There’s really no overstating the importance of this moment to the entire sport of professional wrestling (even and *especially* in 2019): the first ever 100% black WWE champion. There are a lot of semantics around that and I don’t really feel it’s necessary to get into all that because it seems unimportant when you look at social media and see all the messages about how inspired black people were for themselves and their children to see someone who looks like them win the WWE title—especially in the context of WWE’s long and sordid (to put it *very* mildly) history with race and racism.
Perhaps even more significant than that was the fact that WWE actually allowed this history and this sociocultural context to be incorporated (if only subtextually because wrestling, by and large, is still, well, wrestling) into the storyline leading up to this match. In fact, Kofi’s entire journey to the main event of WrestleMania was one of the better wrestling stories WWE has told in quite some time. It all started with a gauntlet match on Smackdown to decide the final entrant in the Elimination Chamber match. Kofi, filling in for an injured Mustafa Ali, wrestled for 40 minutes straight, pinning Jeff Hardy, Daniel Bryan, and Samoa Joe before falling to AJ Styles and almost immediately Twitter was lit up with “give Kofi a title shot at WrestleMania” tweets and memes.
For once, WWE listened to the fans. With Ali out with a concussion, it was quickly announced that Kofi would be once again filling his spot, this time in the Elimination Chamber match. The Chamber match was hands down one of the best WWE main roster matches of the year due in large part to some phenomenal work by Kofi Kingston and if it wasn’t clear before the Chamber, it was very clear afterwards: it was Kofi’s time. Not only was he the most logical choice but he was absolutely the most deserving one.
That’s exactly what Kofi told Vince McMahon right to his face on the March 12th edition of Smackdown. This entire segment was absolutely beautiful and contextualized the entire story of Kofi Kingston’s journey to WrestleMania as part of a larger history of the treatment of black wrestlers in WWE. And think about the origins of The New Day. They started as a group of black wrestlers who felt they couldn’t get ahead no matter what they did and decided to join forces because if they (The New Day—or, implicitly, black people) stick together, there’s no limit to what they can accomplish. And if there is one defining characteristic of The New Day’s five-plus year history it’s that they *have* stuck together. This has never been more clearly illustrated than in this storyline with Xavier Woods and Big E *constantly* going to bat for Kofi in every way imaginable and passionately supporting and cheering him on. It’s not just about black empowerment, it’s about community—about how we all need each other to survive and thrive.
You feel that as Big E reminds Vince of how they have “jumped through every hoop” for him and Xavier reminds him that they never complain and “still you treat us like garbage.” He’s not just talking about New Day, he’s talking about *all* black wrestlers and if that isn’t clear enough, Big E later states, in no uncertain terms, that “this is bigger than The New Day.” Finally Kofi drops the big one: “you have never allowed *someone like me* to succeed.” It’s still left intentionally up to interpretation but anyone who can read between the lines understands what these guys are saying. And to top it all off, because this story is also about community and solidarity, Big E and Xavier are the ones who face down the gauntlet (match) and go to bat one more time for their best friend, defeating five other teams to win him a spot in the main event of WrestleMania.
The match itself could easily have been secondary to all this but this is Daniel Bryan and Kofi Kingston we’re talking about and they put on an absolute classic. Without question it benefits immensely from the drama that has been built up over the previous two-and-a-half months but it uses that drama beautifully and puts on a clinic of in-ring storytelling as well as wrestling by two of the best to ever step in the ring and Kofi Kingston’s eleven-year journey, improbable as anything, culminates with him becoming the first 100% black WWE champion in history. Truly an inspiration not just for black folks and people of color but for everyone.