Thursday, June 24, 1999
SLAM! Wrestling Guest Column
King Of The Ring means jack
It actually started back in the mid-80s. Don Muraco won it in 85. Harley Race won it for two consecutive years ('86 and '87). Ted Dibiase won it in 88 and Tito Santana won it in 89. Bret Hart wore the crown in 91.
However, the King of the Ring was not shown on pay-per-view television until June 13, 1993. Originating from the Nutter Center in Dayton, Ohio, this brand new pay-per-view extravaganza was billed as the ultimate challenge for the wrestlers involved. Guest color commentator for the night Randy "Macho Man" Savage said that in his mind the King of the Ring was just as high, if not a higher, accolade than holding the WWF Heavyweight Championship. Those are some strong words coming from such an accomplished wrestler as Savage.
But how much does the WWF actually care about the King of the Ring? In the beginning the tournament WAS the event, with only a few other matches on the card (Hogan vs. Yokozuna, Michaels vs. Crush, Money Inc. / Headshrinkers vs. Stiener Brs. / Smoking Gunns). Bret Hart in what is even today considered one of the most impressive performances in years, won that first pay-per-view tournament. With the beatings he took at the hands of Razor Ramon, Mr. Perfect, and Bam Bam Bigelow as well as the victories over them and the fantastic commentating from Jim Ross, Bobby Heenan, and Randy Savage, it was truly a memorable night for Bret Hart and wrestling fans.
The following year Owen Hart was victorious furthering the feud between the brothers Hart and giving Owen his long deserved singles push in the WWF. It was then that Owen took on the nickname "King Of Harts".
Each of these tournaments consisted of a plethora of great, highly contested matches even in the qualifying round (Mr. Perfect fought Doink the Clown three times in qualifying action in 93 before a winner was decided - Perfect. In 94, Tatanka and Crush went at it to a no-contest so a lumberjack match was held. Tatanka won the match and advanced into the tourney.
Things took a turn for the worse in 1995 and have yet to get better. Mabel (formerly of Men on a Mission and today known as Viscera) won the 95 edition, thus bringing it to an all time low. This mid-carder who had achieved minimal success in the WWF up to that point (and achieved even less afterwards) went through the Undertaker and Savio Vega to win the prestigious honor. In retrospect, I believe Shawn Michaels should have taken it. Michaels was just coming back from the injury sustained at the hands of Sid and had realigned himself with World Champion "Big Daddy Cool" Diesel. Shawn definitely had the fans even back then. Giving him the honor would further the King of the Ring's respectability.
Apparently, Vince McMahon thought otherwise.
Austin 3:16 was created on June 23, 1996 in Milwaukee, WI. The 96 edition, now only holding semi-final and final round matches on the card, brought the King of the Ring's prestige down even further.
Opening round and quarterfinal round matches were held almost three weeks prior to the actual event. Yes, Steve Austin was impressive against Marc Mero and Jake "the Snake" Roberts but his performance was not nearly up to par with the Hart brothers. The event did not push the actual tournament as much as it did the non-tournament matches.
WWF World Champion Shawn Michaels fought the British Bulldog in a rematch from their May, 96 "In Your House" encounter. WWF Intercontinental Champion Goldust defended against Ahmed Johnson. WWF World Tag Team Champions The Smoking Gunns defended against the Godwinns. Jerry "the King" Lawler took on the unstoppable (and unreliable) Ultimate Warrior. With these matches on the card the King of the Ring was almost an afterthought for most fans taking into consideration that the 4 men involved in the semi-final matches had been in the WWF for less than 6 months (Vader, Mero, Roberts, and Austin) and therefore had not near the fan interest as the more established WWF stars.
Enter 1997. WWF World Champion the Undertaker defends against Faarooq. Goldust faces Crush. Sid and the Legion of Doom collide with The British Bulldog, Owen Hart, and Jim Neidhart. World Tag Team Champions Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin face each other one-on-one. Oh yeah, and did I mention there was a tournament too?
Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Mankind, Jerry Lawler, and Ahmed Johnson were the quarter finalists for the 97 edition. But here is the weird part. Ahmed eliminated Hunter in the qualifying round. So how in the world does Hunter Hearst Helmsley make it to the actual event? Apparently (and the WWF genius who came up with this is probably working for WCW now which could explain their current problems) when Hunter was DQ'ed in his match with Ahmed he didn't know that being disqualified could eliminate him. So Hunter is put back in the tournament to face Vader. The problem is Vader was injured after his match with Ken Shamrock. So, Hunter fights Crush and beats him to get back in.
Corny if you ask me.
Last year's event, although sticking to the 4-man format, was much better than each King of the Ring tournament dating back to 94. Rocky Miavia versus Dan Severn along with Ken Shamrock versus Jeff Jarrett turned out well.
As far as the finals between Shamrock and the Rock? It was predicted that those two would lock horns again after a six month feud. Rock versus Shamrock was one hell of a match and a much better conclusion than several of the past year's tournaments. Although the non-tournament matches were still somewhat overshadowed, the King of the Ring was worked exceptionally and for that alone it should be given praise.
Where does the King of the Ring go from here? Will the WWF eventually bring back the 8-man one-night event and thus slowly rebuild the prestige of the event or will they diminish the tournament even more by holding only the finals on pay-per-view? Who knows. I guess it is up to Vince McMahon and the fans of the WWF as to how the King of the Ring evolves (or further devolves) from here.
Graham Cawthon is from Eagle River, AK. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.