In last week’s edition of The Sunday Column, I shared my criticisms of the manner in which Kofi Kingston’s character was written to go from treading water to toppling giants seemingly overnight with what felt like a jarringly continuity-breaking performance in Smackdown Live’s (SDL) pre-Elimination Chamber 2019 Gauntlet Match. In order for that impressive performance to be narratively justified within the fictional universe WWE has (somewhat) created for themselves, I argued, Kingston’s effort would need to be followed up with a newly revised but persistent presentation as, at the very least, a convincing bridesmaid – a man as capable of superlatively excelling in singles competition as he has in tag team competition, even if it never results in World Championship success. If instead the presentation of Kingston was to revert to the previous status quo overnight, then my issues with the aforementioned continuity break would remain.
This week saw signs that WWE aren’t going to fall into bad habits with Kingston, at least not immediately, and for that I am equal parts thankful and relieved. After having seized his remarkable opportunity with a sterling performance inside the Elimination Chamber Match this time last week, a compelling story told by virtue of that performance, Kingston has quickly found himself racking up a second impressive opportunity with a main event WWE Championship shot against Daniel Bryan at the looming final pay-per-view before WrestleMania, Fastlane.
Fascinatingly, what has started to emerge in the midst of this unexpected frenzy surrounding arguably the most beloved third of New Day is a slight intonation of retribution. It is a heady environment within WWE and its fan base at the moment, one that, on a seemingly daily basis, throws you from the negative extreme to the positive as the company scrambles to find the answers to its recent popular and critical woes. Seeing Kingston emerge as a main event prospect for the first time in ten years is a large contributor to this currently conflicted atmosphere, providing an extreme positive because of a previously subdued yearning among fans to see at least one member of that Lost Generation of the latter-2000s bloom and fulfil their long-stifled potential. That sentiment alone feels retributive. That Kingston, in fashioning his victory on SDL this last Tuesday, consciously seemed to reach all the way back to 2009, yelling “Stupid!” at a downed Randy Orton to deliver the Viper a delayed response to one of Orton’s more infamously unprofessional on-screen moments – one that denigrated the then-young mid card star – further exacerbated this subtext of overdue justice.
With his New Day brothers Xavier Woods and Big E only bolstering their own vocal support for Kingston from the sidelines, constantly reiterating how unfailing their individual beliefs have been that one day Kingston would reach the highest echelon of the company, piles on the sense of fatalism about this second championship opportunity for the man too.
WWE do need to be careful, though. This chapter in Kingston’s story is being told remarkably well and to great effect. The company must be prepared to potentially alter their WrestleMania course for the WWE Championship if it becomes clear there is an overriding sentiment from fans to see Kingston and Bryan dance for a third time, on the biggest stage possible. News circulated online that this is firmly off the table, before contradictory reports circulated thereafter stating the opposite. We cannot be sure which hold true, but it doesn’t take a creative or business genius to understand that pivoting a compelling story into a less interesting one is always a bad idea, and certainly ill-fitting for what it is supposed to be the biggest event of your calendar year.
I cannot foresee Kingston upsetting a Daniel Bryan on career-best form at Fastlane, of course, and I believe for him to do so would present a creative error in judgement. Excitement can be embraced with composure, though, and would a third go-around – something I’m usually set against in the land of WWE – be all that terrible, considering the clear spirit of 2014 that this chase of Kingston’s is evoking? I’m beginning to think not.
Although someone else might. Apparently, if certain articles are to be believed, Vince McMahon is now of the belief his roster is void of stars, even potential stars, and this is the reason behind the sudden and quite inexplicable main roster presence of previously un-hyped NXT ‘promotions’ this last week. It’s difficult to know what to believe here in the IWC, but if there is any truth to these recent allegations then there may be reason to fear for Kingston’s chances of making it to a WWE title bout at WrestleMania; though, really, there shouldn’t be, because it wouldn’t just be Kingston making his presence felt in such a storyline but, rather, the New Day in its entirety, and nobody with eyes or ears could possibly argue New Day, as a unit, aren’t major stars.
It is perhaps a little early to be getting paranoid about these accusations being made of WWE’s Chairman, no matter how easy or tempting they are to believe, not least of all because New Day aren’t the only unit of the past decade to emerge as genuine, proven stars. There is a reason people like myself bang on about The Shield so much, even to this day, and a reason why WWE have been eager to reunite the Hounds of Justice, if anything too zealously over recent years. Each to their own degree, Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose have become the major names of their generation and, not unlike New Day, may yet prove to have a major WrestleMania coming their collective way.
