As Eddie Kingston enters the arena for the biggest match in his career, the last thing anyone notices is his gear. First and foremost is Eddie’s focus. His intensity radiates off the screen. There’s none of that cocky swagger that he brings to other matches. Here in the main event of AEW Full Gear with the World Title on the line, Eddie Kingston is all business.
Although one catches flashes of color beneath Eddie’s black ring coat and t-shirt, it’s not immediately clear what he has on. The camera cuts away from Eddie removing his entrance attire to focus on Jon Moxley’s entrance. By the time, we see a full view of Eddie’s ring gear for the night, he’s perched on the ropes, goading on the defending champion. There’s no sense of ceremony or grandeur in the reveal. In Eddie’s mind, the gear is already an afterthought—his only focus is the title.
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Longtime fans of Eddie Kingston, or even just those familiar with his Twitter feed, recognize the significance of his ring gear on this night though. Decked out in emerald green and silver for the first time in his career, Eddie wears the colors of Mitsuharu Misawa.
“The man’s gone,” says Eddie. “So it was just a way for me to do a great tribute for The Ace Forever.”
Eddie Kingston has made no secret of his love for the 90’s era of All Japan. The Four Pillars of Heaven are among his heroes in the industry. Whether in interviews or online, Eddie never misses a chance to sing their praises and pay tribute to them. Here on this night, fighting for the AEW World Championship, Eddie uses his gear and its symbolic significance to play with the expectations of his longtime fans.
“I kind of tricked them. They thought I was going to win with that gear on.”
Unlike Misawa’s shocking victory over Jumbo in 1990, however, Eddie loses in his title match with Moxley.
Long before the bright lights of Daily’s Place, a young Eddie Kingston devoured every piece of pro wrestling that his mother could get her hands on. As a hyper child, the only thing that could calm him down was wrestling. He once sat watching for hours as his mother placed WrestleMania VHS tapes into the VCR one after the other.
As he grew older, Eddie discovered other parts of the wrestling world. For a young man growing up in Yonkers, ECW was a natural next step in his fandom. The bloody hardcore spectacle and edgy storylines drew renewed his love for professional wrestling. His love of ECW naturally introduced him to tape trading. Having developed a fondness for The Great Muta and Masahiro Chono from their time in WCW, Eddie sought out footage of Japanese wrestling.
“I didn’t know the difference between New Japan, All Japan, I just thought it was Japan,” says Eddie. “So I bought the ‘Best of ’95 Matches from Japan.’ I saw this guy dressed in orange, I saw this guy dressed in black and yellow, and I saw a match that changed my life.”
That match saw Kenta Kobashi defend the Triple Crown Championship against Toshiaki Kawada in the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium. The hour-long clash was Eddie Kingston’s first exposure to the King’s Road style of pro wrestling perfected in the 90s by The Four Pillars of Heaven: Mitsuharu Misawa, Toshiaki Kawada, Akira Taue, & Kenta Kobashi. Between Kobashi’s thunderous chops and Kawada’s precise kicks, the physicality of the match enthralled Eddie unlike anything he’d seen before.
“I did not see that [kind of physicality] where I was watching then. Maybe ECW but they had a different style of physicality, if that makes sense. This was more no weapons, man on man, one on one going at it back and forth.”
The internet fueled Eddie’s devotion to All Japan. Through websites like 1wrestling.com and the famed Death Valley Driver message board, he continued learning about the years-long rivalries and narratives that drove the success of All Japan in the 90s. With the floodgates opened, he found himself learning about the history of Japanese pro wrestling, following the lineage of the likes of Jumbo Tsuruta, Antonio Inoki, and Giant Baba all the way back to Rikidozan.
“You have to have a passion for it to learn it.”
Once Eddie began training as a wrestler, however, that passion wasn’t always welcome. Eddie’s very first trainer, for example, had a singular vision for his students—a career path that led straight to Vince McMahon. That same trainer was always quick to remind Eddie that, “Japanese wrestling is Japanese wrestling. It stays in Japan.”
“I just didn’t like it. The way he would talk about especially the wrestlers that I like, it wasn’t good,” says Eddie. “I spoke up and acted certain ways that you shouldn’t act when you’re new in wrestling.”
Eddie wasn’t long for that first school but that didn’t stop him. After continuing his training elsewhere, Eddie’s early career saw him pulling from an entirely different tradition of wrestling entirely. As one half of The Wild Cards with Blackjack Marciano, Eddie worked in the style of southern heel tag teams like The Midnight Express and The Brain Busters. The style forced Eddie to learn how to “show ass”—bumping and selling big for the babyfaces. The Wild Cards’ run would get cut short though when Blackjack retired following a knee injury.
“Because of that, I was forced to be singles.”
As a singles competitor, Eddie found himself being able to incorporate more of the influences that shaped him growing up. Working as a singles wrestler brought Eddie’s career to the next level. Through the 2000s indies boom, Eddie Kingston became known as a tough no-nonsense brawler with unmatched intensity and charisma on the mic. He became a hot commodity through his work in major indie companies such as IWA: Mid South, CZW, and CHIKARA.
