The lights are low inside the CSWA Hall of Champions. The broad hall is usually filled with bright light streaming in through the large windows, along with the spotlights above the various displays. It’s the eve of PRIMETIME 500, and Hornet stands in the long hallway that connects CS Towers, the brick-and-mortar headquarters of CS Enterprises, to the CSWA Auditorium, at least now that Merritt’s name has been removed from the marquee.
As he walks through the hall, some of the spotlights are still on. The bronze statue of the CS Express stands in front of the CSWA’s original ring, first rented, then purchased, by Thomas and Merritt from a grizzled old promoter who had worked a nearby territory, but was put out of the business after his license was revoked by the state commission.
Joey Melton’s smirk, still the same although sixteen years younger, shines under a spotlight that highlights the first CSWA World Champion – a man who thought the CSWA was simply an overnight stop on the way to a series of WCW tapings that he never made it to.
He passes the sections on Mark Windham, Mike Randalls and Eli Flair (and Ivy, of course), each showing memorabilia and pictures from years past. The video monitors, which usually repeat clips of victories’ past, are blank and black.
It’s always odd, seeing pictures of yourself from years gone by. As Hornet steps up to his own likeness, ten years younger, he compares the haircut, the physique, the smile. It’s the smile of a younger man, a relative innocent who could never imagine where the next decade would take him.
A myriad of gold belts winks back in the low light, from a display that talks about the CSWA World Championship and the Unified World Title. But this isn’t a walk down memory lane. It’s not about living in a distant past.
It’s a final opportunity to reflect. Because tomorrow, he straps on the emotional armor one more time. On one side, an immense, impressive wrestler he knows what it is to hold the big gold belt. On the other, a man he once called a friend, and cared for so much that he tried to rush into a burning arena to save him.
Dan Ryan – a natural opponent. Timmy Windham – a natural freak. “The Ego Buster,” a man who knows loss, who knows pride. “The Muppet Kid,” a man who faked an entire life, simply to get revenge on men who had never done him wrong, had never wanted to do anything but help him.
Hornet stops in front of the doors that connect the Hall into the foyer of the Auditorium. He’s walked those aisles a hundred times before…and many more like them hundreds more times.
But never with this seed of doubt. Even in his matches against Mark, or Mike, or Eli, he believed that he would win… he wanted to. It was part of a drive… part of who he was, who he had staked his own self-worth around.
He had always thought the talk about athletes losing their drive after they stepped out of drug rehab was just a load of bunk. That they could still maintain the drive to win, the desire to compete, even while dealing with their addictions on the side.
But it’s not the same. The drive is there… but different. The desire exists… but changed. It no longer defines who he is. And he’s comfortable with that… comfortable that his self-image doesn’t depend on gold belts or win-loss records. It’s made him more centered… made him.. well, better, even.
So Paul is a better man, or at least on the road with a chance to become one.
But what does that mean for Hornet?