A simple room of modest fittings: a picture of perfect minimalism.
The cell’s walls are blue-green and white, matching the cell door, and the only a tiny little table (no more than a foot wide) and a bronze toilet bucket are all that’s there in terms of furniture. There’s no bed, just a thin, grey mat rolled out across the floor: not even fit for a dog to sleep on, let alone a human being.
Let me take you back a couple of hours. I’m sat in my plush accommodations, and my attention’s darting between the view of Cape Town’s famous Table Mountain and a WhatsApp conversation with big bro.
How’s South Africa treating you, Mr. Main Event?
There’s no prison quite like a four star hotel.
I regret my wording as soon as a second check mark appears in the message box, confirming its receipt.
In a city where millions live in the kind of squalor most westerners will only ever experience through CNN and National Geographic, I’m “imprisoned” in a luxury hotel.
A few days in Cape Town before heading-up to Johannesburg for the show: I should be feeling grateful – and I am – but I don’t like having my wings clipped.
They’ve got me holed-up in the African Pride Crystal Towers: a grandiose glass-fronted construction, stuffed full of naïve white tourists, guarded by AK-totting, armour-clad guards and their German Shepherds.
The place feels more like a military installation to me. South Africa’s a country with a national murder rate of 47 per day: it’s a world away from the homogenised American metropolises we usually frequent.
The UTA’s tryn’a build me as one of the faces of the company: my mug is plastered all over their South African marketing campaign, and they think that makes me a person of interest. Crime levels are abnormally high here, and the last thing Wingate, Lorenzo and co. is one of their investments falling victim to a mugging.
But damnit, I want to experience South Africa. I want to get in the streets and get a feel for the place’s vibe. I want to witness the duality of poor, impoverished corners and diamond-lined inner-city streets.
I want to absorb everything that makes the South Africans South African in the first place, and better understand what drives the people I fight for on Monday night.
Fortuntely, my suite’s phone rings at just the right time. It’s the concierge, telling me it’s time to get out of here.
I meet Jaco, my “bodyguard,” in the reception hall. A giant, burly man well over six feet tall and bulging with muscle mass, I wager he could probably earn a decent living in our profession if he ever chose to make the jump.
It’s my day-off, and we’re going on a little trip.
15 minutes into the journey, my phone lights up with Kate Kincaid's name.
She’s preparing an article for WrestleUTA.com, and asks three questions about three things:-
1. Colton Thorpe.
2. Colton Thorpe’s title win.
3. Colton Thorpe’s dislike of me.
She's only doing her job, and I do her the courtesy of being as honest as I can, but as soon as it’s over I’m slumped back in the front seat of Jaco’s company SUV, sliding the cell into my pocket. A deep sigh escape my lips, and I hear Jaco chuckle.
“You are frustrated,” he says in a deep, thick Afrikaans accent that I’m still getting used to.
Yes, I am.
And not just because I’ve spent half my time in South African cooped-up in the hotel.
“It seems all I hear at the moment is ‘Colton Thorpe.’”
“Ah yes,” he says, stifling a laugh. “The child who threw his jacket on the floor.”
I snigger too. Jaco’s never really watched the sport, but I just had to share that particular highlight from Colt’s tape with him.
“That’s the guy,” I confirm. “It’s like people are forgetting that there are more than two guys in this match, and that the Wildfire Title’s on the line. Apparently this is ‘Murray vs. Thorpe,’ and Hall, Hussain and the belt are just props.”
Controversy creates cash, and bad blood generates column inches and sells tickets. I get why Colt and I are hogging the limelight… but I’d be mighty pissed if I was Ron Hall or Abdul Bin Hussain at the moment.
“It’s like people are trying to make me overlook Hall and AbH,” I say to Jaco. The guy doesn’t say much, but he’s a good listener. “Truth is, Thorpe & I can’t hold a candle to what they’ve done in this company. Our legacies are mere footnotes compared to theirs, but all anyone wants me to talk about is Thorpe, Thorpe, Thorpe…”
“Sounds like this Thorpe is inside your head,” Jaco says.
