For most of my life, I thought I was crazy.
Nuts. Insane. Psychotic. Violent. Sick.
“Oh, come on, Eddie. You’re bullshitting. This is a work. We get it. It’s part of the character.”
My guy, you really don’t understand. I’ve been out of my mind since before I can remember. When I was in the 10th grade, I got into a beef with this kid over some stupid neighborhood bullshit. I literally couldn’t even tell you what it was about. The next day, I’m sitting in class and I see the dude walking in the hallway. I’m full of testosterone, piss and vinegar, so I pop right up out of my chair like, “What’s up?”
Now, this is Yonkers, so we’re not meeting outside in the parking lot after lunch or whatever. No, bro. It’s on. Dude drops his books and charges into the room and straight up bull rushes me. Right in the middle of class — papers flying everywhere, teachers screaming, kids jumping up on the desks. Pandemonium. And we were in religion class, as a matter of fact. Right hand to God, I snapped. I blacked out. I’m throwing haymakers. I’m smacking the dude with books, folders, everything. They’re trying to teach us the New Testament and I’m trying to German suplex a motherf*cker into the chalkboard. It was out of control.
I wanted to fight the world.- Eddie Kingston
The only thing that saved me from jail was the fact that I was so young. I was just an angry, angry, angry kid. I wanted to fight the world. I never felt like I fit in anywhere. I was half Irish, half Puerto Rican, so I was getting it from all sides. When I was in the Irish part of the neighborhood it was, “Hey, what’s up spic.” And when I was in the Puerto Rican part of the neighborhood it was some other nonsense. Seriously, in the second grade I remember hearing, “Hey, get this spic outta here.”
That leaves a mark on you. It either makes you soft or it makes you into a maniac. Well, guess what it made me? From the minute my uncles taught me how to throw a punch when I was 11 years old, I was out on the streets swinging for the fences. The only thing that could keep me calm was wrestling tapes. We’re talking about the old VHS tapes. My mother used to go to VideoVision in the Bronx — not Blockbuster, we’re talking VideoVision, the mom-and-pop shop with the cat behind the counter and the ADULT section — and she didn’t know what she was doing so she’d grab anything that said wrestling on it. On Fridays, if I made it through the week without trying to choke anybody out in my elementary school, my reward was Chinese food and a wrestling tape.
I remember she brought home this random tape one night, and you gotta remember back in the ’90s you didn’t know WHAT you were getting into with the VHS tapes. When you rented something, they gave you that hard plastic mystery box with no cover on it. So I hijacked the living room TV (My Irish dad is screaming out, “I wanna watch the NEWS but the BOY got the WRESTLIN’ on again!!!” My Puerto Rican mother is screaming back from the kitchen, “Relax!!! He was good this week!!!!”). I popped in this random tape and after the static and the tracking and all the fuzz and everything, these three words flashed up on the screen.
MEMPHIS’ BLOODIEST BRAWLS
From the minute I saw that tape, I was obsessed. It was like something beaming in from another planet. Another crazy-ass dimension. This tape had everything. It had the infamous Tupelo, Mississippi, concession stand brawl from ’79. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, YouTube it. It’s a normal tag team match that starts in the ring. Then the guys fight their way through the crowd all the way back to the concession stand area, and they start smashing each other with popcorn machines and pots and pans and hot dogs. And the whole time the lady working the concession stand is screaming, “Stop! Stop! Stop! Security!!!!!!!”
It blew my mind. Picture it. I’m this half-Irish, half–Puerto Rican little maniac sitting on the couch in the Bronx eating wonton soup, watching old school Memphis wrestling, looking at my mother like, Are you seeing this? Can you believe this???
This tape had everything. It had Eddie Gilbert running over Jerry Lawler with his car in the parking lot outside the arena. It had guys getting busted open, bleeding out onto the mat. I barely even understood what wrestling was, but I knew at that moment what I wanted to grow up to be.
