years of hard work and determination... and heaven forbid you hamper that by getting yourself injured!
MN: Yeah... remember that, all you aspiring and would-be wrestlers listening out there: DON’T GET INJURED. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself wasting the rest of your miserable life stuck behind a commentary table... like “The Show Stealer” Dean Matthews here.
DM: ...I’m going to kill you one of these days, Neels...
(Astros arrives at the ring, stoically glancing up to the cage before stepping inside, followed by the ruling official, Emilio Gomez. The outside official, Andrew Gardell, closes the door, sealing the two competitors and the ref alone in the cage.)
DT: Both competitors have entered the cage... and the Zane Gate has been sealed!
MN: ...did you say, “the Zane Gate has been sealed?” What the hell is this... Dungeons and Dragons?
DM: This is a hell of a first match for Astros... debuting in the EPW ring for the first time within a CAGE and up against one of the most unconventional and erratic stars this sport has ever seen in the Dopesmoker.
DT: Referee Emilio Gomez has made his final preparations... and it looks like we’re ready to get this one underway! Let the tournament to crown Empire Pro’s KING OF THE CAGE officially commence!
SFX: *DING! DING!*
DT: There’s the bell... Astros comes out of his corner, and Black comes out of his to meet him... wait, Black suddenly puts on the brakes and points to the CAGE WALL!
DM: There’s an awfully cocky smirk on the Dopesmoker’s face! He could be trying to get into Astros’ head here, possibly trying to psych him out by – OH WAIT!! Astros took his eyes off him when he looked to where he was pointing, and Black IMMEDIATELY tries scrambling up the cage wall!
MN: Wow, he really fell for that one...
DT: Some cunning and trickery on the part of the Dopesmoker, going for the quick and effortless win... but Donovan Astros almost IMMEDIATELY catches on and yanks him right off the cage wall!
DM: This match could have just ended before it had even BEGUN... Astros now with a waistlock on Black... no, Black quickly REVERSES, putting Astros into a waistlock of his own!
DT: Black shoves him forward, and – BACK UP the cage wall he goes! Astros quickly recovers and pulls him down again and draws him into a headlock! What is Erik Black’s angle here?
DM: It seems as though he’s trying to finish this match as quickly and painlessly as possible! The Dopesmoker’s fast on his feet, but so far, Astros’ keen senses have kept this contest from ending in a premature fashion!
MN: Don’t take your eyes off that sneaky little stoner, even for a SECOND...
DT: Astros, trying to WRENCH the head of the Dopesmoker... but now Black is SQUIRMING! Black SLIPS OUT... and now he’s TAUNTING the newcomer, pointing to his head!!
MN: D’OH! Butterfingers!
DM: Well, they don’t call him “The Escape Artist” for nothing! Black’s got a knack at escaping holds, as Astros is just now finding out! Undeterred, Donovan Astros goes after the Dopesmoker again... NO!! Black slips under the lock-up attempt, and clips the leg with a low hook kick!
DT: Black backing away... doesn’t capitalize on that kick, instead allowing Astros to recover on his own while he goads him on with a cocky smirk! I get the feeling he’s just TOYING with this newcomer!
DM: Or maybe he’s trying to get under his skin. A flustered opponent is more prone to making mistakes. It’s all psychological strategy.
MN: “Psychological?” Don’t you mean PSYCHEDELIC?
DT: Astros standing impatiently with his hands on his hips while Black dances on the other side of the ring, continuing to beckon him! He’s definitely looking flustered, but I think that may be making him only more determined to punish the Dopesmoker!
DM: Astros advances... he’s got Black trapped in a corner now! No where for the Escape Artist to RUN now! But Black BITES BACK with a desperate kick to the mid-section!
DT: The Dopesmoker sees a window... going to the second rope, looking for the TORNADO DDT – NO, WAIT!! Astros PLANTS HIS FEET and tosses him HARD right back into the corner!!
