The use of real-world knowledge & information in the kayfabe world of pro wrestling is always a controversial topic. From the Monday Night War era almost 20 years ago to the build to this year’s WrestleMania, using TV ratings as a motivation for a storytelling decision, or having one character acknowledge the match results are pre-determined, always gets people’s attention, but it rarely seems to lead to a satisfying conclusion for fans.
We’ll always have folks who bemoan the death of kayfabe, which officially died in the 1980s when the McMahons testified on multiple occasions that their business wasn’t a sport to avoid being regulated as one. And most of the time they’ll be right, too. For every pipe bomb promo there are too many feuds like Roman Reigns and John Cena’s 2017 one, centered on who’s a better promo instead of, you know, giving fans a real reason to want to see one wrestler defeat the other.
But every once in a while, a wrestling story taps into the real world and gives us more of a reason to want to see someone win. And that’s exactly what WWE has tapped into with Kofi Kingston’s run to WrestleMania 35.
My main man Geno has already expertly detailed how the company’s crafted a story we can all connect to. But it’s also interesting (to me at least) why it’s so easy to be invested in Kofi’s quest, and why our connection to Kingston and his New Day brother’s Big E & Xavier Woods feels so strong. Those answers are in the trio’s interview from after E & Woods’ victory over Daniel Bryan & Rowan secured their friend’s WWE title shot against Bryan on April 7:
Not only have we watched The New Day’s on-screen story develop over the last five years, from a start/stop rollout which made them stereotypically angry, then stereotypically happy, black men to their finally getting to show their own personalities – first as heels and now as faces. But we’ve listened to shoot interviews where they talk about how frustrating that was, how close to being released they were, how Big Show was worried the new gimmick would drag his friend Kofi down.
We’ve also grown to believe we know those personalities, the ones they use as part of the on-screen versions of themselves. Through WWE Network specials, Woods’ UpUpDownDown YouTube channel and E’s hilariously odd Twitter game, it feels like we’ve been on the road with The New Day for much of these past five years. We can relate to their struggle not just because it’s relatable, but because they’ve shared it with us – peeling back the curtain in a way that never would have been possible if they were strictly adhering to old school kayfabe.
Their tears are real, and earned. And so we cry with them, in a way we probably wouldn’t if we only spent time with them on Raw or SmackDown.
It’s a reminder the ‘Reality’ Era, and the worked/shoot elements which come with it, are tools. Not in and of themselves good or bad, just means to tell stories. There will be plenty more instances where they’re used lazily in the future.
Right now, New Day and WWE are giving us one they’re being used expertly. And it’s made what would be a good story into an all-time great one.