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Last week on Monday Night Raw, WWE announced the return of the King of the Ring tournament. In my Raw Primer earlier today, I delve a bit into the history of the event which began in 1985 with the “Magnificent” Muraco becoming the inaugural winner. Back then it was not available to us as a PPV until 1993, where we saw Bret “Hit Man” Hart win it just a few months after dropping the WWF Championship to the late Yokozuna at WrestleMania. Ironically, that night Yokozuna regained the title from Hulk Hogan, the man to whom he dropped the title immediately after beating Bret.
Back before 1993, you had to go to the video store and hope they had a good selection of WWF videos if you wanted to see these tournaments. To be quite honest, I don’t remember and doubt as a kid I saw any of these events. I do, however, remember renting the WWF Wrestling Classic, which took place in the same year as the first King of the Ring tournament about six months or so later. The Junkyard Dog won that defeating Randy “Macho Man” Savage in the finals. My next impression of a WWF tournament was WrestleMania IV, which of course saw Savage win the vacant WWF Championship, beating “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase in the finals.
Enter 1993-2002 which saw a who’s who of WWE Hall of Famers go on to win the PPV-televised tournament. That list includes Bret, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Triple H (inducted as a member of DX if we want to get technical), Kurt Angle, and Edge. Brock Lesnar won the final PPV offering in 2002 and I would imagine he will get the call to the hall when all is said and done.
The tournament came back, on and off, for episodes of Raw in 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2015. Another Hall of Famer Booker T took the crown in 2006. Current NXT general manager William Regal took ’08, Sheamus in ’10, and “I’m afraid I’ve got some Bad News” Barrett was the last winner in ’15. The tournament then took a four-year absence before WWE made its announcement last week.
Why am I talking about all of this? I was on the PWTorc Dailycasts Sunday show, “Wresting Night in America,” with long-time PWTorch columnist Greg Parks a few weeks ago and he asked me if WWE was capable of doing tournament-style wrestling. This came up because I decided to sign up for New Japan World this year in time for Dominion and the G1 tournament. We spoke about the G1 for about 45 minutes amongst ourselves and with long-time caller Durrell from Georgia. My thought was if they really wanted to do it, they’d commit to doing it like anything else. I was skeptical of this happening under Vince McMahon’s watch (not really thinking about the King of the Ring history). If Triple H had any say in the matter, then I had no doubt.
We’ve seen the Cruiserweight, Mae Young, and Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classics as well NXT’s recent Breakout Tournament. I think it’s fair to say all have been well-received and the discussion of all was always enjoyable. I also said with tournaments, you can take a break from storytelling and let the the tournament write itself. The matches will tell the stories in an organic way and you have material going forward. That’s typically not Vince’s WWE way, as they feel they need stories and gimmicks to lead to matches. My reasoning for doing tournaments would be Vince’s reason not to do them, as Greg pointed out and I totally understand that.
Here we are now in August of 2019, and WWE is getting ready to roll out the King of the Ring. They haven’t stated if the winner gets anything, so we’ll see what happens there. With the players currently in the brackets, there’s an opportunity to elevate a bunch of people. Ali could win the tournament as a matter of redemption. We all remember him being pulled from Elimination Chamber earlier in the year due to injury, and thus the opportunity exists for him to say this was his way back and he can earn a WWE Championship match with Kofi Kingston by winning the tournament.
They’ve been bringing the story up lately, so you have to figure there’s interest in digging into it, especially given Ali’s promos as of late. Cedric Alexander, Chad Gable, Ricochet, or Andrade could win as well and elevate them to the main event status. I’ll get to Andrade and Ricochet, but it would be shocking to see Cedric or Chad win for sure. Why not do it, though? It would be something different and give WWE a chance to elevate someone we didn’t think they’d want to elevate.
I get the sense that’s not in the cards. In recent years, WWE seems to like to agitate their fans thinking that it puts heat on certain acts. The minute I saw the brackets I saw what I feared, and that was Baron Corbin. Now look, Corbin has his place on the roster. He’s useful in a certain way, but not in the way Vince has used him since bringing him to Raw last year. He overstayed his welcome in the main event scene and buried acts like Finn Balor and Ricochet when they feuded, even if you think they recovered down the line. This is a dude that failed to cash in his Money in the Bank on Jinder Mahal! Anyway, not to ramble on about Corbin, but this tournament has his name written all over it.
