With one round of the WWE’s 21st King of The Ring tournament in the books, it’s a perfect time to look back at the previous editions. No, this isn’t about the quality of the matches, but about the decisions made for how to use the royal affair to push wrestlers and in overall booking.
Sparked by how I keep thinking about the 2015 King of The Ring featured a terrible decision by WWE, I’m looking at the King of The Ring winners and runners-up, and how their careers fared in the aftermath of the crowning moments. And as a rubric, I’m going to rate each King of the Ring as a win (this was a good choice), a loss (wow, you really f’ed up) and a draw (was this necessary?).
1985: Don Muraco
Muraco became the inaugural KotR winner at Sullivan Stadium in Foxboro, MA, a venue that is now more known for ball-tampering than big wrestling shows. While his victory did not propel him to a higher position in the company (he’d won the Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship twice prior), he did go on to star in “Fuji Vice”, an iconic moment in the annals of pop culture parody in pro wrestling.
The runner up, The Iron Sheik (aka Sheiky baby), similarly went onto appearing as a character in the culture, most notably in the Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling animated series.
Verdict: With its results neither being a huge success or failure, nobody’s losing sleep here. Gonna give it a tie, because hey, good to invent the tournament, but setting a strong precedent would have been better. 0 wins, 0 losses, 1 “tie”
1986: King Harley Race
King Harley is one of the best success stories when it comes to making King of the Ring actually mean something. If you thought present-day WWE didn’t do anything to acknowledge past accomplishments (The Club were big in Japan, right?), the WWF of the mid-1980’s was even worse, and this crowning was meant to symbolize Race’s rich history with the NWA title.
After he won, Race would go on to make future victims treat him like royalty, with his manager Bobby Heenan forcing them to bow, by grabbing their hair. This brought Race to a major feud with Junkyard Dog, who got a huge pop for breaking the chain of subservience.
Runner up Pedro Morales’ future wasn’t nearly as notable, retiring the next year.
Verdict: Yes, the right king won. 1-0-1
1987: The Soon-To-Be Macho King
OOOH YEUH! Seemingly perfectly timed, Randy Savage’s win in ‘87 only bolstered the rising tide of support from fans who were cheering him despite his heel antics. This was followed by an unsuccessful run at The Honky Tonk Man’s IC reign, but any sour grapes were quickly erased by three words: The Mega Powers. Savage’s win at the Providence Civic Center proved to be a proper execution of the oft-mentioned strapping of a rocket to a performer’s back.
This was the first of four consecutive King of the Ring tournament to be held at the Providence Civic Center, which has to be one of the odder residencies in company history. Yes, Savage’s run as The Macho King isn’t actually tied to a tournament win, but instead from a victory over Jim Duggan in 1989.
Savage beat King Kong Bundy in the finals, and Bundy (much like Morales), was nearing the end of his bump card. No arguments here.
Verdict: Long term planning won, wish we could say that these days. 2-0-1
1988: King Ted DiBiase
Maybe more of a resume notch than anything else, DiBiase won via count-out, as Virgil distracted his opponent, the runner-up, Randy Savage. The Million Dollar Man’s career didn’t get a significant rise, and the moment is probably bigger for Savage, giving him more to overcome in some of his biggest years with the company.
Verdict: It’s ... okay. That final match was used for something, at least 2-0-2
1989: King Tito Santana
The tag team known as Strike Force (Tito Santana and Rick Martel) met in the finals, after their acrimonious split. Santana, the babyface, went over, but his biggest win after that was being the sole survivor at the 1990 Survivor Series. Santana would eventually become The Matador while Martel would become The Model. The Model King could have been a decent gimmick, but maybe that’s like putting a top-hat on top of a cowboy hat. No mistakes here, at least between these two.
Verdict: Shrug. 2-0-3
1991, 1993: So nice Bret got kinged twice
The only two-time King of the Ring, Bret Hart used his consecutive victories to climb the ladder, and feud with the next man to win the crown. His first victory was over Irwin R. Schyster, which wasn’t as important as the second, which saw him beat Bam Bam Bigelow at the first King of the Ring tournament to be held on a PPV. Going by Bret’s words, he was supposed to go from that second win to the World Heavyweight Championship off Hogan at SummerSlam, which would have been great usage of the wins.
Hulkster would opt (according to Bret) to lose it to Yokozuna instead, at that King of the Ring. Still, Hart would go on to use his wins to further his career, feuding over Jerry Lawler over the title Undisputed King of the World Wrestling Federation, work that would gain the award of Feud of the Year from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
Nobody would say Bret was not the right guy for the moment, but Bigelow wouldn’t have been a bad pick either, as he would go on to be the ECW World Heavyweight Champ, long after he left WWF without winning a title with the company.
