WWE: Ranking Every King of the Ring Winner
The first King of the Ring tournament was held in 1985, with the tournament eventually expanding onto pay-per-view in 1993. Considered as the fifth major event of the year, the tournament ran yearly on PPV until 2002. Since then, the King of the Ring has only been staged a further three times.
A King of the Ring victory used to be a sign of intent from the WWE that the victor would be guaranteed a push, and some made more of the opportunity than others. This article ranks these former winners based on what they achieved following their coronation.
Make way for the King...
I don't know whose idea it was to have Mabel win the King of the Ring, but it was a terrible one.
After Men on a Mission turned heel, Mabel was rewarded with a singles push and ultimately won the tournament in 1995.
Following his victory, "King Mabel" lost to WWF Champion Diesel at SummerSlam and became involved in the Yokuzuna-Undertaker feud. He made his final appearance for the company at the 1996 Royal Rumble.
Despite returning in later years, first as Viscera and then as Big Daddy V, Mabel is without a doubt the worst King of the Ring of all time.
17. William Regal
Don't get me wrong, William Regal is one of the most highly-respected wrestlers around and is a near 30-year veteran of the business. However, he was a terrible King of the Ring.
Regal was interim Raw GM at the time of his tournament victory, having won a battle royal for the privilege. He defeated Hornswoggle, Finlay and finally CM Punk to be crowned King of the Ring in 2008 on a special three-hour Raw.
A few weeks after his coronation he lost a "loser gets fired" match to Mr. Kennedy and disappeared. In reality, he had been suspended due to his second Wellness Policy violation.
Ultimately, his victory was rendered almost pointless by a suspension coming so soon after.
16. Tito Santana
Tito Santana was a 10-year veteran of the WWF when he defeated Rick Martel in the final of the 1989 tournament—and Santana was a former Intercontinental and Tag Team champion.
His victory was supposed to enhance the rivalry between Santana and former Strike Force tag team partner Martel, following the latter's heel turn during their WrestleMania V match. The feud would ultimately last through most of 1989.
Santana wasn't a terrible King of the Ring, but his victory only seemed to be for the purpose of extending a singles feud, and he never lifted a championship in the company again before leaving in 1993.
However, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004.
15. Billy Gunn
Billy Gunn was known as a tag team specialist during his first few years with the WWE, capturing tag team gold as part of the Smoking Gunns and the New Age Outlaws.
His King of the Ring Victory in 1999 was supposed to mark the start of his career as a singles competitor, but it didn't happen and he remains one of the most disappointing winners of the tournament.
Following his victory over former D-Generation X stablemate X-Pac in the finals, he had a short feud with The Rock that ultimately came to nothing, and Gunn soon returned to tag team competition with the Outlaws, despite having a short Intercontinental title run in the year 2000.
He would ultimately have a couple more unsuccessful runs as a singles competitor, picking up more tag team gold with Road Dogg and Chuck Palumbo before his departure from the company in 2004.
14. Ken Shamrock
One of the original stars of the UFC, Ken Shamrock joined the WWF in 1997 and won the King of the Ring tournament the following year.
"The World's Most Dangerous Man" was on the brink of superstardom with the WWF, facing Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship within a year of his debut. Added to his tournament victory, Shamrock also captured the Intercontinental Championship and won the tag titles with The Big Boss Man.
The reason he is so far down the list is that he left the company in 1999 after less than three years to return to mixed martial arts, so we never got to find out how a big of a star Shamrock could have become.
Shamrock ultimately remained in MMA for much longer than he should have, losing nine of his last 12 fights before retiring in late 2010.
13. Don Muraco
The first-ever King of the Ring winner in 1985, Don Muraco, was already an established star. Before winning the tournament, he was a two-time Intercontinental Champion and had a short, high-profile feud with the company's top star, Hulk Hogan, with three of their matches headlining Madison Square Garden that year.
After winning the tournament, he spent much of the year engaged in a rivalry with Ricky Steamboat, before turning heel and aligning himself with first Adrian Adonis and Bob Orton, before turning again and aligning himself with "Superstar" Billy Graham. He was fired from the company in 1988.
Despite making history as the first King of the Ring, Don Muraco's career had already peaked by the time of his victory and his remaining years in the company were somewhat underwhelming.
12. Ted DiBiase
Often regarded as one of the greatest workers not to hold the WWF Championship, "The Million Dollar Man" still managed to win the King of the Ring tournament in 1988.
