The King of The Ring is a tournament steeped in tradition and history and a tournament that has been around for a very long time. The tournament was always capped off by an eponymous pay per view, which was for the longest time considered to be a part of the Big 5 shows along with WrestleMania, SummerSlam, Royal Rumble and Survivor Series. While the Money in the Bank May have taken that place now, it doesn’t take away the allure of the tournament. The last time King of the Ring was it’s own show was in 2002, apart from the Network Exclusive show in 2015. Out of the 20 tournaments that have happened, there has only been a repeat winner once. The only man to be King twice was Bret The Hitman Hart. The show has lost its sheen in recent years, as we have seen only 4 Kings in the last 13 years. However, whenever the tournament is announced, the WWE sees a rating boost so expect next weeks Raw from St. Paul, Minnesota get a better rating than what they have gotten till now. Whereas there may have been 19 winners, some are much better than the others. We are Wrestling Hub and today we will be looking at 5 Worst King Of The Ring Winners And 5 Best King Of The Ring Winners. (Click here for video)
Worst: King Mabel
We kick off the list of worst winners with the man that won the tournament amidst historic lows in WWE ratings, Mabel. King Mabel became King of the Ring in 1995 with underwhelming results. Mabel toppled Adam Bomb in the first round, and then proceeded to beat The Undertaker in the Quarter Finals. The gigantic man didn’t have to scrap in the semi finals, as the match between Shawn Michaels and Kama went to a time limit draw. Mabel faced Savio Vega in the finals to become one of the most underwhelming kings in WWE history.
Mabel would go on to tackle Big Daddy Cool Diesel for his WWE Championship at SummerSlam in what is considered to be one of the worst main events in SummerSlam history. Mabel would get released in 1996, but would return to the company later as Viscera. He enjoyed moderate success as Viscera before having another character shake up and going as Big Daddy V. Mabel’s lack of success after winning the crown and failure to sell himself as a legit contender is why he ranks as one of the worst kings ever.
Worst: King Billy Gunn
Billy Gunn being on this list wouldn’t surprise anyone that knows that he won The King of the Ring in 1999. After three years which saw decent to amazing kings in Stone Cold, Triple H and Ken Shamrock, WWE tried to catapult the charismatic Gunn to singles glory. However, his rivalry with The Rock saw him smacked right back into the tag division where he found most of his success. Gunn didn’t achieve anything beyond an Intercontinental Title reign as a singles competitor.
Worst: King Barrett
King Barrett is on this list by virtue of the irrelevance of the tournament when he won it. Barrett was the last man to be crowned King in the WWE, and his lack of individual success or success with the gimmick land him here. While other irrelevant modern kings like William Regal and Sheamus had some success with the gimmick, Barrett stayed rooted to his spot in the crowd, with some arguing that he probably fell a little because of all the League of Nations nonsense.
Barrett beat Dolph Ziggler and R-Truth in the first two rounds to set up an all British final between him and Neville. The colonial overtones aside, Barrett won the match and beat the Geordie man to become the King. 4 years later, both men have left the company. The moniker of King didn’t help Barrett, who was just coming off a far more successful tenure as Bad News Barrett. King Barrett wasn’t given a chance by the WWE, and thus lands in our list as one of the worst Kings ever.
Worst: King Tito Santana
Regency bias helps us remember that Barrett was a King because he was the last man to win the tournament. Well, if we go through the history books, we see another king who achieved nothing with the moniker. The only difference is that Barrett did it in 2015, while Tito Santana did it in 1989. At least this tournament had a story to tell, with the entire tournament being built in a way that Santana faces off against Rick Martel in the finals. The former tag team partners squared off in a bid to be King.
Santana had to win 4 matches on his road to be King. He started by beating Bad News Brown. He followed that up with two victories over The Warlord and then Akeel, formerly known as Akeem The African Dream. This set up the emotional final between Santana and Martel, where Santana came out on top. Santana didn’t do anything while King apart from challenge for the Intercontinental Championship. Even that attempt was a failure and he would leave the company by 1993.
Worst: King Don Muraco
Another king that people forget about because of how long ago he won it. Don Muraco was the first King in the history of WWE. However, the tournament was in its early stages and got its credibility only after Harley Race won it the next year. Muraco makes it on to this list purely because the King of the Ring tournament wasn’t half as gimmicky as it would eventually become. It was just a tournament that the WWE out together for their house shows.
