Entering WrestleMania season upon us, wrestlers and fans are gearing up for the biggest show of the year. Fans love reminiscing about past WrestleMania’s fondly. Often they look back on their favorite matches and moments from the “Showcase of the Immortals.” With that in mind, today we look back at a match and moment that will live in wrestling lore forever. One that will be shown in WrestleMania highlight reels for decades to come. We’re talking about KofiMania and the Kofi Kingston WWE Championship win at WrestleMania 35.
Before diving into the match, let’s look at how we got there because the journey is just as important as the destination.
The Gauntlet Match
At the 2019 Elimination Chamber event, WWE Champion Daniel Bryan was scheduled to defend his title in said chamber. His opponents were to be Randy Orton, AJ Styles, Jeff Hardy, Samoa Joe, and Mustafa Ali. An injury forced Ali out of the match, opening the door for one member of the New Day to compete. That member would step inside the monstrous structure. With the backing of his New Day teammates Big E and Xavier Woods, Kingston was elected as the New Day’s representative.
During the February 12th episode of Smackdown Live, Kingston participated in a gauntlet match to determine who would enter the chamber last. His performance that night, one that lasted more than an hour. It also garnered the full support of the WWE Universe. Kingston had always been beloved by the fans. They had consistently been appreciative of his personality and spectacular athleticism, but this felt different.
This felt like, even though he didn’t win the match, the momentum of support was building to something special.
Riding that wave of momentum into the chamber match, Kofi once again stole the show. Entering third, Kingston eliminated Randy Orton after nailing the Viper with a Trouble in Paradise. From there it came down to Kingston and WWE Champion Daniel Bryan.
The two engaged in a hard-hitting battle, highlighted by Kingston’s crossbody dive from the top of the chamber pod. Back and forth they went, in a sneak peek to what would be their WrestleMania showdown a little over a month later. Eventually, Bryan picked up the victory after connecting with his running knee. Kingston’s performance and the crowd’s response to him being so close to winning the WWE Championship proved that KofiMania was real. Could Kofi Kingston and KofiMania be building traction?
Every hero’s journey needs a villain worthy enough to make their narrative feel like something special is taking place. Luckily for us fans, Kofi Kingston’s journey had two. If a wrestler is on the cusp of something monumental, it says something when Mr. McMahon takes a personal investment in making their life a living hell. Leading up to WrestleMania, McMahon put every obstacle imaginable in front of Kingston to keep him out of the WWE Championship match.
He took away Kingston’s championship opportunity at Fast Lane, replacing him with the returning Kevin Owens. McMahon then granted Kingston a WWE Championship match, only if he was able to defeat Sheamus, Cesaro, Rowan, Samoa Joe and Randy Orton in a gauntlet match.
After Kingston pulled off the miracle and defeated all five competitors, McMahon once again pulled the rug out from under him. Adding Daniel Bryan as one final competitor Kingston needed to defeat to earn his championship match, once again confirming McMahon’s pettiness. Exhausted from already wrestling five men, Kingston was quick work for a fresh Daniel Bryan. Kingston’s final opportunity to earn a WrestleMania Championship match fell on the shoulders of his New Day brethren Big E and Xavier Woods.
Forced into a tag team gauntlet match by McMahon they had to defeat five other teams. Included in this group of five was, at the time the WWE Tag Team Champions and longtime New Day rivals, the USO’s. Their decision to forfeit the match out of respect to the New Day is a moment on the road to WrestleMania that needs to be acknowledged.
In their final gauntlet match, Big E and Xavier Woods defeated Daniel Bryan and Rowan, earning their best friend his WrestleMania opportunity.
Speaking of Bryan, a guy who knows a thing or two about heroic journeys to WrestleMania, he needs to be applauded for his villainous role in KofiMania and Kofi Kingston. In a role reversal from his rise to the WrestleMania XXX main event, Bryan now playing the holier than thou champion, let it be known that Kofi Kingston was a B+ player.
Hearing Bryan, of all people, utter those words to another wrestler, solidified that he was no longer the leader of the Yes Movement. He was the perfect foil for the New Day, constantly berating them for their commercialized lifestyle.
His villainous run doesn’t get the credit it deserves.
Kofi Kingston, with Big E and Woods by his side, enters first to an electric response from the crowd supporting the KofiMani run. Bryan, with his monster Rowan in his corner, enters next to a chorus of boos. It needs to be noted the placement for this match in the middle of the card was perfect.
The crowd isn’t worn out from the marathon that WrestleMania has become. Instead, their anticipation and engagement take this match to an eleven on the excitement scale. After some early grappling, Kingston strikes the first major blow, landing an over the top rope dive on to Bryan on the ringside floor.
This flurry of offense sends Bryan scrambling to his monster Rowan to slow down Kingston’s momentum. The plan works as Bryan takes control with a plethora of submission attempts, his submission acumen being well documented by announcer Corey Graves.
“Kofi will have to find something dynamic or Bryan will pick him apart.”
Kingston’s first attempt at landing something dynamic comes when he leaps from the top turnbuckle to the outside. Bryan moves just in the nick of time as Kingston awkwardly slams his abdomen into the announcer’s desk. With an injured target available, Bryan begins wearing down Kingston with a waist lock, squeezing as much air out of his opponent that he can.
After Kingston finally escapes Bryan’s grasp an electric sequence unfolds between the two. Bryan lands his running corner kicks two times in a row before attempting a third.
This time, however, Kofi meets him in the middle of the ring with a double stomp, but Bryan rolls it directly into a Boston Crab. Eventually, the two square off in a classic hero-villain slugfest. The crowd booing Bryan and cheering Kingston every time a punch is thrown adds to the mid-match moment.
Another fantastic sequence happens moments after Bryan taunts the crowd by performing his Yes taunts as Kingston begins to rise from the mat. Kingston dodges the running knee attempt before rolling Bryan up followed by an S.O.S that Bryan reverses into the LeBell lock.
After Kingston breaks the hold getting his foot on the rope, the crowd reaches its fever pitch in support of their hero. That support gets even louder when a fired-up Kofi challenges Bryan to kick him harder during Bryan’s patented Yes kicks.
Bryan sensing the momentum slipping away eventually escapes to the outside. Kingston follows but is met by Rowan. Rowan is quickly dispatched by Big E and Xavier Woods with their Midnight Hour double team maneuver. A dodged Trouble in Paradise followed was followed by Bryan connecting on his running knee. This gave the match its first true false finish. Kingston kicking out at two and a half elicits a look of dismay on Bryan and his frustration begins to set in.
After stomping on Kingston’s face, Bryan locks in the LeBell Lock for the third time. Eventually, Kingston fights his way out before returning the favor. With some face stomps of his own, Kingston regains the advantage. With momentum on his side and the crowd chanting “New Day Rocks” Kingston finally lands the Trouble in Paradise completing his 11-year journey to the top.
The crowd erupts in arguably the biggest pop of the night.
Tears in their eyes, Big E and Xavier Woods join their brother in the ring. This was before bringing Kofi Kingston the new WWE Championship with KofiMania finally achieved. The genuine looks of pride and joy on all three of their faces magnify the moment. This was only made bigger when Kingston’s family joins the celebration in the ring. An emotional Byron Saxton on commentary eloquently sums up the moment.
“I call this sight right here a symbol of accomplishing your goals, achieving your dreams, no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter what you look like. If you believe, you can make it happen.”
The best WrestleMania moments elicit a gamut of emotions. The Kofi Kingston victory at WrestleMania 35 does that in spades and KofiMania achieves that. It created one of the greatest WrestleMania moments of all time.
And that truly does rock.