My fondest memories of the King of the Ring was when Kurt was in his rookie year with the WWF/E. He had ran through Bradshaw in the 1st round and Bubba Ray Dudley in the 2nd to go on to the PPV itself and defeat Chris Jericho in the quarter-finals, Crash in the semi-finals, and then Rikishi in a great fought battle to win it all. Even as a heel, the King of the Ring made Kurt Angle look great even after already winning the Intercontinental & European Championships. And then he went on to win hi first WWE Championship a few months later. Memories like this one and many more became a staple in WWE events and I had always looked forward to who would win it every year.
King of the Ring debuted on July 8th, 1985 with Don Muraco defeated Tito Santana to win the inaugural title as King. This particular event was the original showcase for the WWE to elevate superstars to that next level and give them some real credibility as they begin their chase for the top prize in sports entertainment: the World Championship.
I began watching WWE religiously in mid 1999 at the age of 13. And in those early years of my watching, the King of the Ring was the event I always looked forward to, right after Wrestlemania of course. The reason I loved it so much is because it wasn't just a thrown together tournament for the sake of a tournament. With its lineage that dates back to '85, there was a purpose to it; a bigger picture. Not just what we saw on TV, but behind the scenes.
On television, the tournament and those who participated in it was to find out who was the best of the best, indeed the "king of the ring". But among McMahon and company it was a vehicle to push the next major star in the WWE, or at least attempt to. 8, 12, even 16 superstars at one time battled in this tournament and fought hard through 4 rounds to call themselves the King of the Ring. In some instances (like the 2000 KOTR), a superstar had to wrestle 3 matches in one night to claim the throne. I feel that this was the best way the WWE could give a wrestler instant credibility, no matter where that superstar was in their career.
I mean, just look at some of the guys that won this prestigious title. Out of the 17 guys that became King of the Ring, 8 of them went on to have successful main event careers, and those same 8 guys won multiple World Championships. Lets take a quick look at some of them:
-"Macho Man" Randy Savage: KOTR 1986; 2 time WWE Champion
-Bret "The Hitman" Hart: KOTR 1991 & 1993; 5 time WWE Champion
-"Stone Cold" Steve Austin: KOTR 1996; 6 time WWE Champion
-Triple H: KOTR 1997; 8 time WWE Champion & 5 time World Heavyweight Champion
-Kurt Angle: KOTR 2000; 4 time WWE Champion & 1 time World Heavyweight Champion
-Edge: KOTR 2001; 4 time WWE Champion & 5 time World Heavyweight Champion
-Brock Lesnar: KOTR 2002; 3 time WWE Champion
-Booker T: KOTR 2006; 1 time World Heavyweight Champion
Thats 44 World titles between those men. The facts speak for themselves people.
The King of the Ring event was a very important spectacle for the WWE because it created stars, and we all know when the WWE creates stars, they in turn make more money. I mean, who can forget the infamous Stone Cold promo with Michael Hayes after his King of the Ring win when he introduced the wrestling world to Austin 3:16? I know I didn't forget it. And that ushered in the era of Austin and also the period close to my heart, the Attitude Era.
Let's be real though. Most of these men would have led decent careers without the King of the Ring. But would they have reached superstardom? Maybe. Perhaps. Uhh....probably not.
Think about it. One man on a mission to become the best the WWE has to offer. They qualify for the tournament, and go on a quest to defeat man after man after man after man. Then, in the finals, you face the other guy that defeated the same amount of guys that you did. 2 of the best up and comers square off to reveal who is truly the best of the current crop of wrestlers. Who can think of better credibility for a guy to finally step into the spotlight and have the fans take seriously? In fact, with this kind of credibility, a superstar could finally make the chase for the World title, with or without a royal rumble win, and the fans wouldn't really question it. With the right build following that kind of momentum, it'd be the perfect road for a superstar to claim his spot as a World Champion. If done correctly that is. We all know WWE has messed up on a few occasions (Ken Shamrock & Billy Gunn anyone?)
This brings me to King of the Ring's counterpart, its modern day replacement: Money in the Bank.
Now don't get me wrong, I like the Money in the Bank matches because it is the WWE's current way of showing who will be the World Champions of tomorrow. But there are a few differences between the King of the Ring and the Money in the Bank match.
Unlike the King of the Ring, with the Money in the Bank match you're in the ring with 8 (or sometimes 6 or 7) wrestlers at the very same time. You don't have to face these guys in singles matches. In fact, you really don't have to beat anyone! You could just coast the match by staying down most of it, and at the opportune time, sneak into the ring, climb up the ladder, and remove the briefcase. It's that easy. And that's the keyword here: Opportunity. Ask every guy whose won it and cashed it in (except for Rob Van Dam who actually cashed in on John Cena in a real match, which is the way a face should cash it in). There's no credibility in grabbing a briefcase off a ladder and cashing it in on a tired, worn down champion after a long, brutal match or a vicious beatdown. All its for is SHOCK VALUE.
That's why the King of the Ring is so much better for a superstar's career. They go up against other guys and actually have to get a clean victories without losing. The original King of the Rings where a wrestler had to wrestle 3 matches on PPV gave it all the more credibility because if you could claim 2 victories in the 1st two rounds then show up on PPV and fight 3 more guys who advanced as well and not lose 1 match? No one would consider this guy to be a fluke. And even after all that, its not like they get an automatic World Championship shot (except for Brock in 2006). They still have to fight for that!
I feel Vince McMahon needs to reconsider bringing back this prestigious event. With all the whack gimmick PPV's these days, I just find the WWE and the PG era to be cheesy and unoriginal. I mean, having a Hell in a Cell PPV and just using the structure as something to hold in 2 superstars that in most cases won't even use the cage to their advantage? If you're going to do that, at least give the stars in said match a reason to be in the Cell!
You want a unique, original PPV concept Vince? BRING BACK THE KING OF THE RING! Maybe it faded into obscurity over time because the PPV buyrates were down, but you can't exactly blame the event for that, I would blame the product. Perhaps if it came back now, fans would accept it once again. To be honest, I'm glad WWE removed the event before they made a mockery of it. At least it still holds its prestige and honor, and wasn't won by some hack who didn't deserve it (like Santino Marella's character for example).
The KOTR wasn't meant for shock value, it was meant to make stars. And in this day and age where the WWE is lacking in main event stars, this is the PERFECT way to give someone like John Morrison, Dolph Ziggler, Daniel Bryan, Ted DiBiase or even Evan Bourne that extra push and credibility they need to finally reach main event status.
So in conclusion, I just feel the King of the Ring should return to PPV. Not a Raw or Smackdown exclusive showcase, but its own event that culminates at its own PPV. And do it old school style by having the traditional 4 rounds (1st and 2nd rounds on TV and the quarter, semi and final matches on PPV). And with the brand issue you could just have 8 Raw stars and 8 Smackdown stars face each other and that way the winner could truly be the best of the best in the whole WWE!
Just something to think about.
And that's a wrap.