Matt Colby was never the biggest or the strongest guy in his youth. In fact, he was the victim of cruel bullying back from some of his peers. His worst years started at age 9 when a kid named Justin Meyers started attending his school. Justin was his monster.
“What’s going on dick weed?” Justin would often say to Matt before slamming him into the lockers, often followed by a spit to the face. “Tell your mom she sucks in bed” He would say as he walked away, laughing.
The bullying got worse as the school year went on. When out in the school yard, Justin often hit Matt with basketballs and footballs in the back of the head when he was walking by. When Matt was having a snack, Justin take his food from him, chewing open mouthed in his face. When Justin was with other people, he would insult and humiliate Matt to get the other children to laugh.
“Just ignore him” Matt’s mother would say. “ He is new to the school and just trying to seek approval. He will stop bothering you if you don’t pay attention to him.”
“I have been doing that for years mom, and it has not changed anything!!!” Matt exclaimed to her, now 12 years old with high school in the horizon.
The climax of the abuse came 2 months away from Matt’s grade 8 graduation. He was with his friend Tim Collin’s by the railroad tracks on a sunny afternoon. They were there throwing rocks at the stationary rail carts, trying to see who could throw the hardest and make the largest clang. It was one final pit stop for Matt in his childhood years before the journey of adolescence began, but it would be a tainted memory in his head for the years to follow.
In the distance, Matt and Tim saw Justin approach with Zach Breyer and Kevin Saul. The trio were all bullies in Matt’s eyes, but he always knew Justin was the ringleader. Matt’s heart began to race. “We should go.” He said to Tim, anxiously.
“Just stay.” Tim responded. “If we run from them they will bother you more at school and think you are a pussy.”
Matt followed his friend’s advice, something he would later regret.
“What’s going on turd burglar?” Justin yelled to Matt as he approached with Zach and Kevin close behind him, both with devious smirks on their faces.
Matt did not say anything. He stood there nervously, grinding his teeth with anxiety. His eyes were fixed timidly on the ground three feet in front of him.
“I think we need to introduce you to nature, you little loser!” Justin said. Zach grabbed Matt in a full nelson and held him face first on the ground. Kevin shoved Tim, holding his fists out just waiting for the boy to make a move to defend his friend.
“Leave him alone”! Tim shouted. But it was to no avail. Justin put on a pair of biking gloves that were in his back jean pocket and started ripping the leaves off a small green plant that was growing near the train tracks. As Zach pulled up Matt’s shirt, Justin rubbed the green plant up and down Matt’s back.
“You are going to be as itchy as your mother by tomorrow” Justin said, laughing.
The next day Matt was brought to the hospital by his parents, after redness and blisters began to appear on his back. The plant turned out to be poison ivy, and the next 6 weeks of Matt’s life were the most agonizing he had ever known. It was an itch that scratching would only produce further suffering. The experience taught Matt that satisfying instant gratification would only lead to further pain down the road.
Justin was never fully punished for his deed. His teacher and principal said the event happened outside of school property, and they did not want to expel him only months away from graduation, as they saw potential in him due to his athletic ability. His punishment was about 10 hours of community service around the school. Justin was also told not to talk or interact with Matt
The police had limited involvement as well. They issued a stern warning to Justin, but due to his age, he was not punished legally since he was considered a juvenile. The only thing Matt had received from the situation that in any way resembled justice was a forced apology by Justin that was made in front of the school principal and both Matt and Justin’s parents. The other two boys received similar treatment, and never spoke to Matt again.
“You better watch your back bitch!” Justin had said to Matt at the graduation ceremony. “You’re dead next time I catch you alone!” Those words stuck with Matt. He had realized that he could not depend on the institution’s he was a part of to protect him. The way he saw it, the adults in his life he had trusted were not going to always be there to protect him. They either did not see little wolf amongst them or choose to ignore it. The monster posing as a person. At that point Matt realized he would have to take responsibility for protecting himself.
In 9th grade, Matt did not see Justin around at his new school. Justin’s parents had moved into a new home on the other side of town, and their son attended a different high school. However, the threat of retaliation had remained in Matt’s psyche.. After pressuring his parents, they enrolled him into Tai Kwon Do. By the age of 17, he had achieved his black belt and was competing in tournaments across the province. Due to his light weight, he was quick, but he delivered precise and strong blows for his size. By age 18, he had achieved his second degree black belt. Wanting to diversify his fighting technique, he began working on his punching skills at the local Boxing Club 3 times a week. By age 20 and now in college, he started learning the art of ground fighting in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. By age 21, he began going to the gym religiously.