I didn’t want to hit a home run at Yankee Stadium.
I didn’t want to throw a touchdown pass at the Super Bowl.
I didn’t wanna be a f*cking astronaut.
I wanted to be a professional wrestler.
As the years went on, and I grew up and got to middle school, I discovered All Japan Pro Wrestling and Internet message boards and the tape-trading scene in New York City. You’d be waiting MONTHS to get your hands on some All Japan Triple Crown tape through a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy in Queens or something. You had to have something good to trade though. It was kind of like Pokémon cards, except you had to meet a random dude from the Internet on some street corner. You would show up somewhere and swap tapes with a random dude, and yo — anything could be on there when you popped it in the VCR. You didn’t know what you were getting into. You just were hoping that the dude was legit. Praying you didn’t get got. Praying you’d get home and pop the tape in and see some Japanese characters on the screen with flames shooting out and a dude in a suit screaming out incomprehensible nonsense from the announcer’s table. Praying you got an All Japan tape and not an old episode of Martin or something.
I’ll literally never forget the first time I got my hands on Kawada vs. Misawa, June ’94. That’s all you gotta say to the true fans. Just say the date. June ’94. Everybody knows. These dudes were chopping one another so hard you could still see the sweat flying off them on the grainy VHS tape. The echo was so loud that I couldn’t believe it. The back suplexes, my God. It was so violent, so real. I’m watching this match in our little apartment in Yonkers, and I can’t even sit down. I watch it now, to this day, and I can’t sit down. I’ve probably seen June ’94 more than 1,000 times — hand to God. I’ll be sitting in an airport, waiting for my flight to board, and I’ll pull it up on YouTube and I’ll just be gone. I’ll be in it. I’ll be living it.
I’ve almost missed so many flights over that match. Dude from Delta will come over to tap me on the shoulder like, “Sir!” And I’m not even there, bro. I’m in Tokyo, feeling every clothesline.
You’d be waiting MONTHS to get your hands on some All Japan Triple Crown tape through a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy in Queens or something.- Eddie Kingston
Watching wrestling was always my escape. It was like my little sanctuary, man. It was probably the only thing that kept me out of jail. In high school, my friends used to be calling me up at night to come out and get up to who knows what, and I’d stay at home by myself to watch Raw or watch the Super J-Cup or ECW. To all my real New Yorkers: Remember ECW used to come on the RELIGIOUS CHANNEL at like two o’clock in the morning for some reason? You used to be fighting to stay awake, and one minute it would be some nice lady talking about healing or forgiveness whatever, and then all of a sudden it was….
EEEEEEE SEEEEEEE DUBBLE-YEEEEWWWWWWWW!!!
Guys are getting hit with the barbed wire baseball bat. They’re getting Dudley Death Dropped through tables. They’re moonsaulting into the crowd.
On the religious channel.
I’m saying, it was like a message from another dimension. The devil was taking control, bro. I remember when I first discovered ECW, I felt like I was watching guys I knew. I mean I watched WWF like everybody else, but it always felt kind of soft to me. ECW, it wasn’t characters, it was like real guys I knew from the street corner.
I knew guys like New Jack. I knew guys like Dreamer.
When those guys went through the table, it was like your uncle going through the table.
To be honest with you, the only thing that kept me from getting depressed was wrestling. I either had to be fighting in the neighborhood, or sitting at home watching a match. Otherwise, I’d fall into a depression. Back then, I didn’t even have the words for it. I was trying to be such a hard-ass that I didn’t want to hear about no mental health, no therapists, no feelings.
“Depression? The f*ck is a depression?”
When I couldn’t control it, I’d end up throwing hands with dudes in the middle of class. The Religion Class Brawl got me kicked out of my high school, as a matter of fact. At 18, my life was going nowhere. Thank God, my father and all my uncles were ironworkers, and they knew I could handle myself with grown men, and they knew I could ball-bust, which is definitely key, so they got me into the Ironworkers Local 580. These were the guys who were down at the World Trade Center going through the wreckage after 9/11. Just some real, blue-collar, New York tough guys. Not like the movies. Real life tough guys. Guys who used to pack a flask and two packs of cigarettes with their lunch every day.
