Kofi Kingston has been the reigning WWE Cinderella story ever since he beat Daniel Bryan in front of 80,000 fans to become WWE Champion at WrestleMania 35 in April. Almost nobody would have predicted this mere weeks before it happened. It was a fantastic upset and the victory of a beloved underdog. But now that we live in the status quo in which Kofi is that triumphant underdog, the question is, what happens next? Can a Cinderella story evolve past that moment of triumph?
On the February 12 episode of Smackdown Live, Kingston was subbed into a gauntlet match to determine the final participant for the then-upcoming WWE Championship Elimination Chamber match. Kingston was there to fill the scrappy underdog role previously earmarked for up-and-comer Mustafa Ali, who had just suffered an ill-timed concussion. What Ali might have done in the role will likely go down as one of the great “What if?” questions in WWE history, but Kofi grabbed the brass ring with both hands, putting on the performance of a lifetime. He then turned in equally impressive work in the Elimination Chamber and a second gauntlet match to earn a shot at Bryan at WrestleMania. Overnight, Kofi went from a comedy midcard tag-team specialist to arguably the most popular man in WWE. Kofi Kingston’s unexpected rise has been dubbed a Cinderella story by WWE and fans alike, but week-by-week the champ is showing he should be more than the star of some quickie fairy tale.
Kofi’s big win wasn’t the first time we’ve seen a Cinderella story unfold at WrestleMania. WWE has a history of giving wrestlers who don’t fit their usual star mold feel-good ‘Mania wins, with guys like Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero, and Daniel Bryan winning or defending the top belt at the show. Sadly, once the all-important WrestleMania Moment™ is created, these underdogs usually go on to have short, underwhelming championship reigns. Some, like Daniel Bryan, bounce back and get further title opportunities. Most don’t. At this point, fans rightfully assume the majority of WWE Cinderella stories will have a disappointing epilogue.
Kofi Kingston has a shot at breaking that cycle. While most underdogs, even greats like Eddie Guerrero, seem to buckle under the strain of being champion, Kingston has upped his game. He cuts the best fiery babyface promo in WWE right now and his matches have remained encouragingly consistent. Like many, I largely attributed the greatness of Kofi’s pre-WrestleMania matches to his opponent, Daniel Bryan, but he’s continued to turn in quality bouts against other opponents like Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. Most importantly though, Kofi’s character has remained solid. He hasn’t suddenly transformed into some knockoff Rock or John Cena – he’s remained the same down-to-earth, relatable guy we’ve seen for the past 11 years in WWE and the fans continue to love him for it. We’re over six weeks removed from WrestleMania 35 at this point and #KofiMania is still running wild.
In fact, accidental champion Kofi Kingston is arguably outshining this year’s other two big WrestleMania winners. Seth Rollins, who beat Brock Lesnar for the Universal Championship on the grandest stage, has been surprisingly demure about defending the belt and his “Beast Slayer” persona was undercut when Lesnar made an almost immediate return. Meanwhile, Becky Lynch, who served Ronda Rousey her first loss in the ‘Mania main event, has struggled to back up her bluster and make the most of mediocre challengers like Lacey Evans and an overexposed Charlotte Flair.
Some armchair Internet critics insist Kofi Kingston isn’t a “draw,” but it’s hard to trace a direct line between champions and TV ratings and attendance in this era. Yes, ratings took a dive following WrestleMania, but Raw and Smackdown have been clawing their way back in recent weeks with Kofi all over both shows. Also, it ought to be noted that Kofi’s pursuit of the WWE Championship leading up to ‘Mania provided Smackdown with its best ratings in some time.
But hey, even if Kofi isn’t a draw yet, he has shown he’s capable of providing top-quality promos and matches on a reliable basis. He has that main-event aura, as demonstrated by the arenas of fans cheering him on every night. Big money-drawing stars – the John Cenas, Rocks, and Roman Reignses – are made by the WWE machine, and Kofi Kingston is proving he deserves to be made too.