He doesn’t need my confirmation – he can tell from the tone of my voice.
And he’s right – Colton Thorpe is inside my head. The guy’s made it his mission to make my life as uncomfortable as possible since I walked through the door, and I can’t just it aside.
Even in his greatest moment of triumph – winning the Wildfire Championship – the lad’s priority was to rub it in my face rather than celebrate and reflect on a job well-done. Thorpey wants a piece of me, and I want a piece of him: but I can’t be too distracted on Monday night, otherwise Hall or Hussain are gonna swoop-in and take that title away.
The rest of the journey passes without event, and we’re soon boarding the passenger ferry to Robben Island. It’s a short, thirty minute journey from Cape Town, but the choppy waters make it feel twice that.
For an island with a two-week visitor waiting list, Robben Island is pretty unspectacular. 5 square kilometres of flat, featureless grasslands, punctuated by a port, lighthouse and not a whole lot else.
There’s a reason this place attracts 1,800 visitors every day, though: the Robben Island Museum.
Built around a long-disused prison, this is where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 incarcerated years. If I’m not allowed to integrate myself with South Africa’s working class backbone, I can’t not explore its greatest folk hero…
… from his very prison cell.
“You know who I look up to?”
My voice bounces off the painted concrete walls, echoing around the tiny room.
“I’m a wrestler, but the list’s not exclusive to the giants of our sport: guys like Eric Dane, Ty Walker and Ron Hall.”
As I talk, I start pacing around the cell ever so slowly. Jaco stayed outside, and there wasn’t many others on the ferry over here. Looks like we got here before the morning rush.
“It’s Jean-Michel Basquiat, who created complex, uncompromising artworks in the name of defiance, and the face of oppression.”
I hold a finger up.
“It’s Rosa Parks, who took her seat on the bus and looked-up, shook her head, and said ‘nah’ when a white man felt entitled to take it from her.”
“It’s Nelson Mandela, whose life I shouldn’t have to explain to you.”
Then a third, before curling my hand into a fist and tapping it against my skull.
“Those are the voices I look to for inspiration, because it’s not just about being the best wrestler, selling the most t-shirts, or winning the most accolades.” I lean back against the bars and feel the cold steel press into my shoulder blades. “Tearing down the walls of greed, tyranny and cruelty that dot the UTA landscape, ‘til we’re left with a place where honesty triumphs over deceit, and honour is rewarded, not chastised.”
Preaching honour and honesty from a prison cell feels weird, but it’s in this very room that Mandela grew from misunderstood revolutionary firebrand to one of history’s greatest leaders, and it’s goddamn inspiring.
“Mr. Thorpe, I can’t say you don’t deserve to be champion. You outwrestled a former UTA Champion by digging deep and reaching into a well of grit and determination that I didn’t even know you had. Congratulations…”
My voice starts to trail-off before I snap right back into ‘the zone.’ “But just when you’d earned my admiration, you threw it away again.”
“You took that belt over and held it inches from my face, taunting me, mocking me… because those are your true colours, Colt.” I push away from the cell door and step towards the barred window. “You’re not a warrior: you’re a petulant little kid who knows how to fight, and that’s it.”
Clasping the bars with both hands, I look to beautiful, sunlit world beyond: a world the cell’s original occupants could only dream of escaping to, but one I can return to whenever I choose.
“I’ve no doubt you’re gonna come at me from bell-to-bell. You’ll single me out from the get-go, because you’re still stuck on what happened the first time we met in the ring, and you won’t be able to scratch that itch ‘til you’ve taken me out of the game.”
I pause to clear my throat.
“There’s a score to settle here, that’s true: but you started this, Colt, not me. It didn’t start with me defeating you and Lisil: it started with the rejected handshake, and the abuse – verbal, physical and psychological – that followed.
But despite our mutual disdain, I can’t even say you’re the most repugnant guy in the match. Step forward, AbH…”
It’s hard to complain about your own life when standing in another man’s cell. Suddenly, my hotel quibbles don’t seem all that significant, because the thought of spending a single day in this tiny little room makes me wanna end myself, let alone 18 years.
