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February 8, 2018

8. Super Finisher, pt. I

“What wrestling is above all meant to portray is a purely moral concept: that of justice.” 
—Roland Barthes

* * *

Wrestling is a beautiful thing. It is a public showcase. A hyperbolic show of machismo. It draws blood, breaks bones, and pulls tears from eyes. It is theater. It is spontaneous, it is choreographed. It is a script that plays out like no other, down to a perfected denouement and leaves paying fans high on adrenaline and hungry for more. Professional wrestling is a paradox.

Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD 79 and destroyed Pompeii. The name “Vesuvius” might have originated from an archaic Celtic word for mountain. And so Jonny, being a big kid, took the name: in the ring he was Vesuvius. Jonny would own The Eruption, his signature move. (The Eruption was similar to a Crucifix Powerbomb, made famous by Razor Ramon.) So Jonny chased his dream of being a professional wrestler.

But this was low-level professional wrestling with a miserly payout. Maybe enough to cover gas in your lemon. Professional wrestling is thankless nights of travel through sloppy towns and lazy venue managers. It is demanding and unforgiving. Its a long way to the top of you want to take a chokeslam and get paid well. There is no glamor.

Two nights ago at the local watering hole, The Lazy Star, Jonny’s wrestling buddy, Ray Apollo, ordered a drink, pulled a gun, and shot himself in the temple. Jonny was not there that night. He found out from another buddy who showed up for a drink an hour later only to find Ray being taken away on a stretcher, lifeless. The funeral was next week and all Jonny could do now was wrestle. There is no glamor.

Jonny was a manager at the local sub shop—but not for the money. It was lowly but it was worth it until he could crack the sky. The food was free and Jonny was six foot six and 250 pounds, eating the store out of profit on every shift. There is no glamor.

His debut match was scheduled and he was set to win Seth Gates. Gates had been in the business for nearly eight years, Methuselah in the ring. This would be his closeout night. He was booked to fall hard, a triumphant bow out, and lose to Jonny, up-and-comer, Vesuvius.

Vesuvius was new to the local wrestling organization, the Great American Wrestling Federation. But his manager had big plans for him to take big matches and dive deep into the kayfabe narrative.

On the evening of the event, backstage, Jonny donned his mask and became Vesuvius. In the arena he could hear Seth Gates’s walk-on song, Killing in the Name by Rage Against The Machine, and he prepared himself for his own entrance, for his breakout night. He oiled up, loosened his muscles, and walked through the pallid corridor into the open auditorium. His intro music—Damage, Inc. by Metallica—was loud enough to cover the lack of applause.

Moments into the match Jonny could sense Gates was stiffing him. He was playing tough. He was stretching Jonny. This was supposed to be a short and sweet premiere.

“Change of plans, kid,” gruffed Seth.

Suddenly Seth Gates grabbed under his armpits and manouvered him into pre-position. A moment later, unplanned, Gates prepped his signature move, Hell’s Gates. In a single motion he lifted and dropped Jonny onto the plywood mat, head first.

Jonny felt his fingertips like never had before. He saw a color spectrum beyond his imagination. His forehead tightened. He felt like he was inside a turbine engine, his ears roared through the sounds of a tunnel.

In a blink he sprung up quickly. He couldn’t lose this match. On one knee he looked around, unable to find Gates. He had disappeared. He looked beyond the ring to see no one in the stands. Completely empty. The ref was gone. The auditorium was entirely vacant.

He stood up, baffled. In awe he pulled his mask up. Vesuvius became Jonny.

“Hello?” He walked to the ropes.

“There you are, champ!” Out from the backstage tunnel a small man approached. He looked like a stage manager: overweight, nice slacks, a tie and vest. “Been waiting on you.” As he got closer, Jonny could see his features. “Death is so final, isn’t it. That’s what makes it so painful,” the man said. “Anyway, here you are!” The man’s skin was pulled tight across his face. A mustache was placed neatly above his lip.

“What? What do you mean about death?”

“You’re dead, Jonny. This is it. Our ferryman will take you across now. To the other side, that is.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m the Producer, kid.”

Jonny could only stare. Charon—the ferryman—was rowing a boat through the backstage tunnel and toward the wrestling ring. Charon’s boat floated on nothing but he paddled nonetheless.

The boat glided up beside the ring, perfectly level with the mat. “Hop on board,” Charon said. He did not make eye contact. 

“I’m not going anywhere.” Jonny noticed Charon’s skin was a dull green.

“He said hop on board, kid. I’d listen to him,” the Producer chimed.

“I came here to make a mark. I cam here to make my name. I am here to wrestle.” Jonny felt a strange confidence in the wake of this nonsense. His head still pounded from Seth Gates.

“Put the mask back on. Let’s settle this,” Charon acknowledged Jonny.

Jonny gave Charon some space on the mat. The two paced the perimeter opposite each other.

Charon ran back three steps, used the ropes bungee for elastic momentum and ran toward Jonny. Jonny got into position, held out an arm, and clotheslined Charon. That mat shook with impact. While Charon was down, Jonny gave him an elbow drop. Easy hit. Charon popped up while Jonny had his back turned and gave him a dragon whip leg kick. Jonny got up slowly and smiled at Charon. The match went on another ten minutes like this, exchanging spears, heart punches, superkicks.

Jonny thought he might have chance at The Eruption but Charon flopped away. He grabbed his oar tightly from across the ring. Jonny tensed. Charon ran and slapped Jonny’s back with the oar. Charon threw the oar down and landed on Jonny, pulled up a leg. The Producer fell on the mat beside Jonny and gave the one count. The two count. Jonny thumped up and knocked Charon off.

He took to the high ropes and gave Charon a heavy leg drop. Charon bounced on the mat. Both were getting slower and tired. Sweat covered every inch of the mat. Jonny could feel his head continue to pound.

Jonny finally found his moment. Charon was weak. Jonny got Charon’s head between his legs, and steadied his arms. He heaved the green-skinned thing high in the air and held him across his back. Both were in a suspended state of tension and expectation. Jonny took a step forward and threw Charon down. Both hit the mat hard and everything went black.

Jonny gasped for breath and Vesuvius was back.

This story was inspired by my fascination of wrestling, kayfabe, and the reality of such a physically and emotionally demanding sport. Other influences came from “In The Ring,” an essay by Roland Barthes; Beat The Champ, a concept album by The Mountain Goats; and a bit of Stephen Florida, a novel by Gabe Habash.

As with all of these stories, I’d love to revisit this and give it more depth and background. (Was the Producer even necessary?) I want to include more characters and personal development that open more drama. There is so much potential for good storytelling in professional wrestling.