So we’re back again with another Six of the Best, this time looking at what was, for a while, the fifth biggest pay per view event of the WWF/E calendar in the form of King of the Ring. KOTR as an event ran from 1993 until being discontinued in 2002.
I will be looking at just the KOTR PPV’s themselves for this and not the times WWE brought back the tournament for television purposes. I also won’t be covering any of the tournaments prior to the first PPV version of the event in 1993, as I have actually never seen any of the matches from them and couldn’t even tell you if footage of the matches actually existed or not. If they do then please feel free to confirm that in the comments section.
This one was difficult in the sense that I really didn’t know whether to include one particular match and only eventually decided to go with it after watching it again. We’ll get to that when we get to it. Aside from that particular match, the rest of the list wasn’t too difficult for me to narrow down, as KOTR events tended to be a bit meh when compared to the likes of Royal Rumble, WrestleMania and Summer Slam. As a result, narrowing the list down to Six didn’t take too long as the really good matches from these events stand out quite clearly.
As always, these are just my own personal picks. This isn’t supposed to be some sort of objective list or anything. If I leave out a match that you think warrants inclusion, then please feel free to put it down in the comments section below. As with previous lists, I’ll be listing the matches in chronological order.
So without further to do, let’s take a look at Six of the Best for King of the Ring!
King of the Ring 1993
Bret Hart Vs Mr. Perfect
This was of course a rematch of the excellent bout the two had at Summer Slam 1991, with the added bonus that this time Mr. Perfect could actually stand up straight without his back creaking like the door to a haunted house. The previous battle between the two is actually referenced throughout the bout; with the idea being that Perfect is still raw about how things went last time and is eager to avenge his previous defeat.
Being that both men have sound technical wrestling prowess, the opening stages feature some great chain wrestling, but the competitive nature of the two wrestlers is constantly bubbling over in the background, which sees the intensity constantly ramp up as the two babyface grapplers get more and more aggressive in an effort to win the match and advance onward in the King of the Ring tournament.
Perfect is the first to give in to his temper, as he attacks Bret on the ropes and tries to turn things into more of a brawl. This creates an odd atmosphere in the crowd, as there are murmurs of discontent for Perfect’s behaviour but he doesn’t draw full on heel heat because the crowd likes him so much. The heat builds as the tempo increases and the crowd are completely invested in the action going on in the ring.
I should also give a special mention to the commentary team, who I think do a fantastic job throughout. Bobby Heenan and Randy Savage both work really hard to put both men over as athletes and competitors whilst Jim Ross enters one of his better performances from his first stint in the WWF. They really get across the idea that this gruelling bout between these two men serves only to benefit finalist Bam Bam Bigelow, and that is then paid off in the Tournament Final, with a fresher Bigelow dominating proceedings.
King of the Ring 1993 may be my favourite Bret Hart performance, as he works 3 really enjoyable matches that are all different from one another and he totally steals the show in this particular bout with Perfect. This show is a great example of why he is so respected as an in ring performer.
King of the Ring 1994
Owen Hart Vs The 1-2-3 Kid
Normally a really short length hurts a match because it limits the story that the two wrestlers can tell. A match doesn’t have to be 25 minutes to be a classic, but in general you’d like a tad more than the 4 minutes this contest gets. However, thanks to part of the bouts story already being told before both men even make contact with one another, both men can just go straight into hot moves without it detracting from the overall match.
Due to a post-match assault from Double J in the first round, Kid enters this bout with neck issues and gets immediately jumped by Owen as he tries to get in the ring, thus leading to an exhilarating sprint where both men try to win as quickly as possible, Owen so he’s fresher for the Final and Kid because he doesn’t have enough in his body for a long match at this stage and thus needs to end it whilst he’s still physically capable.
In some ways it’s presented that Kid even competing at all is almost a moral victory, something which commentator Randy Savage helps get across by putting Kid over huge for having the guts to come out and compete. The action in the match itself is fantastic, as both men are supremely skilled and crisp between the ropes.
