WrestleMania IV, King of the Ring and the Lost Art of the WWE Tournament
WWE once tapped into the thrill that is a tournament often and with great effectiveness, but it's an element that has recently been abandoned.
King of the Ring, the Gold Rush tournament and the battle for the WWE title at WrestleMania IV saw WWE utilize the tournament format to entertain its fans.
The NCAA men's basketball tourney is approaching. Like every year, it will create lasting memories and be an exciting, fun ride. That event drawing near makes WWE's lack of tournaments even more glaringly obvious.
The Tournament We Almost Had
WWE recently advertised an Intercontinental Cup for Main Event.
It would have featured eight superstars facing off in a single-elimination format for a chance to take on the current Intercontinental champ, Wade Barrett.
Inexplicably, the idea was shelved before it began.
The company missed out on a chance for fantastic wrestling in a thrilling format. Darren Young, Cody Rhodes and the other participants could have used the boost in airtime.
The IC title itself could have benefited as well. For eight stars to battle for the belt would have made it seem more precious. Thus far, Barrett hasn't really been challenged for it, which makes it seem like the WWE superstars aren't interesting in pursuing his championship.
The IC Cup would have likely drawn more viewers to Main Event as the tourney would air over the course of several episodes. Instead, WWE's Wednesday show is back to self-contained episodes.
The Tournaments We Once Had
It's been since 2010 since WWE has had a King of the Ring tournament. That event was once an annual opportunity to compel with few previous storylines needed.
The format itself wrote the narrative.
Some wrestlers just barely outlasted their opponents in one round, so they were at a disadvantage in the next. Old rivals inevitably crossed paths, as did allies.
Take a look back to WrestleMania IV, when 14 men competed for the vacant WWE title.
The event made One Man Gang look good despite his eventual loss to Randy Savage. Don Muraco and Greg Valentine got a chance to shine with first-round wins.
The tournament created intriguing matchups on the way to the finals. Jake Roberts battled Rick Rude. One Man Gang faced Bam Bam Bigelow. Ricky Steamboat lost to Greg Valentine.
On top of that, the finals meant so much more thanks to the buildup created by the wrestlers' consecutive wins.
A Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase main event was made far more powerful and meaningful after it followed the drama that was the WrestleMania IV tournament.
King of the Ring has also produced some great finals, boosted by the thrilling nature of the format.
Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Bret Hart in 1993, Edge vs. Kurt Angle in 2001 and William Regal vs. CM Punk in 2008 are all reminders of the greatness the King of the Ring can produce.
The Power of the Tournament
A win means more in a tournament, as does a loss.
In a traditional match, the winner earns some pride, but gets nothing tangible in return. In a tourney, a win suddenly equates to survival.
An event like King of the Ring also offers a superstar a goal to aspire to other than a championship.
If John Cena and The Rock are battling over the WWE title for months, if Jack Swagger and Alberto Del Rio's feud continues for a lengthy period, then a tournament like King of the Ring offers another superstar a victory that means significantly more than a singles match.
Frustration, disappointment, elation and temporary gratification are among the emotions a tournament offers.
If WWE is indeed done with the Intercontinental Cup, it needs to create a new one.
There is just too much drama and too much exhilaration in a tournament to abandon the format. Millions of fans will tune into March Madness, brackets in hand, anticipation building.
WWE needs to find a way to capture that feeling for its own product. Looking back to its past—to King of the Ring and WrestleMania IV—for inspiration would be a great start.
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