The Way We Was: WWF King of The Ring 1996

Jamie Lithgow

Just like last week, today we bring you another bonus edition of ‘The Way We Was’. What’s the occasion this time I hear you ask? Well on this week 20 years ago the WWF presented King of The Ring, a pay per view billed as “The Greatest Card Ever in The History of The WWF……. King Of The Ring”. Hindsight tells us that this was a significant event in wrestling history, but let’s see what Austin 3:16 had to say on the matter…

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The New Generation: When The Kliq Ruled Wrestling

Kliq

Brian Damage

When you talking about the WWF/E today…we see a global juggernaut in the pro wrestling or “sports entertainment” world. Some might be surprised to hear that in the early to mid 1990’s…the company was struggling severely financially and in some cases on the verge of shutting down. The old guard that made the company so successful in the 90’s heyday was either getting old, stale or leaving the company for greener pastures. In 1994, in an attempt to get younger and hipper…Vince McMahon created the “New Generation Era.”
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Top Five King of the Ring moments

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Jamie Lithgow & Brian Damage

In the wrestling world June used to mean one thing: King of the Ring. The event took place on PPV every year between 1993 and 2002 although did run from 1985 to 89 and once again in 91 before coming a PPV. It also had a revival first as a Smackdown exclusive event then an inter-brand event. It had some successful winners and some winners that left you wondering why they got the nod. It also featured several memorable moments – perhaps the most famous being Stone Cold Steve Austin’s “3.16” speech.

This week in a Top Five – that’s a day later than normal – Jamie and Brian share their Top Five moments from KoTR Continue reading

King of the Ring: Winners and Losers Part 2

James Giles

Following on from my post the other day on the winners from King of the Ring, here is part two which looks at the losers…

Losers:

‘Bad Ass’ Billy Gunn

With the exception of the irredeemably awful Nelson Fraser, Billy Gunn was probably the most unlikely candidate to win KOTR. A perennial mid-carder, Gunn was perfectly adequate in the ring and on the mike but never developed the aura of a megastar. He found his greatest success as a member of the massively popular New Age Outlaws team; whilst his partner Road Dogg (Brian James) brought captivating promo skills, Gunn was seen as the workhorse of the pairing. During the late ’98 to mid ’99 period, WWE suffered from a serious dearth of all-round polished mid-carders, and when they ran out of decent stories for DX, they believed Gunn could go on to be a useful upper-card or even main event level performer.

To this end, WWE booked him to win the 1999 KOTR tourney, but it was largely overshadowed on the night by the story-line which involved inter-feuding between the members of DX, and the colossal main event featuring Stone Cold Vs Vince & Shane, which essentially rendered it a one match show. From this unspectacular start, Gunn then went out to an uninspiring feud with his former stable mates over the DX name, before going on to his solitary main event rivalry with The Rock. Once paired off against The Great One, it became clear to all just how unsuitable Gunn was for a top-line push. With neither the charisma, the verbal dexterity, nor the ability to expand his repertoire of moves, The Ass Man was swiftly demoted back down to the mid-card, a position he remained in for the rest of his WWE career.

Ken Shamrock

The former UFC fighter, dubbed The Worlds Most Dangerous Man, never quite lived up to his seeming potential and early popularity with the audience. Making his first major appearance refereeing the legendary bout between Bret Hart and Steve Austin at WM 13, Shamrock was pushed hard from the off; only 11 months later he received his first WWE Championship shot against Shawn Michaels at IYH: Degeneration X. Even though it is almost impossible to have a bad match with HBK, Shamrock deserves credit playing his part very well, and it turned out the best bout of his short career. Impressed by the reaction to him, WWE continued to feature him prominently throughout the early 1998, mostly through his lengthy series with The Rock.

They repeatedly clashed over the Intercontinental Championship (then still a valuable secondary strap), with each time Shamrock denied victory via some screwy finish designed to protect him. The feud culminated at KOTR ’98, with the two men meeting in the final, and Shamrock finally scoring the clean win to an impressive reaction. On any other show, this would have been the enduring moment, but it wasn’t to be; the match was followed by the notorious Mankind Vs The Undertaker Hell in a Cell, in which Mick Foley performed the most mind blowing stunts ever seen on PPV, and all memory of Shamrocks big moment was erased. Although he was involved several major stories and matches after this, Shamrock never really regained his momentum and in early 1999 he became lost in the Corporation/Ministry fiasco which dominated the TV shows. He also didn’t do much improve his over-all wrestling abilities, and eventually WWE lost interest in him. Uninspired by his bit part in the forgettable Union stable, and the lousy series with Steve Blackman, Shamrock left WWE in late 1999 and resumed his career in MMA.

