My Japanese is shit.
Always has been.
Twenty years ago on my first tour I made it a point to learn to at least passably speak the native tongue, but Jesus Christ everything is a variation of a variation of a variation. There are three different scripts and over a hundred and forty sounds to the language. If English is a ridiculous mish-mash of other Western languages, Japanese is a meticulous ode to its own history.
I managed enough to order food and make my way through the streets of Tokyo well enough, but I’d never been able to hold a real conversation. I’m kicking myself right now for not putting a little more effort in back then, these kids are driving me batshit crazy and I don’t have the words to tell them to leave me alone.
Where I am, and where I’ve been since my arrival in Japan, is the inner-cloister of Tatsumichi Akamatsu’s STRONGHOLD Dojo right outside of Tokyo proper in a quaint little incorporated tourist trap called Chichibu in the Saitama prefecture. This is the same dojo where I did my time as a youngboy all those years ago under Tatsu-san’s uncle, Hirohisa Akamatsu.
I gave this place more of my blood and sweat back then than I ever did to any opponent inside the ring. We all did. It was a struggle to get noticed back then, and everyone there, myself included, would kill ourselves day in and day out for the slightest nod of satisfaction from our taskmasters. One thing that was readily apparent even back then was that Tatsu was gonna be the Ace, and for that he had it the hardest out of everyone in his class.
Everyone except the lone gaijin, Eric Dane.
We became brothers in pain and tedium back then, a friendship that has been mutually beneficial to the both of us over the decades. I brought him to America with me where he finished his training and began his rise in the business, and when DEFIANCE was kicked off of TV and blacklisted in North America it was Tatsumichi Akamatsu who helped promote our tour of Japan and helped put us back on the map.
So, when I called my oldest friend and explained to him about my upcoming World Title shot in Tokyo, he was more than willing to allow me a place to sleep and train for the match. He’d offered me private quarters and asked if I wanted to teach a seminar but I politely declined on both offers.
What I wanted, what I needed out of STRONGHOLD, was a place where I could find myself, remember what it was and who I was and how I got to be the man that I am today.
Tatsu, who had taken over the gym from his uncle years ago, came through for me once again. So here I am, pushing a broom inside the dojo with every last one of my muscles and joints screaming at me after hours and hours of pushing them beyond their limits.
And then there were the kids. The next generation, all youngboys just like I had been, all living, breathing, and training inside of the STRONGHOLD to mold body and mind into one centered fighting machine. The problem was, they’d all seen my picture on the wall. They’d heard the stories of myself and Tatsu-san, and they treated me like goddamned royalty.
Normally, I’ll admit, not only would I demand this sort of treatment, but I’d expect it without having to be explained. Here and now, though, I wasn’t around to flaunt my history and be the center of attention. I was here to train, to push myself to new limits and to make sure that no matter what, by November 15th I would be more ready to face La Flama Blanca than I’d ever been for any opponent in my life.
The first day I had to actually beat one of them away from me with a broom. They couldn’t understand why a man such as myself would subjugate himself to the menial tasks of a simple youngboy. I didn’t have the words to tell them, and every which way I turned I found another one trying to do my jobs for me.
By the third day I’d put two of them in the infirmary.
Tatsu-san and the rest of his main crew were on the road, touring the countryside of Japan with the STRONGHOLD promotion, so it was only myself and the kids. It took them longer than I had liked to learn to read my Fuck Off face, but finally they did. I could deal with the hushed whispers and awed stares, but fuck if I couldn’t have them literally taking the broom out of my hand.
For a few days they let me be.
It was somewhere between my second and third set of a thousand Hindu Squats of the day that I realized that what I was doing here in Japan is something that the man I’m challenging would never do. La Flama Blanca, no matter that he has his own legacy to live up to, would never admit that learning from the past is the key to understanding the future.
You see, young Eduardo Molina is a man running away from the past. He can’t stand the memory of being overshadowed through his first year in the UTA. He was outpaced by Madman Szalinski in the run to the World Title. He was outmatched by the then thriving Dynasty who embarrassed him into not admitting defeat, but rolling over and joining their group as a way to stop the beatings.
Even then CBR and Sean Jackson and even Perfection overshadowed him every step of the way. He was quick to pick up Perfection’s catchphrases and he learned how to go into business for himself from some of the best in the business, but he never did learn how to step up and be the man. What he excelled at, however, was manipulating the situations to fit his needs. The lot of them can go on at length about how it was all a big plan from the beginning, but anyone with a discerning eye for bullshit could tell that Dynasty had gone out and gotten themselves a mascot just for the pure fuckery of it.