This match is ultimately everything it needs to be from a storyline perspective and is a breathless sprint that is superbly entertaining. Is it the greatest match under 4 minutes ever? I couldn’t say for sure, but I’d be disappointed if it wasn’t in the running!
King of the Ring 1996
Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs Marc Mero
King of the Ring 96 is probably most know for Austin’s famous victory speech following his decimation of Jake Roberts, but what sometimes doesn’t get covered is how excellent his Semi Final collision with Marc Mero is. This match is an absolute corker and possibly one of the best matches of Mero’s entire career.
What’s interesting about Austin during this period is how much more of a traditional styled heel he was, as he bumps all over for the babyface as well as stalling a lot. Being that this bout was prior to the gnarly injuries he would suffer to both neck and knee, Austin is moving like nobody’s business here and it’s night and day from the brawling main event style he would be forced to employ during the majority of the Attitude Era as a result of his physical limitations.
Austin really was a joy to watch in this period as his body could still cash the cheques that his excellent wrestling mind was writing, which meant he was a smooth technician and fantastic snide heel. I’m a huge fan of Attitude Era Austin, but his ECW run up to the Owen Driver is probably my favourite period of his career from a strictly in ring perspective. Mero was also on a roll at the time as well prior to his own litany of injuries slowing him down, so both men made for perfect opponents.
Mero is great in this match as a gutsy face and Austin is equally great at being a truly vile and unlikeable heel, giving the match a great dynamic. Sable even does some good valet work for her then husband, by getting the crowd involved and also selling well as her hubby takes a kicking from the relentless Austin. She was still somewhat enthusiastic about the wrestling business at this stage in her life, and it comes across in her performance. Watching matches like this you can see why she got over, as when she cared she was a decent part of Mero’s act.
This is one of those matches that you perhaps don’t expect to be great, but it genuinely is and it probably doesn’t get enough credit for being such a fun contest. I’d strongly recommend watching this on the WWE Network if you never have before, as both men are on point with their performances and the work is very enjoyable.
King of the Ring 1998
Hell in a Cell
The Undertaker Vs Mankind
Believe or not, this one was touch and go for me, owing mostly to the fact that I like Mick Foley quite a lot, meaning that watching him suffer in this one has never been especially enjoyable for me. What didn’t help was that for a while it seemed like Foley became almost resentful of this match, which certainly comes across if you read his second book “Foley is Good”. It’s almost as if he felt that his entire career had been rounded down to two incredible bumps.
However, these days it seems like Foley himself has mellowed to this one somewhat and is now quite proud of it, and there’s no denying that this match was hugely memorable for anyone who saw it back during the Attitude Era. As a match it really is just the two bumps, despite what some like to argue. The actual match portion of the bout once both men finally start going at it in the Cell is hardly classic action, though it’s very gutsy for Foley to keep going despite taking two huge falls and working on a dislocated shoulder.
It’s amazing that something as visceral as a man getting thrown onto thumbtacks could almost be an anti-climax, but when you’ve already seen a man get thrown off a cage through a table and then dropped through the roof of said cage onto the hard unforgiving 1998 WWF ring, it kind of is. One positive of this match is that the WWF at least finally brought in some rings with a bit more give to them once it was over (Fat lot of good it did Foley after the fact like) and when Foley decided to try the same stunt in 2000 against Triple H, the ring was at least gimmicked in anticipation.
This match still remains one of the most incredible spectacles I’ve ever seen. Whether they needed to tack a match on (no pun intended) following those two outrageous bumps is neither fish nor fowl really. It’s genuinely a classic though in my opinion, if not as a wrestling match then as a monument to just how far Mick Foley was prepared to go to entertain people and as a time capsule for the Era in general.
I’ve made this all about Foley actually, which is unfair to Undertaker, as Foley has often stated that he wouldn’t have gotten through this one without Undertaker’s assistance. In some ways he’s the forgotten figure in this, but he got through all of this with a broken foot (Including somehow climbing up the Cell despite this ailment). It’s a common trap to fall into when it comes to this match, but Undertaker does deserve credit for his performance. It couldn’t have been easy to have to hold everything together when your opponent has knocked himself into next month like that.