I’ll never forget, one day I was on a jobsite 50 stories up. Columbus and 59th. I’m sitting on a steel beam, looking out over all of Manhattan, and I turn over my shoulder and I see this guy, he’s maybe 70 years old, and he’s eating his sandwich and he’s smoking his cigarette, and he’s talking about how he’s just gotta hang on a few more years so he can save up some more money and get his kid into the union, and it was like everything stopped. Everything went silent. And I had this realization.
This is not what I want to do with the rest of my life. I know what the hell I want to do. I’ve always known.
I went home that night and I got on the computer and I prayed that the little yellow AOL guy would connect, and when he did, I typed in “Pro Wrestling Schools NYC.”
That was the start of a journey that changed my life. Three years later, I was a star. I was making millions. I was walking out through the curtain at WrestleMania.
Hahahahahah. *Raspberry fart*
Are you kidding me? Three years later, I was dead broke, overweight, depressed, and wrestling in front of eight people in a bingo hall. I remember there was this place we always used to do shows in Palo Alto, Pennsylvania. Me and a buddy used to drive out there, wrestle, hopefully get paid, and then drive back. You’d spend your whole check on gas and a meal afterward. So we get up there to do the show, and we’re backstage getting ready, and we could all tell it was kind of quiet. Lace up the boots, go through the curtain, look out into the crowd….
Three on one side of the ring. Four on the other. One weird dude sitting alone.
My first thought was, Welp, we’re not getting paid tonight. Let’s make the best of this.
The thing about wrestling in front of eight people in a bingo hall is that the spots still hurt. The chops still hurt. Your body still hurts the next day. But when you love wrestling, it doesn’t matter. You do it for the pride and the respect of the business. So I gave everything I could, and I’ll never forget there was this one lady in the crowd who was just going nuts. She was standing up, yelling at us, talking shit. And that fired me up, and I was turning to her and calling her all kinds of names. Don’t cancel me, please, but I think I called her Large Marge. She was throwing popcorn. It was incredible.
The match ends, we get backstage, and of course the promoter can’t pay. I remember the guys were sitting around talking about where we were gonna go eat, and I was so broke that I had to lie and say I wasn’t hungry.
Doing that bullshit thing like, “Ah no, I’m good. I’m good. I’m full. I’ll come sit with you guys and have a water or something.”
And my tag-team partner and buddy was such a good guy, he would always pay for me without telling anybody. So after the show, we’re all out in the parking lot packing up the truck, and I’m feeling pretty depressed about everything, when all of a sudden I hear this voice shout, “Hey!!!! Hey guys!!!!”
It’s Large Marge.
She’s like, “Guys, that was awesome. I had such a blast. You guys rock. Thank you!!!!”
I spent 20 years on the road in the indies, never quite making it, getting bitter, getting self-destructive, getting depressed, having to ask my parents for money so I could make rent. And to be honest with you, sometimes I have no idea why I kept going.
But I think it probably has something to do with that lady.
Sometimes, it just takes one person. You make their night, and it keeps you going. So I kept going, for 16 more years, wrestling all over the country, doing shows in ice rinks and VFWs and Elks Clubs and parking lots, and never making it to the big time. I used to call ironworking my hobby and pro wrestling my real job. The union guys got a kick out of that. When I started getting older and my body started breaking down, I got heavy into painkillers. I started drinking more. Then I got so down on myself and so angry and depressed that I ended up kicking the pills just because I thought, “Hey, you know what? What am I spending all this money on pills for? Shit, I’d rather spend it all on booze!”
Ain’t that sad?