Verdict: Right call after right call, 4-0-3
1994: Owen, The King of Harts.
Both men were properly served by this decision, as Owen Hart would go on to feud with big brother Bret, whose dual KOTR wins cast a shadow. Yes, for as much as we like to think the Harts were dealt an unjust hand by WWF, this would mark three years in a row where a member of the family was crowned as royalty, each happening with a clean win.
Owen won over Razor Ramon, and that loss would help build towards a face turn and a future IC championship win.
Verdict: Win-frickin-win. 5-0-3.
1995: King Mabel
We love a curvy king, don’t we? Well, we almost did.
Mabel’s KotR win came after a heel turn, and the WWF put a lot of force behind this push, giving him more than just a crown and cape. His tag partner Mo became his manager Sir Mo and he was given the first and only ever King of the Ring championship belt. But as quickly as Mabel became the top bad guy in the company, he was swapped out for Davey Boy Smith. After losing his high rank, Mabel would feud with other top names, including Undertaker. Eventually, though, he would just be a crony in Taker’s Ministry, as Viscera, and eventually be a punchline in Big Daddy V. If you ask Kevin Nash (as happened in shoot interviews like this one) he explained that Mabel was unsafe and injured colleagues, which may explain the sudden demotion.
Mabel won the title by beating Savio Vega, which seems like a decent enough choice. Vega would go on to join The Nation of Domination, but he was far from its most significant member.
Verdict: Well, it seemed right at the start? 5-0-4
1996: The royal decree heard round the ring
Austin 3:16 was born in the dust of Austin’s King of the Ring finals win over Jake Roberts. I don’t really need to explain the call here, but this is the ideal situation. More time passed between Austin’s promo and his monumental push and the t-shirts emblazoned with “AUSTIN 3:16” than you’d guess from company video packages, but everything worked out for everyone. e Austin would win 3 Rumbles and 3 WrestleManias.
Jake? Well, Jake’s career didn’t really ever return to its glory days after this. Thankfully, DDP was there for him when Roberts needed someone.
Verdict: This set a template for success. 6-0-4
1997: The king of kings
In a sentence that really feels obvious, Triple H was crowned King of the Ring, defeating the beloved Mankind in the finals. Ever since Helmsley entered WWF as the “Connecticut Blueblood,” he was going to be a King of The Ring, and ever since he became King of the Ring, his obsession with being King persisted and grew to the point of satire. Trips used that momentum to form Degeneration-X, and Mankind placed that loss on the stack of L’s he climbed to become one of the most lovable underdogs in the company.
Verdict: Anything else would have been crazy. 7-0-4
1998: King Ken
Speaking of crazy, and shit I straight up forgot happened, Ken Shamrock triumphed over The Rock, via submission, to become the ‘98 King of the Ring. Of course, nobody remembers this from the PPV because it was overshadowed by Mankind and Undertaker inside the Hell in a Cell. Shamrock didn’t get much of a push from this, and the loss slid off Rocky like The Great One himself would soon slide a pair of sunglasses down his own nose.
Verdict: Weird call, but harmless in the longterm. 7-0-5
1999: King of the ass men
A stepping stone in the feud based around the dissolution of Degeneration X, the ‘99 King of the Ring finals which saw Billy Gunn beat X-Pac were sorta ... inconsequential. Maybe this is how the company saw both mens’ ceilings.
Verdict: Neither man needed this, nor got much out of it. 7-0-6
2000: An Olympic king
Angle’s King of the Ring finals win definitely signaled a move to greener pastures, as he soon found himself in a feud with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. After that, the calcium-chugging Olympian would beat The Rock for the WWF championship. Oddly, Angle won that title with help from Rikishi, his last opponent for KotR.
Verdict: King of the Ring is an accolade that makes sense for Angle, and it never seemed like Rikishi was truly going to be a main event player. 8-0-6
2001: The ultimate oppor-throne-ist
For the second year in a row, a King of the Ring tournament win told audiences that this is the guy. Edge’s win had even more importance, as he beat the previous year’s winner, Kurt Angle, in the finals, to win. This all came after Edge’s run as a tag team wrestler and was followed by multiple singles titles and a Money in the Bank win. Angle didn’t suffer for the loss, he was already bullet proof.
