Mere weeks before All or Nothing and the game had changed. It had changed a lot. The uncertainties diluted, the risks muted. The reset button that James Wingate had so eagerly pushed like a child driving his fist down on the new voice activated action figure on Christmas morning was now little more than a calm finger pressing the semi-colon before continuing on the paragraph of history - a bend that would take the UTA down a diverted path but not change its world like it had the year before.
Of course it's hard to argue with the logic when one of those titles that would have been on the line is around your waist much like the Canadian Star...that is unless you’re defined by competition. His thoughts drifted back and forth. Two years it would be when All or Nothing came around; two years since he'd walked into that arena at the Tulsa Convention Center and started his UTA career. And albeit for a minor blip in the middle of that run, Claude Sebastien (for those who do not know, his real name) had barely ever taken a day off. It was that kind of loyalty, that sort of consistency, that filled him with excitement for the future in another wicked game of chance.
“All or Nothing...”
The clear yet barely accented words of the two time Legacy Title holder and longest reigning champion in UTA history cut through the quiet din like knife edge through butter, full of confidence and a new found air of expectation and hope.
CBR: Once again, the goalposts have changed as forty men walk into West Virginia to earn an opportunity to go one on one with the UTA World Champion, to cement their name in the annals of history . Just imagine the possibilities that proceed that fight...Murray versus Dane two; Dane versus Haynes three…or Sean Jackson versus CBR for the first time ever.
The corners of the Canadian Star’s lips rise barely an inch at the mention of his fellow founding member of Dynasty, his eyes flicking away from the camera as if licking their lips with anticipation. The sleeves of the thick navy blue polo neck are pulled a few inches up his powerful forearms, revealing the veins fighting at the surface below.
CBR: So many opportunities for one man or woman to raise their head above the parapet, to emerge as the new Main Event player in the greatest wrestling promotion on planet earth. So many chances to follow in the moments of icons...legends of this business and take their shot at the top prize this industry has to offer…bar none. And for he or she who finishes second? A shot at this…
He pats the surface of the Legacy Title, a rogue wind howling into the audio of the camera from behind his shoulder, the image of green and blue down below distracting somewhat from his focused face.
CBR: And with every other title in the UTA up for grabs the stakes couldn’t be higher. And that's just it, isn't it?
Claude’s hand rests on the belt, the gold reflecting the light of the protruding sun slipping its way through gaps in the deep veil of cloud, before falling to his side. He rises to his feet, the image zooming a little outwards to show the Canadian Star at a small empty field, a few rows from the freshly cut green.
CBR: The fact is Claude Baptiste Ranier has never been in an All or Nothing match and All or Nothing has never witnessed CBR. If I succeed in ending “The Future”, it won't again this year. It will be another twelve months before I get my chance to shine in the biggest match in UTA, to go against the top competitors in this industry and the mystery entrants who challenge themselves every year against the best of the best...for that is precisely what this roster represents.
Ranier begins to walk slowly, his hair tied back, resting neatly against his back as the tight platinum and gold Breitling watch is twisted with his right hand around his left wrist idly.
CBR: But more importantly, CBR...I...have never had a shot for the World Championship in all my time in the UTA. After thirty seven individual wars...more than any other, for all my effort, all my victories and every obstacle I've overcome, the top prize has never been within my sight.
He turns his head to look directly into the lens, stopping for a moment as his fingers leave the metallic surface of the watch letting the wrist hang loosely by his side.
CBR: That...my friends...is why next week is so important. I want...no, I mean to right a wrong.
Claude’s head slowly turns away and he continues his slow walk, the Legacy Title over his thickly covered shoulder as polished brown shoes firmly press down another step.
CBR: For nearly two years, I've bled for this business. For nearly two years I've put my body on the line more than anyone else in this company. I've fought giants, legends, the greatest champions in the industry...but since day dot, that title has eluded me. The top spot in the business has remained a ghost whilst I helped hoist weaker men than I onto my shoulders in the name of brotherhood.
Ranier turns to face downwards as if in regret, the light from the sun obscured and dampened by stray clouds meaning sunglasses are entirely unnecessary in the small city of Salem.
CBR: And yes, I know what you're thinking...this title, the Legacy belt...every week I come out to that ring and preach that it means everything to me. A belt that I've forged to represent purity of competition, the pinnacle of talent. A title that at its very core encapsulates this business. But I don't give a damn who you are, what you want or where you've been; if your eyes aren't firmly fixed on becoming champion of the world…
He turns to look at the camera over his shoulder, standing still momentarily one foot on a step lower, his body twisting to the side causing the material of the jumper to ride upwards on his chiselled abdomen.
CBR: If each and every one of you don't look up at that belt and dream...you're all in the wrong business and you should all feel ashamed. Passion is at the very core of this industry and the belt around Sean Jackson’s waist is its very definition.
Claude turns his back again to the camera and starts to descend further down the stone steps.
CBR: And that, my friends, is why Victory forty seven simply means...everything. It represents the first ever time in the history of this company that CBR can etch his name amongst the elite of the UTA, the one chance to take my place at the top of the United Toughness Empire and change the world.
Ranier continues to carefully step down platform after platform, nearing the turf below. He points out over the green, gesturing to the lens with his free hand to look where his finger reaches out.
CBR: This is Kiwanis Field, and over there the Blue Ridge Mountains. Nearly a hundred years old, this place holds its own place in history but Monday night every set of eyes in the wrestling universe will be trained half a mile away at Salem’s own Civic Centre.
