There was a time that Kofi Kingston and Dolph Ziggler were booked against each other what seemed like every single week on Raw or SmackDown and all weekend on house show loops. Left for dead by a WWE Creative team that had nothing for them, but too talented to be ignored completely, they wrestled each other in meaningless singles match in which Kingston usually emerged victoriously but neither man really progressed up or down the card.
Those matches were the manifestation of the “treadmill booking” concept and would have buried lesser talented performers.
Sunday, Kingston and Ziggler have the opportunity not only to flip the bird to those who did not believe in them, but also to steal the Stomping Grounds pay-per-view in a WWE Championship Steel Cage match that proves hard work and persistence pays off.
It is almost poetic that two Superstars so closely associated with each other would rise to the top of the card at the same time, compete in a high-profile pay-per-view match against each other and look to steal the show together. Their professional frustrations were shared. Each emerged from WWE’s developmental system well before Triple H ever took it over and made it a must-see television product.
Each enjoyed early pushes, only to settle into a midcard spot with no real prospects for a push. When they did flirt with the top of the card, they had it yanked away from them, Vinny Warbucks unwilling to reward their hard work and dedication because they were not as big or chiseled as John Cena or Randy Orton.
They were both beaten down, jobbed out and left a shell of their former selves.
But damn were they persistent.
Kingston found new life as one-third of The New Day in 2015. Ziggler continued plugging away, bumping his ass off to make others look good and evolving his in-ring game to include a more aggressive tone.
Together, they stuck around despite inconsistencies with their booking and now, a decade after they were introduced to the WWE Universe, they prepare for a championship clash that is as much a celebration of their determination to make it in the industry as it is a heated grudge match between two career-long rivals.
Kingston captured the WWE Championship at WrestleMania in a feel-good moment that overshadowed Becky Lynch’s rise to the top of the industry and may very well earn the first WWE-themed ESPY award in 2019.
It was only a matter of time before Ziggler reappeared, took exception to Kingston’s success and sought to bring it to a premature end. He had his opportunity to do just that at Super ShowDown in Jeddah but Xavier Woods’ well-timed interference allowed Kingston to deliver Trouble in Paradise and retain his title.
“It should have been me!” Ziggler continued to exclaim, the idea that Kingston won the gold instead of The Show Off haunting the Kent State wrestling standout.
Determined to wrest the title away from his foe, Ziggler challenged Kingston to a steel cage match, ensuring no one else from New Day would be able to affect the outcome of the contest and setting Ziggler up to either prove he was superior to Kingston or silence him for good.
Sunday’s match is the culmination of a ten-year journey for two Superstars who were handed nothing. They worked hard, made the towns and built their reputations on their unwavering dedication to the profession they opted to devote their lives to.
Both have been here before, in high-profile pay-per-view matches contested under bright lights and with championship stakes. They understand the importance of leaving an impression, not only on the fans but on the boss that has never fully bought into them in the roles they find themselves in now.
Expect big bumps and at least one high-risk spot from the top of the cage that leaves fans breathless.
From Kingston, the dazzling and flashy offense that has allowed him to overcome all degrees of crappy booking throughout his career. From Ziggler, the cerebral, mat-based offense and Mr. Perfect/Shawn Michaels-esque bumps that he has perfected over the course of his career.
There will be raw athleticism on display, some dramatic near-falls and even better teased escapes. In the end, though, Kingston will finish off Ziggler and retain his title in the latest example of WWE Creative actually booking a champion strongly and definitively.
Kingston will continue his reign as WWE champion before the writing team inevitably does something asinine like booking him to drop it to Shane McMahon.
Yes, that should be a joke. No, it is probably not. Unfortunately.
As for Ziggler, who knows? He is in the midst of a successful stand-up comedy tour and has repeatedly expressed interest in projects outside the WWE Universe. If he sticks around, he has enough name value to remain a high-profile player. If not, expect him to pop up in time for the Royal Rumble in January, if not sooner.