Summer is officially here, and while that brings about the usual great occurrences like cookouts and fireworks, it always makes me a bit wistful for an event I associate with the start of the hottest season. That event, of course, would be the King of the Ring. KOTR ran for almost twenty years (1985-2002, with a couple of years skipped), and its glory days were likely 1993-2002 when it was used as a stand-alone PPV. Given that June would often be the month when King of the Ring got underway, it's only natural to think about the event at this time. To that end, I've decided to take a break from the heat and humidity and list a few reasons why now would be the perfect time to get behind KOTR again.
1) It's an endurance test
The best events in sports from the time of the Olympics (or so Mae Young tells me) are the endurance tests, where athletes show how amazing they are by pushing their bodies to the absolute limits. Hockey nuts like myself know full well that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are an incredible display of stamina, due to the fact that it's such a lengthy tournament and overtime games are sudden death and can be involved literally every night. The Tour de France would be another example of this. In short, we love to watch athletes do things that "normal" humans couldn't even think of. The Royal Rumble is definitely at least partially marketed as an endurance test, and rightly so. Nearly every year we are treated to an example of someone entering the ring early and staying until the very end or even winning the match outright. There's no question that staying in the ring for an hour or more and taking on all comers makes you a bit of a badass, but how about wrestling four matches in one evening? There's no doubt that the winner of the KOTR is demonstrating serious staying power and an ability to showcase themselves against differing styles.
Proving yourself to wrestling fans is always a difficult task. Different people like different things, but one thing just about everyone can agree on is effort. A wrestler capable of delivering multiple excellent matches in a given evening's entertainment is one to watch and appreciate, and a tournament like this opens the door for that every single time. Whether you approach it as the underdog wrestler or lucky heel taking advantage of some opportunities or a dominant beast bullying his way through several rounds, the stories can pretty much write themselves in a way that's not possible with any other event. Both the Rumble and Survivor Series have been used as opportunities to further a storyline in the midst of the event itself; KOTR can do the same to an even better degree, as it boils down to just the two combatants face to face. It can be a great way to keep long-standing feuds fresh without going through the same motions as before. But most importantly, it adds credibility to the winner. Examples that immediately spring to mind are Edge, the late Owen Hart, and even Mr. COO Trips himself. Each one of these individuals bolstered their legend simply by winning the crown.
2) It makes great heels
Readers of this column are never shocked to learn of my fondness for heels, and this event has produced some doozies. There's something about power that corrupts, apparently, because from the beginning this tournament has led to some major delusions of grandeur. Harley Race set the stage early, forcing his opponents to kiss his feet to demonstrate their subservience. Who can ever forget the amazingly good transition by Randy Savage from the unhinged Macho Man to the completely-off-his-rocker Macho King? Further down the line, Booker T, Kurt Angle and of course William Regal used the event and the reward to turn themselves into even more entertaining, thoroughly memorable characters. Nothing gets a crowd more riled up than a wrestler telling them that they are superior. In the ever-changing landscape of faces and heels that marks the current environment of WWE, it would be helpful to have an event tailor made for the potential of an established star putting a twist on his character.
This is certainly not to claim that the formula always works: I'm not going to attempt to explain the justification of King Mabel. (And that's not all due to me being in attendance for that atrocity, either. Just a really, really large part of it.) That said, Mabel defeating a legend like The Undertaker was certainly an attempt to give him the aforementioned credibility and also cause immense heel heat with the crowd. And to that extent it did work. In the long run, though, the wrestler has to be able to take that starting point and run with it, building and developing his character using the crown and robe as a crutch until it's no longer needed. Just think of a current superstar like Damien Sandow or Cody Rhodes winning it and you get the idea. It keeps them in the spotlight in a major way without necessarily needing to bring titles into the picture.
