One of the most critical questions for the Raw brand is whether or not Kofi Kingston really has a shot at dethroning Bobby Lashley. Yes, more important than where’s Bray and just as important as whether or not Lilly will pull her weight as Alexa Bliss’ tag team partner. Kofi got over on The Almighty last Monday, signaling there kinda, maybe, possibly a way for Kofi to get another shot at a title reign.
Sable’s husband ended Kofi’s first championship stint quicker than it takes to spell supercalifragilistic. And that’s with the help of spell-check. But in retrospect, that was the only possible ending. While Kofi’s journey to become the man was one of the best wrestling stories of the last decade, his title reign felt like the equivalent of a guy just happy to be here.
Outside of his everlasting beef with Randy Orton, nothing felt natural or had genuine emotional stakes. If, and that’s an iceberg-sized if, Kingston becomes a two-time WWE Champion, the story needs to be better because Kofi deserves better. If the first reign was about a guy happy he got the opportunity, the second should be about that same guy proving he belongs in the upper echelon and plans to stay there until someone forces him out.
When most champions lose their status symbol, they obsess over getting it back. Look no further than Drew McIntyre, a man with the perseverance of a gnat on a humid day at a crowded cookout. McIntryre, like pretty much every titleholder in the past, believes it’s his right to be champion. Drew doesn’t let a little thing like losing two consecutive championship matches to Lashley deter him; those are mere flesh wounds in his quest to get back the gold. If there’s one commonality between scripted pro wrestling and every competitive sport on this planet, it’s an unwavering desire to win.
Once they get their first taste of glory, it’s the only thing they want to digest. It’s why we still talk about Michael Jordan in hushed tones, despite the fact he won his last championship the same year Jay-Z was on album number three and Bill Clinton was still President. And it’s the whole impetus behind Charlotte Flair’s “Fair to Flair” campaign. To be the best, you gotta be a little obsessed.
Kofi showed that compulsion leading up to WrestleMania 35. He told his opponents he waited too long for his shot, and they needed to come harder. This cat wasn’t going down, and he dared anyone to stop him. Every champion has a certain amount of arrogance, and in those few months, Kofi showed enough to spread to the whole WWE locker room with more to give. But like some of history’s most storied kings, Kofi sanded down his edges when he reached the pinnacle.
That, however, probably had everything to do with the fact the storytelling was lax at best. Kofi’s challengers felt random, almost as if Vince blindly pulled their names from a hat. That’s not a diss to Kevin Owens, Dolph Ziggler, or Samoa Joe. They just felt like disparate parts rather than meaningful pieces of a larger story. Roman Reigns is doing the Lord’s work as champion mainly due to his feuds pushing his character forward. Daniel Bryan’s heel reign as SmackDown champ owes its brilliance to every match, including his loss to Kingston at WrestleMania, telling the story of a once-beloved underdog now drunk with power and high off a hit of hubris. Kofi Kingston’s spring and summer as champ told the story of… Kofi as spring and summer champ. Meh.
Putting aside the historic nature of a Lashley and Kingston title match, championship reigns need to be about more than the history books. Kofi’s second run can add more layers to his character and restore some of that edge he lost the first time around. The pressure to defend the WWE Championship changes wrestlers, for better or worse. As it was once called, the Federation has a chance to explore those changes in one of its longest-running and most consistent characters.
Well, to a point. There was that time he was Jamaican, but we all experiment when we’re young.
Kofi lost his title in a whimper on national television only a few months before the world went into hibernation. As we wake from our pandemic-included slumber, this is the perfect time for him to show his flash in the pan reign was anything but. Maybe that drives him crazy, and he alienates those closest to him, or it possibly makes him a better version of himself, and everyone around him reaps the benefits.
Either way, it’s something. And that’s a whole lot more than we got in 2019.