June used to be a month when fans would see a new Superstar crowned as King of the Ring. The last King of the Ring pay-per-view was held 11 years ago.
Since then, WWE has filled the June pay-per-view slot with Bad Blood, Vengeance, Night of Champions, Fatal 4-Way, Capitol Punishment, No Way Out and the newest event, Payback.
WWE tried to revive the concept in 2006, 2008 and 2010, but it did not receive the same popularity it had in its heyday.
We know of the big four pay-per-views—Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam and Survivor Series—but the King of the Ring was, at times, just as popular.
The tournament was used as a catalyst to begin a Superstar’s rise to the main event. Sometimes it worked, like with Steve Austin and Brock Lesnar, and sometimes it didn't, like with Mabel and Billy Gunn.
I’m only ranking the 10 Superstars who won on pay-per-view, which means Booker T, Sheamus, Harley Race and Randy Savage will not make the list. The list will be based on the push the winner received and its lasting effect.
Mabel’s initial run in the WWE began as a member of the team Men on a Mission. They won the tag team titles. Mabel and Mo turned heel by attacking their manager, Oscar.
WWE then gave Mabel a singles push as he won the 1995 King of the Ring. He was then known as King Mabel. He failed to win the WWE Championship from Diesel at the following SummerSlam.
He allied himself with Yokozuna, who was feuding with The Undertaker. Undertaker defeated Mabel in a Casket Match at In Your House 5: Seasons Beatings. His last appearance as Mabel would be in the 1996 Royal Rumble match.
WWE tried to build up another main event monster, but it didn’t last. The 1995 King of the Ring event was held in Philadelphia, home to ECW. The tournament finals between Mabel and Savio Vega led fans to chant “E-C-Dub. E-C-Dub.”
The mid-1990s were a tough time for the WWF, and Mabel winning the King of the Ring wasn’t going to solve their problems.
The 1999 King of the Ring tournament focused heavily on DX. Prior to the tournament, Billy Gunn left DX to pursue a singles career. He defeated his former partner, Road Dogg, at Over the Edge and then defeated X-Pac in the King of the Ring finals.
He aligned himself with Triple H and Chyna after the event. He and Chyna fought X-Pac and Road Dogg over the rights to the DX name, but were unsuccessful. He then went on to feud with The Rock and lost a Kiss My Ass match at SummerSlam.
DX was reunited later in the year.
Gunn won the Hardcore title from Hardcore Holly, but he held it for only 13 days before dropping back to Holly. He attempted to capture the Intercontinental Championship on a few occasions, but came up short. He eventually won the title from Eddie Guerrero in late 2000.
Gunn wasn’t a strong singles star. He was better off with Road Dogg as a member of the New Age Outlaws.
Ken Shamrock was gaining a lot of momentum during his feud with The Rock over the Intercontinental title in the beginning of 1998. The feud continued into the King of the Ring as Shamrock defeated The Rock in the finals.
He feuded with Owen Hart during the summer and had a short-lived alliance with The Rock and Mankind. Shamrock turned heel and joined the Corporation. He won the Intercontinental and tag team championships, making him a dual champion.
Shamrock only lasted two years with the WWE. He had a WWE title shot against Shawn Michaels early in his career, but couldn’t reach that level after his King of the Ring win. Vince McMahon and the WWE wanted to capitalize on Shamrock’s popularity in UFC by introducing the Lion’s Den match.
With so many Superstars in the main event during this time, Undertaker, The Rock, Stone Cold, Mankind, Triple H, Kane and so on, Shamrock was unable to join them.
Bret Hart won a King of the Ring tournament in September of 1991. He then won it again at the inaugural pay-per-view event, thus being the only two-time winner.
However, his second win didn’t lead to a bigger push. Hart was already a WWE, Intercontinental and tag team champion.
After being crowned King of the Ring, Jerry Lawler attacked Hart, citing he was the true king. They then feuded during the summer, in what Wrestling Observer Newsletter called feud of the year.
This was just another accolade Hart could add to his Hall of Fame résumé.
This would have been a good opportunity to push guys like Mr. Perfect or Razor Ramon, two stars many felt should have held the WWE Championship, into the main event.
Owen and Bret were in the middle of a hot rivalry leading up the 1994 King of the Ring. Owen scored a clean victory over his brother at WrestleMania X.
