Hello folks! With its return already underway, I believe it’s the right time to take us on a journey. However, instead of ranking every KOTR winner, we’re highlighting some of the King of the Ring’s best & worst winners. I’m gonna list my personal fave five, along with my worst five. We’re dedicating this to Harley Race, the second-ever King of the Ring winner. RIP King Harley.
As an honorable mention, I’d like to include Booker T. While I didn’t particularly enjoy his time as king, I know how much it sticks in the minds of some. His win is probably the most memorable of recent times. While he & Sharmell got in to the gimmick in a big way, I personally did not enjoy or hate it enough to include in my best & worst.
#5 – Billy Gunn (1999)
Ironically, the first winner in this list was also the first time I saw KOTR in action. The matches were short, and all signs pointed to the Big Show winning (he was on the poster .. but lost in the quarters to Kane). Crazily enough, the longest match was Road Dogg going over Chyna in a quarter-final. And you know? It was all about D-Generation X. You know it’s a bad tournament when Billy Gunn and X-Pac are the finalists.
12-year-old me was a fan of Billy Gunn though. When someone wins a tournament like this, generally you’d expect the winner to get some kind of reward. But no, ‘Mr Ass’ got screwed over. His win was quickly brushed under the rug so he could help Triple H against X-Pac & Road Dogg over the rights to DX. And really, the only push he got involved The Rock. A feud culminating with a match at SummerSlam? Sounds like progress right? Not quite. Billy Gunn went up against The Rock in a “Kiss My Ass” match.
He lost in ten minutes. And instead of having to kiss “The People’s Ass” .. he was made to kiss the ass of an eager, obese woman. When winning King of the Ring buries you so hard you end up in the ass of a fan? Then uhh .. it can’t get much worse than that? Oh, I think it can. King of the Ring has certainly had its fair share of failures. In the video below, The Rock buries Billy Gunn with a promo on Heat.
#4 – Mabel (1995)
There’s several lists out there, labeling Mabel’s 1995 win as the worst decision in King of the Ring history. And I wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling that way. The show of the same name, is also considered to be one of the worst WWE PPV of all time. 1995 was a sucky year for wrestling in general, as only ECW had any kind of hype. And in the WWF, while holding back guys like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, Mr. McMahon figured he’d push Diesel, Mabel, and even Savio Vega. Many fans were praying The Undertaker would get past the quarter-finals .. but it didn’t happen.
After Shawn Michaels was knocked out due to a time-limit draw with Kama, the tournament was doomed. Even with Razor Ramon in his corner, it was difficult for fans to care about Vega. And as Mabel spent much of his time in a tag team, no one was begging the WWF to push him as a main event singles wrestler. What I chalk this down to, is Vince McMahon desperately trying to create new stars. However, Mabel did get a push towards the WWF Championship, but failed with each opportunity. His push was halted immediately after The Undertaker picked up an injury in a match involving him.
While the crowd littered the stage during Mabel’s coronation, and while some believe he was the worst ever winner, some positives can be found. Firstly, Mabel actually got a push, unlike Billy Gunn. And secondly, King of the Ring returned annually for the next seven years. If the win was so universally panned, surely it would’ve killed the concept long before others got their chance to shine?
#3 – William Regal (2008)
It took 18 tournaments spanning 23 years, but in 2008 we finally got a British KOTR winner. Being a UK fan supporting William Regal as best I could, all I wanted was to see WWE using him to his full potential. And as the Raw General Manager, it was the perfect setup to garner some serious heat. Booking himself in the tournament .. let alone against Hornswoggle in the quarter-final, was enough to get fans riled up.
But you know what? This tournament sucked balls. The matches were exceptionally short, and the only big names involved were Chris Jericho and a young CM Punk. While I was a big fan of Regal, it didn’t make sense to see him go over CM Punk in the finals; unless Vince had something big in store. After all was said and done, and Regal was crowned, it all unraveled from there. What should have been a glorious heel run for one of the UK’s most popular wrestler’s of all time, died prematurely due to his violation the wellness policy. He was suspended for 60 days, and all the hard work was undone. A real shame.
#2 – Sheamus (2010)
Speaking of shameful, Sheamus showed us how not to do it. Much like the previous tourney, KOTR 2010 took place on episodes of Raw & SmackDown. And the participants? Well, let’s just say it didn’t include any seriously big names outside of Rey Mysterio & Big Show (who lost in the first round). Sheamus didn’t even have to work the semi-final, due to Drew McIntyre & Ezekial Jackson’s double countout. He got to the final and defeated John Morrison in 12 minutes.
