To hell with the introductions: it’s Kofi Kingston Gauntlet Time. Apparently Kevin Owens is hosting an interview show with Charlotte Flair and Becky Lynch, and I don’t care. And Shane and the Miz are probably going to discuss things, and I don’t care about that either. I care about nothing tonight that isn’t Kofi Kingston, and three months ago, I wouldn’t be able to imagine typing those words.
I still think the Miz should fight his father at WrestleMania
Well, if you’ve got to have non-gauntlet stuff happening, at least we’re getting it out of the way now. The stuff in question is the Miz, who is dressed almost soberly, which in the context of the Miz means that he’s not dressed like someone who couldn’t decide whether to go to the anime convention or the nearby sex dungeon. There’s no bravado, no elan; the Miz is clad in black like a Victorian widower (but he’s got a red tie on, because there’s something eerily irrepressible about that man’s need to peacock).
The Miz casts our minds back to last week, showing us a video of Shane McMahon assaulting the ring announcer, footage that will one day be known as “Exhibit A” in that employee’s lawsuit against his abusive employer. And then we are reminded of Shane’s motive, which is apparently because he’s fed up of being used by everyone, thus tacitly admitting that he has no real friends.
Miz says that he’s been focused on the Road to WrestleMania for ten years, acting like he didn’t once beat John Cena for the WWE Championship in the main event of WrestleMania. The Rock is the only other person to do that, ever; the Miz can take his foot off the pedal for the rest of his WWE career. The Miz says he’s sacrificed every relationship in this business except for three: his wife, his infant daughter and Shane McMahon. I cannot be the only person that desperately wants to see the Miz turn heel and cut a promo on his own baby.
The Miz then drags up his appalling excuse for a father and the man’s surreal standards for expressing love and pride, saying that Shane McMahon managed to give Miz something that, for some reason, Miz had always wanted: his own father’s love. And despite all the warnings backstage about how you can’t trust Shane McMahon because he’s the type of guy to buy WCW behind your back and then ally with ECW and somehow that whole thing just falls apart, the Miz trusted Shane. But, like any McMahon, Shane can only exist for so long as a face before he can’t repress the inevitable heel turn anymore, lest he revert to his original form as a lowly referee. So he attacked the Miz in front of his father, like…God, so many other wrestlers.
The Miz says that Shane attacked his own father as Mr Miz was shouting for someone to help his son (I have to say, I think the Miz is remembering parts of that evening of which I have no recollection). The Miz denounces Shane in an eloquent, damning fashion, throwing out a couple of shots against Vince too, because if there’s one thing that unites a WWE audience, it’s that the McMahons need to die off so that Triple H can create beautiful, smarky magic.
The Awesome One says that the McMahons may own the company, but they don’t own him and they don’t own Kofi. I think Vince is very aware of the fact that he’s not allowed to own black people, Miz. I’m sure that it’s on his mind with a frequency that I would call “disquieting”. Also, did Miz just use Kofi as a cheap pop because he couldn’t remember where he is? The Miz says that he wasn’t born to be special, that everyone thought that he was average. The silence from the crowd in response is awkward.
The Miz says that whatever people have thought of him, he’s had a tremendous work ethic as long as you don’t count all the low blows, cheap shots, intentional DQs, count-outs and no-shows. Because there is a lot of that. He says that he didn’t earn the audience’s respect; he earned it. He didn’t just get given his father’s love; he earned it.
The only real lesson that I’m learning from any of this is that the Miz’s father should have had his testicles or his children taken away from him a long time ago, and I don’t much care which.
With an intense glare at the camera, the Miz says that Shane is going to get the only thing he’s ever earned at WrestleMania: an asswhupping from the Miz.
