Backstage of the arena, Chris Shepherd pulled his bags through the door. He’d packed light, he was sure of it, but somehow they still felt like he’d packed enough weights for Deacon to carry on a full workout. He scanned the area looking for the trail of wrestlers and “personalities” that would inevitably lead to the dressing room. His schedule’d been hectic, increasingly complicated by the UltraTitle tournament, but that was as it should be – something this big should never come easy, not for him anymore than Deacon. So, to carry his end he’d taken on an increase in publicity, both for Deacon’s bracket as well as others, staying up late to do a TV spot and getting up early to be interviewed by radio shows. It was a result of a reality he’d come to understand years ago – Deacon reached a crowd no one could even touch. If all of this work was for someone else, he might’ve said no. But it was Merritt, and more importantly, in spite of his own misgivings, he still held hope that God would use this as a way to spread the message as never before. And if nothing else, he’d have a solid example for the next time someone asked how Christ’s strength could be evident in our weakness. Right now, weakness seemed to be all Chris had.
“Mr. Shepherd,” the shout came from a young man. Chris smiled at the thought, realizing that to him, mid-thirties was now, officially called young. He’d seen the kid around the backstage working various jobs with ESEN, but he’d never learned his name. Chris felt that prick in his chest. He’d had ample opportunity, but he’d never taken the time to even learn it.
“Call me Chris,” Shepherd said.
The kid smiled and gave a curt nod. “I need an answer.”
“To be clichéd, I could tell you how Jesus is the answer but I’d best wait for the question. Hate to find out Jesus is the answer to who parked in the fire zone.”
“If Jesus did, I’m sure Merritt would still have him towed. Damn the consequences, in this case an eternal fire zone.”
Chris laughed, partly because it was the obvious response and partly because it was true. “What do you need, Mister…” Chris paused giving the kid a chance to respond. If Chris was anything, it was quick to fix his mistakes. At least today.
“Eugene. But most everyone back here calls me Gene.”
Most everyone. Meaning, everyone who bothered to learn it. “Great,” Chris said giving his best handshake. “Now what’s the question?”
“We’re filming some last second promo material to entertain the fans. We were wondering if you wanted to use one of the many you already did or to do one now?”
Chris glanced around. “Like right now?”
“Well, when you’re ready,” Eugene said as he glanced at his cell phone.
That didn’t sound as bad. “Sure. Let me get settled. I can be back and prepared in around, say, an hour?”
Eugene glanced down.
“Un,” Chris began, “less you need it sooner.”
“How about,” Eugene said as he glanced at his cell phone, “ten minutes?”
Chris nodded. It wasn’t so much the need to adapt that concerned him - it was the need to put something worthwhile together in such short time. And given he’d not seen anything new from Rezin, it meant he still lacked anything to go off of, always a daunting challenge when trying not to bore people to tears.
Phone still in hand, Eugene glaring at it like it’d just stole his candy, he thanked Chris and rushed away, putting the phone to his ear. Chris sat down his bags and racked his brain for a theme, a hook to open with. And when nothing came, he did something revolutionary - Chris prayed. It was somewhere in the midst of the prayer that a scripture came to him.
Do not worry about what to say our how to say it. The Holy Spirit will give you what to say.
He tried not to worry, lest of all about his time in front of the camera, but he preferred the Spirit to move a few hours earlier so he could make some notes!
“We’re ready for you,” Eugene shouted from in front of an Ultratitle banner.
Here goes nothing, Chris thought as he walked toward Eugene and then chided himself. He can’t think that way. As Chris walked, he whispered, “No, here comes something.”
(Chris Shepherd stands in front of the Ultratitle logo. His hair isn’t slicked and his eyes seem a bit more sunken than usual, but he’s smiling just the same.)
CHRIS SHEPHERD: Last time I was on ESEN TV, I spoke about me, and I pray I tied it neatly into what Deacon and I hope to do during this tournament. This time, I don’t want this to be about me. In fact, Deacon doesn’t want it to be about him. This has to be about the business.
In 1998, Deacon entered the CSWA. It was his first real opportunity, and happened during one of wrestling’s many boom periods. Deacon entered and dominated straight out of the gate. He carried that momentum to an eventual World Title run, and many, myself included, felt it was a man reaching his destiny. And though he left in difficult circumstances, if you ask around, he left the CSWA in better shape than when he found it.
