In my two-plus decades watching wrestling, I’ve consumed a ton of content. I’ve seen basically every iteration of the art form. I believe I can see a trainwreck coming inside the squared circle quicker than most and appreciate when the symphony of sports entertainment is pulled off flawlessly. It’s also rewarding when rare, long-term storytelling appears on a show. Not a typical one-company, months-long feud. I’m talking about at least a decade of history that a band-aid fixed and was ripped off leaving a gnarly scar.
That flexible fabric was removed subtly at the conclusion of All Elite Wrestling’s Forbidden Door PPV on Sunday night. Claudio Castagnoli, known in WWE as Cesaro, debuted for the company as the injured Bryan Danielson’s replacement for the show. And in subbing for the American Dragon again on Wednesday, he’ll team with Eddie Kingston. Except they hate each other. The two can be seen jawing at each other as their teammates for the upcoming cage match witness the argument with confusion.
Their feud is mentioned by Excalibur on commentary, sandwiched between several compliments on how great the show was. I like the fact that it wasn’t ignored in their first on-camera appearance together in over a decade. That established continuity is hard to attain for AEW, which only began in 2019. They need to rely on veteran wrestlers’ histories with other companies to fill backgrounds here and there and only avoid it when specifically giving WWE credit.
In the case of Kingston and Castagnoli, the now-defunct promotion Chikara is where that history is found. The Philadelphia-based independent was known for its over-the-top characters, obvious designations as a tecnico (a heroic character) or rudo (a villain) and inspiration for storyline structure from comic books and other media. Most importantly, it always operated under a PG rating. The crystal-clear, family-oriented product was the promotion’s strictest rule. For example, fans would replace chanting “holy shit” with “holy poop” and it worked. At a Chikara show I attended in 2010, Castagnoli, a maniacal rudo at the time, had zero problem quickly shouting down a group of fans chanting profanities with children sitting a few rows in front.
Castagnoli and Kingston’s years-long feud can be easily traced to 2009. I won’t run down the entire history. This video does a good job if you don’t want the cliff notes. Essentially, a rivalry between the two started to decide who the better wrestler was and devolved into Kingston proclaiming as a bad guy/rudo that Castagnoli’s portrayal as a good guy/tecnico wasn’t genuine. And Eddie was right, with a double turn between babyface and heel taking place to start 2010. It progressed into an extremely personal conflict, with Castagnoli usually getting the upper hand on Kingston because of the evil Bruderschaft des Kreuzes stable. As the feud was about to culminate, Castagnoli signed with WWE. At the time, it was the singular path to career advancement, without moving to Japan or Mexico, most grapplers dreamt of. And the conclusion to an integral Kingston feud vanished.
And for 11 years, a corporate wall was placed between the subjects. It’s the intricate equal for Kingston as if the Marvel Cinematic Universe was put on pause for more than a decade after Avengers: Infinity War. Thanos snaps, kills half the world, and we don’t know how Earth’s mightiest heroes save the day for nearly a dozen years in Endgame. Castagnoli got his bread in WWE. It’s clear he still loathes Kingston, but does he truly care about that over vying for an AEW title? That should be paramount to continuing their feud and now there’s no contractual boundaries to continue their hatred.
What made Kingston and Castagnoli’s adversarial chemistry work so well within the walls of a PG audience was their disdain didn’t suffer. Chikara didn’t allow for cussing, bleeding or weapons to express their anger. And nothing about the spat will feel less legitimate than a TV-14 product like AEW, where swearing, gore and chair shots are on display.
I gave Kofi Kingston props for long-term storytelling during his 2019 run to the WWE Championship, recalling when Randy Orton tried to embarrass him off-script in the ring a decade earlier. The same respect needs to be given to Eddie and Claudio. AEW CEO Tony Khan shelled out the money to acquire Ring of Honor earlier this year. Now it’s time to get Chikara’s video library. Enough of the AEW roster has heavy ties with the promotion (Castagnoli, Kingston, Ruby Soho, Orange Cassidy, Chuck Taylor, Bryce Remsburg as well as Angelo Parker and Matt Menard of the Jericho Appreciation Society) to warrant that purchase.
A current-day collision addressing their beef is tantalizing. It left off with Castagnoli as the villain and Kingston as the underdog who so valiantly wanted to overcome his bullies. Both will represent the babyface squad inside the steel cage on Wednesday’s Dynamite. I’m not sure Kingston gives a rat’s ass about that teamwork bullshit. He somehow sees red with everyone not named Jon Moxley, and did with the interim AEW champion at one time. Yet, Kingston endears himself to the company’s fan base like few can because of his relatability. Castagnoli can’t have that. His popularity comes from being indescribably strong physically. He’s carved from stone and the prototypical professional wrestler. How many people in the crowd at any AEW show look like that? Not many.
It would’ve been uncomfortable to see Castagnoli and Kingston occupy the same stage again and not acknowledge the issues between them. Kudos to both men for continuing to butt heads regardless of time and venue. We’ll never know how the original plane would’ve landed but they’re now teammates on Wednesday. While Chikara was a nice place for the men to spar, waiting 11 years to witness any conclusion may be worth it to have their next battles in a nationally televised company.