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31 Days of Wrestling (12/4/19): #KofiMania (Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan, WrestleMania 35)


Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. Once again, we're at that point where we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling 2019 produced for us.

If you're a fan of WWE, it's a certainty that you have experienced Wrestling Fan Anxiety more than once in your life. It's a terrible, toxic cocktail that we drink all too often—and yet, not often enough. The recipe should be familiar: the feeling, the questions, and the algorithm.

For sure, you know the feeling: you desperately want a thing to happen, you know that Vince and the creative team know the thing you want to happen, and you hype yourself up to a match or a show or a moment, and you just have no idea whether or not your fandom will pay off or if you will be disappointed for the nth time because Vince McMahon is an asshole and should just go away and be replaced by Hunter already???

If you know the feeling, you know the questions: Does Stone Cold have what it takes to overcome his opponent and become the Champ? Can Eddie Guerrero do it? Can CM Punk? Et cetera, et cetera.

And if you know the questions, you know the god-forsaken algorithms. It's the factors we consider when trying to crack WWE logic: the consequences of all booking outcomes, the public relations status of the WWE (and its relationship with the booking in question), the constant push-and-pull between giving people what they want and leaving them wanting more, and, most mysteriously of all, Vince McMahon's whims.

It's the thing that makes us miserable, but it's also the thing that sustains us—because when it pays off, it's just the best fucking thing in the world.


At the beginning of the year, it was safe to say that it's been a good long while since any of us have had that anxiety. WWE's last attempt at stirring it up failed miserably, and resulted in several starts and stops: Roman Reigns' fraught chase for the Universal Title twisted and turned so many times that we all just wanted it to be over, and right as he was establishing a reign that would have justified the mess, he announced that he had leukemia.

So the road to WrestleMania 35 gave us very little to expect besides the rise of The Man (which was all but certain), and the rise of the other man Seth Rollins (which kind of just seemed like a repeat of Reigns's program with Lesnar from WrestleMania 34). 

And then Mustafa Ali got injured, and Kofi struck gold, becoming the darling of the wrestling world.

Here, finally, was someone that the audience could organically latch on to. Someone who doesn't yet have that WWE corporate John Cena stank. Someone who is a genuinely good person who legitimately inspires his audiences. And someone who can put on main event performances when given the opportunity.

And boy, did he put on those performances. Every week since his star-making performance in the gauntlet match before Elimination Chamber, Kofi would put on marathon man matches that seemed like they were perfectly designed to put him over. And every week his star would grow, leading up to a WWE Championship match at WrestleMania 35 against Daniel Bryan—not so coincidentally the last man to stir up Wrestling Fan Anxiety five years before at WrestleMania 30.

It also helped that Kofi was in the middle of the Venn diagram of representation in wrestling. He was simultaneously the organic internet darling and an authentic superstar of African descent—and, by extension, representative of all wrestling fans who identified as persons of color. 

It was the perfect storm of Wrestling Fan Anxiety, and Kofi Kingston was its center. Thankfully, it paid off—and it was the best fucking thing in the world.

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