In the long history of wrestling gimmicks, 'King' is one that comes up often. It makes sense of course, the sport is all about being the best, reaching the top, and wearing that sweet gold; who does that better than a king?
The WWE liked the idea of a king so much they built an entire event around it. Although its first production as a PPV wasn't until 1993, they had already had six tournaments starting back in 1985 (with Bret Hart also winning the 1991 version).
Adding a fifth annual PPV to the big four was a big deal at the time. Fans were used to waiting four months from WrestleMania to SummerSlam so a new June event in the middle was very welcome. There was also far less wrestling on television, and some of the programs still featured superstars squashing jobbers. So a tournament pitting seven top stars (and Mr. Hughes) was exciting stuff! Bret Hart was the story of the tournament, putting in three excellent matches, his re-match with Mr. Perfect especially excellent.
The following tournament would again be an entertaining affair won by a Hart, giving fans a further glimpse into Owen's talent. He would run far with the King gimmick, using it to showcase his sharp wit and further get him over with the fans. But simply winning the tournament and adding King to your name doesn't automatically boost your career. In fact, many have fallen off sharply after the first months of King-appeal have worn off. The crown can bring attention, but there are still no shortcuts to the top.
Steve Austin proved that you can use the tournament for notoriety and do just fine without the silly crown and cape. Brock Lesnar would do the same years later. Both men came off too tough and no-nonsense to waste time on comedy.
Beyond the KOTR there are other Kingly examples as well. Hawaiian, Samoan, and even Memphis royalty have all popped up in the wrestling business. Wrestlers are always on the lookout for a gimmick to set them apart and elevate their stature. Whether it be King or Pimp, it's all fair game.
15 King Mabel
One of the worst performers in his generation, Mabel rose to the top of a severely depleted roster simply because of McMahon's size fetish. At SummerSlam 1995 McMahon had The Undertaker and Bret Hart wasting their time with Kama and Isaac Yankem while Mabel took the main event against Diesel; dark times indeed.
14 King Barrett
Barrett showed a lot of promise as the leader of the Nexus, unfortunately Cena stamped that fire out at SummerSlam 2010.
Barrett would have to build himself back up with his 'Bad News' gimmick and started to win the fans over again. You'd think winning the KotR would be a push in the right direction but it's floundered badly and there are rumors he could be bringing back Mr Bad News.
To be fair Barrett hasn't had much to do during his King run. The tournament is usually used to elevate a superstar but the 2015 version was used mainly as an exclusive marketing ploy for the Network. Only a small percentage of the WWE Universe actually saw his performance and it killed some of the potential momentum.
13 King Sheamus
Less than six months after joining the main roster Sheamus had won the World Heavyweight Championship after Cena accidentally fell through a table. Fans were surprised that such an inexperienced talent would win the title, but rumors began to emerge that the lucky Irishman was workout buddies with the dream weaver Triple H.
As was the style at the time, Sheamus would quickly lose and re-capture the title months later, giving him two more WWE Championships than Jake Roberts.
Sheamus would soon win the King of the Ring, but this was the start of a mysterious down-turn in his career. Perhaps the WWE listened to the fans at the time or maybe he stopped carrying Triple H's workout bag.
12 Harley Race
Race was the second-ever winner of the King of the Ring tournament but was the first to adopt it into his gimmick. You might wonder why a guy like Race - considered one of the most legitimate tough guys in the business - would put on a silly crown and a regal cape, but it was all about how Vince presented the idea to him.
Race said "Being a King was the next step past being the champion that I was. They just ordered that being the King would override being the 8-time world champion."
11 King Haku
Bobby Heenan has said that the only two people Andre the Giant feared were Harley Race and Meng (Haku). So it's quite fitting that when Race went down with injury, Heenan would pass the crown over to the toughest man in wrestling. When you're known for popping out people's eye-sockets, taking on eight policemen, and ripping the teeth out of a man's mouth, NO ONE is going to make fun of you for wearing a crown and cape.
10 Jim Duggan
Even though Meng is widely considered the toughest man in wrestling by a long-shot, Duggan still made Perry Saturn's list of 'toughest guys in wrestling' during a shoot interview.
Duggan won the crown after defeating Haku on Superstars in 1989 in a match about 10 times more exciting than it sounds.
Seriously, the finish has Haku missing a standing Senton Splash which sets up Duggan's three-point stance charging clothesline and his win to an UPROARIOUS ovation. When Heenan stole the King gear and ran back to the dressing room fans could barely contain themselves.