I could see Vince thinking that this would put good heat on Corbin as he comes out bragging he’s the King. Come on now, you know you can see him coming out in the robe, wearing the crown, and carrying the scepter. If this happens, I know where I and a lot of fans would like to put that scepter. The other fear I have is Vince thinks this will work for Elias. I could see him getting a kick out of him coming out in king gear, playing his guitar, and making royal proclamations. Stop for a second and think and you know I’m not completely crazy to think this way. Sami Zayn or Cesaro would be better choices if they want to go that route. I could get into King Sami and get even more into King Cesaro. Cesaro is the type of guy that fits these tournaments a little better if you look at the history of the gimmick.
That’s just it, it’s a gimmick. It’s worked or not worked depending on your taste. The 1986 winner Harley Race parlayed it into a gimmick and I just don’t know that a guy that had all-world matches with Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes really wanted to walk around in king gear. It worked, though, and he played it well. They passed it onto Haku, Jim Duggan, and Macho Man which was not consistent with who won the tournaments in that era.
You then had King Mabel, King Booker, King Sheamus, and King Barrett. Mabel parlayed it into a terrible championship match with Diesel at SummerSlam ’95. Booker parlayed it into being World Champion. Sheamus got the crown after being super-pushed upon his bringing up to the main roster from ECW, but didn’t do much with it afterwards that sticks out to me unless I’m missing something. Barrett was mostly a jobber after winning in 2015, then asked for his release a year later. I don’t remember others really running with the gimmick and if there were, forgive me. (If I did leave someone out, let me know: @FrankPeteani)
I get the sense that Vince still views it as a gimmick, and probably something he feels could elevate Andrade. As Wade Keller mentioned on his VIP Wade Keller Hotline a few days ago, he could see Andrade as the king and Zelina Vega as the queen. “All hail King Andrade” would come out of her mouth every week. It’s not that I don’t like that idea, but is that a sign that they don’t view Andrade as a potential title contender? Vince sometimes uses these gimmicks as a way of giving somebody “something,” and I just think Andrade is better than that. I’m not saying I need to see Andrade win a title necessarily, but as I just mentioned we’ve seen people recently win the tourney and go on to do jobs. I worry about Drew McIntyre in the same light. I could see Vince thinking he needs to be “King McIntyre” in order to get to that next level. Again, I’m not against that. I just worry it’s a kiss-off and a way to give him a gimmick and not a way to elevate him as this tournament should. You could put Ricochet in this category too. Coming out in King gear would mess up his entrance though, wouldn’t it?
Owen Hart got a boost by winning in ’94. We all know about Stone Cold in ’96. Triple H obviously advanced up the card after winning in ’97. Angle in ’00 went on to big things. Edge in ’01 was better for it, and we know about the success of Brock Lesnar. Recent history of the tournament and WWE booking in general in recent years makes me skeptical. Perhaps I’m expecting a lot given I’ve just watched the G1. The matches mean something, the winner gains something, and things are set up throughout the tournament.
I don’t expect WWE to act like New Japan as each promotion is who they are, but this tournament should be used as a mechanism to further storylines and give the winner something meaningful. You have a great potential first round match in Ali vs. Buddy Murphy. Go watch their no-DQ match from 205 Live last year. Ricochet vs. Drew McIntyre has potential, as does Samoa Joe vs. Cesaro. Joe isn’t even a crazy choice to win this even though I put him in the lower end of possibilities. Cedric Alexander vs. Sami Zayn could be a real sleeper. Even Apollo Crew vs. Andrade has some potential. I’m really curious what they do with Chad Gable vs. Shelton Benjamin.
Vince, please use this to elevate the people in the tournament and set things up for the ensuing months. Don’t use this to agitate people and shove Baron Corbin down our throats just because you think it’s good heat. It’s not.
Follow Frank on Twitter @FrankPeteani. Read his Raw and Smackdown Primers Monday and Tuesday, respectively, right here at PWTorch.