I felt like I’d travelled the length and breadth of the country by the time I hit London.
From North to South, East to West, this promotional tour has been restless. I’ve gone home to Aberdeen, spent a few days surrounded by Edinburgh’s majesty, then crossed the English border to Newcastle, Manchester, and even Colton Thorpe’s old stomping ground, Liverpool.
Now, a dozen train journeys later, my feet are on the ground in London: my journey’s last stop, and the site of my latest battle.
I’m riddled with the usual aches, pains and niggles and it feels like I’ve not had a full eight hours of sleep since I left the States. To top it all off, I’ve got Colt in my head, Dane in the background, and an opponent who sounds like she wants to ruin my life.
All my body wants to do is sleep, but I’ve been out here on the Thames signing autographs, taking pictures, and getting to know our British fanbase since security closed the doors and the meet and greet officially “ended” at 6pm.
Jennifer Williams, the event’s host, left hours ago, and it looks like the last of the fans have dissipated. I’m all alone, halfway between London Bridge and Tower Bridge, and I’m exhausted.
But I wouldn’t change a damn thing.
Other wrestlers hate this side of the business. Promoting, touring and marketing grind them down, wear them out, and in some cases, drive them from the business. All they wanna do is fight, train and talk smack: everything else is an inconvenience, and if they’d been handed the kinda schedule the UTA has given me on my home island, they’d flip.
Me? I love this.
This is as big a part of the job as the match itself, and you’re lying to yourself if you pretend it isn’t.
I love that people will go out of their way to wait in line for a few moments of my time on a weeknight, because it tells me I’m doing something worthwhile. These people queued for hours just to see me -- a mere fisherman’s son from 550 miles up the road – and it’s flattering, humbling and mind-blowing at the same time.
I came here to represent for the fans, make them smile, and give them a reason to look forward to their wrestling show again. I started with nothing, but now I have an audience, and I can never let myself let them down, especially on British soil.
“You know what the coolest thing in the world is?” I start my discourse with a question. “It’s not belts, billboards or paycheques. It’s not main events, pay-per-views, or hearing the referee’s hand slap canvas for the third time…”
It’s a nice night in London. Britain’s not known for its weather, and the downpours have been damn near torrential since I got here, but all is still in the big smoke tonight. I thought I’d made a mistake leaving the hotel without a jacket, but the UTA shirt on my back is doing its job just fine.
“It’s the people,” I say, smiling, then take a quick glance at my watch. 9:52pm. “There’s a reason I’m still out here almost four hours after we wrapped the signing session up, and it’s not ‘cause I’ve nowhere else to go.”
The city teems with life, despite the late hour. Car engines and conversations clog the night’s air, and the glimmering lights of the Thames’ north side shimmer elegantly across the gently-shifting waters.
Quite a sight on a night like this.
“It’s the sincerity in a kid’s voice when he tells me I’m his favourite wrestler, and the look on his face when I’m signing his programme.
It’s the enthusiasm that consumes an internet-savvy fan when he gushes about my work in Japan, and tells me he’s fantasy booked my way to the UTA Championship.
But most importantly, it’s knowing the importance of not letting people down, and the value of going the extra mile.”
I lean forward against the wall that separates me from the water, and wonder how my colleagues – how Marie Van Claudio – would’ve handled the situation.
When the obligations ended and they stepped outside to a mob of fans who’d hung around after-house to catch a glimpse, would they stand and appease the masses or let security bundle them into a limousine and make a hasty retreat?
The I see it, those people came-out to see me, and if I can spare a few hours of my night to put a smile on a few more faces, then I’ll do it every time.
“I’m tryn’a inspire a positive change in this place, no matter how big or small,” I continue. “So I show-up on time, shake hands, say the right things, sign whatever’s put in front of me and refuse to leave until everyone’s happy. I’m trying to embody the changes I want to see in the UTA, and I’ll continue to show respect and throw praise wherever I feel it’s deserved…”
Thinking of MVC’s words, I stifle a smirk.
“… even if it’s thrown back in my face.”
A lot of people have made a lot of obtuse statements about me over the years, but this is the first time I’ve been called dishonest in a long, long time.
“Believe it or not, Marie, I do respect you,” I reiterate. “I respect and admire every single man and woman that steps inside the ring, because I know the workload it takes to get here, and the magnitude of the sacrifices made along the way.
From John Sektor to Jack Hunter, every single one of you has my respect. Period. So please, don’t question my sincerity, and don’t ever call me a liar.”
Few words make my blood boil quite like that one.
“Sounds to me like you don’t want to be respected when you react like that, Marie. Would you rather I descended to tastelessness and started repeating some of the things Team Danger said about you? ‘A war of the words’ – is that what you want, Marie?”
I shake my head.
“Sorry, but you won’t get that from me.”