Claude gets to the field. He lifts his left hand and scratches the back of his head looking over the green and into the distance. A few passers by are seen through the open gates, but Ranier remains still, the camera moving to his side to see the focused gaze of the Canadian Star staring into the city.
CBR: Barely twenty five thousand people in this city and in that very arena in front of over one quarter of them, history will once again be made. Monday night hails the first time in the modern era that the UTA has come to Virginia...and in the very same arena that Valor Championship Wrestling held its first and only Anarchy Pay Per View two years ago, I intend to place my hands on destiny, unhook it from the cable and go on to become the Heavyweight Champion of the World.
He steps forward, the solid footfall pressing against the dewy turf flattening it down, free hand placed carefully into the pocket of his dark blue jeans as his strides are slow and confident.
CBR: But of course, to get there...to even sniff that moment, I have to go through four of the finest men this organisation boasts as wrestlers. Four men who have each earned their stripes in history here in the UTA and beyond its doors.
His head turns to look at the camera, withdrawing his hand from his pocket to slowly fold his arms.
CBR: No easy task at all but one I relish with every fibre of my being. El Trebol Junior, perhaps the most surprising package on the roster. Victories over Sean Jackson and Chance Von Crank and the belt that men like Conrad Teller, Perfection and Colton Thorpe have worn with pride around their waists. Four foot seven, named after the mighty shamrock this man has defied every odd and rides a rocket of momentum into Monday’s war.
Ranier arches to his left, stretching his side as his fingertips encircle the loose strap of the belt across his shoulder.
CBR: A man who represents exactly the type of courage, daring and heart this match was created to inspire. From being brought into the organisation as a joke, a prop to standing at the foot of the greatest prize in the world, there can be no greater underdog story. The problem is Finn...I want this opportunity just as much, if not more, than you.
He straightens his back, looking momentarily away from the camera to the gate before returning to the lens and stepping slowly backwards, before turning to make his way towards the exit, the clouds inching threateningly overhead.
CBR: Scott Stevens, a name known worldwide, synonymous with success in Chicago the man is littered with some of the top accolades in the sport. A multiple time world champion and the man who ended Colton Thorpe’s streak of dominance in the UTA. Stevens, I know you well, we've met before and whilst I'm not proud of my actions when we did I hold a win over you. I'm honoured to test myself again against you Scott, I know full well what you can do…I know that feeling, that desire, to do anything and everything to win.
Rainer exits the iron gates of the field and onto the pavement outside, turning to face the camera as it exits with him. Claude rests back against the wall, his hand once again rising to place itself upon the Legacy Title gold, free hand dropping to his side.
CBR: Cecilworth, the proverbial dark horse of the fight. A champion in your own right and a man who has touched this belt so briefly. We've never faced, you and I, but to have stood alongside men like John Sektor and Mike Best I know you have the pedigree. I know you have what it takes to rise to the top and as when I beat Sektor for this very title I know you'll go into the arena as hard as the Gold Standard himself.
Claude raises his left hand to brush away the loose strands of hair accumulating in the brisk wind, lodging them to the side with his middle and index fingers, eyes focused, trained on the lens.
CBR: And Ron...you and I know each other very well. A true legend of the UTA...the only active Hall of Famer in the company today, I bet your mind is filled with the desire of holding that title once again. I will never make the mistake of underestimating you. I know that fire that burns in you and you're just waiting for a spark - perhaps Monday night is it. Climbing up that ladder to grab its prize, how much do you want to be at the top one more time? Each of us in that ring next week owe you more than we can say for paving the way, for putting this place on the map...but none of us will step aside.
He lifts off of the wall using his foot against the brickwork. His hand lowering down over the leather strap of the belt from its gold surface.
CBR: And finally…
Claude steps forward carefully, eyes centered on the screen, on the lens.
CBR: The little coward himself...The self proclaimed Future who at All or Nothing I will finally get the chance to rip apart locked inside four walls of steel. The man who has beaten Ron Hall and El Trebol Junior, who holds the Prodigy Title that champions like Fears and Beckman did with honour. The young upstart who has made the world take notice by whatever means he deemed necessary…
Ranier steps further forward, now inches from the camera.
CBR: Jesse...Fredericks...Kendrix; Monday night will be a preview of the future of the future, when I get my hands on you and wring you of every insult, every trick, every underhanded stunt you've used to work your way up the proverbial ladder of the UTA. I know you're good Jesse, you're damn right I know how good you’ve become...to my utter shame I built you.
He shakes his head slowly into the screen, looking away for a moment then back up at its lens.
CBR: The problem is, you don't see the threat before you...you're blinded by the hype, by the silky words of the serpent tongued “bruv” behind your shoulder. You go into Monday against some of the best in the business in your greatest test to date.
Claude stops, the curls on his lips rising upwards to betray the deepening lines of age amassing below his cheeks.
CBR: Show us Kendrix...show me. Show me exactly what you've got. Three of the top champions in this business reaching for its greatest prize with a Hall of Famer and an Icon, looking to follow Sean Jackson in changing this federation forever. Monday night, my friends…
He closes his eyes, raising his head and sniffing the air. Slowly, Ranier lets the lids slide open and pointing up with the index finger of his right hand to the gleam of sun slipping through its sea of cloud.
CBR: ...Monday night will be epic. But the question is, which of you will see destiny shining down through the cloud of impossibility. And which of you...will be brave enough to take it.