And then he started getting lucky.
He limped out of All or Nothing as one half of the Tag Team champions.
He beat Will Haynes inside of a cage to become the Legacy Champion.
He proclaimed it the Year of the Luchador and promptly went on a spree of the most uninteresting drek that you possibly call a career. He even went so far as to win the World Title from Sean Jackson in the biggest cock-up of a Pay-Per-View Main Event that I’ve ever seen.
I can’t help but to chuckle at the memory of that First Blood Match.
The whole thing was ridiculous.
The fact that Blanca is still focusing on Sean Jackson to this day isn’t lost on me. I know Jackson, far better than Blanca does I’d wager, and I know that he’ll have to be dealt with sooner than later. The Mental Rapist is not one to be trifled with, as I’m sure La Flama Blanca would be the first one not to tell you about how Sean outsmarted him, bashed his head in with that briefcase, and gave the entire Dynasty the slip.
That’s me counting eggs that haven’t even been lain yet, though. Jackson won’t be an issue for me until at least four seconds after the match with Blanca. I can’t imagine him cashing in and making a fair fight, hell part of the reason I’m killing myself in this dojo is to get my cardio up just in case the planets align and Sean decides to cash in on me after I finish with Blanca.
Right now my quads alone have enough hatred for Sean Jackson to will me through two matches in Tokyo if the need should arise. Personally, I don’t think he’s got the balls. Time’ll be the teller of that particular story though.
Right now there is only me.
There is only La Flama Blanca.
The UTA World Title on the line.
Sixty-thousand strong in the Dome demanding the best wrestling match of the year.
It’s going to be a big, giant event. It’s likely going to get screwy some time in the middle, but in the end there can only be one World Champion. That man, by hook or by crook, is currently pushing a broom in a small dojo in Saitama.
That man is me, Eric Dane.
The sound of flesh splattering against canvas pulls me out of my daydream. It’s late, but a couple of the kids have come in for extra practice in the ring. I do my best to ignore them, but I can tell when my attention is being clamored for by the extra-hard slapping of the mat and the overloud “whispers” about whatever it is they’re saying that I can’t understand.
I do take notice, can’t help not to. I don’t know any of their names because I really just don’t care, but one of them I recognize as the Ace of this class, the other is his best friend slash rival. In them I see myself and Tatsu from back in the day. It doesn’t take long before I’ve stowed my broom and found myself in the ring with them, rolling around and taking bumps, running the ropes and trying to explain psychology in my broken Japanese.
To my amazement it isn’t long before they’re getting it. Little things that mean so much, things you can only be taught by someone who knows. They’re both quick studies and by the time we’re finished I think they may even understand my plight. They no longer treat me as an elder, but as an equal.
I find some kind of weird comfort in that, the ability to communicate despite a language barrier. Being able to help these kids, allowing them to help me. By the time we’re done I’m exhausted, physically and mentally. It’s been a long day and tomorrow would be more of the same. I smile to myself at the thought, relishing the stabbing in my sides after too much running, even puking in a bucket behind too many different sets of calisthenics.
I will be ready for him.
I may not like the man, and I may not respect his actual in-ring ability, but I know a smart Champion when I see one and Blanca is nothing if not a shrewd tactician with a lucky streak a mile wide. He’ll bring every trick in his book to Japan, up to and including his Dynasty.
He ain’t the only one with backup, though.
He’ll try to get disqualified. He’ll try to get me disqualified. He might even try and take his ball and leave, but I’ll be ready. I wrote the book on how to be a dastardly bastard fifteen years ago. He may have tricks that I haven’t used myself, but he won’t have anything I’m not prepared for.
This is what I live for, after all.
The money and power, all of it, I thrive on it!
I won’t be denied.
Time passes and I find myself in the shared bath of the house. No one is around but me, I made sure of that before coming in. The smell of bleach and other detergents permeate the air as I splash the coldest of cold water across my face. This place is nothing if not clean and there’s something to be said about that. I’ve been to dojos that smell of sweat and piss and blood and it’s a workout just to get a breath, but not here.
Tatsumichi-san is a believer in the old ways and everything is cleaned from top to bottom twice daily. It may smell like a hospital, but it keeps the boys and girls here healthy and more importantly it keeps them training. I smile at myself in the mirror, remembering the time Tatsu and I skipped our cleaning duties to get a look at the show that night at the local venue.
