As World Wrestling Entertainment builds toward its biggest event of the year, WrestleMania XXX, the pro wrestling organization sets up its ring in PNC Arena on Friday night.
"WrestleMania is like our Super Bowl," says Kofi Kingston, one of the talents at the non-televised Raleigh stop of WWE's "Road to WrestleMania" tour. "It's what we have worked toward all year long, and a chance for the audience to watch a feud that has been building for months come to a head."
The 32-year-old Kingston, an always-smiling cruiserweight grappler with an arsenal of high-flying maneuvers, was born in Ghana but grew up in Boston. He's won 10 WWE championships since signing on in 2006. That would be a huge accomplishment for anyone, but for an African-American wrestler, it's especially notable. We aren't far removed from the days when minority wrestlers were often portrayed as stereotypes. But Kingston confirms that things are improving.
"People always say, 'Oh, there haven't been many black champions,' but on the other hand, there are a whole lot of white people that never won a belt either," he says with a laugh. "These days, I think it's less of a racial thing. I honestly believe that if you are able to entertain and interact with the crowd, it doesn't matter what ethnicity you may be. [WWE] will reward you."
Kingston thinks that his education—a major in communications with a concentration in advertising and public relations at Boston College—has helped him succeed in the ring.
"I was working in the corporate world, and was pretty miserable in my cubicle, so I decided to pursue my wrestling dream," he says. "A lot of people who want to be WWE superstars don't believe that there is anything that they can learn in school to help them reach this level, but for me, that was not the case. Everything I do is geared toward how I present myself. I use what I learned in college on a daily basis. If I didn't, I don't know that I would have lasted."
The main event at PNC Arena is a six-man tag match featuring John Cena and Bray Wyatt, who will go head-to-head at WrestleMania XXX. While it's common knowledge that pro wrestling is scripted, Kingston says that anyone who scoffs at the notion of attending should keep an open mind when he battles the evil intellectual Damien Sandow in Raleigh.
"Everyone I have ever talked to who has attended a WWE event always remembers it," he says. "I promise that it will be something you have never seen before. What we do is like a combination of an athletic competition with the drama of a play or movie. Boiled down, we're telling a story of good versus evil, and we attempt to tell it a different way each time we step into the ring."
Cirque du Soleil is one of the largest theatrical production companies in the world, reporting annual revenues well over $800 million. Upon announcing a partnership with Michael Jackson's estate in 2010, the year after the beloved but controversial pop star's death, the company promised to push its fusion of visuals, dance, music and fantasy further than ever before, immersing us in Jackson's creative world.
Shortly after "Road to WrestleMania," Cirque du Soleil's "Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour" moonwalks into PNC Arena on April 1st and 2nd. It features an 11-piece band, more than 250 dazzling costumes and a cast of 40-plus acrobats and dancers performing spectacular feats to dozens of Jackson's greatest hits. It's an enormous number of moving parts to wrangle, a job that falls to artistic director Michael Smith.
Smith says that Jackson would be proud of the ambitious production that Cirque is putting on stage. "I know that Michael was a big fan," Smith says. "He visited the Cirque studio quite a few times before he passed. I think both parties were interested in keeping Michael's legacy alive, and if anyone can do it, it's Cirque."
The show sold 200,000 tickets before it even opened for its first performance—evidence of the singer's ongoing draw despite the child abuse allegations that have clouded his legacy.
From pro wrestling to pop pastiche, it's going to be an entertaining week of aerial chills and thrills at PNC Arena—provided you come armed, in both cases, with a healthy dose of suspended disbelief.
This article appeared in print with the headline "High-flying feats."