They Just Can't Wait To Be King: A Look At WWE Reviving The King Of The Ring Tournament
A fun week coming up in WWE! After a really high quality Summerslam weekend, encompassing the NXT Takeover, Summerslam itself and the Raw and Smackdown following, World Wrestling Entertainment are really firing on all cylinders lately. And of course, the Raw Reunion special the other week was an example of the "old school/legends" show done right, in my opinion. Normally, post Summerslam, this is a time when WWE typically take their foot off the gas, but that is not the case this year. Starting this week on Monday Night Raw, they're digging into the vault with something that was a PPV staple and honoured tradition throughout WWE history- the King Of The Ring tournament.
What Is It?
The King Of The Ring is a single elimination tournament, usually comprised of 16 wrestlers. Its origins can be traced all the way back to 1985, when the inaugural tournament was won by Don Muraco, defeating The Iron Shiek in the finals. Becoming King Of The Ring was an accolade considered right up there in importance with winning major championships in WWE. Main event stars usually didn't win the crown, but a KOTR victory could be seen in the same vicinity as winning the prestigious Intercontinental Championship, especially through the 1990s- becoming the King Of The Ring usually meant you were en route to becoming a main eventer and/or world champion. Bret Hart, Stone Cold, Triple H and Kurt Angle all ascended to main event status following their KOTR victories, to name a few.
So, if this tournament was so prestigious, why did WWE abandon it? Perhaps they felt it had run its course as a storytelling device. After all, another long-time WWE staple, the Royal Rumble, could play essentially the same role in catapulting a young wrestler to superstardom. Or perhaps they felt the tournament format was a little too "sports" orientated for a "sports-entertainment company". WWE's reasons for taking away the King Of The Ring tournament have never been officially revealed. They first took away KOTR after Brock Lesnar's victory in 2002. It had existed as a yearly tournament from 1985, transitioned into its own PPV event in 1993, and disappeared altogether after The Next Big Thing destroyed Rob Van Dam in the tournament finals.
As a fan, my only issue with The King Of The Ring tournament has been the use of the "King" gimmick. Perhaps it was that hokey-ness that put WWE off using KOTR. It first occurred in the second annual tournament, where Harley Race opted to don a crown and refer to himself as "King" Harley Race. Not every winner has had to use the King gimmick, and not all of it has been bad- when they brought back the tournament (but not the PPV) in 2006- Booker T transformed into King Booker, with Queen Sharmell, and it was legitimately the most entertaining work of his WWE career. Even though it was quite comedic, it suited Booker's personality, and he parlayed that into a strong run as World Heavyweight Champion on the Smackdown brand.
Other times, however, it has been quite cringe-worthy. The last two KOTR winners- Sheamus in 2010 and Wade Barrett in 2015- have gone the whole hog with the crown, scepter and robe, and rather than enhance their career, it made it impossible to take them seriously. Poor Barrett never recovered, and Sheamus took a hell of a while to rehab. In contrast though, a King Of The Ring victory was one of the most iconic moments of all time for one superstar. Not a crown or scepter in sight.
"Talk about your Psalms, talk about John 3:16... Austin 3:16 says 'I just whooped your ass!"
Stone Cold Steve Austin got a couple of minutes to cut a promo following his 1996 King Of The Ring victory over Jake "The Snake" Roberts, and in doing so coined one of the most famous catchphrases of all time. Sold a fuckload of t-shirts and other merch out of it too. In mid-1996, this was one of the very early examples of the Attitude Era creeping into WWE, and it happened because of King Of The Ring.
No, we're not talking about Scott Dawson and Dash Wilder. And we're not going to say "fuck the Revival", because judging by the field of competitors in this year's King Of The Ring tournament, it could absolutely be a star-making event if handled correctly. Let's look at the brackets:
An interesting selection of competitors. Many of them fit the bill of wrestlers who have seemed underappreciated or underutilised for a long time- a few names that Kevin Owens shouted out in his recent promo blasting Shane McMahon for taking TV time away from deserving people- Apollo, Ali and Buddy Murphy to name a few. Over on the Raw side, Samoa Joe is someone that longtime fans want to see get more spotlight, and becoming the 2019 King could be the way to do it. Also, based on recent booking and positioning, Ricochet and Drew McIntyre could be two favourites to win the whole thing- but they're facing each other in the first round!
In the past, the King Of The Ring has been a one night tournament, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. It seems like the first round will occur this coming week on Raw and Smackdown... and given that the brands don't clash until the finals, we might see the quarterfinals and semi finals occur in following Raw and Smackdown episodes? We haven't been given concrete information about that. Part of the fun used to be seeing wrestlers have to drag themselves through multiple matches in one night, and all the drama and stories that can come from that. It was done to especially great effect in 2001, where Kurt Angle not only had to wrestle multiple KOTR tournament matches, he also had a Street Fight with Shane McMahon (side note- an absolute classic). Hopefully, we get some clarity soon. Personally, I'd like the first round to be done on Raw and Smackdown this week as planned, and then have the final 8 go at it on Raw the following week. Quarterfinals, semifinals and finals make a total of 7 matches (quick maffs), and that'd be a great way to fill 3 hours. I still wish Raw would go back to 2 hours, and leave 3 hour run times for milestone events, or special episodes like King Of The Ring, but WWE and USA Network love advertisement money too much to let that happen. Anyway...
I predict that we're going to get some stellar wrestling matches based on the brackets above. Ricochet vs. Drew McIntyre should be a ridiculously awesome clash of styles, and Ali and Buddy Murphy had some classic matches on 205 Live last year. Also, Buddy Murphy had an amazing match with Roman Reigns on Smackdown last week. Go find it and watch it. Amazing.
As for a winner... Ricochet? I hear Paul Heyman is a huge fan, and Ricochet has had "king" in his social media handle forever, so... destiny? But honestly, Drew McIntyre, Samoa Joe, Ali, Andrade... all seem like potential candidates to be King. I feel like Kevin Owens is too embroiled in the Shane McMahon storyline to really give this King thing a crack, but hey, he just might channel his idol Stone Cold, who knows?
I have two wishes when it comes to this tournament. One, no hokey King shit. Two, that there's some kind of reward for the winner. Ideally, it'd be a set in stone thing- like I thought that they had the perfect set-up in 2002- KOTR tournament in June, winner gets a WWE Championship shot at Summerslam. Seems like a great way to keep things interesting during that lull that WWE sometimes drops into between Mania and Summerslam. In this case, it'd be a way to combat the lull between Summerslam and Survivor Series. But if they're not going to hand out a title shot, at least give the winner a good push. Make King Of The Ring mean something again.
It might be nostalgia, it might just be remembering iconic moments that spawned from the history of King Of The Ring, but I'm really looking forward to this tournament. Stars could and should rise as a result of this, and I'll be watching closely. It's also encouraging on a larger scale that WWE are putting on events like this to maintain fan interest. It's almost like they're a bit worried about some potential competition taking some viewers away. Totally unrelated, but I hear there's a little show being run down at the Sears Centre in Chicago at the end of the month?
Ah well. Who wants to be Elite, when you can be a King?
Until next time, take care,