Seth Rollins was first—Kofi Kingston should be next.
Rollins dropped his Universal title in ho-hum fashion to a Brock Lesnar cash-in, fittingly at the end of a silly couples feud where he teamed with real-life girlfriend Becky Lynch to go against Baron Corbin and Lacey Evans.
Fans can say what they want about Lesnar having the title away from television and for who knows how long again—not to mention yet another tired rematch with Rollins on the way—but it was a fitting way for a forgettable title reign to end.
Kingston's reign hasn't been nearly as forgettable, yet it's still a good idea for WWE to get SmackDown's top title off of him anyway. Were it not for the New Day dynamic behind him, Kingston might have already soured a bit in the minds of fans given just how unstoppable he's been booked.
And he's been nothing short of dominant, more so than anybody else in the company since WrestleMania. Since winning the title there, he's run through the following names:
- Daniel Bryan
- Shinsuke Nakamura
- Kevin Owens
- Sami Zayn
- Dolph Ziggler
- Samoa Joe
Not bad—and that's to name only a few.
This has been a fun ride, undoubtedly. Fans put their voices behind Kingston, and to WWE's credit, just like with Lynch, WWE listened. But the trick to keeping fans happy is to toe the line until the backlash starts, then make a change before that can happen.
And Randy Orton is a way to execute this perfectly.
Just like Rollins, Kingston is arguably better in chase mode. With the Universal title in hand, Rollins' character fell into the boring same-old-material stuff pretty quickly. Feuding with mostly only Corbin didn't help, of course.
But Kingston is right there too at this point. He's talking some fun trash, but it is starting to get stale, and the same old thing can only keep happening for so long before fans get bored. If the idea is to keep New Day an alliance and not pull off any sort of betrayal (which at this point they don't need to do), then the best-case scenario is Kingston dropping the title to start chasing something again.
Orton looks like the next challenger for Kingston, too, which is poetic (he's not losing soon at the terribly-named SMACKVILLE event).
Ten years ago the longstanding feud between the two started when Orton infamously and repeatedly called Kingston "stupid" loudly enough for television mics to pick up. It is no secret Kingston's unfortunate mistake that ticked off Orton got him sent out of the main-event scene and into mid-card purgatory for a long, long time.
This sort of smooth, if not lucky storytelling, doesn't come around often. It is almost effortless in its brilliance. WWE can blur the lines of real and fake like it loves to do so much by leaning hard into Kingston being held down for nearly a decade because of that one mistake. Orton then robs him again at this year's SummerSlam.
Orton putting Kingston down again, provided the storyline is built well, could lead to a furious redemption chase for the New Day's leader that is perfectly suited for the fall when SmackDown switches over to Fox, if not all the way into next year's WrestleMania. No Shane McMahon or Roman Reigns, just the organically over Kingston riding Daniel Bryan-level waves of fan support to an eventual crowning again, this time finally putting down the Orton roadblock that has been a decade long and running.
This isn't really just wishful thinking, either. WWE doesn't always get it right, of course, but this sort of thing is hard to mess up. Kingston doesn't have many valid contenders for his title left unless WWE wants to risk jumping all the way back in on the Reigns train, anyway.
Instead, WWE can easily grab what has fallen into the proverbial lap here, preserve the fan support for Kingston and have months and months of organic storytelling laid out perfectly to lead the blue brand's main-event scene.
In the short term, this leaves fans dissatisfied with a big name losing at one of the biggest events of the year. But in the big-picture view, Kingston losing so he can win again later is simply playing smart connect the dots given the current environment.