I conducted a phone interview Thursday with WWE Intercontinental champion Kofi Kingston, who will be one of eight participants in Smackdown’s Money in the Bank ladder match at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view Sunday.
You got your degree in communications from Boston College, so how did you end up becoming a pro wrestler? And what was your family’s reaction when you decided to pursue a wrestling career?
(Laughs) Initially my family just didn’t know how big the WWE was. I started training on the independent scene, and these are definitely not the most glamorous arenas. When I told my parents I wanted to be a WWE Superstar coming out of college, and actually having worked a legit job where I’m supposed to be climbing that corporate ladder and working towards retirement, to all of a sudden tell them that I wanted to kind of throw that all away and pursue a different career, they were definitely hesitant to support me on it, for sure. But I felt in my heart that WWE was where I wanted to be. Ever since I was a kid this was all I’ve wanted to do. I think your standard path is that you go through high school and college and you get your degree and then you really start working toward your retirement. You sit in that cubicle and that’s the path that a lot of people take, and that works for some people but it just didn’t work for me. So I just chose to follow my dream and I’m definitely glad that I did because there’s nothing like being a WWE Superstar.
You mentioned starting in the independents and how it wasn’t glamorous. You were signed to a WWE developmental deal relatively quickly, though. You didn’t toil in the independent scene for years like some guys, correct?
Yeah, I was only wrestling for about a year. We happened to have a tryout at our [wrestling] school up in Boston and all the WWE producers were there. It was just a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity where we actually got a legit tryout and they were there to see us, and I just happened to stand out to them. Luckily, they just liked what they saw. One thing led to another and before I knew it I was on my way down to Atlanta to Deep South [Wrestling] to train in developmental. It’s been a wild ride so far.
How did you feel about dropping the Jamaican character and the accent last year? Were you concerned at all that the fans wouldn’t react as positively to the new persona?
When I first came to WWE there were a lot of people playing characters, and for me, Jamaica actually had a very big influence on my life growing up – the culture, the laid-back attitude and the music in particular. I remember when I was training I would always be listening to the Damian Marley CD “Welcome to Jamrock” driving from work to Chaotic Training Center and back home. WWE and reggae music were kind of all in one when I was first coming up, so this seemed like the right direction to go. Now as far as the change and how people are going to react, I thought it was time to do that. I don’t think that people really care so much where you’re from. I don’t think that people were cheering for me because, “Oh, I like Jamaica. This guy’s from Jamaica. I’m going to cheer for him.” I think it’s more because I came out there with a lot of energy and a good attitude and I’m appreciative of the people out there, and they see that. And I do a lot of unique things in the ring, which they like to see, too.
Obviously a turning point in your career was the program you had with Randy Orton. What was that experience like? Did you view it as something of a test to see if you could succeed at a higher level?
Oh yeah, for sure. Everyone knows just how great Randy Orton is in the ring – he’s one of the best of our time, undeniably. Just to have the opportunity to be in the ring with him was great, and I feel I had to step my game up. I always say that Randy and I were enemies with benefits. We didn’t really like each other, but he forced me to take my game to a new level and show a different side of Kofi Kingston that a lot of people necessarily hadn’t seen. He really brought that out. It was a great experience and I’m glad that I was able to go out there and do some things with a guy of his caliber. I definitely learned a lot.
Performers with great athleticism and high-flying ability often get derogatorily labeled as “spot guys.” Has it been a learning curve for you as far mastering the art of telling a story in the ring?
To be honest, that’s kind of the way that I’ve been brought up. When I first started training up in Boston, the coach that I had, Mike Hollow, is probably the best on the East Coast, and it was all about storytelling. I was just very lucky to have been brought up in the independent scene with a great foundation and somebody who really prepared me for the WWE style. Anyone can go out there and do the moves. I was an amateur wrestler in high school, so as far as like a suplex, I would always get that on the first try. It’s just how you put it together. It’s like a good book. Anyone can put big words in a book, but it’s really how those words connect and that’s what makes a good story. The WWE is the same way. We are all about storytelling.
Just out of curiosity, have you ever measured your vertical leap?
[Laughs] Actually no, I have not. I really kind of just jump with all my might and try to get up there.
You’ve been in a couple Money in the Bank ladder matches at WrestleMania, but on Sunday there will be two Money in the Bank ladder matches on the same show for the first time. Is there any competition – either spoken or unspoken – between the Raw guys and the Smackdown guys as far as who is going to have the best match?
Absolutely. That’s kind of what fuels us. We’re all pretty egotistical. Everyone wants to go out there and be the best and be at the top of their game. So when you have an event like this where you have not one but two Money in the Bank ladder matches – which is going to be awesome by the way. As everyone knows, Money in the Bank has been one of the staple matches of WrestleMania and most entertaining, and the fact that we have two of them on one pay-per-view is just going to be incredible. But getting back to competition – oh yeah, absolutely – Smackdown wants to put on the better performance and Raw wants to do the same thing. I think it’s the best thing for the WWE Universe.
There was a memorable spot in the Money in the Bank match at this past WrestleMania in which you used two halves of a broken ladder as a pair of stilts. How did you come up with that and pull that off?
I kind of get influences from all over the place – Japanimation, kung fu movies, comic books and whatnot – and I’m always trying to do things that are innovative and people haven’t seen before. Obviously, WWE’s been in business for quite some time, and to be able to do something that is completely fresh is very, very hard to do, but I think it’s a good challenge for us. I’m a student of the game and I watch all different types of sports entertainment, so to be able to bring that to WWE is something I kind of take pride in.
I know that you played a heel at one point before coming to WWE. Have you thought about tapping into that side of your persona in the future?
Who knows what the future holds? People talk about good guys and bad guys but over the past few years the line has really kind of been blurred. Back in the day somebody like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin would definitely have been perceived as a bad guy, and that was not the case when “Stone Cold” was around, so who knows how the WWE Universe is going to react to you? I think as far as me being a good guy or a bad guy it’s really kind of up to the WWE Universe and how they perceive me. As long as they keep liking me, I guess we’ll go that route, but you never know what the future holds.
It’s good to know you can turn it on if you have to, right?
We’ll see. I’m always trying to step up. Once I’m called to do a certain thing I usually deliver, so if that role was delegated on to me I think I’d definitely step up and fill that void.
Photo courtesy of World Wrestling Entertainment