The King of the Ring tournament was once a major staple in WWE. It was once a very meaningful accolade. Unfortunately, the most recent winners have made the title of “King of the Ring” meaningless. Here’s the backstory for the King of the Ring concept. Prior to becoming a normal Pay-Per-View, the King of the Ring tournament was a one-night tournament often held at live events. Eventually, it would become one of only five Pay-Per-Views in the year. It would join Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and Survivor Series as the only major shows to be held throughout the year. After being a Pay-Per-View for ten straight years, it was retired up until 2006 when it was exclusive to SmackDown. The next three times there was a King of the Ring tournament, they were randomly announced with little to no buildup. The first winner was Don Muraco. The most recent winner was Wade Barrett…who is no longer with the company. Only one person has won the King of the Ring twice. That person being Bret Hart. With all the winners, theere has been a lot of good but more recently bad.
Here are the 8 best and 7 worst King of the Ring winners
8. Best: Owen Hart
The best Hart in the family, Owen Hart was one of professional wrestling’s most underutilized talents. He won the King of the Ring tournament in 1994. In the first round, he defeated Doink the Clown. In the second round, he defeated Tatanka. At the Pay-Per-View, he defeated both The 1-2-3 Kid and Razor Ramon to win the crown. Owen began to label himself as the “King of Harts.” After he won the King of the Ring, he faced his brother at the SummerSlam of 1994 in a Steel Cage match. Despite losing, Hart was elevated to a much higher level in his career. He and Yokozuna held the Tag Team Championship for most of 1995 and made a decent career up until his untimely death in 1999.
7. Worst: Edge
Edge was the final four of the King of the Ring with Christian, Kurt Angle, and Rhyno collectively known as “Team RECK.” Edge was picked to be the winner in a shocking decision over the option of having Angle repeat. Later in the night Angle would have an insane match with Shane McMahon. After Edge won the King of the Ring, the seeds were planted to have his brother turn on him. When Christian did, it was rather lackluster and he joined The Alliance stable. Edge would get the better of the feud and unified the United States and Intercontinental Championship at the Survivor Series that year. He never received a WWE Championship like most King of the Ring winners and just floated around the mid-card.
7. Best: Hunter Hearst Helmsley
Hunter Hearst Helmsley won the 1997 King of the Ring tournament, lastly defeating Mankind. However, originally Helmsley was slotted to win the 1996 edition of the tournament. Helmsley’s victory and push was derailed because of the Curtain Call incident at Madison Square Garden. No other man in the incident was punished because Shawn Michaels was the WWE Champion and both Scott Hall and Kevin Nash were leaving for WCW. Little did anyone know this would be for the better as this lead the creation of WWE’s most legendary character. After Helmsley won the King of the Ring, he would feud with Mankind for the rest of the year and form the legendary stable known as D-Generation X. Triple H would then “defeat” Shawn Michaels for the European Championship and set off on a legendary road.
6. Worst: William Regal
William Regal was a surprising choice to win King of the Ring in 2008. That year, the King of the Ring was a one night tournament held on an episode of Raw. It was mixed with both SmackDown, ECW, and Raw guys. The finals match-up was between William Regal and CM Punk. To get to the finals, Regal beat Hornswoggle and Finlay. Regal would defeat Punk by submission. His coronation was interrupted by Mr. Kennedy and the two had a Loser Leaves Town match which was won by Kennedy. Why might the King of the Ring winner get taken off TV you ask? In reality, Regal had failed the Wellness Policy for the second time and was suspended 60 days. This suspension stopped Regal from having an alleged big push which included him winning the WWE Championship.
6. Best: Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar’s first year in WWE can’t be matched by anyone. Lesnar went on wrecking streak, including victories over Rob Van Dam, The Hardy Boyz, Hulk Hogan, and The Undertaker. His first real achievement came at the 2002 King of the Ring when he defeated the aforementioned Rob Van Dam. The winner of the tournament earned an Undisputed WWE Championship shot at the SummerSlam of that year. Lesnar defeated The Rock to win his first WWE Championship at the age of 25. Afterwards, he would defeat names like Edge and The Undertaker during his first reign as champion before dropping the belt to Big Show with help from Paul Heyman. Lesnar would win the 2003 Royal Rumble and would regain his title at WrestleMania XIX.
5. Worst: Mabel
1995 was considered one of WWE’s down years and with decisions like this it’s hard not to agree with that. Mabel who was a dancing and rapping wrestler who we were expected to take seriously. He defeated Savio Vega in the King of the Ring final and became known as King Mabel. He earned his King of the Ring title match against then champion Diesel. To no fault of Diesel, the match was dreadful. Mabel would then fall out of the main event scene and feud with The Undertaker. During the feud, Mabel broke The Undertaker’s face. When The Undertaker returned, Mabel was suddenly afraid of him, which defeated the whole purpose of feud. So without doubt, Mabel is one of the worse winners of the King of the Ring ever.
5. Best: Booker T
Booker T underwent a complete character change after he won the King of the Ring. Booker was falling off the wagon in early 2006 and was in desperate need of a change of some sorts to revamp his career. SmackDown brought back the King of the Ring as an exclusive tournament to their brand. The tournament included names like Kurt Angle and Randy Orton, so it may come as a surprise that the finals were down to Booker T and Bobby Lashley. Booker would receive his title shot at the Great American Bash and would defeat Mysterio with help from Chavo Guerrero. Booker would begin talking with an accent and would claim his ancestors were from England. He formed King Booker’s Court with William Regal and Finlay and made SmackDown an enjoyment to watch. Sadly after he lost the title, the group folded quickly.
