Prelude to an ULTRATITLE, Episode 1: The Phantom Republican
Guangzhou, largest city of the Guangdong province in China, is not necessarily known as a wrestling hotbed. Pro wrestling, in fact, is something that has only recently caught on in the world's burgeoning superpower rival to the United States. That being said, boy, has it caught on pretty big. In an arena no bigger than a warehouse, about 5,000 people, give or take a few hundred, crowded inside with no air conditioning under poor lighting to watch green natives, puroresu flameouts and a few select gaijin grapple with each other. As much as the average spectator was sweating, the perspiration was ten times greater inside the ring. Even for being early on in the year, the south of China isn't exactly known for mild winters or cool springs.
For most competitors, this is the pinnacle of their careers. For a few others, the dim lighting and poor ventilation represents the freefall their career has taken. Used to the bright lights and big arenas of Japan and America, the smattering of non-Chinese grit their teeth and go to work. The pay is relatively good for the absolute dirt-cheap cost of living in a country where the spread of wealth is more 0.001 and 99.999 percents. A guy could live barebones, save up some cash and have enough to go to Hong Kong four or five times a year to blow some cash at the casinos or eat like someone who didn't live in a third world country. It's only a five-hour train ride.
After seven matches of varying quality, it was time for the main event. In one corner was Kai Baifong, a short guy in boxing trunks, sneakers and crude elbow pads. He may not have looked like much, but man, the guy gave off a total Bruce Lee vibe when the bell rang. The Chinese fans love that. It also didn't hurt that he was going up against the current reigning South China Heritage Champion, an interloper, an... American.
He stood pretty tall over most competitors in the company. Most native Chinese who grew up to tall sizes still had Yao Ming-sized dreams of playing basketball, be it for the national league or for the overseas NBA. He was almost considered a giant, although people were able to throw him around with some ease. While he wrestled in a classic, American style, he almost looked like a MMA fighter with his get-up – taped ankles, feet, wrists and hands, blue biker short-style tights with white stars emblazoned on them, a bald head and a face mask in the style of an eagle. He looked as if he originally were Sagat from Street Fighter II, only Americanized and masked.
The Bald Eagle was clearly the most successful wrestler in his region of China, and a villain that everyone wanted to take down. Several have tried, but very few have succeeded since he arrived in the Red Orient a few years prior. This was Baifong's third attempt at trying to fell the American menace. There was a time in the match where he and the crowd really thought he was going to win, as he connected with kick after kick to Eagle's ribs, launching sweat into the air as if it was the impact crater for a meteor crashing into human flesh covered in salt water. A well-placed poke to the eye, followed by Eagle's flurry of patented big offensive maneuvers culminating in the evil Democracy Clutch, a camel clutch coupled with a sleeperhold, ended that rally and attempt. For another night, Eagle was the South China Heritage Champion.
A chorus of boos rained down upon the arena as Eagle held his belt up high. After sneering at the crowd through his mask, he slipped past the curtain and sighed exasperatedly. Wrestling in that hothouse takes a lot out of wrestlers, but that's the way life is as a man on the Chinese catch scene. He looked around for a tub filled with what used to be ice and bottles of water to pour on himself, but it was nowhere to be found.
"Looking for something?"
Eagle turned around to see a very familiar face, a hulking blond man with sunglasses on in khaki shorts and a Hawaiian shirt.
"Jeffords, is that you?" he remarked.
"Sure as the sun rises in the East and our President is a filthy socialist."
Eagle went to embrace the mountain of a man, but he held his hand out.
"No, you're too sweaty. You might need this."
Jeffords handed him a 1.5 liter bottle of water. The Eagle took off his mask and smiled. The man in a former life known as Gordon Oliver Powell poured it over his head, a reward for a match well-wrestled.
After Powell got changed, the two left and walked up the crowded streets of the Chinese metropolis formerly known as Canton.
"So Jeff, what brings you to China? Come to see your old buddy mop up the next big market in wrestling?"
"Ha, yeah, I came all the way around the world just to watch you sweat your balls off in a shack doing what you should be doing back home." The sarcasm dripped from his words like sweat from his friend's brow hours earlier.
"You know why I can't go home."
"Well, you should. I have an opportunity."
"C'mon Jeff, you know I can't."
"If that were true, why would I be here?" He sighed. "I mean, it's not like they blackballed you. You can still wrestle."
Powell furrowed his brow. "Well, it's as good as a blackball. Unless they want me back. But I mean, c'mon, FIRE has to have found someone to replace me in four years, right?"
Jeffords kinda just gave him a sidelong stare.
Jeffords shook his head. "No, they didn't. They've virtually abandoned pro wrestling for the time being, what with the PTC umbrella closing, CSWA going in and out and them giving up on NFW like it was a lost cause..."
Powell raised his eyebrow, as if he were suddenly... interested.
"I mean, it's a silly thing to exile yourself over, Gordon. Plus, I have an opportunity. Have you heard that the ULTRATITLE is being contested again."
Powell stopped dead in his tracks. "Did you say ULTRATITLE?"
"Do I stutter?"
"Uh, no... but I clearly am."
That kind of quick wit is really not known to the camera. While as the fiery Phantom Republican, Powell was all rhetoric and no intentional humor.
Jeffords paused and then added, "This is a great opportunity for you. I mean, what a comeback it would be."
"Yeah, but I got it good over here. People fear me when I have the mask on. When I don't, they respect me at least. I have a great routine. It's peaceful."
Even at such a late hour, the cars honked their horns, the young people shouted their slurs drunk in the street and even an occasional train was heard in the background. Powell knew he was wrong, even if he'd never admit it.
"Man, they really got you spooked if you think THIS is peaceful. Besides, even if FIRE doesn't take you back under their wing, I'm sure you could wrestle independently of them, or maybe latch onto the Romney campaign in an unofficial capacity so you can help the cause. There'd have to be a way. The Phantom Republican is WAY too bankable a name..."
"No. I just don't want to do it anymore. This is my life now. I'm the Bald Eagle. The Red White and Blue Menace, here in China. I like it."
"I'm sure you do. However, if you change your mind, meet me at this address by 10 AM tomorrow, and we'll go back to America."
Powell nodded. They had stopped about a minute ago in front of the fishmonger stand where his apartment was above. It was better than living in the tenements, and breakfast was always fresh at least. As he took to the steps that led to his quarters, he looked back once wistfully, a half-cocked smile on his face.
Night gave rise to morning, and Jeffords greeted it on the balcony of his hotel room. It was a room way out of the league of someone who struggled to make a living as an indie wrestler, but when you're sent on the behalf of powerful people within the Republican Party, well, you find you can pretty much expense anything. As he sipped his Vietnamese coffee looking upon the sun gleaming orange off the water, he heard a knocking on his hotel room door. Since checkout time wasn't for another six hours, he knew who was on the other side as he moseyed over to open up.
"What made you change your mind?"
"Well, sometime before the hooker in the stairwell leading up to my apartment vomited up equal parts rice wine and semen but after I saw a cop beat the ever loving **** out of a kid with a billy club from my window, I realized that I was wrong. I really don't have it all that great here."
Jeffords smirked. "The glory of China."
"I know, right? And myopic college students actually want to live here." Powell plopped his suitcase in the middle of the room and sat on the couch. "Well, when do we leave?"
"I've got two plane tickets to leave out of Hong Kong International Airport at 9 PM local time. So we have some time to soak in your adopted homeland for a few more hours."
"It'll give me some time to strategize then."
"Yeah... I've got an ULTRATITLE to win."