TJR WrestleMania's Greatest Matches: Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan @ WM35

It is time to look back at a recent all-time classic WrestleMania match that deserves a spot in my ranking of WrestleMania’s Greatest Match. In 2017, I ranked the 33 greatest WrestleMania matches because that year was WrestleMania 33. That meant I included by in-depth play by play on the matches along with my thoughts going into the matches, a history of the build to the match, a breakdown of why it was such a great match and more. Those articles are among my favorite articles I have ever done. Could I include other matches from WrestleManias 33, 34 and 35 in the WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches series? Yes, but I don’t plan to. I just wanted to add this one because it was pretty special last year.

If you haven’t read any of the classic WrestleMania match reviews yet, the WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches archives are here.

Who: Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 35

When: April 7, 2019

Where: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey

 

The Build

There was a long and winding road to get to this match at WrestleMania. It wasn’t actually supposed to happen, but this is what happens sometimes and Daniel Bryan knows it well too. When Bryan main evented WrestleMania 30 in 2014 he was originally booked to face Sheamus. Instead, CM Punk quit the company after Royal Rumble 2014, Bryan was slotted to face Triple H (Punk’s original opponent) and due to Bryan’s popular, he ended up as WWE Champion by beating Randy Orton and Batista in the main event.

In this case, Kingston replaced Mustafa Ali in a Gauntlet Match on the February 12, 2019 edition of Smackdown because Ali suffered a concussion one week earlier. Kingston put on an incredible performance where he wrestled for 60 minutes with wins over Daniel Bryan, Jeff Hardy and Samoa Joe before losing to AJ Styles. At the Elimination Chamber PPV on February 17, 2019, Kingston lasted until the final two with Bryan, the fans were strongly behind Kofi and Bryan ended up winning to retain his title. I rated the Elimination Chamber match ****1/2 out of five. It was incredible and you can watch it below.

At the WWE Fastlane PPV on March 10, 2019, Bryan beat Mustafa Ali and Kevin Owens in a triple threat match. As for Kingston, he lost to The Bar’s Sheamus and Cesaro in a handicap match in order to build sympathy for him.

On the March 12 edition of Smackdown, Kofi Kingston and his New Day buddies Xavier Woods and Big E had a memorable segment with WWE Chairman Vince McMahon. I thought it was an excellent promo by all four guys. They crushed it here.

Mr. McMahon gives Kofi Kingston an opportunity to prove him wrong: SmackDown LIVE, March 12, 2019

Kingston was in another Gauntlet Match on the March 19, 2019 edition of Smackdown where he started the match. Kingston ended up getting victories over Sheamus, Cesaro, Rowan, Samoa Joe and Randy Orton in a 53-minute performance. Moments later, Vince McMahon made Kingston face Daniel Bryan while Kofi was exhausted and Bryan managed to get the win. On the following edition of Smackdown on March 26, 2019, The New Day’s Big E and Xavier Woods beat five other teams in a Gauntlet Match and after that happened, Kingston was finally given his WWE Title match with Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania.

To summarize all of this, the original plan was for Ali to face Bryan at the Fastlane PPV and Owens was supposed to return as a babyface to challenge Bryan for the WWE Title at WrestleMania. Instead, Bryan faced Owens and Ali at Fastlane and beat them. That led to Kingston stepping up to challenge Bryan for the WWE Title at WrestleMania. Owens said in an interview that he understood the decision and that it was Kofi’s match to have at WrestleMania based on how the crowd was reacting to him and the storyline. He was right. It was Kofi’s time.

 

What I Thought Back Then

Kofi Kingston - An Eleven Year Journey

(The above video is fan-made. The official WWE video that aired at WrestleMania as a video package is very hard to find even though WWE sometimes puts them on their own Youtube channel. I found several videos for matches at last year’s WrestleMania, but not this match. I’m just using a fan-made video that is awesome.)

I thought Kofi Kingston should absolutely win the title, but Daniel Bryan was also my favorite wrestler in WWE and he was so entertaining as a top heel. It just felt like the right time to push Kingston after they booked him so well in the Gauntlet matches and the Elimination Chamber match. I wasn’t 100% sure that Kingston would win, but I would say it was a good feeling.

