I was about two hours outside of Cleveland with everything I owned in a Volkswagen Rabbit when my friend Tina called. She asked if I wanted to hang out that night; I replyed “nah.” I had packed up all my shit; I was moving to New Hampshire for three months, then to New York after that. I told her it would be cool up here for the summer, she should come visit and hang out and she laughed and gave me a flat no. She said she could say sure but we’d both know she’d be lying. In the grand scheme of things, I appreciated her honesty. I lit another cigarette and drove for the whole day and finally stopped for the night in Springfield, MA.
It seemed as good a place as any. I planned to get drunk, but the bar closed before midnight, so instead I smoked cigarettes and flirted with the girl at the front desk until about 4 AM. She bought me a Doctor Pepper out of the vending machine and when we sat on the bench outside, watching the bugs fly up in to the light, sometimes her shoulder would brush mine, accidentally on purpose. I’d look at her face and we’d both look down at our shoes and I’d smile and take a drag and listen to the crackle of the paper burning away.
I had left Cleveland for good. I had to. I had to grow and change and be an adult and make art. My best friend Jean had gotten me a job at a theatre in New York starting in late August, but before that I had been hired to do a few shows at a summer theatre in New London, NH. Doing summer theatre is a rite of passage, and I was excited to work and ply my craft. The excitement carried m through the first few shows, and the barest threads of professionalism carried me through the next few. Each night I would work a show, calling cues from a booth in front of a ventilation fan in a giant converted barn. I would write up my notes in the office I shared with the music director and the marketing people and I would have a beer and try and unwind and realize that It was already too late to get a good nights sleep before I had to get up and set up for rehearsal the next day. Jean came to visit once and I got him a hotel room and we split a pizza and I passed out while watching TV, too tired to hang out.
There is a power in youth, and boundless energy in naivety. Looking back, I honestly don’t know how I did that summer. I worked 14 hours a day, seven days a week. I did the best I could, but I was starting to come to terms with the all important lesson that charm and effort and talent still often fall short. I would finish my day and I would listen to the actors partying in the basement, playing theatre games, watching Showgirls, singing songs. I’d join them sometimes. Most of the time, I’d sit in my office chair, the kind on the swivel, and I’d rock back and forth at my computer, thinking about my friends back in Cleveland. My last night there they threw me a party at a shitty bar we’d always go to and we’d all hugged and cried. In New Hampshire, I’d stare in to a drink and I’d let those moments wash over me and mix with the scraps of the day, the technical issues I couldn’t fix, the things I couldn’t get to because I didn’t have time, the changeover that I needed to do the next Sunday that would take a full night. I’d sometimes cry anew, and I’d tell myself it was just me drinking a bit too much and being homesick.
Like with much of life, there was no breaking point – just a steady stream of obstacles and difficulties that gradually erode your confidence and passion. There were no crises of faith, and I never seriously thought about getting up and driving back to Cleveland or going to Bloomington and living in a punk house, but the thought would enter my mind and bring me the peace of a day dream with a troubling frequency.
I found my revitalization in the form of a postal package. Ordered in a weaker moment during one of those maudlin late nights, I foudn myself staring at four ROH shows from the late spring. For the first time in my life, I had prioritized work over wrestling, and these shows were a reminder of the time that I had put in. That evening, the show flew by, and I sat in my office and waited for it to clear out before using the computer to play A New Level. The whole card looked great, but the match I was most excited by was not the main event between Nigel McGuinness and Claudio Castagnoli. Nor was it the rematch between Danielson and Marufuji that people had been talking about for months. Instead, in what should be no great surprise to regular readers of this column, I was marking out for The Necro Butcher vs. Takeshi Morishima.
One of my completely arbitrary qualities that I look for in a wrestler is who can make a fresh matchup look most enticing on paper. It’s this reason I think Negro Casas is the best wrestler of all time, and it’s why I loved Necro Butcher so much during his peak in the mid 2000s. Any potential Necro match looked fascinating. A few years earlier, we’d seen Samoa Joe beat Necro Butcher within an inch of his life and subsequently create the best ten minute match in history. I had no idea what this match would bring, but I thought Morishima was coming off one of the great ROH title runs, and I thought Necro Butcher would bleed and motion to the heavens and punch Morishima in the face. In my brain it felt wonderful.
Necro comes out to Tom Petty, which is so honest and perfect. You can picture him listening to it on the road, singing along, a beer in his lap and the window down, thinking to himself “this is about me, man”. It’s a testement to Necro’s charisma that the crowd goes apeshit when he comes out, despite him being in the big heel faction at the time. I’m pretty sure he tries to get a USA chant going, and now I desperately want to see Necro Butcher in all those awesome mid south matches instead of Jim Duggan. Morishima comes out already looking fed up with everything. He brushes peoples hands away at the entrance ramp, and glares in to the crowd, his head making a sudden turn. I wonder what was said.