This lass is like a puzzle, and I just can’t find the missing piece.
Maybe it’ll crop-up on Monday night.
Or maybe not.
“Truth is, I’m just tryn’a figure you out, but here’s the problem.
I don’t think you’ve figured yourself out yet.”
I turn away from the River Thames and hop backwards onto the wall. Sitting there in a courtyard populated by skyscrapers, late night joggers and in-transit revellers, I take a little moment to sharpen-up.
“When I listen to you, I know you’ve learned little from that night in Orlando, when you pushed LFB further than anyone thought possible.
Or Ring King, when you came close to toppling one of the greatest tag teams in wrestling history and capturing the UTA’s own tag straps.
Or even last week, when Amy, your favourite frenemy, put you down in the ring.”
Closing my eyes for a moment, I suck in two lungfuls of London air.
“You’re always talking about being overlooked and underappreciated, but the UTA’s given you plenty of opportunities, Marie. And every time this place has shown you the admiration you craved – and given you everything you asked for – you’ve thrown it back at us like a spoiled child.”
It’s almost sickening to think of LFB/MVC’s aftermath, and what she could’ve done with all the respect and veneration she won that night.
“Instead of using your failings as a catalyst for change, you retreat back inside your shell and blame the rest of the world for your shortcomings,” I say, pushing myself off of the wall again. “Fighting Blanca should’ve been the making of you, Marie, but in-reality, it only made you worse. You could’ve tossed the ‘entitled little brat’ act aside once and for all, but you didn’t. You embraced it, and now you’re in the exact same spot as before.”
I start a slow, measured walk along the concrete, talking as I go.
“You missed your chance to grow – to blossom – and the sad truth of it is this: you’ve become defined by your failures.
Characterised by your shortcomings.
Crippled by your insecurities.”
I’m headed towards Tower Bridge: the opposite way I wanna go if I’m heading back to the hotel, but the sight of London’s most famous landmark lit-up at night is something I just have to absorb.
Whether for business or pleasure, I’ve been to this city dozens of times before. It’s a little too tightly-wound and congested for me, but Tower Bridge’s pointed spires never lose their majesty.
“Failure’s like a disease: a disease we both know all too well,” I tell her. “Fact is, up until a couple of years ago, I was the biggest failure out there. My family name gave me chance after chance after chance, none of which I deserved, and I threw ‘em all away.”
At this point, I don’t think I need to deep-dive on the turning point.
You all know how the story goes.
“Through my teens and twenties, I wasted every single shot I was given, and it was never my fault. I didn’t have a clue how to take responsibility for my actions, and there was always someone else to blame.” I stop dead in my tracks for a moment. “Sound familiar?”
“That’s the difference between me and you, Marie. I listen to you talk about matches that happened weeks – months – ago, and I can tell you’re still hung-up on ‘em. Me? I’ve learned how to learn from my failures, move-on, and take action to try and ensure they never happen again.
Failures aren’t roadblocks: they’re opportunities to improve. They take you places that successes can’t, and teach you things you never even knew about yourself.
So keep danglin’ my losses like bait on a line, lass. I’ve already learned everything I can from ‘em. I’ve moved-on, and I’m not gonna bite.”
Of course I’m disappointed to not be wearing the Wildfire Championship right now, but I know what I have to do to adjust. I know the changes I need to make to prevent it from happening again, and soon, Colton Thorpe will too.
… and yes, Mr. Dane, you and I will be having words this Monday night. Bank on it.
“There’s nothing holding you back but your own negativity, Marie. All I hear from you is ‘poor me’ this and ‘poor me’ that. Even when you tell me you’re gonna beat me, it’s not for ambition or self-improvement: it’s ‘cause you’re angry and upset.
I’ll tell you from experience: nothing good ever grows from negative roots, and if you can’t defeat your own negativity, you’re never going to live-up to the standards you’ve set for yourself.
The misery? It’s gonna follow you around for the rest of your career unless you shake away the pessimism, lass.”
The pathway becomes tighter and narrower as I approach a row of bars and restaurants. Instead of staying on-route, and interrupting someone’s night-out with a full-on wrestling promo, I plunk myself down on a nearby bench.
“I’m building my career with bricks of positivity and mortar made of self-belief. You tell me you’re gonna beat me down ‘cause you’re distressed about your last couple of matches…”
I can’t help the smile that stretching over my features.”
“… I tell you I’m gonna give you the fight of your life because I’ve got a heart and soul that just can’t be quelled, lass. I’ve got more fire than Babylon, more spirit than a synagogue, and I’m propelled by positivity, not pulled down by negativity.”
I lean back on the bench and throw a casual arm over the backrest.
“You can try to pin me or choke me lifeless, but no matter what kinda hell you bring me, you’ll never kill my self-belief, and you’ll never make me miserable.
Count on that.”