Daybreak over Rio de Janeiro. A low-hanging sun struggles to burn through layer-upon-layer of thick early-morning cloud: a dense gray haze that haunts the city and shrouds its greatest landmark – Christ the Redeemer.
It’s been this way every day since I arrived. The days start monochrome and overcast, but by noon, it’s all replaced by wisps of white cloud on an endless canvas of glorious blue, and the city comes alive.
I love my job. It’s taken me everywhere in the world I ever wanted to visit, and a few places I didn’t. Now I’m in Rio, one of the world’s greatest cities, for the first time ever, and while I’m here to work rather than play, I’m starting to wonder if I’m the luckiest guy on the planet.
It’s barely gone 7am and I’m walking through the streets, rubbing shoulders with early birds and commuters, spooning chunks of papaya, mango and guava down my throat.
When I come to a new place, I don’t hide in my hotel room – I explore.
I come to an intersection leading directly down to the city’s second greatest landmark: the Copacabana. It’s winter here, but the air is thick and muggy, and I’m already sweating like a pig in a slaughterhouse. I’m just about to cross the street when I feel my phone vibrating in my pocket.
“Hello?” I answer with a mouthful of fruit salad, wedging the phone between my shoulder and ear.
“Good morning Mr. Murray,” comes a slightly-delayed response. I recognise the heavy Glaswegian accent immediately, and I feel like slapping myself in the face. “How are you doing today?”
I swallow down the mouthful of fruit and start walking towards the Copa. The crowds are starting to thin-out now: the commuters aren’t heading this way, and it’s not exactly beach weather yet.
Nick Adams is the UTA’s United Kingdom Press Officer, and he’d scheduled this call over the weekend. I was so lost in integrating myself into Brazil’s greatest city that it’d completely slipped my mind.
I greet him colloquially and he apologises again for the “ungodly” hour, even though it’s lunchtime over there. He introduces the reporters – Paul Willox of The Times, Derek Lyle of The Daily Record and Sandy Shaw from The Daily Express – and we’re good to go.
The beach is starting to reveal itself, now: all barren golden sands, unoccupied sun loungers, and deep, blue water. It’ll be another few hours before it becomes a true hotspot, but it’s still enticing.
“Good aftern—err, morning, Cayle,” Willox begins in a central English accent I can never quite identify. “How are you finding Rio so far?”
“It’s awesome,” I say. “I’ve always wanted to come here and being able to come here and perform for a brand new set of fans feels like a real blessing, y’know? There’s huge enthusiasm for combat sports here, but it feels like the big wrestling promotions are afraid of actually coming here sometimes.”
“Do you think that has anything to do with the city’s violent reputation?”
I choose my words carefully. “I think it has more to do with Mixed Martial Arts and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: that’s our competition, and those sports are huge over here.” There we go. “I think companies see these sports and are intimidated by their popularity, but I think the fact that we’re about to sell-out a huge football stadium justifies the decision.”
Paul’s pause tells me he wants more. Reporters often leave you hanging for a moment or two, hoping you’ll put your foot in it, but I’m not about to do that.
“Rio’s a lot like the UTA,” I continue. “It can be dangerous, sure, but it’s also full of beauty and mystique. Here there are skyscrapers and favelas, rich guys and poor guys: in the UTA there’s Dynasty and everybody else. The haves and have-nots rub shoulders on a daily basis, and the UTA, like Rio, is a place of both extraordinary wealth and extreme poverty. We, the perceived ‘lower classes’ of the UTA, are about to rise-up from the slums and prove our worth.”
I reach the beach as I finish answering. Paul thanks me as I kick-off my Vans low-tops and start pacing my way down the sand-dusted esplanade.
“Cayle, this is a very interesting match for you,” Miss Shaw begins. “Given your exchange with Mikey at Proving Grounds and the heated Twitter interactions you’ve had, do you agree that this is your most personal UTA singles match yet?”
“I think it’s pretty clear that I don’t like the lad,” I tell ‘em. “He’s disgraced himself and tarnished everything he stood for, and for what? Profit? Fame? Glory?” I can’t help but shake my head. “I’ve no time for those who sell their friends out, and Mikey’s done much worse than that…”
“Mikey, of course, will argue that the ends justify the means,” she interjects, “that he was going nowhere by shaking hands and playing nice, and that his career is just starting to take-off now that he’s in Dynasty.”
“All the money in the world isn’t enough to fill the hole where his soul used to be, though. Mikey got his spot the right way. He worked hard, treated the business with respect, made friends and became a showman: that’s what brought him the big boy match-ups and movie deals in the first place. All of this came before Dynasty…”
A store catches my eye. Not yet open for the day, it has rusting iron grills pulled down over the windows, but they’re not enough to obscure the collection of DVD boxes beyond.
