The lights dim and suddenly the world feels just a little bit colder...
...in the darkness all we can hear is the slow, thumping and ominous intro for Buckethead's "Coma". It's like we're up the beanstalk and the giant has awoken. On the XtremeTron, one name can be seen bleeding its way through - Whisper. There is one, single light coming from the entrance walkway, right next to the curtain where our competitors emerge for battle. Stood there, we see the silhouette of an incredibly imposing figure just... waiting.
Mark Sanction: Perhaps the most purely intimidating individual in XWA history. And tonight, he's the first test for our Supreme Champion.
As the pace picks up, the Architect of All War begins his powerful walk down the ramp as sporadic while lighting circles the crowd. Another figure, that of Richard Maxwell, emerges and starts trailing his charge.
Hana Ramirez: The following match is scheduled for one fall under XWA rules, and is your main event! Making his way to the ring... weighing two hundred and fifty pounds... WHISPEERRRRR!
Whisper makes his way up the steps and walks along before stopping, stalling on the apron as he looks around at the fans stoically. Entering the ring finally, he stands in his corner. Still. The lights raise and the music fades out. He just stands there unmoving, awaiting his chance to end his adversary, while Maxwell mutters managerial words from ringside.
...things are silent for a moment...
A huge cheer goes up for Shonen Knife's "Cookie Day"! Laurel Anne Hardy emerges through the curtain with the Hardcore Championship on her head and the World Heavyweight and Gladiatorial Championships crossed over her torso like bandoleers. She darts back and forth as she makes her way down the ramp, tagging outstretched hands.
Hana Ramirez: And his opponent...
After touring all around the guardrails, hugging fans and complimenting homemade signs (and exchanging a couple of heated words with Richard J Maxwell), Hardy rolls into the ring and runs up a corner where she poses before pulling off her brightly coloured feather boa and tossing it into the crowd, prompting a scrum to catch it.
Hana Ramirez: Weighing one hundred and forty-eight pounds, she is the reigning XWA Supreme Champion... LAUREL! ANNE! HAARRRDDAYYYY!
Laurel shakes her head as she drops, and murmurs to Hana.
Hana Ramirez: I beg your pardon... the reigning HARDCORE CHAMPION... LAUREL ANNE HARDY!
Laurel nods, grinning, and takes a bow before shedding her belts and crown and handing them to the referee.
Rose: As you said, Mark, this is Laurel Anne Hardy's first outing as XWA Supreme Champion - or XWA Hardcore Champion, as she still considers herself.
Matt Steel: Still can't believe this asshole wants to give up the lineage of the World title.
Mark Sanction: We now know that Razer has been awarded the Lord of the Ring ring and contract following the departure of Smith Jones. Have to wonder if that's playing on the champion's mind tonight.
Matt Steel: Not to mention by Shaw wanting to return some dignity to the title Hardy stole.
Rose: You're never going to stop with that 'stealing' thing, are you?
Matt Steel: Check the name, Rose. Check the name.
Hardy and Whisper circle... Laurel's clearly reluctant to go for a lockup with her powerful opponent, while Whisper is mindful of Laurel's ability to pull unorthodox attacks out of just about any situation.
Mark Sanction: She's managed to overcome the second Whisper, Serena Maxwell, not once but twice - although both times left her as bloodied and as bruised as we've ever seen her. Now let's see how she fares against the original...
Finally Hardy moves in and starts throwing some experimental kicks at Whisper's leg, peppering the calf, knee and hamstring. Whisper answers by stretching out one of his rangy arms and grabbing Laurel's head, and dragging her in for a stiff shoulder block that sends her all the way to the mat. The champion quickly kips up and lets fly with a few more kicks; Whisper responds with a grab. But Laurel ducks! She rolls past him and as she comes up, lets loose a low back kick to his ankle! He's caught off guard for just a moment, and that's all she needs to leap up and bring him over her shoulder with an inverted stunner, to a wall of cheers from the crowd. At ringside, Maxwell's hands fly to his head.
Mark Sanction: There's Laurel's knack for finding creative openings!
Rose: And Whisper's playing a patient game here. I guess the one minute challenge is suspended when he goes up against the champion.
Laurel leaps onto Whisper's back for a sleeper. Whisper takes a moment to get his bearings properly, then turns to align himself before backpedalling hard into to the corner, crushing his smaller opponent into the turnbuckle pads. As the air is pressed from Hardy's lungs she has to let go of the sleeper, and Whisper lifts her into a sitting position across the top rope. He turns and makes sure she can't get any breath back with a shoulder thrust, then follows that up with a European uppercut to daze her before turning back again and grabbing her by the head.