Prior to his victory, DiBiase was involved in a famous angle with Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan, where he paid Andre to defeat Hogan and win the title for him. This would be the closest DiBiase would ever come to the big one.
He lost to Randy Savage in the finals of a WWF Championship tournament at WrestleMania IV and feuded with "The Macho Man" throughout 1988, defeating him in the final of the King of the Ring tournament.
Following his win, DiBiase never managed to reach the same heights in the company, despite being one of the best heels of the 1980's. He managed to win the World Tag Team titles three times with IRS in the early 90's before leaving the WWF in 1996.
DiBiase was at the highest point in his career when he won the King of the Ring tournament and will be remembered as a worthy winner, but he never really managed to become a permanent fixture in the main event following his victory, but thoroughly deserved his Hall of Fame spot in 2010.
The last man to win the King of the Ring tournament, Sheamus was crowned in 2010 following victory over John Morrison in the finals, less than 18 months after his June 2009 debut.
By this point, the Irishman was already a former WWE Champion, having held the title for two months after defeating John Cena in December 2009 and won the title for a second time at Fatal Four Way 2010, before dropping it to Randy Orton three months later.
Following the tournament win, he began referring to himself as "King Sheamus" and wore a crown and robes during his entrance, like so many previous "Kings" before him.
Since then, Sheamus has lifted the United States title, won the 2012 Royal Rumble and is the current World Heavyweight Champion, winning the belt in 18 seconds at WrestleMania XXVIII.
The reason he is ranked so low in the list is that some (myself included) feel he was pushed too hard following his debut, and needs to truly establish himself as one of the top guys in the company, instead of the WWE telling us that he is.
There is no doubt he will accomplish a lot more during his time at the top, and could feature much higher in lists compiled years from now.
10. Booker T
Booker T was already a 17-year veteran of the business and highly decorated competitor in WCW before his King of the Ring victory at Judgment Day 2006, but it was in the role of King Booker that he established himself as one of the top draws on Smackdown.
Prior to winning the tournament, Booker had already captured the World Tag Team, Intercontinental, United States and Hardcore titles with the WWE, as well as having a World title match with Triple H at WrestleMania 19.
Upon winning the tournament, Booker T became King Booker, drawing intense heat from the crowd with his regal entrance music, robe and crown combination and of course, Queen Sharmell yelping, "All hail King Booker!' at the top of her lungs.
He led King Booker's Court, featuring 'Sir' William Regal (a future king himself) and 'Sir' Finlay. Booker defeated Rey Mysterio for the World Heavyweight Championship in July 2006, two months after his coronation. He held onto the belt until Survivor Series before dropping it to Batista.
Booker T's King of the Ring victory finally gave him a spot in the main event and his first World title reign after five years in the company. He certainly made the most of the gimmick, becoming one of the top heels in the company before being granted his release in October 2007.
9. Harley Race
The 1986 King of the Ring was the first to really make use of his royal title. With legendary manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan by his side, King Harley Race drew intense heel heat from the crowd by coming to the ring accompanied by ceremonial music and making defeated opponents bow and kneel before him.
If they refused, Heenan would grab the hair of the defeated wrestler and force him to kiss the feet of The King.
Following a program with the Junkyard Dog, he moved into the main event scene and had a long-running feud with Hulk Hogan throughout 1987. This would be the highlight of his run with the company, and he wrestled his final match for the WWF in 1989.
Despite only being with the company for three years, Race was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2004. Recognised as one of the greatest performers of all time, King Harley Race embodied his gimmick and brought himself to the attention of the WWF fans who were unaware of his previous successes in the AWA and NWA.
8. Owen Hart
Initially debuting in 1988 under the Blue Blazer gimmick for a short run with the WWF, Owen Hart returned to the company in 1991 and teamed with Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart as part of the New Hart Foundation.
Following Neidhart's departure from the company, Owen turned to singles competition and became embroiled in a slow-burning rivalry with older brother Bret, eventually leading to a classic confrontation at WrestleMania 10.
Following his King of the Ring victory in 1994, Owen dubbed himself "The King of Harts" and feuded with his brother for much of the year, before lifting the tag titles with Yokozuna at WrestleMania 11. He also teamed with The British Bulldog for a tag title reign the following year.
Owen had runs with The Hart Foundation and The Nation of Domination in the years to come, while also winning two Intercontinental championships, the European Title and enjoying another tag title reign with Jeff Jarrett before his shocking death at the Over the Edge pay-per-view on May 23, 1999.