Again, this tourney was plagued with short matches with little storytelling or purpose. The final provided the best storytelling, as John Morrison csold a bad shoulder injury he’d picked up against Alberto Del Rio. As King Sheamus, you’d think he’d get a push of some kind? Wrong! He went up against John Morrison again in a ladder match, and lost the chance to become #1 contender. So let me get this straight? It was the runner up who ended up with the title shot? How does that work?
The main point here is .. King Sheamus flopped so hard that we lost King of the Ring for the next FIVE years! He brought nothing to the gimmick, and the decision to make him the winner (because he’s Triple H’s gym buddy?) resulted in the concept being dropped from such a great height .. we never expected to see it again.
#1 – Bad News Barrett (2015)
“I’m Afraid I’ve Got Some Bad News!” Damn I loved that gimmick. Still appreciate Wade Barrett for everything he’s done. But you know what? KOTR 2015 sucked so badly .. the only reason we got it back is because (God Bless his soul) Harley Race passed. Does anyone honestly think WWE would’ve brought it back otherwise? Especially after this.
What started with some live matches on Raw, turned in to the semi-finals & finals only being broadcast over the WWE Network. The list of competitors included: Bad News Barrett, Dolph Ziggler, R-Truth, Stardust, Dean Ambrose, Luke Harper, Sheamus and Neville. As a UK fan, I couldn’t be happier to see two English talents battling it out in the Finals. Honestly .. I didn’t care who won. But looking back, I wish it was Neville, because this “victory” killed Barrett’s career. Before this, he’d gained notoriety for delivering bad news in entertaining fashion. So much so .. that WWE needed to kill it because he was meant to be a heel, and they didn’t want him getting cheered.
After becoming King Barrett, he got counted out on purpose against Neville at Payback. Also, he was the first to be eliminated in the Elimination Chamber. At Money in the Bank, he lost to R-Truth .. who proceeded to mock him by becoming “King What’s Up”. He did beat Truth at Battleground, but his career continued on the downward spiral. He teamed up with Stardust. Then he teamed up with Sheamus. And finally, he joined the “League Of Nations”. Literally one year after his KOTR win .. he asked for his release. So in this instance, claiming the crown killed his WWE career, and was certainly the biggest case of bad news he ever received. The only decent video I could find is here: Barrett vs. Neville
#5 – Kurt Angle (2000)
Let’s turn that frown upside down with some good winners! Kurt Angle is probably the best KOTR winner during the Attitude Era. Not only did he have to win five matches to be crowned (more than anyone), but he was immediately thrust in to the main event picture in a love triangle feud with Triple H & Stephanie McMahon. Enduring this got him some screen time with Stone Cold Steve Austin, and shortly thereafter, a WWF Championship match against The Rock at No Mercy.
And the Olympic Gold Medalist never looked back! It could easily be stated it was King of the Ring which helped to springboard his career to the next level. He’d worked so hard on improving every aspect of his game, and this was reward for his passion and dedication. With this title victory over The Rock, he made history as the first Olympic Gold Medalist to win a pro wrestling World Heavyweight Championship. It’s true! It’s damn true! Many place this win highly due it being so memorable.
#4 – Randy Savage (1987)
While Don Muraco and Harley Race helped to kick start King of the Ring, it was ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage who took it to the next level. Despite being a heel in 1987, his rising popularity was hard to deny. The win helped to show the world he was ready for the big time. As we know, he went on to WrestleMania IV and won another tournament to become WWF Champion for over a year. He was the first wrestler to seriously benefit from winning King of the Ring.
Yet, it wasn’t only his WWF Championship win which made it so great. Due to Harley Race picking up a stomach injury, he passed his crown on to Haku. Eventually, Jim Duggan challenged him for the crown and won. Randy Savage took it from Duggan in 1989 and became known as the “Macho King”. And for anyone aware of his work, they will know his time as the Macho King brought some of his greatest moments. Even as a heel, Randy Savage was a major draw and competitor against the likes of Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior and other babyfaces. Aside from perhaps Jerry “The King” Lawler, no one pulled off being a King as well as Randy Savage did.