If Bryan won, I wouldn’t have hated it. I just thought the momentum that Kingston built and the timing of it just felt right. Bryan was an excellent heel champion that held the title for 145 days going into the match. If it went longer that would have been fine with me because he was the best wrestler in the company. However, I think Bryan knew as much as anybody that it was Kofi’s time.

I think they could have been the WrestleMania main event too. With that said, I didn’t dislike WWE going with Becky Lynch vs. Ronda Rousey vs. Charlotte Flair as the first-ever women’s main event of WrestleMania 35. It all worked out in the end.

 

The Match

Here’s my full review of the match, which was written live when WrestleMania 35 took place.

The video package aired for the WWE Championship match with Daniel Bryan defending his WWE Title against Kofi Kingston. The crowd support for Kofi has been great leading up to this match.

Kofi Kingston made his entrance where he was joined by his New Day buddies Big E and Xavier Woods. There were “Kofi-Mania” signs being held up by fans facing the camera. Kingston got a big ovation from the crowd along with loud “Kofi” chants when the music stopped. Big E had a box that he brought to ringside, so perhaps it was a new title.

Daniel Bryan made his entrance as the WWE Champion wore his version of the WWE Title while the big man Rowan was by his side. There were boos for Bryan for his entrance of course, but we all know the planet loves him since he is the Planet’s Champion. Graves did a good job of pointing out that Bryan thrives in this situation. The wrestlers stood in the ring for the special championship intros by announcer Greg Hamilton.

WWE Championship: Daniel Bryan (w/Rowan) vs. Kofi Kingston (w/Big E and Xavier Woods)

There were loud “Kofi-Mania” chants to start the match as they did some mat wrestling early on. Bryan was sent to the floor leading to Kingston hitting a dive to take him out on the floor. They showed some WWE superstars watching the match on a TV backstage because they were supporting Kingston. Back in the ring, Bryan blocked a Kingston attack, Bryan grabbed him and set up a surfboard submission. When Kingston got back up, he went for a double foot stomp to Bryan’s face that was more like a knee. Bryan was back in control with forearms to the back. Kingston came back with a jumping clothesline followed by the Boom Drop legdrop. Kingston kicked Bryan under the bottom rope to the floor. Kingston went for a cross body block off the top, Bryan moved and Kingston went ribs first into the edge of the announce table. That was a rough landing for Kingston and he sold it great. Bryan continued his attack with a knee off the top rope while Kingston was against the ropes, which led to a two count. Bryan remained in control with a waistlock that kept Kingston on the ground. There was another shot of the superstars watching the match backstage on a TV. Kingston broke free with elbows to the face, Bryan tripped up Kingston to send him into the middle turnbuckle. Bryan with two running dropkicks and Kingston came back with a double foot attack, but Bryan turned it into a Boston Crab submission on the lower back of Kingston until Kingston broke free. They battled by the turnbuckle with Bryan trying a suplex, but Kingston elbowed him to the mat. Kingston went up top and hit a splash to the back of Bryan leading to a pinfall for two.