Here come Sasha Banks and Bayley. I love the Boss ‘n’ Hug Connection as much as I hate their name (though I still like it more than “Fire and Desire”, but then I like lung cancer more than “Fire and Desire”). The IIconics arrive to talk smack and, more importantly, not somehow blame the Christchurch Massacre on Muslims. They claim that the Champions are running away to SmackDown because it’s got too hot for them on RAW. Jesus, Peyton, this isn’t a Scorsese movie.
Anyway, time to pay lip service to the idea that the Tag Champs will compete on both shows. Peyton immediately gets back into the IIconic corner, ducking away as Royce tags in. Peyton manages to club Bayley to the mat, but that’s where her wrestling ability runs dry and Sasha and Bayley take control.
Billie Kay tags herself in, which is a dicey strategy at the best of times, and the Tag Team Champions stay on top of things. And then Lacey Evans, Southern Belle and probable-racist, does one of her slow walks down to the ring. She still thinks Australia’s where Britain sends it criminals. The IIconics manage a blind tag, but that leads to a big nothing and a commercial break.
Following the break, the IIconics are still in control and Lacey Evans is gone, probably pouring some iced tea onto Stonewall Jackson’s grave. Bayley finally manages to free herself from the terrible threat that she makes the IIconics look like, tagging in Banks to clean house. Sasha makes short work of Peyton, but a distraction by Billie allows Royce to take advantage for around five seconds. Kay won’t stop, however, and a boot to Bayley and some kind of dodgy double-pin on Sasha allows the IIconics to win.
Way to make the Boss ‘N’ Hug Connection look strong in advance of their WrestleMania match. 1.5 Stars.
Rey Mysterio is backstage with his son, Dominic, just in case Eddie Guerrero should ever rise from the grave to try to steal him again. And Rey’s here to announce that at WrestleMania, he will face Samoa Joe for the United States Championship. WWE is so desperate to not give Andrade either a Championship or a PPV match that it’s becoming quite frightening.
That said, if Joe chokes out Dominic, then this is all fine.
Hell, if Joe pursues legal action to try to take custody of Dominic, that’s fine too.
This is how Kevin Owens staves off the boredom of having no direction
Kevin Owens is here to do more things which are not Kofi Kingston-related. That being said, he’s dropped a K-bomb already; this is how WWE kills natural heat. He introduces Becky Lynch, another example of WWE not knowing how to handle something good which falls into their lap. Following her is Charlotte Flair, greeted with zero support.
Owens immediately finds common ground with the two of them in terms of hating his former best friends, then he reads some quotes from Ronda Rousey, although with the delivery of someone who was taught English from birth, then some quotes from Charlotte and Becky. We used to have video packages for this kind of summary, but I guess Kevin Owens has zero plans right now.
KO then awkwardly segues into trying to start a fight, and it’s like being a face has drained every scrap of his charisma and replaced it with whatever they were able to scrape out of Ryback. Charlotte and Becky square up, and the two of them start beating the fuck out of each other whilst desperately trying to avoid injury.
Eventually, the battalion of referees and security makes its way out there to try to restrain the two women. They get beaten up and can’t keep the two apart, making you wonder why these people were even employed if they can’t even keep the female wrestlers under control. If Brock Lesnar ever went full bloodlust, they’d be sending these men home in plastic bags.
Kayla is backstage with AJ Styles, asking him how he’s supposed to beat a man with so many headlocks and sleeper holds to give. AJ doesn’t ever actually give a reason, but says he’ll still win anyway. And I’d take issue, but considering the current state of political discourse, Styles comes off as a true statesman. He almost gets out of there without mentioning Kofi Kingston too, but by God, he nips back there just in time to mention his name. I love Kofi, but at this rate I’m surprised that they’ve not shown us footage of wrestlers building him a fucking shrine.
Bryan loves the planet but hates black people
Here’s Daniel Bryan and his ecological life partner, Erick Rowan. You wonder what Luke Harper’s getting up to sometimes. Bryan talks at length about Kofi Kingston not deserving an opportunity at the WWE Championship, because he doesn’t hold any truck with irony, believing that it should be replaced with something more renewable, like cardboardy or glassy.
