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XWA Hardcore Championship!
Jake Rogers vs. A.J. Morales
Legends may be over, but the party never stops for the XWA Hardcore Championship!
A.J. Morales may have retained his title at the Biggest Night of the Year, but now he faces a challenge from Jake Rogers, one half of the XWA Tag Team Champions, who looks to take the title as a lovely little Christmas gift for himself!
Could Rogers start off the New Year as a DOUBLE-champion?
Deadline for matches is 23rd December 2017 at 11:59 Eastern Standard Time.
Voting will start at this time and conclude on 3rd January 2018 at 11:59 Eastern Standard Time.
[CST is one hour earlier. GMT is five hours later.]
Benny’s Pasta Bene wasn’t supposed to be a place where anything crazy happened, especially not this time of year. This was supposed to be a nice little casual dining Italian restaurant in the Peninsula suburbs of San Francisco, someplace where you’d put on a nice dress shirt and some slacks and bring your family for a nice, relaxing, moderately-priced dinner, and maybe tastefully share a bottle of wine amongst the adults in the party. In other words, not the place you’d expect a pro wrestler with a blond streak in his hair to show up.
But here A.J. Morales was, at a table for eight with an assemblage of uncles, aunts, and cousins of various ages, mostly from his mom’s side of the family. The rest of the family dressed more suitably for the occasion, at least, but A.J. had a couple things going for him permitting him to stick to his Venom-esque leather jacket, throwback Mexican World Cup jersey, black jeans, black beanie, and hi-top Vans. First, there was his XWA Hardcore Championship, laid out on the table next to his plate of marinara-covered linguini. Second, and probably more important here, A.J. was the one footing the bill.
...so then I realize my jacket's on fire, right? And I just start freaking out, I take it off, I’m swinging it at any surface trying to put it out—
A.J. stops to eat the latest strands of linguini he’s rolled up on his fork.
—and all the while, I forget Kryptops is still on the floor, but that’s where most of the swings land, and he ends up getting hella burnt. I kinda feel bad, y’know, ‘cause I wasn’t swingin’ at him, but—
But isn’t that the whole point of hardcore matches?
A.J. leans forward to look down the table at where the question came from. It’s his little cousin Alicia, maybe eleven years old, who doesn’t exactly look like the kind of girl who’d ask that kind of question.
The fire and the blood and guts and all that?
I mean...not exactly. There are other places where it works like that, but with the Hardcore title I’ve got, it’s more about using your environment, knowing where you are and what you can hit the other guy with…
A.J. puts his fork down and starts tapping the side of his head.
...it’s more of a mental test. It’s how creative you can get when you’re not wrestling in a place where you’re used to it.
??? ¡Oye, Andrew! ¿Dónde está Gregorio?
A.J. Morales (not skipping a beat):
Still at the bar getting wine…
A collective groan rises from the rest of the table.
C’mon, you know he’ll be back with it eventually!
Yeah, after he’s had a whole bottle to himself!
The entire family laughs at that crack, but A.J.’s laugh gets cut off when he feels a vibration in his jacket.
A.J. Morales: Un momento…
A.J. pulls his phone out and breathes a sigh of relief. It’s just a text from Emery. But then he sees the notification below that...a few taps and swipes later, and A.J. stands up, shoving the table ever so slightly as he does so.
Roy is another cousin of A.J.’s, the one member of the family from A.J.’s dad’s side who came along. With his slicked-back hair, thick horn-rimmed glasses, and preppy fashion sense, he matches the restaurant’s typical clientele better than anyone else at the table, though that’s certainly not going to help him in this situation…
What? What’d I do?
Did you seriously tag me in your Instagram photo?
From 30 minutes ago? Of us here?
A.J. Morales: With the location on?
I still don’t see what the problem is—
A.J. lifts up the Hardcore title.
Did you forget why I had to bring this here, or are you just being a dipshit on purpo—
The doors of the restaurant open, and in walks a man in a red, white, and blue tracksuit. He’s got a fresh haircut, a confident stride, and an XWA referee and camera crew trailing behind him. Even with A.J. in the back of the restaurant, the newcomer spots him and his title almost instantly, and A.J. knows it as he turns back to Roy, putting the title belt down so he can point aggressively at his cousin.
When this is over, you are dead, you understand me?
Come on, man—
A.J. Morales: Dead!
Yeah, Roy, you puto!
Alicia, watch your fuckin’ mouth!
Alicia’s father: Corazón, that’s not helping...
As the rest of the table gets sucked into a good old-fashioned Morales family argument, A.J. shuts his phone off and zips his jacket up to the top, looking at his new challenger and not turning his eyes away for a second. But the challenger stays friendly as he gets close, even extending a hand with a genuine smile when he gets close enough to A.J.
Hey, A.J.! Kinda funny seeing you here!
The two let go of their handshake, and A.J. reaches over to the Hardcore Championship on the table so he can hand it to the referee.
I gotta say, you’re probably the only guy who’d come up and do this to my face…
Hey, if I’m gonna be a dual champion, I might as well do it my way.
Damn right. But still, it’s gonna be a little weird actually wrestling somebody for this instead of brawling…
By this point, practically the entire restaurant is looking at the two soon-to-be-combatants, wondering what’s going on—except A.J.’s family, who seem to have settled on it being OK for Alicia to swear, given the circumstances, and united in yelling at Roy for giving A.J.’s location away. The patrons nearby abandon their tables, some taking their food with them, others leaving it behind. A.J., taking advantage of this, finds the jukebox behind Jake and yells in its general direction.
Hey, we got a Boston boy over here looking to challenge for my title! Give him a beat, will ya?
Sure enough, somebody sitting nearby quickly obliges, and both combatants nod in approval at the choice. Jake turns around and gives a thumbs-up before returning his focus to A.J.
So...I gotta say, this is a lot more civil than I thought it would be…
It’s a little too civil, huh?
A.J.’s eyes start to dart around as he realizes just how many cameras there are on his opponent and him at the moment.
Hang on, I got it.
A.J. suddenly turns to a nearby newly-vacated table and flips it, letting all the plates and silverware smash onto the floor before he turns back to Jake.
A.J. Morales: David Ortiz took steroids!
All right, you asked for it…
Just as the main riff comes in and Steven Tyler screams “I’M BAAAAACK!”, the two men lock up in a classic collar-and-elbow tie-up.
Testing, testing—okay, we’re live.
Sorry we didn’t come in sooner, everyone. Technical difficulties.
I’m Chris Novak, he’s Joe Delonge, and don’t adjust your sets, folks, because you’re witnessing a LIVE defense of the XWA Hardcore Championship!
That’s right, 24/7 rules means there’s no off-season for the Revolution, as A.J. Morales defends his title for the first time since Legends against Jake Rogers.
Morales and Rogers start to jostle for position, but as Rogers starts to drive Morales backward, it’s clear who’s getting the upper hand…
Now, this is A.J.’s first singles defense of his current reign, since the last one was part of the Team XWA vs. Survivors elimination 6-man tag team match, and his first defense outside of an XWA arena since he originally won the title back in October off of Kryptops.
And what a spectacle that was! I have a feeling A.J.’s gonna come up with some interesting maneuvers to stay champion here tonight.
Don’t count Jake Rogers out, though. He made an impact in XWA even faster than A.J. when he and Amy Jo Smyth won the XWA Tag Team Championships off of Layton & Fenric at District XWA, and thanks in part to Diamond Jack Sabbath winning the Hardcore title off of A.J. for a hot few minutes, they’re the longest-reigning champions in XWA right now. Suffice to say it is not gonna be easy to put this guy away.
