The Shadow Pope
(FADEIN on a darkened corner of TC's Pub, finest neighborhood bar in the Bronx. It's late, and there's almost nobody still in the place.
Holidays, after all.
The only people here are the owners.
In this case? Eli Flair, currently considered better than 104 of the original Ultratitle entrants.)
FLAIR: It's been a few months since the Ultratitle was announced, three rounds are through, and we're down to sixteen. It's as good a time as any to take stock of where we are and where we were.
Where are we?
We're sixteen men fighting for the most prestigious prize in the history of the sport. We're sixteen men who are - by process of elimination, better at this than Dan Ryan. Better than Joe the Plumber. Better than Zero. Better than Blaine Hollywood, Justin Voss, Dr. Curiosity, Sean Stevens, Spooky Doom, Eric Dane, Dr. Silver, Chris Sheffield, and Javid Dones.
We're better at this than Troy Windham.
(He stopped and took a drink.)
FLAIR: Of course, being better at this than Troy comes with a price of its own: the fact that, according to Troy, being better than him at something means that it's now a worthless endeavor.
In fact, we should call the tournament right now. Troy's been pinned by a wrestler with more talent, more charisma, and more main events under his belt, therefore the Ultratitle is meaningless.
Or was it meaningless when Cancer Jones lost in the second round?
Or when Blaine Hollywood lost in the first round?
(He laughed, and - again - took a drink.)
FLAIR: Or will it be meaningless when we lose either the current NFW World Champion or former EPW World Champion?
(Eli rolled his eyes and leaned back. The sound of his foot going up on the chair across from him could be heard.)
FLAIR: Normally? I don't care. This business is full t'the brim with spoiled lil' twats who somehow seem to think that they're owed success.
Like I said, I usually don't care. Castor wants to yell out 'Free Blaine' until his gasmask is clogged with spit? Sure. Cancer Jones wants to tell Troy he sucks when the only wrestler he was able to get past was some guy called the Face?
And, of course, as is customary for his failures, Troy Windham tells the world that I've built my career on hitching my name to his.
(He didn't exactly roll his eyes this time, but he did look to the ceiling as if he was searching his mind for patience.)
FLAIR: Well. Since this is the last time that Troy and I are gonna be occupying the same space, I guess it's that time'a year t'have this conversation again. Except, it'll be less of a conversation and more of a laying bare of the facts, and at the end of it, we'll just have t'live with what's come t'pass.
Y'see, the story of Eli Flair and Troy Windham is really the story of what makes a memorable professional wrestler, and the lengths that they're willin' to go to build their name.
How legendary is Troy? Of all of the professional wrestling organizations that've broadcast on U-62 or ESEN, Troy has to be up there as one of the biggest and best. Despite the fact that he's only appeared for two of 'em... still legendary.
One of the Highwaymen in NFW. One of Avery Prosser's Seven Deadly Sins.
And while I think we can all agree - if we're going to be objective - that he was robbed of the CSWA World Title when the promotion shut down fifteen years ago a show after he won the belt, and when things started up again, he didn't get a shot at it. But instead of doing his best to prove his worth to the company all over again? He loses in the tournament to crown a new Champion -
-Notice a pattern here -
- and he left the promotion for... what, over a year?
Troy didn't show up again until I was wearing the belt, which is when he decided he's the uncrowned champion.
(A smirk formed on his face.)
FLAIR: There's gonna be a recurring pattern here, just lettin' ya know.
FLAIR: So time goes by, Randalls and Hornet and I stake our claim on the CSWA, and who's there to challenge us? Eddy Love and Troy Windham, the Playboys.
All of that led to a pair of cage matches between Troy and myself that I would put up against any other pair of matches that any two wrestlers have had in their career as far as the violence, brutality, and willingness to hurt their opponent.
After the second match, where I left with a concussion, a scar down my face over my eye, and even worse knees than before and Troy had... what was it? Broken neck, broken wrist, three broken fingers?
A curious thing happened, though. The CSWA started having trouble with a hacker, and their shows started happening a lot less frequently. I hate sitting still, and despite the calls McGinnis was getting for, I dunno... movies or TV shows or whatnot, all I ever wanted to do was wrestle. So while the CSWA was on life support for, I guess, the second time, I decided to build a legacy in a second home.
FWO. CWL. The Asylum. TCW. SCW. HEW.
If I could wrestle there, be it on the top'a the card or the bottom'a the card, I wanted to prove that I wasn't just restin' on my Greensboro reputation.
And I proved it. Nightly.
I didn't see Troy Windham again for four years. Not until he'd hooked back up with Eddy Love and Eddie Mayfield in New Frontier Wrestling, and beat down Craig Miles. And decided to make a pass at my wife.