Bryan is at least able to make this seem all of this seem like it’s coming from a place separate from racism, even with the shaved dome and sleeveless shirt of Erick Rowan looming behind him like an extra from American History X. But the ReneWWEable Champ is interrupted by the glorious voice of Big E, and the New Day make their way to the ring.
Finally: it’s Gauntlet Time.
I need a cigarette
It’s Kofi vs. Sheamus first, because let’s get those “Great White” references out of the way as fast as possible. The Bar member is clearly more than a match for Kofi in terms of power, backing him into the corner several times, asserting himself. Kingston takes Sheamus to the mat, grappling until the Irishman grasps for the ropes. Sheamus latches on a headlock, getting you ready for some Randy Orton excitement further down the line. Kofi escapes, wrenching on the arm and outwrestling Sheamus consistently.
Sheamus staggers Kofi with a right, but gets tossed out of the ring and has Kofi land on top of him! A distraction from Cesaro allows Sheamus to regain some control, hitting the Ten Beats of the Whosit. Kofi manages to rally, slipping out of a back suplex and blasting Sheamus with a spinning kick that drops the pasty bastard. Kingston puts the boots to the Bar member until Sheamus drags him into the ropes, distracting the referee so that Cesaro can slam an uppercut into Kofi’s face.
Sleeper hold is applied by Sheamus; backstage, Randy Orton is torn between fury and dreadful sexual arousal. Kofi breaks out before running right into an axe-handle from Sheamus, knocking him right into a commercial break. When we return, Kofi has found some inspiration from several minutes of ads and trailers, and he hits Sheamus with the Boom Drop before winding up for Trouble in Paradise. Sheamus catches the kick, going for Cloverleaf; Kofi counters, taking Sheamus out with a crossbody off the top rope.
Sheamus rolls out to the apron, dragging Kingston’s arm into the ropes before hitting the Alcoholism Backbreaker. The Texas Cloverleaf is applied, making Kofi look like kind of a bitch so far. Kofi manages to reverse into a cover for two, then gets blasted in the face with a knee to send him straight down to the mat. We see a shot of backstage, where the Usos have joined Xavier and Big E, eating pancakes and watching the match. You just know by the time this thing ends, every single wrestler’s going to be there.
Sheamus winds up for the Brogue Kick, doing more damage to himself by pounding on his chest than Kofi’s managed this whole match. Kofi dodges at the last second, almost stacks Sheamus up and decks him with Trouble in Paradise to knock his ass out of the gauntlet. Kofi defeats Sheamus.
Backstage, Mustafa Ali is present to cheer on Sheamus; Matt Hardy is there for pancakes and Jeff is only present in the physical sense, his mind being adrift on a sea of hallucinogenics.
And Cesaro barrels right in with an uppercut, so let’s assume it’s Kofi vs. Cesaro. The Swiss Cyborg’s game is uppercuts and punches, wearing down Kofi before slamming him to the mat with a gutwrench suplex. Kingston kicks out, allowing Cesaro to transition smoothly into a submission, pulling back on the leg. We see Sheamus leaving in the background; supporting your tag team partner must have gone out of fashion in the last thirty seconds.
Kofi boots Cesaro away from him, but he’s not got enough energy to take advantage of a brief separation. He beats Cesaro away from him long enough to launch himself through the air at the Bar member, but Cesaro is fucking inhuman and catches Kofi like he’s a child. Somewhere, Nia and Tamina should be feeling guilty and wondering whether they’re bad at their jobs. After a commercial, Cesaro is still not letting Kofi take control, whilst R-Truth and Carmella have been lured to the backstage viewing area by the siren song of pancakes, tag teams and Mustafa Ali, the last of which I’d personally climb a mountain for.