Finally, Jake brings himself lower, driving his head into A.J.’s stomach, and uses that as leverage to take A.J. down to the floor. With A.J.’s shoulders down, the referee sees reason to start the count...
A.J. gets his shoulders up, but Jake immediately turns his attention to A.J.’s legs, looking for another hold he can use.
Kickout at one, but if you’re Jake Rogers, this has to be an encouraging sign.
It’s like A.J. said before the fight started. You go into a Hardcore title defense under the 24/7 rule, you typically expect a brawl, not a wrestling match. Jake Rogers is giving A.J. something about as far from the hardcore norm as you could possibly expect.
With A.J. turned over onto his stomach, Jake wrenches the champion’s legs up, pulling A.J. into a Boston crab hold. A.J. starts to groan in pain, reaching out at the legs of chairs and tables nearby out of habit.
And now a Boston crab! Jake Rogers really is just going to the absolute fundamentals here.
A.J.’s gonna have to remember that there are no ropes he can break this with. If he wants out, he needs to fight his way out.
Sure enough, A.J. grits his teeth and starts throwing punches at Jake’s sides from any angle he can manage. After enough of those to loosen Jake’s grip, A.J. slips his legs free and swipes at Jake’s shin, sending the challenger falling awkwardly to the side. Challenger and champion scramble to their feet, but it’s the latter who’s faster. As A.J. leans on a chair for support, he throws a low shoot kick, catching Jake right on the side of the face.
And A.J. doing exactly that, as he starts to kick his way back to safety.
Jake keeps rising, still disoriented from the previous kick, which leaves him wide open when A.J. lets go of the chair and slings a high roundhouse at Jake’s head.
Looking for another oooooone—
The kick connects with a loud SMACK! on the same cheek the one before did, sending Jake stumbling and spinning a couple steps back.
Ooh, even I felt that!
A.J.’s definitely the better brawler of the two here. He’s more of a striker, not to mention he’s got years of experience getting into fights in random places from before lucha libre got his life back on track. He’s gonna need to use that if he wants to stay champion.
A.J., though, stays close to his prey, and once he has Jake by the arm, the Revolution swings the Olympian around and lets him loose towards an open aisle of space.
And now an Irish whip! This is definitely working out better than the one he tried on Kryptops back in Vegas.
No kidding. I wonder how long it took them to repair that slot machine...
With no control over his momentum, Rogers goes running straight ahead down a few rows of tables until he finally crashes into an unlucky waiter who happened to step into his path. Jake manages to stay standing, but the waiter gets laid out, and his empty tray clatters to the floor.
Oh...oh my God, I’m so sorry…
Forgetting the match for a second—which A.J. certainly doesn’t mind, as he takes the opportunity to grab a glass of ice water from an abandoned table—Jake helps the waiter back to his feet.
Want me to get the tray for you?
I’m good, thanks.
Jake nods and lets the waiter handle the tray. Turning back to his opponent, he sees A.J. still waiting, standing pretty much where he was before. With a simple “c’mere” hand gesture, A.J. signals what he wants, and Jake smiles to himself, ready to bring it.
I’m not sure hanging around is the smartest option when A.J. could easily walk away and lose Jake for a win by escape, but I don’t think walking away from someone he knows he can take is in A.J.’s nature.
The two men take off, charging directly at each other, neither one giving away their next move or telegraphing some kind of swerve to the side…
And now they’re on a collision course! I’d hate to be whoever’s on the wrong end of this...
Finally, Jake bounds forward in a graceful arc, reaching out with both arms. As he returns to the ground, he uses his hands to spring back up into the air in a dizzying twisting motion.
Wait, wait, what’s he doi—
A.J. tries to turn around and get out of the way, but he’s too close. Jake’s legs hook themselves over A.J.’s shoulders, ensnaring the champion, and Jake leans back, back, back until A.J.’s gone over his head. A quick, instinctive raise of both arms up to shield A.J.’s face proves to be the only thing that keeps him from hitting the checkered floor face-first.
Chris Novak/Joe Delonge:
Jake Rogers with some beautiful flips into an absolutely brutal poisonrana!
And that’s not on the canvas these men are used to! That floor is unforgiving marble! If A.J. hadn’t put his arms up in time, that could have cracked his skull!
A.J. lies nearly motionless, face-down on the floor. Jake, sensing opportunity, rolls A.J. over and hooks a leg as fast as he can…
A.J. finally kicks out and sits up, forcing the all-American athlete off him, but after Morales does so, he slumps back down until his elbows are the only thing propping him up. His eyes start to glaze over and clear up in cycles that last about two or three seconds apiece, and he starts shaking it to the side to try and clear things up.
A.J. Morales (gasping):
As effortless as Jake made that look, however, the Olympian doesn’t exactly spring to his feet after all the effort that took. But with A.J. so out of it, Jake has all the time in the world to get back to a vertical base and get behind the Revolution for his next move.
And look at how much that took out of the champion! I don’t think we’ve ever seen A.J. looking this beaten-down this quickly in any match!
Not to mention, what a testament to Jake Rogers’ athletic ability! Creating all that air for himself from straight off the ground, getting all that power behind the poisonrana…if he wins this and gets to keep slamming his challengers into hard surfaces like he did just now, he could be the most lethal Hardcore Champion of the 24/7 era without even trying to be a hardcore wrestler.
A.J. finally starts trying to get up, but the way he props himself up leaves him vulnerable for Jake to grab him from right underneath both shoulders and force the champion to his feet much faster than intended.
Speaking of lethal, let’s hope this next move doesn’t also involve A.J.’s head potentially hitting the floor...
As soon as A.J.’s high up enough for Jake’s liking, the Olympian lowers his arms, wrapping them around A.J.’s stomach, and drags him overhead until A.J. hits the marble once again—shoulders-first, thankfully, where the padding of A.J.’s jacket can protect him, but it’s still not the easiest impact in the world to take.
And now a German suplex by Rogers!
This got a lot harder to watch once that floor started coming into play, I gotta be honest. Just how cold, how unforgiving it is...I mean, yikes.
Rogers quickly rolls through so he can get back in front of Morales, quickly wrapping his arms around a dazed A.J.’s neck.
Jake Rogers going back to the fundamental grappling he started with here, as he’s got the champion in a headlock.
Again, not the place A.J. wants to be. Even the most basic move can be a match-ender at the right time from the right guy, and A.J. does not wanna put himself in a position where he can’t breathe after the nasty hits he’s just taken.
A.J., seeming to realize the desperation of the situation, forces himself to his knees as Jake tries to stay over him and stay in control.
Well, if nothing else, he’s not gonna take this headlock lying down...
It’s about then that A.J. notices how close he is to one of the empty tables for two, and to the tablecloth hanging off it. Not seeing many other options, A.J. grabs hold of the cloth with one hand, knowing Jake’s at such an angle that he won’t see it coming…
Wait, no, is he gonna—
With a jerk of the cloth, A.J. brings all the silverware down, and an unprepared, unprotected Jake doesn’t realize what’s happening until a plate of half-eaten lasagna comes down right on his head and breaks in two. Fortunately, sauce is the only red substance that mixes in with Jake’s hair as a result, but in his shock, he lets go of A.J., who stays low and doesn’t spread himself out too far just yet, waiting until the clashing and clattering of potentially-dangerous silverware stops.
