Eddie Kingston, a 39-year-old pro wrestler who struggled to make it big is finally ascending to the heights he deserves in All Elite Wrestling. Kingston isn’t blessed with a physique like The Rock, or the technical proficiency of greats like Bret Hart — but he’s connecting with fans around the world in a different way, by leveraging something in short supply: Honesty and vulnerability.
Kingston’s magnum opus came on Tuesday when he wrote his story for The Player’s Tribune, a sweeping epic about his struggles with mental health, drinking, and never reaching the lofty goals he set for himself in his 20s. Every word of the piece is dripping in the tone, realism and reality that has quickly turned him into one of wrestling’s most unmissable stars.
The beauty of what Kingston is doing in the ring is perfectly marrying his words and actions. On the microphone he’s every bit the man he is every day. He’s rough around the edges, talks about his history of fighting in the streets, but seamlessly marries that by opening talking about the demons he’s confronted along the way, most notably his mental illness — which is unheard of in the world of professional wrestling. In an industry that so often presents its characters as super-human, Kingston is telling everyone that he’s absolutely human, and flawed, and still fighting every single day.
“And that’s why I’m telling this story, and I’m not pulling any punches, and all the old-school guys who don’t want to hear this stuff, and think that we shouldn’t talk about it, those guys can respectfully kiss my ass. If I wasn’t on Zoloft, if I wasn’t getting help for my mental health, if I was too afraid to talk about this stuff, I’d end up killing myself. Period. I’ve lost too many friends in this business to shut my mouth and bury all of these emotions with pills and booze.”
Now Kingston’s life and his turmoils are being perfectly blended with story with intoxicating results. On Friday night’s AEW Rampage Kingston stepped in the ring with legend C.M. Punk, known himself for mixing fiction with reality in his work, and the two created drama as good as anything you’ll see on TV period, scripted or otherwise. Immediately it was being hailed as one of the greatest promos in wrestling history.
The purpose of the face-to-face promo was to build and hype their match at AEW’s next pay per view, Full Gear, but it achieved so much more. Ever since C.M. Punk returned after a seven year absence from wrestling he’s been cheered like a conquering king returned to claim his crown, and in five minutes of truth and honestly Kingston and Punk turned the crowd, flipped the script, and had the people behind the underdog.
Kingston and Punk together in the ring on the mic was always going to be magic. Each have the skill to take an audience and put them in the palm of their hand, but nobody expected them to achieve the impossible: Create a scenario where fans legitimately wanted to see Kingston beat Punk. It’s because we can all see ourselves in Kingston, if we’re being honest with ourselves.
The anxiety about reaching our potential, the feeling of inadequacy that we’ve squandered time, regrets wondering what could have been if life took a different path. We all deal with them, we all have those who doubt us, we all have people along the road who look down on us. That’s what Kingston has tapped into, and it’s made the fans feel they can be vulnerable too.
In typical Eddie Kingston fashion he’s quick to note that finally making it, achieving his dream of being in a major wrestling company, finally getting paid what he’s worth — none of that washes away his past regrets, and his current depression. Last week on Busted Open Radio he explained what his current life is like, even riding this newfound wave of popularity.
“It doesn’t mean that I don’t wake up every morning and I have to deal with my depression before I even get out of bed. Then when I finally get past the depression, then I have to hurry up and get to the gym. Then I have to hurry up and get to Muay Thai training. Then I have to hurry up and go to grappling training. Then I have to hurry up and get home, fight my depression again because you know something may pop in my head. Every day is a struggle.”
“Every day is a struggle.” It’s a sentence that makes sense to anyone who’s ever dealt with depression, especially in a world that too often conflates being sad with being depressed. An inescapable stigma that says people who have money, fame, and success have “nothing to be depressed about.” This is the battle Kingston fights, with himself, with the world, and it’s the one he’s allowing to play out on our television screens each week.
For the majority of his in-ring career The Rock was called “The People’s Champion.” His brash bravado and unparalleled confidence won over fans in an era of economic prosperity. Now Eddie Kingston is the new people’s champ, understanding that the world is damaged, flawed, and he is a product of it. It’s a story that extends outside a wrestling ring and permeates through all our lives, and it’s the most honest, brutal, and beautiful story we’ve seen in years.