Kofi kicks away at Cesaro, but that just leaves him open for a good long swing from the Swiss monster. That transitions into the Texas Cloverleaf, and Cesaro has enough awareness to drag Kingston away from the ropes. Kofi fights back, twisting around and lifting himself up, but Cesaro turns that into a suplex. He then applies an honest-to-God Liontamer for a second, but Kofi manages to free one leg, booting Cesaro in the face long enough to gain freedom.
At this point, Cesaro obviously feels like he’s done enough, so goes for the Neutraliser. Kofi, who respects himself too much to lose to any member of the Bar in a fair fight, flips him over his shoulders, only for Cesaro to land on his feet. He turns around…right into an SOS, finishing him off. Kofi defeats Cesaro.
Next, it’s Kofi vs. Erick Rowan, making you realise how easily the first three guys in this gauntlet could pass for white supremacists. At least Samoa Joe’s there to make sure this thing doesn’t look too dodgy, whilst Randy Orton believes that racism is a ploy created solely to narrow his victimisation of the human race into one or two small categories.
Rowan stalks Kofi, who charges right at him and bounces off. Rowan goes after Kofi like someone stuck a beard and a heavy metal t-shirt on a heat-seeking missile, beating Kingston on the inside and outside, eventually picking up a steel chair and DQing himself all over Kofi’s back. Kofi defeats Erick Rowan.
The assault continues whilst the assembled SmackDown locker room, which now includes Heavy Machinery, watch in muted outrage. The Sustainable Claw puts Kofi through the announce table, scattering monitors, commentators and Corey Graves’ homemade Mandy Rose hentai. Rowan finally leaves, remembering that time he had savant syndrome for, like, two weeks in 2014.
And now it’s time for Kofi vs. Samoa Joe. I’m waiting with baited breath for Dominic to somehow cost Joe this match. It’d be nice to think that Samoa Joe might refuse to go through with this, either out of disdain for beating an already-beaten man or out of some spark of morality deep within his shrivelled husk of a soul, but the man once tried to rape AJ Styles’ wife to win a Championship, so I’d not be surprised if he fucking eats Kofi.
After the break, Kofi Kingston is still in the match, so way to bury the United States Champion. Joe runs Kofi right over, and now Nikki Cross has joined the viewing party; I hope everyone back there’s had their shots. Joe continues to beat Kofi into a figurative crater, but Kingston isn’t dead yet, and he punches and kicks away at Joe before the United States Champion hurls him into the corner, slamming his entire body into him before levelling Kingston with an enzuigiri.
Joe wrenches on Kofi’s head, mostly because using a headlock or sleeper hold would see Randy Orton wank himself into a coma, and no-one wants Kingston to win that way. Kofi escapes the hold, only to run into a clothesline that looks like it killed every living cell in the New Day member’s body and still kick out. Makes you wonder why the New Day aren’t still the Tag Team Champions and why they haven’t been the Tag Team Champions literally always. Ricochet and possibly EC3 are with the onlookers now; Aleister Black is too busy having a romantic honeymoon with Zelina to support Kofi, the bastard.
Joe manages to apply the Clutch, and Kofi snaps him down into a jawbreaker. Kingston charges, getting slammed down with a ura-nage for another near fall. Kofi slips out of a back suplex, tackles Joe to the mat with a double-leg takedown, then misses a charge into the corner. Joe goes for the Muscle Buster, but sheer survival instinct and the ghost of Tyson Kidd’s career compel Kofi to roll Joe up, getting the three count! Kofi defeats Samoa Joe.
Good God, almost twenty minutes left. A twenty minute Randy Orton match is almost fifty human years.
Joe is severely miffed at the outcome of events, and grabs Kofi. If Mysterio was a real bro, he’d interfere right now, or at least send his son out in his stead. But Samoa Joe applies the Clutch against the ropes, with not a single person heading out there to help Kofi apart from security and referees, and Charlotte and Becky have already proved how effective they are. And whilst we’re continually reminded that Xavier and Big E are banned from ringside, no-one else backstage is, but they’re all standing back and watching this happen. WWE is really nailing the racism angle tonight.
