Mike Reviews Every WWF King of the Ring Main Event (1998 to 2002)

Hello You!

Let’s finish off these King of the Ring reviews. I’m not especially looking forward to this part, mainly because I don’t have particularly fond memories of KOTR as an event during the Attitude Era. Anyone who has had to live through the fresh heck that was KOTR 1999 will know what I mean.

However, there’s at least one match on the docket today that I remember being decent, so hopefully it is and I’ve not just imagined it.

Let’s watch some chuffing wrestling!

King of the Ring 1998

Main Event
WWF Title
First Blood
Champ: Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs Kane w/ Paul Bearer

This was one of Vince McMahon’s many devious schemes to try and get the WWF Title off of Stone Cold, by booking him in a First Blood match with a guy who wore a mask and was covered from head to toe. Kane even has both sleeves on his entrance attire to really stack the deck. They added a silly stipulation to this one that Kane would commit suicide by setting himself on fire if he lost, which was a stipulation they were NEVER going to deliver on. As a result they’d either have to switch the Title somehow or anger the fans by swerving them on the promised pay off.

Austin had been dealing with a staph infection leading up to this show and his right arm is heavily bandaged as a result. These days they probably wouldn’t clear him to wrestle with something like that, but this was the more cavalier 90’s, so Austin is here to work and immediately starts the brawl. It should shock no one to read that Austin is mega over here, with the crowd popping when he pretty much has any form of offence. It’s not long into the match until the Hell in a Cell cage starts to lower, with it being unexplained who is responsible. Of course Mankind and Undertaker had their famous match prior to this one, so the cage is still there.

Austin is quickly on the defensive and sells for Kane as the challenger works him over with punches and chokes. The cage starts rising again, which leads to Kane getting caught in the door and then having to tumble out down to the floor. Thankfully he manages to rotate forward and land mostly on his feet, but he could have landed on his head there and Austin had a genuine look of concern at one stage. The fight now heads to the entrance area, as this has become your typical Attitude Era wander around brawl, where Austin takes a suplex on the ramp. That’s a pretty hefty bump for a guy with a history of neck problems to take I must say.

In a typical display of WWF poor taste, there are actually canisters of petrol around the ring in preparation for if Kane loses and needs to be set alight. Mankind was tagging with Kane at the time, so he limps down to try and help his partner out. It’s a miracle Mick Foley could even move following his earlier match, let alone run in and take a Stunner for his troubles. Undertaker runs down ostensibly to help Austin, but “accidentally” hits Austin with a chair, thus busting him open. As a result, Austin loses the match and Kane is the new Champion.

WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: KANE
RATING: *1/2

Austin and Kane never really had that much chemistry in my opinion, and it kind of showed here. I’ve never been a massive fan of the First Blood stipulation either, as it essentially takes away near falls and often reduces matches to meandering brawls. Undertaker would reveal that he didn’t want Kane to set himself on fire, which would sow the seeds for the Brothers of Destruction reuniting at the end of the summer. Kane’s Title reign would last all of a day, as he would drop it back to Austin the next night on Raw and never win it again, although he would eventually win the Smackdown Title in 2010 and get a longer run with that.

King of the Ring 1999

Main Event
Ladder Match
Control of the WWF
Shane and Vince McMahon Vs Stone Cold Steve Austin

Vince McMahon had been revealed as the “Higher Power” behind Undertaker’s Ministry group, in a SWERVE that didn’t really make much sense, but Mick Foley didn’t want to turn heel so they decided to go with the proven winning hand of heel Vince. I was particularly unimpressed with the reveal at the time as I’d been enjoying Vince as a babyface as it meant Shane McMahon could spread his wings a bit more as the main heel authority figure, whereas turning Vince heel again basically rendered the previous three months or so pretty worthless.