The King’s Road
The influence of the Pillars could be seen through his ringwork with the Kobashi-style machine gun chops in the corner and his array of high angle suplexes. Combined with Eddie’s rough manner both in and out of the ring, he soon began drawing comparisons to Toshiaki Kawada. When Eddie’s trainers at CHIKARA asked him to start wearing black and yellow gear to the ring, those comparisons only grew stronger.
“You hear [the comparisons] so much that in the back of your mind, you start doing things like those who influence you and you don’t even realize it.”
Those obvious superficial elements were always clear. However, the indies weren’t always conducive to the kind of ambitious storytelling that made King’s Road stand out.
“In King’s Road, you need to have that one long narrative and I wasn’t going to get that one long narrative on independent wrestling when I was at a different place every month,” says Eddie. “They weren’t booking like Baba. So I couldn’t implement all that.”
As enamored as Eddie was with the King’s Road style, he understood that it required a great level of nuance and skill to execute properly. He held his opponents and himself to a high standard before even considering attempting something on the level of the Pillars.
“There were many moments where I just didn’t do it because I didn’t have enough faith in my knowledge of it,” he says. “There were other times where I didn’t trust the other person in there with me to fully get it.”
Despite these difficulties, one of the great lessons that the King’s Road matches imparted on Eddie could be applied to any match anywhere in the world. Eddie understood that it wasn’t apron spots or thirty plus minute runtimes that truly gave those matches in the 90s the kind of weight and gravitas they hold today. One can hit as many backdrop drivers as they like in a match, but one doesn’t truly understand King’s Road until they master something much more intrinsic to every in-ring story: selling.
The Art of the Sell
“The way I sold certain things, it became more realistic,” says Eddie. After reading a rumor that Kawada used to study how boxers looked when getting knocked in the ring, Eddie began to study combat sports to aid his own selling. “All this stuff, I started implementing that into there. Also, I’ve been in a couple street fights in my life and I try to remember how I reacted then but throw professional wrestling into it.”
Eddie Kingston has long been known as one of the best sellers in the industry today. It’s an aspect of his performances that he clearly puts a lot of thought and care into. It’s no surprise then that when asked about which of the matches in his long career he felt best embodied the King’s Road style, he chooses a pair of matches that see him on the defensive for a majority of the runtime.
There’s the match against Fred Yehi from AAW in 2018, a bout that Eddie calls “a house show King’s Road style match.” In it, the fight spills out to the floor early on. Yehi whips Eddie into the barricades only for Eddie to rebound off the steel to go back on the attack—a favorite go to spot for both Kobashi and Kawada. Instead of catching Yehi off guard though, Eddie gets caught and driven back first into the barricades yet again. Eddie would sell his back through the rest of the match including through an explosive finishing sequence filled with big moves from Yehi that Eddie just barely survives.
Then there’s the 2019 Jim Lynam Tournament finals against Josh Alexander. Eddie enters the match with an injured shoulder and Alexander exploits the weakness for all its worth in an attempt to take away the power of Eddie’s Spinning Backfist. The match is focused on Eddie gritting his teeth through the injury and trying to fight his way through. In a moment of desperation in the closing stretch of the match, he even goes for a Burning Hammer only for Alexander to escape at the lost moment—another sign of respect on Eddie’s part as he helps preserve the aura of his hero’s iconic maneuver.
On top of being masterclass displays of Eddie’s selling, both matches also highlight another oft misunderstood element of the King’s Road style: fighting spirit. The term calls to mind images of kick outs at one or no selling a barrage of elbow strikes. While these flashier manifestations still fall under the “fighting spirit” umbrella, the term actually encompasses a far broader and varied scope of actions and tropes within the ring.
Fighting spirit, at its core, is simply the refusal to give in during a match. It is the persistence of pushing against insurmountable odds. Eddie Kingston has spent years displaying the many subtle ways that this can be utilized in the ring.
“I tell a lot of guys fighting spirit could be the way I kick out and get up and throw a chop but miss. I’m still fighting. Or a guy hits me with something, I kick out. He’s like, ‘What’s going on?’ He goes to pick me up, I try to double leg him but I don’t. Or maybe I do double leg him and I get a shot or two in and he hits me harder and I’m down. That’s fighting spirit.”
In many ways, Eddie’s own career became a great example of the fighting spirit ethos. In 2019, at a low point of professional frustration, Eddie Kingston announced that he planned to retire by the end of the year. The birth of his nephew reignited his drive, however, and he fought through the financial challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic to get onto national television for AEW.
And yet despite reaching a new career zenith that exposed a whole new generation of wrestling fans to his work, Eddie Kingston continues to look forward. There’s dreams and goals yet unfulfilled. There’s always something new to struggle for.
