Wrestling History Lesson: King of the Ring Throughout the Years | Smark Out Moment

Wrestling History Lesson: King of the Ring Throughout the Years

Posted by ARYAN MALHOTRA Sunday, September 22, 2019
The classic King of the Ring tournament just concluded this past week with Baron Corbin taking on the throne. For years, fans have craved the return of the tournament, so the 2019 reemergence was met with great appreciation, even if the outcome wasn't what people wanted. With that came a new format, so now more than ever is the best time to take a look back on the history of this classic tradition.

A multiple competitor single elimination tournament, it has had 21 different iterations from 1985 to 2019. The non-championship system has been used to build up stocks of wrestlers by creating an aura, and has often presented many memorable and influential moments in professional wrestling.

Let's explore the history, impact and evolution of the tournament through all of its years.

King's throne tournament of wrestling

Royal Beginnings

Tournament wwe king of the ring first Don Muraco wins
Don Muraco, first ever winner
The first event was produced as a non pay-per-view live show on July 8, 1985 at Sullivan Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts to an attendance of 23,000 fans.

15 matches took place that night, with Pedro Morales receiving a bye in the quarterfinals due to a double disqualification between Paul Orndorff and Cowboy Bob Orton. The only match on the card not involved in the King of the Ring tournament was Hulk Hogan's successful championship defense against Nikolai Volkoff.

The final was Iron Sheik losing to who would become the first-ever King of the Ring, future Hall of Famer Don Muraco.

Most of the competitors were, at the time, midcard talent, and this tournament had no bearing on the television product, but would slowly become an annual tradition, gaining more exposure and importance in programming..

Evolution of the Format

bracket format matches of competitors in 2019 king of the ring

The second tournament had a more complicated structure due to several bye rounds and two pre-tournament matches having direct second-entry entrances. The next few years followed the original format, as the show shifted from a live event and show to its own pay-per-view in 1993. These shows had the quarterfinals and beyond, with qualifying matches to these being held on WWE TV prior.

1996-1998 had all matches on TV till the semi finals and finals on the PPV. But 1999 and 2000 televised quarter-finals as well, while the last two 2001 and 2002 again showcased just the semi finals and finals on the PPV.

The next 2006 edition had 8 men and it went on SmackDown and the finals on the PPV Judgement Day. 2008 held 8 men with all matches being on one episode of Raw. 2010 was Interbrand held on one episode of Raw and one on SmackDown, with 8 men total after winning their qualifying matches and the finals finally going down on tribute to the troops. 2015 had 8 men with quarterfinals on Raw, and then the semi finals and finals as one show on the Network. Finally 2019 had all matches weekly on Raw and SmackDown while the finals went on an episode of Raw.


WWE 2K video game PS4 custom creation area King of the ring

The level of importance given to the winner of this tournament has varied from being considered a main eventer, top mid-card guy or just an afterthought. While at the beginning it was just seen as a house show attraction, it has evolved to be a whole gimmick and way of elevation for superstars. Sometimes the winner gets offered a direct title match, involvement in certain prize grabbing situations or nothing at all. The pattern that evolves is that the significance skyrocketed when King Of The Ring was turned into a pay per view show, but slowly started receding as it was removed from this status. As of 2019 it remains to be seen, but as predictions go it will probably elevate Corbin to an important figure of the semi-main events yet again.

Notable Moments

Austin 3:16 interview speaks after victory
Birth of Austin 3:16

  • Austin 3:16 is born after Steve Austin beats Jake Roberts in the finals and gives the iconic interview still cherished to this day.
  • Edge is exemplified as an Ultimate Opportunist after using Shane McMahon's attack on Angle to win the tournament for himself.
  • 1995's show was notorious as one of the worst WWE shows ever produced with a lot of backlash.
  • Bret Hart wins two tournaments in consecutive editions.
  • Bret Hart, the winner of the tournament has a rivalry with Jerry Lawler who is the "King" by name over true rights. It gets dirty with a Kiss my foot match.
  • Of course the PPV apart from the tournament directly had many noteworthy moments with the biggest being 1998 Undertaker VS Mankind.

Top 5 Matches

Triple H VS Manking 1997 finals announce table king of the ring

5. Chris Jericho VS Rob Van Dam (2002)

This one was simple and effective, with two highly skilled wrestlers trading a variety of moves and counters to reach the finals. While Jericho does try his best to use cheap tactics, it came down eventually to the walls of Jericho bowing down to the Five Star Frog Splash and taking RVD ahead.

4 Triple H VS Mankind (1997)

The finals of 1997 saw a match filled with backstories and a playout of this omnipresent rivalry in the then WWF. HHH was at his heel best here, with assistance from Chyna and saw a lot of spot reliance on the announcer's table, concrete. etc. It was a dramatic sequence, with Triple H picking up the win after constant kick outs by the underdog Foley.

