Mexico, Brazil and Puerto Rico last week, the UTA was doing its international piece with a statement of colour and intent. Whilst lesser promotions would launch their tour in the Mecca's of the world - London, Paris, Berlin - tensions had risen in places of character; where a fight on the street accompanied kids kicking balls in the dirt without shoes and worlds in which honour, loyalty and respect preceded the western fascination with wealth. It was THESE places that the UTA resonated with, it was THESE places that meant the world would take notice.
And this week, rolling into Egypt, Cairo, the onslaught continued. The birthplace of modernity, a nation who so great was their accomplishments in a sea of chaotic primitive dark, their civilisation is so often accused by eccentric historians of fraternising with magic and aliens. And it was here that the UTA would bring glory and kings back to the throne of history.
The air was a little cooler in Puerto Rico tonight, two days removed from Wrestleshow - or maybe the aircon was just a bit more refreshing. The Condado Vanderbilt was built in nineteen nineteen and everything about it exuded the quiet sophistication of the era. Even the modern bar with its rich gold and wood decor was a monument to a time enshrined in discovery, as was the crystal glass that curled in the fingers of the Canadian Star, perched on one of its tall armless chairs.
The camera switches effortlessly (and the narrative switches tense) to a shot beside Claude Baptiste Ranier, who sits wearing a shallow bruise on the right side of his jaw. Dressed in a white shirt, opened at the collar and a pair of navy blue suit pants below, his sleeves are roughly pushed up his forearms. Hair hanging down and loose, Ranier's head is lowered, eyes on the table as his fingers circle across the rim of the glass.
CBR: You know, for a moment there I actually was worried.
A light whispered laugh escapes his throat, peppering the air with an uncomfortable unintentional growl.
CBR: That kick, yeah THAT kick. What a different conversation we'd be having now, eh? The former masked man, risen from the ashes into a war with two legends for a chance at redemption.
Claude turns his head a little to face the camera, eyes three quarters open, a fitting image in his rough rogue demeanour for this place lost in time.
CBR: Even YOU could have sold that one to the fans Cecilworth - despite your obvious inability to turn up and obsession with empty briefcases and legal age in dollars.
His eyes turn back, head tilting to look down at the table. Claude's free hand brushes a little dust from the surface beside him.
CBR: But that conversation will never happen, CBR won and the world is right. Valiant fight kid, but you've got a few rungs to climb before you get in the ring with The Canadian Star again. And so the elite has a date in Egypt with a couple of old timers, a wild card, and a shot at my belt.
Ranier slowly shakes his head as a sarcastic grin crosses his face. He lifts the glass to his lips and arches it, lifting his head back up and letting the liquid slip down his throat. Using the skin sleeve of his wrist to wipe away a droplet, Claude sits back in the chair, which creaks at the faint pressure.
CBR: And what a travesty that is. The most accomplished man in UTA history, who made that belt famous and changed the measuring stick of this business has to go through all that to get what he's rightfully owed. Good job Wingate, Best, Farthington or whoever the hell is holding the clipboard around here this week.
He turns back to the camera, the bar practically empty except for a young couple in the corner on one of the couches deep in conversation by candlelight.
CBR: But it makes no difference, the result stays the same - one way or another CBR becomes the Legacy Champion again. Sound cocky? More confident...
Claude idly slips off the stool, taking the glass in his left hand and a half full bottle of Scotch in his right as he walks across the polished floor towards two wide screen windows looking out over the early evening, the sun heading downwards beneath a clear open sky.
CBR: Chris Hopper and Bronson Box. And these guys, they are no joke. I mean, really, come on.
Ranier flicks a nod at the camera, lifting the bottle and pouring another generous drink for himself as the screen gains a view out over the sea in the distance.
CBR: What more can I say about Hopper that you don't already know? The man's a breathing encyclopaedia of wrestling. Name an era, Chris Hopper was there. He was winning belts before most of Victory got their training wheels off! And him and I? Yeah, we've got history...
Claude lifts the glass again, taking a slow drink of the nectar before placing the bottle on a table beside the window and placing both hands on the glass.
CBR: For over a year we've squared off. Clusters, tag, face to face, I have no love loss for the man but unlike some he earned his spot. Season's Beatings, Black Horizon, Ring King, we've been through hell together...
He turns to the camera and steps forward slowly, one hand pressing its palm over the rim of the glass whilst the other cups it from the bottom.
