The return of the King of the Ring tournament is exciting for many reasons, but the biggest one is that it can establish someone as a top star moving forward. WWE’s history has seen quite a few rising stars win the tournament and get skyrocketed to the top of the card. The King of the Ring often pushed a wrestler into the main event scene where the talent would have a chance to sink or swim.
Some of the best stories to come from winning the King of the Ring would see the wrestlers become legends in the industry. Meanwhile, other wrestlers just couldn’t make it happen as they were viewed as flops for not having strong main event runs. We will look at both instances of wrestlers following up the tournament win. These are five King of the Ring winners that became mega-stars along with five that flopped.
10 Mega-star: Triple H
The King of the Ring win for Triple H in 1997 came a year later than originally planned. WWE initially wanted Triple H to win 1996, but the plans changed to punish him for the Curtain Call moment between the members of the Kliq breaking kayfabe.
Triple H was more prepared for the role one year later when he finally would get the win defeating Mankind in the finals. D-Generation X was formed months later with his career skyrocketing. Triple H is an icon in WWE and one of the most important people running the company’s future.
9 Flopped: Billy Gunn
WWE tried to reward Billy Gunn for his years of great work in the mid-card and tag team division in 1999. Gunn defeated X-Pac in the finals of the King of the Ring tournament to score the biggest victory of his career.
The next feud for Gunn would see him feud with The Rock in a massive opportunity. Gunn unfortunately never came off as a viable threat to Rock despite WWE trying to make it a co-main event match for Summerslam. Once Rock defeated him, Billy moved back down into the mid-card for the rest of his run.
8 Mega-star: Kurt Angle
Kurt Angle was an instant star for WWE following his debut in 1999. The great character work as a heel along with the natural instincts in the ring led to WWE pushing him hard. Angle would defeat Rikishi in the finals of the 2000 King of the Ring tournament to win the crown.
It established Angle as someone ready for the main event picture. The big WWE Championship win came a few months later with Angle winning the title in his first year on the main roster. Angle’s King of the Ring win was what gave him the big leap forward to get to that level.
7 Flopped: Sheamus
One of the recent King of the Ring winners to get a big push was Sheamus. WWE viewed Sheamus as a major star to build around and he won the tournament back in 2010. Sheamus defeated John Morrison in the finals before the two had a long feud.
Morrison actually benefited more from losing in the finals as fans started to support him more. Sheamus struggled as the King of the Ring with a strange looking crown trying to adopt a king’s presentation. The tournament win just slowed down Sheamus rather than pushed him higher up the pecking order.
6 Mega-star: Bret Hart
Bret Hart was one of the first major wrestlers to make the King of the Ring win meaningful. Instead of just having a wrestler wear a crown as king for the night, Hart used the win as a stepping stone to move up the card.
The tournament history would see Bret as the only man to win it twice in 1991 and 1993. Fans remember the 1993 win more fondly with impressive victories over Bam Bam Bigelow, Mr. Perfect and Razor Ramon all on the same night. The King of the Ring win helped Hart get established as a top star as fans supported him over Lex Luger heading into WrestleMania 10 the following year.
5 Flopped: Ken Shamrock
The WWE career of Ken Shamrock could have been far more successful given his skills and potential. Shamrock was the first relevant MMA fighter to make the jump from UFC to WWE. Most of his matches and storylines impressed, but he never had the true main event run expected.
Shamrock did win the 1998 King of the Ring by defeating The Rock in the finals. Given the aftermath for both wrestlers, Rock may have been the better choice to keep the history of future stars going for the winners. Shamrock struggled to move up the card and just remained in the mid-card for the rest of his run.
4 Mega-star: Brock Lesnar
WWE took a four-year break from the King of the Ring tournament after Brock Lesnar won it in 2002. The push for Lesnar was strong right away with the company viewing him as the next top star. Lesnar defeated Rob Van Dam to win the tournament and get more momentum building.
This King of the Ring tournament featured a title shot on the line for the WWE Championship. Lesnar would defeat The Rock for the title just two months later to become a true top star. The success of Brock only grew as he was a top star then and is still a major draw for them today.
3 Flopped: Bad News Barrett
The most recent King of the Ring winner ahead of this year’s tournament was Bad News Barrett back in 2015. WWE always loved the potential of Barrett and would try to move him up into the main event picture at different points in his career.
Barrett, unfortunately, would find minimal success with the win as he started to wear a crown and cape to play into the king gimmick. WWE went too far with that aspect instead of just pushing him on his own merits. The run was a disaster that ruined Barrett’s last main event chance.
2 Mega-star: Steve Austin
The biggest moment in King of the Ring history featured Steve Austin using it to become the next big star. Austin defeated Jake Roberts to win the tournament in 1996. However, the bigger moment came when Austin cut a promo dropping the infamous “Austin 3:16” line.
Austin’s momentum started to grow, and he was credible enough to feud with Bret Hart when the latter returned from a break in the following months. The rest is history as Austin organically became the top star for WWE after the feud, but it all started with the King of the Ring win.
1 Flopped: Mabel
WWE tried using the 1995 King of the Ring tournament to make Mabel a big star for the company moving forward. A heel turn and the end of his tag team would see Mabel get pushed by defeating Savio Vega in the finals to become King of the Ring.
The new name of King Mabel led to bigger opportunities in feuds with Undertaker and WWE Champion Diesel. Mabel broke Undertaker’s nose in their feud to lose some of the faith in him and the all-time bad Summerslam main event with Diesel ended his push to make the King of the Ring win a flop.