3) It's wrestling history
I love when the roots of the sport get tied into the current, and frankly, it doesn't happen nearly enough. Retro nights and one-off appearances are fine and dandy, but to take something from wrestling's past and bring it into the here and now is exciting for both sides. The world of professional wrestling is by its very nature always changing, a product of the times, and therefore difficult to pin any consistency to. As an event that is tied to the WWE for as long as it has been, KOTR is an opportunity to celebrate the past of wrestling while keeping it quite modern at the same time. Even if the "crowning" itself is a bit passe, certainly the idea that wrestlers are going against each other in a battle of ultimate supremacy is not. Never has this fusion of past and present been more important than now for the WWE. As it perches on the precipice of a 24-hour network and continues to bombard fans with immersive new content, bridging that gap between the old and new will never be more vital. Consider it an opportunity to add some significant back story.
It may not have the storied past of the Royal Rumble or Wrestlemania, but KOTR has featured some of the best wrestlers in WWE's history and certainly plenty of Hall of Famers. From Tito Santana and Ted DiBiase to Bret and Owen Hart, many of the men that have held this distinction have been the best the sport has had to offer. That setup leads to the introduction of faces from the past that can still go, similar to what the WWE did when they brought Jake "The Snake" back in 1996. There just might be more on that later. King of the Ring offers the unique opportunity to do what other sports leagues have mastered, weaving the history of the game through the modern prism.
4) It creates stars
I'm certainly not here to tell you that what Steve Austin did in 1996 wasn't due to the amazing job he did both in the ring and equally if not more importantly on the microphone after the event, but we've got to give a little love to the event that made it all possible. Austin had already won matches against Bob Holly and Savio Vega before getting to the PPV itself (depth might have been a slight issue heading into the Attitude Era), but his semi-final against Marc Mero of all people was a classic. Hard to forget the visual of Stone Cold bleeding from the mouth or inventing what would become the Stunner right in front of our eyes. On his side of the coin, Jake Roberts suffered a bad beating at the hands of Vader which ultimately got him disqualified. Despite Roberts clearly not being in condition to wrestle Austin, he insisted and attacked and his fate was sealed. Austin's tenacity, physicality, and disregard for the traditions mentioned before put the wrestling world on notice and ushered in an era that has yet to be matched.
For every Austin story, of course, there are some that missed. Billy Gunn and Ken Shamrock are good examples of wrestlers who won the event as part of a push that didn't end up working out as well as they hoped. To say just anyone can reach up and become the next "Austin 3:16 moment" is silly. That said, it does illustrate that this event is more than capable of producing moments that can live on in WWE lore. The journey that the winner takes to reach the final is as important as the match itself. That's pretty critical in a forum where the match quality does not always support the momentum it carries, or vice versa. Such a strategy can buoy a wrestler who may not have the skill set or allow for a tried and true superstar to make their return to form. Just think of what could happen with a returning RVD or a debuting Bray Wyatt showing up and blowing through a few rounds to win. You've got automatic YouTube gold.
5) It helps the weekly shows
One of the more interesting elements of KOTR was that it would begin on regular television and then continue with the later rounds on PPV. This makes sense, as you've only got a few hours for a PPV and having just a tournament featured on it can be a tough sell. It also made those weekly matches special, which can be difficult to do. While that issue has rectified itself somewhat in the current WWE (not as many traditional squash matches), it can still be special to have really excellent wrestlers go against each other outside of a PPV format with advancement on the line. Picture Daniel Bryan and Seth Rollins or Dolph Ziggler and Dean Ambrose and you get the idea. 2000 (Angle's win) saw TV matches that included Chris Jericho vs. Edge, Chris Benoit vs. X-Pac, and Val Venis vs. Jeff Hardy. Not a bad lineup.
Currently, the WWE has arguably one of its stronger midcards ever, with just a few spots at the top of the pecking order. The matches and combinations that could be had featuring these wrestlers on a weekly basis leading up to the PPV are limitless. While Raws have definitely improved of late, and the idea that you're only going to get quality matches once a month is fortunately in the past, this would be an excellent way to help ratings. Arguments have already been made about the issue of not knowing what you're going to see on any given night until you tune into the show. It's a cute idea, but much better is to have it mapped out and tell viewers that they are going to get some of their favorites in action in a tournament format. You don't have to focus on that angle throughout the whole show, you can essentially start it whenever you want, and it helps shows like Main Event gain some traction by placing a qualifying match or two there as well.
