There's a mixed reaction as the lights start to flicker red and blue. Cheers and boos alike mix with the initial guitar riffs from Nobuo Uematsu's "Otherworld" and Alex Krull makes his way from backstage with an angry look on his face and a water bottle in his right hand. He pauses on the ramp, looking around at the fans, then douses himself in water before screaming in anger.
Mark Sanction: A big win over Mac Villain last time for this young man, and now he has the opportunity to walk into Winner Takes All as XWA Hardcore Champion in the unification match against Gladiatorial Champion Razer and World Heavyweight Champion Jericho Shaw.
Rose: All that's in his way is the reigning Hardcore Champion. And although they have no particular issues with each other, we're surely in for an intensely violent match knowing who's involved.
A mixed reaction can be heard from the crowd as Krull climbs the steel steps onto the ring apron. The Viking climbs to the second rope and screams in anger one more time while he flexes his muscles displaying his strength. His music dies away as he paces around the ring, and cheers go up for Shonen Knife's "Cookie Day". Laurel Anne Hardy steps through the curtain and pauses, looking around the auditorium with a sly grin.
Matt Steel: Here's his hill to climb tonight. The Hardcore Champion doesn't even want to be in the title unification match - she's made that pretty clear. But she's also made it clear that she's not about to give up the Hardcore Championship without it being wrenched from her grasp.
Mark Sanction: Laurel Anne Hardy a big believer in the sanctity of wrestling for its own sake. Earlier tonight she called herself the only legitimate champion in XWA and said, essentially, that Razer and Shaw are beneath her.
Matt Steel: Easy for her to talk like that. If she meant it, she'd pass that Hardcore Championship to Alex Krull and let him worry about them, but she won't, will she?
Hardy throws out her arms then begins walking to the ring, slapping hands with fans along the way. As she slides under the bottom rope Krull sinks back into his corner, staring down at his opponent with that permanent anger he carries himself with. Laurel winks in his direction, which only seems to anger him... exactly, no doubt, as Hardy wanted.
Hana Ramirez: Ladies and gentlemen, this match is for the XWA HARDCORE! CHAMPIONSHIP!
Cries of delight echo around the auditorium.
Hana Ramirez: Introducing first, the challenger, from Oslo... weighing two hundred and forty-six pounds... The Viking, ALEX! KRULL!
There's that mixed reaction again; it probably doesn't help Alex's case that tonight he's facing probably the biggest fan favourite in XWA right now. And indeed, as Hana introduces her, she's almost inaudible over the cheering.
Hana Ramirez: And the reigning, and DEFENDING XWA Hardcore Champion... from Rhyl, weighing one hundred and forty-seven pounds... The Installation Event of the Millennium... LAUREL! ANNE HAAAARRDAAYYY!
Hardy takes a bow... and is kicked in the head by Alex, driving the crown of thorns into her scalp! She rocks back, sinking to one knee, as Hana bolts from the ring with a squeak and the ref calls for the bell. Alex moves in to press his opening advantage, but Laurel catches him with an ankle pick to drop him. She swarms over him with a couple of stiff Battlegrounds uppercuts; he responds with vicious elbow swipes. With the two fighters now both on the mat, they begin brawling, swapping fists and forearms. The Hardcore Championship has rolled away as the warriors focus on each other.
Rose: No feeling out, no lock-up! When you get two athletes who both live for violence, this is what happens!
The Norwegian rolls into mount and uses his vast and rangy frame to pin the champion down; she responds with a hard headbutt to the bridge of his nose. But Alex stays in place and pushes his forearm against her throat!
Mark Sanction: And already we see the toughness of Alex Krull! Very few people can shrug off a headbutt square to the face from Laurel Anne Hardy. Both of these wrestlers have incredible pain thresholds; I think it's going to take something special to end this one.
With the life being choked out of her this early in the match, Hardy grits her teeth and drives her knee into Krull's kidney over and over... and over... and over. He moves his arm at long last and forcibly pushes her shoulders down with his big palms.
No! She manages, somehow, to twist one shoulder out of his grip. He goes for the same pin again, and once more Laurel drives her head back into his this time peppering his side with knees simultaneously. Alex's answer is to drill a knee of his own into Laurel's midsection, and as the impact doubles her over, he wraps his huge arms around her torso and peels her off the canvas. He hoists her clean into the air, and gets his bearings for a spinebuster or a powerslam; she tries to sandbag back down and drag him into a DDT, but he plants his trailing foot out behind himself firmly.
Mark Sanction: Krull using his hundred pound weight advantage effectively, blocking Hardy. She won't be able to lift him and throw him like she could with Declan James or Axle Aomori - and The Viking is going to take advantage of that at every opportunity he gets.
Rose: She knows that too, though. People often forget, on top of the violence and nihilism, how smart Laurel is. She's not coming into this without offence in mind.