Mabel

By far the worst KOTR winner ever, Mabel (Nelson Frazier) debuted in WWE as part of the terrible Men On A Mission tag team. Going solo after the team turned heel then spilt, Mabel was selected as main event candidate during at time when the established top-liner consisted of basically Bret Hart, The Undertaker and Diesel. Desperately needing some fresh talent when they were losing business to WCW, WWE somehow decided Frazier was their man. This was in spite of the fact he had no real charisma or connection with the audience, was cumbersome and limited in the ring. Blindly determined, WWE booked him to win the 1995 KOTR, and absolutely no one cared. Amazingly he went on to challenge Diesel for the Championship in a lousy bout at Summerslam 1995, and then floundered back in the mid card, before leaving WWE the next year.

He would unfortunately return to WWE sporadically over the decade, most notably as Viscera in the Ministry of Darkness, but never improved as a performer, nor got any more over. Frazier worked for WWE in 2008, and has since gone on to work as a monster foreign heel for All Japan Pro Wrestling (AJPW).

Dishonourable Mentions

Edge – Winning the 2001 tourney was meant to push Edge rapidly towards the top bracket, but it didn’t quite work out that way; WWE mistakenly followed with a rivalry with Christian which fans didn’t take too and Edge spent several more years treading water in the mid-cards, before finally ascending to the top with his R-Rated Superstar gimmick in 2006.

He may have found his place in the WWE Hall of Fame in the end, but the KOTR was not the stepping stone towards that it should have.

Owen Hart – Much like Edge, Owen had all the skills but thanks to some unimaginative stories and scenarios, Owen never rose to the position of true main eventer following his KOTR win in 1994, but continued to be a valuable asset to the upper mid card.

Continually improving and becoming more loved by the audience, Owen may have eventually reached the top spot had it not been for his untimely, tragic death in 1999.

King of the Ring: Winners and Losers Part 1

James Giles

There has been a fair bit of reminiscing about the now-defunct King of the Ring PPV on this blog recently and if there is one thing we all agree on is that it is sorely missed. There are many reasons why it was great; the tournament format made a for welcome change of pace and style on the over-crowded yearly PPV line-up, and this format meant you often saw opponents matching up who may otherwise might not have feuded. But the main reason it was great for me is that it often severed as a gauge for which stars WWE was interested in pushing from the mid-card to the main events.

So in this article, I’m going to take a look at some of the stars who won the tournament, where their careers went next, and whether they really were winners or losers.

Winners:

Stone Cold Steve Austin

Probably the most obvious benefactor of the KOTR win, Austin went from floundering as the colourless Ringmaster, to being shot on the road to superstardom. On that fateful night on June 23rd 1996, Stone Cold defeated Marc Mero (in a very respectable match) and then rolled over the well-past-his-prime Jake Roberts in the final to take the win. It was Austin’s post-match promo that was really memorable about the event though; firing on all cylinders, Stone Cold tore verbal strips off The Snake before delivering his infamous line, ‘you talk about your Psalms, you talk about your John 3:16…well Austin 3:16 say I just whopped your ass’. One of the fiercest and most electrifying promos ever in wrestling, there is more to it than just that one line, and for those wrestling fans who have never seen it (if there are any) should do immediately here:

Despite the enthusiastic crowd reaction to him, WWE did not capitalise of Austin’s rapidly rising popularity as quickly as WWE’s version of history might lead you to believe; he was booked to win in a nothing match against Marc Mero at the next IYH PPV and then demoted to the pre-show bout at Summerslam 1996, where he defeated Yokozuna in an abysmal match lasting just 01:52. However, WWE eventually couldn’t ignore the rising noise level that accompanied his appearances, and he was soon on to much bigger things, including feuding with Bret Hart and being involved in the legendary ‘Pilman’s got a gun’ angle. The rest, as they say, is history.

Brock Lesnar

The 2002 KOTR victory for ‘The Pain’ was undoubtedly a major moment in his lightning fast ascension to WWE megastar. Originally debuting the night after WM X8, Lesnar smashed through every superstar he came up against in WWE’s determined attempt to get him over. Booked into the tournament, the winner of which that year would earn a WWE Championship shot at Summerslam, the Next Big Thing easily defeated Test and then RVD in the final in true monster heel fashion. Although neither bout was particularly good (Lesnar will still pretty green at this point), Brocks powerful aura was becoming stronger by the minute, and it was clear from the moment he won he would go on to become champion at the summer spectacular. And he did so in impressive style, pinning The Rock clean with his mighty F5 finisher in a cracking match that bears revisiting.

