The story of Eddie Kingston and Claudio Castagnoli has been one that has spanned almost two decades, with the most important years being 2009 and 2023.
It is a tale that feels all too real – and by my understanding, it is. Two men with varying philosophies, different perspectives on the past, and motives for who they are. Two men who will stop at nothing, equipped with their tenacity and rage and pain and willingness to see means to their personal ends.
For an extensive look at this rivalry, I highly suggest Joseph Montecillo’s video on their war for respect, as well as Ring of Honor’s Supercard of Honor recap (also narrated by Montecillo). But to summarize it succinctly, the pair would forge a friendship that saw the pair live with each other. Claudio even met Eddie’s mother, a sign symbolic of the love and trust Eddie has in his friends.
At some point, there was a drift – Eddie Kingston wasn’t heading to the gym and was battling his own mental health while Claudio poured his sweat into refining his chiseled Greek statuesque figure to ensure he was a well-oiled machine capable of devastation.
In this CHIKARA feud, the pair fought in the ring and had their issues outside of it – but I’ll leave those two videos to explain it. For now, the story at present is the one to tell.
While the rivalry would seemingly end without resolution in 2011, Claudio shed his independent wrestling skin and joined WWE as Cesaro, a time that saw much stagnation despite the great matches he had, alongside a memorable tag team run with Sheamus. In 2022, Cesaro had rivalries with Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, and Sheamus with Ridge Holland, but was still getting nowhere, it seemed. So, he left.
Forbidden Door, 2022. Claudio Castagnoli substituted for fellow Blackpool Combat Club member Bryan Danielson to defeat Zack Sabre Jr. and would aid Jon Moxley after the Jericho Appreciation Society following Moxley’s win of the AEW World Championship over Hiroshi Tanahashi. Eddie, still Moxley’s ally at the time, was utterly displeased with this turn of events – he already hated Danielson, but Castagnoli felt like a dagger to the side of his ribcage, yet he trusted Jon. He had to.
Blood & Guts, the hatchet had to be buried for the moment so Jericho and his goons could be stopped. On the roof of the cage, Kingston would have Chris Jericho dead to rights, only for Castagnoli to submit Matt Menard, who was willing to take the loss for his dear leader. Confused, hurt, and irate, Kingston wanted to be mad, but at the end of the night they were victorious and he begrudgingly held aloft Claudio’s hand in a bittersweet celebration.
What could have been a rough friendship renewed would turn sour after separation saw the heart not grow fonder. It was a shaky, uneasy alliance anyways.
Claudio would rinse off the lack of success from Cesaro in the meantime as he would become the Ring of Honor World Champion and would join Jon Moxley in his heelish antics during the “Hangman” Adam Page rivalry.
Erstwhile, Kingston would face his hero in Jun Akiyama before challenging Claudio months later for the ROH World Championship in a losing effort. This ended the same way most of Kingston’s heated matches would; his anger being his tragic downfall. It was a wonderful, hard-fought match in what was a spectacular pay-per-view event. Soon after losing the Face of the Revolution Ladder Match in March, Kingston announced he was quitting AEW, spending most of his time in Ring of Honor.
During this brief stint, Eddie targeted Claudio, aiming to take that title off of him. It was here where the friends-turned-enemies instantly reigniting the ill feelings. During their sit-down interview with Caprice Coleman, the dirty laundry was aired out. Truly a raw moment that gave way to an incredible Supercard of Honor match, but one that saw Eddie give into his habits once more as his emotions lasted ill to the cunning of Claudio. Though his heart was as strong as ten armies, the uppercuts and maneuvers of Claudio could shatter supernovas.
Despite this, Eddie kept on. He would gain a title of his own through NJPW Strong’s Independence Day event, defeating Kenta for the Strong Openweight Championship – not a world championship, but a championship nonetheless, and in the country whose wrestling style shaped him.
Perhaps with this across his waist, Eddie returned in June, aligning with his friend Tomohiro Ishii (though he might not want to admit it) and former enemies in The Elite to take on Konosuke Takeshita and The Blackpool Combat Club at Forbidden Door. Eddie’s gritty drama and The Elite’s goofiness and melodrama coupled with Ishii’s seriousness made for a great contrast to the bloodthirsty alliance against them. Eddie’s strikes against Moxley were pure emotion while vitriol reigned during his collisions with Claudio. Ishii, with the least drama, got the win for the team.
While The Elite would blow off this feud at Blood & Guts, Eddie was battling away in the G1 Climax, battling with the likes of Shingo Takagi and Tomohiro Ishii. Though he was unsuccessful, he made quite a showing.
That wasn’t enough, however, as Eddie realigned with Penta El Zero Miedo and The Best Friends against the BCC in London. While the English faithful erupted in Wembley Stadium, the New Yorker’s vision was red and the matador to his bull greeted him in kind in a Stadium Stampede match. The horns were locked and blood was shed. Once again, Kingston’s side was victorious.
With the momentum gained throughout these past few months, Eddie put down a challenge for the Grand Slam episode of AEW Dynamite, putting his NJPW Strong title on the line against Claudio’s ROH World Championship at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Everything sits on the line for a man whose emotions are not just worn on his sleeve, it encompasses his entire fabric against a man who was close yet so far.
What’s compelling about this feud is the layers added to it, both tangibly and intangibly – in a way only wrestling can provide.
There’s the layers of real life pasts, coupled with Claudio representing WWE, juxtaposed with Eddie bleeding the independent wrestling and Japanese wrestling through and through. Claudio, a being shaped into conventional greatness; Eddie, a man perfected by imperfections, human flaws that add to what makes him so special.
Claudio, for all his strengths, relies on being a teammate to a band of outlaw misfits, while Eddie Kingston is a solitary sentinel of his own goals; vulnerable and mortal and alone. Both of these men are tenacious, but with different methods.
Though the Swiss champion has the moldings of stamina and muscle and strength, he cannot last forever, and if Eddie were to gain a hold on his emotions, he could very well be the hammer that crushes the wall that is Claudio Castagnoli’s title reign.
It is not lost on me that one of their most integral matches in 2009 CHIKARA was a ‘Respect Match’, where the loser had to show respect to the winner, is now being a driving force to the Grand Slam match. The past dictates the future, after all.
Claudio is cold and uncaring as a heel, while Eddie Kingston is stubborn and headstrong and not easily forgiving. If either man were to show respect regardless of the winner, that would be a symbol of strength to this rivalry that would be a milestone in the company’s library of stories and matches. It’s going to hit hard, physically and emotionally; are you ready?
All of this, from not treating emotional wounds punctured like a thorn in the side.