By Nick Perkins, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@WesternRebel)
“Eddie Moore and Eddie Kingston are the same person, and I’ve been kind of cursed my whole life, knowing that I’m not going to have a happy ending. So why should Eddie Kingston?”
- Eddie Moore/Kingston, ‘And Then There Was King’ documentary
I had heard of him before, but in name only. Eddie Kingston. He was an independent wrestler – that I knew. He competed in AAW, Ring of Honor, Impact, NWA, and more. I knew that too, though, admittedly, it’s taken me a long time to broaden my wrestling horizons. I had never seen a match, never heard a promo. I knew Colt Cabana liked him. I knew Marty DeRosa and Sarah Shockey, two of my favorite wrestling podcasters, were friends with him. They even interviewed him on one of their episodes of Marty & Sarah Love Wrestling. But I skipped that episode. Eddie Kingston was always on my periphery. I had heard great things about the so-called ‘Mad King.’ I had just never seen him for myself, up close and extremely personal.
My, how quickly things can change.
I saw Eddie Kingston for the first time when he answered Cody Rhodes’ open challenge on AEW Dynamite. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one seeing him for the first time, but I also saw that there were many, many people in the wrestling world rooting for him. He was trending on Twitter that night, because so. many. people. were congratulating him on, finally, making it to “the big time.” And, make no mistake about it, AEW is “the big time.”
I have seen and heard a lot of great wrestling promos in my nearly 25 years as a fan. I learned about “Hard Times” from Dusty Rhodes. I watched the wrestling world explode when CM Punk dropped his “Pipe Bomb.” I smelled what The Rock was cooking, found out what Austin 3:16 said and did as I was told when Hulk Hogan told me to say my prayers and take my vitamins. But none of those iconic promos grabbed my attention and my interest as quickly as Eddie Kingston did on that mid-summer night in Florida. Eddie Kingston, in just two-and-a-half minutes, told me everything I needed to know about the man who would be King.
“You talk about grinding. You talk about living this rough life, all that jazz. No one’s gonna out-grind you, all that stuff. My man, it’s easy to say that when you grew up around used-to-be legends, like Arn Anderson… You know what I grew up around? Alcoholics. Junkies. I grew up around that. And I had to survive.”
- Eddie Kingston, AEW Dynamite 7/22/20
It wasn’t just what he said that caught my attention. It was how he said it. This was a man with conviction. With passion. With real, tangible anger. He got me. He reeled me in. In short, he did exactly what he was supposed to do. I was immediately invested and, because I have OCD, I had to know everything about the 18-year veteran. I enveloped myself in the mad, mad, mad, mad world of Eddie Kingston and, in doing so, I learned that the story of the man behind Kingston is more fascinating and powerful and poetic than any wrestling storyline could ever hope to be.
Kingston was born in Yonkers, NY – not as a prince, but a pauper (bear with me on the ‘king’ puns. I’m a writer. It’s what I do.). He calls himself a “mama’s boy,” which might sound funny to those who have seen him threaten to rip somebody’s eyeball out. But, usually, it’s the strongest, toughest, meanest among us that need their mothers the most.
Kingston says he’s an Irish-Catholic Puerto Rican that was not accepted by the Irish nor the Puerto Ricans so, he says, he fell in with the African Americans in his neighborhood, because they accepted him. The respected him. They had his back. But the rejection he felt from his heritage, from the people who were supposed to support him, only fueled the anger of this already-angry young man. This led to a lot of fighting. It was the first thing that Eddie Kingston was really good at, which was appropriate, because he would spend his entire life fighting in some form or another.
Consequently, it only seems natural that he would become a professional wrestler, where he could get paid to fight. Yes, he could have entered the world of MMA, or he could have been a boxer. Then he would get to have, “real fights.” But wrestling is a lot more real than outsiders give it credit for. Besides, it wasn’t just a fight Kingston was looking for. He wanted to tell stories, too.
Kingston made his professional wrestling debut on October 12, 2002. He had trained at the Chikara Wrestle Factory, under Mike Quackenbush and Chris Hero (Kassius Ohno). Kingston says that he’s the last of a dying breed, comparing himself to other wrestlers like Low-Ki, Homicide, Bruiser Brody, Terry Funk and more. The influence those men had on his wrestling style is obvious. Kingston can outwrestle people; he’d just rather save time and punch them in the face. FTR may use the “no flips, just fists” tagline, but Kingston is the one who embodies it the most. Just like when he was young, Kingston is a fighter. He can do the awe-inspiring moves and has put on many classic matches. But he’s more apt to beat a man with a backfist rather than a backflip.
He’s also not afraid to use whatever weapon is available to him. Whether it’s a strand of barbed wire, a bag of tacks, a ladder, a table, a chair, oh my. He’s willing to use them all to win a match, because winning the match means more money and, at the end of the day, that’s what Kingston is fighting for. He’s a prize-fighter and the biggest prize he wants is the proverbial bag of money. And if he has to set somebody on fire to get it, he’s willing to do so. He’s willing to use whatever weapon he can to come out on top.
Ironically, Kingston’s biggest and best weapon is a microphone. Long before pipe bombs were getting dropped, Kingston was speaking from his cold, embittered heart on a nightly basis. Whether he was talking about growing up on the streets of New York, picking fights with people twice his size, or something else entirely, Kingston captured the audience and held them in the palm of his hand every time he opened his mouth. He did something that only the very best of the best can do- he made us believe.
So, why wasn’t he in WWE? What took him so long to get to AEW? Why isn’t Eddie Kingston a millionaire and a household name? Kingston himself will tell you that it’s because he’s too “anti-establishment” for WWE. This makes sense. When it comes to antagonizing fans and talking shit, Kingston makes somebody like Kevin Owens look like Mister Rogers.