#3 – Owen Hart (1994)
Perhaps this is ranked higher than others might, but after all, this is a personal list. Reeling from the high of stealing the show in the opening match of WrestleMania X, Owen Hart was definitely owed something over his brother. And luckily, Bret didn’t participate in King of the Ring that year, leaving him with a fair crack at the crown. After going through Doink the Clown, Tatanka, 1-2-3 Kid, and lastly Razor Ramon, Owen could finally call himself the ‘King Of Harts’.
1994 was ten times better than 1995, largely due to the feud between Owen & Bret. Their 30+ minute steel cage match at SummerSlam earned them a 5-star rating. And after almost being announced as WWF Champion in a lumberjack match, it’s safe to say that 1994, along with his KOTR win, was the biggest year of Owen Hart’s career. No, he didn’t go on to become WWF Champion or anything, but it showed the world he was more than capable of going with main event stars. His win wasn’t wasted, and everyone who remembers those times .. will always know how loved he was. Also, he looked so great wearing the royal garb. RIP Owen.
#2 – Bret Hart (1991 & 1993)
You know his matches always stole the show. It baffles me when Bret isn’t included highly on anyone’s list. Not only did KOTR solidify him as a main event player, it did so during a time when the WWF was losing names like the Ultimate Warrior, Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan. So the timing was so important to the continued business of the WWF in the early-to-mid 90’s. And without Bret getting as popular as he did? We may never have seen his classic match with Steve Austin at WrestleMania.
In 1991, Bret had just split from Jim Neidhart after WrestleMania VII. Needing to prove himself as a singles wrestlers, he won the Intercontinental Championship at SummerSlam, and proceeded to win King of the Ring a month later. It wasn’t exactly a difficult bracket though, as he only needed to defeat Pete Doherty, Skinner, and IRS. He would’ve faced The Undertaker in the semi-final, but The Deadman fought to a double DQ against Sid Justice. What is it with The Deadman getting screwed in this thing?
Fast forward to 1993, and Bret was included in the first King of the Ring PPV. After defeating Razor Ramon, Mr. Perfect and Bam Bam Bigelow, he made history as the first man to win KOTR on a PPV, and the first to win it twice. With Hulk Hogan scheduled to leave for WCW, it was perfect timing to set The Hitman up for his next WWF title reign, which started when he defeated Yokozuna in the main event of WrestleMania X. The only reason it’s not #1? Is because it’s not as synonymous with KOTR as the next winner. It’s hard to deny that Bret is the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.
#1 – Stone Cold Steve Austin (1996)
The predictable choice, but the right choice. While his promo after winning King of the Ring 1996 could be considered one of the greatest of all time, it did not springboard ‘Stone Cold’ to super stardom right away. But what it did do, was show the world he’d arrived. It’s often considered the birth of the character, although he’d already showed signs of it. The simple phrase “Austin 3:16” helped his character’s popularity considerably. So much so, it’s hard to imagine the Attitude Era without it. This was a vital ingredient in the makeup of the world’s most beloved wrestler. On the way to defeating Jake Roberts in the final, Austin picked up wins over Bob Holly, Savio Vega and Marc Mero.
But yet, this classic moment almost didn’t happen. Due to the “Curtain Call” (I may do something on this soon), it was decided the original winner Triple H would be scrapped as punishment. It was such a revealing incident that Vince McMahon had to admit elements of wrestling were scripted, and instead, went with Steve Austin as that years winner. Taking it on the chin, Triple H proved himself and would go on to win the following years tournament. So in a way, The Kliq inadvertently gave Austin the opportunity to make a name for himself .. and boy did he ever!
Which King of the Ring’s do you think are the best? And which are the worst? Please let us know. Thanks for reading everyone! See you next time.
Austin: “The first thing I want to be done, is to get that piece of crap out of my ring. Don’t just get him out of the ring, get him out of the WWF because I’ve proved son, without a shadow of a doubt, you ain’t got what it takes anymore! 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!”
Hendrix: “Come on, that’s not necessary.”
Austin: “All he’s gotta do is go buy him a cheap bottle of Thunderbird and try to dig back some of that courage he had in his prime. As the King Of The Ring, I’m serving notice to every one of the WWF superstars. I don’t give a damn what they are, they’re all on the list, and that’s Stone Cold’s list, and I’m fixing to start running through all of ’em. And as far as this championship match is considered son, I don’t give a damn if it’s Davey Boy Smith or Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin’s time is come, and when I get that shot you’re looking at the next WWF Champion. And that’s the bottom line, because Stone Cold said so.”