There are few workers in professional wrestling that evoke the level of passion and emotion from an audience like Eddie Kingston.
Much of Kingston’s connection to the fans is tied to his authenticity as a performer, which shines through the most in his promos. But as we saw in his match against Jake Hager on the June 10 episode of All Elite Wrestling (AEW): Rampage, that visceral legitimacy also makes him an outstanding babyface in the ring.
Against an unspectacular opponent, Eddie Kingston’s ability to make the fans invest in his struggle to win illustrates how good he is at this.
Especially now, it’s hard to feel anything for a Jake Hager match aside from the burning desire to change the channel. He put that aggressive mediocrity on display in this match, halting the bout’s momentum with rest hold after rest hold while mixing in his substandard strikes (especially for someone who’s also an MMA fighter).
Kingston made them care with his bumping, selling, and timing on his comebacks. Even while making Hager’s unconvincing blows look like the most painful attacks committed to film, he continues to stomp, punch, and chop at Hager, and that dogged determination to not give up is what implores the fans to do the same.
This, of course, is the hallmark of the King’s Road style — popularized by All Japan Pro Wrestling — that Kingston adores; the stories those matches build typically center around a wrestler withstanding immense punishment only to fire up and return that torture in kind during the climax. It’s designed to emphasize a wrestler’s “fighting spirit”, which should be the defining trait of any good babyface.
It’s why compelling protagonists are so hard to find (though not as hard as some make it out to be) and why it’s vital to protect them when they get over. The ability to generate sympathy while showing enough grit to where the fans don’t give up on you and ultimately rejoice over your eventual triumph is what makes their journey to victory, title contention, and, hopefully, a championship win so compelling to follow.
Those failures — even in something as granular as a heel cutoff spot — are what can make the truimphs that much more rewarding, especially when those pitfalls happen despite the babyface’s best efforts to avoid them.
That’s what we saw from Kingston in this match with Hager. In factly, it’s what we see from Kingston in just about all of his singles matches: the overwhelming abuse he takes from his opponents, the mounting, swelling hope that comes as his attempts at a fiery comeback become more and more sustained (and the increased despair when the heel cuts him off), the drama of watching Kingston withstand a submission hold before reaching the ropes, and the big move that swings the match in Kingston’s favor for good.
(In this match, for the latter, it was Kingston countering corner punches with a powerbomb before hitting TWO backfists and scoring the pin.)
Watching Kingston endure so much for roughly 90 percent of this match only to come out on the other end with his hand raised speaks to his tremendous understanding of what makes fans want to rally behind babyfaces, whether the opponent is an all-time great or replacement level.
Perfomances like these are why so many fans want to see Kingston win the AEW World Championship in the near future. If that happens, it would be the culmination of a arduous tale authored by the consummate “babyface in peril”.