And here comes Randy Orton, who you’d think would be more apprehensive by now at getting sent out to shut down another B-plus player. At least his Undertaker-speed walk down to the ring is eating into a match full of stomps, sleepers and headlocks, but by Christ, I’m not built for fifteen minutes of that.
After a commercial break, we’re already into Kofi vs. Randy Orton. Orton is knocking Kofi around at at the ringside area, already pissed that Rowan’s destroyed the announce table, thus depriving Randy of back suplexing Kingston onto it multiple times. He calls Kofi “stupid”, earning this match an automatic five stars for a ten year old callback. Interesting to see that Miz, Kevin Owens and Styles, despite their vocal support of Kofi earlier in the match, aren’t even standing backstage with the others to watch the match.
Meanwhile, Orton is whipped into the steel stairs but recovers quickly, beating Kofi with, you guessed it, lots and lots of stomps. And then Orton applies a sleeper hold. ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? Kofi fights back in a desperate bid to keep this match interesting, escaping the hold before slugging away at Randy. Orton blocks a dropkick and goes right. Back. To. Stomping. All I need is a headlock and for Randy to sabotage a woman’s belongings, and I’ve got Randy Orton Bingo.
Orton tries for an RKO, gets rejected and eats a Trouble in Paradise. But Randy, ever desperate to disappoint, rolls out of the ring, escaping into a commercial break. When we come back, Orton wants a superplex, but Kingston is fighting back, trying to force Randy to expand his moveset at any cost. He knocks Orton off the top, then launches himself in a crossbody, but Orton rolls through, rolling up Kingston for a pin attempt.
Vintage DDT connects, but Kofi counters an RKO, rolls Orton up, and Kofi defeats Randy Orton!
Could only be a five star match, really. One of the more realistic depictions I’ve seen of this kind of contest, cementing Kofi’s place at WrestleMania. 5 Stars.
The New Day dash out to celebrate with Kofi, but we’ve got six minutes left, and here comes Vince McMahon. Vince stays on the ramp, and he says that he wants to congratulate Kofi Kingston, who is going to WrestleMania! But, like any McMahon, Vince can only exist for so long as a face before he can’t repress the inevitable heel turn anymore, lest he revert to his original form as a lowly commentator, so Kofi is going to WrestleMania…as long as he can beat Daniel Bryan. Big E and Xavier are banned from ringside, though this doesn’t stop literally anyone else from getting involved here. Pull a Ronda Rousey; get Bryan disqualified.
Throws laptop across the room
Bryan goes right after Kofi, kicking away at him in the corner, but Kofi finds a burst of strength, fighting wildly until Bryan shuts him down and goes through his signature moveset. Already so much better than Randy’s match. Back superplex doesn’t put Kofi down, and Bryan applies the LaBell Lock; Kingston reaches the ropes.
The WWE Champion kicks away at Kofi, who ducks the head kick and almost wins with the SOS. Bryan recovers, hitting running dropkicks to Kingston, but Kofi again almost wins with a roll-up! Bryan interrupts a springboard crossbody, then stomps Kofi’s head right into the mat. The Running Knee connects, and Bryan wins.
As crushing as it is (until you remember that Kofi’s absolutely going to WrestleMania), it’s always fun to see Bryan hit a bunch of signature moves. 2.5 Stars
Tags: AJ Styles, Asuka, Bailey, bayley, Becky Lynch, Boss 'N' Hug Connection, Cesaro, charlotte flair, Daniel Bryan, Erick Rowan, Kofi Kingston, Mandy Rose, Randy Orton, Rey Mysterio, Samoa Joe, sasha banks, Shane McMahon, Sheamus, smackdown live, Sonya Deville, The IIconics, The Miz, The New Day, the usos, WWE