So I drank. Christ, did I drink. I became a bouncer just so I could drink more. On the weekends I’d start drinking at 1 p.m. on Saturday, bounce at the bar until 7, go and wrestle somewhere, then come back to the bar after and drink til 7 in the morning. Then I’d wake up the next day and it was football Sunday, so I’d drink from noon till 2 a.m.
I was sick. I hated myself. I would sit at home drinking whiskey, watching guys who I’d come up with in the indies wrestling on national TV in the big promotions, and I’d just sit and stew until I blew up. I’d punch holes in the walls. I’d smash bottles. I was a danger to myself and others. One week, I ended up going on a bender that was so bad that I just kind of disappeared. I was supposed to be doing shows and I just didn’t show up. I smashed my cell phone and no one could get ahold of me. People were scared that I was dead. I woke up one afternoon and there were just beer bottles smashed everywhere in my apartment. For some reason, I checked my mailbox, probably looking for a miracle check or something, and I had a letter. I’m like, “A letter? The last person that ever wrote me a letter was my grandma.”
I opened this letter, and it was from my friend Alex Whybrow, aka Larry Sweeney. Longtime indie wrestler, amazing dude. He wrote me a letter as a last resort. He said everyone was really worried about me and he begged me to reach out. And I’ll never forget, this one line at the end, it said….
“I feel like I’ve lost my best friend. Please call me.”
For some reason, that woke me up. I called Alex and I crawled up out of my hole. I just always felt like nobody ever cared about me. I felt like a failure, a loser, a bad friend. It’s something that’s been with me since I was a kid. If Alex hadn’t sent me that letter, I don’t think I would be here today. I probably would have drank myself to death. He saved my life.
And the saddest part about it is that those words that he said to me must have come from a very deep place within himself ... because he ended up taking his own life just a few years later. I think he knew the pain that I was going through. He knew that darkness.
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.
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.- Eddie Kingston
In memory of Alex, I’m telling this story. He saved me. But he couldn’t save himself. So many days, I just didn’t wanna be here anymore. I had so much guilt and anger and shame. After Alex’s death, I slowly started to get help and clean myself up a bit, but I looked up one day and I was 37 years old, and I realized that it was just never going to happen for me. The big boys were never going to give me a shot. I’d burned too many bridges. Told too many promoters to go to hell. Had too much of a reputation.
I was done. One day my brother was over at my house, and I told him that I was thinking of moving to Alaska. Work with my hands. Start a new life. I wasn’t married. Didn’t have any kids. I’d given my whole life to the business, and I was a failure, and it was time to call it a day.
He just looked at me, like only a brother can look at you, and then he took a sip of whiskey and he paused. Then he said, “Alright. Hey, you do you. It’s your life. What am I gonna tell my son, though?”
My nephew had just been born.
I said, “What the hell are you talking about?”
He said, “How am I gonna tell my son not to be a quitter when his uncle quit on his dream?”
And I just looked at him like: “You son of a bitch. How dare you help me? How dare you.”
I had this vision of my nephew in the first grade, talking to his friends at school, like, “My uncle’s a wrestler!”
And you know how little kids are: “What??? No he’s not!!! Your uncle’s not a wrestler!!!”
I decided in that moment that I couldn’t quit. I had to keep going for a few more years, just so that my nephew could be old enough to pull up YouTube on his phone at school and show that kid a clip of his old Uncle Eddie suplexing some dude in the middle of the ring. I knew it wasn’t going to be in the WWE or AEW or anything like that. But I didn’t care. As long as it was in a bingo hall or a VFW — as long as his uncle was really a wrestler, I didn’t care.
So I kept going. Then, a year later, COVID hit. I was wrestling overseas in the U.K. when everything shut down, and I had to spend my last $2,000 just to get home when the borders were closing. All the indies were shut down for months, and I immediately knew what it meant for me. I could see the end. I had to sell some of my wrestling boots to make my mortgage payment. I had a month left to start making some scratch or I’d lose the house. I called up my mom and told her the deal. It was humiliating. I was going to have to move back in with her and my dad in Yonkers if things didn’t work out.