Well, that’s one way to get out of a headlock.
I love it! This is the creative side of the hardcore division at work! Anything he gets his hands on can potentially help turn the tide.
As soon as A.J. senses it’s safe, he pounces on Jake, forcing the Olympian to the ground and pounding him with lefts and rights. Their friendship is long since out the window at this point; all A.J. knows in the moment is this guy nearly ended his career with that poisonrana, and he can’t let Jake get another shot like that.
And Morales is rallying back with an absolutely vicious assault!
After a few seconds, though, Jake figures out the pattern, and with a quick two-handed shove on A.J.’s chest, the challenger creates enough space for himself to get away.
Not forever, though, as Jake manages to get away.
Jake Rogers is a tough guy. Even if he’s not exactly the most adapted to the hardcore style, I think he has the resilience to make it if he really puts his mind to it.
Both men fumble their way away from each other until there’s a couple tables’ distance between them, at which point they each start using the chairs to climb to their feet.
And here’s another moment where the tides could potentially turn...
Jake starts to charge A.J. again, leaping up and getting an arm wrapped loosely around the champion’s neck, but it isn’t nearly tight enough to stop A.J. from ducking down and slipping out of the slingblade.
Ooh, nice dodge there.
On instinct, A.J. grabs the two glasses on the table he’s closest to, one of water and one of wine. As soon as Jake looks at him, A.J. dishes the wine glass at Jake, sending the contents right into the Olympian’s eyes.
Oh, come on! A drink to the eyes? Really, A.J.? After all you’ve said on Twitter?
C'mon, Chris, it’s wine, not snake venom.
Jake only needs a couple of seconds to wipe the wine away, but that’s time aplenty for A.J. to put his empty glass down, start walking backwards, and practically dump the water from the other glass into his mouth.
See? Jake got it out of his eyes in no time! And A.J. didn’t even try to capitalize on that window! This was about buying time, not taking shortcuts.
As the two combatants stare each other down, A.J. offhandedly tosses the glass to the side before he starts charging at Jake.
But now we’re basically right back where we started. Time to see who can really capitalize here...
Jake starts running again, and he goes back to the handspring-corkscrew combination of flips that got him the edge before.
Rogers going high agaaaaiiiiin—
This time, however, A.J. knows what’s coming, and instead of trying to run, he brings himself to a halt and—BAM!—throws a superkick the second Jake gets in range.
The kick catches Rogers square in the chest, and he starts to drop practically on command until he finally lands back-first on the floor.
And now it’s Rogers getting a taste of how that marble floor feels!
You have to wonder if he’ll change his style up now that he realizes what kind of surface he’s fighting on...
With Jake in shock, finally realizing how hard the marble is, A.J. takes his chance and scrambles in for the cover…
Jake kicks out, but A.J. doesn’t seem too deterred by it. In fact, the Revolution seems to pop up onto his knees on instinct, and as he gets to his feet and starts to back away, he starts looking back and forth between his opponent and his clenched right fist…
Morales smells blood here!
That, or he realizes how fast he needs to get the decisive blow in before Jake gets the opportunity to do it instead…
As soon as Jake reaches his feet, A.J. takes that fist and brings it to his lips, kissing it much quicker than he would in a normal match.
Calling for the Liberator!
The Revolution takes off, he winds the punch back, he leaps into the air ready to stri—NO! Jake ducks under A.J., snatches the champion out of the air, and before A.J. knows it, he’s stuck lying on his stomach on Jake’s shoulders, flailing his arms and legs helplessly.
Oh my God! Rogers just countered the Liberator in a way I’m not sure anyone else has even thought of before!
How did he even think to do that?
With a quick adjustment, Jake tucks his head under A.J.’s chest, grabs the wrist of one of those flailing arms, and lets himself fall backwards, slamming A.J. to the ground once again.
Not letting go there, however, Jake rolls through and lifts A.J. up again, adjusting his grip once again to go back to a more standard fireman’s carry. This time, A.J.’s too dazed to put up as much resistance as he did before, and Jake throws him forward, slamming A.J. to the ground with ease.
And a fireman’s carry slam!
Just to emphasize the point, Jake does one more roll-through, but this one isn’t to set up another slam. Instead, he calls on his gymnastics background, with a somewhat showy roll across A.J.’s stomach that ends with Jake landing right on his feet, facing the watching restaurant patrons. A good portion of them break out into applause; one of them even scribbles a 10 on a napkin and holds it up for Jake to see. The Morales family, on the other hand, looks on in stone-faced disapproval.
Back-to-back, right to the back, and A.J. has to be feeling the pain right there. But Jake doesn’t have the same luxuries that come with being champion. He can’t just do his stunts and walk off the set with the title. He needs to actually pin or submit A.J. before he can think about pleasing the crowd like this.
As the patrons finally start to break out of their shell of confusion and start to treat this like they’re actually the intended crowd, dueling chants of“Let’s go A.J!”and“Let’s go Jake!”break out. Even the restaurant staff, knowing they’re not exactly going to be serving customers for the next few minutes, join in. But Jake returns his focus back to the task at hand. Spotting one of the longer tables near the back—the very same one A.J. and his family were eating at, as it happens—he grabs A.J. by an arm and a leg and starts to backpedal towards it.
Well, he seems to be taking that under advisement, Joe.
The only question is, which of his Amendment techniques is he gonna go for? First or Second?
Jake lets go of A.J. once he feels like he’s got the right positioning. Thinking quickly, Rogers takes one of the chairs nearby, turns it sideways, and uses it as a stepping stone to get onto the table.
Looks like he’s going First Amendment here…
After a moment’s thought, Jake decides this isn’t enough of a height to make sure he hits it cleanly. Grabbing that same chair he used to get onto the table, Jake brings it up to his level before he starts sliding it around for the perfect position.
If he hits this, it is over. We’re gonna have the last guy anyone would ever think of when they think hardcore as the Hardcore Champion.
But all the while, Jake doesn’t notice the balding bearded man with two entire wine bottles in hand escaping the confines of the crowd. Jake doesn’t see the man approach, drunk and out-of-the-loop enough to be confused, but not so drunk as to be totally unaware. And as soon as the man realizes, and as soon as he sees Jake standing on the chair and preparing to strike…
Jake looks up, turning his focus from A.J. to the middle-aged stranger.
Get the fuck away from my nephew!
Jake looks up at A.J.’s approaching uncle, and the sound of a familiar voice seems to get A.J. to stir too.
A.J. Morales (mumbling to self): Tío...Dios mío, Gregorio, no…
Gregorio keeps approaching, winding back one arm in preparation to throw.
Hey, hey, take it easy, this is a title match—
Gregorio throws the bottle, which misses completely and hits the wall behind Jake, but doesn’t miss a step and winds up the other arm just as quickly.
OK, seriously, your nephew agreed to this, he knows who I am—
Gregorio Morales: ¡Cállate!
Off goes the other, this time going right through a window and breaking the glass. Jake stays rooted to the spot, so caught off-guard by this that he doesn’t know how to react, but he regrets it as soon as Gregorio yanks the chair to the side out from underneath him.
Wait, wait, oh my God—
SMAAAAAASH! Before Jake knows what’s happening, he takes a nasty shoulder-first sideways landing on the table, which breaks in half on impact, to the shock and horror of those in the crowd unfamiliar with what exactly they’re seeing.