Owen's King of the Ring victory was the catalyst for a successful singles career, whilst also helping him escape from the shadow of his superstar brother. We can only guess at where Owen's career would have headed before his fatal accident when he was only 34.
By the time he emerged victorious in the 2001 King of the Ring tournament, Edge was an unproven singles competitor. He had managed to lift the World Tag Team titles no less than seven times with Christian and had a 24-hour stint as Intercontinental Champion.
Ultimately, his tournament victory was the start of his ascent to headline status, and he became one of the most decorated champions in WWE history before his retirement in 2011 and subsequent induction to the Hall of Fame.
Edge went on to win four more Intercontinental titles, the Hardcore Title and the WCW United States Championship (as well as enjoying seven more tag title reigns), and eventually won his first WWE Title after cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase in January 2006.
This was the start of the most successful period of Edge's career, as he went on to win the WWE Title four times and the World Heavyweight Championship on seven occasions.
Edge's King of the Ring victory in 2001 was a sign that the WWE believed in him as a singles competitor, and he repaid the faith of the company by becoming one of the biggest stars of the decade.
6. Randy Savage
One of the most popular performers the industry has ever seen, "The Macho Man" Randy Savage was triumphant in the 1987 King of the Ring tournament, two years after his debut with the company.
Prior to this, he enjoyed a 14-month reign as Intercontinental Champion, losing the title to Ricky Steamboat in their famed WrestleMania 3 encounter.
After becoming King of the Ring, Savage lifted his first WWF Championship in the tournament final at WrestleMania 4, becoming the company's second biggest star, before forming The Mega Powers with Hulk Hogan, ultimately dropping the title to his tag team partner at the following WrestleMania—following a 371-day reign.
Dubbing himself "The Macho King" in September 1989 (after a complicated turn of events involving Haku and Jim Duggan), Savage would often use his sceptre as a weapon, most notably when costing The Ultimate Warrior the WWF Championship at the 1991 Royal Rumble. This led to a match at WrestleMania VII that Savage lost, thus ending his in-ring career.
The Macho Man then became a colour commentator for a spell, before returning to the ring and eventually winning his second WWF Championship from Ric Flair at WrestleMania VIII. He dropped the title back to "The Nature Boy" in September 1992 and eventually returned to the commentary table until his departure from the company in 1994.
Randy Savage's King of the Ring victory coincided with the most successful run of his career, cementing his popularity as one of the greatest stars in the history of the business.
5. Brock Lesnar
We all knew we were witnessing something special on March 18, 2002 when "The Next Big Thing" crashed the ring and decimated three wrestlers, under the supervision of none other than Paul Heyman.
A mere three months after his television debut, Lesnar defeated Rob Van Dam in the finals to be crowned the 2002 King of the Ring, and earn a shot at the Undisputed Championship at SummerSlam. He went on to defeat The Rock and become the youngest world champion in WWE history at age 25.
Lesnar would go on to win the 2003 Royal Rumble, win the WWE Title twice more and have one of the great rivalries of the last decade with Kurt Angle before departing the company in 2004, his final match being a poorly-received encounter with Goldberg at WrestleMania XX.
He would then go on to attempt a professional football career, failing to make the cut with the Minnesota Vikings, before entering the world of mixed martial arts.
Becoming one of the biggest draws in the entire company, Lesnar had mixed fortunes in the Octagon. Despite becoming UFC Champion in only his fourth professional fight, he suffered a serious stomach illness that kept him out for months and was TKO'd in his last two fights.
Returning to the company that made him famous, he resurfaced on Raw in 2012 and has feuded with John Cena and Triple H.
The reason The Next Big Thing is so high up the list is because at the time of his debut, those who were watching WWE knew we were seeing the industry's newest star; somebody who would carry the company for the foreseeable future.
Little did we know, at the time, it would last less than two years, but his King of the Ring victory accelerated Brock Lesnar's path to the top.
4. Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle was always destined for the top. Before winning the 2000 King of the Ring, he had already unified the European and Intercontinental titles, dubbing himself the "Eurocontinental" Champion before dropping both straps at WrestleMania.
And four months after his coronation, the Olympic gold medalist defeated The Rock to win his first WWF Championship. Angle went on to cement his place as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, having countless classic matches with the likes of Shawn Michaels, Brock Lesnar and Chris Benoit.