Matt Steel: But she's obtuse and stubborn as hell too. Not being able to do something is all the motivation she needs to try it.
Laurel hangs off Alex, pulling down as hard as she can, but it's still not enough to overbalance him. With a roar, he powers upright and swings her over his shoulders! But she catches him off guard by following through, rolling around until her legs are wrapped around his face. As his hands move up to pry her off, her fingers claw a grip around his and she twists him into a straightjacket.
Mark Sanction: DOORS OF PERCEPTION! A standing variant of the Doors of Perception!? The move she won the Hardcore Championship with!
Rose: And if she can make Alex white out right now, she'll retain with it! Like I said, smart.
To his credit, Krull isn't panicking, but he is acutely aware of the danger he's in. He stops, uses whatever focus he has left in the face of the consuming pressure surrounding his head to take stock... and drops to a sitting position, flipping Hardy overhead and spiking her into the mat between his knees with a cradle driver! He holds her in place for the cover.
She powers out. Alex goes to drag her into a grapple, but Laurel catches him with a stiff heel to the jaw, then another to the temple. For a moment they both pause to catch their breath and let their bodies process the savage opening to the match. It's apparent by now that Laurel's black hair has streaks of blood matted into it, no doubt there courtesy of the challenger's monstrous opening move.
Mark Sanction: Again, just witness the pain threshold and the determination of Alex Krull. That driver must have wrenched his neck absolutely agonisingly given the way Laurel Anne Hardy was clamped around it, but he still nailed it.
Matt Steel: Either he's got the pain threshold of a brick wall or he's too crazy to care... either way, perfect Hardcore Champion material!
Rose: Until it gets unified with the World Heavyweight and Gladiatorial Championships at Winner Takes All, that is. And supposing Alex Krull wins here tonight and does walk into our next pay-per-view as Hardcore Champion, we have to ask how that would affect Jericho Shaw and Razer, since they've spent several weeks of planning now assuming they'd be joined by Laurel Anne Hardy.
Mark Sanction: It's tricky...
Matt Steel: To rock a rhyme?
Mark Sanction: ...Hardy certainly more of the known quantity between herself and Alex Krull, but at the same time, it might be in their interests to face someone a little less... chaotic than Laurel Anne Hardy.
Matt Steel: To rock a rhyme that's right on time?
While Mark and Rose ignore Matt, Alex rolls under the bottom rope shaking his head clear of the cobwebs. He makes a beeline for the commentators' table and ignores their protests as he tips it sideways, sending cups, papers and god knows what else our trio had on their desk flying across the ground. He hauls the table into the air and carries it over to the ring... but as he's placing it, his opponent sails over the top rope and splashes him into the floor!
Mark Sanction: Hardy with the pescado!
Matt Steel: Pescardy?
Mark Sanction: Did you see the way Krull's head bounced on the concrete? Nasty.
Rose: No sympathy. Serves him right for stealing our table. Where am I meant to rest my drink now?
Matt Steel: Not to mention my statistics cheat sheet for colour commentary...
Mark Sanction: Wait. You're the colour commentator?
Matt Steel: Hell did you think I was doing out here?
Rose: Good question.
Hardy gets to her feet again. On instinct, she goes to drag Krull upright, but it's immediately apparent that he's too heavy, and she drops his arm. Instead she climbs up onto the apron, looking to dive back onto him - but he's up! Alex is up after her, fighting through the pain he's in to grab her in a chokehold! Laurel makes to kick him in the grill, but he yanks her down into a butterfly clutch. He swings her up into a fireman's carry; she tries to move around him for the vertical Doors of Perception again, but he staggers away from the edge of the ring... he throws her out and drives her down into the guardrail with the back of her neck connecting with the steel!
Rose: Death Valley driver! Death Valley driver into the guardrail!
Alex drags Hardy back to the table by the hair. He lifts her up into a bear hug.
Mark Sanction: Oh my god! Despite his temperament and his size Alex Krull is a hell of a technician. He's got a breathtaking array of grapples and throws... as the champion is discovering!
Krull turns around so his back is facing the erstwhile commentary table and, with another furious roar, throws himself backwards... the belly to belly sends Laurel crashing through the wood, and a burst of splinters erupts around her. Alex grabs a handful of them in his palm and mashes them into the Hardcore Champion's face until blood is spattered across it. From there, he lifts her back up, and simply holds her upside down in a Tombstone bearhug and starts walking around ringside.
Matt Steel: Krull just toying with Hardy now. This guy's cold blooded. I like him!
Mark Sanction: It's not just toying; the blood's rushing to her head, and with all those fresh cuts on her face, that's bad news for her.
