SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath-the-surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Sonny Kiss: ‘I’m not a gimmick, I’m myself’
Sonny Kiss will wrestle Cody Rhodes on Wednesday night at AEW’s Fight for the Fallen edition of Dynamite.
Kiss has brought excitement and value to AEW Dark on Tuesday nights, but the match with Rhodes for the TNT championship represents an opportunity for a breakout moment. This match is a chance to showcase a rare combination of strength, athleticism, and in-ring psychology. Under the bright lights of a national spotlight, this has the potential to be remembered as the night Kiss became a major player in AEW.
Kiss calls himself—or herself, as Kiss identifies as gender-fluid—“The Concrete Rose.” The nickname pays homage to Ashanti’s 2004 album Concrete Rose, two words that together capture the essence of Kiss’s soul.
“‘The Concrete Rose’ sums up me as a person,” says Kiss. “Ashanti’s version of that was infusing her soulful vocals over a hip-hop beat. With me, it’s very similar. I’m a very unconventional, avant-garde person, so it’s a mantra I came up with as a teenager. It’s when two things that aren’t necessarily similar come together to make one awesome product.
“It’s not exuding a masculine or feminine quality exclusively. I’m a little rough around the edges, but I’m also bubbly. I’m a fan of a lot of things, and that comes together like different qualities in concrete and a rose. It’s basically two opposites coming together.”
Kiss, a New Jersey native, worked his way through the wrestling independent scene, and even spent some time in Lucha Underground. One constant during Kiss’s early years in the business was the experience of being told repeatedly how he should or should not act in the ring. But Kiss has found success by mastering one of life’s toughest skills, which is being oneself.
“When I first started wrestling, people didn’t know what to make of me,” says Kiss. “They wanted to make me like Adrian Adonis or even Goldust. But I wouldn’t have thrived doing that. It wouldn’t have been real, and people can see through fakeness. For me, I was either going to the top as myself or I wasn’t. I’m not a gimmick, I’m myself. I don’t want to do anything that isn’t real.
“LGBTQ+ people are more than what you’ve seen in the past as ‘gimmicks.’ People need authenticity, and I’m that for them. If you’re not authentic, how can people relate to you? I won’t change, I’ll always be me.”
Kiss’s work has caught the eyes of three of AEW’s most experienced, and successful, superstars, as he has worked closely with Chris Jericho, Billy Gunn and Dustin Rhodes (aka Goldust).
“Dustin is a mentor, and Dustin and Billy and Jericho, they’ve really helped me,” says Kiss. “I have this graceful, ballet, flowy movement, so I’ve worked on intertwining that with physicality. That’s something I’ve had to work on, and I’m now using it to my advantage. I have the tendency to be very graceful and exude sexuality, but I can still be tough. That’s the ‘Concrete Rose.’ ”
Dustin Rhodes was eager to discuss Kiss’s progression in AEW.
“I think what has impressed me the most with Sonny is that he is very coachable, listens, and soaks up all suggestions,” explains Rhodes, who offers a wealth of knowledge accumulated over 32 years in pro wrestling. “It’s my job to teach him reasons behind something he does in the ring. Besides that, he’s hungry, passionate, lovable, and very charismatic.
“Charisma, in my opinion, is where success lies. I’m talking true success. Sonny is a work in progress and I cannot wait to watch him grow. So much fun to watch, I love the kid to death.”
Rhodes was one of many that voiced support for Kiss after a viewer sent a repugnant tweet about Kiss earlier this week that attempted to discredit his success in wrestling and value to society. The person that seemed the least bothered by the hateful words was Kiss.
“There is always going to be scrutiny, but there are a lot of people out there in the LGBTQ+ community that do need someone like me as a role model, so I’m not going to set myself back or make myself look silly by responding to negativity,” says Kiss. “I move forward. I know who I am, and I have a very supportive family and friends that support me. There’s really not much people can say that is going to bring me down because I’m very comfortable in my skin.”
In addition to a burgeoning career in pro wrestling, Kiss is also pursuing his college degree.
“I’m a senior,” says Kiss. “I study fitness training, fitness science, and kinesiology. Tony Khan is very supportive of our other endeavors, and we have a great schedule. Even after Dark, I’ll go back to the hotel and do my homework for a few hours. Once you start to master time management, things become a little easier.”
Making the jump to superstardom in wrestling is wildly difficult, but once accomplished, you become forever enshrined in a very special community. Kiss is on the precipice, knocking on that door, ready to wrestle a match that will not only captivate and entertain, but also craft a piece of work that people will feel.