Signing with WWE would have immediately neutered the part of Eddie Kingston that people like the most- his mouth. Kingston never would have fit in with the “superstars” of WWE. Like he’s said before, Kingston is not an actor. He’s not an entertainer. He’s a fighter. And he knew that if he signed with WWE, he’d be fighting to stay true to himself every step of the way. Kingston actually turned down an opportunity to be a coach for WWE, noting that he would only resent the position. One day, Eddie Kingston would be an excellent trainer. But, in his mind, today is not that day.
Turning down the guaranteed money that WWE would have offered must have been hard, though. Independent wrestlers will attest to the fact that half of the job, sometimes more, is hustling; chasing down the best deals, the most money. Eddie Kingston will tell you, he’s all about the money. Fighting is fun. Telling stories is great. But if he can’t get paid for it, he doesn’t wanna do it. Make no mistake, WWE would have paid him pretty well. But, like the old adage goes, money doesn’t buy happiness. And it was Kingston’s own mother that told him if he took the WWE gig, he wouldn’t be happy.
“I’ll put it to you like this, man. When you do something for so long, because you love it and you have a passion for it, and then one day you wake up and you realize it’s been a one-sided romance…no woman has ever broken my heart as much as the professional wrestling business has. The business part. Not in the ring, ‘cause no one can fuckin’ touch me.”
- Eddie Moore/Kingston, ‘And Then There Was King’ documentary
So, ever the mama’s boy, Kingston listened to his mother and declined the offer. And, for a little while at least, he might have regretted it because right before Kingston appeared on Dynamite, he was broke. Like, broke broke. Like, so broke he said that he had to sell his ring gear in order to pay the mortgage on a house that he didn’t even want.
When he got the call to appear on Dynamite, he was happy to take the payday, but he was angry because he was in a position in which he needed the payday. The anger that was so apparent when he was cutting a promo on Cody Rhodes – that wasn’t an act. He was mad. He was grateful for the opportunity, but he was mad. Like The Incredible Hulk, that’s Kingston’s secret- he’s always mad.
Following his dressing down of the sharply dressed Rhodes, Kingston wrestled his first match in AEW. And he did it on his terms, in his style. It was a good match. Kingston lost, but he made an impression. And that impression, along with the wave of support that his friends and fans flooded Twitter with, led to Tony Khan offering him a full-time contract with All Elite Wrestling. For the first time in his life, Kingston was wrestling professionally on a network television program. The king had claimed his castle (almost done with these, I swear).
Following his loss to Rhodes, it would have been easy for Kingston to take the paycheck, do what he was told and offer his services when needed. But the Mad King wasn’t one to rest on his laurels. He formed a group consisting of other former independent stars with whom he shared a bond of friendship. It wouldn’t be long, however, until Kingston set his eyes on the biggest prize of all- the AEW Championship.
Challenging for the title would have been poetic enough. The independent veteran finally realizing the dream of battling for a world-renowned championship is the stuff storybooks are made of. What makes Kingston’s challenge even more apropos, however, is the fact that his longtime friend, and fellow independent standout, Jon Moxley, was the current champion. The two would battle at AEW’s final pay-per-view of 2020, Full Gear. It was a match made in hell and signed in blood.
AEW Full Gear came and went. The match between Kingston and Moxley was every bit the war that we thought it would be. There was barbed wire. There were tacks. And oh, there was certainly blood. I wanted Kingston to win. My heart wanted Kingston to win, though my head knew he wouldn’t. I wanted him to beat his friend, win the World Championship and finally have his happy ending.
But that’s not how this story goes.
“You know what’s funny? You’ll probably show this when I’m dead and gone, and then they’ll understand me. I know my fate, man. I know what’s up. No happy endings here. I know what’s up. So no, they won’t get it. They won’t get it ‘til I’m dead and gone. When I’m out, they’ll get it. They’ll understand it. Then they’ll appreciate me. That’s a curse man- and I’m good with it.”
- Eddie Moore/Kingston, ‘And Then There Was King’ documentary
Except, I don’t think he is. I understand self-loathing. I also understand self-fulfilling prophecies. Some of the greatest artists the world has ever seen haven’t had happy endings. Ernest Hemingway, Elvis Presley, Amy Winehouse, Kurt Cobain, Michael Jackson, etc. These are some of the most talented, most influential artists that have ever lived, and I would be willing to bet that not one of them thought they were good enough to actually be in the position they were in. Money can’t buy happiness, nor can it erase trauma. I don’t know the life that Eddie Kingston has lived. None of us do. But I do recognize the look in his eyes, because I see that very same look every day in the mirror.
It’s frustrating when your heart says you’re good enough, but your head disagrees. Kingston sounds like somebody who spends a lot of time in his own head, for better or worse. The dichotomy of knowing that you’re good enough but still feeling like you’re not is something that drives the best of us to the worst outcomes, to the unhappy endings.
Kingston may not think he’ll get a happy ending because he may not think that he deserves a happy ending.
But he does. His recent career resurgence is proof of that, but not because of the contract he signed or the championships he fought for. Kingston’s happy ending, at least professionally, began when the swarm of fans and friends and colleagues flooded Twitter with their support of the man. That was the proof. That was the crown. Because, in the end, happy endings aren’t determined by money earned or championships won. They’re determined by the impact we have on others and that night in July showed the world, and hopefully Kingston himself, how much he means to the people around him.
Maybe Eddie Kingston will become AEW World Champion one day. He would certainly deserve it and it would certainly be a feel-good moment. But Eddie Kingston’s happy ending won’t come inside of a wrestling ring. It won’t happen inside of the world’s largest arenas, or on the grandest stages. Kingston’s happy ending will happen in his head and in his heart, and it will happen at the exact moment he realizes that he is actually worthy of one.