On Saturday night at All Elite Wrestling’s Full Gear pay-per-view, 18-year pro Eddie Kingston challenges Jon Moxley for the AEW World Championship in its main event.

A name well-known to those who have followed independent wrestling over the past two decades thanks to his hard-hitting style and compelling mic work in places like CHIKARA and Combat Zone Wrestling, the 38-year-old Kingston’s profile has exploded into the mainstream of the sport since signing with AEW over the summer and now finds himself as one of the hottest heels in all of pro wrestling.

While his rise to prominence has been unexpected, it almost never happened at all. An interconnected series of events led to Kingston signing with a major promotion for the first time in his career and all of those happenings were put in motion by an aborted ending.

In early 2019, Kingston had decided that his career was coming to an end. He had made plans to retire, but those plans were thrown into disarray by the birth of his brother’s son. He didn’t know it at the time, but Kingston’s nephew would be the catalyst for the beginning of his greatest professional success.

“My brother, being my brother, gave me a little speech and he was basically like, ‘Hey man, I need you to help me with my son, with your nephew, and show him how to be a man and everything,’” Kingston told TSN.ca. “And I was like, ‘Yeah, of course. Why are you even asking me this?’ And he just goes, ‘Well, I only have one problem – how can I tell my son never to quit, never to give up when his uncle did?’ I was like, ‘Excuse me?’ and he said, ‘How can I tell him never to quit when you’re quitting wrestling?’ And that just made me go, ‘Okay, well I guess I’m not quitting now,’ and I’m doing it for my nephew.”

Kingston continued on in his career into 2020 and, like virtually everybody else on the independent wrestling scene, found his bookings to be few and far between thanks to the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with companies across the continent limiting the number of shows they could run, if they could run any at all.

Facing the financial straits that came with work drying up, Kingston was able to work a show in early July for New Jersey’s ICW No Holds Barred promotion in Millville, NJ. After defeating Brett Ison in their match, Kingston grabbed a mic and cut loose. Kingston would proceed to lay out a series of challenges, calling out New Japan Pro-Wrestling star Zack Sabre Jr., NWA World Champion Nick Aldis and AEW TNT Champion Cody Rhodes.

“It was my first show since the pandemic [started] and I was broke,” Kingston said. “I had to sell my gear to pay my mortgage. So I was a little angry and I went to the ring and I had the match, then I grabbed the microphone and I said to myself that I’m going to let the world see my frustration.”

At the time, Rhodes was holding an open challenge every week on AEW Dynamite for his title and Kingston thought, why not?

“I called Cody out because of the open challenge and I just did it to shoot my shot,” Kingston said. “I didn’t think anything was going to come out of it. I guess Cody got wind of it and Cody accepted. After that, it was maybe two text messages and ‘Can you come in? Yep. ‘Can you fight Cody? Yep. Is two weeks good? Yep.’ And that was it.”

Kingston would make his AEW debut against Rhodes in a TNT title match on July 22, but not before cutting a blistering promo on Cody and introducing himself to this wider audience as a man who’s had to fight for everything he’s earned in this business and not somebody who was born into wrestling royalty like Rhodes.

“Eddie was my favourite option at the time for the TNT open challenge, which is kind of a tryout,” AEW president and booker Tony Khan said. “He came in and he was awesome. I’d seen Eddie on TV a lot, but I had never met him in person and I wanted to get to know him. He’s tremendous. He’s a great performer with integrity and obviously his charisma comes through the screen, but in person, he’s even more infectious.”

While his challenge was unsuccessful, Kingston’s appearance set the industry abuzz. Soon Kingston would find himself with an offer to join AEW on a permanent basis – but also one from World Wrestling Entertainment. With both of the country’s top promotions vying for his services, Kingston sought the counsel of only one person.

“I’m a momma’s boy and I was just basically in the middle of where to go and my mother said, ‘Look, you’re not going to be happy at the other company’ and I said, ‘Okay, Mom,’” Kingston said. “If that’s what she believes, then AEW it is. That was really it, to be honest with you. Who knows you better than your mother? Honestly, nobody. So if she knew that I wasn’t going to be happy, then so be it. I’m at AEW now.”

With Kingston now on board, Khan felt like he found a perfect spot for “The Mad King” within the company. Weeks earlier at Fyter Fest, the Butcher and the Blade teamed up with the Lucha Bros. (Rey Fenix and Penta El 0 M) and were victorious in an eight-man tag against the Young Bucks (Nick Jackson and Matt Jackson) and FTR (Dax Harwood and Cash Wheeler). Khan liked the idea of the winning team sticking together on a more permanent basis.