Chris Novak/Joe Delonge:
Talk about a guardian angel! Jake Rogers just got his momentum yanked right out from underneath him!
Gregorio isn’t done with the chair just yet, though. As soon as he finds Jake again, the drunken uncle starts awkwardly swinging the chair down, attempting a beatdown as best as he can, until A.J. finally gets between them and starts pushing his uncle away.
A.J. Morales: Nonono, tío, ya lo tengo, ¡ya lo tengo! ¿Por qué estás tan borracho?
Gregorio starts to protest in near-incomprehensible Spanish, but a light shove is enough to make him fall down and drop the chair, which A.J. quickly takes before his tío can get any ideas.
Props to A.J., though, for sticking to his guns and not making his drunken family do the work for him.
I mean…I’d certainly take advantage of it in that situation, but I can understand how it might look bad if he let his uncle just wail away on Jake for five minutes before scoring the pinfall.
After getting a few steps away and setting the chair down, A.J. pulls Jake out of the wreckage, drops a quick elbow to the chest, and hooks both legs for the cover…
That’s it! A.J. Morales retains!
It was a hard-fought effort for sure, and Jake Rogers came within inches of walking out of here an XWA dual champion, but with some solid use of his surroundings and a little luck at the end, A.J. heads into the new year still champion.
A.J. lets go of Jake and sits up, waiting patiently until the referee retrieves the Hardcore Championship belt and hands it back to him. A.J. uses the belt as leverage to pull himself back to his feet, then looks down at Jake, who’s come back to his senses enough to attempt a too-little-too-late kickout.
Ahh, shit, dude...sorry about tío, he always does this when he’s drunk…
A.J. extends a hand to Jake, who takes it, and with their combined pull, the defeated challenger reaches his feet.
No, no...sorry about that poisonrana, man, I didn’t realize how much that was gonna hurt…
Dude, it’s a hardcore match, shit happens. You’re good.
Jake, still dizzy, leans on A.J. for support, and as A.J. slings his belt over his shoulder, he turns to the cameras and makes sure to get both himself and his opponent in the frame.
Hey, this dude’s legit, though...future Television Champion right here, at least, I’m tellin’ ya—
Hands up! This is the police!
Oh, you’re fuckin’ kidding…
A.J. turns around, and sure enough, three beat cops in uniform await the two wrestlers. Jake immediately steps to the side and puts his hands up, but A.J. is still too caught on his mix of confusion and annoyance to do the same.
Leading Beat Cop:
Drop the title!
Fuck you! I just defended this, I’m not gonna vacate it just ‘cause—
The cop, clearly the leader based on him being the one doing the talking, pulls out his gun.
Leading Beat Cop: Put it down, smartass!
A.J. immediately lets the belt slip to the floor and puts his hands up.
Jake turns to look at A.J., clearly concerned, as the other two cops approach with their handcuffs at the ready.
Does this always happen?
We’ll be out on bail in no time, don’t worry. Hell, we’ll probably have a do-over dinner tomorrow night if you wanna come along.
The two subordinate cops put A.J. and Jake’s hands behind their backs and start to lock in the handcuffs.
Yeah, I’m down.
No challenging for the belt this time, though, got me?
I figured that was implied…
Officer Handcuffing A.J.:
Anything we need to know before we haul you off?
Yeah, I’m gonna need you to put that title belt back on around my waist. I can’t afford to lose it. Also, see that guy on the ground over there?
A.J. nods his head in Gregorio’s direction as his tío starts to come to on the ground.
Officer Handcuffing A.J.:
That preppy dude in the glasses over there—
A.J. nods at Roy.
—knocked him out and started all this.
What? No, I didn’t!
The cops’ leader, on hearing this, turns to Roy and the rest of A.J.’s family.
Leading Beat Cop:
Did he really do that?
Entire Morales family (all talking at once):
Oh yeah, he totally started this, it’s all his fault—
Leading Beat Cop:
All right, kid, you’re coming with me.
You can’t do this to me! This is bullshit!
Uhh, Joe, I’m not sure we should still be rolling the cameras.
Yeah, you’re probably right. We better cut the feed before they break the cameras again.
Well, for Joe Delonge, I’m Chris Novak. Thanks for tuning in, and remember to keep watching the Xperience, because you never know when the next Hardcore 24/7 defense is gonna happen. Until then, let’s get back to what you were watching before. Good night!
A Hardcore 24/7 title card fades in as the audio fades out, helping to ease things back as the network technicians prepare to resume the previous program...
JAKE ROGERS VS. AJ MORALES (C)
--HARDCORE TITLE MATCH--
Two men stand across from each other. One has a smirk on his face, a belt draped over his shoulder and the blondest streak in all of the Northern Hemisphere.
The other is focused, determined, his hands clenched into a fist. His muscles bulge as he flexes his arms and shoulders, the American flag on his singlet somehow looking positively radiant.
It is a scene reminiscent of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
Neo vs. Agent Smith.
Kenobi vs. Vader.
Achilles vs. Hector.
Maximus vs. Commodus.
Rogers vs. Morales!
Not that these two were arch nemeses. Far from it. In another time, another place, one might actually call them friends. But friendship is a luxury they can’t afford. Not here. Not under Hardcore Rules.
The Olympic Gym has its sky high walls decorated with American flags, but nothing is more prominent than the five Olympic rings embossed on the central wall in the back. Behind the flags and the decorations are nothing but brick walls, unforgiving and unrelenting.
The interior of the gym is much more varied. Nearly every apparel that can conceivably be used for gymnastics or training is readily available. Trampolines built into the floor, a spring track used for tumbling, a large open mat, even and uneven bars, thick ropes hanging from the ceiling used for climbing, a pommel horse, a balancing beam and a vault machine. There’s even an enormous hole in the ground, filled with mousse cubes to break one’s fall. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.
Jake Rogers finally breaks the silence, his voice cutting through the cold air. Small vapor clouds escape from his mouth. It’s ice cold in here for now. But that is soon about to change.
--JAKE ROGERS-- “AJ Morales. Welcome… to my House of Fun!”
Jake spreads his arms. The lights inside the gym start to flicker. The temperature starts to drop even further as the loud rumbling of thunder echoes throughout the chamber.
Earlier that Day…
Jake looks up at the lights of the gym. He holds his hand above his eyes to protect them from the glare. He seems content. This is going to work. He knows it.
A man approaches him from behind and claps him on the shoulder. Sam Jindrak, his former Olympic teammate, was instrumental in helping the gym get set up. Jake probably couldn’t have done it without him and he was going to need a bit more help from him before the day was over.
--SAM JINDRAK-- “I’ve got everything in place, bud. Should all go off without a hitch. I’m happy to help, but you wrestling dudes are legit crazy, man.”
Jake grins. He’d known Sam for many years. They’d been to Beijing, London and Rio together, having endured a lot of hardship but also known much success. There were fewer bonds that were stronger than those forged in the eternal Olympic fire. Both would take a bullet for the other, of that there was no doubt. But still, Sam had always expressed much doubt regarding Jake’s venture into the wacky world of wrestling.
--JAKE ROGERS-- “Well, I can’t really deny that. Anyway, let’s go over our plan one more time.”
--SAM JINDRAK-- “We already went over it ten times, what makes you think this’ll be any different? I know what to do, man!”
--JAKE ROGERS-- “Just humor me, okay? So first of all, once AJ is lured in here, we…”
--SAM JINDRAK-- “Turn down the heating well beforehand, don’t forget. After you address him I flicker the lights and play some thunder through the PA system. No offense, Jake, but doesn’t that seem a bit… corny? For lack of a better word?”