“It does not matter how much bigger the other guy is” Matt’s trainer would say to him. “You may fight as a 170lb welterweight, but on the ground it does not make much difference. Even if the other guy weighs 50 lbs more than you and is 6 inches taller, you can beat him. Down there on the ground, it is not so much about muscle and size as it is technique.”
Before long Matt was winning championships in regional mixed martial arts tournaments. He has become the one thing he always longed to be in his youth, strong. He could break a man’s ribs with one single kick, and punched through boards with his fists several times in those Tai Kwon Do demostrations he still sometimes attended. He never became arrogant , however. He always remained humble and never forgot his lessons as a youth. ‘Do not abuse your strength’s to hurt those weaker than yourself’. Perhaps in the medieval times Matt would have made the perfect archetype for a chivalrous knight. However, he was living in the 21st century, but one thing had not changed in the past 500 years of human history, and that was one fact: People will always enjoy violence, and when it is entertaining, they will pay to see it.
By the time he was 23 years old, Matt had decided to become a professional Mixed Martial Arts fighter. He competed at national and international levels, and had also appeared in several televised fights including the Bellator competitions. He was quick and strong, and many competing fighters respected his determination. Matt never did share his real secret in his interviews, though. His real motivation was his anger. Every fight, before stepping outside the locker room and into the octagon, he continually said the same thing to himself. “Justin Meyers”. He visualized Justin’s laughing face. He recalled Justin’s taunts. He imagined the itchy agony of the poison ivy that nearly drove him completely insane those months before graduation. Then he fought, and every fight, he exacted a little piece of revenge against his monster.
By age 27, Matt was being offered his first fight in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or the UFC as commonly known. “This is your big shot kid!” Justin’s trainer told him. “Just go out there and show them what you have shown everyone else! I guarantee you, with your skill and determination, by the time you are 30 you will be in the top 10 of the division!!!” Joining the UFC had been his dream for years. He would be able to compete in the top echelon with the most respected fighters. He would only be starting out around a modest $10,000 per fight, but if he made it to the top, he could be making $250,000 per fight with more earning potential to follow. But most of all, he hoped that Justin would turn on his TV one night and see him, and know what Matt could now do to him.
“I need some time to prepare for this psychologically”. Matt told his trainer. He retreated to his place of solitude, the cabin in Algoma County in Northern Ontario. He went there as a child, a family friend had a cottage out there along Lake Superior. After the family trip one summer, Matt had found his place of tranquility, far away from the stress and torment of home. When he would visit as an adult, he would tell nobody where he was going. When he stayed, he never brought his cell phone. When he went into town, he would only pay in cash and never give his full name as to avoid the off chance that anybody would recognize him as the rising star fighter who he was. That was another life for him. The county was where he could be at peace.
It was late September, and he was out driving after an afternoon spent by the lake alone. He was going down route 46 and stopped at Fred’s General Goods on the way back to the cottage. When he pulled into the dirt parking lot, he looked at the store and had realized that Fred closed for the season. The man only stayed open during the spring and summer when the tourism was vibrant, and shut down for the fall and winter months to go live the retired life with his wife in Florida. Matt decided he did not need the cigarette and stayed in the parking lot. He sat there, thinking about his next fight, and how it would change his life forever.
What occurred within the next few minutes following his arrival at the store could only be an act of God as some people would describe, or others as a high mathematical improbability.
A green Ford Taurus pulled up next to Matt’s vehicle. Matt watched through his car’s tinted windows as a man exited. A dog that looked like a Boxer was in the back seat, barking. The man was in his late 20’s with brown hair and a slim athletic build. His hair was unkempt and his face was scruffy. He was holding a can of Coors light in his right hand. He shut the car door and walked up to the twin glass doors that made up the entrance to the store. A sign hung in the window, simply saying “Closed”, offering no further explanation.
“Old fart closed down for the winter already!” The man exclaimed. He threw the beer can with hard force against the storefront window. Matt exited his car. The man glanced over his shoulder at Matt but did not look at him directly. He started kicking the glass door with his foot and one of the panes broke and shattered across the pavement.
“I don’t care if the old fuck that runs this place is here or not!” The man said. “If I want something he does not want to stay to here to sell it to me, it’s his own damn fault!” He reached his arm through the broken glass and unlocked the door. The man turned his face to Mark. “What do you say we do some shopping bro?” The man said with a devious grin.
That was where the acknowledgement hit. It was him! I After nearly 15 years, it was unmistakably the monster from his past, here to haunt him in his place of rest. ‘He can’t be here!” Matt thought in his head, but it was. Matt’s mouth hung open with disbelief, he stared at Justin wordlessly.