Indeed, as The Viking parades around, crimson drips fall from the wounds on her head from the opening kick while scarlet rivulets flow down her face. As he reaches a corner Krull pauses, backs up with her... he runs her spine-first, upside down, into the ringpost! The thump echoes throughout the auditorium causing more than a few people in attendance to wince. Krull finally lets go, and Hardy flops down to the ground, left upside down and slumped against the ringpost. Alex wastes no time at all; he starts laying in boots even before she's come to a rest, and soon she's in a lifeless heap. He drags her back up and, perhaps rather gratuitously, slams her facefirst into the apron before rolling her - no, correction, shoving her - under the bottom rope. He follows after her, drags her to the middle of the canvas so she's far from any potential rope breaks, and covers.
Hardy pushes sideways, and a huge cheer goes up from the fans.
Mark Sanction: Again - she wants someone to take the Hardcore Championship from her, but she refuses to stay down! There's nobody in XWA who can absorb more punishment than the Hardcore Champion. We've already seen some unbelievable offence from Alex tonight, but it's going to take more still to put Laurel away.
Matt Steel: I'm okay with this. I could watch this big angry bastard beat on fools forever.
Perhaps predictably, Alex is as displeased at his opponent kicking out as he is at... well... everything, really. He draws his thumb across his throat and slides back out, and flips up the apron. He grins and slides out - you guessed it - another table! Displaying his incredible strength, he heaves it over the top rope and into the ring.
Matt Steel: Something tells me he's not going to use that to replace our desk that he broke.
Rose: Laurel's weakness is her stamina. Alex wants to press the offence, not give her any chances to recuperate.
In fairness, Alex isn't out for long, as a moment later he re-enters the ring with a steel chair in one hand, and in the other... a length of chain.
Mark Sanction: That's used to lock up the crates the ring is stored in for travelling! The ring crew must've left it under there!
Matt Steel: Probably because they knew there was a Hardcore Championship defence here tonight...
As Krull stands back up between the ropes, Hardy pushes herself from a kneeling position and bolts at him with a closed fist to the mouth. He's rocked by it, his head jerking sideways, but he powers back and shoulder barges her flat. He pushes back upright - and Laurel kips up and follows through to swing into a capoeira kick! Her heel smashes into Alex's jaw and he drops to one knee again, stunned. Hardy follows up her strike with a volley of kicks and knee strikes, all aimed squarely at the big man's head, the finally drops him prone with a back superkick to the dome.
Rose: Here's exactly what I was saying. Laurel's veterancy showing; Alex took his eyes off her, and she capitalised. And I have the feeling that all the hurt he just put on her is about to come back at him.
Laurel drops a hard knee across Alex's temple; rather than spike it, she just holds it there, digging down to put more pressure on the head. She slams a couple of elbow jabs in for good measure.
Matt Steel: Damn, she's gonna give him a concussion!
Mark Sanction: So much of her offence targets the head. And against someone like Alex, whom she can't hope to match in strength or reach, ringing his bell and keeping him from making quick decisions is vital to her strategy.
Eventually, as Alex starts fading, Laurel backs up. Then... she hunkers down and grabs the chain he brought into the ring. She circles back halfway around him for the best positioning...
Mark Sanction: Oh my god! Don't do it, Laurel!
...but Mark's frantic calling is for naught. Laurel screams a blood-curdling war cry through her crimson mask and begins whipping Alex with the chain, dragging blazing red welts out of his back with every lash.
Rose: We've seen some sickening things in this ring, but this...
It doesn't take long for gashes to start splitting open in Alex's back, and blood and plasma start seeping through. At this point Laurel finally ditches the chain; she backs into a corner and measures The Viking as he starts to try to get some semblance of focus back. Laurel hops up onto the bottom turnbuckle, still watching him... middle turnbuckle, still watching him... top turnbuckle, still watching him. Alex gets to all fours, and that's when she leaps off and drives both her knees into his bleeding back! He screams as she crushes him into the canvas, and he rolls onto his side with his chest juddering. Laurel kicks him all the way over and drops across him for the cover.
The kickout is authoritative enough to send Hardy right into the air!
Matt Steel: Holy crap! Alex's back looks like pulled pork and he still literally THREW Laurel off him!
Mark Sanction: It's a rare athlete that can take that kind of punishment and keep on going!
Alex rises to one knee; Laurel comes in with a shining wizard to send him reeling. But he doesn't go all the way down. Laurel hunkers down in the corner and scouts him. Slowly, wheezing, Alex forces himself up... and that's when Laurel pounces.
Mark Sanction: SPEAR!
Rose: BICYCLE KICK!
The force of Alex pumping a sole out as he jumps up sends Laurel literally somersaulting head over heels into the air! As she lands, Alex scrambles over her and covers.
Kickout. Krull sinks back to recover while Hardy rolls on the ground, dazed.