Anyway, Austin had seen a week before the reveal happened that the Higher Power was Vince, so he went to Vince’s wife Linda and daughter Stephanie to let them in on it too. As a result they signed over their ownership of the WWF to Austin, thus giving Austin 50% ownership of the company. Vince and Shane were not happy with that, so this ladder match was booked, with the winner getting 100% ownership of the WWF. The music in the pre-match video package is good example of how the WWF production crew could make chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what during this period, as they actually make this silly storyline seem dramatic and interesting. Austin showing up wearing a tie over his usual t-shirt and jeans was a pretty funny visual though.

Austin won a match on Raw against Big Boss Man to make it so the Corporation can’t interfere, but sneaky Vince tries to insert Steve Blackman as his partner due to Shane being “injured” on Sunday Night HeAT. However, GTV reveals that Shane is just fine and dandy, so he has to compete after all. I think that would have been the only official meeting between the two Steve’s wouldn’t? Please feel free to correct me if they did indeed have a match together at some point.

If you’ve ever seen Austin Vs McMahon matches from this period then you’ll probably already know how this one goes, as Austin clobbers both Vince and the product of his semen from one end of the arena to the other, with Los McMahonos occasionally getting a rare bit of offence now and then. The crowd loves watching Vince Jr and El Hijo Del Vince get battered, so they have plenty of fun at their expense whilst Austin clobbers them. One of the better moments involves Austin destroying the ladder themed entrance way so that The McMahons get buried under them all. It was a safe spot but an impressive visual, which is what you want at the end of the day.

Austin makes an attempt to climb following that, but The McMahon’s make it back down to the ring, so Austin clobbers both of them with the ladder. Shane takes some really good bumps actually, whilst Vince mostly staggers around with almost zero coordination. Austin leaps off a ladder to put Shane through the Spanish table, but when he tries to attack Vince on the ladder he ends up getting shoved off onto the English table, bouncing off it in a gnarly bump. Vince does the old ladder match slow climb back inside, which gives Austin time to recover and stop him from getting the briefcase.

Vince actually takes a bump off the ladder down to the mat, which is pretty impressive considering he was 53 at the time. Tenryu was a better worker at the same age to be fair, but credit to Vince for at least taking risks himself now and then rather than just making the wrestlers do it all the time. Austin eventually takes out both of his opponents with Stunners and climbs the ladder to win, but the briefcase gets mysteriously raised out of reach from him so that he can’t get it. I don’t think it was ever explained who did that, but talk on the playground at the time was that it was either Big Boss Man or Droz. I don’t know why Droz was implicated but a lot of people at school seemed to think he was responsible. I went to a weird school I guess. Anyway, Austin tries climbing again and fights with Vince, but Shane knocks the ladder over and then climbs up to grab the case.

WINNERS: SHANE AND VINCE
RATING: **1/2

That wasn’t an especially good match or anything, but it was entertaining for what it was and I have to commend both Vince and Shane for taking some truly wacky bumps to try and get the whole thing over. Austin had an out for losing and would win the WWF Title the next night anyway, so it’s not like this did any long term damage to his character either.

King of the Ring 2000

Main Event
WWF Title on the Line
Champ: Triple H + Shane and Vince McMahon w/ Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley Vs The Rock, Undertaker and Kane

The story here was that Undertaker inadvertently cost Rock the WWF Title the previous month at Judgment Day by causing a DQ in the deciding fall of Rock’s Iron Man match with Triple H. Triple H and The McMahons tried to drive a wedge between Rock, Taker and the returning Kane so they could divide and conquer, so Linda McMahon showed up to wreck Vince’s ship once again by booking this and putting the Title on the line. The stipulation is that if any of the babyface side gets the winning pin or submission then they get Triple H’s WWF Title, and it doesn’t matter who they pin to do it. Vince ended up talking himself into allowing no interference either, so the heel side are all on their own.

The heel side are now also teasing dissension, due to Triple H being mad that Linda keeps getting the better of Vince. Kid Rock evidently charges more than Fred Durst does, as Taker’s “American Bad Ass” theme is dubbed over with his “You’re Gonna Pay” theme from 2002/03. Kane and Shane start out, with Kane actually offering Shane a free shot, which he promptly no sells before giving Shane the expected battering. Rock tags himself in to get him some of The McMahons too, which continues to push the idea that the faces aren’t on the same page. To be honest, why on Earth would they be when all three of them are going for the Title? It makes sense that all three of them will be liable to turn on one another at any given moment.