DM: Finally... Astros’ persistence is beginning to pay off! There’s a HARD elbow strike to Dopesmoker’s face, practically CRUSHING the stoner daredevil in the corner! Astros follows with a HIP TOSS right out of the corner, and Black bounces off the mat like a rag doll!
DT: Black, looking surprised as he gets to his feet, turns around – AND GETS VIOLENTLY RIPPED INSIDE OUT AS ASTROS NEARLY DECAPITATES HIM WITH A LARIAT!!
MN: WOW!! Nearly knocked Smokey into NEXT Friday!
DM: Dopesmoker scrambles to his feet... has NO IDEA WHERE HE IS... and stumbles right into Astros – BIG BUTTERFLY SUPLEX!!
DT: EXCELLENT FORM!! A quick counter finally stops the Escape Artist’s irksome speed... and Astros covers with the lateral press!
Black slips out the back door!
DM: The Escape Artist... living to his namesake! But now Astros has a chance to capitalize on this opportunity! Astros bringing Black to his feet again... lifts him UP... and DROPS HIM WITH THE VERTICLE SUPLEX!!
DT: Astros to his feet... OFF THE ROPES... NO!! Went for the knee drop, but Black rolled out of the way! Donovan telegraphed that only slightly.
MN: Gettin’ slower with old age, I suppose...
DM: Black, INTO THE ROPES with a BURST of speed... OOH!! LOW Dropkick connects with that KNEE, and Astros COLLAPSES to the mat in agony! He barely had a chance to get to his feet!
DT: Despite a few bumps, the Dopesmoker has apparently not slowed! Now Erik Black springs to the ropes – oh wow, JUMPS to the top rope, clinging to that cage wall like a cat on a curtain!
MN: That’s a hell of a tongue-twister you just said, Dave. You deserve a medal for pulling that off without a flub...
DM: Black WAITING... Astros, getting to his feet... and DOPESMOKER SPRINGS OFF THE CAGE WITH A MOONSAULT!!
DT: Erik Black is attaining NEW ALTITUDES in the cage, and he just TOTALLY LAID OUT Donovan Astros with that Springboard Moonsault!
MN: Sounded like the crowd just had a psych-gasm of epic proportions...
DM: Black, making the unbelievable, BELIEVABLE... now he’s back to his feet, heading for the the ZANE GATE!!
DT: Yet again, Erik Black is looking for the finish by escape! But Astros – making a QUICK recovery – hustles to his feet and TACKLES the Dopesmoker right as he reaches the ropes! He’s not going to just let him WALK OUT without a fight!
DM: Black’s crawling for the Zane Gate, but Astros DRAGS HIM back to the center of the mat! Astros, locking the leg... I think he’s looking for AN STF!!
DT: There’s the bridge... AND HE’S GOT IT LOCKED IN!! Black is FLAILING in pain!
MN: Let’s see him escape THAT!
DT: Emilio Gomez asks Black if he’s giving it up... but the Dopesmoker grits his teeth and WAVES HIM OFF! Donovan Astros just strains that hold even HARDER!
DM: Even against a much shorter opponent, Astros has some AMAZING leverage on that bridge! That’s highly remarkable flexibility, given his age!
MN: Yeah, he’s fit... but is he SMART?!
DT: Black, trying to wriggle his way out... he claims he can escape ANY submission hold, and one would think this would be NO CHALLENGE for him!
MN: You’d THINK...
DM: He may not get that chance here... Astros – FLIPPING OVER now... looking to HOOK THE ARMS – I think he calls this the MARTYR’S CROSS –
DT: OH WAIT!! BLACK SLIPPED OUT!! Astros took the risk of going for the transition, and the Escape Artist found the perfect opportunity to slip out of yet ANOTHER hold!
MN: Astros got a little greedy there. Not that greed’s a BAD thing, but that time, it clearly didn’t pay off.
