It’s WrestleMania week, with the ‘Show of Shows’ set to take place on Sunday night. Every day between now and the big event, Tom Beasley takes a look at a different element of the build-up. Today, it’s the cathartic success of the long-ignored Kofi Kingston…
For years, Kofi Kingston was the perennial WWE midcarder. He’s a four-time Intercontinental Champion and a three-time United States Champion, as well as being a tag team champion as part of four different duos. At a billed weight of 212 lbs, he fits into the historic mould of a talented worker who is just too small to make it big in WWE’s land of the giants. In 2014, however, he formed the New Day along with Big E and Xavier Woods, taking the first steps on the path that has led him to this Sunday’s WrestleMania, in which he will compete for the WWE Championship against the brilliantly hissable eco-heel Daniel Bryan.
As part of the New Day, Kingston has finally begun to receive recognition as a bona fide wrestling veteran. With only a few exceptions, he is one of the most tenured full-time performers on the WWE roster – Randy Orton and The Miz spring to mind as possible others. As the elder statesman of the New Day, Kingston has amassed the respect he deserves from WWE fans as a future Hall of Famer with a glittering career. The only thing missing from that career is a reign as world champion.
That’s not to say that WWE woke up and smelled the roses on this one of their own accord.
For years, speculation has swirled around possible break-up storylines for the New Day, with many assuming that Big E – who is four years younger and 70 pounds heavier than his stablemate – would be the one to make his way into the main event stratosphere. Few ever thought that Kingston would make the jump, assuming his chance had passed and that his lack of imposing size would count against him. That was until Mustafa Ali had to pull out of this year’s title match at Elimination Chamber and Kingston was chosen to fill the gap, elating fans.
He then delivered an iron man performance of over an hour in a gauntlet match – get used to hearing about those in this article – and went into the contest with real momentum behind him. The Chamber bout was essentially structured around Kingston, with WWE following the crowd reactions correctly for once, and the final sequence in which he battled Bryan for the belt was tense and exciting. After that match, the path to WrestleMania seemed clear.
WWE, whether deliberately or not, had some spanners to chuck into the works though. Kingston was slated to face Bryan for the title at Fastlane, but the company changed course at the last minute, with Vince McMahon booking a returning Kevin Owens into the match, and later adding Mustafa Ali – the man Kingston replaced at Elimination Chamber. McMahon continued to taunt Kingston after that show, forcing him to run a gauntlet of five people before then adding Daniel Bryan at the end, who pinned Kingston. When his New Day buddies were able to run a tag team gauntlet – I told you to expect a lot of them – a few weeks ago, Kingston finally earned his spot.
The storyline has been absolutely fascinating and, despite its slightly repetitive booking, completely engrossing. Perhaps most intriguing are the parallels between Kingston and Bryan. Both the champion and Vince McMahon have referred to Kingston as a “B+ player”, which was of course the exact phrase that was so frequently used to put down Bryan en route to his eventual moment in the sun at WrestleMania XXX. There’s no doubt that the Bryan storyline, as well as the work of people like CM Punk, helped to pave the way for smaller guys in WWE and, given title runs in the following years for the likes of Seth Rollins and AJ Styles, the tide has definitely turned.
It now seems like close to a given that Kingston will get his moment at WrestleMania and win his first WWE Championship. The company risks causing a pretty severe reaction if Bryan manages to hold on to his recyclable belt. As it has been told so far, the Kofi Kingston story is a beautiful example of how organic crowd response can take WWE down a totally different path ahead of the biggest show of the year. It’s fair to assume that Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan wasn’t the SmackDown Live main event match of WrestleMania even at the beginning of this year, so the fact they have got there shows just how powerful the fans can be when WWE chooses to listen.
Kingston’s victory will be a terrific moment and the cherry on top of a career that has yielded dozens of accolades. He’s a David who has had to wait for his time to shine amid a company full of Goliaths, but the company has placed trust in him to take that ball and run with it. No one would ever bet against him doing precisely that.
Tomorrow: The prodigal son, Shane McMahon, is going to jump off something big at WrestleMania again this week. Has he finally hit the limit on daredevil antics?
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.