Before his release in August 2006, Angle had amassed an impressive list of accomplishments: four WWE Titles, a World Heavyweight Championship, a WCW World Heavyweight title, a WCW United States belt, a WWE Tag Team title reign (with Benoit) and a Hardcore championship to add to the aforementioned Eurocontinental crown.
Kurt Angle is without a doubt one of the most talented wrestlers to ever set foot inside a ring, and it is remarkable he still competes at such a high level today after his serious injuries. His King of the Ring win in 2000 was a stepping stone to the main-event scene, and led to one of the all-time great careers.
3. Triple H
Hunter Hearst Helmsley was originally supposed to win the 1996 King of the Ring, but his push was derailed thanks to his part in the infamous "Curtain Call" incident at Madison Square Garden. He was granted his coronation the following year, and some other guy won the tournament and cut a promo. More on that later...
Months after his victory in the tournament, Triple H had joined up with Shawn Michaels, Chyna and Rick Rude to form D-Generation X. At WrestleMania 14, he defeated Owen Hart for the European title as HBK retired after the same event following a back injury.
This led to Triple H assuming control of DX and turning them into one of the most popular acts of the Attitude Era, launching himself up the card. By 1999, he had turned heel and begun his reinvention into "The Game," winning his first WWF Championship from Mankind on Aug. 23 of that year.
Following his ascension to main-event status, Triple H went on to become one of the most decorated champions in WWE history; winning eight WWE Titles, five World Heavyweight Championships, enjoying five Intercontinental title reigns, two European championships, won the 2002 Royal Rumble and lifted tag titles twice with Shawn Michaels and once with Steve Austin.
Triple H's King of the Ring win was a turning point in his career. It began the transition from the "Connecticut Blueblood" to leader of DX, before evolving into the character we know today.
Added to his real-life responsibilities as Executive Vice President of Talent and Live Events, compared to many of his contemporaries Triple H has earned the title "King of Kings."
2. Bret Hart
The only man to be crowned King of the Ring twice, 1991 and 1993's king, Bret "The Hitman" Hart, is also the only person to win consecutive tournaments (the competition wasn't held in 1992).
"The Excellence of Execution" had been with the WWF for seven years and lifted the WWF Tag Team titles twice as part of The Hart Foundation before he found success as a singles competitor.
Just one month after winning his first Intercontinental title at SummerSlam 1991, Bret Hart was crowned King of the Ring for the first time. He held the belt for a second time before winning his first WWF Championship in October 1992. And two months after dropping the belt to Yokozuna at WrestleMania IX, Hart became a two-time King of the Ring winner in the first tournament broadcast on pay-per-view.
By the end of the year, The Hitman had established himself at the top of the card and would lead the WWF through a transitional period, when smaller wrestlers such as himself and Shawn Michaels would be promoted to the main event. Hart would eventually win the WWF Championship a total of five times, and establish himself as one of the greatest of all time.
His WWF career would end acrimoniously at the hands of the infamous "Montreal Screwjob," and he spent his last few years in WCW before retiring due to injury in 1999. Surprisingly, he would re-establish a relationship with Vince McMahon and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006, whilst making sporadic appearances on television.
Bret Hart's two King of the Ring victories is a unique accolade, and the tournament wins led to a steady rise up the card; his first victory establishing him as a singles star and the second leading to a main event career that led many to call him "the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be."
1. Steve Austin
Who else was it going to be?
After a lackluster stint as Ted DiBiase's protege, The Ringmaster, the man now known as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin beat Jake Roberts in the final of the 1996 King of the Ring and cut one of the greatest promos of all time; a new star was instantly born.
Initially booked as a heel, Austin became increasingly popular with the fans, the turning point coming in his legendary double-turn bout with Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13.
As the face of the biggest boom period the industry had ever seen, Austin had the greatest feud in wrestling history with Vince McMahon, and his incredible popularity as the beer-drinking, hell-raising anti-hero made him the biggest star in the business.
After his loss against arch-nemesis The Rock at WrestleMania 19, Austin was forced to retire due to the serious damage to his neck, making rare television appearances in the following years, and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009.
Austin accumulated six WWE Championships, two Intercontinental titles, four WWF Tag Team titles (with Shawn Michaels, Dude Love, The Undertaker and Triple H), and won the Royal Rumble in 1997, 1998 and 2001.
It was Steve Austin's blistering speech immediately following his tournament victory in 1996 that put him on the path to being the biggest star in history, and there is no other choice for the greatest ever King of the Ring than "The Texas Rattlesnake."
So there it is, the countdown of the greatest King of the Ring winners in WWE history.
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