They got back to their feet for a classic exchange of punches leading to “yay” and “boo” chants from the crowd as the pace of the strikes picked up. Kingston went for Trouble in Paradise, Bryan went for a Boston Crab, Kofi countered into a two count, Bryan with a two count and Kingston hit an elbow to the face. Kingston with a cross body block off the middle ropes. Bryan went for the LeBell Lock submission, but Kingston fought out and hit a kick to the head. The wrestlers backstage were cheering for Kofi as they watched the match on a TV. The fans rallied behind Kingston as both guys got back up. Bryan with both boots to the face to knock Kingston down. Bryan did the “Yes” taunt that led to “No” chants from the crowd. Bryan set up for the running knee, Kingston avoided it and got a pin for two. Kingston hit the SOS for two with the crowd thinking that might be it. Bryan slapped on the LeBell Lock submission on Kofi as Big E and Woods tried to fire up Kingston. The fans were chanting for Kingston too. Kofi managed to get his foot on the bottom rope to break the hold. The crowd was getting louder as the match went on with Bryan working over Kingston with kicks to the injured ribs. Kingston got back up, urged Bryan to bring more and the fans were standing and cheering for Kingston. Kofi kicked Bryan a few times, but Bryan kicked him too. Kingston managed to pick up Bryan for a reverse suplex into a slam for two. Bryan bailed to the floor near Rowan, who stood in front of Kofi. Woods went after Rowan, so Rowan tossed Woods over the announce table. Rowan decked Big E with a clothesline. Kingston hit a Trouble in Paradise on Rowan. Big E and Woods hit a double team Midnight Hour (sometimes called the Up Up Down Down) on Rowan on the floor. Bryan went for a dive, but Kingston hit him with a forearm. The crowd was going crazy as Kingston went for the Trouble in Paradise kick, Bryan moved and Bryan hit the running knee for two. Kingston got his shoulder up to kick out at the last moment! The crowd erupted in cheers for Kingston! Amazing nearfall right there.

Bryan stomped on the face of Kingston repeatedly. Bryan slapped on the LeBell Lock on Kingston for the third time with Graves thinking it might be the final time. Kingston would not quit as the fans chanted “New Day Rocks” for Kingston as Kofi broke his way out of the hold. When Kingston tried to punch his way free, Bryan grabbed the left arm of Kingston. The fans were cheering loudly as Kingston worked over Bryan with punches to the face. Kingston got his revenge by holding Bryan’s arms and stomping away on his face with fans chanting “YES” for every week. Kingston was fired up as he set up in the corner and Kingston hit the Trouble in Paradise kick for the pinfall win at 23:43! New WWE Champion! Phillips: “Kofi did it! Kofi did it! Kofi is champion!”

Winner and New WWE Champion: Kofi Kingston

Analysis: ***** Wow! That was special. That was such a cool match and an emotional battle that you want to see at a show like WrestleMania. I’m going five stars for this. That was the kind of match that you want to see for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. It was an outstanding championship match with Bryan putting on a spectacular performance as the heel champion that worked over the ribs of Kingston for much of the match. They kept building up to the comeback from Kingston, which led to a lot of believable nearfalls and near submissions that could have ended the match at any time. When Kingston kicked out that running knee to the face I figured he was going to win, but I wasn’t exactly sure because you never know. The right decision was a win by Kingston, so I’m glad he was able to win clean after his New Day buddies took care of Rowan at ringside. I thought maybe Bryan would kick out of the Trouble of Paradise to build it up even more, but I have no complaints about Kingston winning with his finisher like that. It was a special moment. The crowd helped the match too because they were really engaged in everything these guys did. If I had to compare it to the Gargano/Cole five star match at Takeover on Friday, I’d rank Gargano/Cole ahead of it.

Kingston was emotional in the ring after the pinfall. Byron Saxton put over Kofi Kingston winning the WWE Title after eleven years. The box at ringside was the classic WWE Championship that the New Day guys handed to Kingston. Woods and Big E lifted Kofi in the air. There was a huge pyro display for Kingston’s title victory. Big E and Xavier brought Kofi’s two young sons in the ring to celebrate with their daddy. That was an awesome moment as fans chanted “you deserve it” for them.

There was another box that was a present and they were New Day shirts. Kofi’s oldest son celebrated by standing on the turnbuckles and he tossed a shirt into the crowd. The New Day continued the celebration in the ring as Kingston held up the WWE Title in the air. His kids were really excited just like the fans were. It was a cool moment.

Analysis: Great celebration. Welcome back to the classic WWE Title. It was cool to see Kofi celebrating with his two young sons with his oldest boy looking like he’s a natural in the ring.

You can read my full recap of WrestleMania 35 right here.

 

What They Said

The New Day react to Kofi Kingston becoming WWE Champion: WWE Exclusive, April 7, 2019

Kofi Kingston credited Daniel Bryan for making this match happen and for what Bryan did for him. These are Kofi’s comments from the After the Bell podcast hosted by Corey Graves back in December 2019.