But other than that first night before the NFW Season One finals and a few isolated incidents before our final one on one match... I didn't think about Troy at all.
Back up a little bit.
(Drink, and lean forward.)
FLAIR: For three years, I expanded my horizons. I wrestled everywhere and anywhere, and wrote my name in the bigger story of professional wrestling. I wrestled wars against Donaven Winters, Jack Harmen, Kodiak Vic Creed, Ruben Ross... and countless others. I walked into the Asylum, where wrestling is a dirty word, and took the Asylum World Title from the greatest pit fighter in any circle, Villam Ender.
He stayed put. He stayed where the Windham name meant something and where Troy Windham could safely sell tickets.
But when we came together again - this time, in the NFW - things had changed. I could see Troy for what he really was, a big fish in a tiny, tiny pond.
I think Troy could see it too. After a main event match that I wrestled against Kodiak Vic Creed, he decided to get my attention by setting fire to my wife's tour bus. I reacted as one would expect: in the main event of a torrential downpour in an outdoor venue at NFW Wrestlestock, I made Troy tap out.
FLAIR: So what did we learn from all this?
Troy didn't come back to the CSWA until I was wearing the belt.
Troy reacted to being smacked in the face with my success - beyond - him with arson and attempted murder.
Troy ran from NFW and hid in the CSWA when he realized that he was outmatched and outclassed.
Even Troy's self - admitted crowning moment, winning CSWA Gold Rush, was a farce whose legend has grown in the interim. Troy likes to tell people he retained the CSWA Unified Title against forty - something opponents. The truth of the evening was that he won a battle royal against nine opponents, all of whom had already won or came in second in a battle royal immediately before.
And then he lost the belt to Dan Ryan. Pot, kettle, beaten.
(Eli leaned back in his chair and folded his arms.)
FLAIR: So... what did we learn?
We learned that Troy came after me when I was the World Champion.
Troy came for me when I was making headlines as a Claimstaker.
Troy came for me when I was main eventing with Creed over him.
Troy can't help himself, but to drop my name every time he suffers some kinda setback, because existing opposite of Eli Flair is the only thing that gives his life meaning.
What else can we assume? This is a man who built his name on what his brother - slash - cousin Mark did.
Rednecks, what can I say?
But this is a man who got his break because he shared a last name with the Living Legend Mark Windham. This is a man who has never pushed out from his own boundaries, on one hand, content to remain in his tiny, tiny corner of the world and on the other, claiming that he's the biggest star in the history of this sport.
It's like owning the biggest house on Rhode Island, when there's only room for six people on Rhode Island.
So what did we learn?
You're welcome, Troy.
You're welcome for taking my skills on the road and putting them to the test in far - flung, unfamiliar places. For telling and retelling the legend of the Rage in the Cage that actually put your name in the heads of the wrestlers that do matter in the larger world for the first time. For becoming a highly respected and highly dangerous World Champion in wrestling circuits that never heard of the CSWA, so you could be known as the guy that's hitched his name to mine.
Deny it, Troy. Convince everyone that you're the greatest wrestler in the world. Jesus f'king Christ, Troy, you can't even concede defeat to Jack Harmen.
Here's something I learned about fifteen minutes into my expansion into the outer world eleven years ago: every one of us has a story to tell that has nothing to do with the present day. You saw Jack Harmen as the guy wearing Knox's mask and carrying around a bat, playing with Rook Black.
Jack Harmen has held more World Titles than you, has wrestled in more main events than you, and has earned the respect of more fans and wrestlers throughout the world than you ever will.
So have I, so we see how well that works.
Do you know what your legacy is built on, Troy? High cheekbones and Mark Windham's last name.
(One more drink. And another smirk, though this one is built more like a genuine smile.)
FLAIR: Dropping my name was as pointless as this entire piece, Troy - because you and I aren't going to meet again. I have a date with destiny in the Ultratitle Finals, while you've got the next year of your life booked trying to get laid by telling people that you used to be Troy Windham, and that you used to matter when Eli Flair gave you the time'a day.
Am I wrong? Two potential opponents called you out, and smart money says you ignore 'em both. If you were really as good as you say you are, it wouldn't matter who challenged you: you'd have the stones t'address 'em.
Your ignorage, Troy, tells us that you don't know them, so you're not going to accept their challenges. Because you'd never give the time'a day to someone who you can't predict, because if you can't predict 'em you can't control 'em, and gods forbid you ever actually step outta your puddle.
Wait - you did step outta your comfort zone once, didn't you? A1E.
How'd that work out for you again?
(Eli stood up and leaned the camera forward so that his face was still in view.)
FLAIR: And now, to shamelessly rip off my protege and what he said to your protege? This is the part, Troy, where I turn my back on you and forget you exist.
Because no matter how much you need me to give your career validity... I never needed you.