New STRONG Openweight Champion talks G1 Climax 33
After growing up as a Japanese wrestling fan and fighting for decades in the wrestling world, it was, incredibly, not until Independence Day 2023 that Eddie Kingston made his Korakuen Hall debut. It was an emotional occasion, and one that was underscored on July 5 when he defeated KENTA to lift the STRONG Openweight Championship within the hallowed Hall. Now walking into his first G1 as a champion, we spoke to Eddie about his long road, and what’s to come.
I’m not supposed to be here
–So we’re chatting here right before you make your Korakuen Hall debut at Independence Day. It seems incredible to think you’ve never wrestled here…
Eddie: I know, yeah. I wrestled for Osaka Pro a long time ago but we never left Osaka, so this is a huge deal for me.
–As someone that has seen so much wrestling from here, what did it feel like to finally walk up the stairs and be here in the building?
Eddie: I can feel the spirit, you know. I can’t stop smiling, because I can feel the spirit, the fighting spirit of my heroes that wrestled here, and it’s something that I’ve never felt before. This power- I’m almost speechless, there’s no words that can do justice to this building and the company and the tournament.
–After the career you’ve had, it’s incredible to think that now you’re finally heading into your first G1. What does that mean to you personally?
Eddie: It means everything to me. It’s what I’ve wanted to do since I got started in the bsuiness. The pinnacle of pro-wrestling. You have to be battle hardened, you have to be battle tested to survive here.
–In the past we’ve seen Lance Archer in 2022 and Jon Moxley in 2019 come from AEW- how do you feel about showing the AEW fans a different side to Eddie Kingston?
Eddie: I wanna show all the fans- not just AEW fans- that I can do this style. That I’ve studied this style before I even broke in.
–And what is that style to you? What makes Japanese wrestling different to what we see everywhere else in the world?
Eddie: To me, Japanese professional wrestling is the best professional wrestling in the world. I felt that ever since I was a teenager. My first pro-wrestling tape had Muto versus Chono in the 1991 G1 final. That blew my mind, and it made me want to be here more than anywhere else.
–Never say never is such a common phrase in this business, but timing wise, did you ever feel at times, OK Japan would be nice but maybe it won’t ever work out?
Eddie: Yeah. I felt like my career was over right before the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, I thought ‘OK, that’s it, my career’s over’. I’m… I’m not supposed to be here. I’ll get emotional saying this, but I’ve dreamed of this since I was 13 years old. (teary eyed) I’ve made a lot of mistakes. In life, not just in wrestling, and I never thought I’d be here. To be here now seems very surreal, so I just want to do good for the Japanese fans, for New Japan, and for the people I looked up to, for Hashimoto, Chono, Muto, Baba, Inoki, the Four Pillars and on and on. Jun Akiyama as well- I’ve been able to wrestle and team with him, and he gave me so much confidence.
Strong Style means never giving in
–But in a lot of ways the real work starts now.
Eddie: Oh sure. This all seems so surreal, but I’m not here just to be here. I’m here to fight because that’s all I’ve known in my life. All I know is the fight. I threw my first punch when I was eight years old at a kid in the schoolyard. So I’ll definitely be fighting. That’s not a worry. I’m just worried I’ll wake up in the morning and find out all this isn’t real.
–When Antonio Inoki passed away last year, we talked a lot about what Fighting Spirit means and what Strong Style means to everyone. What do those ideas mean to you?
Eddie: Strong Style to me means never giving in. Moving forward no matter what is going on in your life, professionally or personally. You keep going and do what you believe is right. It means continuing on when most people wouldn’t, or when society tells you to stop. You tell people, or you tell those demons in your mind that you won’t stop, but you’ll keep going and doing what you believe is the right thing to do.
–Here you are in your first G1, and one of the oldest debutants in tournament history. On the other hand you have the youth in A Block, and Shota Umino, Yota Tsuji and Ren Narita in particular being called the Reiwa Three Musketeers. How did you feel when you heard saw that announcement made?
Eddie: When I saw that, I really thought good luck, man. They have a lot to live up to. All three are great in that ring, but that’s pressure. You either crumble under the pressure or you rise. It’s the same for me- I don’t plan on crumbling.
–You’re in C Block with a lot of hard hitters- I would think style wise you’re pretty happy with the selection of opponents there.
