WWE King of the Ring: Everything You Need to Know About Historical Tournament

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistAugust 18, 2019

WWE King of the Ring: Everything You Need to Know About Historical Tournament

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The King of the Ring tournament is one steeped in tradition and opportunity.

    For the Superstars lucky enough to win the tournament, significant pushes and championship accolades have awaited. Bret Hart, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Triple H, Edge and Brock Lesnar all began their journeys to sports entertainment excellence by conquering the competition within.

    They were able to ride the momentum that came from winning the tournament to leap to the next level and establish themselves as sure-fire Hall of Famers.

    Beginning Monday, eight Superstars from Raw and eight from SmackDown will vie for the opportunity to follow in their footsteps and achieve greatness in WWE.

    Who will emerge victoriously, and what history and tradition will they look to uphold in their pursuit of superiority?

    Find out with this look at the tournament, its rich history and the men who will vie for the crown in 2019.

A Royal History

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    Foxborough, Massachusetts, may be home to the kings of the gridiron, but on July 8, 1985, it was home to the inaugural King of the Ring tournament. Hardly the illustrious event it would evolve into later, it featured a hodgepodge of midcarders and opening match acts and culminated with Don "The Rock" Muraco defeating Junkyard Dog, Les Thornton, Pedro Morales and The Iron Sheik to claim the crown.

    That event was a house show gimmick, an idea dreamed up to drive fans to the arenas. It had zero impact on the television product or any ongoing storylines. Muraco never wore a crown to the ring, nor did he use the moniker to get himself over. Unless you were in Foxborough that night, there was no indication that anything significant happened.

    That would not be the case in future incarnations of the tournament.

    In 1986, veteran Harley Race defeated Morales to win the tournament and become the first Superstar for whom the crown became ingrained in his on-screen persona. The grizzled former NWA world heavyweight champion became "King" Harley Race, a midcard villain in the hated Heenan Family. At a time when his body was breaking down, he found life as one of the larger-than-life characters that dominated McMahonland in the mid-to-late-1980s.

    Randy Savage, Ted DiBiase and Tito Santana would win other non-televised King of the Ring tournaments that had zero impact on what they were doing across WWE television.

    In 1993, eager to expand the pay-per-view schedule, Vince McMahon introduced the King of the Ring as a three-hour spectacular. Bret Hart, winner of the unseen 1991 tournament, would become the first Superstar to win twice.

    In the years that followed, King of the Ring became an annual opportunity for one Superstar to break through the proverbial glass ceiling. Whether it was Owen Hart dubbing himself The King of Harts, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin ushering in the era of Austin 3:16 or Brock Lesnar paying off his Next Big Thing persona, the biggest stars and future Hall of Famers launched to stardom with victories in the tournament.

    After disappearing from the pay-per-view schedule in 2002, the tournament returned intermittently, oftentimes marking the start of a high-profile push for an underutilized talent.

    Booker T rode the King Booker gimmick to a world heavyweight title, William Regal was on his way to that achievement and Wade Barrett reinvented himself in the face of mediocrity.

    The tournament has, over the years, been responsible for jumpstarting careers, rebuilding stars and adding the last hint of credibility necessary for a man to go on a long-awaited singles run. That fate hopefully awaits the winner of this year's 16-man field.

The 2019 Bracket

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    The 2019 King of the Ring tournament field may not be the most star-studded, but it is rife with talented in-ring performers, all of whom could use the spark that would come along with a win in the tournament.

    Eight Superstars from Raw and eight from SmackDown will vie for the crown and the increased exposure and significance that comes with it.

    The first-round matches, announced at WWE.com, are as follows:

    Cesaro vs. Samoa Joe (August 19)

    Ricochet vs. Drew McIntyre (TBD)

    Cedric Alexander vs. Sami Zayn (August 19)

    The Miz vs. Baron Corbin (TBD)

    Kevin Owens vs. Elias (August 20)

    Ali vs. Buddy Murphy (TBD)

    Chad Gable vs. Shelton Benjamin (TBD)

    Apollo Crews vs. Andrade (August 20)

       

    The tournament concludes on September 15 at WWE's Clash of Champions pay-per-view extravaganza.

