Coming into Elimination Chamber, wrestling fans were confident about one thing: Daniel Bryan was walking out of Houston with the WWE title still around his waist. He did retain the belt in the main event Sunday night, but a funny thing happened: We believed in Kofi Kingston.
Daniel Bryan retaining his title wasn’t the story Sunday night. Instead, a story that started Tuesday night took a big step forward. Kingston, an 11-year veteran of WWE, wasn't even supposed to be in the match. He was put in as a replacement when Mustafa Ali went down with an injury. Then, he stole the show Tuesday, running the gauntlet for over an hour.
The WWE Universe started to think about Kingston getting a shot at the title. Pictures with him as champion started to circulate on social media. While most acknowledged he wouldn't win Sunday, there was a simple thought: Could Kofi be champion?
By the time he entered the Elimination Chamber match, people were ready. And he didn't disappoint, showing off his quickness and aerial moves, even chasing Bryan on the side of the cage at one point. Then, Samoa Joe was eliminated by AJ Styles. Jeff Hardy was eliminated by Bryan. Randy Orton pinned AJ Styles after an RKO. Kingston stood as the final face remaining, and the crowd started buzzing. Suddenly, Kingston hit Trouble in Paradise on Randy Orton, pinned him, and that buzz turned into a roar. Kingston was going one-on-one with the champion.
All this time, we knew that Bryan was still going to win. After all, Kingston wasn't supposed to be in this match. He couldn't win, right? Kingston hit an SOS on Bryan and of course he kicked out. Then, Kingston was sent directly into a pod and drilled by a running knee. It should have been over. Instead, Kingston kicked out, causing a huge reaction from the crowd. Bryan, shocked, tried to continue, but he was stopped with a Trouble In Paradise. And suddenly it seemed possible.
Kingston went for the pin, but just before the count of three, Bryan spun it into a pin of his own. Kingston kicked out. Once again, it seemed over as Bryan locked in the Labelle Lock. But once again, Kingston forced his way to the ropes, ending the threat. The two moved on top of a pod, batting for position in a precarious spot. Bryan was knocked off, and Kingston set up for the finishing blow: a splash from the top of the pod. However, the wind was taken out of the arena, and Kingston, when he missed the splash. Bryan hit the knee, and the match was over.
Despite the obvious result, WWE, Bryan and, most of all, Kingston made us believe. It's rare in this day to question the expectations when it comes to professional wrestling. Yet, something special happened Sunday. It wasn't just one thing that came together. There was a captivating heel champion without a clear path going forward, leading some to wonder if plans could change. There was a well-told story both in the match and the week prior. And yes, there was Kingston, that 11-year vet who has done just about everything there is to do in wrestling except win the big one.
Before this week, fans largely might have been OK with him never winning. Sometimes though, it just takes one spark, one reminder at how much fans would like to see something, and that becomes a movement. This week could be that spark. Sunday wasn't an accident. Reactions that you saw in the arena and around social media don't happen by accident. It might not be immediate, but it's hard to ignore Kingston right now. After all, even if it was fleeting, he made us believe.
It wasn't Kingston's night on Sunday night. But, if it proved anything, it's that in the near future we will hear “And new champion … Kofi Kingston.”
The Rest of Elimination Chamber
» Before Kingston’s performance, it seemed likely that the story of Elimination Chamber was going to be the women's tag match, where new champions were crowned. The roller coaster story of Sasha Banks and Bayley finally took its next step, as they became the first modern women's tag champions (Yes, for those who remember, the WWF did have women's tag champions in the 1980s). The match itself was brilliantly executed, and every team looked good in the process. It was a brilliant start to establish the division, as all the teams can reasonably be put in as contenders going forward. The final two were Banks and Bayley and Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville, which was a bit of a surprise to some people after Nia Jax and Tamina were eliminated by those four. It did look as if Mandy and Sonya could even win after a false finish, with Mandy Rose hitting her finisher on Sasha, but Sasha kicked out. Finally, Sasha locked the Bank Statement on Sonya and she tapped out.
» In probably the biggest surprise of the night, The Usos beat The Miz and Shane McMahon for the Smackdown tag titles. This would have been a surprise before Jimmy Uso's police incident in Detroit, as many expected Miz and Shane to hold the belts a little longer, maybe until Fastlane, which is in Miz's hometown of Cleveland. After the police incident, it seemed unfathomable that the Usos could win. However, they did win, as Shane took Jey (and himself) out with an elbow drop through the announcers table. Miz and Jimmy went back and forth before Miz hit Jimmy with the Skull-Crushing Finale. Jimmy was able to reverse the pin into a pin of his own, and he got the three. The night wasn't a total loss for Miz, though, as before the match he and Maryse announced that they would be having their second child.
» Finn Balor captured the Intercontinental title for the first time in his career as he beat Lashley and Lio Rush in a handicap match. Balor ended up pinning Rush at the end, as he incapacitated Lashley and isolated Lio, using what was a disadvantage to his advantage. After the match, Lashley attacked Rush, blaming him for the loss. We'll see if the hype man sticks around, though it wasn't the last we saw of Lashley.
» Ronda Rousey beat Ruby Riott in what ended up being a squash match. The match didn't end up being the story though. Charlotte was ringside watching Rousey, and she got in the ring after the match. As the two had a staredown, Becky Lynch, on crutches, made her way through the crowd. She hobbled into the ring, much to Charlotte's amusement. However, that amusement went away quickly as Lynch angrily attacked Charlotte with one of the crutches. After the initial assault was over, Rousey picked up the second crutch, and looked like she would use it on Charlotte herself. However, Becky, who had been encouraging Rousey, viciously started swinging at her from behind. She continued the assault, even drawing blood as she struck Rousey's head. Becky was eventually taken away by security.
» Baron Corbin beat Braun Strowman. A no-disqualifiers stipulation was added to this match just a few days before the show, and the reason became apparent quickly. Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley came out and the three beat down Strowman, finally putting him through two tables with a powerbomb to allow Corbin to get the win.