The Kofi Kingston moment at WrestleMania is on the way.
Sunday night at Fastlane, the pay-per-view where Kingston was originally supposed to face WWE Champion Daniel Bryan, Kingston got crushed by a stable of heels. Bryan, meanwhile, went on to defend his title against the returning Kevin Owens and the fully-healed Mustafa Ali, a late addition to the fray.
That's the perfect way to get fans behind Kingston and invested in the 'Mania showdown.
Kingston's presence was felt throughout the night despite the loss. Ali put on an absolute show and not only looked like he belonged, but that he might actually steal the title from Bryan. Stranger wrestling developments have indeed happened.
Yet, despite Ali obviously being the underdog WWE fans would still usually cheer, but the crowd kept chanting for Kingston. Stinks for Ali, right?
But it was just what WWE wanted to have happen.
It has all been a whirlwind, really. Out of nowhere, it was Kingston who was inserted into the title scene after a gauntlet run. He came up short at Elimination Chamber, but it was clear he'd keep getting title shots. That is, until Vince McMahon himself, like he did with Becky Lynch's title shot, inserted himself into the equation and swapped out Kingston for Owens:
Kingston's reaction told fans everything they needed to know about the long-term angle:
Fans may have their grievances with WWE at times, yes. But the speed at which it catapulted Kingston into fan-favorite status was stunning. And while it is silly to have two pay-per-view events sandwiched between the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania, this is the picture-perfect example of how to stretch out a hot character and feud to the most important stage of the year (the Lynch-Ronda Rousey-Charlotte Flair affair, not so much).
Kingston is perfect for this slot. He doesn't need wins or to look powerful. He's got the resume—like he's stressed, he's been waiting for this moment for 11 years. He's got the titles, the reputation and the membership in one of the greatest-ever stables. Sympathy was always going to be the key to getting the fans behind him.
So the fact that Kingston got squashed at Fastlane doesn't amount to much. It only strengthened the sympathy. It served another purpose too, as some of the heels in desperate need of looking like credible threats just took out an elite group.
Now WWE has about a month to tell a story of Kingston overcoming the odds to earn the title shot while putting up some wins to make sure he isn't on a skid heading into WrestleMania.
And the how is right in front of the organization—Owens and Ali will want another shot at Bryant. Kingston can move past them, and maybe a couple of others during a lightning blitz of a run to 'Mania before securing a one-on-one shot with Bryan.
It helps, by the way, that Bryan looked like a million bucks while taking down a former Universal champ and one of the hottest up-and-comers in the business. The wicked finish, especially, keeps Bryan in the realm of dangerous heel who could tear through Kingston quickly. Their last match, not to mention Bryan's recent bout with Brock Lesnar, help this as well.
To think this hasn't been the plan all along is ill-advised. That McMahon didn't really have a reason for kicking Kingston out of the title match to begin with is a strong hint. Many things in WWE are swapped around at the last second, but WWE knows fan reactions—and Kingston making a push into the main event scene is a direct result of hot crowds who got behind him seemingly out of the blue.
WWE knows to ride this momentum. The company has had some colossal missteps at times even when fans are giving clear signs. Stalling on Roman Reigns going over Brock Lesnar comes to mind. But this one has the fans' fingerprints all over it, and there isn't any reason to believe WWE won't pull the trigger on the big pay off at WrestleMania.
Part of the issue at times seems to be WWE thinking predictable is bad. And shocking moments are great too. But if the journey is a ton of fun for fans and has the payoff they desire, predictable isn't bad.
With Kingston and a likely impending WrestleMania moment, WWE has had the perfect journey and payoff fall into its lap with Kingston.