It’s been more than a full day and I still don’t believe it. This past Sunday at WrestleMania 35, Kofi Kingston shocked the world and won the WWE Championship by pinning Daniel Bryan clean in the middle of the ring. I watched it happen and it still doesn’t seem real, even after he walked out as champion on Monday Night Raw and defended the title. It still feels like SmackDown Live is going to end with Daniel Bryan coming out of the shower and the whole thing was a dream (It’s a Dallas reference. Ask your parents.).
Sunday’s title change may have been the most emotional victory I’ve seen in WWE since Daniel Bryan won the title at WrestleMania XXX, if not even even longer. Kingston hasn’t pursued the title very often (Sunday was his first one on one title shot in eleven years. How is that possible. On a side note, it was also his first ever singles match at WrestleMania in eleven years. How is THAT possible?) in his career but as soon as it was clear he was going after it, everything felt right.
After all these years and all the other titles (fifteen total reigns before Sunday, seven singles and eight tag team) and all the very good matches (How many bad Kingston matches can you think of?), it was time for Kingston to go after the one thing left to cover. It didn’t seem possible because Kingston, at least recently, is best known for being part of the New Day and throwing pancakes around. I know that’s how it seems on paper, but let’s think about this for a minute.
While you think, just look at how happy New Day was at Kingston winning the title:
New Day has been around nearly five years straight and for most of that time, they’ve been crazy popular. How many times have you seen more New Day shirts than anything else? They’ve hosted WrestleMania 33, they broke Demolition’s Tag Team Title reign record, they’ve stolen several shows and they have FAR exceeded anyone’s reasonable expectations for the team.
While the team is certainly a balanced act, it wouldn’t have had the initial credibility without Kingston, who was a borderline Hall of Famer before New Day was even formed. If you take away New Day from Kingston’s resume, he’s only won a total of ten titles in about six years. The other two members? Before the team formed, they had combined for one title reign between the two of them. Without Kingston, the team was Big E. with an intelligent manager. With Kingston, they were someone to keep an eye on.
It’s clear that Kingston was good, but just how good was he? I always saw Kingston as a modern day Tito Santana: a perennial midcarder who could be put into a main event if necessary. You knew he wouldn’t win, but he could more than hold his own against the main event talent. He could hold his own on the bigger stage but he was better at quick highlight reel moments, like those crazy saves he would make in the Royal Rumble every years.
And that’s just where he stayed for so long. Aside from a cup of coffee feud with Randy Orton in 2009 that was allegedly squashed due to Orton not being happy over Kingston missing a spot (which may or may not have been his fault), Kingston has never consistently moved up the ladder in any way. Even once he because part of the New Day and helped turn it into one of the most successful teams of all time, it never felt like he was going to be moving any higher.
Kingston came a long way from this:
Then on February 12, Kingston was announced as a replacement for the injured Ali in the Elimination Chamber match for the WWE Championship. It wasn’t the biggest development as Kingston had been put in a place like this before and it never went anywhere. That night, Kingston took part in a gauntlet match where he went on a tear, pinning Daniel Bryan (reigning WWE Champion), Jeff Hardy and Samoa Joe in one match. He would fall to AJ Styles, but for the first time in a long time, people were seeing what Kingston could do at this level.
That brought us to the Elimination Chamber, which came down to Bryan vs. Kingston for the title and it worked. Like it REALLY worked. The fans, myself included, bought into the idea that Kingston could actually win the title and dang if he didn’t get close. Kingston came up short again, but there was suddenly this new idea that people could get behind: Kingston could win.
All signs were pointing to WrestleMania….but it couldn’t happen. I mean, Kingston just wasn’t going to win the title no matter what he did. He wasn’t that kind of guy who got here, yet he was here indeed. That was the whole point of Vince McMahon’s issues with Kingston getting the shot at Fastlane, let alone at WrestleMania: Kingston just wasn’t the kind of guy who got the title.
It took some time, but Kingston finally got his shot and…he won. Yes he did win, completely clean in the middle of the ring with Trouble in Paradise. Kingston won the title and it was one of the most emotional moments I can remember in a good many years. The whole thing just worked, and that was the case for a good reason.
Over his entire career, Kingston built up a reputation as being one of the most dependable names in wrestling. There was something about him that made it hard to dislike him and after that many years, fans were happy to see him get somewhere. They were finally being given a chance to see Kingston on a higher level and after all the years of watching him do so well at everything else, they were ready.
That title looks good on him:
That’s what made the title win work so well. Kingston was someone who had never been there before and was being held back from his sudden new goal. It was nothing overly complicated and it was something that anyone could understand. Kingston had always been the talented hand and after all that time, he was ready to take the next step. Vince McMahon being there to tell him that he didn’t belong made it even better in a formula that has worked very well over the years. What’s better than seeing someone be told they’re not good enough and then have them prove the boss wrong?
Finally, you could feel how much this meant to Kingston. Upon winning the title, look at Kingston’s face. The emotions when Big E. and Woods bring him the title, when his children come in to join him and getting to hold the classic title can almost be felt and the genuine nature has always been present for Kingston. It made him feel like someone the fans could connect to and it gave him a strong following over the years. Fans wanted to see him win and after such a long wait, it was all worth it to the them because it was worth it to him.
Kingston winning the title worked, and it worked in a big way. While the last few weeks weren’t the best story in the world (because they couldn’t just announce the match until almost the last minute), the last eleven years made it work. This was the culmination of over a decade of hard work and effort FINALLY being paid off because Kingston had never seriously gone after the title. Fans didn’t seem to realize how much they wanted to see it and now that it has happened, even if it doesn’t last, Kingston has no trouble in paradise.
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his Amazon author page with 28 wrestling books. His latest book is the the Complete 2000 Monday Nitro and Thunder Reviews Part 1.
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