Muraco beat Junkyard Dog and Les Thornton is the first two rounds before setting up two very difficult matches. The semi finals saw Muraco take on former WWE Champion Pedro Morales. Muraco would beat the future 1986 finalist in that match. He’d then face the challenge of The Iron Sheik, one of the hottest heels in the business at the time. The Rock Don Muraco triumphed over The Sheik to become the inaugural king. Too bad he never saw his way out of the midcard.
Best: King Brock Lesnar
We kick the good kings off with a bang. Brock Lesnar didn’t do much as King, but he can be considered one of the best Kings because of the hype he brought around the tournament and the ramifications it caused. Lesnar became King in his debut year of 2002 and absolutely lit the competition up en route to establishing one of the strongest legacies in the history of the sport. The Beast Incarnate’s story began as King of the Ring.
Lesnar tore through his four opponents. He first defeated Bubba Ray Dudley before taking on former World Champion Booker T. After eviscerating the man who’d become king 4 years later, Lesnar destroyed hyped wrestler Test. He’d face ECW Original Rob Van Dam in the final and beat him in a thrilling match up. Lesnar would win the tournament and destroy The Rock at SummerSlam two months later, going from King of the Ring to the youngest WWE Champion ever.
Best: King Booker
King Booker is on this list based on entertainment alone. While Lesnar and Booker may not be as significant as Kings compared to someone like Owen Hart, they both brought something that no other king has. Lesnar brought unreal dominance and Booker T became the first man to properly exploit the range of characters that he could employ as King. He brought in a queen in Queen Sharmell and even held the World Heavyweight Championship with this moniker.
King Bookah was one of the most entertaining characters of 2006 SmackDown and its all because he used the character like no one else. He beat Matt Hardy in the first round before trouncing 2000 King Kurt Angle. He met the hype train of Bobby Lashley in the finals but still came out on top. He had a memorable run as King and one which truly exploited what WWE had on their hands with this gimmick, even if it came from the 16th winner of the crown.
Best: Macho King
One of the most underrated runs as King came when the Macho Man Randy Savage became King in 1987. Randy Savage was truly what his last name says when he acts as a heel, and his time as King came at the heights of his heel run. However, the caveat is that Savage’s run as Macho King came after his initial KOTR win. He had defeated Jim Duggan for the moniker in 1989 in a bit of a complicated conundrum which we’d rather not try and explain. Even though he won the tournament in 1987, he truly blossomed in the role after his 1989 win over Duggan.
In 1987, Savage triumphed over former WWE Champion Nikolai Volkoff in the first round, before defeating Jim Brunzell and Danny Davis in the next two rounds. The finals saw Savage defeat King Kong Bundu. The Macho King came later and was a big factor in Savage’s feud with Ultimate Warrior. The Macho King would wield a scepter which would double as a weapon if required. He would have one of his finals matches in the WWE at WrestleMania ViI, where he lost to the Ultimate Warrior as Macho King, capping one of the best runs by any King that we had seen up until then.
Best: King Bret Hart
Savage helped bring a lot of credibility back to the tournament, which set up the only two-time winner, Bret Hart to make the tournament his own. Bret was one of the best kings by virtue of having it won twice and complementing his wins with resounding individual success too. While Hart didn’t lord the gimmick around, it was more of a fitting compliment to the in-ring technician that he be recognized as the King of the Ring due to his work rate.
Hart won the tournaments in 1991 and 1993, going back to back as there was no tournament in 1992. Hart beat Pete Doherty, Skinner and Irwin R Schyster to become King in 1991, getting a bye to the finals. He defeated Razor Ramon, Mr. Perfect and Bam Bam Bigelow To leave 1993 as defending King. 1991’s win saw him march towards his first WWE Championship win and 1993 is considered to be what started the New Generation Era in the WWE, spearheaded by Hart, Michaels and Razor Ramon.
Best: King Steve Austin
There isn’t much to say but marvel at how one tournament victory changed one man’s career as much as it did for Steve Austin. The tournaments enduring legacy and the reason why it’s so fondly remembered is because of what a big role it played in Austin’s legacy. His win at the 1996 event completely transformed WWE’s history because of one line that he uttered in his post match victory speech.
Austin beat Bob Holly, Savio Vega, Marc Mero and bitter rival Jake Roberts in the finals to hold the crown of himself. After defeating Roberts, Austin walked up the ramp and told Roberts exactly what he felt. Roberts who had the gimmick of Christian preacher at the time heard Austin say ‘Talk about Psalms, talk about John 3:16, Austin 3:16 says I just whipped your ass’. Thus a star was born and that one moment alone justified Austin’s place in this list. That one moment immortalized King of the Ring more than most of its winners did.