CBR: And time and time again Chris, you lose your footing in squalor and go back to being the depressive egomaniac you've always been. I don't blame you, I know you can't help it - you can't change your character any more than you can stop Alex Beckman failing another career...
Claude lifts a hand, brushing the strands of loose hair from his face behind his ear and lets the glass hang between his forefinger, middle finger and thumb by his side.
CBR: You've tried Chris. I know you have, I've seen it. Day in, day out, trying to fill a void that's crippled the UTA for years. The void of a hero. That's you Hopps...the man with a vision, with motive, with purpose!
Ranier points his finger with the glass at the camera and wags it forward as he speaks.
CBR: Or at least it should be. Sitting on your throne of accomplishments you should be the man Cayle Murray and Scott Stevens turn to for help, an oasis in a roasting sea of vipers. Instead, barely a wink these days from Zhalia Fears and put out of contention by a rookie with eight months' experience in a professional ring half your size.
Claude turns and places one hand on a handle by the window, leaning against his outstretched forearm as he breathes slowly out.
CBR: And that's the difference right there Chris; the difference between the King of Cool and the rest of the world. True competitors fight for this sport; the Murrays of this world stand up for what's right, for competition and pride; whilst Hopper, you are most intrinsically and absolutely in it for yourself.
He looks down as if in regret.
CBR: There was a time Chris, a time when the fans saw the name Chris Hopper on a UTA Card and clambered to buy tickets. There was a time Chris...
Ranier grips the handle in his fist, straightening his back as the glass hangs loose by his side. To the casual onlooker, he might appear as an artist looking out for inspiration - how wrong they would be about this fickle hive of deceit.
CBR: Time and time again Chris, you've proven exactly what you are. La Flama Blanca, Perfection, Me...you choke when the eyes are on you. And that is the stage Chris, where you excel! A walking, breathing hypocrisy, always saying the right thing but thinking another; starved and desperate for attention. It sickens me Chris, reminds me of a little white stoner in a blue and red suit!
Claude turns to face the camera, leaning the nape of his back against the base of the window, the glass lofted up to rest on his knee as it's raised to press his heel to a chair.
CBR: Sad...pathetic...repetitive...predictable Chris Hopper. The longest serving member of the roster to never hold a belt; one Ice Breaker too many my friend, one ice breaker too many and it's just not funny anymore. I suppose Lisil and Quinlan need competition though, don't they? Someone to slap children off screen, smile at the camera and lose dark matches in ballrooms.
The smirk, unmissable, crosses CBR's lips as he relishes sticking the rusty knife into his old foe.
CBR: And Box...well, Bronson, I'd love to say you were a wildcard, a dark horse, the one I can't quite figure out and that makes me nervous. But that would be a lie. You're not. And I'm not. You came with a reputation, I didn't care to reference it. I've never met you, seen you or heard of you but I know through second hand how dangerous you are.
Claude's grin dissolves into a state of pensive deliberation. His eyes drift from the lens and his voice trails away as if contemplating some kind of sarcastic horror about to befall him.
CBR: Mr Fantastic knew... One of the greatest that's ever stepped foot in a Wrestleshow ring! The masked Sanctus, the legend, he found out too. Scott Stevens...the best Chicago had to offer, he's learned a lesson and Rhys Townsend. The monster! The man who's name uttered louder than a whisper makes the locker room tremble.
Ranier lifts his free fingers to his lips and rolls them down to show his knuckles as if biting his nails. The wide eyes betray a forced nervous look, his body shaking...
CBR: They all know now Box, maybe I should too? Or maybe...just maybe...
Hand drops, eyes narrow, lips curl up in a suggestively patronising grin.
CBR: Has-Been, Never-Was, Imported-Joke and "WHO???" simply aren't much to benchmark a UTA career on. Sure, Dane seems impressed but he's an average coward...a man with less matches than Santa Clause being ushered into contention for a belt he doesn't deserve...a bit like you Box. A bit like you...
Claude steps forward, lifting the glass and finishing its contents before sliding it along the surface of a table, hands being pressed together fist into palm.
CBR: The man who couldn't get it done against John Sektor thinks he deserves a second chance. The guy who was humbled by a tag team wrestler fancies himself a singles champ? And the overpaid lumbering fool who was embarrassed by a rookie, my brother Kendrix, a man again with eight months to your lifetime of a career...you think you deserve a shot at the BELT I MADE FAMOUS???
