When 2019 began, Kofi Kingston and The New Day were in somewhat of a holding pattern. Despite being among WWE’s most popular acts, it had been several months since Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods were able to call themselves champions.
Less than twelve months later, you could argue that 2019 has been the longtime stable’s most successful year.
“It’s been an amazing year,” Kingston told Yahoo Sports. “You never know what kind of career you’re going to have, you just kind of keep aspiring to be at the top of the mountain. You work as hard as you can, knowing there’s not a lot of stuff you have control over, but sometimes the cards fall just right and fate pushes you into this position.”
Fate began to push the trio into an unexpected position in February, when an injury suffered by Mustafa Ali opened the door for one of the members of The New Day to take his place in the Elimination Chamber championship match. Kingston, the longest-tenured member of the team, took Ali’s place and began one of the most unexpected and memorable runs in WWE history.
The Ghanian-born star’s impressive performances in a gauntlet match — he lasted more than an hour — and in the aforementioned Elimination Chamber match endeared him to fans. Although Kingston and The New Day had always been “over” with fans, the 11-year veteran gained enough traction with the audience that WWE essentially had no choice but to put him in the WWE championship match at WrestleMania, the company’s biggest event of the year.
“WrestleMania in and of itself was so crazy on so many levels, it was serendipitous for me,” Kingston said. “I wouldn’t have been in that match if Ali didn’t get hurt. My family was there, my kids being in the ring, my family being in the front row, it was an amazing situation.”
Kingston’s historically unexpected — but welcome — title reign would last for the next 180 days, making him the second-longest tenured WWE champion in four years. During Kingston’s run as the top champion on Smackdown Live, his partners would secure their sixth tag team championship.
“For me, Woods and E, we have always talked about having a world title reign with one of us in the group and the others holding tag team championships,” Kingston said. “We put it into the universe and then this is the year that it happens. We were able to have that picture taken with me holding the world championship and Woods and E holding the tag championships. That was the goal that we set and that was the goal that we achieved.”
As unexpected as Kingston’s rise was, his time as champion would come to an end in the blink of an eye in October. On the premiere episode of Smackdown on Fox, Kingston would lose his championship to Brock Lesnar in a match that lasted roughly 10 seconds. The move was widely panned by “smark” fans who believed Lesnar was being favored over the more technical and present star in Kingston.
In the two-plus months since the loss, Kingston hasn’t received a rematch or been back in the singles championship picture.
“I appreciate the passion [from the fans], I do,” Kingston said. “There are people who have careers that span years and they never have this kind of following, so I’m really fortunate to have that. It’s their right to be angry if they want to be angry, but it’s my job to keep moving forward. There’s a whole lot of stuff we don’t have control over, but we work with what we’re given, try to get a little bit more and claw your way back. It might not be a direct, linear path.”
In place of the WWE championship, Kingston and his fellow New Day members have been tapped for another key company initiative — podcasting.
Kingston, Big E and Woods currently host “The New Day: Feel the Power” podcast, the second in WWE’s burgeoning endeavor. The show, which releases every Monday, features a more candid look into the lives of the trio outside of wrestling and grapples with some uncharacteristically serious topics, such as Woods’ recovery from a torn Achilles he suffered in October.
“We were definitely on the top of the list as far as people they thought would have an interesting and compelling podcast,” Kingston said. “It’s actually therapeutic for us because a lot of times people don’t understand what is going on or how things really are. They’ll see things on television and wonder why it’s going in a certain direction. People think that they know everything, so for us to be able to shed a little more light on what we do and deal with as people — not just characters on TV — it’s awesome to provide that insight.”
For Kingston and his partners, the podcast is simply an extension of their normal lives together. After initially debuting as a team in 2014, the three WWE stars have become somewhat inseparable. Thanks to Woods’ popular “Up, Up, Down, Down” YouTube channel, the transition into this new media landscape has been almost seamless.
“We’ve been kind of prepping for this over the past five years,” Kingston said. “We’ve traveled together, talked together, texted. We kind of have it easy, all we have to do is talk. We have a really good team that surrounds us, a really good team that makes us sound great. There really hasn’t been a whole lot of prep work. There’s three mics, they do mic check and we just go.”
With Woods shelved for the foreseeable future, Kingston and Big E are now carrying the baton for The New Day. The pair won the tag team championships for the seventh time last month and, despite a major singles push not appearing imminent for either star, Kingston remains more than happy to still be in the thick of things.
“At the end of the day, I’m getting to do what I wanted to do as a kid” Kingston said. “I get to go out and wrestle matches with WWE. The fact that I get to do that, I don’t like to pick [singles or tag-team wrestling], it’s all great. I’m just trying to enjoy the time that we’re having now.”
And just like the surprising and meteoric rise of 2019, who knows what 2020 will hold for the stars.
“We have this tunnel vision to get back at the top of the mountain,” Kingston said. “We don’t want to sit back and rank what we’ve done or look at our accolades. When it’s all said and done and I hang up the boots, that’s when you look back and really appreciate what it is that you’ve done, look at your body of work and reminisce about the good times that you’ve had.”
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