DM: Black DRAGGING himself in the direction of the Zane Gate... but he’s not going to make it! Astros gets a STOMP in across the upper back... lifting the Dopesmoker off the mat... off his FEET –
DM: – OH DAMN, AND RIGHT INTO THAT CAGE!!
DT: That was a SICKENING collision...
MN: ...or could it have been a CHRONIC COLLIZION?!! Zing!
DT: This twelve-year veteran, Donovan Astros... beginning to DOMINATE the cage here tonight, throwing the lightweight Erik Black like a LAWN DART into the cage wall! Black is TWITCHING on the mat in pain...
DM: Astros DRAGS HIM back to his feet by the arms... wait, SWITCHES AROUND – OH MAN, WHAT A GREAT AZTEC SUPLEX!!
DT: Donovan Astros BRIDGES FOR THE PIN!!
THR – OH, THAT COULD HAVE BEEN IT RIGHT THERE!! But Erik Black got the shoulder up!
DM: You can’t count out the Dopesmoker’s resiliency!
MN: Must be all that medical marijuana...
DT: He’s survived up to this point, but Donovan Astros has found his rhythm, and is systematically overpowering the smaller competitor! Astros now, peeling the Dopesmoker off the mat... there’s the Irish Whip to the ROPES!!
DM: Black... connects CHEST-FIRST with the rope and bounces BACKWARDS!!
MN: Does that idiot even remember where he is?!
DT: Astros waiting with a BACK BODY DROP – Black BACKPEDALS RIGHT INTO HIM – OH WOW, Astros LIFTS HIM INTO THE ELECTRIC CHAIR – NO, WAIT... Black TUMBLING OUT – OH HELL, WHAT A LUCHA-LIBRE ARM DRAG!!
DM: Let’s see the replay on that...
(Split-frame replay shows the last move in slow motion, while in real time, both wrestlers lie motionless in the cage. The replay shows Black, comically running BACKWARDS right into an Electric Chair position from Astros. Held high over the mat for a few moments, Black suddenly snaps back into reality, and counters with a rolling arm drag.)
DT: That could have been the counter “The Dopesmoker” Erik Black was looking for to get back into this match! I barely though it POSSIBLE for him to pull off a move like THAT in his condition!
MN: Astros clearly had a brainfart there and hesitated when he should have just dropped that druggie right on his back...
DM: Opportunity missed... and now the Dopesmoker trying to rally... he’s back to his feet! Astros UP AS WELL!! Black goes for a KICK right to the mid – OH NO, Astros CAUGHT IT –
DT: And Black REVERSES WITH THE ENZIGURI!! He nearly KICKED HIS HEAD OFF!! Black could finish it off right here... but ONCE AGAIN, he’s headed up the cage wall! I don’t understand why he doesn’t just go for a PINFALL attempt...
MN: Well come on, Dave... he’s the ESCAPE ARTIST! If he’s gonna actually make an EFFORT this time to win, he might as well go about doing it his OWN way!
DM: It could be a mistake, though! That punishment inflicted by Astros did a number on him... and he’s not as quick on his feet as before! He might have better luck just going head-to-head with Astros and banking on his skill!
DT: Astros trying to recuperate... Black almost halfway up the cage wall now... here comes ASTROS – HE’S GOT THE LEG!! Astros is trying to YANK HIM DOWN, but Black is CLINGING ON for DEAR LIFE!!
DM: I don’t think the Dopesmoker is gonna be able to shake him loose! He looks PANICKED! Astros getting into position now... WAIT... he’s got BLACK ON HIS SHOULDERS in the POWERBOMB POSITION!!
MN: Oh man, THIS could be good!
DT: Black is PRIED away from the cage wall... Astros RUNNING NOW –
DT: – OH GOD!! WHAT A POWERBOMB!! WHAT A POWERBOMB RIGHT INTO THAT CAGE WALL!!
DM: I thought the whole side of the CAGE was going to GIVE IN under the FORCE of Erik Black being thrown RIGHT INTO IT!!
MN: We still got that Zane guy’s number to order more of these if they break, right?!