“I’m not Richard Dawkins: I’m not gonna stand here and tear into the belief system that shapes your ideology. It’s not my place to criticise the gods you worship or book you preach, but I can’t let your hypocrisy go un-checked.”
My belly’s full of venom.
In this moment, the thought of a multi-millionaire professional wrestler with multiple title reigns under his belt makes me feel nought but rage, and I’m about to let him have it.
“Trust me, lad: I know how it feels to be held down and burdened, but you’re one of the best wrestlers that the UTA’s modern era has seen. Hard work, skill, and the correct application have awarded you the kind of opportunities that guys like me go to bed dreaming of… but every time a mic’s in your hand, all I hear about is how ‘hard done by’ poor little Abdul is.”
I pause to let him know I mean it.
“You’ve got it better than almost anyone else on the roster, Abdul, and you don’t even realise.”
“It’s not just sulkiness that ties you and Colt together, but entitlement.” Could say the same for most of the roster, to be honest, but it’s Abdul and Colt at the forefront this week. “You piss and moan when somebody else dares take a share of the spotlight, because you think it’s your right to also sit at the top of the table, and your narcissism prevents you from looking inwards and relinquishing your ill-gotten share of the pie.”
Too many people think this business owes them a place at the very top.
I, more than anyone else on the planet, know that wrestling owes us nothing.
No matter how much we give back to her, we can never repay the debt accumulated from all the good things she’s brought us, but I’m not the only guy who’ll fight for her integrity.
“You know what I like about Ron Hall?”
I let the smile come naturally.
“He didn’t return to the UTA and demand his old spot back: he came back, threw his hard hat on, and went to work. Here’s a guy who’s done it all: a Hall-of-Famer, a former Champion, a part-owner… a living, breathing piece of UTA history. If anyone has a right to behave like an entitled prick around here, it’s him.”
Again, I feel myself growing more and more animated.
“You guys could learn a thing or two from ‘The Southern Rebel,’ y’know. He doesn’t sit-by, rest on his laurels, and coast along on his past accomplishments: he goes out there and pushes his limits against men he’s old enough to father, because he respects himself, and he respects this business.”
I’m 90% certain everyone else in the building can here me, but I don’t care. This is who I am and this is what I do.
“I look-up to Ron Hall, and when he stood-up and confronted James Wingate’s despotic leadership, I cheered louder than everybody. Maybe he’s not as quick as he used to be, and maybe that kick doesn’t quite connect with the same pop as 20 years ago, and his heart, soul and desire burn brighter than ever.”
Some people say it’s harder to get amped for a fight with a guy you respect than it is a guy you dislike, but I disagree.
I’ve been watching Ron Hall matches since the day I first stepped inside a squared circle: the fact that I’m about to step inside a ring with the guy fills me with excitement. I can’t wait to lock horns with the lad.
“That’s exactly the kind of legacy I’m looking to leave, gentlemen, and exactly what separates him from you two.”
Changing pace, I pause momentarily.
“Mr. Hall, I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait to look the legendary ‘Rebel’ in the eye and see if I’ve got what it takes to put him away. I hope the feeling’s mutual…”
But I know it will be.
“So that’s it. Four men, one ring, and the Wildfire Championship.
A title they call cursed, for severe misfortune has befallen all who’ve held it lately.
A title that’s reputation has been beaten down and dragged through the mud. A title I’m told “has lost all significance,” and become little more than a decorative trinket around its holder’s waist.
But I don’t look at the Wildfire belt and see a trophy that’s lost its lustre: I see an opportunity.”
Time to make the Wildfire Title legitimate again.
Time to make it something worth fighting for: something to aspire to and cherish, whether it’s in my hands or not.
“I see the chance to take something broken and make it whole again: to pull it out of the mire, polish it up and wear with pride. I don’t just want to put my name on the belt, gentlemen: I want to make it the most sought-after championship in the game, because that’s what its legacy deserves.
See you Monday.”
"It's better to burn out than to fade away"
- Cecilworth Farthington