By Jason Powell, ProWrestling.net Editor (@prowrestlingnet)
Kofi Kingston wasn’t confident he’d win the WWE Title at WrestleMania 35 until his music hit: “There’ve been so many times where I’ve been told that something was going to happen. Then I show up at the building and it doesn’t happen for whatever reason. Things are always changing. That two-month period was the perfect amount of time to just guide the fervor of the people. You knew that at WrestleMania, it was going to happen or the possibility became stronger. But it really wasn’t until I heard my music or when the promotional package right before the match came on, I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is going to happen.’ I’m looking around making sure no one’s going to come up to me and be like, ‘Oh, well we just changed the plans. Sorry, we’re not going to go with you right now… You know, Brock Lesnar is going to come in in the middle of the match.’ You know what I mean? You just have no idea.
“The jaded old man in me, I wouldn’t allow myself to really fully emotionally invest in the possibility of actually becoming WWE champion because it was a childhood dream. I think I was scared to be hurt. To get my hopes up and be let down again. It really wasn’t until like moments before walking out that I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is really going to happen. If you watch the entrance, you see me. [Xavier] Woods and [Big] E are on my left and my right. I’m just jumping, using their shoulders to push myself up as high as I can because I finally was able to let that energy out.”
Kofi on what KofiMania means to him: “Being the first African-born WWE champion. I had a lot of people of color who never thought that they would see that moment. So the fact that it was like on the cusp of actually happening was like, ‘Man, this is really powerful stuff.’ For an entertainment business, what we call entertainment, it has such a real effect on people. To me, that was like the best part of ‘KofiMania’ was being able to give people the payoff that if you work hard enough at something and you work long enough and you just put your whole ass into it, it can happen for you. Beyond race, it was a story of struggle. Somebody who did everything that they could do, brought unique skills to the ring and had the potential to be WWE champion, just being shortchanged for year-after-year-after-year-after-year and finally it was going to happen.”
Kofi shuns creatives early presentation of Big E: “Big E’s reign was just magical and beautiful in so many different ways. There are very few people in this industry that can move a crowd the way that he does on the mic. He does it in such a different way, just galvanizes people. Gets people on their feet and gets them to believe in themselves. That’s really unique.
“When he debuted, he was Dolph Ziggler’s bodyguard. All of a sudden they told him like, ‘Hey, you gotta go out there and you gotta be stoic. You gotta be big.’ So you see him out there with a serious face on and folding his arms and looking big and intimidating and brooding. Then they had the nerve to tell him, ‘Hey, you know what, you don’t have enough personality.’ And it’s like, ‘What? You told him, you said to strip all personality out of your persona and go out there and look big and menacing. That’s what you told him to do.’ So now you’re saying, ‘Well, he doesn’t have any personality.’ And now you’re on the verge of pulling him off the main roster because of what you told him to do. So the fact that he was able to take that and make it into what he did.”
Kofi Kingston celebrates Big E for turning scraps into gold: “It was just somebody who took the scraps that they were given and they kept on building and building and building and building into the entity that he is now. He just was so deserving of that championship. I think that he covered all the bases. He checked off all the boxes with regards to what he brought to the table. The way he’s able to move people, his look, his athleticism and his demeanor and his approach to the WWE. It was someone who had worked really from nothing. From being nothing in this industry to beating the odds and being something that he wanted to be versus what he was told to be. Now he’s the champ. So that story in and of itself to me was like, “Wow, what a journey…’ I’m sure he’s going to be championed again at some point in time.”
Kofi Kingston on Mustafa Ali requesting WWE release: “It’s a really complicated industry. I feel for him. I feel for him because I understand the frustrations that he’s going through. I feel like somebody who is so incredibly talented should always be afforded the opportunity to shine. He hasn’t really necessarily been given that, and that is one of the most unfortunate natures of our industry. I don’t know how to change that. It’s been like that for quite some time. I guess we’ll just kind of see where it all goes.
“I’m a firm believer in everything kind of happening for a reason. I think that when it’s all said and done, he will have grown from this whole experience, for sure. I don’t know where it’s going to end. I don’t know where it’s going to go. But he’ll always have my support in terms of my desire to want to see him do well because he is so incredibly talented not just in the ring, outside the ring too. As a person, just somebody who really wants to have a major impact on the world. So I’m hoping that he’s able to find some peace in the whole situation. I hope he’s able to find some happiness at the end of it when it’s all said and done with the light at the end of the tunnel… Regardless of what happens, there are going to be big things for him in his future.”
Kofi Kingston on the Royal Rumble spot that Hornswoggle inspired: “When Hornswoggle was with the company, we used to travel together and we would sit in the hotel. Probably 24 to 48 hours before the kickoff of the Rumble, something would come into my head. He would joke around about it. Just to spite him, I would go out there and do it. Like jumping on the chair and using it as a Pogo stick, came from a joke. Hornswoggled said, ‘What are you gonna do? You don’t have anything to do. Why don’t you get a Pogo stick and then you can jump.’ I was like, ‘Oh, that’s actually a really good idea. So I was in the hotel room. I actually got out of the bed, got onto a chair and started hopping with them… I’m going to do this in the Rumble. And now what you thought was a joke is going to be a thing.”
Kofi Kingston’s Bret Hart story, teaming with Harry Smith as Commonwealth Connection: “They told me I was going to be tagging with Harry Smith. This is the son of British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith. I was like, ‘Oh, this is awesome. This is crazy, man. I get to tag with the British Bulldog’s son.’ But then I started to think, ‘Well, why are we tagging? Do we have any kind of connection? We definitely don’t. Harry Smith’s uncle is Bret Hart and I found this out like afterwards. Harry didn’t want to tag with me because he was already kind of an established star. He’d wrestled in Japan and had done big things over there.
“Bret was like, ‘Why is he tagging with this Kofi Kingston? What do they have in common?’ The common thread was that since I at the time was from Jamaica and he was from Britain, it was the Commonwealth. You are supposed to work as a team when you’re in a tag team, but it was like always two singles matches. I would go in and do my thing and tag Harry. He would do his thing and match over. We’re great friends now, but at the time we were both just like, ‘What are we doing? Like, why are you guys booking us together?’
“What I learned from that was just to be prepared, right? Like that was so early in my career. Yes, there was no sense behind why we were tagging together, but I looked at it as an opportunity to be able to learn from somebody who had travelled the world at the time. He’d been to so many more countries and wrestled in front of so many more people than I had. I learned so much from Harry. He’s so amazing amazingly technical and obviously a powerhouse too.
“So a lot of the moves that he did, I couldn’t do because I can’t lift up people that big. I’m not as strong as he is. A lot of those guys from the dungeon — Harry, Tyson Kidd or TJ Wilson, Nattie Neidhart — they are so incredibly technical that you can’t help but learn when you’re in the ring with them. So I got a front-row seat to watching Harry Smith and just learning a new style. I appreciate the fact that they did put us together because I was able to learn from it and take what I learned and applied it to the rest of my career.”