3.Stone Cold Steve Austin VS Marc Mero (1996)

Marc Mero, despite his talent, is not a typical name you would expect to see in a 'Top 5' list of WWE, specially considering the other names in this conversation. But this unexpectedly great match up surely deserves its spot, with eventual tournament winner Steve Austin beating the former Johnny B. Bad in the Semi-Finals and one of the latter's early appearances after moving from WCW. It opened the Pay-Per-View up with a hard hitting competition that would add to Austin's claims before winning the finals and becoming Austin 3:16.

2. Bret Hart VS Bam Bam Bigelow (1993)

The finals of the 1993 edition had a classic big man getting chopped down by a technician story- executed wonderfully. Bret overcomes the injuries from his previous matches, interferences and constant brutality by Bigelow to win, to cap off the amazing tourney with two of the best matches on it.

1. Bret Hart VS Mr.Perfect (1993)

The semi-finals of 1993 takes space as the best KOTR match in my opinion, and can be argued as one of the classics of all time. Just an all out technical contest, with heel Mr. Perfect using all cunning tricks at his disposal but failing to shut down the relentless Hitman. The small package reversal ending is still iconic, and was the tip to a bright story showcased in this match-up and taking Hart to the finals.

Top 5 Winners

two kings at war for WWE's crown rivalry

5. Kurt Angle: The future looked bright for Angle from the start as an Olympic Gold Medalist turned wrestler who was very fast at perfecting the skills. Winning the tournament was an effective step in showcasing his potential and building him up.

4. Triple H: One of the most influential and top superstars of the WWE, used a victory at the King Of The Ring tournament to maintain an upward build of prominence. Using Chyna and being a snobby bad guy, Hunter picked up the tournament win and took over as the King of Kings.

3. Brock Lesnar: The Beast Incarnate was always positioned to be a dominating star, and the KOTR was an early example of that. Lesnar easily crushed all others in his way, and came out the definite victor - furthering his streak of terror.

2. Stone Cold Steve Austin: Perhaps the biggest phenomenon in the history of wrestling, started the wave with an astounding performance- verbally, in ring and character wise- in the King of the Ring Tournament and birthed Austin 3:16. His impact and role to this tournament is not understated and changed the course of professional wrestling severely.

1. Bret Hart: The only person to win the tournament twice, and that too two years in a row. And he was a part of the two of the best matches. Does anything else even need to be said about him being the best here? Just using his in ring techniques and constantly surviving and fighting back made for entertaining TV with a gripping tournament wrestler.

King Gimmicks of the Tournament

Royal family as King and Queen together win WWE tournamentJerry "The King" Lawler has never won the tournament, and Ken Shamrock has never been King Ken despite winning the tournament. The use of a victory in the personality of a character varies often, with some directly going through a king gimmick while others being the top dogs as metaphorical kings.

It started off in 1986 with the second winner Harley Race using a proper cape and king attire to be a conceited king. Upon his injury, his manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan gave the title to Haku and so began a transfer of this title to King Hacksaw Jim Duggan and then the Macho King Randy Savage who abandoned the title on losing his career threatening Mania match to Ultimate Warrior. Overall different characters have adopted the king status in a variety of ways- Owen Hart, Kurt Angle, Mabel, Edge, Sheamus, Bad News Barrett and Booker T. Triple H and William Regal also took unique approaches to integrate it into their already authoritative roles on programming.

Even associates of the winner have been given similar titles, with the female partners being called Queen such as The Fabulous Moolah, Sensational Sherri and Sharmell. And Mabel's partner Mo was "Knighted" as well.

Current Scenario

King of the ring 2019 winner Corbin on throne

This year's King of the Ring tournament was a 16-man single-elimination tournament with 8 from Raw and 8 from SmackDown, originally scheduled to be all matches on Raw and SmackDown but finals on the PPV Clash of Champions, but the finals was later changed to be on an episode of Raw, too. It had one triple threat match in the semifinals, and even had a replacement competitor as Shane McMahon replaced the injured Elias to advance the storyline of Kevin Owens vs. McMahon. The tournament hosted many interesting matches with talent like Chad Gable, Ali, Cesaro, Samoa Joe, Ricochet, Buddy Murphy, Drew McIntyre, and more, along with a much better than expected performance from the eventual winner, Baron Corbin.

Classroom in a school studying

This ends this session of discussing the King of the Ring tournament, and the homework questions are as follows:

How often do you think this tournament should be held? What format should be followed in the future? Should the King gimmick continue to be used or not? And finally, what are your favorite moments, matches and winners? Thank you for attending this class and see you next time.

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