I had to sell some of my wrestling boots to make my mortgage payment.- Eddie Kingston
Then I got this call to do an outdoor match in New Jersey. They got permission to set up a ring in the middle of a parking lot and to have people watching from their cars. I couldn’t say no. I went up to Jersey to do the show thinking that it could be the last match I ever did. I was about to lose my house. I was desperate.
So, after my match, for some reason, I just grabbed the microphone, and I just started doing what I do best. I started talking trash. I called out all the champions of the big-time promotions. And I didn’t even think anything of it. I was just being me. I was doing what I love to do. But then, somehow, someone captured my rant and posted the clip on social media, and it made it all the way to Cody Rhodes and AEW. I guess they thought it was funny or crazy or I don’t know what — but I got a call out of the blue from AEW talent relations, and they said, “Hey, we saw your clip. We want you to come in and wrestle Cody.”
And I’m so depressed and down on myself at this point that the first thing out of my mouth was, “How much does it pay?”
I didn’t think it was a tryout. I didn’t think it was a miracle. I didn’t think about anything except, I need to pay my mortgage. To me, it was just a booking. A paycheck. I’m 38 years old. They’re not going to sign me. This is just some bullshit stunt. I swear to you, when I got to the show and I was backstage, I was just numb. I wasn’t talking to anybody. I wasn’t excited.
There was no 8 Mile moment with me in front of the mirror. I was literally thinking, Let me just get this over with so I can get my check. I remember Cody was so great about everything — and he actually asked me what I wanted for my walk-out music and I told him the truth: I said, “Why would I have music? I don’t work here. I wouldn’t have music. I should just run out and start beating the shit out of you, like I’m some guy. Because I am just some guy.”
And he said, “Alright, but let’s give you a microphone then.”
I said, “A mic?”
He said, “Yeah, just come out with the mic and start tearing into me.”
I mean, this is Cody Rhodes. This is the guy. And he’s telling me to come out and shit on him. I think about that now and I get goose bumps. I didn’t even deserve it, but he let me have that moment, and it changed my life.
Another guy who changed my life in that moment ... and damn, I am going to get emotional just thinking about this, because he’s not with us anymore….
But another guy who changed my life was Brodie Lee. (Rest in peace.) I had known Brodie for years from the indie circuit. Just the best guy. A true pro. He was standing backstage right before I was about to go out through the curtain, and he could see that I was just numb. He walked up to me all serious, and he goes, “Hey, where’s the Eddie Kingston I know?”
He shoved me hard. I stumbled back. And it’s like he woke up the beast.
I looked him right in the eyes and I shoved him back.
He stumbled back a couple of steps and then he looked at me and said, “There he is.”
We just started cracking up.
I walked out through that curtain that night a very broken man. Thirty-eight years old. Bitter. Self-destructive. About to move back in with his mother.
I cannot explain to you what happened next. I still don’t understand it. I am still waiting for someone to wake me up from the dream.
I walked out through that curtain that night a very broken man.- Eddie Kingston
I wrestled Cody, like I’ve wrestled 10,000 guys, 10,000 times before. I did my job. I beat him up. He beat me up. I powerbombed him onto some thumbtacks. I tried to tell a story. I tried to make somebody out there watching feel something. Even if it was just one person who was having a shitty day who was using our match as an escape.
I just did my job, and he pinned me, and then I walked back through the curtain.
And that’s when I saw Brodie Lee and Jon Moxley. They weren’t jumping around. They weren’t clapping. They weren’t telling me that I was the man. That’s not them. I just noticed that they were smiling.
I said, “Was it alright?”
Mox said, “You did good. You beat him up good.”
And that’s when I realized, Oh man. Hey, you were just on national television. That’s pretty cool. If I’m done, then at least I have this.