“It was all of a sudden like we had this juggernaut, eight-man team,” Khan said. “These four guys could really use a mouthpiece and, for Eddie, it’s a great chance to establish him as a great wrestler, but also as a great manager with this great stable as its leader.”

Now at the helm of this heel faction, Kingston insists being signed to a major promotion hasn’t affected who he is because his mindset remains indie.

“I’m not going to forget where I came from,” Kingston said. “When I go on Twitter and see a guy from the independents doing something different and cool, I’m going to tell people about it. One of my main problems with Mox is that he didn’t use his popularity or social media with all of his followers and everything to put over places that he used to be at or people he used to run with. So I still have that outlaw, independent mindset. To me, that’s what AEW was built on. That’s why I think I would be the perfect champion for them because I have the outlaw spirit, just like [AEW executive vice presidents] the Bucks, Kenny [Omega] and Cody do. They did things their way and now look where they’re at.”

Seeing firsthand how the pandemic has affected the industry, Kingston knows how fortunate a position he is in and empathizes with those looking to navigate their way through this precarious period.

“It’s killing them,” Kingston said of the independent scene. “Like I said, I had to sell my gear, my wrestling gear, to pay for my mortgage and Lord knows how long that was going to last. I was selling T-shirts and old 8x10s just to make the payments. And when I made the payments, I felt like I was 20 years old again, just eating peanut butter, ramen noodles, white rice and eggs. So it’s really hurting a lot of guys and it’s stopping a lot of guys’ momentum. A lot of these guys are not getting paid well for the one or two shots that they’re doing a month. To survive on the independents when I was making a living off of it, you had to do a Thursday show, a Friday show and Saturday and Sunday shows. You had to do at least four shows a week. So these guys aren’t getting that, and Lord knows that they’re not making a lot of money because the independent companies aren’t making a lot of money, either. It’s really hurting them.”

His opponent on Saturday, Moxley, cut his teeth in many of the same promotions Kingston did, coming up at the same time. While Kingston remained with those promotions, Moxley left CZW at the end of 2010 to sign with the WWE where he spent much of the next decade as Dean Ambrose and held the WWE Championship. But Kingston says that Moxley doesn’t provide a window into what could have been for him, had he joined a major promotion at the same time Moxley did.

“No, because knowing me, I would have gotten fired three minutes in if I went when Mox went,” Kingston said. “Again, this is why I have a little bit of beef with Mox, because he started playing the game. I probably would have, at that point in time and especially at that age and what was going on in my life, gotten fired three minutes in because I wouldn’t bend. I wouldn’t have bent like he did.”

Kingston says that the version of himself currently signed to a major promotion has grown from the man that did battle with Moxley in a CZW ring in 2009, a man who wouldn’t have been ready for the spotlight.

“Me at 28 years old would have been done because I was so angry and hotheaded, just ready to go, because I believed everyone’s against me, all that,” Kingston said. “And that’s in real life and not just in wrestling. But now it’s different because I think more. I still believe everyone’s against me except for certain people, but now instead of just reacting, I think first.”

Something Kingston is still having trouble getting his head around is his skyrocketing profile and the fact that he’s about to main event a major PPV, something that he says won’t sink in for a while yet.

“Getting signed sank in just recently, maybe two months ago – that I’m in the top promotion in America right now,” Kingston said. “It just hit me two months ago, a couple months into the contract. So me main eventing a pay-per-view for the top company in the country, it’s not going to set in until maybe a couple of months from now because I’m just focused on getting there and doing my job and doing what I have to do.”

Kingston pulls no punches when it comes to the importance of the upcoming match with Moxley for his career – it’s the biggest bout of his life.

“If I sat here and said to you that I’m approaching it like every other match, I’d be lying to you,” Kingston said. “I can’t give you that stone-faced, Bill Belichick answer. I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that. No, this is the biggest match of my career. I’m not going anywhere. It’s AEW now or bust. It’s AEW, that’s it, and I’m just fortunate enough that it’s the top promotion in the country, so this is it right here – to be the AEW World Champion or nothing.”

Only a year removed from his future being shrouded in uncertainty, Kingston gets a chance to stake his claim as the best AEW has to offer on Saturday night at Daily’s Place in Jacksonville.