With his position solidified, Lesnar went on to become a hugely popular star during his initial run, and improved dramatically both in the ring and on the mic. He had compelling fueds, and several brilliant matches, with The Undertaker, Kurt Angle and Eddie Guerrero, before disappointingly leaving the WWE to pursue a career in American Football, and then in MMA (to phenomenal success with UFC) in 2004.

Triple H

Originally booked to win the KOTR ’96, HHH had his career set back a whole a year due to his part in the infamous ‘Curtain Call’ incident on May 19th 1996, in which he joined his back-stage buddies Michaels, Hall and Nash in an ill-advised farewell group hug (Hall and Nash were on the way out to WCW). After doing his time in the WWE dog-house by dutifully jobbing to the likes of Goldust and Jake Roberts, they set him back on track at KOTR ’97, booking him as the winner by defeating Mankind in a top notch final. This would be the start of long rivalry, packed with fine bouts, including a Falls Count Anywhere match on Raw is War in which the Cactus Jack character made his first WWE appearance (the clip of Cactus piledriving HHH through the table at the finish was used ad nauseam on WWE TV for years after). WWE showed genuine smarts in using KOTR to launch a feud which would do much to elevate both men.

The Game’s star would only rise and rise in the years, and we all know now where he would eventually end up; married to the bosses daughter and heir to entire flippin’ company. Due to his own short-sightedness, HHH was forced to toil for whole year before he would get the break that would send him on the path to the top. But he showed commendable patience, and resoluteness, the rewards of which he has now reaped in spades.

Kurt Angle

An absolute blessing to the KOTR PPV, Kurt Angle not only won the tournament in 2000, but has probably had more good matches on the PPV’s than anyone else. Making his WWE debut about 7 months earlier at Survivor Series ’99, Kurt had quickly made his way up the mid-card ranks, most watchable when facing off against superlative workers like Chris’ Jericho and Benoit. KOTR 2000 proved to be the spring-board into the top ranks when he put in dominating performances against Y2J and Crash Holly, before squeezing an OK match out of Rikishi. Disappointingly, WWE followed this up with an utter pasting by ‘Taker at Fully Loaded 2000, but at least the bout was promoted as one of three main events (the others being the vastly superior HHH Vs Y2J and The Rock Vs Benoit matches). He finally became a fully fledged main-eventer after Summerslam 2000, when he faced off against HHH and The Rock in a Triple Threat. Although he lost, his rivalry with HHH for the affections of Stephanie McMahon was insanely over, and by far one of the most popular story lines that year.

Amazingly, Kurt outdid himself at KOTR 2001, again wrestling 3 matches on the show, and all 3 were vastly superior to his 2000 outing. He bested Christian in the semi finals, before falling to Edge in the final in very good match, which could have been a classic given another 5-7 mins. The Olympic Hero would have a classic later on the card though, when he faced off against Shane McMahon in a fondly remembered Street Fight. There are undoubtedly some sloppy spots, but for the most part this is a vicious, hard hitting war. The sight of Shane repeatedly throw into a piece of glass that refuses to break became one of the enduring images of the era, and Kurt showed that he could have the best match of the card no matter whom he faced off with.

As if this encounter wasn’t evidence enough, Kurt proved himself yet again at KOTR 2002, when he had a match with Hulk Hogan that was far more entertaining than it had any right being. They don’t call him King Kurt for nothing you know.

Honourable Mentions:

Bret Hart – It seems remiss to mention Bret in an article about how KOTR help make (or break) peoples careers, because he was already a well established top-line draw before KOTR ’93, having first won the WWE Championship in November 1992.

But his performance at the 1993 tourney, in which he had three matches (ranging from very decent to classic), with three very different opponents deserves special mention. It was also the place his hugely entertaining rivalry with Jerry Lawler kicked off, which was voted ‘Feud of the Year’ by Powerslam readers that year.

Booker T – Much like Bret, Booker was main-eventing way before his KOTR victory in 2006, but the King Booker character re-vitalised his stale persona and sent him back on the path to more World Titles and general acclaim.

Part 2 to follow – those who won but never lived up to their potential (or never had any in the first place!)