When the match aired on TV, something weird started happening with my phone. Twitter, social media, all that stuff — I still don’t really get how it works. It’s not my thing. So I saw all this shit start popping up on my phone with that little bird, but I was confused. Then I started getting all these text messages, and then someone from AEW texted me, “Eddie, you’re trending.”
And I said, “Trending? What is that? Does that mean I get paid more?”
She hit me back, “No, this is a big deal. They’re tweeting #SIGNEDDIEKINGSTON. It’s everywhere. There’s thousands of people. They’re begging AEW to sign you.”
It’s still so weird to me, even now, because I have such a hard time accepting love. I’m a hard-ass New York guy. I don’t trust it. I’m suspicious. I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. So when all these random people were standing up for me, I was just numb. I was uncomfortable. I didn’t get it. Even when AEW called me and told me that they wanted to offer me a contract, it just didn’t sink in. It was too surreal for a guy like me.
It wasn’t until two weeks later — I was on vacation out in Montana with my girlfriend, and we were just sitting in the car, about to go inside her friend’s house, and I paused for a second and I turned to her and said, “Hey wait.”
She said, “What’s wrong?”
I said, “You know I’m signed right? I’m on national television. My nephew can watch his uncle on TV. Like, I’m really signed. I mean, 20 f*cking years in this. I was about to lose my house. I was about to….”
And I just started crying. This wave came over me, and I finally understood what was happening, and I started bawling right there in the car.
I have been everything in this life. I have been an angry kid. I’ve been a depressed teenager. I’ve been an addict. I’ve seen so many holding cells it would make your head spin. I’ve messed up and self-destructed and burned bridges. I’ve been down to my last dollar.
The only reason I’m still doing this, and really the only reason I’m still on this earth is because of all the friends who never stop having my back.
I’m so lucky to have had a friend like Larry Sweeney.
I’m so lucky to have had a friend like Brodie.
I’m so lucky to still have a friend like Mox. (And I’m so proud of him for showing real courage right now. I got you, brother. Keep your head up.)
You know what’s crazy? Back in the day, me and Mox used to wrestle each other at the Elks Lodge in Brooklyn in front of 85 people. It was so surreal to walk through that curtain with him in Jacksonville at AEW’s first big live show after COVID, in front of 5,000 screaming people, wrestling against the Young Bucks on national television. I remember right before Mox kicked open the door and we walked down the aisle, he looked at me and he said, “Hey, get ready to be a f*cking star. Now let’s go kick these guys’ asses.”
I still have my struggles.
I still have a hard time accepting all this love and attention.
I still have to take my Zoloft.
I still have panic attacks.
As a matter of fact, I had one right after I fought Miro at the All Out PPV. My phone started blowing up with all these people telling me great job, just showing me love, and I just couldn’t handle it. I got overwhelmed. My chest got tight. The walls started closing in. I started to go numb. It felt like I was breathing through a straw. But I was able to calm myself down and slow my breathing, because I’d been strong enough to reach out and get professional help, and I know what to do now. I know how to live with my anxiety and depression. And I’m not afraid to talk about it. I don’t care what the old-school guys in the business have to say about it. It ain’t 1987 no more.
I know that I am not fixed. I am not perfect. I still have some really dark days, to be honest with you. But when I wake up in the morning, no matter how bad I feel, I know one thing for sure, and I’m damned proud of it….
I know that no matter how this all turns out from here, I can always look my nephew in the eye and tell him that his old, broken, beaten-up Uncle Eddie never quit.
And when he grows up a little more and he gets to the first grade and some punk kid tells him, “Your uncle’s not a wrestler. You’re lying,” he can whip out his phone and show him a video of his Uncle Eddie walking out through the curtain in front of 20,000 screaming fans at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens — right down the block from where he used to trade Japanese wrestling tapes and get into street fights and run from the cops.
My nephew can look that little punk dead in his eyes and say, “See?”
His uncle ain’t a New York Yankee.
He ain’t a doctor or a lawyer.
He ain’t a f*cking astronaut.
He’s a wrestler.