“You got me in a vendetta kind of mood. You tell the angels in heaven you never seen evil so singularly personified as you did in the face of the man who killed you.” —Vincenzo Coccotti, True Romance
There is a big difference between a vendetta and a feud, especially in wrestling. Feuds end. They build and build until there is a climactic match or moment and the wrestlers move on to other business. Vendettas, though—vendettas last forever. A vendetta is the Villanos children and the Brazos children meeting up in a tiny Mexican gymnasium and spilling blood like their fathers did decades before. A vendetta is Terry Funk jumping Dustin Rhodes in 1994 to bring Dusty out of retirement so he could continue their issue from the early ’70s. Eddie Kingston has had a fair number of pro wrestling feuds over the years, but he is a man who specializes in vendetta.
At Supercard of Honor 2023, Kingston and Claudio Castagnoli went to war in an incredibly physical, uncomfortably violent bout that lived up to both the legacy of the Ring of Honor World title matches preceding it and the All Japan Triple Crown Heavyweight title matches that inspired Kingston to enter pro wrestling. Kingston fell short despite battling through a hellstorm of fierce uppercuts, stomps, and clotheslines, moves that would have ended a normal match. However, Kingston won’t stop coming at Castagnoli until he resurrects a grudge dating back nearly 20 years, to the early days of both of their careers, a grudge that stems from Kingston’s ugliest and longest-lasting vendetta with his former trainer Chris Hero.
“This all started because of my partner Blackjack Marciano,” Kingston told The Ringer. “We are both New York kids, we went to Chikara together, we were a tag team together. We were actually best friends. And then we did CCW. I went in as part of Blackout, and Blackjack got into CZW with Chris Hero, because he was our trainer and Hero got him in.”
“I used to drive home with Blackjack after shows,” Kingston continued, “and he would just be so despondent [about wrestling] ... because Hero would just fucking hop on him, and beat on him, and just basically use the kid, you know what I mean?” Kingston pointed to this as the start of his beef with Hero, noting that “when Blackjack left, I blamed Hero for that.”
Despite—or maybe because of—that real-life enmity, Hero and Kingston came to have one of the signature feuds in independent wrestling in the early 2000s. They had all-time-violent classics in Combat Zone Wrestling, IWA Mid-South, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, and Ring of Honor. Kingston defeated Hero in a Loser Leaves CZW match in 2007 and a Fight Without Honor bout in ROH in 2009, but Hero won several of the other matches in ROH and PWG. “I guess people liked it, because they would book us against each other; little did they know we were really hitting each other in the ring. Little did they know that he dropped me on my head at Ring of Honor and it wasn’t a mistake. And it wasn’t a mistake that when I backfisted him, I hit him directly in the jaw.”
“We had to fly to PWG the next day,” Kingston remembered. “I just remember me sitting in the back or something, just cracking my neck the whole time because he dropped me off my head, and he had ice on his face because I hit him in the jaw with the backfist and his jaw was out to here. We just don’t like each other.”
The battles in the ring only deepened the dislike between the two. “I respect him for what he showed me in the ring, training me, but I don’t respect him as a human being.” Kingston said. “I’m happy he’s not in the business anymore. I don’t want to see him in locker rooms anymore.” Hero hasn’t returned to in-ring action since leaving WWE in 2020. When asked if he wanted one final Chris Hero match, Kingston initially demurred but then responded: “If he’s fully ready to come back, then I’ll do it. I’ll do it anyway. I don’t care. Because I like hitting him. I like fucking him up, you know what I mean?”
Castagnoli and Hero were longtime tag partners as the Kings of Wrestling, holding the Chikara, CZW, and ROH tag titles at the same time. Despite that relationship, Castagnoli and Kingston were at one point close friends. “We used to live together, we trained together,” Kingston said. “I used to be 290 at one point in time. As you probably know from seeing my career early on, the gut was out there, man. And Claudio helped me lose the weight. I thought we were close friends.”
However, the circumstances of Castagnoli’s departure from the indies drove a wedge between the two men, a personal issue that continues today. After a series of matches in 2009, Kingston and Castagnoli reignited their feud in 2011, with Kingston front and center as the defender of Chikara and Castagnoli as the leader of the Bruderschaft des Kreuzes invading heel faction. Castagnoli defeated Kingston in his hometown of New York City in a match featuring multiple instances of interference and a BDK heel ref. After the match, Castagnoli continued the beatdown, brutally whipping Kingston with a belt. That match was seemingly setting up a climactic collision between the two in the finals of the 12 Large tournament to crown a new Chikara champion, but midway through that tournament, Castagnoli left Chikara and the independents to go to WWE, a decision that Kingston still resents.