“Daniel Bryan pushed for that to happen. The plans weren’t for me to be at WrestleMania. I’m not sure who it was for Daniel to face, but Daniel went in and went to bat for me and the situation and the title match for us to happen. He had a big part in it too. It’s a testament to his state of mind as far as advancing the business and doing the right thing for the people and best product. So kudos to Daniel Bryan!”

Big E also had a lot of praise Daniel Bryan on the same podcast:

“I give a lot of credit to Daniel Bryan, who I think is legitimate, like a generational talent. It meant so much more because Bryan was so hot and Bryan is just so damn good in the ring, on the mic, with his character. He was so giving with the build to the story that it meant more.”

In August 2019, Kofi had a lot of praise for Daniel Bryan when talking to Sports Illustrated. Here’s some of that.

“Bryan is the unsung hero. And he’s done a lot for guys who are undersized but showed they can still be cast in this top guy spot. He’s done it so well for a very, very long time. And Bryan went through that identical journey I did to get to WrestleMania. He was badgered and blocked by The Authority and called a B-plus player, that was his story, and it became mine, too. We don’t get a lot of shine in main events, we’re not 6’8″ and 300 pounds, so the fact that he was my opponent was poetic. I have a whole lot of respect for Bryan and the boundaries he’s been able to break.”

Kingston also talked about the crowd response and the feeling when he won the match:

“Right from the beginning, I could feel the excitement the crowd had for that match. Then Daniel Bryan came to the ring. We met eyes, and he said, ‘You don’t deserve to be here.’ That’s the moment I knew, ‘Yes, I do.'”

“I was in complete disbelief when the ref’s hand hit the mat for the third time. So many things have to line up for that moment to happen. If I don’t meet Big E and Xavier, then I never get to this point. So I was hit with all of those thoughts. When I got to the back, Vince was smiling. Tyler Breeze was there waiting for me, The Usos were there, there were so many people there waiting for me.”

I haven’t been able to find Daniel Bryan comments about the match, but I’m sure he’s proud of it too.

 

What I Think Now

There might be people that think I overrated the match by giving it five stars out of five because the scale that I use stops at five. Other people are not like that and that’s okay. I know Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer gave the match ****1/2 out of five, which means it is an awesome match, but not five stars to him. It’s all opinion. I know I have way more WWE matches at five stars than Meltzer. Maybe I’m nice, but sometimes I rate things lower than him too. It’s all personal preference and opinions. I think it’s worth five stars although if I had to compare it to the best five star matches in WM history like Taker/Michaels, Hart/Austin, Angle/Michaels and a few others. So yes, it’s a five star match to me.

When I watched it again for this column I thought about the finish a lot. Should Bryan have kicked out of the Trouble in Paradise? Should Kofi have done more to wear him down to beat him? Maybe. That’s about the only thing about the match that I would think about tweaking a little bit. If they did the Trouble in Paradise and Bryan didn’t kick out, but maybe he was too close to the ropes and he got his foot on the rope to break the count. They battled over some holds for 20 more seconds with Kingston hitting another Trouble in Paradise to win. It would have been even more dramatic. Having Bryan lose to just one Trouble in Paradise kick did put over the TIP as a huge move, though, so that’s probably why they did it this way.

I feel like Bryan was masterful as a heel champion, especially in this match. When you consider that Bryan was the most popular babyface five years earlier and even a year earlier when he had his comeback match, it’s amazing to see how well he did as a heel. The same fans that loved Bryan with “yes” chants absolutely wanted him to lose the title here.

This was Kingston’s best singles match of his career. I don’t know if he would personally say that, but I have a hard time thinking of others that were at this level. It was the most important match of his life on the biggest stage and when he looks back on his career, he can always be proud of this.

The crowd was amazing during this match. They really wanted Kingston to win, they were rooting hard against Bryan and when that moment happened for Kingston, it was like being a sports fan and having your team win a championship. It made the fans so happy. It was the definition of what WWE means when they talk about “WrestleMania moments” all the time.