“I have a lot to prove,” says Kiss. “I’ve been on AEW Dark and I’ve been on the undercard, so this is a huge leap for me, but here we are, it’s happening, and the LGBTQ+ community is counting on me. Whether I win or lose, I have to show the world who the ‘Concrete Rose’ is.
“I’ve worked very hard to get here, but this isn’t just about me. I have a lot of people supporting me, and I’m fighting for their respect and to prove myself and who I am.”
New Japan crowns Evil as new IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion
Over a two-day span on Saturday and Sunday, Evil won the New Japan Cup, turned on Tetsuya Naito and left Los Ingobernables de Japon for Bullet Club, then defeated Naito for the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles in the main event of the Dominion show.
Now that’s a weekend.
New Japan is taking advantage of a difficult, disjointed period in wrestling by attempting to make a new star. Evil’s ascent to the top of the card is a risk, but one that has the potential to leave the company in a better position by 2021. If this works, there are several possibilities with Evil in the main event.
Especially with Jay White and other top talent unavailable due to travel restrictions, Evil has been thrust into the main event. He is a former Young Lion graduate of the New Japan Dojo, and now sits in the unique position of holding three of NJPW’s championships, as he holds the NEVER Openweight 6-man tag titles with former LIJ partners Bushi and Shingo Takagi. If it works, his world title reign allows New Japan to move in multiple directions.
The IWGP Heavyweight title could go from Evil to former LIJ partner Sanada, which could then build to Kazuchika Okada challenging Sanada. So many elements are now in play. When does Okada factor into the title picture? Does this open a possibility for another title run for Hiroshi Tanahashi? There will also be a title defense for Evil against Hiromu Takahashi, which is already scheduled for July 25 at the Sengoku Lord in Nagoya show, as well as an eventual rematch with Tetsuya Naito, and the potential for multiple tag matches as LIJ battles Bullet Club.
Adding fire to the LIJ-Bullet Club rivalry is a key part of Evil’s turn. Over time, it will be fascinating to see which member of Bullet Club jumps to LIJ, which is bound to happen. New Japan booking is extremely protective of Bullet Club, which has been extremely profitable for the company. But unlike the NWO, which had wrestlers joining and leaving at an unhealthy rate, a Bullet Club defection to LIJ will be a massive deal when it happens.
New Japan is taking a gamble by putting the belt on Evil, but there is also incredible potential. WWE has built its programming during the pandemic around Drew McIntyre, who won the Royal Rumble in January and was already being positioned for his run on top. AEW has Jon Moxley as its champ, and he won the belt in February before wrestling was forced to move to an empty-arena setting. While WWE did have Otis win the Money in the Bank ladder match, he has yet to elevate himself to the top of the card.
Evil could be the first star to be made during this strange era of wrestling, a feat that will serve New Japan well as the calendar turns to 2021.
The (online) week in wrestling
- If you missed Monday Night Raw, the highlights included Kevin Owens defeating Seth Rollins, a compelling promo from Randy Orton, and a main event that featured Sasha Banks and Bayley overcoming Kairi Sane and Asuka.
- Wednesday is a big night for AEW as it airs its Fight for the Fallen special, which has a packed card led by Jon Moxley defending the world title against Brian Cage (who is coming off a short-but-entertaining match on Tuesday night’s Dark against Brian Pillman Jr.)
- NXT counters with Keith Lee’s first night as champion, as well as Io Shirai defending the NXT Women’s Championship against Tegan Nox.
- The majority of wrestlers released by WWE in April have their 90-day no-compete clauses wrap up this week. The timing is interesting, as Impact holds its Slammiversary pay-per-view this weekend and Impact has been teasing the return of a former world champ.
- Best wishes to Miro Barnyashev, the artist formerly known as Rusev, who just announced he is battling COVID-19.
- Roman Reigns shared some words of encouragement with Keith Lee, who is now the North American champ as well as NXT Champion.
- Laughing maniacally during Lee’s championship win was Karrion Kross, but I hope that a Lee-Kross program is not the plan. Lee needs time to cement himself as champion, and I would love to see him build to a title match with WALTER. Kross is full of potential but still so new to NXT, and it is worth asking if his next target on his quest to greatness is not Lee, but rather former champ Adam Cole.
- A low point of the past week was the segment on SmackDown with the women’s karaoke contest. Why not just have the women wrestle? One of the reasons that the Jordynne Grace-Deonna Purrazzo program in Impact is so compelling is that it is built entirely around competing for the Knockouts title.
- The moment was overshadowed by Evil’s win in the main event, but New Japan also crowned new IWGP Tag Team Champions this past weekend at Dominion as Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi won the belts by defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kota Ibushi.
- Sami Zayn took to Twitter to share some great news regarding his mobile health clinic in Syria.
Tweet of the Week
Adam Pearce offering some words of inspiration.