4. Worst: Ken Shamrock
Ken Shamrock was being built very well in 1998. He feuded with The Rock at the beginning of the year and built himself up as being a maniac and unstable. He was the correct choice to win the 1998 King of the Ring where he defeated The Rock in the finals. And after that did he challenge Steve Austin for the WWE Championship? Did the victory catapult him in to the main event scene? Did WWE capitalize on having a legit fighter on their roster that was decent in the ring? They did neither of these three things. In fact, if anything Shamrock was demoted. He never challenged for the title. Later in the year he joined Vince McMahon’s Corporation stable and his legitimacy was ruined.
4. Best: Bret Hart
Bret Hart is considered by many to be one of wrestling’s best in-ring talents ever. Although I am not one of those people he certainly was good. Hart was the only man to win the King of the Ring crown on two occasions. Not only that, he did it back-to-back. The second time he won the crown, he ignited his feud with Jerry Lawler that lasted over two years. As I am sure many can assume, they feuded because Jerry Lawler believed he is the only King in professional wrestling. Lawler got the better of the feud for a a while and would have wrestlers such as Issac Yankem and Hakushi compete for him. Meanwhile, during this feud Hart would defeat Lawler in a Kiss My Foot match.
3. Worst: Sheamus
Sheamus had a very successful year prior to winning the King of the Ring. And him winning the King of the Ring made a ton of sense at the time. However, they went too far with it. In the 2010 King of the Ring finals, Sheamus defeated John Morrison. He then dressed up in silly warrior garb. He lost a Number One Contender’s match against Morrison and slipped very far down the card. A man who won the WWE Championship twice was reduced to the WrestleMania XXVII pre-show. Not only that, the match was originally advertised for the main show. And it gets worse, as the match was changed to a Battle Royal after the Lumberjacks at ringside broke out into a brawl. Sheamus ditched the crown and garb for the better and had a much better 2011.
3. Best: Kurt Angle
Prior to winning the King of the Ring, Kurt Angle already had established himself as a great professional wrestler. The King of the Ring was just the icing on the cake for Angle. In the finals, Angle defeated Rikishi and won the crown. Like a lot of people on the list, Angle was given a title shot. Although he was unsuccessful at first, Angle would win his first WWE Championship at No Mercy that year. He had multiple successful defenses against The Undertaker, Steve Austin, and Triple H. He successfully defended the title in the first Six-Man Hell in a Cell at Armageddon. Unfortunately his reign came to an end at No Way Out 2001 after a botched finish nonetheless. However, Angle would go on to capture more gold during his WWE career.
2. Worst: Wade Barrett
Where to begin with Wade Barrett? So much potential, and so much talent but Barrett just couldn’t get it together. Partially his fault because of injuries, but most of this is on WWE. Barrett won the 2015 King of the Ring tournament, the first since the 2010 edition, after he defeated Neville in the finals. He would now be known as King Barrett. His reign as King was an absolute disaster. He feuded with R-Truth of all people and not only that, Truth got the better of Barrett on multiple occasions. He participated in a SummerSlam match where he and Stardust lost to Neville and the actor Stephen Amell. The end of Barrett’s career came while he was still King and a member of the horrid League of Nations. Barrett was kicked out and the group folded. Barrett was released not too shortly after.
2. Best: Randy Savage
Randy Savage was already a highly successful star prior to winning the crown. But after he won the crown, his character was taken up to another level. Savage won the King of the Ring crown after Jim Duggan put it up in match against Savage. He ditched his real-life wife Miss Elizabeth in favor of the much more fiendish Sensational Sherri. The heel duo were absolute gold. Savage lacked the title success during his time as the Macho King but he still had a tremendous run. During this run he would feud with Dusty Rhodes and Sapphire and The Ultimate Warrior. Savage’s run as the Macho King culminated at WrestleMania VII when Sherri turned on Savage who lost the match and was stopped by Miss Elizabeth who took back Savage and the two were together again.
1. Worst: Billy Gunn
Billy Gunn is nowhere near a bad performer. He was made in to a singles star in early 1999. He competed for both the Intercontinental and Hardcore Championship. In June of 1999 he won the King of the Ring crown. In a really weak Pay-Per-View, Gunn defeated his former DX partner X-Pac to win the crown in a five minute match. After winning, he fought the Road Dogg and X-Pac for the rights to the DX name. At SummerSlam, he fought The Rock in a “Kiss My Ass” match, which he lost. By Unforgiven he and Road Dogg were partners again making the entire Billy Gunn singles run entirely pointless. They tried this again in 2000, but once again it failed. It’s safe to say Gunn is a much better tag performer than singles performer.
1. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
Without question, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had to be number one. And it’s even funnier because he was not originally supposed to win it. As I previously mentioned Triple H was supposed to win this particular King of the Ring, but plans were nixed because of Triple H’s involvement in the Curtain Call. Austin had to receive stitches the same night he won because he got a busted lip at the hands of Marc Mero. But Austin returned later in the night and defeated Jake “The Snake” Roberts in the finals of the tournament. What would come after is the most legendary promo in wrestling history. “Austin 3;16 says I just whooped your ass.” After a double turn with Bret Hart, Austin would be the company’s babyface for many years to come.
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