Rose: The boot to the face out of nowhere very impressive from the challenger, but still not enough. I'll bet with his back mashed up the way it is, he's having trouble putting pull power into covers.
After slapping herself in the side of the head a couple of times Laurel sits up. She takes a couple of deep breaths then crosses over to Alex and comes in for a closed fist...
...he swings the chair up! An almighty CLANG echoes throughout the arena as it meets her skull. For a moment both wrestlers are frozen in a diorama, and then slowly, she topples backwards like a felled tree leaving dots of blood hanging in the air momentarily. With a vicious snarl on his face. Alex sets the chair up between the middle and top turnbuckles, and rams Laurel headfirst into it.
Matt Steel: If she wanted him angry, she got it.
With Hardy down, the challenger sets up that second table, and as Laurel staggers back upright and turns towards him, he clocks her with a lariat to send her flipping upside down once again. The Angry Norwegian drags The Matriarch of the #Sparklebuddies up in a full nelson... pauses for just long enough to bellow in triumph at the fans... and throws her backwards through the table with a dragon suplex! Hardy's left lifeless in the twisted wreckage of a second table, but not for long as Alex drags her out and rolls over with both legs hooked.
Mark Sanction: SHOULDER UP!
Rose: I don't believe it! Second table and the champion still kicked out!
As Krull pounds the mat in frustration, Hardy drags herself towards the ropes.
Mark Sanction: What's it going to take for one of these competitors to put the other away!?
Laurel tries to get her breath back; Alex snatches up something from the canvas which had been forgotten about, at least in body if not in essence.
Matt Steel: The crown of thorns... Alex has that metal crown of thorns!
Indeed he does. He snatches up the chain, too, and proceeds to tie the one weapon to the other.
Mark Sanction: A circle of jagged metal on the end of a chain. Now THAT might be enough for one of these competitors to put the other away...
Rose: How many times have we seen that circlet used as a weapon since Laurel unveiled it?
Matt Steel: I don't know, since Alex stole our table! My notes are all over the place...
Rose: The fact you kept track of it says it all, really.
When Alex is satisfied with his impromptu creation, he starts twirling it... round and round, round and round... until it's sailing in a big circle around his head. He swings it down at Hardy, and she only just manages to avoid it... the first time, at least! Krull just swings it back around and catches her in the side, with enough force to rock her off her feet. Blood spurts from her ribcage.
Matt Steel: Look at the referee, he doesn't want to be anywhere near Alex right now!
Mark Sanction: I don't blame him.
Laurel goes for a low spear, ducking under the chain's arc; it's not enough to floor Alex, but it's enough to make his arm falter. Laurel starts laying in any body blow she can. But Alex smacks her with the chain in his hand, and she drops to one knee. He hauls his weapon in close and rears back to deck her again.
Mark Sanction: This may be it...
With everything she's got left, Laurel grabs the chain and ducks through Alex's legs! Using the chain for leverage, she pumphandles him off balance and kicks him down. He discards the chain so his hands are free to steady himself, but she steps up into his bleeding back and drops across the back of his head in a senton! The force drives his face down...
Mark Sanction: RIGHT INTO THE CHAIN! RIGHT INTO THE CROWN!
Matt Steel: Hehehehehe...
Rose: What's so funny?
Matt Steel: She just wiped her ass on him.
But it's no joke for Alex Krull right now; as he looks up, he's got spurts of blood pouring down his face! Laurel remains sitting on top of him as she bends down to pick up her Hardcore Championship. She holds it against Alex's face, then starts wrapping the chain around it, his head, AND her own calves!
Mark Sanction: And now The Doors of Perception again! She's pulling that jagged metal crown tight into Alex's face!
Laurel gets the move locked in and leans back hard on the shredded flesh over his spine, screaming until her voice breaks as more blood washes down her face. Alex's own face is distorted by the crown pressed against it and the chain holding it in place... it digs in deeper and deeper as Laurel leans back further and further, applying more and more pressure...
...until finally it's enough to draw the submission!
The arena erupts as "Cookie Day" blares out and Laurel collapses off Alex. Both competitors lie still, the only motion being blood slowly seeping into the canvas until the referee starts freeing Alex's face from its steel link prison.
Hana Ramirez: Ladies and gentlemen, here is your winner, and STILL XWA Hardcore Champion... LAUREL! ANNE! HARDY!
Mark Sanction: Wow. Successful defence number four, yet another bloodbath surrounding the Hardcore Championship... and Laurel Anne Hardy is going to Winner Takes All. But at what cost to her own body has she secured a spot in a match she doesn't even want to be in?
Matt Steel: It's like I've said a million times, Mark... bitch be cray.
As medics arrive to tend to the competitors, the fans favour both of them with a standing ovation and a chant of "Thank you Laurel! Thank you Alex!"