AEW’s Sonny Kiss Ready to Shock the World at ‘Fight for the Fallen’
All Elite Wrestling prides itself on its inclusivity, and a shining example of that is Sonny Kiss. The flamboyant star gears up to sashay into the biggest match of his career so far. Challenging for the TNT championship against Cody Rhodes during Fight for the Fallen in Jacksonville.
A special edition of Wednesday night Dynamite honoring heroes on the front lines of COVID-19 relief, as well as raising money for Florida’s First Coast Relief Fund and Feeding Northeast Florida. Kiss, who comes from a dance background, was “flabbergasted” upon finding out about getting the primetime spot.
“It’s a humongous opportunity for me. Cody is amazing and one of the best wrestlers in the world today,” Kiss said. “He works extremely hard. I never met a person more passionate than him. To be given this opportunity is awesome. I can’t fathom it right now. Let’s bring it.”
Preparing for the career-defining challenge, we talked to the LGBTQ athlete about getting to this point and what it means for the future.
How does your mindset and preparation for this big match compare to others you’ve had?
Sonny Kiss: I’m going into this more mentally prepared more than anything. Usually, I have this fitness regimen. I would dance and go hard trying to keep my body in shape. Here it’s more about the mind because it’s easy to get overwhelmed. You’re thinking about how big this opportunity is. You want to stay balanced. I have been doing a lot of meditation and marinating and letting this opportunity come to me rather than over-analyzing it. I’m still physically preparing for everything Cody has for me. I’m excited.
You’ve received such support from your colleagues in AEW including veteran Dustin Rhodes. What have you gotten from working with him?
Dustin alongside Billy [Gunn] are two of my mentors. They’ve been keeping me grounded and honing my craft with me. Making me a better performer overall. Working with Dustin is a dream come true. How can it get any better than Dustin as my trainer, my mentor, the one guiding me. He is amazing. He is a legend. Him having my back through everything. Making sure I’m okay. Every time I’m out there and performing, he gives me these pep talks. I’m going to need a big one on Wednesday, Dustin, so if you’re around? He is absolutely amazing.
Cyber-bullying is sadly still so prevalent within the pro wrestling community. A homophobic tweet was sent to Cody about the decision AEW made to put you in a match with him. He said he was proud to share the ring with you. How hard is it for you to navigate your social media and stay so positive and driven?
I’ve known who I was since maybe five years old. Very, very young. There is really not much anyone can say to deter me from who I am or make me feel less than. I really appreciate the outpouring of support I’ve been getting on social media. There isn’t anything I haven’t heard before. That’s why I can stay positive because I know exactly who I am, and nobody can take that from you once you know who you are. I know I have a group of people looking for ways to respond themselves. So if I show them that I’m strong, they will be able to say, “I can be like Sonny and not care what these people are saying about me.” These people who have 30 followers. They can’t tell me who I am. Tell me that something is wrong with me. They are nobody. I know who I am, and that’s that.
Some people live almost their whole lives in search of their identity. When was the moment you felt comfortable in your own skin?
I knew I was different from everyone else early on. And not from a sexuality standpoint. More about things I was interested in and what I liked is very avant-garde and unconventional. For me, it’s about owning it. At an early age I didn’t really care. At times, you get in your own head. Thinking maybe if what they’re saying is true. Not so much as an adult. With time and growth, you are who you are and come to terms with that and become comfortable with that.
Who inspires you as a public figure?
I’m inspired by Serena Williams. I love [anchor] Sharon Reed. A lot of people. Simone Biles. These are very unapologetic black women who are doing amazing in their respective fields. I just love how they portray themselves in the media. I love how they fight against adversity. I feel like I’m trying to do that as well. When I see those women, they are very powerful and beautiful and athletic. They’re intelligent speakers. They speak so eloquently. Sharon Reed had a very derogatory email sent to her news station. She clapped back in a classy way. It was beautiful. I aspire to be like that. Take something negative and educate people and shed a positive light on it.
There are now people drawing inspiration from you and success. You’ve gone from kickoff shows and standing in the crowd watching others to a main event on Fight for the Fallen. Representation is as important as ever now. What does having this platform mean to you?
At first, it’s a hard role to take on. It’s not easy. A lot of people are looking to you for this representation. It’s either sink or swim. You have to really go super hard to prove yourself because you have a whole community on your back in sports entertainment. There is only one you as far as an individual. There are other LGBTQ+ wrestlers out there, but it’s up to us as a whole. We need to make sure we are the backbone.
Aside from the singles ranks, you’ve also teamed with Joey Janela.
Joey and I were supposed to team with each other back in March at the New York show. But due to the climate today, we were unable to do that. We have really good chemistry. It’s authentic. We’ve been together throughout the indies. We’ve traveled 16 to 24 hours together. We’re really good friends. I learned so much from him, thankful to have him by my side. AEW pairing us together was perfect timing. It totally worked. We’re like peanut butter and jelly.
AEW does these videos and vignettes to really show different sides to its performers. There was a vignette where you are attacked while getting gas. What is it like for you to bring these potentially real life situations on screen?
I’m sure people have interpreted that however they wanted to. Some people saw it as an LGBTQ+ bashing. Some people saw it as a clash between the upper class. It really was this person is this way, but he has this partner who is not the same as him. They’re not the same race or nationality. They are completely different people. I love how it creates that dialogue. It’s possible to overcome the odds and adversity. I feel like at times there are these videos that are playful and fun, but at the same time a lesson. It showed a genuine friendship. Like I got your back, you’ve got mine. It’s about building people up.
You’re facing Cody coming up. It’s a fine line of wanting to be entertaining and flashy and fun, but you also want to be taken seriously too. How hard is it for you to stay true to who you are, but show when the bell rings, you can go?
I’m glad you brought that up. People are seeing or have seen me in the past and may say, “Sonny Kiss and that gimmick.” Sonny Kiss is not a gimmick. Sonny Kiss is who he is, who she is, because I identify as either or. I’m authentic and true to who this person is. Moving forward, it’s about being shown in that light as a serious competitor and not just the gimmick you think I am. I’m definitely going to tweak some things and prove that I belong in this division and earned this title shot. I’m going to show the best me. I’ve been working hard. The fans are in for a treat for sure.
How do you feel like these unprecedented few months producing shows have brought those in AEW closer together?
AEW is a wrestling company by wrestlers. They do all the inner workings. They know what it is like to be on the indies and to be hungry. They know what it’s like to do these drives. We understand each other a lot more. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s all genuine good energy. AEW is an amazing alternative to what you usually see from other companies. It’s authentic, and authenticity speaks.
AEW Fight for the Fallen edition of Dynamite, July 15, 8/7c, TNT