Favorites to Win in 2019

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    This year's tournament, unlike years past, features a handful of competitors who could foreseeably claim the crown.

    Buddy Murphy is fresh off a show-stealing performance against Roman Reigns on Tuesday's episode of SmackDown Live and will battle Daniel Bryan on the upcoming broadcast. While it remains to be seen just how serious WWE officials are about the Australian's push, he is the type of Superstar who could benefit from the boost a win in the tournament provides.

    Cesaro has long been a performer who has every tool it takes between the ropes but has lacked that one necessary element to excel at the next level. Some will say it is his promo ability, but the right character has eluded him throughout his WWE run. Being an obnoxious, even oblivious, king may be just what the Swiss Superman needs to smash the glass ceiling.

    The more obvious candidates are Samoa Joe, Ricochet, Drew McIntyre and Kevin Owens, all of whom spent the last year in high-profile positions on the roster.

    Owens is quickly developing into the face of SmackDown Live, thanks in large part to his feud with Shane McMahon. Everything else done to this point to get him there is right out of the Steve Austin playbook so a King of the Ring victory would follow suit.

    Joe is almost too much of a badass to wear the crown, but it would add to his swagger and give him a new wrinkle to his character beyond "Samoan badass."

    Ricochet made a name for himself on the independent scene as King Ricochet, so he certainly has experience with a crown. The problem with him winning is the gimmick has always been better suited to heels who can tout their superiority over the rest of the roster. As a neat little addition that could sell merch and action figures, sure. As a valuable addition to the overall Ricochet package, it is unnecessary.

    McIntyre makes the most sense of any potential victor.

    The Scottish Psychopath has wallowed in mediocrity in 2019, portrayed as Shane McMahon's heavy or Roman Reigns' punching bag. He has been his typically excellent self between the ropes, but from a character standpoint, he has lost his edge. Winning the tournament, against the stellar competition, would be a huge boost for him.

    A situation in which he portrayed a ruthless king, embracing the title and reigning over the roster, would be a nice way to reestablish him as a threat to everyone rather than having him be the lackluster muscle who cannot beat the same guys Shane-O-Mac can. It would erase the bad taste of that on-screen relationship and give McIntyre the renewed push he never should have lost in the first place.

What It Means to Be King

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    Whichever Superstar emerges from the field of 16 to win the tournament and etch their name in the record books will benefit exponentially from the experience. History dictates that Vinnie Mac only dusts off the King of the Ring concept when he is looking to start a significant push for a given performer.

    While the argument could also be made that it is a ratings grab or an answer to the highly successful New Japan Pro-Wrestling G-1 Climax tournament that has captivated social media this summer, there is enough evidence in recent weeks to suggest the Chairman of the Board is attempting to create new stars to shine alongside the likes of Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Kofi Kingston and Randy Orton.

    A win for the aforementioned Ricochet, Joe or Owens would essentially make for the continuation of their steady pushes. For Murphy, Cesaro, Chad Gable, Ali or Cedric Alexander, a win would be career-altering and provide them with an opportunity they may have figured was never coming.

    Yes, the tournament may prove to be little more than a plot device or a cheap attempt to push a star to the forefront without having to work to get them over. We have witnessed that in the past, with King Mabel and Billy Gunn, two Superstars who were not ready or over enough to justify their triumphs. That is a distinct possibility and would not be the first time WWE has failed to learn from past mistakes.

    All signs point to the winner of this tournament exploding into the atmosphere breathed only by the top acts in WWE, though, and establishing themselves as one of the faces of the company's bright future.

    If not, this is yet another example of a missed opportunity by a creative team that has been letting far too many of those slip away this past year.