Why Kofi Kingston is the Face of the WWE Problem

kofi kingstonIn late 2009, Kofi Kingston was finally ready for his breakout moment.

His career arc up to that point included all the typical WWE milestones: after signing with the WWE in 2006 he did a stint in developmental before eventually working his way onto the main roster. By late 2008, he had collected a few mid-card titles (including the tag-team championship with CM Punk), and had shown that his athleticism and work-ethic were some of the best in the company. Hardcore and casual fans loved him. Plus, he had paid his dues.

When October of 2009 rolled around, Kingston had been in and out of the main event picture for most of the year. His brief run-ins with Edge and Chris Jericho made him seem like a star, and a lengthy United States title run further decorated his resume. He was only looking for that one rivalry to put him over the top.

Enter Randy Orton.

Orton was fresh off a WWE Championship reign. His heel-tactics had earned him the ire of the entire WWE Universe, and so a victory for the babyface Kingston would establish Kingston’s status as a main event superstar. Their rivalry was fresh and exciting. Unfortunately, that’s as far as it went. Kofi Kingston got his victory over Randy Orton, but it was a flukey win stuck in the middle of three Orton-dominated matches. Then Kingston went on to spend 2010 in mid-card hell. Despite a few highlight-worthy moments since, and a handful of great matches, his career has never truly recovered.

So what’s the real issue here?  It seems WWE struggles with handling a sustainable build, and often fails to follow-through. Kingston undoubtedly has all the tools of a superstar, but he’s never been spotlighted long enough to create the buzz that follows other main event players. His rivalry with Orton should have been the launching pad to bigger and greater things. Instead, it was the high point of a single storyline. They had nothing serious planned for him once he lost to Orton.

Kingston’s not alone here. CM Punk captured the World Heavyweight Championship TWICE, and still had a hard time getting traction. In fact, he didn’t cement his place atop the roster until after his infamous ‘Pipe Bomb Promo’ and the ensuing rivalry with John Cena. That was when WWE Creative finally gave CM Punk both an angle he could sink his teeth into, and a storyline that kept him in the spotlight.

Fans often complain that if a young gun could just get that one victory, or grab a World Championship that one time, they’d be set. I argue that it’s less about the championship itself, or even the victory, and more about what takes place after.

Remember Zack Ryder? He got his shining moment, winning the United States Championship and celebrating with Punk and Bryan the next night on ‘Raw.’ Now he’s the jobber to the stars. What about Jack Swagger? He climbed the proverbial ladder and is billed as a “former World-Heavyweight Champion.” Today, his career can’t seem to find anything that clicks. Cody Rhodes defeated Rey Mysterio at Wrestlemania over two years ago, and he’s rarely even featured on PPV pre-shows anymore. The examples go on and on.

I’m not arguing all of these guys could, or even should, be headlining pay-per-views. But I think they’re all shining examples of WWE’s short-sightedness. Creative puts a wrestler out there, gives him some momentum, then tucks tail and runs because they can’t immediately sell merchandise like John Cena or Randy Orton. News flash, WWE: Those guys took years of build to become as popular as they are today. And unfortunately, giving a superstar a small push then immediately pulling them from TV for weeks does more to harm a superstar than help them.

As a fan, I want time to invest in a superstar, so I can genuinely care. Give me feuds that build to bigger and better things, and let me see an actual progression of character. I want surprise wins and heartbreaking losses. Take The Miz, for example. He was never supposed to be a WWE main-eventer, or even a real threat for TV time. However, when he split from John Morrison, the WWE writing team laid the groundwork for his rise to success. They spotlighted him on WWE television, gave him mid-card wins, and let his stock rise for a year. Then, in late 2010, he cashed in the Money in the Bank contract for his first WWE Championship reign.

Miz Money in the BankBut notice how things didn’t just stop there. In the subsequent months, they continued to put him in meaningful rivalries, eventually culminating in a Wrestlemania match against John Cena. After he reached the top, they let him stay. It was over a year later before they finally changed The Miz into a face, and it was at a time his popularity was starting to wane. It actually felt like a great refresh.

I think the WWE had the right concept with Ryback. They wanted him to be a beast, and so they let him decimate anybody on the roster. While his feud with CM Punk last year felt premature, it also felt plausible, if only because he looked like the kind of guy that could beat anybody in the company. Fans even started chanting along with him. But then, less than four months later, WWE changed its mind and decided to make Ryback a heel. A guy that was finally starting to get over in popularity was changed to an entirely different character. And, subsequently, his current feud with John Cena feels bland.

WWE is losing viewers on a weekly basis, and people are less interested in the product than ever. When former stars like The Rock or Brock Lesnar have to show up and sell your pay-per-views, something isn’t right with the way you’re handling talent.

Kofi Kingston might never become a world champion, and Zack Ryder might never main-event again. Those are things I’ve learned to accept. But something I can’t accept is a mediocre, warmed-over product, when the WWE has all the right pieces to be so much more.

Michael A. Wiseman

Michael is a pro wrestling enthusiast, MMA fan, and all-around geek. When not blogging, he likes to catch up on TV shows or dig in to the latest tech news. You can follow him on Twitter @therealwiseman.


Comments

  1. Steven of Jacksonville, Florida says:

    Michael,

    It doesn’t take long watching the current WWE product to see that the company is terrible at building stars. I love professional wrestling and only want to see the industry succeed so I try to stay positive but the issue here is so basic. I work for IHG, a hotels company. IHG owns hotel brands like Holiday Inn, Candlewood Suites, Ect. To build those brands, it costs money, like ANY business it costs money to build a name/brand, & in many ways, a superstar is his/her own brand. I don’t understand how WWE does not see that when they invest so much time/money into a Lord Tensai or Wade Barrett or Drew McIntyre only to do nothing with that character/brand, they are throwing money away.

    I think if we could see the real amount of money WWE spends on a David Otunga or Justin Gabriel just to get them to lower-midcard it would amaze us all.

    Does WWE just have too many Superstars? Are there not enough writers? Or could it really be that the people that make the major decisions just don’t know how to book a show because one things for sure, WWE in particular has enough TV time to work with.

    Steven of Jacksonville, Florida

    • Michael A. Wiseman Michael A. Wiseman says:

      You’re exactly right, Steven, these guys are “brands.” It really is hard to pin-point why WWE waste money on building these brands before quickly changing direction.

      I think it is two different things. First off, Vince McMahon is notoriously a flavor-of-the-month kind of guy. He’s s great businessman, but not always a great promoter. He wants to be an “entertainment” company more than about anything else, and so the product suffers.

      Secondly, many of the writing staff come from TV. There’s a big difference in how to write a television show versus how to write a wrestling show. Which brings me to my third point…

      WWE talent, especially the younger guys, are given little freedom to do their own thing. WWE Creative gives them a character and then expexts them to make it work. They write their promos, everything. That’s great for a TV show, where they’re playing an actual character, and not so great for a wrestling show, where the persona is supposed to be a small reflection of themselves.

      • Steven of Jacksonville Fl says:

        Michael,

        I think you made exactly points there but if you are right about what you said & I think you are, then Vince is not a good business man. He may have been a time before but if he were now, he’d understand just how important each of these brands/superstars are & he’d find a way, do something with them.

        Unfortunatly, I just cant wait to get some new, real leadership in the WWE. Hopefully, whoever takes over, will understand the business.

        - Steven

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