WWE chairman Vince McMahon made an appearance on last night’s episode of SmackDown Live to announce that Kofi Kingston, who was scheduled to face WWE Champion Daniel Bryan at Fastlane in two weeks for the championship, was being pulled from the match and will be replaced by the returning Kevin Owens.
On the face, this seems like a blow for Kingston, who has been receiving a groundswell of support in recent weeks, stemming from his one-hour performance in a gauntlet match on SmackDown and then his showing at WWE’s Elimination Chamber special earlier this month.
But this is likely an indication that Kingston’s push is about to get much larger.
First, getting pulled by McMahon in the manner he did gives sympathy to the Kingston character. He had the rug pulled out from under him the same way Daniel Bryan did for months leading up to his WWE Championship win at WrestleMania in 2014.
There were rumors that Owens, who was returning from an injury, was scheduled to face Bryan at WrestleMania 35 this April. Last night’s announcement is an indication that WWE flipped its plans. Owens will now wrestle Bryan at Fastlane and there has been speculation among several wrestling journalists that Kingston’s WWE Championship match will now take place at WrestleMania.
If true, it’s a huge boost for Kingston. WWE has long been criticized for not listening to its audience, but in a time of crisis — WWE viewership numbers are falling and the company re-hired Bruce Prichard last week in a creative role — it seems that McMahon has finally decided to listen to his audience, at least in regards to Kingston.
Kingston has been part of WWE since 2006, when he signed a developmental contract and he made his main-roster debut in 2007. Over his WWE career, Kingston is a four-time Intercontinental Champion, a three-time United States Champion, and an eight-time Tag Team Champion, but he has never won a World Championship.