After winning the King of the Ring, Hart nicknamed himself “King of Harts.” Bret and Owen continued their feud through SummerSlam where the two fought in an excellent steel cage match for the WWE Championship.
With all of the other Hart family members leaving for WCW in 1997, Owen was left to fight alone. He captured the European title from Triple H and the Intercontinental title on two occasions.
I believe Owen should have won the WWE Championship during his feud with Bret. It would have strengthened him as a heel and gave Bret the chance to advance his younger brother.
In the end, Owen was able to step out of Bret’s shadow and stand on his own.
Edge and Christian were one of the best tag teams during the Attitude Era. When they broke up, Edge was the one who succeeded in singles competition. He defeated the previous year’s King of the Ring, Kurt Angle, in the finals.
During the Invasion angle, Edge turned face while Christian remained a heel. The former partners feuded during the summer over the Intercontinental title. Edge later won the United States Championship from Kurt Angle. He then unified the United States and Intercontinental titles at the 2001 Survivor Series.
Although Edge wouldn’t win the WWE Championship until 2006, it was obvious that he would be a major star in the WWE.
Triple H was the supposed winner of the 1996 King of the Ring. But because of a certain incident at Madison Square Garden, The Game was punished.
He was able to recover as he spent four months as the Intercontinental champion, before dropping it to Rocky Maivia. Triple H defeated Goldust at WrestleMania 13 and debuted Chyna as his manager.
After he won the King of the Ring, he, along with Shawn Michaels, Chyna and Rick Rude, formed D-Generation X. He won the European Championship from Owen Hart on Raw and defeated him again at WrestleMania XIV.
When Michaels was forced to retire because of a back injury, Triple H took over as the leader of DX and the rest is history.
Although Triple H went on to win multiple championships, his King of the Ring victory wasn’t the only factor to his push. Michaels' unfortunate injury helped launch the career of Triple H. Regardless, WWE was ready to push Triple H as a top singles star and it worked.
Who knows what would have happened if he won in 1996? Would he have been the star he is today?
Kurt Angle made his WWE debut on Nov. 14, 1999, at Survivor Series, defeating Shawn Stasiak.
He went on an undefeated streak until losing to Tazz at the Royal Rumble. Angle then won both the Intercontinental and European championships, dubbing himself the “Eurocontinental champion.”
He won the 2000 King of the Ring tournament and began a feud with Triple H right after. He won his first WWE Championship at No Mercy by defeating The Rock, four months after the King of the Ring.
Angle’s push was one of a few that led to immediate main event status. He would have three more reigns as WWE champion along with United States, tag team and world title reigns.
He would later have classic matches with Shawn Michaels, Brock Lesnar and many others. There’s no doubt Angle is one of the best to enter the squared circle and his King of the Ring victory was the stepping stone he needed to enter the spotlight.
When Brock Lesnar burst onto the scene in March 2002, everyone knew he was something special. Dubbed “The Next Big Thing,” he would win the 2002 King of the Ring by defeating Rob Van Dam a mere three months after his debut.
Not many Superstars receive the kind of push Lesnar received. His King of the Ring victory earned him a WWE title shot at SummerSlam, which he won by defeating The Rock.
He went on to win the 2003 Royal Rumble and defeated Kurt Angle to win his second WWE Championship. Lesnar shockingly left the company after his WrestleMania XX match against Goldberg, a match many wish they could forget.
He spent two dominant years on top. There are very few people who have Lesnar’s look and Vince knew that. He built Lesnar up to be a monster and it worked. Lesnar was a star within five months.
Who knows what he could have accomplished if he stayed with the company?
“You sit there and you thump your Bible, and you say your prayers, and it didn't get you anywhere! Talk about your psalms, talk about John 3:16…Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass!”
This promo, in my opinion, was the beginning of the Attitude Era.
Before his 1996 King of the Ring victory, Austin had a lackluster run as The Ringmaster. After the win and promo, a star was born.
He was initially booked as a heel, but that changed during his match with Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13.
He would win the 1997 Royal Rumble and defeat Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV. Austin was then a part of two big rivalries in the Attitude Era, one with The Rock and one with the boss, Mr. McMahon.
As I mentioned with Triple H, what would have happened to Austin if the MSG incident never happened? Would he have been the star he was?
Well, thankfully it did because it gave us one of, if not the biggest star in professional wrestling and it all began with that promo in 1996.