Justin burped in Matt’s face. Matt could smell the pepperoni sticks and the beer on his breath. “What are you staring at, pencil dick”? Justin said.
Matt did say anything, just as he had done as a child by the railroad tracks. This time however, he answered without words. Justin did not have time to react as the uppercut hit him under the chin, knocking him back through the broken pane of glass that had once been the door to Fred’s. Matt followed with a right cross that struck him in the nose, sending him further back and into the store. The dog inside the car barked furiously, clawing at the closed windows. Matt stepped through the broken door.
“Hello Justin.” Matt said with a smile. He performed a spinning back kick that hit Justin square in the solar plexus, knocking the wind out of him and sending him onto his ass. He was holding his chest, gasping for air. Blood was trickling down from his nose.
“Remember me?” Matt asked as he threw a roundhouse kick that broke Justin’s jaw. Justin lay sprawled on his side, moaning in agony.
Matt positioned himself behind Justin and dropped to his knees. He wrapped his right arm around Justin’s neck and placed his left hand on the back of his head. The move is known as the rear naked choke.
“By the way Justin, that poison ivy itched like hell!” Matt tightened his grip. Justin thrashed violently. “You will never hurt me again!” Within 10 seconds, the Justin had stopped thrashing and gone limp. The blood had stopped reaching his brain. At this point in an MMA fight, the judge would have stopped the whole thing, but Matt kept his grip, and did so for the next 10 minutes.
Matt eventually let go and stood up, feeling like he had just woken up from a dream. He gazed around him, seeing the broken glass, the dusty store shelves, and the dead body that lay before him on the floor of his arch nemesis from grade school. A strange feeling of both satisfaction and horror crept into his heart. He held his breath for nearly a minute, as the gravity of what had just happened crept in.
The fight or flight reaction took hold once again, and he quickly walked out the store. The dog was still in the car barking with ferocity. It had been the whole time. Matt did not even notice. It was like the sound of the crowd when he was in the fight, blocked out.
He got into his car and started the ignition, and drove away.
Matt anticipated a phone call or a visit at his door. Neither of which happened. The police never did come to his home to ask questions, nor did he receive any phone calls asking about his relationship to a man he once knew as a child. He looked up news articles online daily and within less than a week, he came across an article one about a murder in a rural store in Algoma county. There was not much in the story as to who they believed was the culprit, but the police did believe it was motivated by drugs. Apparently Justin was known to the Provincial Police and had been involved in some kind of grow op up there in the county.
Matt tried to justify what he had done to himself, but the blood was on his hands. The will to fight was not there anymore.
The crowd roared in the arena.
“This is your big chance kid!” Matt’s trainer and coach yelled to him as he stepped out into the Octagon for the first time. This time, however, Matt had no monster to picture in his head when he faced his opponent. All he saw was the lifeless body in that dark dusty store up in Algoma County. The anger he once had was now something else.
Matt lost his first fight in the UFC. “You will do better next time!’ His coach told him. He lost his second as well, and his third. He was not asked to fight a fourth time.
“What happened to you Matt?” His coach yelled at him. “I thought you had so much potential!”
Matt shook his head. “Sorry, I guess my heart is not in it anymore coach.”
The coach stared at him intently. “You have spent the last 10 years of your life training to fight! What will you do now?” Coach asked.
“Don’t know” Matt said.
He started looking for jobs. He found one, working midnights at a gas station. He lived off of his meager wages and the some of the money he saved from his professional fighting days. He was a low maintenance guy, as long as there was beer in the fridge and a pizza delivery guy at the door he was happy. His six pack abs puffed into a gut, and his rock solid arms softened. His defined jawline turned into a fleshy mass, and his calloused knuckles turned into dried skin. He spent his nights off going out to bars, starting fights with random strangers. Often it was guys who smiled at him to wrong way, or said something to him he did not like. Most of the time the people he challenged did not want to fight , but he fought them anyways, humiliating them in front of their friends, family, girlfriends and dates alike. He finally got arrested one night and was charged with assault, but he didn’t care. Matt was a fighter. He was no longer a victim. He was the wolf, not the lamb. People could say whatever they wanted about him, but one thing they could not call him was weak.
One day he woke up and went into his bathroom. He turned on the sink and looked into the mirror. He stared at the face looking back to him. He had talks with himself many times over the years through the mirror, rehearsing what he wanted to say to the monster. This time, the monster spoke to him.
“Hello Justin” it said.