Like many fans I was very excited to hear WWE would be bringing the King of the Ring tournament back on the WWE Network when it was announced during Sunday night’s Extreme Rules pay per view. I’ve long thought it was an event that never should have been abandoned and in fact is far more deserving an idea to be one of the standard annual pay per view events than, say, a Hell in a Cell, an event that’s existence inherently devalues it’s titular gimmick, or a Battleground, a generic event that could be called by any other name and is essentially just a monthly pay per view with nothing inherently unique or interesting about it.
King of the Ring is a tournament/event that has history and creates motivation for contests that would otherwise not exist, and thus has meaning in a way that lends immediate intrigue to its goings on, and meaning is in short order in WWE’s program these days, so I think it’s a no-brainer to bring it back.
In this morning’s RAW recap Sean noted that the short notice of the event’s announcement and other circumstances of recent booking rendered fans’ expectations for the event low, noting that "everybody kind of figured we wouldn't be getting an Austin 3:16 moment out of it." While I agree, I was nonetheless hopeful that they would do something interesting with what is basically the first substantial Network-exclusive main roster wrestling event, something that, again, seems like such a no-brainer to me that I’m confused as to why it’s taken a year for such an exclusive event to take place.
Then last night’s RAW happened and confirmed everyone’s low expectations, as Sean once again accurately wrote off the event: "King of the Ring 2015 is just a frame to put the usual good and bad of WWE booking into for a couple of days."
I was hoping maybe WWE would allow last night’s quarterfinals matches to really dominate the night’s proceedings, and give the event and last night’s RAW a special feeling simply by allowing the performers to go out and put on lengthy matches that could demonstrate through the wrestler’s efforts that the Crown was a highly sought after prize. Instead, as has been noted elsewhere, the Crown appears to be slightly less important to a seemingly good candidate to win it like Dolph Ziggler than an opportunity to attack Sheamus, something he could have done before the match backstage, or immediately after it in the ring, or after it in the parking lot, or the following morning in the hotel lobby, or any other time that it wouldn’t have meant handing Sheamus an opportunity to win the Crown for a second time on a platter.
This morning Randall Ortman confirmed my suspicion that the decision to hold the tournament this week was a hasty and recent one, as he mentioned in the Rumor Roundup that the decision was made last week and only for the sake of having new content for every night of the week.
This is a less than ideal scenario for a once prestigious event that accounted for some of the most exciting pay per view moments of the 90’s, such as the phenomenal three match performance Bret Hart put on in 1993, or the watershed Austin 3:16 moment in 1996. Ideally, I’d like this tournament to be a big deal, and to be treated like one, and to be the kind of event that used it’s central coronation to elevate a star to main event status, in the way that winning the Crown signaled as much for Owen Hart in 1994, just before a title shot at Summerslam, Austin in 1996, leading to a grudge match with Bret Hart at Survivor Series, or even all the way up until 2006 when the title led to probably the biggest and best angle of Booker T’s career, including a title run.
But even in the scenario that this was a throw away idea just used to give the appearance of special programming for a week of special programming on the Network, I can’t help but feel like this was a tragically bungled idea and a missed opportunity that represents an increasingly shortsighted habit of WWE’s that I think amounts to leaving money on the table.
Simply put, I think this is the sort of thing fans could get excited about, especially hardcore fans like many of us here at Cageside who dig tournaments and have fond memories of this specific event. Maybe it isn’t the kind of event that would bring in as many new subscribers as the free month campaigns have, but if promoted with even a semblance of care it’s hard to believe a few thousand fence-sitting viewers wouldn’t subscribe, or otherwise renew questionable subscriptions, at the chance to see a whole bunch of good long matches leading up to the coronation of the prestigious successor to Harley Race, Macho Man, Bret, Owen, Austin, Angle, Edge, and Lesnar.
Even if the idea to present this event on Tuesday the 28th was just hatched on Tuesday the 21st, there’s no reason last week’s Smackdown couldn’t have had a video package advertising the beginning of the prestigious King of the Ring tournament, exclusive to the WWE network, beginning the Tuesday following Extreme Rules. There’s no reason this idea had to have its entire wad blown in a single night, coronating this year’s King with so little build up that you’d be forgiven for not knowing or caring what a King of the Ring was. Why wasn’t tonight’s broadcast the beginning of a qualifying tournament to last throughout the month, leading up to a two hour Network exclusive special at the end of May during which the King would be crowned?
