Over 11 years after making his debut in WWE, Kofi Kingston is now, finally, a world champion. In beating Daniel Bryan on Sunday night at WrestleMania 35, Kingston not only reached a career milestone but made WWE history as well. [Check out full results and grades from WrestleMania 35.]
The WWE championship, which the company debuted in 1963, had been around the waist of 50 different men in its history. Kingston on Sunday became just the second African American (following Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and first native African to hold WWE’s signature title. Kingston is a native of Ghana, West Africa.
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you all,” Kingston wrote in a Twitter message on Monday. “Without your love & support, especially over the past couple months, none of this happens. You helped me achieve my childhood dream & I’m eternally grateful for each & every one of you. Sincerely, Your WWE World Heavyweight Champion”
As is occasionally the case in WWE, Kingston’s elevation to the WWE title match at WrestleMania was a classic case of fans forcing the company to change its plans. Kingston, a longtime fan-favorite both as a singles competitor and member of popular tag team New Day, filled in during a gauntlet match for an injured superstar (Ali) and nearly won despite starting the bout in the ring. Kingston pinned Bryan to open that match. He then nearly won an Elimination Chamber match for the WWE title in booking that was supposed to mirror the plan for Ali.
While Ali was reportedly supposed to main event Fastlane against Bryan with a returning Kevin Owens planned to be Bryan’s ‘Mania opponent, the overwhelming fan support Kingston gained during those aforementioned matches forced the company to change its plans. Owens and Ali (inserted as a last-minute challenger) lost to Bryan at Fastlane with Kingston eventually earning his title shot at WrestleMania.
In addition to Kingston’s victory being of historical importance, it is also socially significant for WWE fans as his ascension to the top of the company’s ranks provides much-needed representation for its viewers.