The King of the Ring tournament held by the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) each year was used to elevate talent from the mid-card into the main event. Sometimes it worked wonders and sometimes it didn't because I'm sorry, we're just not buying Mabel as a headlining act.
In 1996, Triple H, working under his "Connecticut Blueblood" gimmick, was penciled in to become the next King of the Ring and get a big push towards the main event. But then the Curtain Call happened at Madison Square Garden in May just one month before the event, and his push was gone as quick as it had come. Stone Cold Steve Austin was given the honors and he took that opportunity all the way to the moon.
The Kliq, consisting of Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Shawn Michaels, and Triple H, staged a sort of goodbye ceremony for Nash and Hall, who were both headed to World Championship Wrestling (WCW). After the main event, they all met in the ring and embraced before bowing to the crowd. This was a serious breach of kayfabe, seeing as Hall and Nash worked as heels while Trips and Michaels were babyfaces.
But because Hall and Nash were leaving the company and Michaels was the WWF champion, only Triple H would be punished for the incident. And that came in the form of a months long burial.
During this time, Triple H took his lashings and soldiered on, something he's been lauded for by his contemporaries. Eventually, it was decided he had had enough and he was given a new push. And, finally, on this date in WWF history (June 8, 1997), he won the King of the Ring tournament.
Trips actually lost via disqualification in the first round to Ahmed Johnson but was allowed another spot thanks to some weird booking to cover up an injury to Vader and his inability to participate. So Triple H beat Crush in his other quarterfinal match-up to advance to face Johnson a second time, where he won by pinfall at the PPV. Mankind defeated Jerry Lawler that same night and the two met in the finals, where Triple H went over.
The next night on Raw, he actually cut a promo on Vince McMahon talking about how he was supposed to win in 1996 but didn't "because of your politics." But even with the King of the Ring victory, Trips didn't become a main event level player until 1999. Granted, most of the time in between was spent as Michaels' lackey in D-Generation X and then the leader of the group once HBK retired, but he wouldn't become a top level singles star until years later.
Watch highlights of the 1997 King of the Ring tournament after the jump.