This is the sort of thing that could be a really interesting and fan-pleasing endeavor for the still-establishing Network- an ongoing series of in-ring action designed to rebuild the prestige of a once coveted annual title. My question is why wouldn’t this appeal to the folks who run WWE?
Before rights issues complicated the matter, the WWE Network used to host an hour long Main Event broadcast every Tuesday night, taking place at the Smackdown tapings, using slightly different production techniques and aesthetics that made it feel like a different event from the blue brand even though the matches seen on Tuesday took place minutes before the matches that were seen days later on Smackdown. So we know it isn’t inordinately difficult to air live wrestling on Tuesday nights on the Network.
Among us Cagesiders, who wouldn’t be interested if WWE presented this as a Network exclusive temporary series during which we’d get 20 minute matches between the underused smark favorites like Dolph Ziggler, Dean Ambrose, Luke Harper, and Damien Sandow? I have to feel like this should have been an easy decision made with little complication as soon as the idea came up-
"Hey, maybe Tuesday night we could do like a King of the Ring thing. That’s new content."
"Yeah sure, get a purple King of the Ring apron made and we can air an hour of long fan-service matches once a week, and at the end of the month we’ll dress it up a little bit more and air it like we do the NXT Takeover events, with the winner taking the crown."
"Cool, guys, somebody get on that apron and tell the wrestlers they’re getting 25 minutes to do whatever they want in the ring on Tuesday for the rest of the month."
Who doesn’t benefit from this? WWE can’t possibly think reruns of on-demand original shows like Monday Night War would be higher rated (whatever that means in this context) shows to air between 8-9 on Tuesday nights than an epic bout between Neville and Luke Harper, could they?
The lazy manner in which this was thrown out is doubly disappointing because the low-cost, low-preparation model I just pointed out could easily be used at any time they decided to do so, but the 2015 King of the Ring will be named tonight with little build up or fanfare, precluding an exciting version of this tournament from taking place this year and essentially devaluing the title in a certain sense.
On top of that how they book the matches could render it even more irrelevant, as none of the active contenders represent a worthy successor to Bret Hart, Steve Austin, or Triple H. That’s not to say they aren’t worthy talents- simply that where they are on the card right now places them beneath the status of those past winners. If anything this seems like exactly the sort of idea that would have been a nice move to establish the new Sheamus as a force to be reckoned with. Having him run rough shod through the competition in the King of the Ring tournament before losing a Kiss My Ass (Arse) match to Ziggler would have given him a level of credibility as a returning top heel that he seems unlikely to claim now that he’s lost his first PPV match after returning.
If Barrett or R-Truth wins then the Crown will be rendered largely meaningless, because as talented as they are, and as relevant as Barrett is, both have lost so many matches of late that naming them 2015 King of the Ring would actually demean the title. I think the most interesting scenario would be crowning Neville, as he’s an up and coming quantity whose main roster ceiling isn't really yet defined, and thus the King of the Ring in 2015 could come to be a "next big thing" kind of title that we can expect Kevin Owens to win in 2016, or Uhaa Nation to win in 2017.
And as a storytelling device, a prop of a title used to elevate a wrestler, this would be an interesting addition to the current status quo but it would still be beneath what the crown could mean. Imagine this event took a month to complete and the tournament included all of the top names who weren’t holding titles. How much more would it mean for Neville, or even an established guy like Sheamus, to win a tournament that included names like Orton, Reigns, Wyatt, and Rusev?
As I stated earlier I think the fact that we’ve been promised a coronation this evening already guarantees the squandering of this opportunity, but my hope is that this could be a pilot of sorts for future Network exclusive in-ring programming. There’s no reason that the show that was Main Event, or any weekly Network exclusive in-ring show shouldn’t be aimed right at the hard-to-please workrate snobs who made Roman Reigns’ ascent in the past months such a pain in the ass. Why wouldn’t they take an hour a week to give us an epic 25 minute showcase for the talents we complain about being under used? In the same sense that Daniel Bryan said he wanted Smackdown to become his show, why isn’t there a weekly Cesaro/Harper/Divas-actually-getting-time "okay, smarks, here’s your workrate" hour?