9 Macho King Randy Savage
Duggan should feel no shame as he lost his crown to one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.
Randy Savage had actually won the King of the Ring tournament two years before he would wrestle the crown away from Duggan. When he finally 'officially' got the crown he was thrown a ceremony by the top heels on the roster at the time. He and his Queen Sherri were coronated in the ring and given a scepter by the Ted DiBiase before riding off on one of the many motorized chairs Vince McMahon had so many of.
Let's leave on some words from the Macho King himself:
"Blast from the past
let the clouds separate
let the lightning bolts flash
8 King Curtis Iaukea
Debuting in 1962 in Hawaii, King Iaukea's career spanned North America, Japan and Australia, where he was labeled the 'world's greatest ring showman'.
He was at the forefront of the hardcore movement in the 60s, his infamously scarred head showing the countless times 'a little red brings in the green' as he would say.
Iaukea was an intimidating force and known for his riveting stream-of-conciousness promos that were ahead of their time. It's a shame that WCW brought him in as The Grand Wizard in the goofy Dungeon of Doom vignettes. It was simply bad timing for the legendary performer.
7 Owen, the King of Harts
A year after his brother Bret's impressive 1993 KOTR win, Owen would keep it in the family with his 1994 win.
Owen's notorious backstage sense of humor finally got a chance to shine on-camera, and he didn't disappoint. His whiny little brother shtick was comedy gold and he had the in-ring talent to back it up. His performance at KOTR and Cage Match with Bret at that year's SummerSlam made 1994 watchable. He had the best 'WOO' after Ric Flair and the way he stole his second Slammy as a presenter was comedy gold.
6 Kurt Angle
Even without the KOTR win he could easily call himself the King of Wrestling because it's true, oh it's damn true.
Amateur: 1995 Olympic Style World Champion, 1996 Gold Medalist, 6-time US National Champion.
'Professional': 12-time World Heavyweight Champion who has captured ALL of WWE and TNA's top titles. He was the TNA King of the Mountain and of course the WWE 2000 King of the Ring.
Angle is a one-in-a-million talent. He was an unbelievably quick study who managed to translate his other worldly amateur wrestling background into one of the best ever kayfabe performers. He not only had incredible in-ring talent but could work the mic effectively as a heroic face or hilarious heel.
5 King Edge the Awesome
4 King Booker
King Booker took the angle as far as it would go, acting as the actual King of Smackdown. He formed a Royal Court with Queen Sharmell, Sir William Regal, and Sir Finlay. It was hilarious to see Booker and his ridiculous fake accent 'knight' the two legitimately U.K. men. It was even funnier when he would drop the accent and deliver a classic Booker rant.
He would run with the gimmick for a little longer before losing to Triple H (like everyone does) and eventually asked for a release from his contract after being suspended for violating the Wellness Policy.
3 The King of Kings
Did any other wrestler have so many special entrances? Triple H was known to spend extra hours with the production team to ensure he had the highest-quality titantron videos and theme songs. This all came to an epic climax at WrestleMania 22 where his entrance featured TWO different Motorhead songs, a custom rising throne entrance and his own little Barbarian belt. The guy definitely put the work in.
2 William Regal
Of course he would make a great king. Hell, his name is Regal!
With his years of high-end technical ring mastery and excellent character work it felt like a great reward for Regal to win the KTRR in 2008. His push was slightly derailed with a 60-day suspension following his second violation of the Wellness Policy.
His run as King was a masterclass in how to work the gimmick. Instead of playing a doofus King for pure comedy, he took the character further than it has ever gone before. He evoked King Lear as the title inflated his sense of power, and combined with his position as Raw GM, he went on a reign of terror. His most notable moment coming when he screamed at the production crew to cut off the HHH-Orton match on Raw. A surprising and visceral performance.
1 Jerry Lawler
It doesn't take a king, it takes the king.
He may not be the best, but he's certainly the longest reigning King. He's also won a whopping 168 titles, which is quite the King's ransom.
Lawler first took the title 'King of Wrestling' after defeating his trainer and mentor Jackie Fargo for the NWA Southern Heavyweight Championship in 1974. Not sure how winning such a regional specific title makes you the king of an entire sport, but that's how he saw it.
Lawler continued the gimmick as he joined the WWE in the early 90s. He took exception to Bret Hart's King of the Ring win and brutally attacked him, setting off a feud that would go on for years, keeping Hart away from the main event.
It's insane to think that 40 years later this King is still involved in the business, working on Smackdown and big PPVs like 2015 SummerSlam.
It's good to be the King!
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