Verdict: The right call, the second in a row, beginning a hot streak. 9-0-6
2002: The next big king
Anyone who saw the young slab of mindless muscle known as Brock Lesnar would tell you he was destined for the main event. But even though he didn’t need the King of the Ring win, it certainly helped set the dominos in place. Lesnar won a WWE championship shot with his finals victory over RVD, and he would soon go on to earn that title from The Rock at SummerSlam. Also, the 126 day gap between debut and WWE championship title win was the second shortest to date, a mere 13 days behind Ric Flair (113 days). RVD wasn’t hurt by this loss, would continue to spend time in the main event picture, and Lesnar’s rise was so fast that he was
Verdict: Lesnar never needed a crown, but he was the most deserving of elevation. 10-0-6
2006: King Bookah
Beating Bobby Lashley to win the 2006 King of the Ring tournament, Booker T became King Bookah, where he recognized the comedic aspects of wearing a crown and robe while carrying a scepter. King Bookah even built a court, with Queen Sharmell, Sir William Regal and Sir Finlay. Book would have a long reign in character, become pretty hated, and eventually go through a high profile feud with Batista.
Lashley has always needed that something to work right in WWE, but his lack of a King of the Ring title didn’t stop him from getting pushes. He even wrestled on behalf of an egomaniacal tycoon at WrestleMania, in a match he won. I don’t think King of the Ring would have been better off with Lashley, who never really had the mic chops for the role.
Verdict: They got a lot of mileage out of that kingdom. 11-0-6
2008: A Regal king
This one coulda gone either way, come to think of it. While I do agree with my friend Courtney Rose who said: “REGAL IS THE BEST the end“...
Regal’s run as King was both iconic and (sadly) short-lived. His second violation of WWE’s Substance Abuse and Drug Testing Policy led to a 60-day suspension that disrupted his run and got him fired in kayfabe.
We’ve long since learned that CM Punk, the man who Regal beat for the throne, is more than capable on the mic. He probably could have been a great king. He didn’t need it, though, as he already had possession of the Money in the Bank briefcase, which he went on to successfully cash in.
Verdict: A good call for the moment, but not the moments after. 11-0-7
2010: King Sheamus
Does a WWE Champion need to also gain the King of the Ring accolade? Well WWE thought Sheamus did, and looking at his attire, I’m not surprised. The fella’s always had a way with making weird looks work and his Celtic King attire didn’t disappoint.
He won the crown over John Morrison, though, who went into King of the Ring having been a three-time Intercontinental Champ, and left the tournament on a slightly downward trajectory. Yes, he spent a little time in singles competition, challenging for the WWE Championship on occasion, but after that we only saw him earn tag team gold in the company. Outside of WWE, though, he found success as the biggest fish in smaller ponds, earning the Impact World Championship, AAA Mega Championship and Lucha Underground Championship, among others. Who knows if he was WWE main event material, but it would have been a worthwhile test.
Verdict: The first time I really think it should have gone the other way. 11-1-7
2015: I’m afraid, your highness, that I’ve got some Bad News
Yes, 2015 saw WWE put Bad News Barrett over Neville as the last King of the Ring, taking place 4 years ago, suggesting that even WWE saw this as a terrible move. It’s like when your Tinder dating goes seriously haywire, you make a ton of bad life choices and after you delete the app off your phone, you actually keep your promise to yourself by not using it.
King Bad News isn’t just a trio of words that shouldn’t ever go together, but three words that made us wait until 2017 to see Neville as a king. His work on 205 Live as the diabolical King of the Cruiserweights showed WWE what it missed out on by not crowning him the first time.
Verdict: Look where Barrett is (retired), and see how Neville became 2018 - 2019’s hottest free agent: 11-2-7
So, let’s look at the field of remaining Kompetitors:
Probably Not The King:
- The Miz: Already seems like he’s over enough, with his WrestleMania main event and reality show, probably not necessary.
- Shelton Benjamin: Feels too late.
- Elias: While his concerts would be great if you added some regal scarves, KoTR feels like a prize for guys with great workrate. Also, Kev is gonna spend the rest of the tournament making sure Elias doesn’t make it to the finals.
- Chad Gable: Talk about a feel good story, as much as I want him to win, he feels more like the guy who makes it to the finals and almost almost wins and advances his career with a great showing as an underdog.
- Andrade “Cien” Almas beat Apollo Crews: Zelina can fill in any cracks on the mic. A great choice if WWE went for it
- Samoa Joe beat Cesaro: King Joe sounds great, and this could be that main event push he’s needed
- Ricochet: King Ricochet has been a brand. It’s ready for WWE, isn’t it?
- Cedric Alexander: He’s always talked about The Age of Alexander, and that could come true with a reign, but it feels like he should be a bad guy for it?
- Baron Corbin: Does WWE want nuclear-level go-home heat? Turning its Baron into a monarch would do it.
- Ali: They’ve been waiting for some big moment for him, right?
- Buddy Murphy: Has all the momentum, is primed and ready for the next level.
- Drew McIntyre: Has the main eventer physique, is fantastic on the mic and can be called The Last King of Scotland.
Agree with WWE’s calls in King of the Ring? What about our calls on their calls? Let us know in the comments below, Cagesiders.