The XWA Tag Team Champion shrugs.
--JAKE ROGERS-- “Well, there’s no crowd, no usual wrestling atmosphere. Gotta do something to liven up the place, you know? Theatricality and deception have always played a huge part in this sport. You know I’m a sucker for tradition.”
--SAM JINDRAK-- “Right. Well, I’ll help you man, just don’t expect me to interfere in anything. I am NOT laying a hand on AJ Morales, he could probably knock my head off with one swing.”
--JAKE ROGERS-- “Even if I wanted you to, I’d never ask that. No, this is between AJ and me. My win would be meaningless if I relied on anything or anyone else but myself once the match is underway. So, to recap… Referee is here?”
--SAM JINDRAK-- “Yup. Arrived ten minutes ago. I think he’s changing into his stripes.”
--JAKE ROGERS-- “Novak and Delonge?”
--SAM JINDRAK-- “I’ve got them set up in the back with headsets and monitors. Camera crew just sent me a message, they’ll be here in a bit. Everything will go fine, Jake. You just worry about the fighting, okay? Sounds like that’s more than enough to take on. I wouldn’t get into a fight with Morales for a million bucks. I still think you’re crazy.”
--JAKE ROGERS-- “Then I guess it’s a good thing you’re not the one facing him.”
Jake smiles and punches Sam on the shoulder.
--JAKE ROGERS-- “Now we just gotta get AJ in here and lock the doors behind him.”
--SAM JINDRAK-- “Yeah, how are you going to manage that anyway? I can’t imagine he’ll just willingly step in here for a fight.”
--JAKE ROGERS-- “Oh, I have someone who’ll handle that. We can trust her.”
--SAM JINDRAK-- “Her?”
As if on cue, a maroon-haired beauty walks into the gym under the loud rumbling of the doors. The metallic clank echoes throughout the gym as it closed shut and in steps none other than the Sakura Pro USA Champion herself: Adeline La Roux. She enthusiastically greets the two guys.
--ADELINE LA ROUX-- “Salut les gars! Comment ça va?”
Jake smiles as he saw her while Sam raised his eyebrows. He knew all about his buddy’s patriotism and pro-USA mindset. To see him enlisting the help of a French-speaking Canadian was weird to say the least.
--JAKE ROGERS-- “Adeline! The final piece of the puzzle. I’m glad you came. Here, I mean.”
Adeline giggles and they exchange a quick hug.
--ADELINE LA ROUX-- “Not to worry! Happy to help. But you owe me, Rogers. Dinner at the very least. Somewhere fancy, oui? With a limo and a driver and lots of courses.”
--JAKE ROGERS-- “I’d be glad to. Now… you know what to do?”
--ADELINE LA ROUX-- “Of course. Leave it all to me, Cheri.”
Adeline looks up, her eyes scouring the ceiling.
--ADELINE LA ROUX-- “Where is your eagle? I was hoping to see it.”
--JAKE ROGERS-- “Well, it’s not exactly a prop you can take with you wherever you go. I left it in its nest. Hall and Miller played dirty which is why it intervened, but AJ is a friend. It’s just gonna be him against me, one on one.”
--ADELINE LA ROUX-- “Well, add that to the list of things you owe me, then. I wanna see it! Anyway, I gotta get going if I wanna catch AJ on time. Be ready!”
It’s not every day you bump into your best friend’s ex. Or at least that’s what AJ must’ve thought when the hot coffee was nearly giving him burn marks as it stained his coat. There he stood on the streets, blankly staring at the brown wet stain.
--ADELINE LA ROUX-- “Oh My God! AJ?? I’m soooo sorry for bumping in to you!”
--A.J. MORALES-- “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. I’ll get it cleaned up later. I must say, of all people, I didn’t expect to run into Adeline La Roux. What are you doing here?”
Adeline tries to get rid of the stain as she explains by wiping her hands over it, but it’s no use of course.
--ADELINE LA ROUX-- “Just teaching some wrestling classes a few blocks from here. We’re on a break but they expect me back in a bit.”
Suddenly, her eyes light up and she looks into AJ’s eyes.
--ADELINE LA ROUX-- “Hey, do you have a bit of time, maybe? My students would absolutely love to see you. The Hardcore and Ying Yang champion would be most welcome. And you can get that stain out of your coat in our bathrooms. You have your title on you, right? In that bag you’re carrying.”
AJ thinks about it for a second and then smiles. What’s the worst that could happen, right? Share a few tips, take a few selfies… Anything for the up and coming wrestler.
--A.J. MORALES-- “Absolutely. And yeah, I don’t see why not.”
--ADELINE LA ROUX-- “Great! It’s just this way…”
BACK TO THE PRESENT…
--A.J. MORALES-- “So dramatic! Nice trickery, Jake. But you know, you could’ve just asked, rather than having Austin’s ex trick me into coming here.”
--JAKE ROGERS-- “Now where would be the fun in that? Besides, you said it yourself on Twitter. ‘Avoid Olympic gyms at any cost.”
AJ grins. He takes the belt off of his shoulder and looks at it.
--A.J. MORALES-- “I guess so. But I don’t plan on parting with this title any time soon, amigo. I’ve worked too hard to keep it just to let it slide from my grasp now.”
--JAKE ROGERS-- “It’s nothing personal, buddy. You know that. But I regret to inform you that the only XWA championship title adorning the mantlepiece in your household will be your girlfriend’s. Mine however, will look mighty fine with that belt next to my tag team title.”
--A.J. MORALES-- “Bold words, Eagle Boy. Let’s see if you can back them up.”
AJ throws his title to the floor and sheds his coffee-stained coat in a move that is eerily reminiscent to a Jedi shedding his robes as he prepares for battle. As the broadcast starts, a bit of static and rumbling can be heard on the audio channel. The kind you hear when someone picks up a headset and puts it on.
--CHRIS NOVAK-- ”Come on, Joe, they’re about to get going!! Hurry up!”
--JOE DELONGE-- “I’m here, I’m here. Relax.”
--CHRIS NOVAK-- ”Soooo, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls watching at home, welcome to this presentation of Hardcore 24/7! I gotta tell you, Joe, I am giddy with excitement for this one. I mean, look at this place! The opportunities to wreak havoc and cause carnage are absolutely endless!”
--JOE DELONGE-- “You nailed it, Novak. Nothing beats this. Two guys going at it, skin on skin, no rules, no DQ’s, no quarter given, no prisoners taken. Hardcoooore!”
Both AJ and Jake explode out of their combat stances, rushing at each other with lightning quick speed. Jake tries to level him with his infamous meathook clothesline but AJ ducks, rolls through and uses his forward momentum to springboard off of a nearby balancing beam. Jake turns around and is immediately kneed square in the face. His head is knocked back and he staggers backward. AJ keeps going and starts unleashing a series of knife edge chops on Jake’s chest, brutalizing his pecs.
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “Daaaamn, those chops look and sound sicker than a wicker man’s whip, people!”
Jake clutches his chest and tries to retreat, but AJ stays on him. He grabs him by the neck and guides him towards the closest piece of gymnastic equipment he sees: the even bars. Two symmetric bars of wood on poles of unforgiving steel. Without a moment’s hesitation he throws Jake head-first into it, his head bumping off the pole like a bouncy ball. Jake falls to the floor, not even moving.