Mark Sanction: She's high up, and Whisper is a big man!
Matt Steel: And Hardy struggling for breath. Serves her right for being a smoker. Normally I'd tell our viewers that smoking is cool, but Laurel ruined it.
A shocked gasp goes up from the fans (along with a cheer from Richard Maxwell) as Whisper snapmares Hardy right off the top turnbuckle, flipping her all the way down to the ring! As her back slams into the mat, she coughs and splutters. Whisper hops up onto the middle rope then leaps back out with a knee drop to the chest.
Mark Sanction: Super snapmare! Super snapmare and then the knee to the lungs! Whisper's done his homework. He knows what the champ's weakness is.
Whisper moves across Laurel for the pin.
She kicks out, to cheers. Whisper is undaunted. He peels her off the mat, flips her up into the air under one arm, and slams her spine hard across his knee with a half-nelson backbreaker. She slithers back onto the canvas and he covers again.
Another kickout. Again he lifts her vertical, this time holding her by one arm, perhaps in readiness for a shortarm clothesline or an Irish whip. But Laurel spins into him under his arm, reversing it into an arm wrench! Her face is red and she's sucking in erratic gulps of air, but she pushes through it as she drops into a capoeira kick that rocks Whisper's jaw hard. She follows that up with an inverted stomp to leave him reeling. He sinks to one knee for a moment, and she dodges behind him, stepping up off his back to drop her tailbone across the back of his neck in a seated senton that drives his face into the mat.
Mark Sanction: One of the newest moves in her arsenal, Anus Horriblis!
Rose: ...I hope you meant to say Annus Horribilis.
Mark Sanction: I know what I said.
Matt Steel: That's her, ladylike all the way.
Whisper soon pushes himself up, but Laurel is already ready for him. She drops into a cartwheel and brings both feet into his chin with a dropkick that knocks him onto his back. Laurel takes a second to get her breath back, then steps onto the apron and grips the top rope hard. She tenses... vaults up onto the top rope, springs off... slingshot springboard senton bomb! But as she swan-dives towards Whisper, he gets his knees up, and Hardy buries her own kidneys deep into them as she comes down!
Matt Steel: Whisper with the knees! Whisper counters!
Rose: And yet another blow that'll take some of the wind out of her.
For a moment, Laurel bounces around the mat after landing across Whisper's knees... until he pulls her flat for another cover.
She thrusts a shoulder up! He grimaces and drags her up across his shoulders... then hefts her up higher into a military press. The fans boo him, but he just smirks. He tosses her up - and she drops into a victory roll! She sweeps him down to the mat, and holds on tight with the rana!
Whisper powers out, to the fans' dismay.
Mark Sanction: First pin attempt of the match from Laurel. Whisper kicks out late but authoritatively.
As she rises, Laurel spins a back thrust kick right at Whisper's head - but he ducks it and rolls her down into a schoolboy!
She throws herself off the mat and they both collapse in a heap. They both get up - Whisper with the lariat! Hardy flips upside down, but Whisper catches her before she can fall all the way, and he pulls her back up. He lifts her over his shoulders again, this time in an Argentine rack. He repositions himself for a moment, but stops as Laurel starts to come round, and throws her down onto the back of her neck.
Rose: Victoria driver! Perfect technique!
Mark Sanction: He's still going for moves that'll keep her winded, but he's started to vary up where the impacts are coming from to keep her off guard. Whisper's not just fury and punishment - he observes, he adapts, he thinks.
Matt Steel: That's what makes him so terrifying.
Whisper hunkers down, hands on his knees as he watches her writhing on the mat and trying to get some air down her throat, waiting for his moment... he crosses over and lifts his boot, ready to stomp her throat to mush. Appropriately, the fans hold their own breath, knowing that if their champion suffers Lucifer's Regret her hopes of staying in this drastically diminish.
The black boot of The Rebus Hivemind falls...
...Laurel catches it! She hugs tight around it, blocking his mobility. As Whisper tries to free himself Laurel throws herself sideways, managing to flip Whisper off his base with a dragon screw! And as she rises, she still has his foot in her hand, and immediately begins torquing it!
Mark Sanction: Lucifer's Regret countered into an ankle lock!
Rose: It's outside of Laurel's usual repertoire, but it's just what she needed right now.