News that Roman Reigns is returning to Monday Night Raw (MNR) this coming week is still relatively fresh, but it should come as little surprise to anybody that it is an item already provoking tense chatter online. From fears of a pending insertion of the Big Dog into the Brock Lesnar / Seth Rollins Universal Championship Match to fears of McMahon’s precedent for cold-blooded exploitation rearing its ugly head to get a ratings pop out of a man’s battle with cancer, there are a lot of conflicting theories as to what awaits us tomorrow night. I would advise not to jump to conclusions and to remember, obvious though it may seem, that we currently know nothing beyond the simple fact Roman Reigns will appear on MNR for the first time since October.
Further, and appreciating that speculation is irresistible in the pro wrestling game, it seems to me more likely that, even if Reigns is healthy to compete by the time WrestleMania rolls around, rather than finding himself inserted into a storyline so far written predominantly from a deeply personable Rollins point of view, he would instead find himself in a currently rumoured mid card affair against the stable we saw seemingly debut at Elimination Chamber 2019 on Sunday – Drew McIntyre, Baron Corbin and Bobby Lashley, who I collectively christened ‘X-Pax Heat’ in my First Reaction piece earlier this week (still available to read in the Just Business archive!). Reigns has a heavily-established combative relationship with Braun Strowman, X-Pac Heat’s primary target, and in a six-man tag match would, as a performer, be able to share the workload; perhaps, even, to the extent of a cameo that simply sees him ‘get his stuff in,’ as the expression goes.
Dean Ambrose fits perfectly into such a scenario as well, doesn’t he? The performer apparently has one foot out of WWE’s door already and retains intentions to continue wrestling, making him prime fodder for the paradigm-altering All Elite Wrestling (AEW) to snatch up. Some are convinced, thanks to WWE’s unprecedented press release on the matter, that it’s all a ‘work.’ I remain convinced that press release was simply a sign of the respect the promotion has for Ambrose and the value they see in him. In turn, that belief makes me almost certain that Ambrose will receive a spot on the WrestleMania card suitably balancing the pragmatic facts of his departure with a desire from the company to respectfully see him out the door and not burn bridges they overtly want to keep intact. A place in a prominent mid card tag bout, one that would be compelled to address the issue of his treachery on the night of Reigns’ announcement back in October, would provide interesting story potential, be fitting for a star of Ambrose’s importance on the roster and, at the same time, be limited by the necessity for Ambrose to share the stage with five other competitors, none of whom seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.
I dare say cogs are already in motion for this to take place, if Reigns is fit to compete at WrestleMania that is. Yes, there was the strange use of the Triple Powerbomb by X-Pac Heat and the non-committal reference to The Shield at Elimination Chamber 2019, but more interestingly recent weeks have also seen the Ambrose character turn back towards his more heroic guise. It is a rapid turn-around, WWE seemingly recognising how badly they fumbled the villainous turn late last year, but one that makes sense for Ambrose’s character, considering his stated motivations for the fratricidal move.
Considering his betrayal of Rollins was primarily motivated by a self-belief that he was better than the Architect and made weaker by their brotherhood, that events have since unfurled proving that, in fact, Rollins is the competitor succeeding alone and Ambrose the one floundering would most definitely result in a conflict of conscience for one of WWE’s most moralistic characters, and in turn undoubtedly fuel a reticent and red-faced attempt to make amends as a result. Trying to do so without actively apologising – to apologise would be to acknowledge the similarities he now has in common with a Rollins he has always been swift to criticise as treacherous and untrustworthy – is entirely in keeping with the Lunatic Fringe too, a man now seemingly attempting to hide from the truth of his own worst self.
What’s more, putting aside the possible issues of tastelessness that could occur tomorrow night, it is a situation that nonetheless provides mouth-watering potential for some truly emotive television on MNR should Ambrose come in contact with the returning Reigns, and emotive television is in somewhat short supply when it comes to WWE right now.
What are YOUR thoughts on the evolving situation around Kofi Kingston and his latest opportunity at Fastlane? How do YOU feel the return of Roman Reigns? And what do YOU think of Ambrose becoming a good guy again so soon? Sound off in the comments below, over on social media or by joining LOPForums today!
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