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Strength2.13

On the Wanted Man

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To hear World Wide Wrestling Foun­da­tion co-own­er Rocky Tan­dem tell it, Rene­gade  Jones is more leg­end than man. “We were work­ing down in Flori­da for the “Imma Make You Cry-ou in the Bay­ou” main event, when all of a sud­den this six-foot-eight mon­ster in a black leather trench coat and snake­skin fedo­ra peels off one of the venue doors and walks down the ramp dur­ing our tag team cham­pi­onship match.”

“Nor­mal­ly, mak­ing a big entrance is part of the job,” says Scott ‘Fly­Boy’ Biac­celi, who was in the ring that night in Flori­da. “You hear the com­mo­tion, see the fog come out of the vents and the crowd goes wild. I didn’t think any­thing of it until I looked up and real­ized it was nobody I’d ever seen before, and he was com­ing right at me.” Doc­u­ment­ed footage tells the rest of the sto­ry. Rene­gade slipped in under the bot­tom rope like a sea­soned pro­fes­sion­al and imme­di­ate­ly locked in with Rod­nay ‘2Sweet’ Hutchins, a long­time tag team wrestler and part­ner of Fly­Boy.

“He was a mas­ter that night,” smirks Fly­Boy. “He knew all the moves. Except… he actu­al­ly did them. It wasn’t an act.” In less than three sec­onds, Rene­gade dis­patch­es 2Sweet with an upper­cut, fol­lowed by a mas­sive leg drop, before mov­ing on to Fly­Boy and the two oth­er wide-eyed goons in the tag team match. Fif­teen sec­onds lat­er, all four wrestlers are inca­pac­i­tat­ed, and Rene­gade is forc­ing third year ref­er­ee Mike Davies to slap the mat. After less than a full minute, Rene­gade march­es out of the are­na, tag team belt in hand.

“And just like that he was gone,” own­er Tan­dem recalls. “The crowd went absolute­ly bonkers, and every­one was scram­bling to fig­ure out what the hell just hap­pened so that we could make it a part of the nar­ra­tive, but hon­est­ly I wasn’t sure that I’d ever see Rene­gade or that belt again.”

Two weeks lat­er, at Tulsa’s “Pain in the Plains” mar­quee night, it was revealed that noto­ri­ous vil­lain Duke Haz­ard had tied up Christy Ratch­et and sus­pend­ed her from the ceil­ing over the ring. An unend­ing stream of boos came from the audi­ence, but there was no one to help the mus­cly damsel.

Sud­den­ly, the arena’s lights went out. While the tech crew scram­bled to pow­er up the BOK Cen­ter, a sud­den surge brought a flick­er­ing pro­mo video to the Jum­botron. Pro­fes­sion­al­ly cut, the video fea­tured Rene­gade Jones drag­ging tree trunks togeth­er to build a wrestling ring. When his name slapped onto the screen in drip­ping blood, the fren­zied fans near­ly tore the Tul­sa roof. The pre­vi­ous­ly mys­te­ri­ous man had a name as dan­ger­ous as his actions. “We were scratch­ing our heads fig­ur­ing out how this video got made or who gave him that name. But it’s him. It’s all him.”

When the lights returned, Rene­gade had made his way to cen­ter ring with a met­al lad­der. The fans went wild as Rene­gade mer­ci­less­ly beat Haz­ard with the lad­der, then scaled it to retrieve Ratch­et. He whis­pered some­thing in her ear, and after the match she claimed to now be mar­ried to Rene­gade, although she hasn’t seen him since.

“I just wish we had some way of get­ting in con­tact with him,” says Tan­dem. “Our rat­ings are through the roof and we’d like to nego­ti­ate a con­tract, but he doesn’t have any known address that we’re aware of. I’ve heard he doesn’t even have fin­ger­prints. The only cor­re­spon­dence we’ve received have been a series of VHS tapes that show Rene­gade stand­ing inside a ring of fire, or in a back alley some­where, shout­ing promis­es about match­es that are bet­ter than any­thing our writ­ers have thought up yet.”

The con­fu­sion and fren­zy came to a head last week at Bopp­bopp Are­na for the annu­al “Feb­ru­ary to Dis­mem­ber” event. Fans, wrestlers and pro­mot­ers were on edge, hope­ful that Rene­gade would show. But as the night crawled on with­out a sign of the mys­tery wrestler, the fans and per­form­ers loos­ened into their usu­al show rou­tine. There were chairs and tables, cat­calls and bad refs, but no Rene­gade.

As fans got up to leave after Hand­some Mark Prime’s inter­con­ti­nen­tal cham­pi­onship win, there was an audi­ble whis­per about what might have kept Rene­gade away. Those whis­pers quick­ly turned to con­cerned calls as are­na staff real­ized that every exit had been pad­locked shut. In the haunt­ing moments that fol­lowed, the hol­low open­ing refrain of Styx’s 1979 hit “Rene­gade” began echo­ing through the cor­ri­dors. There, cen­ter ring, stood Rene­gade Jones. Stripped to the waist and already sweat­ing, Rene­gade demand­ed that every sin­gle pro wrestler in the are­na take him on before the pad­locks would be removed.

For the first hour, there were no tak­ers, but the audi­ence didn’t mind. Rene­gade filled the time by scowl­ing, flex­ing his mus­cles, and crack­ing two beers over his head and throw­ing them to lov­ing fans.

Even­tu­al­ly, still smart­ing from his pre­vi­ous loss, Rod­nay ‘2Sweet’ Hutchins took the chal­lenge. He had bare­ly climbed into the ring before Rene­gade dis­patched him with his sig­na­ture Lone­ly Walk move, where the pros­trate oppo­nent is bicy­cle-kicked into sub­mis­sion. Anoth­er wrestler stepped for­ward, then more and more, arriv­ing in waves that might hope to over­whelmed the unknown wrestler. Noth­ing worked. Soon, all that was left was WWWF co-own­er Rocky Tan­dem.

Then Rene­gade turned to Tan­dem, who had tak­en shel­ter in the rafters of the Bopp­bopp Are­na. When he noticed Rene­gade climb­ing after him, Tan­dem made his way for the sky­light of the are­na — his only escape. Accord­ing to wit­ness­es, Tan­dem, with the ear­ly lead, reached the sky­light first and lunged for the open­ing. Rene­gade, bare­ly a step behind, took the same leap but came up short, his blood­ied hands catch­ing noth­ing but air as he fell. Tan­dem slid through the sky­light to the open night air as Rene­gade plunged more than sev­en­ty feet to an open cor­ner of the mat below. It crushed and buck­led under the impact, pulling much of the mat down into the crater Rene­gade left.

Hours lat­er, after police had man­aged to cut the doors, res­cuers began peel­ing back the rub­ble sur­round­ing Renegade’s fall and pre­pared to take him into cus­tody. Except, he wasn’t there. The crews spent all night pac­ing through Bopp­bopp Are­na, from the suites to the base­ment, but Rene­gade nev­er sur­faced. All that’s been found of the shad­owy fig­ure is a VHS tape, queued up in the booth. The tape shows the fear­some wrestler walk­ing alone on a des­o­late road, with a sign in the dis­tance that reads Detroit: 345 miles. As the refrain from “Rene­gade” plays under­neath, the man him­self paus­es in the dust. A screech­ing elec­tric gui­tar rips in, right on cue, and Rene­gade turns to the cam­era, doffs his snake­skin fedo­ra, and con­tin­ues on towards the hori­zon. Christy Ratch­et, not preg­nant before her brief encounter with the leg­end, named her son Rene­gade Jr. nine months lat­er. ♦