Despite numerous classic matches and moments over the course of his eleven year career, both as a singles competitor and as a member of the delightfully irreverent New Day, WWE's Kofi Kingston has never stepped into a situation quite like the one he's about to face at WrestleMania 35 this Sunday, April 7 at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey: Full blown #KofiMania
Allow me to explain...
Prior to this past February's six-man Elimination Chamber pay-per-view match, Kingston was chosen as a replacement for the recently injured Mustafa Ali, who was set to battle the likes of AJ Styles, Jeff Hardy, Samoa Joe, Randy Orton and current WWE Champion, Daniel Bryan within the unforgiving structure for which the match is named.
Less than a week before the Chamber match, all six men participated in a grueling gauntlet match against one another to determine who would be the final entrant, improving their prospects of victory.
After having lasted over an hour in the gauntlet while eliminating Joe, Hardy, and even the champion, Bryan, the fans immediately began to rally behind Kingston. Chants of "Kofi! Kofi! Kofi!" and "You deserve it!" began to swell just as AJ Styles squashed Kingston's hopes of becoming the final entrant with his Calf Crusher submission hold.
Despite the gauntlet match loss, Kofi showed the WWE Universe exactly what he was made of, perhaps more than any time prior in his eleven years with the company. And thus, #KofiMania was born. And it was good.
Kingston again proved he could go the distance during the actual Chamber match by entering third and, with the Houston crowd firmly behind him, surviving until the very last against Daniel Bryan, who ultimately picked up the victory. This, however, gave Kingston the right to challenge Bryan for the title at the subsequent pay-per-view, March's Fastlane.
KofiMania was in full swing.
That is until Vince McMahon showed up.
As he's wont to do, Vince immediately began to Vince all over Kofi's newfound connection to the WWE Universe and attempted to deny him of any potential title matches week after week, including replacing him at Fastlane with Kevin Owens. Was KofiMania already dead?!
Certainly not if Kofi's partners in the New Day, Xavier Woods and Big E, had anything to say about it. They prodded and pleaded with Vince to do right by Kofi and give him this shot. Spoiler: Vince did not agree.
Instead he ultimately placed Kofi's opportunity on their shoulders, making them participate in a tag team gauntlet match of their own. If they could defeat every team Vince threw at them, of which there were five, only then would Kofi be allowed to compete at WrestleMania 35 against Daniel Bryan for the belt. And by the Power of Positivity, they did just that. Kofi Kingston, after eleven years, was finally getting a shot at the WWE Championship.
We had a chance to talk briefly with Kingston himself about the epic last few weeks leading up WrestleMania 35, as well as his opponent Daniel Bryan, the Women's Revolution, and of course, the brotherhood of the New Day.
DIRECTV: You’ve been at this a long time and up until a few weeks ago I don’t imagine you saw yourself in this spot come WrestleMania time. Walk me through what the last few weeks have been like for you.
Kofi Kingston: Yeah man, definitely didn’t see this coming (laughs). I don’t think anybody could have predicted this happening. It’s one of these situations where you have to stay ready. When you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready. I’ve tried to stay ready over the past 11 years. Every time I go into the ring I try to give it everything I have. You just never know what's going to happen. I always tell people that you have to try to control what you can control, and what I can control is my performance in the ring.
Unfortunately, the way this whole situation came about was through Mustafa Ali’s injury and I was a fill-in, a replacement for him in the Elimination Chamber. I was able to have a couple of good performances in a row between that first gauntlet match and then Elimination Chamber itself and it’s just been "go, go, go" from there.
It’s just been amazing. It’s been awesome to be a part of this ride. I feel like it’s something very special and the fact that WWE Universe is so behind everything that we’re doing right now, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. You have a situation that’s kinda thrown into your lap and its up to us to do the best we possibly can to make the best out of it. That’s what I’m trying to do.
DTV: Your recent path is reminiscent of Daniel Bryan’s own journey a few years back at WrestleMania 30.
KK: It’s kind of poetic, you know what I’m saying? It’s poetic the way that this has all turned out. Its something where, obviously, Daniel Bryan was in the same situation as me right now where he was being held down by the authoritative figures and having to jump through all types of hoops and climb all types of mountains and overcome all types of obstacles to try and get what he deserved. Now that he's on the other end and he's behind the Authority, trying to hold me down, it’s poetic. But I think it makes for a great story and it’s something that people can identify with.
