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Throwback Thursday – King of the Ring

This past week on RAW it was announced that the King of the Ring would be returning after a four-year hiatus with the tournament taking place over a number of weeks, culminating at the upcoming Clash of Champions.

Since its debut in 1985, the King of the Ring has been won by a who’s who of Hall of Famers, including the likes of Don Muraco, Harley Race, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Bret Hart – who, by the way is the only two-time winner of the tournament. By 1993 the King of the Ring was considered prestigious enough to earn its own event, becoming one of the classic five pay per views back in the days before pay-per-views were as frequent as a Big Show heel turn. Until 2002, the pay per view version of the tournament was held in June, bridging the gap between Wrestlemania and Summerslam and giving us countless fresh storylines while launching the careers of some of the biggest stars we’ve ever seen.

When it became its own pay per view in June of 1993, one could argue the King of the Ring essentially split the booking year in a half. If you go back and review the list of winners and their subsequent storylines during this period, you’ll note that this tournament technically was to Summerslam what the Royal Rumble is to Wrestlemania. Several winners would, somewhat unofficially (and possibly coincidentally) earn the right to face the WWF/E Champion in the main event at Summerslam, just as the winner of the Royal Rumble receives a title shot at Wrestlemania. The 1994 installment of the event practically put a rocket launcher (pun intended) on the back of Owen Hart, anointing him as the “King of Harts” and removing all doubt, if any lunatic could even possibly have any doubts about his greatness, and making him a legitimate contender for brother Bret’s WWF title.

Without anybody expecting it, King of the Ring 1996 (along with the circumstances preceding it which is a story for another time) turned out to be one of the most impactful events in the history of the business. This was the night when Stone Cold Steve Austin officially shed any remaining residue of the Ringmaster character and we witnessed the birth of Austin 3:16. His career afterward was alright…

Six years later we watched Brock Lesnar steamroll his way through the tournament to be crowned the 2002 King of the Ring, putting him in line to face The Rock two months later at Summerslam and resulting in Lesnar becoming the youngest WWE Champion in history. Are we seeing a theme here of how important this tournament can be?

When I first started writing for allwrestling.com, I promised myself I wouldn’t use this platform to criticize the current product and would try to stick to celebrating what I continuously refer to as “the good old days”. Unfortunately when it comes to the way the WWE has relegated the King of the Ring tournament to an afterthought in recent years, I have A LOT of the things I want to get off my chest (hey Colt Cabana, how you doing?)

Look, I understand the product has changed dramatically over the years. A bigger roster, more weekly television exposure and increased pay per views have forced WWE creative to use completely different methods and techniques to elevate current Superstars. It could even be said that Money In The Bank has essentially replaced or even rendered the King of the Ring obsolete by giving us a similar situation with someone earning the number one contender’s slot but with the twist of the spontaneity of them cashing in at any moment. But there’s something to be said about sticking with a traditional big event held in a tournament format that allows winners to etch their name in history alongside the names mentioned above. So while I’m happy the WWE is bringing back the tournament in some fashion, my hope is the King of the Ring can eventually become its own event again – IN JUNE – and regain the prestige it was once known for.

The fact that this year’s version is going to be spread out over a number of weeks is definitely a good sign, so I will put my high horseback in the stable for a little while and watch how things unfold…