On a final note, shoutout to the Smackdown announce team of Tom Phillips, Corey Graves and Byron Saxton for doing an awesome job calling the match. They worked well together. Saxton was the excitable babyface analyst, Phillips called it down the middle and Graves favored Bryan at times, but he wasn’t too heelish. They should be proud of how they called that match.

When I watched and reviewed the WWE 24 documentary about Kingston last summer, I gained even more respect for him. It showed me how much it meant to Kofi and his family to become the first ever African-born WWE Champion. I’m glad he had that WrestleMania moment. He deserves it.

 

What Happened Next

Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan – WWE Championship Match: Raw, May 6, 2019

Kingston was a fighting babyface WWE Champion. Bryan was off for a few weeks to heal up, but he wasn’t out for very long. Kingston and Bryan had a rematch on the May 6, 2019 edition of Raw even though they were Smackdown guys before WrestleMania – it was that “Wild Card Rule” that was in effect. Kingston beat Bryan in what was a good match, but it wasn’t close to the level as their WrestleMania match.

Kingston would go on to hold the title for 180 days, which is right at six months until the first Smackdown on Fox episode on October 4, 2019. Kingston lost the WWE Title when he charged at Brock Lesnar, who caught him, Lesnar hit an F5 and pinned Kingston become the WWE Champion. Lesnar is still the champion as we head into WrestleMania nearly seven months later.

As for Bryan, he continued his heel run for several more months, but he was out of the title picture. Bryan’s buddy Rowan turned heel against him, so Bryan ended up turning face again as the guy that leads the fans in the “YES” chants. Looking back on all of this, I wish Bryan’s heel run lasted longer because it was less than a year and to me, he was the best main event heel in WWE in a very long time. I just wish he could have done it for longer.

 

Final Thoughts

This match is another example of why WWE changing plans is not always a bad thing. I know fans get angry when we get reports of WWE changing things, but in this case, it worked out for the best for Kofi Kingston just like it did for Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 30 five years earlier. Kingston and Bryan worked so well together in the Elimination Chamber, in their interactions on Smackdown and then they put a finale on the story at WrestleMania.

When looking at the rankings from 2017 below, I would put Kingston vs. Bryan at 11 under Undertaker vs. Triple at WM28 and then everything else goes down below that. There might be other matches from the past three matches at WrestleMania on here too, but I really only wanted to add this match.

 

WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches Rankings

Here’s how I have them ranked. Click on the link to read about them.

  1. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 25
  2. Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin @ WrestleMania 13
  3. Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 21
  4. Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels (Ladder Match) @ WrestleMania 10
  5. Steve Austin vs. The Rock @ WrestleMania 17
  6. Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage @ WrestleMania 3
  7. Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart @ WrestleMania 10
  8. Edge & Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz (TLC) @ WrestleMania 17
  9. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 26
  10. The Undertaker vs. Triple H @ WrestleMania 28
  11. Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan @ WrestleMania 35
  12. Chris Benoit vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 20
  13. Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart @ WrestleMania 12
  14. Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage @ WrestleMania 7
  15. Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle @ WrestleMania 19
  16. Money in the Bank Ladder Match (won by Edge) @ WrestleMania 21
  17. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho @ WrestleMania 19
  18. The Undertaker vs. CM Punk @ WrestleMania 29
  19. Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton vs. Batista @ WrestleMania 30
  20. Edge vs. Mick Foley @ WrestleMania 22
  21. The Undertaker vs. Triple H @ WrestleMania 27
  22. Randy Savage vs. Ric Flair @ WrestleMania 8
  23. The Undertaker vs. Edge @ WrestleMania 24
  24. John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 23
  25. Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H @ WrestleMania 30
  26. Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit @ WrestleMania 17
  27. The Rock vs. Steve Austin @ WrestleMania 19
  28. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns (vs. Seth Rollins) @ WrestleMania 31
  29. Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle @ WrestleMania 20
  30. The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan @ WrestleMania 18
  31. Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair @ WrestleMania 24
  32. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch @ WrestleMania 32
  33. Bret Hart vs. Roddy Piper @ WrestleMania 8
  34. Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan @ WrestleMania 6

WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches archives are here.

Thanks for reading. My contact info is below.

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