This is something I’ve been doing legitimately for 11 years, that’s not a part we made up. It’s not like we said “Oh, this character is going to do this for 11 years…and then!” This what not a part that we planned. It’s very organic and, again, it’s awesome to see how much people have embraced it. Its great. It’s awesome.
DTV: What do you think of the Daniel Bryan of five years ago versus the Daniel Bryan of today?
KK: I think he’s awesome in the ring. He’s amazing in the ring. What he’s doing right now from a character perspective is great. People don’t like him! The fact that you can have somebody go from being so beloved to being so hated really speaks volumes to the work that he’s able to put forth in that ring and I think that he’s the perfect opponent for me. I think we match up very, very well. We actually haven’t had that much interaction at all over the years, maybe a handful of matches here and there, but I think we match up pretty well so I think its going to be an amazing match when WrestleMania comes around, I can tell you that much. I don’t know which way it’s going to go, but hopefully it goes the right way and we can bring that title home where it belongs. It would be amazing for me as it's a journey that I’ve wanted to be on since I was a child, so being able to achieve that dream would mean the world to me.
DTV: You mentioned staying ready so you don't have to get ready, but this is arguably the biggest match of your career. No extra "Eye of the Tiger" training or prep?
KK: Yeah, I’m not really doing anything more than I normally do. Every match I approach with the same attitude. I always try to steal the show every single time. That's really the attitude I have. Obviously the WWE Championship is at stake now so you try to do it a little bit harder, if that’s even possible. Even though it’s in a few days, I still have so much in between now and then. I’m just taking it one day a time. But when WrestleMania comes around, I will definitely be ready.
DTV: If you do win the WWE Championship on Sunday, do you think that will change the dynamic of the New Day?
KK: I don’t think it would change New Day at all. I think we have, since day one, always had the goal of lifting your brother up, and that’s really the philosophy behind New Day. Since our inception, our whole goal was to make sure that all of us were elevated and that everything that we do is for the benefit of the group. So whether one person is getting a singles title or a we’re going for a tag team title it’s all love. Par for the course for us, though it will obviously a little different for us since we’ll have the WWE title around our waist. But again, one day at a time. We’ll continue to just excel and elevate. That’s really what it’s all about.
DTV: We've seen a lot of custom title belts over the years - Stone Cold Steve Austin's Smoking Skull belt, John Cena's Spinner belt, and now Daniel Bryan's sustainable hemp and wood belt. What would a Kofi Kingston belt look like?
KK: Who knows, man (laughs). I’m just trying to get there before I even begin to think about any of that extracurricular stuff. It’s really just a matter of me getting there and getting the job done. We’ll see what happens after that but the main thing is to actually do it and then we can kinda open our minds up to those different possibilities. I’m real superstitious about counting chickens before they hatch, so I'm really just trying to take it one day at a time and go from there.
DTV: What other matches are you excited to see at WrestleMania this year?
KK: Oh absolutely. The women’s triple threat match (ed: featuring Ronda Rousey, Becky Lynch, and Charlotte Flair), for sure. I think it’s going to be an awesome main event. It’s so amazing that their actually in the main event! I’ve told people in interviews before that I am so grateful to have been on the roster throughout this whole women’s movement. I was on the roster at a time when women were getting their matches cut and having like 2 or 3 minutes to tell a whole story with a bunch of different storylines going in there while some other male matches would get more time. Now we’ve come so far that we’ve had an all women’s PPV, Evolution, and all-women's Money in the Bank match, we’ve had an all-women’s Royal Rumble and now we have an all-women’s main event at WrestleMania. It’s such an amazing and special time to be in WWE right now. So yeah, that’s a match I’m definitely looking forward to. Obviously, Seth and Brock is going to be dope. The whole card from top to bottom is looking pretty stacked right now. It’s going to be a great night.
DTV: New Day has had some interesting WrestleMania entrances over the years. Planning anything special this year?
KK: Well, you’re just gonna have to tune in for all that! You know I can’t give you any spoilers, you know what I’m saying? You gotta tune in, bro!
DTV: Any parting words for the WWE Universe prior to Sunday?
KK: Just thank you, guys. This whole movement would not be happening were it not for the support of the WWE Universe throughout the past couple months so I’m just really grateful and thankful that we are on this journey together. I’m going to do my best to make sure it ends the right way.
Will Kofi Kingston be able to achieve his childhood dream and claim the WWE Championship from Daniel Bryan in front of 80,000+ fans? Find out when WrestleMania airs LIVE on Sunday, April 7 at 7p ET/4p PT. Order now!