Eddie: (Laughs) Yeah, well you know I’d like to fight Taichi just because of who he was trained by. Kawada is one of my favourites and the reason I wear the colours I wear. But I’m very happy with my block. I can’t wait to face Shingo, and Ishii again- I just want to fight man, it can’t come soon enough.
Hopefully Ishii respects me- if he doesn’t, he will
–You have Shingo out the gate. That sets quite a pace from day one in Sapporo.
Eddie: I love that. That’s the test. OK I got invited but now we have to find out whether I can hang in there. Shingo is a former IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, so why not start with him?
–Your second match is with EVIL. There’s a lot of people that want to bring the serious combatant out of EVIL. Do you feel like you want to bring that out of him?
Eddie: Well, if he doesn’t bring that, he’s gonna lose. Plain and simple. No doubt, if he doesn’t bring a fight, if he wants to play around, it’s game over for him. This isn’t a game to me, this is my life, what I’ve been doing for 21 years. For me, it’s always been pro-wrestling or death. So if he wants to win, he can’t play these games.
–In Nagano you wrestle Aaron Henare. Henare certainly has his own very tough background. Are you familiar at all with what Henare has done in NJPW?
Eddie: Yeah, I am. I keep up on everybody because you have to study your opponents, and know his strengths and weaknesses. His strength is his background, but his weakness might be his temper. So he and I are pretty similar in that regard. We’ll see whose temper is better.
–July 26, Korakuen and Tomohiro Ishii. You couldn’t ask for a better place for this rubber match after you went 1-1 in DC and in AEW.
Eddie: Out of everyone int his block, Ishii is the one I respect the most, for his style, for his work ethic, and the people he was trained by, too. I couldn’t ask for a better opponent. Couldn’t ask for a better match. I’m smiling saying this because I like the struggle. If you don’t struggle there’s no point to me. When you get to where you want, that’s a lot sweeter if there’s struggle to get there, and I know Ishii will give me that struggle.
–You two teamed together at Forbidden Door- was there much of a conversation between the two of you?
Eddie: It was a case of ‘we have business, and then after this we have the G1’. That’s it. No friendship or anything. Hopefully he respects me- if he doesn’t, he will.
Nothing scares me
–After that in Nagoya, you have Mikey Nicholls. People might not know just how intimidating a reputation Mikey has in Australia especially.
Eddie: Oh yeah. I like to force the pace in a lot of my fights and have things my way, but I think Mikey will bring it. A lot of people are sleeping on Mikey. I respect the hell out of him for doing what he’s done all over the world. I’m looking forward to getting in there. I’ve wanted to fight him for a long time, and now I have the chance to.
–August 2 you have Tama Tonga.
Eddie: I have respect for everyone here, but Tama I’ve spoken to outside the ring. We’ve had the chance to hang out and spend time, and his brothers. I got to see how their brains worked, and I learned how much they love pro-wrestling. It’s not just the family lineage with them, they always bring it. So I just want to fight him man, same with everyone. I want to test myself.
–That idea of testing yourself is important to you.
Eddie: I wanna see, am I as good as some people say? Can I rise to that level? I have my doubts, but I’ll force myself to go. I remember reading recently someone saying that there’s a coward in all of us, and it’s up to us to shut that coward down. That’s what I’m gonna do.
–Your last group match in Osaka is with David Finlay. What do you think of this new attitude in him?
Eddie: He needed that switch, People might not like it, but it was good for him. He’s more aggressive and he’s ready to go. Jay’s gone- who I beat by the way- but it has to be your time, and he should use what Liger said back in the day.
–That he found his father frightening, but found Finlay funny.
Eddie: He needs to use that. Do it. Bring the fight. I don’t want anyone taking it easy. If you wanna go, let’s go. Nothing scares me, I’m ready to leave my heart and soul in that ring. There’s nothing else but that.
Without struggle, there is no progress
–After G1 is over and done with, what’s the lasting image you want the Japanese fans to have of this month?
Eddie: The last thing I’d like to leave for them is that I never quit, I never stopped and I always brung it, no matter how I felt physically, mentally, emotionally- and I’m an emotional guy- I always kept fighting. I keep saying it, but I was born to fight. I’m American, but my father’s side of the family is Irish, and they were hard men. My Puerto Rican side- all females, but hard females, man. I was brought up to fight.
–Before we finish, can you sum up this G1 and your plans in one statement?
Eddie: Without struggle, there is no progress. I’m ready to struggle, and I’m ready to win the G1.