One stands out. There, in the middle, sits a copy of “The Wolfpack”: likely pirated, but Mikey’s big, gurning mug stands centre-left of the ensemble cast nonetheless.
Say what you want about the kid, but he is successful.
“Mikey spent years treading an honourable path,” I continue, “then he threw everything away for cash and notoriety at the first whiff of success. It’s not a unique story, but it’s one that I can’t abide. Say what you will about men like Eric Dane, but they stand by their friends through thick and thin. Mikey Unlikely is a coward.”
It’s not on-purpose, but I practically spit the last word out. I make a mental note to check my tone.
“Why do you say that?” Derek Lyle chimes-in for the first time. “What makes you call him a ‘coward’?”
I stifle a sigh: these guys are only looking for a soundbite, but I stand-by what I said. Besides, I doubt any of them legitimately support Mikey’s decision: they just have to sell a story is all. “He chose the path of least resistance.”
Turning off the path, I venture onto the warm sand for the first time, still keeping the phone pressed to my ear. The Copa’s towel vendors and lounger renters are just setting-up for the day.
“How many times have you seen this happen in the business, guys? Be honest.”
I wait a moment, and there’s nothing but a couple of accepting grumbles in response.
“Mikey chose the easy option. He he dropped his friends, values, and everything that made him ‘Mikey Unlikely’ in the first place all because the yappiest dogs in the yard promised him a bigger slice of the pie. He took his rock-solid foundations and built a paper house on ‘em, but when it’s blown down by a gust of wind, he’ll be picking-up the pieces all alone.”
I come to a halt just a few metres short of the water’s edge and sit myself down on the beach. Just talking about this guy and his dirty deeds gets me worked-up, but the ocean breeze and sound of water gently lapping ashore soothes the fire.
“I don’t admire those who lie and cheat their way up the ladder: I admire character, and the man Mikey Unlikely used to be – not the jellyfish he’s become.”
Paul Willox, the Times representative, comes back in: “Mikey will stay that this is none of your business, particularly the acts you confronted him about at Proving Grounds.”
I try not to think of a wheelchair-bound Will Haynes tumbling from the stage, but it’s difficult.
“But it is my business,” I say, sitting forward. “He didn’t just stab Haynes in the back, but everyone who bought a ticket to see The Wolfpack, tuned-in to see him wrestle, bought his merch, or made a ‘WTFC’ sign to take to the show. Mikey took a big, giant leak on all the people I came here to stand for, and I take that very personally indeed.”
Sandy Shaw asks me if I’m worried about Dynasty interference in our match, and I have to take a few moments to shake their smug visages from my head before I can answer.
“We’ll see,” I say. “Mikey’s stuck all alone on the Victory island at the moment, but what won’t stop LFB. I’m not naïve: I understand how these guys operate, and recognise that I’m all alone out there. I’ll have my guard up, that’s for certain.”
The knot in my stomach tightens. As if the constant threat of Colton Thorpe’s interference wasn’t enough, La Flama Blanca hovered over this encounter like a grim spectre.
“I came here to fight Dynasty,” I continue. “I’ve said it from day one, guys: somebody’s gotta stand in the way of those who pimp this beautiful lady of a business for their own profit, and if Mikey feels he needs to call-in the champ to beat me, I just have to deal with that.”
Nick, the UTA Press Officer, interjects at this point. “Okay guys, we’re about to run out of time here,” he says, “so if we can get one final question to wrap it up, I’d appreciate that.”
“I’ve got one.”
It’s Derek Lyle.
“Cayle, your opponent has been in the UTA for a while, he’s one of the best wrestlers on the roster, and he’s now a legitimate dual-discipline superstar. What does a win here do for your career?”
“I agree, Mr. Lyle. Please put that on the record: I think he’s a fantastic wrestler, and I’ve seen The Wolfpack… it was actually pretty good, y’know?”
Rising to my full 6’1”, I took a good, long scan of the horizon.
Even with skyscrapers towering behind me, it’s hard not to be awed by this place and its raw natural beauty.
“A win does wonders for my career, but it’s bigger than that,” I explain. “It’s not just about Cayle Murray and his win/loss record.
It’s about every single man, woman and child that Mikey Unlikely turned his back on by joining Dynasty.
It’s about Will Haynes, his shelved career and his hospital bed.
And most importantly, it’s about the business, and treating her with the respect and reverence she deserves.”
I take a few moments to let the words sink-in.
“Thank you, guys.”
As the thanks are returned, I swipe my finger across the screen and end the call.
In the distance, the sun starts breaking through the clouds for the very first time. Just as in UTA, the overcast is finally starting to lift.