The debut SmackDown episode on FOX has a main event.
On last night’s episode, WWE set up a WWE Championship match for its move to network television. Kofi Kingston will defend the title against Brock Lesnar, who returned after Kingston wrestled in a tag team match to begin last night’s show, and then attacked the champion.
First, Kofi picked up the pinfall win for his team over the Revival. Then Lesnar came to the ring with Paul Heyman and challenged Kingston to a title match on Oct. 4.
Kingston said he made a promise to the fans that he would always be a fighting champion, and he accepted. Lesnar then stuck out his hand for a handshake and Kingston went to oblige, but Lesnar suddenly charged and leveled the champion with an F5.
It was a good angle, and smart booking for WWE to put Lesnar in a championship match on its debut episode on FOX in order to pop a rating. Lesnar has hardly wrestled on “free TV” for WWE since returning to the company in 2012. Even during his long reigns as WWE and Universal Champion, his appearances were few and far between on RAW and SmackDown. Wrestling matches on those shows was almost non-existent, with him being held for pay-per-view shows as a special attraction.
It’s funny, because I actually questioned earlier this week whether or not WWE wanted a Kingston as the “face” of the brand as it moved to FOX. Kofi’s matches are great, but there’s something about a comedic WWE Champion, who is still throwing pancakes into the crowd, that comes across as a joke.
It’s been said that FOX wants a sports-like presentation to SmackDown, because they’ll be promoting the show during its NFL broadcasts, for example. FOX is essentially replacing the UFC with the WWE — they lost the UFC to ESPN last year.
FOX is even in talks to host a weekly studio show that will air on Fox Sports 1, which is exactly the same strategy they used when UFC aired on the network.
Who feels like a bigger sports star? Kofi Kingston or Brock Lesnar?
Who would FOX executives rather be the “face” of their brand? From WWE’s perspective, whose face plastered in the corner of the screen on an NFL broadcast makes a bigger impact?
It’s Lesnar, of course.
My guess is WWE will change the title on Oct. 4. Having the ability to promote Lesnar on NFL broadcasts — and across all FOX platforms — is something too enticing to pass up. And, despite fans who will complain that he’s not on the show every week, it’s the right move if WWE is hoping to build an audience with the coveted “casual fan.”
Brock Lesnar is a household name across all sports, not just the NFL and UFC. Kofi Kingston isn’t. That’s the truth.