To millions of US wrestling fans, Kofi Kingston is the first Jamaican wrestler in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). But his real identity is very different – because to his family and friends, he is Kofi Sarkodie-Mensah from Ghana.
Most wrestling fans have never heard of the West African country, so the wrestling body decided fight fans would be more likely to embrace a wrestler from the land of Bob Marley and reggae music.
And so desperate is Sarkodie-Mensah to become wrestling’s next superstar, he is willing to deny who he is.
“I was actually born in Jamaica – to be honest with a name like Kofi a lot of people assume I was born in Ghana,” he says with a bad Jamaican accent, but doing his best to stay in character.
But though he denies it, his mother Elizabeth – the head of a Ghanaian-American organisation in the US – confirms that he was indeed born in Ghana, and not in Jamaica. The family only moved to the US in 1982.
“I told him: ‘Kofi, your cousins watch you on TV in Ghana and want to know why you don’t say you’re from Ghana,'” she says.
“He said: ‘Tell them it is business.'”
It certainly is business.
After he discovered his mother had revealed his secret identity to the press, Sarkodie-Mensah banned her and the rest of his family from speaking to the media, for fear of compromising his career.
“She’s very happy I am doing what I want to do,” he says of his mother. “But I don’t think she knows how big wrestling really is.”
Spinning people around by their necks and slamming their heads into the ground is not how Sarkodie-Mensah, who is the only African in big-time wrestling in the United States, thought he would earn his living.
A member of a family of intellectuals from near Kumasi in Ghana, he was expected to become a revered teacher like his grandfather.
But he first went into the corporate world – and almost immediately regretted it.
“My first day at work I sat in my cubicle and looked at the empty walls and it was very depressing,” he recalls.
The 27-year-old soon decided to swap his business suit for bright yellow wrestler’s trunks.
“The first day I walked into the wrestling school, I knew I was in the right place,” he says.
So far, Sarkodie-Mensah has made all the right moves.
Since his debut in January, he has “won” all but one of his 100 matches on the Extreme Championship Wrestling circuit, an offshoot of WWE which launched the careers of the likes of Hulk Hogan and The Rock.
WWE is convinced Sarkodie-Mensah has what it takes to make it to the top in the scripted world of US professional wrestling – dismissed by some as more soap opera than sport.
‘Concussion in the face’
But although professional wrestling has its detractors, Sarkodie-Mensah’s father, Kwasi, is not one of them.
Mr Sarkodie-Mensah, a lecturer at Boston College in the US, says though many of his friends in Ghana were disappointed that his son became a wrestler rather than an academic like his parents, he is happy his son has found contentment in his career.
“I know it is a very anti-intellectual thing, but I think everybody should get up in the morning and be excited about what they do,” he says.
But Mr Sarkodie-Mensah’s friends in Ghanaian academia, like Raymond Osei-Boadu of the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, are horrified.
“I cannot bring myself to understand,” says a disconsolate Mr Osei-Boadu.
“Why would a person who is very capable of going to graduate school decide to jettison all that for concussion in the face?”