Shane continues to get killed by all of the babyfaces, probably because Vince isn’t a good enough worker to bump around for everyone like Shane can and they don’t want Triple H pin balling all over the place for the faces yet. Taker choke slams Shane and goes for a cover, but Rock comes in to break it up, which leads to some muted boo’s from the crowd, even though Rock was only doing the logical thing. Kane breaks up a Taker pin attempt next, to continue pushing that story, which eventually leads to things breaking down into the expected arena wide Attitude Era styled brawl, as all six men fight outside the ring. I’m amazed they bothered with the tag match aspect for as long as they did to be honest.

At one point Triple H Pedigrees Rock in the ring and makes the cover, in a spot where Taker is clearly supposed to break up the pin, but he doesn’t make it in time. Thankfully Rock is smart enough to kick out because he knows it’s not the finish, but man, that could have been a disaster if he hadn’t been thinking on his feet. That leads to the heels working some heat on Rock as this has become a standard tag match again, with Vince’s stuff in particular looking like a load of arse. At one stage he tries to “choke” Rock from the apron whilst Rock is down in the corner and it looks like he’s giving him a particularly vigorous back massage.

Part of me thinks Vince might have been carrying an injury of some sort here actually, as he barely takes any bumps and is moving even worse than he normally does. Things break down again when Rock makes a comeback and gets a Samoan Drop on Triple H. The McMahons and Brothers of Destruction fight outside the ring, but Kane actually decides to take Taker out as well and comes into the ring to attack Rock. Triple H thinks that this means Kane has gone Corporate (We’d have to wait 13 more years for that one) but it’s all a SWERVE and Kane drops him with a Tombstone, only for Taker to break up the pin.

Again, there were some boo’s there, as Kane has his fans in the crowd. Taker clobbers Kane with a sickening chair shot to the head before choke slamming Shane off the rope through the English announce table to take him out. You could do that outside the ring choke slam on the Smackdown games actually, although you couldn’t do it through a table sadly. Vince tries to do The Corporate Elbow to Rock inside the ring, but Rock catches him with a Rock Bottom to pick up the win and the Title.

WINNERS: ROCK, UNDERTAKER AND KANE (ROCK WINS THE WWF TITLE)
RATING: **

So Triple H gets another quickie run with the belt and doesn’t even have to drop it himself (Although he would do a job for Rock at Summer Slam at least). The match itself wasn’t great but it had enough interesting moments that it kept my attention. Vince was absolutely terrible but Shane worked extra hard to make up for it and actually didn’t look too bad either. Triple H was barely involved for large chunks of the match actually.

King of the Ring 2001

Main Event
WWF Title
Champ: Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs Chris Benoit Vs Chris Jericho

Austin went heel at WrestleMania X-Seven and after a feud with Undertaker he moved on to a new one with Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit after they beat him and Triple H for the tag belts. He defeated both of them in TV screw jobs, which led to Linda McMahon making a Triple Threat match. This led to Stone Cold’s relationship with Vince McMahon fracturing and sending him even further into madness. Austin was fantastic in the role, but ratings continued to fall. Vince gave Austin the ultimatum that he had to win at KOTR or they would be through as a pair. There was also an ongoing story throughout the night that if Jericho or Benoit won then they’d defect to WCW with the belt.

Austin tries to flee from the opening bell, but the Canadian Chris’ catch him and then drag him back to ringside, where they give him a ruddy good kicking. They are pushing on commentary that Vince decided not to attend this event originally, but now that he knows the WCW rumours he’s on his way, so Austin is trying to stall until he gets there. Things eventually turn into a more standard Triple Threat match when the Chris’ realise that one of them has to lose so that the other can become Champion, which leads to them happily fighting with one another as well as Austin.