--JOE DELONGE-- “Ouch! Did you see that??? Ruthless aggression on display by Morales here. That was almost inhuman. Jake ain’t even moving, this might be lights out for him!”
AJ seems to be of the same mindset as Joe Delonge and goes for the first cover of the match. Luckily the referee has just about made his way from the back.
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “Kickout! I know it’s early, but that took quite a bit of endurance on the part of Rogers. Make no mistake about it ladies and gents, that was like getting hit square in the face with a baseball bat!”
AJ grabs a groggy Rogers from the floor. He tries to ram his face into one of the bars, but the former Olympian grabs hold of it, blocking the forward momentum that might very well have seen his forehead shatter the wooden bar. He throws an elbow at AJ’s face and uses the bar to pull himself up. In one swift movement, the gymnast is standing on top of the bars. He leaps, somersaulting through the air and lands on AJ’s shoulders. Shifting his momentum backwards, he sends AJ flying in the direction of the same pole he just got thrown into himself.
--JOE DELONGE-- “DRAGONRANAAAAAAAAAA!!!!! …Sorry, I always get excited when someone uses that move.”
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “No need to apologize. I get giddy myself when I see flesh and bone on steel.”
AJ’s forehead connects sharply and the Hardcore Champion goes down. He tries to scramble to his feet straight away but Rogers doesn’t let him. He grabs him by the wrist and Irish Whips him over to the balancing beam they used earlier. AJ’s lower back is driven into the unrelenting wood. He arches his back in an attempt to soften the blow, but it’s to no avail.
Jake follows and grabs AJ by the hair, hopping onto the beam as he does so. Pulling AJ’s hair upwards he forces his opponent to step onto the beam lest he lose part of his oh so precious #blondstreak. The two now stand on the narrow beam, balancing themselves and trying not to fall off.
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “Ahhh, this takes me back to a particularly brutal scaffold match I once saw. If this ends in even half as gory and bone-breaking a fashion, consider me a happy camper!”
--JOE DELONGE-- “They’re ‘only’ four feet into the air, man. I wouldn’t get your hopes up. Not sure why they’re doing this balancing act though. Simply hop off!”
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “Nuh-uh. In this environment you do NOT want to give your opponent the advantage of a higher ground! Has Revenge of the Sith taught you nothing??”
AJ swings at Jake, who backflips on the beam, landing square on his feet! The Champion seems slightly amazed at this display of balance, but it doesn’t take long. He takes another swing, which Jake blocks using his forearms. Jake immediately kicks AJ in the gut using the tip of his boot. The champion doubles over and Jake positions his head between his legs. He wraps his arms around AJ’s waist and lifts him up.
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “Powerbomb off the beam???”
But rather than take the short way down, Jake runs the length of the beam, his feet finding the lacquered wood with catlike grace and balance. When he comes at the end he plants both feet down and leaps. With AJ on his shoulders, he rotates forward in the air, generating extra momentum and completing a whole rotation before bombing AJ down onto the stone tiles below.
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “Whoaaaa! Was that a… a… 450 powerbomb!? How the hell did he do that???”
--JOE DELONGE-- “I don’t know, man, but I think it’s something I’ve never seen before! Morales is in a heap on the ground like a sad sack of potatoes and Rogers is going for the cover!”
KICKOUT! As the referee’s hand went down a third time, AJ got his shoulder up. The champion shakes his head as he gets up off the floor, looking worse for wear. Jake immediately grabs him by the arm, draping it over his own neck.
--JOE DELONGE-- “Olympic Slam incoming, Chris! After that unbelievable powerbomb, I doubt AJ will find it within himself to kick out! And Rogers knows it.”
Jake grabs AJ by the waist and hoists him up, but Morales wriggles free and instantaneously lets loose an overhead Golden Goal kick that hits the challenger right between the eyes. Jake collapses, but AJ can’t capitalize straight away, obviously still weakened from the hellacious bump he took moments earlier.
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “These guys have been putting each other through hell in a relatively short period of time, Joe. Can’t imagine this match’ll go on for much longer.”
AJ lets Jake get to his feet. The challenger instinctively charges at his opponent but AJ immediately reverses it into an armdrag. He holds on to Jake’s arm and quickly locks in a cross armbar before Rogers can react. Jake desperately tries to break the hold, but AJ has it locked in deep.
--JOE DELONGE-- “Nowhere to go for Jakey! No rope breaks here, buddy! No relying on the ref to get free. You’ll have to bust free, otherwise it’s tap or snap!”
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “Not that I don’t appreciate the precious sound of snapping bone, but I think Jake has his eyes set on something, Joe!”
The former Olympian claws to his right, shuffling forward inch by inch as he grits his teeth. He uses absolutely everything to gain as much traction as he can. His nails dig into the floor. His feet push themselves off on the tiles. He even digs his cheek into the ground, using his neck to gain extra momentum, every split inch of monumental importance as he grinds his way to what may be his only hope for salvation.
--JOE DELONGE-- “I think I know what you mean!”
Jake is directing himself to one of the ropes hanging from the ceiling. It goes from the rafters all the way down to the floor. With every agonizing inch he gathers, Jake seems to regain fighting spirit. He is within grasping distance of the rope and his fingers wrap themselves around the twines. That’s all he needs. Using his incredible arm strength and what little leverage he has, Jake pulls himself closer before eventually lifting himself upwards, managing to get back to a vertical basis with AJ still having the cross armbar locked in. Jake roars, both in pain and under the effects of a monumental adrenaline rush. He gets to his feet and uses his other arms to clasp his hands together. It takes all the pressure off his elbow joint and he manages to lift AJ up into what looks like another powerbomb position.
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “Looks like he got a rope break after all, huh? I dare say this is a re-enactment of the ‘The Great Escape’! Impressive effort by the challenger, but…”
AJ knows the hold is broken. He starts throwing right hands at Jake, making sure to hit him where it hurts: right on the nose! Jake lets go of him, knowing that his nose is likely to break if AJ keeps this up. But the champion is unrelenting. As his feet hit the floor he immediately grabs the rope and wraps it around Jake’s throat and neck, cutting off his air supply.
--JOE DELONGE-- “Great thinking by the champion! Choke him out using whatever is available to you.”
Jake’s face turns red as AJ attempts to put him to sleep in an effort to retain his title. But the challenger isn’t about to give up that easily. He grabs a free bit of rope again and starts pulling himself upwards again, his arms hoisting both himself and AJ into the air while he’s still being choked out.
--JOE DELONGE-- “Superhuman strength!!!!! Are you seeing this? I mean, not that surprised because look at the ARMS on him, but still…”
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “Impressive sure, but how useful is it? He’s still being choked out and all he’s doing is making himself look like a convict hanging from the hangman’s twine. People who end up there usually tell no merry tales and think no happy thoughts, take it from me!”
With both of them suspended in the air, Jake, whose face is turning blue, uses his core strength to raise his legs. He manages to wrap his legs around AJ’s neck, his knees digging into the side of his throat, cutting off AJ’s blood and oxygen supply in equal measure.
--JOE DELONGE-- “There is your answer. He needed to gain some upper ground! That cord is still wrapped around Jake’s neck but at least he’s now returning the favor!”
Jake uses whatever willpower he has inside of him to squeeze the life out of AJ before he passes out. Eventually the pair seem to fade away at the same time. AJ releases his grip on the rope, loosening it around Jake’s neck as he too falls to the ground, his legs unwrapping from around AJ’s throat. The pair fall to the ground like a scoop of mashed potatoes being splat onto a plate. Jake falls on top of AJ but there is no inadvertent cover.