Ranier gets close, too close, to the camera. The steam from his breath covering the lens as he buries his head lower, eyes inches from the screen.
CBR: The fact that you share my ring Box, that's an insult. That one of "them" with history and ego, comes into MY world and thinks they're owed homage? That a drunken Scott with no self respect and even less credibility would take MY shot at the gold I never truly lost - that I was FORCED to bequeath to a man with a far better moustache than you'll ever have - that that guy presumes to be at CBR's level?
He backs off, wiping the screen of the camera with a swipe of his thumb, the mellow smile returning to his once quivering lip.
CBR: Grow up Box. Learn your place. Proving Grounds re-runs are no longer on...but I'm sure you'd be relevant there. Yeah I know you've been a world champion before - there's a lot of those accolades in this industry today, a thousand world champs with careers made of paper. Instead, here you're...
Claude makes speech marks with his finger tips.
CBR: "Defiant"...that's how you say it isn't it? Get real you Buckfast drinking son-of-a-bitch! This is the UTA, this is a whole new level to that hole you call home and here, Bronson Box is no champion!
Ranier lets a slow breath escape out of his chest as he turns and slowly walks back to the bar, placing his elbows and forearms on the surface and leaning against it, head lowering again and taking a moment. The camera follows, turning to his side, but his eyes don't acknowledge.
CBR: No, neither of them deserve the shot at John Sektor. Neither can challenge the Gold Standard for the belt he makes a mockery of with every breath and each glass of milk. And Zhalia Fears? Really? She's been too busy with her nose up Second Coming's "Box" the entire history of the UTA passed by her with barely a whimper and now she's alone she thinks she can make it? She can't...she won't...that's fact...
Ranier turns to his side, leaning against his elbow to regard the camera.
CBR: A confused child in a brutal sport is bound to get hurt; pray you don't reach the second match Zhalia, pray I don't break that little neck of yours before you cut your wrist with Mummy's razor. Abdul Ahad? Ok, this is a joke isn't it? Second match back, only one win and the friendly Arab playing politics manoeuvres his way into a potential title shot?
Claude lifts his hands and claps slowly, shaking his head.
CBR: Bravo Ahad, well done. You've clearly blinded the right people and sullied the right bedsheets. In the hierarchy of the UTA, you're one step below Wulfric. Who? Exactly...move on.
The grin slowly returns to the Canadian's face as his hands drop to his sides.
CBR: And lastly, the one man who deserves to be in this match; my brother, my friend...Jesse. The man who retired Graeme Clauson; the man who defeated Pin Smith, destroyed a hall of famer Ron Hall and royally ruined Bronson Box. Kendrix is the wildcard in this match, the one the rest will overlook to their detriment. Eight months experience in a wrestling ring and shame on you all...he's better than you.
Claude lifts off the bar and takes his seat once more at his stool. Looking down at his sleeve and rearranging the crease before looking back at the camera.
CBR: What you've accomplished my friend in such little time deserves more than the words I can muster. You've made people take notice, made US take notice; I lobbied to bring you into the fold and now look at you, a rarified star in a sea of the elite! It's a privilege to fight alongside you "mate", an honour to wrestle at your side; but this Monday, that's not what this...is all about.
Ranier's snide smirk lifts the corners of his lips, the lines on his face appearing as if cracks in granite.
CBR: If and when you get through Zhalia and Ahad, when you stand across the ring from me Jesse, look into my eyes. Make no mistake, these eyes have no mercy. They have no hesitation, no moment's second thought. I will do what is necessary to earn what's mine and if that means destroying a friend then hey, kid, that's business. I'll shake your hand and help you up onto the podium, win lose or draw; but get in my way? I'll chop you down...
Claude places his hand on his knee, the free arm resting on the bar as his smile slowly settles.
CBR: This Monday, this Wrestleshow, a new number one contender is crowned. Time after time Claude Baptiste Ranier shows why he's a big game player. The fans know it, John Sektor knows it and all of you in that ring Monday night know it...I am the only logical choice to unseat the last vestige of that pathetic machine. It's my shot, not yours, don't get the facts confused...
He leans forward, calm, collected and calculating.
CBR: One way or another, you all lose, I win. It's up to you the extent of your failure. Don't tempt me to...no, don't make me do something you'll regret. My time, my ring, get out of my way and embrace the obvious. CBR...is your next Legacy champion!
"La Flama Blanca is a straight up piece of s@%# coward!"
- Chris Hopper