She grits her teeth as she yanks and wrenches on his foot, trying to destroy his vertical base. But the big man puts his hundred pound advantage to use, starting to roll onto his side so he can kick her away. Laurel responds by wrapping his foot into a grapevine and dropping across him, and pulling him into an STF! Whisper reaches back to pull her off, but she headbutts him in the back of the cranium. He lets go for a moment - but then comes right back. This time, Laurel clamps her teeth around his hand!
Matt Steel: OH SHIT! BITCH IS BITING HIM!
Maxwell seems to be having a conniption, but Whisper remains in control of himself and switches up his escape plan; instead of trying to shake or knock Laurel off him, he crawls forward on his elbows. Laurel holds on, cranking back as tight as she can while she still can, as Whisper gets to the ropes. This being an XWA Rules match, the referee can't force her to break, but Whisper uses the ropes to haul himself to vertical. His leg gives him a worrisome moment, and Laurel - who still has her arms around his neck - capitalises by leaping into him to drag him down into her knees!
Mark Sanction: Lungblower!
But Whisper sandbags! He flips her over his head and onto the apron. She lands on her feet, but Whisper's already swinging the elbow. Hardy blocks it and returns fire with a shoulder barge through the ropes that sends the big man stumbling back. With separation created, she springs up onto the top rope once more - but Whisper finds a big boot to knock her down to ringside! He wastes no time in sliding out and grabbing her, and swinging her hard into the guardrail. Then the apron. Then the steps. Then the guardrail again! The fans 'oooh' with each impact, as Whisper tosses Laurel around ringside like a hackey sack and Richard J. Maxwell hurls abuse at the champion. Finally Whisper picks Hardy up over one shoulder, and runs her into the ringpost, cracking her spine and the back of her neck against the steel. One more slam into the pole, and then at last he rolls her under the rope.
Rose: There's that brutality Whisper can pull out at any time, just absolutely demolishing our Supreme Champion at ringside.
Matt Steel: That's my boy. She shouldn't oughta bit him!
Whisper climbs into the ring and circles Laurel, who's on all fours and trying to force herself to breathe. He wraps his arms around her and lifts her into the air, letting her legs kick around futilely. He spins her upside down... plants her with the Michinoku driver! That makes her stop kicking, and her legs flop still - until Whisper pulls one of them in towards himself for the cover. He nods along with the referee's count.
Matt Steel: DAMMIT!
Mark Sanction: Whisper discovering for himself the resilience that led to Hardy ending Jericho Shaw's streak and claiming the Supreme Championship!
Whisper seems annoyed, but he keeps his cool. He drags the lifeless Hardy up by one arm, and manoeuvres her up across his shoulders again.
Rose: Time for the big guns - time for The Sound of Silence.
But it's not the first time in this encounter that Whisper's had Hardy up over his head. Summoning all her might, she elbows him in the ear then once again throws herself into the victory roll! But Whisper blocks it! He cuts off her momentum and swings her round into a side slam!
Mark Sanction: Counter follows counter!
Indeed it does... and again as Laurel lands on her feet! Whisper's left overextended, and easy victim to a Battlegrounds Uppercut that staggers him. Laurel swings around him and leaps up onto his back again, going for the sleeper she had applied way back at the start of the match. Whisper's not too rocked from the uppercut to remember the escape, however. He backpedals into the corner... and Laurel vaults back away from him to leave herself standing on the top rope!
Rose: We may have just seen a mistake from Whisper.
Mark Sanction: I think the champion may have just won the battle to get inside each other's thought loop!
Laurel plants a boot hard between Whisper's shoulderblades, not to do damage but to push him away - a goal helped as the ankle she had locked earlier twitches slightly. With just enough space made, Hardy leaps off the corner and drills her knee into the back of Whisper's skull, pushing him all the way down as she descends and spiking him face-first into the canvas!
Mark Sanction: She calls that Sunfall!
Whisper grabs the back of his head - and Laurel pushes him flat and hooks both legs as deep as she can.
The audience explodes as "Cookie Day" hits and Laurel rolls off her dangerous foe. The referee hands her her two belts and her crown, but she just remains curled up on the canvas, desperately trying to get breath back into her body.
Mark Sanction: A big, big win for our champion as once again she displays her creativity and her never-say-die attitude.
Matt Steel: Razer and Jericho Shaw both have to be watching this closely though, and making notes...
Rose: No doubt. But for now, Laurel Anne Hardy pulls out another win over one of the most dangerous competitors in XWA history.
The champion finally comes to her knees, holding her titles to her torso with one arm while the other rises into the air, acknowledging the cheering fans as she recovers from her punishing war.