All we wanted was to see our tormentors in the ring, doing the things that they were beating into us day and night. It was a great show, of course, but as soon as we set foot back home in the dojo we were found out. It was worth it, though. They stretched us and they beat on us, but we’d stood up and taken it like men. We’d earned our beatings that night and wore the bruises like badges of manhood and honor.
It’s memories like this that brought me back here.
That’s what I tell myself, anyhow.
“Fuck that noise, bro, you fuckin’ hated this place and we both know it!”
That voice. Mine, but less like a jackhammer to cement and more like an angry young upstart yet to win his first major title. I looked back to the mirror and found myself looking back at myself again. This was becoming a little bit too commonplace for my taste. There’s nothing I can do about it now, though, any kind of time off for psychological issues will either get linked to concussions or drugs and either will derail my ascent to the top of the UTA mountain.
“You don’t know what the fuck you’re talkin’ about.” I quip back. Maybe I even believe it, who can tell. My reflection screws up his nose and cocks an eyebrow at me.
“Bullshit,” he says. “You hated this place, you hated Tatsu, and you hated his fat child molester of an uncle, too.”
I think back, trying to remember.
“And it’s a good goddamned thing he didn’t like the white meat or your ass’d been on the menu too, Creme of Sum Yun Gai if yer pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down!”
That’s when I put my fist through the mirror.
“You wouldn’t speak of Hirohisa-sama like that in his presence!” I’m holding on to the crumbling memories that I’ve built for myself to forget some of the harder of times I’d spent coming up in this business.
From the next mirror over he continues.
“Hell, pops, the only reason you brought Tatsu to the States was so you could bury him because he was better than you! Only problem was, well, he was better than you. He couldn’t be buried. He came back to Japan a conquering champion and he went on to have a career that rivals your own and you got Fucking Lucky that he never figured you out and considers you a friend!”
My knees buckle.
I’m on the floor before I know it, holding myself up by the moorings of the sink basin. This is another scene I’m becoming all too familiar with. I tell myself that I don’t smell something burning and I’m not pouring sweat like a faucet.
At least one of those things are true.
“That’s the story of our life though, am I right?” Of course he is. “You made your name off of the mistakes and the ignorance of those around you. Tatsu may have wrestled circles around you, but you beat him every time you met in the ring. Do you remember why?”
“Because I out-worked him…” I’m mumbling now.
“Psshaw. You beat him because you out-thought him. You used his strengths and his morals against him and you made him let you beat him without him ever being the wiser!”
He was right.
“So don’t you sit around here pushing a broom and washing jocks like a goddamned boy, rolling around on the mat with the natives and get soft on me! You put that masked idiot through a table in Paris just for having the balls to try you!”
That memory flashes through my cortex.
I can’t help but to smile down on the limp body of the Champion after I’d done exactly what I said I would do if he gave me one iota of a reason to do it. If one thing’s for certain, I am a man of my word when it comes to these kinds of things.
“That’s the Eric Dane that’s gonna win the World Title, stupid, not this happy to be here, remember where you’re from, give back to the business pantywaste that I’m looking at half-crying on the fucking floor in the bathroom! Stand the fuck up fer Christ’s sake!”
I pull myself up.
“Be a fuckin’ MAN!”
He’s right. He generally is.
I came here to find myself, to remember what it took to make me The Man that I am today. I’ve been going about it all wrong, though. I’m already in the best shape of my career, and unlike barely trained little girls like Alex Beckman and overrated hacks like Lew Smith I wasn’t about to lose this match for not taking it seriously.
La Flama Blanca is a dangerous man with dangerous friends.
Then again, so am I.
Glancing back at the mirror I see only myself, smiling.
I leave the mess of a broken mirror for someone else to clean up and head back to the dormitory where I’ve been sharing my sleeping space with twelve other people. Quickly I grab my things and I escape to the private quarters that had been offered to me in the first place.
I’m asleep before my head hits the pillow.
That doesn’t stop my mind from racing, though.
Racing through possibilities and variables.
Planning for a coordinated attack and for absolute chaos.
What’s the old adage? Be the man that you want to be, and see it come to pass? In that case my name is Eric fucking Dane, and I am the UTA World Champion. La Flama Blanca has been the standard bearer around here for entirely too long and come the Fifteenth in the Tokyo Dome, somebody is going to do something about it.
He’s Eric Goddamned Dane.
Deal with it.
"It's better to burn out than to fade away"
- Cecilworth Farthington