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How Kofi Kingston Escaped His Cubicle to Become a WWE Superstar

“I couldn’t believe this was going to be the rest of my life.”

Kofi Kingston has an inspiring underdog story
Credit-WWE/DeviantArt/Joker Mag

Rags to riches stories are everywhere – even in places you’d never expect.

Despite being scripted, the world of “sports entertainment” is filled with tales of perseverance and, to borrow a phrase from good ol’ Jim Ross, moments of “boyhood dreams becoming a reality”.

His biological name is Kofi Nahaje Sarkodie-Mensah. But to millions, he’s known as Kofi Kingston.

Born in Ghana on August 14th, 1981, Kofi relocated to the United States with his parents when he was a year old.

Along with his younger brother Kwame and sister Nana Akua, Kingston grew up as a typical kid just north of Boston in Winchester, Massachusetts.

In high school, Kofi joined the wrestling team. But it wasn’t exactly what he thought or hoped it would be.

After his friend convinced him to try out for the team, he went to the first practice thinking he’d be jumping off ropes and breaking chairs.

But inside the hot, muggy gym, Kingston found himself learning the technical Olympic-style wrestling, not the choreographed theatrics of the WWE.

While it wasn’t what he expected, he embraced the sport.

“I loved it,” he said in an interview. “Even to this day a lot of my discipline comes from the foundation I learned from wrestling in high school.”

Kofi moved on to Boston College where he majored in communications with a focus on advertising and marketing – a far cry from his future field of work.

Moving on to the corporate world, Kingston landed a job at Staples’ head office, proofreading for their buyer’s catalog.

“I didn’t need to go to college, or even high school to do this,” he said.

“You just had to be able to read. I had the chairs section, and all the pictures of the chairs had to be facing the inner pane of the book. Like, that was a really big deal.”

Reality sunk in.  He missed wrestling.

“I couldn’t believe this was going to be the rest of my life,” he said.

“I would wake up every morning mad that I had to go to work. Then I’d be mad on my way to work. Then I was mad at work and worrying about products I didn’t care about. I’d be mad when I got home because I didn’t want to have to go back to work. The cycle kept repeating itself.”

Following his dream of becoming a wrestler, Kingston traded his cubicle for the squared circle.

Kofi Kingston quote on working his way up in indy pro wrestling: “As dumpy as the crowds or the buildings might have been, they were better than the cubicle.”

He made his wrestling debut as part of the New England-based Chaotic Wrestling program on June 4th, 2006, under the name Kofi Nahaje Kingston.

His first paycheck? $15 for the night.

But Kofi didn’t care.

“[It] was night and day,” he said.

“As dumpy as the crowds or the buildings might have been, they were better than the cubicle.”

After months of making the rounds on the independent circuit, Kingston signed a developmental contract with the WWE.

For over a year, he honed his craft in untelevised matches and live events.

On January 22th, 2008, he made his WWE debut as part of the ECW brand.

Despite having no real-life connection to the Caribbean, Kingston was given the character story of the first Jamaican WWE wrestler.

Elevated to the RAW brand just six months later, Kingston made an immediate impact – one that took everyone by surprise.

As part of the Night of Champions pay-per-view event in June of 2008, Kofi challenged and defeated then-Intercontinental Champion Chris Jericho.

It was the first of Kingston’s many championship victories. It also made him the first African-born wrestler in WWE history to win a title belt.

Over the next decade, Kingston wore the Intercontinental Championship four times, the United States title three times, and became one of the greatest tag team champions of all time.

In his tenure in the WWE, Kingston has won RAW, Smackdown, NXT, and World Tag Team championships fifteen times.

While the multiple title reigns were impressive and his amazing theatrics during matches were legendary, the 6’0” 210-pound Kingston never got a fair crack at being “the man” until 2019 – eleven years after his debut.

An unfortunate injury to Mustafa Ali – another high-flying, mid-card wrestler – led to Kingston being granted a spot in the 2019 Elimination Chamber match.

On the Smackdown before the PPV, Kingston put on an impressive display for nearly 45 minutes in a gauntlet match against five other competitors.

Those 45 minutes changed his life and the WWE, forever.

Two nights later, Kingston found himself surrounded in the chain link structure by AJ Styles, Jeff Hardy, Randy Orton, and Samoa Joe as they battled to capture Daniel Bryan’s WWE Championship.

While he fell short, the reaction of the crowd over the two nights created a tidal wave of organic support known as “KofiMania”.

It’s not often that a fan-favorite can force the WWE storytellers to alter their plans and re-write their scripts.

But that’s exactly what happened.

For those who watched the March 12th, 2019, Smackdown promo that had Kingston, along with his New Day brothers, standing face to face with WWE Chairman Vince McMahon, one could feel the real tension and truth in the words that were spoken.

Despite the dastardly McMahon laying out what seemed to be insurmountable obstacles week after week, Kingston ultimately found his way to the main event of WrestleMania 35.

Kofi Kingston inspirational quote: "I could have easily given up. It was only because I chose to push through the obstacles and keep going that I was able to achieve my childhood dream and simultaneously push people to achieve theirs."

That honor is typically reserved for big names like Hulk Hogan, John Cena, The Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and The Undertaker – not for a mid-carder like Kingston.

While he didn’t close out the night in front of 70,000 fans at MetLife Stadium, Kingston and Bryan were granted the second-longest and arguably the best match of the evening. 

Backed by thousands of fans – who for months had caused chaos in arenas around the world – the challenger and champion wove together a fantastic in-ring story complete with high-flying acrobatics.

Regardless of the script, following 24 minutes of action, you could feel the sense of legitimate emotion pouring out of Kingston, the commentary team, and Kingston’s family, who joined him in the ring after the ref raised Kingston’s hand in victory.

“When I became WWE champion, so many people on social media sent me videos of their kids gleefully witnessing the moment.”

“Grown adults were brought to tears when they told me about how they never thought they would see an African-born WWE champion in their lifetime.”

Despite being sent back to mid-card status 180 days later – signaling the end of a truly massive organic underdog story – Kingston knows that his climb to the top of the mountain impacted more people than he could even imagine.

“For me to be at the center of all these emotions is truly humbling because, at any point in my 11-year journey towards becoming WWE Champion, I could have easily given up.”

“It was only because I chose to push through the obstacles and keep going that I was able to achieve my childhood dream and simultaneously push people to achieve theirs.”

Now after nearly two decades in the ring, Kingston’s better days are behind him.

When he decides to hang up his boots, you can bet there’ll be a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame with his name on it.

Sure, professional wrestling is scripted.

But, like all other athletes – and yes, these individuals are certainly athletes – each has overcome real adversity to get to where they are today.

Just ask Kofi Nahaje Sarkodie-Mensah.

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Written By

Life-long sports fan and avid basketball junkie in every sense of the word. The same passion I have for the Lakers translates to my extreme dislike for the Duke Blue Devils. As much as I cheer for the favorite and the dynasty, I appreciate and applaud the underdog and the grind whether you are a weekend warrior or a professional, both on and off the field.

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