DM: Let’s see if we can get another look at that...
(The footage splits, with real-time showing close-ups of Erik Black’s pain-stricken face as he lies contorted among the ropes against the cage wall. The replay shows another angle of Astros charging across the ring and THROWING Black into the opposite cage wall. Dopesmoker sticks up against the steel edge of the cage for a moment like a cartoon coyote smashed into a cliffside, before falling into a mess on the apron between the ropes and the cage.)
DT: Erik Black made a HUGE mistake trying to leave the cage again, and Donovan Astros made him PAY FOR IT!! Astros has him right where he wants him now! He’s pulling Black back through the ropes... NO WAIT!! Black’s legs are STILL DANGLING ACROSS THE SECOND ROPE!!
DM: Astros has him SUSPENDED OVER THE MAT... and SPIKES HIS HEAD DOWN with the DDT!! I think he calls that one the CONCUSSION CANNON!
MN: Because anybody on the receiving end usually ends up with a CONCUSSION... right?
DT: It certainly looks as though Erik Black has been KNOCKED OUT COLD... and I think Astros is ready to FINISH THIS!!
DM: Here it comes... Astros bringing a bleary-eyed Dopesmoker to his feet... there’s the front-facelock... THE LIFT-UP... Astros SLINGSHOTS HIM OFF THE ROPES – OH NO, WAIT, BLACK KICKED HIS FEET OFF THE CAGE – HE SLIPS OUT and SLIDES DOWN HIS BACK!!
DT: Dopesmoker has THE FACELOCK REVERSED – FLIPS FORWARD – AND HE COUNTERS WITH THE GREEN HIT!!!
DM: WOW!!! That was an act of complete desperation, but just the same, Erik Black just SAVED HIS ASS his from defeat via a Slingshot Effect right there and completely TURNED THIS MATCH AROUND!
DT: I couldn’t tell if that contact he made with the cage wall was intentional or by complete accident... but nevertheless, Black has a chance to finish things off... but he’s crawling AWAY from Astros! Struggling to his feet now... and he’s TRYING TO CLIMB THE CAGE WALL!
MN: Better than going through whatever a “Zane Gate” is...
DM: This could be a risky choice on the part of the Dopesmoker! I almost think he could have made a successful three-count if he had gone for the pin... but Black INSISTS on winning by leaving the cage!
DT: That Green Hit – that FORWARD SOMERSAULT CUTTER – has left Donovan Astros stunned on the mat, but that alone won’t buy him enough time to get over the cage wall on his own power! Even now, Astros beginning to stir... showing signs of life! Erik Black, almost halfway up the cage!
DM: He’s only got a few feet left... Astros is COMING TO!! Now HE’S getting to his feet! Black... inching up to THE TOP...
MN: He’s NOT GOING TO MAKE IT!!
DT: Astros up, and RUNS TO THE CAGE WALL... he’s GOT THE LEG!! Astros is trying to PULL HIM DOWN, but Black’s got an arm over the edge of the cage wall! Black’s THRASHING HIS LEGS in defense!!
DM: OH!!! Astros just CAUGHT ONE IN THE FACE and was sent FLAILING TO THE MAT!! Black SCRAMBLING over the cage wall... HE MADE IT OUT!!
DT: Astros POPPING TO HIS FEET... now he’s FRANTICALLY GIVING CHASE – but HE’S TOO LATE!! THE DOPESMOKER MADE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE CAGE WALL... and HE DROPS TO THE FLOOR!!
MN: I don’t believe... THAT POT-HEAD PULLED IT OFF!!
TF: Ladies and gentlemen... YOUR WINNER, by ESCAPE from the cage... DDDDOOOOOOOOPPPEEESMMOOOOOOKKKEERRRRRRR!!!
(“Holy Mountain” blares over the PA as Donovan Astros drops back to the mat and shakes his head in frustration. The victor stands on the outside, celebrating his victory with an awkward jig hampered by the pain pulsating through his body. He grabs Geezer and takes a hit before catching eyes with Astros back in the cage and serving him a cocky smirk.)