--JOE DELONGE-- “Ouch! AJ lucky there he didn’t land square on his back or Rogers would have lucked into a pinning predicament. Can you imagine that? ”
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “After some of the things we have already seen here tonight, I can pretty much believe anything! Both of them are starting to stir though, looks like they weren’t completely unconscious after all. Although I bet it was really close!”
AJ is quicker to get up than Jake is, who has clear burn marks of the rope on his throat. AJ grabs the rope and uses its end to lash out at Jake. It hits him across the cheek, leaving another clear mark.
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “That’s what I like to see! AJ whipping the hell out of Bird Person!”
--JOE DELONGE-- “You mean Eagle Boy. Bird Person is… someone different.”
Jake retreats, with AJ in pursuit. Jake wobbles over to the vault machine, clutching his arm in pain. When he arrives at the vault he uses it to support him. It grants him momentary relief, but not for long. AJ is right on him, grabbing him by the neck before slamming his face into the the machine and following it up with a hard-hitting uppercut as soon as Jake’s head bounces back. Rogers staggers backwards and AJ senses a great opportunity. He hops on the vault, his back facing his opponent, and leaps, flipping in mid-air!
--JOE DELONGE-- “Moonsault by AJ off the vault machine! But oh…!”
With one good arm, Jake manages to plant his feet into the ground and grab AJ, not letting his adversary knock him down off the high impact move. With AJ on his shoulder he doesn’t waste much time and immediately lays him out with a powerslam. AJ is lucky though, the slightly padded floor is meant to protect gymnasts as they land from the vault but it does an equally adequate job to protect wrestlers from breaking their spine. Nevertheless, AJ is laid out and Jake can feel the electricity in the air. He knows he has a chance for a big time move.
--JOE DELONGE-- “Once again that unbelievable strength from Rogers that turns the tide. He’s a freak of nature, let me tell you!”
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “Strength is one thing, but I think he’s going back to his gymnast roots here, man!”
Jake slaps his arm, trying to restore the bloodflow. Seemingly satisfied, he jogs around the vault and along the length of the run-up track. Once he reaches the end he looks at the vault machine and the opponent lying just beyond. A smile creeps along his face. He explodes out of his stance, gaining blistering speed and momentum before planting his feet on the springboard in front of the vault. He plants his hands on the machine as he twists, flips twice and throws in a corkscrew or three for good measure. He lands back first onto AJ’s body, which does nothing but spasm after the high impact landing. His leg twitches, but there is no further reaction.
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “I’ve seen some stuff in my lifetime, but that’s not a wrestling move and I don’t know what to call that!!”
--JOE DELONGE-- “It’s a flipsnstuff. Let’s call it a flipsnstuff. And that elevation! Nearly ten feet into the air! It’s over! He’s going for the pin!”
AJ kicks out! Jake can’t believe it. His jaw drops and he stays still, seated in stunned silence.
--JOE DELONGE-- “Did… did he…?”
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “That’s what that title means to AJ Morales! Jake is going to have to damn near kill him to get it from him. It’s not just a prop or a bit of jewelry after all. It’s an XWA Championship, one of the most coveted and most difficult to attain prizes in all of sports entertainment! AJ went to war at Legends and came out on top. He put down DJS for good! He’s not going to start losing now, when he’s on the highest high he has ever been on. That man has unparalleled guts and determination!”
Jake tries to regain his wits and he looks at AJ with a mix of shock horror and admiration. But now is not the time for either of those things. He grabs him by the #blondstreak and forces him to his feet before hoisting him onto a fireman’s carry. He walks him over to the spring floor, where a gymnast usually does free exercises. Jake is determined to put AJ away and hits him with the hardest fireman’s carry slam probably ever seen.
--JOE DELONGE-- “A bit too hard if you ask me! AJ is back on his feet!!”
Indeed, the downward momentum onto the spring mat gave so much bounce AJ simply got bounced back into the air and onto his feet. Jake gnarls at this miscalculation and prepares for another meathook clothesline, having missed one earlier. But as he throws his arm at AJ, the champion uses a matrix escape to dodge it, before getting right back up. A surprised Jake Rogers turns around and is immediately met with al elbow smash right to the face.
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “Good thinking. If the floor is as bouncy as this, the best way to hurt your opponent is by using your own limbs rather than the environment. Sometimes, the best weapon available is your own body!”
Rogers stumbles backwards. AJ is feeling it. He readies his fist for the Liberator as Jake tries to escape. The former Olympian walks off the mat with one hand clenching his jaw. He walks over to the pommel horse and as soon as he turns around, AJ comes flying in, fist at the ready!
--JOE DELONGE-- “Liberatooooor!!!!”
But Jake ducks and AJ hits the horse instead. The thick block of wood underneath the thin leather cloth proves to be more than a match for even AJ’s best shot. AJ gasps in pain as Jake grabs one of the pommel horse’s handles and uses it to swing around the pommel horse, hitting AJ square in the chest with his knees.
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “Modified 619…. I guess? I’m seeing moves I’ve never seen before! Man, I LOVE hardcore!”
AJ staggers backwards as Jake hops on the pommel horse. He leaps off, looking for a poisonrana but as Jake tries to send AJ heels-over-head, the champion takes a step backwards and to the side, reversing it into an electric chair drop that sees Jake collide neck first with the piece of gymnastic equipment.
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “Great counter! And that looked downright deadly! That floor may have been rather bouncy, but that pommel horse doesn’t give so much as a fraction of an inch!”
Jake clutches his neck in agony, rolling around the floor as he seeks momentary relief from the pain. But to no avail. AJ grabs the pommel horse by both handles. Displaying great strength, he lifts the heavy machine overhead with great effort.
--JOE DELONGE-- “No! He can’t! Surely he won’t?? I mean, I know this is hardcore but they’re friends. If he does this, who knows what will happen to Jake? Even in this environment, with these stakes, is AJ really willing to end a friend’s career just to hold on to a title?”
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “Well, he should! This is what Hardcore is all about! No mercy! No quarter given! No remorse, no regrets, rep it to the death! They knew what they signed up for. It’s Jake who lured him here, he’ll have to live with the consequences of that, even if it’s from a wheelchair. And if AJ thinks he’s worthy of the title Hardcore Champion, he won’t even blink! He won’t hesitate for a fraction of a second as he slams that pommel horse down on Jake Rogers. Because that’s what it might take. Snuff you, jux you, rush you, mush you, bust you. Nothing is off-limits. Everything is permitted!”
There seems to be a flicker of sympathy in AJ’s eyes. Of empathy. He is, after all, a decent human being. But he is also the hardcore champion. Which means there is no hesitation. There can’t be. For hesitation is weakness. And weakness is defeat.
--A.J. MORALES-- “Sorry, buddy…”
He slams the machine down on Rogers at full force. The legs break off under the impact. The blunt thud is sickening. It isn’t pretty. It isn’t glorious. But it’s….[/color]
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “HARDCOOOORE!!”
--JOE DELONGE-- “He actually did it! I didn’t think he would, but this title means so much to AJ. I’m not casting any blame here, but Captain #Blondstreak had to dig really deep into his #meanstreak, that much is certain.”
AJ momentarily looks at the carnage he caused. He sees his friend lying underneath the rubble and grabs his ankle, dragging him from underneath. He goes down, hooking a leg so the referee can count the pin.