All three of these guys are good, so the action is to a high standard, but the crowd isn’t super into it due to a combination of not really being into Austin’s act and also the fact that the Chris’ hadn’t been booked especially well since winning the tag belts, so they’ve cooled off significantly as a result. I actually didn’t have cable or satellite TV back when this show happened (which was the only way to watch these shows in the UK at the time outside of the odd special event on Channel 4 if we were lucky) but my family had finally gotten dial-up internet, so I remember saving the recaps of this one and reading it quite a lot because it sounded like a fun show. It was probably the first time I’d ever really done that since getting on the ‘net, and was probably a key moment in my evolving smarkdom. I eventually picked it up cheap on VHS and it remains a show that I enjoy quite a bit. It’s definitely a solid effort from WWF in 2001, in a year that was already pretty stacked when it came to pay per view quality.

Benoit was actually carrying a pretty bad injury here that would see him out of action for nearly a year as a result, but it doesn’t really show in his performance as he still takes a series of big bumps and works at his usual furious pace. Benoit actually catches Austin with a Stunner at one point to wake the crowd up, but the ref takes a bump in the process, which delays the count and allows Austin to kick out at two. Jericho and Austin go at it following that, with Jericho fighting out of a sleeper and then trading chops with the Champ. Jericho is another guy who I never really felt had proper chemistry with Austin. They had good matches, but that’s about where they maxed out, whilst when it came to matches with Triple H and Rock they were both capable of classics.

Benoit destroys Jericho with a vicious chair shot (although he was going for Austin) and that gets two for Austin in a decent near fall. Austin was taking unreal punishment on his neck for a guy who was coming back from major neck surgery around this period, which probably contributed to his neck worsening again. For instance, he actually delivers two big superplexes to Jericho, which was nuts for a guy with his medical history, especially as Benoit comes in and German Suplexes the crap out of him straight after. Kudos to him for working so hard, but it would have probably been better if he’d taken it a bit easier and maybe added a year or two to his in-ring career. At least we would have got Austin Vs Goldberg in that scenario.

Jericho locks Austin in The Walls of Jericho following that and Benoit applies the cross face as well, which leads to Austin tapping out. However, both men can’t win, so the match continues. At the time my first instinct was that Benoit and Jericho should be co-Champions like Jericho and Chyna had been the previous year, but that’s the can of worms you open by doing wacky stuff like that. It’s not like the WWF has ever been big on continuity either, especially during this period. Jericho and Benoit take one another out, which leads to WCW Champ Booker T running out of the crowd and flinging Austin through the Spanish announce table. Booker actually legit hurt Austin doing that as he threw him too hard and Austin ended up landing on his hand as a result.

With the Booker spot dealt with, Benoit and Jericho go back at it again, and it’s the usual great action from the two. Benoit actually heads up for the diving head butt despite being walking wounded, but Jericho throws him off the top rope and gets a sloppy Lionsault for two. Benoit was too far away there and it looked like Jericho outright landed on his face. Jericho and Benoit take a tumble to the outside, with Jericho recovering first and throwing Austin inside the ring for a top rope moonsault for two when Benoit breaks it up. That looked great on Jericho’s part. Benoit gets the diving head butt on Austin, but Jericho pulls out the ref at two. Benoit delivers a big super back drop to Jericho, but sells that he hurt himself in the process and Austin rolls over for the three count.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN
RATING: ***1/4

Pretty weak finish but I think they knew Benoit was going to be taking time off, so the finish made sense in that regard. I do like the story as well of the two challengers taking themselves out so that sneaky cowardly heel Austin can pick the bones. It was a bit Honky Tonk Man, but he at least did it on his own and survived a Booker T attack to do it. The match itself had great wrestling but the crowd just wasn’t biting sadly. If they’d been into it then it could have been rated higher

King of the Ring 2002

Main Event
Super Duper Undisputed Title
Champ: The Undertaker Vs Triple H

They were doing a story here that the nWo wanted Triple H to win the belt and then join the ranks, but that ended up getting dropped when Kevin Nash got injured and Vince McMahon came onto TV and just low-key announced that the group had disbanded. There was an additional story element that Taker had essentially cost Triple H the belt against Hogan at Backlash 2002. Triple H had beaten Hogan in a #1 contender’s bout and was now out not only to get his belt back but to get some revenge also. At the time I thought they’d give Triple H the belt back, especially as Taker’s reign was hardly providing much in the way of excitement. However, WWE had other plans.