Then he went to the fWo. There, he was introduced to a new way of doing business, one that was constant, energetic, and required everything he had on a weekly basis. And at some point, people decided he wasn’t their hero. The cheers turned to jeers. You want to know what Deacon did? Same thing he’d always done and somehow, he won those people again, and that, like other times, led to another World title run. The Deacon main evented the fWo’s last two Cyberslams – once against Eli Flair and once against Jack Harmen and Vince Jacobs. It was, for all intents and purposes, the way to go out, and so Deacon did.
At least until he got a call from NFW, and shown a tape of how someone was perverting the same message Deacon had preached for years – that of a Jesus who rescues us from ourselves. It’d been replaced by a religion, worshipping not the son of God, but a wrestling family, using Christ as little more than a prop. Through the CSWA. Through the fWo. Deacon had done all to stop that, and this horrendous teaching gave him the drive to get in the ring again. But once there, his mere presence stopped this enemy, at least to any great effect, and so Deacon looked at going home or going on. Somehow, he felt he wasn’t done – he needed to go on.
At the same time, two NFW titles were languishing, or so that was what the powers that be felt. They needed to do something different, and so they took two belts to make one. When Deacon seen this, it perked his interest, not because he needed another title, but because the business needed something different – something innovative. And, Deacon felt, who better than a guy who took the message of Christ to a world who largely didn’t believe in it and left them chanting, “I Believe!” If anyone could do it, if anyone could take this belt and make it into something unique, Deacon could. Or Deacon would go home trying.
You want to know what Deacon wanted to do? You want to know what he felt the NFW was missing? Deacon wanted to make the title not a belt you carry, but a title earned in a way unseen on American television, a trophy to be grasped at the end of the battle and not one carried TO the battle. The Deacon wanted to turn this belt into nothing less than an updated version of the Ultratitle.
And wouldn’t you know it – as Deacon nears that possible goal, he learned the Ultratitle returned. I have to admit I got a bit excited, probably too much. But over these past few days as I’ve talked to Deacon, I’ve gotten excited again, this time in a different way.
Some may disagree, but I cannot see this timeline as a coincidence. What Deacon has been preparing for, fighting to become a part of, now this opportunity arrives. When we were making our run at the CSWA World Title, it was about achieving destiny.
When we were making our run for the fWo World Title, it was about solidifying who we are, but more importantly, what someone can do with Christ as their focus. And now, even as we prepared for a smaller version of this VERY TOURNAMENT, this is about both.
This is our destiny. It will label Deacon, not as a former World champion, but the 2012 Ultratitle champion. Until the man called Deacon lays that down at the feet of Christ, it will never go away. He’ll do it, not with drugs, alcohol, cheap talk or cheaper moves – he’ll do it with the same faith that has driven people for 2000 years to do miraculous things. The same Faith that has been, and will be the Evidence.
(Still in front of the banner, Chris stops and glances from the camera to where Gene had been, had being the operative word. Chris glances around and then walks off camera.)
“Hey Gene,” Chris said as he walked behind him.
“I can’t deal with this,” Gene said, “not now. I’m at work.”
Can’t deal with what? Ending my promo? Chris’ question, and then realized Gene was on his cell phone.
“It’ll be alright, hon. I’ll be home soon and I’ll talk with him. Yes,” Gene said, his voice clearly exasperated, “I love you too.” But the words didn’t fit the sound. He pulled the phone from his ear, sticking it in his pocket, and then put his hands up, leaning against the wall.
He needs your answer, an urging spoke to Chris.
What was he supposed to say? He’d not known this guy’s name just moments before.
Do you so soon forget? The urging continued.
But Chris hadn’t forgotten anything, had he?
Do not worry what you will say. This time it wasn’t an urging.
Chris took a deep breath and said, “Gene.”
“I’m sorry,” Gene said, his face looking at his feet, “I’ll be right over to finish up.”
Chris could leave it alone. He could. No person would expect anymore.
“I’m not concerned about any of that,” Chris said. “I am concerned with what troubles you.”
But Chris’ expectations were not built from a person.