King of the Ring 2001
Kurt Angle Vs Shane McMahon
This is another match that would fall into the “I’m glad no one suffered a career ender” category, as both Angle and Shane could have come out of this with lasting injuries. Sadly for Shane, the most serious injury suffered in the match befell upon Angle and not him. Why was that such an issue for Shane? Well, the injury Angle suffered was to his tailbone, which of course limited his strength meaning that when it was time for the showpiece set of the match, he was at less than full power.
Angle trying to fling Shane through the glass wall of the KOTR set, only for Shane to bounce off it and land on top of his head may honestly be one of the most sickening things I’ve seen in all my years of watching wrestling. Even watching it back 18 years later knowing that he survived doesn’t lessen the shiver it sends down my spine. It’s an absolute miracle that Shane didn’t seriously hurt himself here, especially as he was landing on the cold hard concrete.
Sick spots aside, I actually quite like this as a match, with Shane being clearly outmatched in a wrestling case but able to take it to Angle thanks to brawling and weaponry. Shane isn’t booked as an equal to Angle on an athletic level, but he uses smarts and guts to hang in there with a much more accomplished athlete. I also like that Angle then abandons the wrestling battle and out brawls Shane to eventually win the contest.
I’m not sure if you could class Shane as a “Non-Wrestler” considering how often he tended to end up wrestling, but if that qualification suits him then I’ll happily declare this my favourite match featuring a Non-Wrestler. It’s got drama, good action and some insane bumps from both men and is definitely worth a watch if you’ve never seen it. Matches like this are why Shane is still over with the general populous, although I kind of wish he wouldn’t still do this stuff.
King of the Ring 2002
Kurt Angle Vs Hollywood Hulk Hogan
A hot crowd combined with some excellent work from Angle makes this a really enjoyable match, with two American themed wrestlers doing battle to decide once and for all who the “Real American” really is. There’s also a side story with Angle wearing a ridiculous wig to hide the head saving that Edge gave him at the previous months pay per view event.
Outside of the match with Rock at that years WrestleMania and the tag match with Edge against Billy and Chuck, this is probably my favourite match of Hogan’s 2002 renaissance, with the clean submission job “The Hulkster” does for Angle leaving a very pleasant taste in the mouth. I’ll be the first to admit that this is hardly a 5 Star Classic or anything, but it’s just super fun from start to finish and is probably the best way you could have booked a match between these two.
I also like how they keep you guessing with the finish, as Angle is foiled numerous times and looks set to eat the Leg Drop of Doom™, only to then catch Hogan out of nowhere with the Ankle Lock to win the bout clean as a sheet to the genuine shock of the live crowd. This really was a perfect use of Hogan and it’s a shame he had to spoil it all by demanding that he beat Brock Lesnar at that year’s Survivor Series, as Hogan working in this role was buckets of fun and they probably could have gotten much more out of it had Hogan been more amenable.
This one is very much one I’m adding because I personally really like it and I’m sure some readers will think I’m nuts, but I just really enjoy this match and I’m so glad we got to see it.
Bret Hart Vs Razor Ramon (King of the Ring 1993), Bret Hart Vs Bam Bam Bigelow (King of the Ring 1993), Razor Ramon Vs Bam Bam Bigelow (King of the Ring 1994), Diesel Vs Bret Hart (King of the Ring 1994), Mankind Vs The Undertaker (King of the Ring 1996), Shawn Michaels Vs British Bulldog (King of the Ring 1996), Shawn Michaels Vs Stone Cold Steve Austin (King of the Ring 1997), X-Pac Vs Owen Hart (King of the Ring 1998), Ken Shamrock Vs The Rock (King of the Ring 1998), Kurt Angle Vs Chris Jericho (King of the Ring 2000), Edge Vs Kurt Angle (King of the Ring 2001), Rob Van Dam Vs Chris Jericho (King of the Ring 2002), Jamie Noble Vs The Hurricane (King of the Ring 2002)