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Eddie Kingston, a 20-year professional wrestling veteran, sugarcoats nothing. Perhaps it is the native New Yorker in him, or maybe the nearly two decades of grinding in a notoriously brutal industry, but when it comes to Kingston, it’s hard to dispute that his honesty is his defining characteristic.
“I do things because I think they’re right,” Kingston told Yahoo Sports. “Not because other people think they are right, but it’s what I feel and what I feel needs to be said in the moment. You don’t need to agree with me, you don’t need to like me, you don’t need to respect me, but I’m going to do it.”
Last November, Kingston’s honesty sparked a conversation, thanks to a Player’s Tribune article that detailed his struggles with mental health, substance use and laid bare his journey to stardom in All Elite Wrestling.
(By the way, he won’t admit he’s a star, “I’m nothing. I’m just me all the time,” Kingston says.)
“At this point in my life, I wasn’t [hesitant to share],” Kingston said. “If it was two years ago, I would have been, but being able to be on national television, being on AEW, I kind of feel like I have a responsibility to speak for certain people and to speak from my own experiences to let people know that they are not alone. You see me on TV or you see me wrestling, it doesn’t mean that I don’t go through what everyone else goes through.”
The significance of Kingston’s piece wasn’t lost on people inside the wrestling business, and, while it may not have been the first time a professional wrestler discussed their mental health publicly, it was yet another blow to a taboo that the Yonkers, New York, native believes has afflicted the industry for far too long.
“We’ve tried the old way, we’ve lost a lot of people because we did things the wrong way,” Kingston said. “I’ve lost a lot of friends who have overdosed from drugs because they were down and out, didn’t think they could get help. I’ve lost a couple of friends to suicide because they thought they were alone and they took their lives. We’ve done the old way. Let’s try and break out of that now and save peoples’ lives instead of just pushing it down the whole time.”
Kingston, who signed with AEW in 2020, explained that having support from the wrestling promotion was paramount in him telling his story. Having wrestled for more than a few promotions during his career, Kingston knows just how vulnerable discussing any ailments, mental or physical, can make a performer.
But, when AEW approached him with the opportunity, he was ready to “rock and roll.”
“The old way, we never told a booker or a promoter anything,” Kingston said. “We didn’t tell them when we were hurt. We’d be there with a broken ankle and still going to work, tape it up and go because we were scared of losing a job or a spot. It feels very good that we have a team here, and that’s the key word, that understands it, supports us and wants us to be both physically and mentally right. It feels very good to have that backing.”
Since debuting in July 2020, AEW has become home for Kingston. Kingston’s brash nature has played remarkably well with fans and he has competed in some of the biggest matches in the company over the past year and a half.
Kingston's debut came after he called out then TNT champion Cody Rhodes during an independent event. Two weeks later, Kingston was in an AEW ring with Rhodes and shortly after that signed a contract with the promotion.
“If I’m not into it or I can’t be myself, it’s not going to work,” Kingston said. “AEW knew what they were getting when they signed me and they have gone with it. I’ve been lucky and I’ve been blessed to be at a place that lets me be myself. Everyone wants to say character, but the Eddie Kingston you see is just me at 17 turned up a thousand notches.”
What helps Kingston the most when he’s working on the microphone, is the freedom he has to work off script, resulting in some of the more jaw-dropping, but mutually beneficial, moments in AEW’s relatively short history. Kingston's recent feud with CM Punk is a perfect example of how his brash charisma can flip an audience on its head.
“I feel like if I have to discuss it with you, we’re not going to have a good time,” Kingston said. “I like to react to things, moments, people and I like whoever is working with me to do the same. If we’re not having a good time [in the ring], then the most important people, the fans, aren’t going to be entertained. Let’s try and bring a little bit of reality back to pro wrestling.”
One of those off script moments came in December 2020, at AEW’s celebratory show honoring the late Brodie Lee. Lee, who passed away earlier that month, was beloved in professional wrestling and, despite working in AEW for less than a year, made an immense impact on the promotion.
In a moment that went viral, cameras captured Kingston delivering an emotional speech backstage to the AEW locker room that he had been in for just five months at the time. It was another example of Kingston’s rawness shining through.
“I’m no locker room leader,” Kingston said. “I don’t want to be, never wanted to be. When I do stuff like I did for Brodie, it’s just what I felt. I had all this energy inside me. I had just wrestled so I wasn’t going to work out and I had to get this energy off me. I was down and out because of Brodie’s passing and we had put on this great show. I was wondering why we couldn’t have this all of the time. I wanted the young ones to know that we can have it all of the time and that we don’t need one of our loved ones to pass away to have this energy.”
Kingston’s passion and enthusiasm for AEW is clear in everything that he does, and despite his aversion to being called a locker room leader, it’s undeniable that his drive and mentality allow him to lead by example.
Having experienced unhealthy competition in “almost every independent [wrestling] locker room” he's ever been in, Kingston welcomes the challenges that AEW’s growing roster presents.
“Sign everybody,” Kingston said. “This is my thinking. If you bring in all of these guys, it makes me step up my game. If I step up my game, it leads to a better product. A better product means more people will watch and more people will talk about AEW. That’s what we all should do. Some people don’t think that way and it’s on them, but they’ll be left behind. It’s nobody’s fault but their own. At the end of the day, if I’m pushing myself and everybody is pushing themselves, it’s good TV and AEW gets bigger.”
Despite his popularity, Kingston has yet to win a championship in AEW. He has faced his real-life friend Jon Moxley for the AEW world championship and has competed for both the AEW tag team championship (alongside Moxley) and the TNT championship.
Of course there’s a sense of pride that comes with winning one of the top prizes in his profession, but it won’t serve as validation for Kingston.
“I need to be satisfied,” Kingston said. “I want the championship because that’s what we all go for. The whole point of being in this is to win a championship. If your whole purpose is to be mediocre, don’t come near me because I want to be a champion. If I don’t get it, then I have to be satisfied with myself.”
Champion, star, locker room leader, none of these titles or accomplishments can really define what has happened for Kingston during his time with AEW. Ultimately, the fact that he’s happy now might be the thing that distinguishes him the most — and he’ll be honest about it, brutally, if need be.
“I always want AEW to do better, to grow,” Kingston said. “This is the best job I’ve had. I’ve been doing pro wrestling for 20 years. I spent all of my 20s and 30s in this great sport and I’m not trying to have this place be ruined by anybody. I’ll let it be known or not talk to you.”