“I thought Claudio had my back, and then he didn’t,” he said. “And then when I thought Claudio was going to do business before he left for WWE, I thought he was going to do business with me. As my friend, I thought he would, and then he didn’t. He left me and Chikara at the time high and dry just so he could go to WWE. And I get going to the WWE, and that’s like a goal for some people, but you still got to do business. That’s the way I was taught. You still got to do business on your way out. And he didn’t do that. So that’s why I held the grudge for so long.”
“If I treat you as a friend and you turn around and don’t treat me as one,” Kingston declared, “I am going to not like you forever.”
Kingston went on to explain that Castagnoli “didn’t fight me before he went to the WWE like he was scheduled to do, and that would have helped Chikara and that would have helped me in my career. … He says he couldn’t do it, he had no choice. I said that’s bullshit, because I seen other people right before they were about to leave for WWE at the time do their last couple of indie dates, you know what I mean? And he just didn’t want to do it because he just wanted to go there and get paid. … I hate the fact that all these people say how much of a great guy he is when they don’t know him like I know him, and that’s what gets me nuts.”
Kingston’s great talent in pro wrestling is his ability to make you believe: believe in what he says in an interview and believe in what he does in the ring.
Chikara, the promotion where Kingston began his career, was the most fanciful and out-there promotion of its time. It had teams of wrestling ants, time travelers, soccer-playing goats, and hypnotists, and in the middle of it all was a seething ball of anger, a tough street kid from New York with tears in his eyes and demons in his skull, fighting ugly fights, turning every promo into an elegy and every match into a war of attrition. Kingston is assuredly a showman, but when he talks about Castagnoli you can feel the authentic anger and passion, something that was also conveyed in the physicality and intensity of their title match. It was the capper of a great show, full of great matches, but it represented something more than just a wrestling match. Kingston made you believe he was fighting for his life, and Castagnoli laid in shots so brutal that you feared for Kingston’s health and safety.
“Me and Claudio, this is real life. I feel like he really turned on me,” Kingston said. “You know what I mean? I really feel like he took my friendship for granted and then that was it. I’m not the one to do that to. You know what I mean? You’re not going to take my friendship for granted and me not try to fuck you up after.”
The ROH brand and the ROH World Championship have a lineage, and a certain type of match is expected when that title is on the line. Kingston acknowledges that legacy, but a dog has to bark. Prior to the match Kingston told The Ringer, “I am going to go in there and try to wrestle, because it’s Ring of Honor, so I am going to try to wrestle at first, but knowing me, at some point, I am going to have to gouge his eye.”
In many ways, this quest for the ROH world title is a chance for redemption for Kingston. He has had his moments in ROH: He was part of the legendary Cage of Death match in 2006 (actually teaming with both Hero and Castagnoli) and had short runs in 2009-10 and 2013-14. However, despite some successes, he never was able to cement his place as a major part of the promotion.
“Ring of Honor came straight with wrestling,” Kingston explained. “And everyone knows I love All Japan. That’s what it felt like seeing these guys go straight wrestling.” Kingston then got real about why he was never able to do more in ROH. “I went there on and off three, four times, and I think the best way for me to describe it was I shot myself in the foot every time. Every time at Ring of Honor. I either told Booker A to go fuck himself or Booker B to go fuck himself or the owner of the company saw me drunk at an airport fighting with people. True story.”
“When I look at my legacy with that company,” Kingston said, not holding back, “it’s basically I wasted my time there. I got there, [had] a goal, and I wasted my time because I was an angry young man and I thought I knew everything.”
While Kingston fell short of the title in the main event of Supercard of Honor, he ended the night standing shoulder to shoulder with Japanese icon Katsuyori Shibata, backing down the Blackpool Combat Club, and letting Castagnoli know that Ring of Honor was his home, he wasn’t going anywhere, and he wasn’t done with Castagnoli. Feuds end, but it is clear that this Eddie Kingston vendetta will continue on for a while.
Phil Schneider is a cofounder of the Death Valley Driver Video Review, a writer on the Segunda Caida blog, host of The Way of the Blade podcast, and the author of Way of the Blade: 100 of the Greatest Bloody Matches in Wrestling History, which is available on Amazon. He is on Twitter at @philaschneider.