'That's what it's all about': The homecoming of Kofi Kingston

WWE champion Kofi Kingston, third from top right, urged children to pursue their aspirations, no matter how big, in his recent trip to his birthplace of Ghana. WWE

Kofi Kingston had an idea that he and his accomplishments were known in Ghana, his birthplace. A few days after WrestleMania 35, he shared a video on his Instagram account that his mother sent him. It was a WrestleMania watch party that his uncle threw in the small town of Techiman. The crowd gathered there went crazy when Kingston won the WWE championship.

On that video post, Kingston wrote at the end that it had been some time since he last visited the West African nation.

"I think it might be time to go back and visit ... " he wrote.

Two weeks ago, that's exactly what Kingston did, with his WWE title belt in tow. And when he got there, he was blown away by his fame and recognition -- from the people he met in villages to the man he spoke to at an airport who told him he had WWE Network and watched every show.

"You forget how much of a reach you have being a WWE superstar," Kingston told ESPN. "We just go out and we do our things in front of the cameras. We know the feed is going somewhere, but you don't quite have a grasp over how large that audience is. Everybody was pretty much well aware of myself. A lot of people had watched WrestleMania and shared that moment."

In some ways for Kingston, this current run he's on -- going from overlooked underdog to champion -- is what led to this trip back to Ghana. A lot of what Kingston wants to convey as a character on television is the message that you can come from a similar place as he did and achieve all that he has.

That idea was really driven home during his time in Ghana, Kingston said. When he was speaking to children, he said he could see a change in their eyes. Kingston was like them once. He was born in Ghana, left for the United States with his family when he was 1 year old and then returned for a summer in seventh grade.

It's one thing to see his image on a television screen or on social media. It's another to see him there on Ghanaian soil, which is one of the biggest reasons he wanted to go back, along with the opportunity to catch up with family. Kingston still has aunts, uncles and cousins in Ghana.

"Kids who look like me and kids who have gone through the things that I've gone through see that it's actually possible because it happened, as opposed to in theory," Kingston said. "So on that level, being able to go back to Ghana and be there and be physical, tangible proof that anybody from anywhere can achieve anything, because I was just like one of these kids in these towns at one point in my life. And here I am as WWE champion. It's only because I believed in myself that I kept pursuing the dream that I wanted."

Kingston said he saw the looks of "disbelief" on the faces of children. He doesn't think they ever imagined he would visit there in person. Kingston said he imagined how he would have felt if one of his childhood heroes came to speak at his elementary school when he was young. He said he knew it would be a very "powerful" moment.

"Again, it's just important to be there in the physical form to look a child in the eyes and shake his hand and have a conversation with him and all of a sudden it becomes real," Kingston said. "It becomes real because you felt it, you've seen it, you've experienced it. So it's very important for me to go and connect with people on that level."

On his trip, Kingston met the president of Ghana, Nana Akufo-Addo, and brought gifts to the King of Ashanti, the ruler of the Ashanti ethnic group. He said he was moved by a visit to Osu Castle, where slaves were once traded, and toured the holding chambers.

"It was incredibly difficult to imagine one being forced to live in such dismal and dreary conditions with little to no light and very limited ventilation," Kingston wrote on Instagram. "It was even more trying to imagine the many unfortunate souls who died in transition during this inhumane process."

Kingston felt the most important part of this trip was meeting the villagers and their children. Winning the WWE title was a dream Kingston had as a youth. Doing that by beating Daniel Bryan was something special for him, but it also meant more, Kingston said.

"Anything that I can do to motivate people, to inspire people to go out and live their best lives and follow their dreams, I feel like at the end of the day that's what it's all about," Kingston said. "Winning the title is awesome, achieving my childhood dream is great. But for me, it's way more important for me to be able to use this celebrity to influence people to be able to do positive things. And that's what I'm trying to do."

African-born fighters have enjoyed a successful run in combat sports over the past few months. Kamaru Usman, who was born in Nigeria, defeated Tyron Woodley to become the UFC welterweight champion in March. One month later, Nigeria native Israel Adesanya became the interim UFC middleweight champion. In between, Kingston won the WWE title. Cameroon's Francis Ngannou is a rising contender in the UFC's heavyweight division.

Kingston doesn't believe any of this is a coincidence. He thinks the class of fighter coming out of Africa is clearly on the rise, and the support from the fans is growing, too. Kingston said he thinks if WWE held a show in Ghana, it would be the "best crowd" the promotion has ever seen.

"I've definitely been aware of the African champions that have kind of come about this year," Kingston said. "It's crazy the way that everything lines up. I think that everything happens for a reason. The president of Ghana has declared this year to be the year of the return, where members of Ghanaian diaspora were invited to come and embrace their heritage in Ghana. And all of a sudden all these things are happening. It's again, kind of like a law of attraction where you are positive in your thinking and positive things happening. Definitely a big year for Ghana coming up."