March 13, 2013
Kofi Kingston focused on making the 'top tier'
By BOB KAPUR -- SLAM! Wrestling
Life on the road as a WWE Superstar requires a lot of sacrifices. Some are big ones, like dealing with constant aches and pains, or missing out on your kid's first step because you're out on the road. Or some are really small, like not being able to watch the Oscars. That was the case this year for Kofi Kingston.
"I wish I'd have seen it," he told SLAM! Wrestling in early March in an exclusive sit-down at the Viewers Choice Canada offices. "I think Seth McFarlane is such a wonderful performer, I would have liked to see him. I heard he was pretty good."
Between traveling 300 days a year for house shows, TV, and PPV, combined with media days, it's actually a surprise for Kingston when he does get to experience normal life. Consider this year's Super Bowl.
"We had an event," he remembered. "We had a show in Louisiana, and then we had to drive up to Atlanta. I didn't know if I was going to make it to the hotel in time to watch it. I literally got into my hotel room as the coin toss was going on."
"We miss out on a lot of things. It takes some getting used to. But that's the price we pay for getting to live out our dream."
For Kingston, it literally was his dream. Even going through school and taking a job in the "real world," he had his sights on bigger and better things.
"In elementary school, in high school, I wanted to be a WWE Superstar. I went to college because that's what you're supposed to do. Meanwhile, in my heart I was always thinking about how I was going to make it into WWE. A lot of people graduate college and then go work and enjoy their jobs. I didn't enjoy my job. I decided to give the whole WWE thing a shot."
Walking into his training school for the first time, he knew that he had made the right decision.
"The difference between the corporate environment -- being surrounded by cubicles and grey walls and iMac computers, and my boss sending me through my gears because I didn't put the period at the end of a memo, to do a job that I didn't even really need to go to college for -- and walking into a wrestling school? As soon as I walked in, I got the feeling that this was what I meant to do. I knew for a fact that I wanted to be there, and that I was meant to be there."
It was there that Kingston got a glimpse of the sacrifices that he would need to make to get ahead in the business.
"I was still working while I was training," he said. "So I would work seven-, eight-hour days then drive an hour and a half to the training centre, where I would then go through practice for three, three and a half hours, and then drive home. I would do that five days a week for about six months to a year."
His efforts were rewarded when WWE developmental scouts went to his school (the Chaotic Training Center in Boston) to hold a tryout. The scouts liked what they saw, and Kingston was signed to a developmental contract, less than a year after his in-ring debut.
"It was a lot of luck," he acknowledged. "I like to say that I was at the right place at the right time. But you also have to put yourself in that situation, and I definitely did whatever I could to get the chance. And that's why I'm so grateful and thankful that I got the opportunity. Whether I was going to make it or not, I was going to try. Because I never wanted that when I was 70 years old to look back with regret and wonder 'What if?' If you do look back and know that you didn't get the opportunity because you didn't try, how terrible would that be?"
It's something he hasn't had to worry about -- and probably won't have to any time soon -- since he's one of the most popular performers in the company. And, as he puts it, from day one, Kingston has been aiming to continuously strive for the top. One of his most notable moments along that journey was the change from his initial Jamaican character.
"I think it's definitely been a help," he said about the change. "If you look at the history of the greats in WWE, everyone has an evolution. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin started out as the Ring Master, Triple H was first Hunter Hearst Helmsley, even The Rock started off as Rocky Maivia. Those weren't really them. The more you transition into being yourself, it becomes more real. Obviously I'm not Jamaican -- I've never even been to Jamaica. But if you can transition your character from one thing to another, it makes a great story. Looking back on your career, you need to have some sort of progression. Character development is a huge part of that."
But not the only part. In addition, Kingston also has an exciting and dynamic style with lots of aerial moves that fans love watching him perform. Given his high-risk style, Kofi recognizes that he's been pretty lucky avoiding any serious injuries.
"I think I'm going to go ahead and touch wood," he half-joked, knocking on the boardroom table where the interview was conducted. "Yeah, I've been really fortunate to have this high risk style, and be jumping off the top rope to the outside of the ring, and still be okay. When I say okay, I don't mean I'm completely fine," he clarified, "because I'm definitely banged up. But I'm still able to go out and perform."
Of course, he has his bad days as well, like one match he recalled overseas where conditions were less than ideal.
"There was one time I was in Europe, and the arena was so cold, it was very hard to warm up. A lot of times, you kind of jump around for a few minutes and you can go. I probably should have warmed up a lot more than I did for this match. I think it was with Dolph (Ziggler). He had gone out to the ring, and I go to go up the stairs. I jumped two times and then I pulled something in my back. So I can't move, literally. Normally I come out and do the three 'thunderclaps' and jump off the ramp. But I couldn't do that. I get to the ring thinking how I was going to get through the match."
When that happens, he gives credit to the WWE Universe for helping him pull through it.
"Once the bell rings and the fans start chanting, the adrenaline takes over. The WWE Universe is one of the best, if not the best fan base ever. I've never seen any fans of any sport wait outside the arenas waiting, no matter if it's in the rain or sleet, waiting to just catch a glimpse of a WWE Superstar, even to see them getting out of their car and walking into an arena. I mean, what dedication. And then to go nuts in the arenas, I mean, that's what we live for."
