At first glance he did not stand out, of solid build and a half head taller than average height – but in amongst this land of giants he looked barely average size – this man stood, no one paying any attention to him; there were many who drew much more fanfare and adulation. The way they moved, their shear gargantuan size or just their penchant for showmanship brought the gaze of many an adoring fan.
But there he stood, the look of grim determination on his face, which had carried him through his life up until that moment. His eyes. That is where he differed from the masses…eyes that told a story, eyes that may make lesser men shake…even run. But this was a time where escape was far from any of the contestants’ thoughts. Winners. They all had the same confidence, some displaying it more openly and some only if your looked hard would you see that these men were made of a different kind of mettle than common folk. ‘A man is judged by his actions and words are but wind’, his mother had always reminded him. He had stuck to that mantra all of his life and it had served him well. He wasn’t going to change now.
He knew he had what it took to be there – maybe even to win – but once again he was a forgotten man…. but not gone. He was still here, still ready to fight. Fighting had become part of his DNA; part of what made him who he was. He carried the scars from fighting all of his life.
He looked through his mind’s eye into what had brought him there. When he was younger, it seemed like another life, a simpler time. A small town, a place where the fight began, a dot in the middle of nowhere. His comrades were like Kittens back then – those were some bigger cats he would face next. That is when he would become a Bulldog and leave the Kittens behind. The bigger they were the more ferocious he became….a real Bulldog. His odds were never good, never on his side – every opponent seemed to outnumber him five to one. Steeling his will and gritting his teeth he marched for three years. Then he was ready. Ready to fight with the best of the best. Hear his name called – move from the shadows into the most demanding and rewarding battle of his life. The League. Where they all come to face one another, all of the champions from all over the globe.
He had hoped that it would be different this time – that they would be able to see him for who he was before the battles began – give him a chance. But that was not the way, never the way things went for him. Fight. Keep fighting. Fight for his chance, once again. A man is judged by his actions.
He heard them called into the arena, names called and celebrated….
The Fake Pumper
From all the corners of the wide world they had been called. And more…many more all called to the front. Called and dreams fulfilled. All he had done was dominate. Dominate all that had come before him. Right in front of their eyes. But still, once again, forgotten. The day was late, the sun setting, the adorers shuffling out of the building when he finally heard his name. The great leader of the Association had retired back to his chambers, the job left to his right-hand man by then, but that was all he needed. A chance. A chance to fight. Scrap claw his way into their consciousness. A song, his new banner. Music to his ears.
They would all learn. He would have the draw on all the grit and determination that he had called upon at every level. Actions not talk. That was his way. He began his time in the ‘Great League’ in the reserve, only seeing action on occasion. But always making an impact, always fighting and scrapping his way to the top. After year one his name was mentioned with only the best, his actions had put him the top 5. He had jumped The Stache, The Swiss, the Spaniard and many more. But the names were still there, more names to cross off his list.
The years past and he just kept fighting – his skills getting more and more advanced, the ability to shoot them from long range being one of the most impressive feats. He took his Song and becoming a predator – a Hawk. He kept taking names, not only the names of competitors chosen before him but bigger names. Made men, stars amongst the best. But was his name ever given the same esteem……never. No matter how many times he outperformed, even destroyed, a more notable opponent – how high his star rose – it was always a by-line in the popularity contest. But as his mother had always said “Boys seek attention, men demand respect.” Respect. Disrespect. That was the next plate he was served.
Disrespect. When they gathered all of the greatest warriors from the United Land – the thirty best – from whom ‘The Twelve’ would be picked. ‘The Twelve’ would represent the UL in grandest tournament, where all the lands of the circle of the earth would gather to compete. To them twelve souls the ultimate respect would be paid. But all he saw was disrespect. To be among ‘The Twelve’, for him may have been up for debate…but to not receive an invite – not be considered in the thirty to trial for a spot; that sent him to the edge. The edge where had been so many times before. Forgotten but not gone. He could set fire to the world, calling out all of the decision makers. Or he could set that familiar fire alight, the fire within him. The fire he felt every time he was overlooked. The fire that drove him from a Kitten to a Bulldog to the Jazz then a Hawk. The slow burn. A burn of focus and dedication. Respect. Earned not given.
Paul Millsap. A basketball player. A warrior. A man that seeks no attention. To quote the great modern day philosopher Ali G ‘Respect.’