He was monstrous.
Six foot four. Pyramid neck, pectorals the size of dinner plates, biceps that inflated like party balloons. His thighs were nightmarish.
But he was only 22 years old and missed his father.
The other wrestlers still called him The Kid — and The Kid was good, everyone agreed on that.
He began in Texas as Frat Boy: slicked-back hair, striped tie over his bare chest, the persona of a mean yuppie drunk.
In Florida he shaved one side of his head and called himself Hellborne. He substituted pain for finesse, threw chairs at TV cameras, and stressed the social and mental inferiority of the fans.
But he still missed his father, and after accusing his manager of stealing his girlfriend, The Kid flew to a Baltimore monster factory for training professional wrestlers.
The stairway was so narrow that his shoulders brushed both walls. Two men were lifting dumbbells in front of mirrors.
A bearded man, built like a teardrop, sat at a corner desk.
“You came,” the man said in a hoarse voice. “How is everyone?”
“About the same.”
The Kid dropped his gym bag. “I want the champ, Al. I want El Cid.”
The weightlifters looked up from their swollen arms.
Al stared at him. “El Cid isn’t about gimmicks.”
“I know who he is,” The Kid said.
Al muttered, “El Cid.”
El Cid, four-time world champion, the shining knight of wrestling. El Cid, who had won and lost his world titles, and won them again, in a series of epic matches against the Romulan Avenger, Black Death, and Redneck, the Backwoods Behemoth.
But El Cid’s edge was declining now, and he had acquired a patina of decadence: fur coats and snakeskin boots, women in tightly laced bodices. The marketing of action figures.
Maybe the time was right, Al said. But he refused to teach The Kid any new moves.
“Work on your transitions,” he said. “Build your speed off the ropes.”
“What about a new identity?” The Kid asked.
Al grabbed The Kid by the ears. “You don’t get it. You wrestle as yourself. You wrestle as The Kid.”
The Kid opened against a mountainous Samoan called Sumo Express. Size but no speed. The Kid drop-kicked him into submission.
After the match, The Kid said his victory was a first step to getting even with his dad for deserting him and his mother, who had died of breast cancer and loneliness.
“Get even?” the interviewer asked. “Who’s your father?”
“El Cid,” The Kid said.
“I’m the champ,” El Cid sneered following a tag-team victory against Hound Dog and Country Boy, wrestling as the Elvis Revival. “People pull stunts like this all the time.”
Al spoke after The Kid triumphed over the Ninja Assassin, who entered the arena in a yellow Hummer, and left draped over its hood.
“El Cid, we want you!” Al bellowed. “For all the years The Kid didn’t have a dad to take him to a ball game or teach him to ride a bicycle! While you were riding in stretch limos and drinking champagne with fast women. It’s payback time!”
“Lies!” El Cid proclaimed. “Let’s see a birth certificate. Let’s check blood types.”
The Kid said nothing more. He seemed lonely and powerful, and the women went wild. Lingerie flew into the ring whenever he appeared.
The fans didn’t care one way or the other; they wanted a match. Their managers settled on Father’s Day in Atlanta.
Al drove The Kid to the airport. “This is all yours now.”
The Kid entered wearing a hooded robe that he untied and dropped as if he were taking a shower. Women cried and tossed lace bras over the ropes.
El Cid appeared on a white horse, wearing chain mail and a helmet that glittered in the spotlights.
“One hour. No disqualifications,” the referee shouted. “Get it on!”
The bell rang and the screaming crowd sucked the oxygen right out of the arena.
El Cid laughed and turned away like a matador taunting a bull. The Kid rushed him, but El Cid easily stepped aside. The Kid crashed into the turnbuckle and staggered into El Cid’s arms, who used his momentum to knock him down and twist his arm so that he held The Kid as helplessly as a roped steer.
“Who’s your daddy now?” El Cid cried.
Then El Cid went for it all. Headlock and into the turnbuckle, The Kid hurt and staggering into the center of the ring as El Cid clothes-lined him across the throat before applying a figure-four leg lock, his trademark submission move. The Kid pounded the mat with his fists in pain — remembering the earlier pain and loss — until, in one supreme moment, he broke free.
The Kid staggered to his feet, falling into the ropes to gain speed as he hurled from side to side, El Cid swinging wildly but missing. The crowd was on its feet, sensing that — yes! — the avenging son had returned at last to claim his birthright.
The Kid caught El Cid by his shoulder and leg and lifted him high overhead into the arena lights. In the inevitable move, The Kid slammed El Cid down, hooking his leg and driving his shoulders into the mat.
“One! … Two! …” But no! The Kid, impossibly, pulled El Cid to his feet and rushed to the corner, returning with the championship belt, draping it over El Cid’s shoulder, and embracing — yes! — embracing him! The Kid’s face covered in tears and blood — turning and leaving El Cid alone and dazed in the deafening white light at the center of the ring.
Late that night, The Kid answered the telephone in his hotel room.
“Congratulations,” said the hoarse, familiar voice. The voice of the man who, so many years ago, had held The Kid aloft in his arms, whose face he had once gazed upon with such delight and fear.
“Well done,” his father said. “Proud of you.”
Howard Cincotta is a State Department writer and editor who has recently finished a novel, “The Circumnavigation of the Beltway”, and a play, “Slabtown”. This story is dedicated to his older son, Kevin, and his long-time hero, Ric “Nature Boy” Flair.
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