--JOE DELONGE-- “Whaaaaaa-….----tafffffff???”
Even as Joe screams into his headset in utter astonishment, it’s nothing compared to AJ’s reaction. ‘The Revolution’ crawls away from Jake on all fours, so surprised by Jake’s superhuman endurance his first primordial instinct is to attribute it to a higher power, reason or logic be damned.
--JOE DELONGE-- “No human could’ve kicked out of that! This can only mean one thing, Chris… DEMONS! DEMONS I TELL YOU! Where is Minka Carter!? Get me Minka Carter! Someone get Minka Carter on the phone!”
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “For God’s sake, sit your ass down and calm your tits, Joe. Nobody’s calling the Demonbuster.”
AJ shakes his head before a smile appears on his face. He regains his composure and gets back to his feet. Whilst having kicked out, Jake hasn’t moved since. His body is full of nasty black and blue bruises, courtesy of AJ’s handiwork.
The champion seems as impressed as he seems frustrated. He can be forgiven for having thought that would’ve put Jake down for good. AJ takes a look at the tumbling track and then at Jake. He grins and walks over to the end, removing all the cushions and pads, exposing the concrete floor down below.
He then walks over back to Jake, who since has stirred, but not by much. AJ helps him back to his feet and guides him towards the beginning of the tumbling track. He lifts Jake’s head up. His eyes are glazed, rolled half back into his head. AJ lightly slaps his cheek to alert him.
--A.J. MORALES-- “All right, buddy. Time to end this. We’re going for a ride, you and I. I stepped into your house of fun. Now it’s time for me to get out.”
AJ guides him onto the tumbling track and wraps his arms around Jake face to face. He lifts Jake overhead as you would in a belly-to-belly suplex but instead he backflips too, the trampoline-like structure giving him ample spring. AJ keeps his hands firmly locked, making sure he and Jake remain in the exact same position towards each other. They both land back on their feet having completed a perfect rotation, but the track sends them overhead again. And again. And again. With each completed rotation following the double belly-to-belly backflip they gather both momentum and speed, until they eventually reach the end. AJ leaps off towards the exposed concrete, moonsaulting twice in mid-air before he smashes Jake back-first onto the floor, landing right on top of him. The stone nearly cracks, such is the impact of the two competitors as they collide.
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “Did I just see that correctly? Those were like ten consecutive double belly-to-belly backflips resulting in a moonsault backbreaker. I… I can’t even believe I’m saying these words! Morales doesn’t often take to the skies, this just might be one of the most spectacular things he has ever done!”
--JOE DELONGE-- “That’s what this House of Fun was supposed to be all about, wasn’t it? An opportunity to do some crazy spots. And boy, these two delivered. Although I fear that’s all she wrote for Eagle Boy.”
AJ drapes his arm across Jake’s chest, the exertion having cost him a lot of his strength. The referee slides in….
AJ smacks the floor in frustration. He can’t believe it. Nobody should ever have been able to kick out of that!
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “If I had longer hair I’d tear it out in disbelief! I mean… what??? How can Jake Rogers not be down and out?”
--JOE DELONGE-- “Beats me! If they keep this up they just might fight forever. Remember what we said about Jake having to damn near kill AJ to take his title from him? I think the same can be said in the different direction. As long as Jake draws breath he’ll keep going. He wants this title. He wants to be a dual champion going into 2018. It’s his validation. His true breakthrough moment. Proof that he is one of the very best XWA has to offer.”
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “Win or lose, I think it’s safe to say both these guys belong in that category!”
AJ sits down on the floor, looking at Jake. He seems unsure of what to do next. After all, what can he do that he hasn’t already tried? He shakes his head and helps Jake back to his feet, but the Olympian is on spaghetti legs. AJ grabs him by the temples and looks into Jake’s glazed eyes.
--A.J. MORALES-- “This time, you’re gonna have to stay down, man. I’ll go as far as I have to, but don’t make me cross a line that you won’t be able to come back from. Please.”
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “A nice sentiment… also completely unnecessary! Just put him down, AJ!”
--JOE DELONGE-- “He’s gearing up for the Liberator once more it seems!”
AJ runs up to deliver the final, punishing blow meant to end it all. He leaps, his fist locked and loaded… But Jake instinctively turns around and catches AJ on his shoulder!
--JOE DELONGE-- “I don’t believe it! Where is he getting this from???”
Jake seems to act on pure instinct and power of will. With AJ on his one good shoulder he quickly stumbles to nearest trampoline built into the gym’s floor. AJ tries to wriggle free but Jake’s adrenaline rush seems to give him almost superhuman strength. The gymnast hops onto the trampoline, immediately gaining height and momentum. As he lands, he bends his knees and springboards as high as he can, going several feet into the air. He does this multiple times until they are almost thirty feet into the air. Jake lets AJ slide down his chest so his head is between his knees and jumps towards the edge of the trampoline, his back facing the outside. He leaps to the outside, gaining astonishing height. He flips and corkscrews through the air with AJ locked firmly in position. Racing towards the ground, Jake retracts his ankles so that AJ is driven skull-first into the floor.
--JOE DELONGE-- “Was that a… CORKSCREW MOONSAULT TOMBSTONE??? Do those words even fit in the same sentence? I… I… I don’t know what to say!!!”
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “Never before in my life have I seen a move like that! He just piledrove AJ’s head into the ground from almost thirty feet into the air, throwing in some flips for good measure. You know what this is? THIS! IS! HARDCOOOOORE!”
AJ is unconscious. Jake is ready to pass out too, his knees nearly shattered from the impact themselves. The pain is unbearable in both his arms and legs. AJ is the lucky one. He doesn’t even feel it anymore. Jake flings his arm over AJ’s chest in a last-gasp attempt at a cover before he passes out. He succeeds.
--CHRIS NOVAK-- “He did it! Jake Rogers did it! What a thrilling conclusion to an unbelievable bout. This will go down into the history books! Despite an incredible effort from AJ, who came oh so close multiple times, Jake Rogers gets the win and he closes out 2017 as dual champion. XWA Tag Team Champion. XWA Hardcore Champion. And it is well deserved. You’ve been watching Hardcore 24/7. We’ve been Chris Novak and Joe Delonge; and you’ve been awesome! Until the next time!”
--ADELINE LA ROUX-- “So yeah, we should probably call for an ambulance, non?”
--SAM JINDRAK-- “Already on its way.”
Adeline and Sam stand near the bodies of the two wrestlers, both unconscious. Jake still has his arm draped over AJ, neither of them budging. Luckily, their chests are still going up and down, indicating signs of life.
Adeline walks over to the XWA Hardcore Championship AJ discarded at the beginning of the bout and picks it up off the floor. She takes a long, hard look at it.
--ADELINE LA ROUX-- “What boys won’t do for their toys… Not that I can’t relate.”
She walks back over to Jake and AJ. Sam is scratching his head slightly panicked, unsure of what to do. Adeline gently places the title belt over Jake’s body. His prize.
--ADELINE LA ROUX-- “There you go, you flippin’ maniac. Now get better soon, you hear? You still owe me dinner!”
*character of Adeline La Roux used with handler’s permission
I have to give the nod to AJ here. Sorry Jake, despite an amazing challenge.
The location, setting and set up were so unique and original. Love the instagram tag being the giveaway. I loved how you wrote Jake as coming face to face with Morales and the dialogue before it went down. Great ending too.
Looking forward to working with both of you later in the new year.