DT: It’s hard to believe... but after a LONG stretch of short-comings, the DOPESMOKER has won the preliminary round of the King of the Cage tournament! He’s moving on to the NEXT ROUND to challenge the winner of the Winters and Bastard match!
(We get a brief visual overlay of the tournament. Erik Black’s portrait – labelled “DOPESMOKER” – flickers for a second before moving on to the next bracket.)
DM: He squirmed... he slipped... and ultimately, he CLIMBED out of that cage, ESCAPING both opponent and structure as he said he would! One could say that Donovan Astros really proved his wrestling superiority in this match... and indeed, his experience and skill DID shine through at several points... but in the end, he was out-done by Erik Black’s catch-as-can strategy of “keep away.”
MN: Win the fight by fighting as little as possible! As ridiculous as that sounds, it turned out to be the SMART MOVE! I almost felt like there was more we could have seen from our new guy, though...
DT: I couldn’t agree with you more there, Neely. Donovan Astros had an impressive first-time showing, in the STEEL CAGE of all places! It will be interesting to see how he takes to future challenges in his journey into Empire Pro... but for right now, the DOPESMOKER will be the man to move on to the next stage in this tournament to proclaim the King of the Cage!
DM: Now I’m left wondering... is there anybody who could possibly stop the ESCAPE ARTIST from escaping that cage in future rounds? Could Erik Black be ONTO something? Or is he just REALLY STONED and REALLY LUCKY?
MN: Man... could you imagine the hell that’s going to break loose if THIS GUY wins the whole thing? The Gandhi Method can’t be THAT successful, can it?
DT: We’ll have to wait for the next Aggression to answer that question. For right now, we have to take a break. Stay tuned, fans, we’ve got MORE action inside the steel cage – again, sponsored by William Zane Iron Working!
MN: If it ain’t Zane, IT AIN’T –
DM: Pipe down, Neels... we’ll be right back. Don’t go away!
(A visibly frustrated Donovan Astros steps out of the steel cage in a huff and walks back up the ramp while the DOPESMOKER steps in front of the ringside camera and shouts “IT’S GONNA FALL!! IT’S ALL GONNA FALL!!” for a while before the camera fades to commercials.)
(Backstage. More precisely, in front of a dressing room door, with a nameplate that read: “Queen of the Ring” Lindsay Troy in gold plated bubble letters with shining stars on each end.)
“No one puts their hands on me,” a familiar voice echoed.
“Do you hear me?”
(Lindsay’s dressing room door slowly cracked open, as the familiar, yet anonymous voice continued.)
“No one EVER puts there hands on me, without suffering some form of consequence. You all know the drill. That consequence could be their career. Their livelihood. Their ability to know what it feels like to have functioning limbs, which allow them to get up out of their beds, and enter a wrestling ring, to earn a paycheck.”
(The dressing room door opened even more, as the camera panned slowly from the bottom up – Louis Vuitton sneakers, dark blue, crisp, True Religion jeans, a wife beater, and Ray Ban sunglasses – revealing the source to be EPW World Heavyweight Champion SEAN “TRIPLE X” STEVENS, and that infamous smug grin.)
TRIPLE X: After once again successfully defending my right to call myself the very best in this industry, I think it goes without saying that I am the most feared, respected, and revered wrestler in the entire world and tonight, you, the viewer, will be able to witness, first hand, what we in the wrestling business refer to as a,” finger quotes, “’backstage attack’,” end quotes, “as I annihilate another pretender to the throne, proving without a shadow of a doubt, that no title supersedes the position of King.
“Rumor has it, Lindsay Troy is either in the arena, or about to arrive. Well, rest assured, when she comes, I will show the world, once more, why I have no peer, as I beat that disgusting skank into submission, forcing her to bow before me.”
(TO BE CONTINUED….)