Brock Lesnar had won the KOTR tournament earlier in the night to set himself up as the challenger for Summer Slam, so his agent Paul Heyman comes down to annoy Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler on commentary. Ross reminds us that The Rock is in the building also, as he’d come back to WWE following Stone Cold walking out a few weeks prior to this event. That pretty much telegraphs that he’ll have some involvement of some kind. This one is a slug fest from the opening bell, with Triple H getting the better of it in the earlier stages. It’s not overly exciting but it makes sense considering the fact Triple H is mad about Taker costing him the belt at Backlash.

The heat is quite disappointing considering the star power of the two men and the fact that they are dispensing with a patient approach and just going straight to brawling. The match just feels flat to be honest, and when Taker cuts Triple H off for a bit it slows down considerably with the crowd sitting on their hands. Pardon the pun, but the arena has all the fizz and excitement of a morgue. Even a Triple H suplex on the floor to Taker doesn’t wake them up. Did the crowd just eat a heavy meal and follow it up with a warm glass of milk or something? I suppose Hogan lost a big match to Angle earlier and a heel won the KOTR Tournament, so maybe they’ve been flattened out by that? The work itself has been fine for the most part, if not especially varied or unique.

Taker undoes a turnbuckle pad and tries to throw Triple H into it, but he ends up getting hoist by his own petard when Triple H reverses an Irish Whip to send him into it before following up with a spine buster for two. Taker responds by doing the Snake Eyes onto the metal buckle, but Triple H no sells it All Japan style and gets a running knee for another two. Taker catapults Triple H into the corner, with Earl Hebner taking a bump in the process, which leads to a double clothesline for the double down. This is Rock’s cue to come down to the ring, but he decides to start doing commentary rather than getting involved in the match. Heyman of course decides to flee rather than hang around with Rock there.

Taker brings a chair into the ring, but Triple H stops him from using it and clotheslines him to the floor. Taker decides to boot Rock whilst out there, which leads to Rock fighting back and trying to hit him with a chair. Taker ducks though and Triple H takes it instead, doing a blade job for good measure. Taker goes for the Last Ride inside the ring and gets it, which leads to Nick Patrick running down for a two count. Fans popped for the near fall at least. Taker is unhappy and clocks Patrick, which leads to Rock coming in and giving him a Rock Bottom. Triple H rolls over and makes a dramatic cover, but it’s been too long and Taker is able to kick out at two. They milked that too much to the point that it was obviously not the finish.

Both men slowly drag themselves to their feet, which leads to Triple H getting a Pedigree and doing another slow dramatic cover. However, Earl Hebner is too hurt to make the count. Triple H tries to revive him, but in the process Taker punches him right in the Terra Ryzing before getting a school boy roll up for a dirty three count.

WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: THE UNDERTAKER
RATING: *1/2

This one went on for too long and the crowd just wasn’t with it, so it ended up being a bit of a drag as a result. Rock runs down following the match to attack Taker and lays him out with the People’s Elbow, but Triple H is still angry about the chair shot from earlier and drops him with a Pedigree. Taker makes use of the opportunity to put Triple H down with a choke slam though. So not only did the heel win the match but they couldn’t even give the crowd the babyface standing tall to send them home happy.

In Conclusion

You’re not really missing much by skipping these. The 2001 match was decent enough, but the rest of them were “okay” at best. It’s not really a surprise that King of the Ring was often seen as the red headed step child of the “Big Five” pay per views, which is probably why it got sacrificed when it got changed to being a “Big Four” again in 2003.

I’m going to probably do all of WCW Bash in the Beach as one volume, mainly because Summer Slam is next after that and that one is going to be a pretty hefty workload. See you all next week when we hit the beach!