If you asked the Progress roster, the old guard, who the most genuinely frightening one of their number had been, they’d all tell you – after some had tried to proclaim it was themselves – that it was Paul Robinson. That it wasn’t the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog, and this one was a skilled fighter, this one wore battle scars like other wrestlers wore title belts – and he had his fair share of those, as well. This dog had walked away from enough fights as the victor to forget what losing even felt like, and that made him dangerous to face.
But Robinson, for all his blaze of glory – burned out. He sent Havoc running with his tail between his legs to lick his wounds for a year, he told Ospreay where he could shove his ego, but eventually, the truth came out, and his last Progress match wasn’t against either his old friend or old rival, but against a newcomer, someone up-and-coming, a rainbow of possibilities in every pocket, and who barely knew that he was taking down someone who was as feared as he was respected, and who wouldn’t – couldn’t – be back. Sexsmith got to walk away from that match as the man who retired Paul Robinson, but everyone knew the truth. Robinson’s body had retired him – not anything Jack had done.
Seeing Robinson around became like seeing an old dragon, flame long gone out. Oh, he could still swipe lazily with a claw, or bellow at you, but you knew there wasn’t any fire behind it. He was stuck in his cave, no longer a threat, and you soon stopped thinking about him as anything dangerous. With Robinson’s medical issues, Ospreay and Havoc had buried him long ago, together, piling the stones onto the cairn and knowing that one day, someone would do the same for them, because it’s the industry that cares for its own. No one else is going to. So you bury one another, you carry one another, you take it easy on old injuries out of respect for a friendship you once had, or maybe never had; just for the camaraderie of the business – and when someone has to walk away, you forget them.
But seeing him coming in and interfering – it had been a shock, at first, for him to get in Will’s way, then Jimmy’s, to see him in the ring and unafraid, so it seemed, of being hurt in the process. It was like seeing something come back from the grave, a walking zombie – but once you’re over the moment of fear, the moment of terror at seeing someone you once knew like that, there’s nothing really to worry you. Jimmy’s the first to admit his cardio’s shit, but even he can get away from a walking zombie, all lurch and stagger, without too much trouble. Nothing to worry about.
Even putting him in a ref shirt was sort of a joke, making something of a mascot out of him, the guy who’d put in his time and deserved a little something, but who wasn’t really one of the boys anymore. He could be there as someone who’d got in the way of both of them, even if they both knew he was closer to Ospreay than Havoc, that he was more likely to give the victory to Ospreay… but Jimmy had never been one to run from bad odds, even when they were so blatantly obvious. So his interference, while strange, while seemingly almost balanced in its imbalance, wasn’t unexpected. But while Jimmy pretends, you can’t ignore all the odds forever.
In the ring that afternoon, both Ospreay and Havoc were reminded that while the dragon might be mostly sedentary, what people remember about dragons is that they can breathe fire. The walker opened his eyes and behind them was that spark of life again, and running zombies are far harder to get away from, especially when they’re smart enough to plan traps. But more than any of this, more than any metaphor for something frightening, they both realised that the most frightening thing was that, in the ring with them, was Paul Robinson.
Ospreay gets off easy, getting to scamper away to Japan, to pretend he never forgot about his friend, to pretend he hadn’t mourned it as a death and then got on with his life. He gets to leave, he doesn’t have to answer for anything to Robinson, because as much as there’s conflict between the two of them, as much as Robinson surely wants to remind Ospreay why he was to be feared – that can wait. For now, the more immediate problem is Havoc, the one claiming Robinson’s place as most feared wrestler, as the monster of Progress, when all he’s been for months is a whiny little shit who can’t win a match even as part of a faction, who lets Trivet talk his way into his head, who forgot to remember that in order to be something people are afraid of, you have to fear nothing.
Jimmy’s too afraid for Robinson to take him seriously, and while his comments about leaving Robinson’s blood on the canvas at Wembley aren’t empty threats, it’s not like he thinks he’ll be getting off scot free either. Havoc isn’t afraid of bleeding, and Robinson knows that, but he’s paid attention to the last few months, he’s heard the muttered comments about how the King of the Goths has lost his taste for wrestling, lost that little spark of fight that always made him so unpredictable. If Jimmy Havoc exists only to face Will Ospreay, then that means Robinson gets, instead, the James that Ospreay so openly despised and ridiculed at Super Strong Style 16 this May, at Alexandra Palace.
So the two circle each other, as we head into Wembley Arena on Sunday, ready for Chapter 76, and if we were talking about a dog fight, it would be Havoc who’d be in the corner, snarling at everything, but not venturing out to make the attacks that he needs to. Robinson, on the other hand, has never been in such good shape, he’s bulked up, he’s got nothing to fear anymore, and he’s determined to take the respect he feels he’s owed. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog – and this fight is taking place on the biggest Progress stage yet. Whatever the outcome, no one will be walking away thinking that Robinson isn’t a threat – least of all Jimmy Havoc.