WWE: Kofi Kingston, Ricky Steamboat & the Age of the Big-Time Baby Face

Tom ClarkFeatured ColumnistOctober 10, 2012

photo by wwe.com
photo by wwe.com

In pro wrestling, there are baby faces, and there are big-time baby faces.

That’s not an “insider” term by the way—it just seemed like the thing to say.

Fans love the baby face wrestlers.  They smile, they wave, they shake hands and bump fists.  They stand on the second rope and point to the crowd, making you feel as though they’re looking right at you.  Fans are smart about how the business works, but when they latch onto a hero, they just can’t help cheering for him every time they see him.

The big-time faces?  All of that stuff multiplied by 10.

We’re talking WWF era Hulk Hogan, the spiked blond WCW Sting, the Rock 'N' Roll Express of the NWA—guys who simply can do no wrong.  They do not have it in them to bend the rules, much less break them.  

They are more than popular; they are truly loved and respected.  They fight the good fight not only for themselves, but for the fans who believe in them.  Fans just cannot dislike them despite what happens. They have more of a fan following than others because at the end of the day, they are characters that are worth believing in.  

And another great example of that, perhaps the best ever, is Ricky Steamboat.

Okay, so you know those columns that dare to compare a current WWE Superstar to a past WWE Legend?  Yeah, this is one of them.  

Because when I think of Kofi Kingston, I think of Ricky the Dragon Steamboat.  And the more I watch the young Superstar, it just becomes more apparent to me.

Steamboat was one of a kind, with a dynamic move set and ring ability that brought fans to their feet. He had charisma, intensity and a force of character that just made you want to cheer for him.  Despite how exciting or how boring the card may have been on any particular night, when Ricky hit the ramp, fans immediately popped for him, paying respect for who he was and what he had accomplished.

His matches against Ric Flair in the NWA and WCW are the stuff of legends.  Two of the best that the business has ever known, going head to head for the World Heavyweight Championship.  Those matches stand the test of time and remain the standard by which other matches are held today.

His work in what was then the WWF is a run that many fans simply cannot get enough of.  His feud with Jake the Snake Roberts was dramatic and emotional, and pushed Steamboat to the very limit of what he was capable of.  And his WrestleMania bout against Randy Savage is still being hailed by some as the best match in WWE pay-per-view history.

Big shoes to fill, right?

But while Kofi has not accomplished a third of what Steamboat did in his career, the fact is they are very similar because in both cases, each man is one of those big-time baby faces that the fans love to watch.

Much in the same way that fans could never hate Ricky. Indeed, he never turned heel in his career. Can you really picture Kofi Kingston not being the baby face that we all know and love?

Think about it.

Is there anything about Kofi that would cause fans to hate him, to forget the fact that he is so likeable, so energetic and dynamic in the ring?  For a Superstar like Kingston, who is squeaky clean from top to bottom, there is virtually no reason to ever turn him heel, nor should there be.

In this PG era of WWE, when the focus is aimed at entertaining the younger audience, and pushing Superstars who have a very marketable image that appeals to them, there could be no better time for Kofi to shine.

But just how far could he go if given the opportunity?

The secondary championships are always the first option and considering his run-in with the Miz on Monday Night Raw, we could see Kofi booked in an Intercontinental Title match sooner rather than later.  This would be a good feud for him, and would reestablish him as a singles performer now that his tag team with R-Truth has potentially come to an end.

Of course there is always the possibility of going even higher.

The likelihood of Kofi reaching World Championship status may have seemed impossibly far away as little as a year ago.  But with the rise of Daniel Bryan and CM Punk, the truth is that it’s now anyone’s game.  

The smaller guys are getting their shot now and this could bode very well for Kofi, as WWE fans tend not to look at size when it’s one of their favorites who is competing for a title.  Seeing Kofi hoisting that belt over his head may have seemed like an odd notion before.  But now?

The key to success and the secret to climbing the ladder in WWE or any pro wrestling promotion for that matter, is getting over.  If a Superstar puts in the work and makes a real connection with fans, then he immediately becomes more valuable to Vince McMahon who in turn will ensure that he gets more spotlight.

Kofi has that connection.  He has that “it” factor that makes him relevant in the eyes of the crowd who is paying to see him perform.  He is the Superstar that fans just want to see win because he is such a good guy and because he always does it the right way.  He is not just a baby face.  

He is a big-time baby face.  It’s still not an insider term, but it is growing on me.