In case you missed the announcement on RAW last week, WWE announced that they were bringing back the King of the Ring Tournament.
This has raised the excitement of fans everywhere, most of which are old enough to remember when the King of the Ring Tournament made careers. People like Triple H, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Bret Hart all won a King of the Ring Tournament and went on to have spectacular careers. Others, like Mabel, Wade Barrett and Billy Gunn, however, didn’t use their King of the Ring wins to have great careers, so it’s not all good news.
This article is going to focus on, in my opinion, the best 5 King of the Ring finals. The winners might not have always gone on to have great careers, but they put in fantastic performances in the King of the Ring tournament. It will focus on when the King of the Ring tournament was on PPV, which was from 1993 to 2002. This will, unfortunately, rule out some legends such as Harley Race and Randy Savage. Feel free to drop a comment below on what a horrible person I am, or if I’ve missed a match you think should be on there. Please remember that these are my opinions, and its based on what I’ve seen. In other words, please be nice to me.
5. Brock Lesnar vs Rob Van Dam – King of the Ring 2002
Although it may not seem like it nowadays, back in 2002, Brock Lesnar was a tremendous wrestler. Having only debuted a few months earlier, WWE clearly saw big things in Brock Lesnar, giving him Paul Heyman as a manager and giving him the moniker ‘The Next Big Thing.’ Lesnar backed up Heyman’s words by being an absolute powerhouse, decimating anyone and everyone who stood in his way. He’d beaten Bubba Ray Dudley, Booker T and Test on the way to the final, and was the favourite heading into the final.
RVD was one of the bright spots in the otherwise awful Invasion angle. His natural talent and likeability made him a fan favourite very quickly, winning the Intercontinental and Hardcore Championships and taking The Undisputed Champion Undertaker to the absolute limit in a classic match on the May 20th, 2002 edition of RAW. Already the IC Champ heading into KOTR, he beat Eddie Guerrero, X-Pac and Chris Jericho on his way to the final and was hopeful of causing an upset.
The match itself was about the power of Lesnar vs the speed and the experience of RVD. RVD targeted the legs of Brock throughout, and Brock used his power to decimate RVD. The match went just under six minutes and ended with Brock winning, which was the starting point to the Undisputed Championship and one of the most dominant careers in WWE history for the Beast Incarnate.
4. Kurt Angle vs Rikishi – King of the Ring 2000
Like 2002, it was a rookie who had debuted not too long before (Angle) vs a popular superstar who was the Intercontinental Champion (Rikishi).
Although Kurt had only debuted in late 1999, he was already a natural athlete. A Gold-Medal winning athlete, he picked up professional wrestling phenomenally quickly, taking to it like a duck to water. Although a great wrestler, he had struggled to develop the personality needed to succeed in early noughties WWE. He was slowly becoming a heel, but it would take a while before he would become truly incredible.
Rikishi was an underrated wrestler in my opinion. Despite being a heavyweight, he could move about the ring with the speed and grace of someone half his size. He was also hugely popular with the young fans, including yours truly, all of whom found his Stinkface manoeuvre hilarious, particularly when he did it on a non-wrestler.
Like 2002, this was all about speed vs power. Rikishi, being the heavier and more powerful of the two, dominated most of the match. However, Angle had his moments, especially when he managed to Olympic Slam the 400-pound Rikishi. It looked as though Rikishi would win the match, but he took too long on the top rope. Angle caught him, hit him with a Belly-to-Belly suplex from the top rope, and became the 2002 King of the Ring. A short while later, Angle would go on to win his first WWE Championship, and the rest is history.
3. Bret Hart vs Bam Bam Bigelow – King of the Ring 1993
When WWE debuted the King of the Ring tournament on pay-per-view, one of the selling points was finding a superstar who could survive several gruelling matches in one night. In 1993, there was only one man who fit that criterion: Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart
Hart had already been WWE Champion by this point, dropping it to Yokozuna in a match more remembered for the post-match antics of Hulk Hogan. Hugely popular with the crowd, it seemed only a matter of time before he reached the summit again. Like all good babyfaces, Bret came into the match with a disadvantage. Unlike Bigelow, he had already had two gruelling matches by the time the final rolled around, defeating Razor Ramon in a physical match up before having a classic with Mr Perfect on route to the final.
Bam Bam will go down in history as one of wrestling’s most underrated big guys. He moved around the ring with amazing speed and ability, despite being nearly 400 pounds – similar in that regard to Rikishi. He had everything going for him too. He had a great look and a fantastic moveset. He was also much more rested than Hart as well. He defeated Hacksaw Jim Duggan in the first round, before receiving a bye in the next round after Lex Luger and Tatanka fought to a time limit draw.
The match focused on the fresher Bigelow decimating the injured and tired Hart. After a false finish, Luna Vachon hit Hart with a chair behind the refs back, which allowed Bigelow to pick up the win. However, the finish was struck off, and the match continued. Eventually, Hart managed to roll Bigelow up in a smart finish, which allowed Bret Hart to become the King of the Ring.
2. Kurt Angle vs Edge – King of the Ring 2001
The big story going into this was could Kurt Angle win the King of the Ring tournament twice? He would have been only the second person to do so (Bret Hart won it in 1992 and 1993). Standing in his was fellow RECK (Rhyno, Edge, Christian and Kurt) teammate Edge, who was starting to come into his own as a singles wrestler.
Angle was a wrestling machine that night. Not only did he have his two King of the Ring matches against Christian and Edge, but he also had a Street Fight against Shane McMahon later on that night, a match made famous by some non-breaking glass and Shane McMahon’s apparent masochism.
Edge had just started to become an excellent singles wrestler as well as an amazing tag team wrestler. He had also defeated fellow RECK member Rhyno in a brutal match to earn an opportunity at becoming King of the Ring.
As you would expect from these two, the match was great, even if there were a few too many moving parts to consider down the home stretch. Both Christian and Shane McMahon got involved in the match, costing Edge and Angle respectively. In the end, a Shane McMahon spear to Angle allowed Edge to pick up the win and become King of the Ring for the first time. Although a little overbooked, this was a fantastic match and it allowed Edge to show just how good he was as a singles wrestler.
1. ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin vs Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts – King Of The Ring 1996
I can’t not have this match on the list. Although the match was short, it was what happened afterwards that got people talking. This was the start of Austin 3:16 and the birth of WWE’s most successful star.
Although people only really remember Austin from this match, Jake Roberts had a great story going into the tournament. He was pushed as a ‘Cinderella’ Story and had managed to make it to the KOTR final, despite receiving broken ribs in his Semi-Final match with Vader. WWE Commissioner Gorilla Monsoon asked Roberts if he wanted to continue. Jake, the babyface, refused to quit, and the match continued.
Austin targeted Roberts legitimately injured ribs throughout the match, winning quickly with the Stunner. Afterwards, he cut his famous ‘Austin 3:16’ promo. It took a while afterwards, but eventually, Austin became the hottest thing in WWF and quickly became WWE Champion. We all know the rest. Austin became one of the most successful WWE stars of all time, and to this day, still receives a huge ovation whenever crowd hears the shattered and he comes out. None of this would have happened if not for ‘Stone Cold’s King of the Ring victory.
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @Bannister007. Thanks for reading!