Of course, having such a huge fan base is not without its problems and pressures too.
"It can be hard living in the public eye," he confirmed. "You lose a lot of privacy, you always have eyes on you. You'll be out for dinner with your family, and people will be coming up to you asking for autographs in the middle of your meal. They're excited because they see you on TV, and now all of a sudden they're seeing a real life character in front of them. So the excitement overtakes them."
In some cases, the fans' enthusiasm can lead to some crazy memorable experiences, as it did on a recent tour Down Under.
"It was in Australia," he recalled. "We have the buses that wait for us out back for us to finish the show. After the show, we're all done and one at a time, we all get on the bus. Australia's really cool because there are always thousands of people in the parking lot. I was the first one to come out of the building. I get up on the bus, and grab a water and am heading into the back. I look in the back seat and I see these two guys. There's this one guy who's crouching and he's trying to look so small. And I'm thinking to myself, 'Who the hell is this guy?' I'm thinking it's one of the crew. He looks at me and (puts his finger to his lips and) goes 'shhhh.' I thought we were trying rib somebody, and I'm like, 'Okay, who are we ribbing? Who are you ribbing, man?' And he whispers, 'Oh, we're just really big fans.' You can't even be mad at someone for having the guts to do that. If you did that back in the '80s, you wouldn't probably even made it out of the bus. You'd still be on the bus all laid out. But it was funny. I was like, 'Okay, man, you've gotta go, just get off the bus,' and security came and made sure he wasn't stealing anything. But he wasn't. He was just a fan who now has a story for the rest of his life about how he got into a WWE bus. I've never seen anything like that happen. I don't even know how he did it, we have security all over the parking lot. He must have acted like he belonged. I can't emphasize how low he was crouching, it was just so bizarre."
"Honestly," he laughed, "you've gotta love the WWE Universe. And, seriously, I do. Because they're amazing. They give us so much, and without them, there would be no us."
Of course, that means that fans can have a major influence on the direction of a character. While Kingston is currently one of the biggest fan favourites in the company, he's aware that this may not always be the case. While he has no plans to turn into a villain, he said that if that's what the fans wanted, that would be something he'd be up for.
"You never know," he surmised. "It's all about how the fans see you. Going back to The Rock, people used to love him initially. But then they started chanting 'Rocky sucks.' And for no reason really. Maybe they just got sick of him, or were able to see through the character and see that wasn't who he really was. Whatever the reason, it was the fans that actually made The Rock start thinking about becoming The Rock. I really have no idea. Everyone has a different story of how they go back and forth from good guy to bad guy. Nobody really knows what the future holds. And I think that's one of the best things about it -- that unpredictability factor."
"Initially, I did think about jumping from the table to the ring," he revealed. "But when you get out there, it's like, 'Uhhhh, this might be kind of risky.' (I wanted to) try it, but those tables are so rickety sometimes that you think to yourself, 'If you don't make it, how stupid are you going to look for even trying?' It's like, of course you didn't make it, nobody could make that jump. On top of that, the ring is set a little bit higher than the table. So I feel like I could maybe jump from the ring to the table -- maybe. But the table to the ring, not so much. But I definitely did think about it. And then you hear the crowd cheering, 'Yeah, come on, just do it! Do it!' And you're like, 'Yeah, okay ... um, on second thought, no.'"
But while he has ten months to think about his next Royal Rumble moment, right now, Kofi is focused on the event that takes place four weeks from now: WrestleMania. Kingston has been involved in several multi-man matches at the annual event -- notably in some Money in the Bank matches -- but he's hoping this year he will get a coveted singles match.
"Oh yeah, that's definitely the goal," he confirmed. "One hundred percent. When we were kids and fantasizing about being a WWE Superstar -- I actually had a Bugs Bunny doll that I used to practice all my moves on -- you always imagine yourself being in the main event a WrestleMania. Me and Bugs Bunny. You always envision being there in a singles match. Just you and your opponent on the grandest stage of them all. The selfishness comes out, but you want more eyes on you than on having them on other people in your match."
And while Bugs may not be able to make it, that's fine with Kofi. In fact, he's ready and willing to take on anyone, should he get the opportunity.
"I'm not picky at all. I pride myself on being one of those guys that can go out there with anybody and have a great match. I have the mentality that it doesn't matter who I'm in there with, we'll tear the house down regardless."
It would also be the next step towards Kofi's goal of continuing to advance.
"I'm focusing right now on breaking into that top tier," he said. "I feel that now I'm so close, you know. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but like I said, I feel I can go out there with anybody and be great. It's just a matter of getting opportunities to do so and staying the course of what I do. I always say that I don't have control over what the direction of the show will be, and what storylines I'll be in. But what I do have control over is being in the ring and doing what I do. Regardless of what's going on and whomever I'm in there with, I'll be able to go out there and do some incredible things. It's like I said, I always want to be moving ahead."
WrestleMania takes place on Sunday, April 6, and can be seen on PPV through Viewers Choice Canada.
Bob Kapur has been to Jamaica, but didn't like it. E-mail him your vacation tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.