A graphic shows up to inform us that this is a non title match, but Morishima wasn’t the ROH Champion. Was he the GHC Heavyweight champion at the time? Oh gosh, how amazing would Necro have been as GHC Champion? If I had a time machine, I’d kill Hitler and I’d do a bunch of other good stuff, but I’d also find a way to get a Necro/Kobashi match out of this. The brightest timeline.
The trade blows and the crowd is nuts and Morishima stomps on Necro’s feet and goes for an early lariat but instead gets punched right in the face. He goes down in a heap and I think this is the earliest that Morishima goes to ground in an ROH match. The go to the outside and Necro is fired up, screaming nonsense and putting his arms in the air like some backwoods Ultimate Warrior. Morishima gets choked with the table cloth at ringside and as he wanders away, it stays briefly around his neck and makes it look like he’s wearing a cape. Necro Butcher removes the mats from outside, but inevitably is hoisted by his own petard, taking a back body drop on to the exposed concrete.
Morishima hits The Necro Butcher with a lariat that has such force behind it, I was sure that someone told Morishima that Necro called him “a rice eating bastard” in the lead up to this. He comes off the apron and bowls Necro over with a shoulder block and keep his feet. Balance is such an overlooked part of being a great wrestler, and Morishima during this period was about as balanced as any of the other great super heavies. He screams at the crowd. Morishima had long ago come to terms with the fact that he wouldn’t be cheered by the ROH faithful, but he reacts in this as though the very idea that the crowd having the temerity to cheer against him is insulting. As the crowd starts to boo, Morishima offers sarcastic encouragement, goading the crowd on, relishing in his role as antagonist.
It’s clear in some way that this match is a manufactured attempt to recreate the Joe match from three years previous, and while the crowd certainly treats it as such with their interest, it suffers from the pace that Morishima is comfortable working at. His control segment in this is very good, but it makes the match seem like a normal wrestling match, a champion versus a tough potential challenge instead of a fight between two superhumans, a tornado of blood and sweat destroying chairs and concrete and tables and everything else in their wake. When Necro has a chance to go back on offense, it regains some of that quality, a mad man throwing desperate punches. Necro has taken a severe beating, but he’s taken worse. He’s been hit harder. His world view is simple and doesn’t often fail him: no matter the problem, his punches hurt more than his opponents.
Necro gets a chair and the referee tells him he doesn’t need it and is thankfully ignored. A DDT earns him a nearfall, but much like earlier when his plan to bring violence on the outside backfired, Morishima soon gets the chair and gives Necro a shot across the head than I’m positive resulted in a concussion. Shortly after, Morishima puts Necro on the top turnbuckle and slams him in to the open chair. This took about ten years to set up, so I’m assuming it was Morishima’s way of paying tribute to the death match workers that Necro Butcher so often found himself in the ring with. Necro kicked out at two, and in a strangely emotive moment, pleads the crowd to cheer him on, to help him compete. He does this from the ground, with one hand still clutching the back of his head. He fires punch after punch, and even over the crowd noise you can hear them connect, the loud dull smack of bone hitting bone. For a brief moment, the comeback is complete. He moves with purpose, putting aside the pain. He meets a lariat. Finally without a come back, Morishima pulls him up by the wrist and hits him with a backdrop driver. The crowd deflates as the referee’s hand hits the mat.
Part of me deflated with them, but watching wrestling I’d never seen before was somehow life affirming. It was ROH’s first show in the bigger building in NYC, and I couldn’t help but have some pride in seeing 2300 people chant and cheer for a company I had been with since the beginning. I don’t like to view wrestling as a metaphor for my life, but at the time it felt fitting that I couldn’t be there, both ROH and I grew up and grew apart. As the years progressed, I’d go to shows and I’d have a blast, in the same way you have fun with your college friends who you don’t talk to quite as much anymore.
I finished the DVD and knew I’d regret it when I had to wake up the next morning, but the whole thing was worth it. When I got back to my room, the lighting designer was still up, and we split a beer and tried to talk about anything but work and mostly failed. It was nice, and some nights we’d end up taking late night drives through back roads with no lights, finding lakes and covered bridges, roads made obsolete by the interstate. That night we just talked, of friends we missed, and the assuredly successful future that youth inevitably plans. In our stranger moments, we’d confess weakness, and find more strength in knowing that we weren’t alone. A few nights she would be welcome company, politely watching DVDs with me as we talked through our lives as violence write large and broad played softly on the computer screen behind us. From that moment on, I would think less of Cleveland, and more of the present.