A Dream Match Against the Fifth Pillar
Ask Eddie Kingston who his dream match in wrestling is and he’ll always say the same thing. For a devotee of the King’s Road era like Eddie, the final link to that historic legacy is the current KO-D Openweight Champion Jun Akiyama.
“That man is a legend. Should be treated as such and spoken of as such.”
Deemed by many to be the “Fifth Pillar,” Akiyama was a key part of the All Japan roster in the mid to late 90s as well as one of the top names that anchored Pro Wrestling NOAH in the 2000s.
Eddie recalls first seeing Akiyama early in his run teaming up with Takao Omori. Despite being fairly early on his career, Akiyama left an instant impression.
“He always seemed so smug,” says Eddie. “He was supposed to act like a young lion but he kind of didn’t. I always found that to be really cool.”
In a career spanning nearly thirty years, Akiyama has amassed an enviable body of work that Eddie has followed closely for decades now. Among them is the 1998 Triple Crown Title match where Akiyama challenged Kenta Kobashi. Watching this match, it’s easy to see why it might have left such a huge impression on Eddie Kingston. The young Akiyama proves to be a formidable challenger, unleashing a targeted attack on the champion’s injured knee. Having suffered numerous knee injuries in his own career, it’s not hard to understand why Eddie Kingston has a fondness for this match featuring Akiyama turning the screws against Eddie’s own favorite pillar.
In another 1998 encounter, Akiyama takes on Hiroshi Hase in the Tokyo Dome. In this match, Akiyama flexes his versatility as he wrestles a match far more akin to the style of the New Japan heavyweights of the time as opposed to the standard King’s Road epic.
“I love everything from the amateur style wrestling in the beginning to the smacks—the disrespectful smacks between the two men—to the dueling suplexes, all the way until the Wrist Clutch Exploder.”
From there, the list only grows longer ranging from Akiyama’s iconic victory over Misawa in 2000 to the numerous battles he waged in NOAH for the GHC Heavyweight Championship. He would return to All Japan in the 2010s, even becoming president of the company in 2014. With a position of power backstage at All Japan, it seemed that Akiyama’s in-ring career was winding down at last.
However, much like Eddie, Akiyama’s career was given second life in 2020. What started as a stint helping coach members of the DDT roster soon turned into Akiyama signing with the company full time. With the stated intention of passing on his learnings from Giant Baba, Akiyama quickly became a force to be reckoned with yet again on the DDT roster. This culminated earlier in 2021 when Akiyama became the KO-D Openweight Champion by defeating Tetsuya Endo.
“He’s just helping all these young guys out now,” says Eddie. “Beating them, beating them bad, but he’s teaching them.”
While other promoters like AIW’s John Thorne have tried to make the Akiyama/Kingston match happen, the match is more plausible now than ever. Despite his commitments to AEW, Kenny Omega has maintained a relationship with former home promotion DDT. Omega wrestled at DDT’s 2019 Ultimate Party event and was even named as a KO-D Openweight Championship contender in 2020 before COVID travel restrictions put an end to those plans.
With AEW making cross promotional matches with members of the New Japan roster, it’s not out of the question for the company to fly Jun Akiyama to the States for this match up. Perhaps, they could even send Eddie to Japan and make the match happen on Akiyama’s home turf instead.
“Why not both?” says Eddie, always looking for ways to keep the fans coming back. “Why not two, maybe get a third one out of it?”
Should it ever happen, a match with Jun Akiyama would bring Eddie Kingston’s career full circle. From a young man in Yonkers watching Jun Akiyama do battle with the Pillars on tapes to becoming a battle hardened warrior in his own right fighting with the last link to the King’s Road era.
“I would chop him, smack him, hit him, suplex him just like he would to me. And we would fight and it would be great because I just like fighting in that ring. I know I would learn something from him in the King’s Road style.”
“It would be the highlight of my career.”
Perhaps one of the best qualities of the 90s Kings Road era is how well the matches maintained a sense of continuity and history. It rewarded the long-term investment of its fans with relationships and rivalries that spanned the entire decade. Match ups and actions were filled with meaning and significance. Whenever Eddie looks back on some of his favorite matches, he finds that there’s always something new that he’d missed before.
“Every match is a struggle to be the top guy. Struggle to win the match. Struggle to be the champion. That’s the way I look at every match that All Japan has at that time.”
Eddie Kingston draws his own sense of history and continuity from an unending process of self-improvement. Nearly two decades into his career and he still rarely walks away from a match fully satisfied with his work.
“I’ll watch my matches but I never watch them for enjoyment,” says Eddie. “I watch them breaking them down. Nine out of ten times, I’m going, ‘Motherfucker, you are so stupid!’”
For many people, fighting spirit means kicking out at one but there’s no limit to what it can be. It’s that refusal to ever settle for less that drives Eddie Kingston. Fighting spirit is the undying passion for professional wrestling, pushing onward towards greater skill and understanding, the unending journey of honing one’s craft.
Fighting spirit means always taking the next step.