For the reasons above, I'd really like to see the WWE think about doing fans everywhere a favor and bringing this event back in a major way. They do trot it out every few years, but it appears for all intents and purposes like having it as a PPV is done. That's rather bizarre when you consider that at least a quarter of the PPVs are generically named non sequiturs that might as well be called "Guys Get Angry With Each Other." This is a viable, proven concept that affords the opportunity to see great talent prove it multiple times on their way to achieving a shot at glory. Careers can be made, ended, or reinvigorated. Show me another idea where Bret Hart can wrestle Scott Hall, Curt Hennig AND Bam Bam Bigelow in one night and I'll go for that one too. This event could be just as big as Money In the Bank...and should be. Let's get back to starting the summer off right.
* Hard not to love the pair of ladder matches that will be featured in this year's MITB from my hometown. The WWE Championship contract match is top-loaded with A-list talent: CM Punk, Bryan, Randy Orton, the returning RVD, Sheamus, Kane & Christian. There is simply no way for that match to be bad. While the local hope will be for RVD to win, the scuttlebutt says Bryan and who knows where the Punk storyline is headed? In short, excellent match. The World Championship contract match is even better in my mind. That will feature Ambrose, Sandow, Rhodes, Antonio Cesaro, Jack Swagger, Wade Barrett and Fandango; put simply, just about everybody I've been asking the WWE to push. That they are presenting this as a "next generation" type match is really smart. I look for the WWE Championship match to be bigger in terms of story but the World match to be where the spots are fast and furious. All they are missing is Shelton Benjamin and this would be an A+ all around. Cannot wait to see for myself.
* Shawn Michaels has shown his propensity to stir the pot once more even AFTER retirement when news broke this week that he had a conversation with Vince McMahon regarding a certain individual that VKM "saw no money" in. Naturally, the internet roared with the idea that it must be Daniel Bryan, a rumor that Michaels quickly yet cryptically quashed with giving height and weight info of the mystery man. Michaels is an amazing talent but he's always had a propensity for putting his foot in his mouth, and this would be an example. I am the first to give Vince flak for only caring about the big guys, etc. but recent booking has been extremely favorable to Bryan and even Vince has to hear the crowd support he's getting. It wasn't too long ago that we were having the same conversation about CM Punk, and look how that turned out. Rumors persist that he's not a "WWE Guy" but storylines keep getting built around him because he's impossible to look away from. Vinnie Mac loves the dollar more than anything else, and if you make it, he's a fan. Not sure I buy that he sees no cash with D-Bry, who's managed to not only nail a catchphrase but steal the show week after week. We'll see where this goes, but for now I consider it much ado about nothing.
* It will be extremely interesting to see where the Brock Lesnar saga ends. He has added a ton of punch to the product over the past year, but I'm not sure that the limited dates experiment was as much of a success as anyone was hoping. The build between Punk and Lesnar (with Heyman doing Oscar-worthy weekly performances, natch) has been excellent so far, but it's hard to imagine Lesnar ultimately coming out on top with everything the company has invested in Punk. The hard part about doing certain dates is that it in many ways makes absolutely no sense to push you; the investment of time isn't worth the return. We'll see how it plays out with RVD, but the only reason people watch Lesnar is because he destroys people. And that's a really good reason, by the way. Having him come out and decimate 3MB is fun, but it's essentially a wasted effort. Lesnar needs to be used sparingly and conservatively and 110% when possible. I don't think he even needs to be a heel; he can kick everyone's ass equally. Think of what a Ryback/Lesnar match could do for Ryback's career, even if he loses. Nobody is happier than me that Brock is back in WWE, but this plan needs work and less shortsightedness to really fly. Let's hope they learn the lessons from the previous year and figure out a way to bring that big fight feel back. They're going to need it when Angle finishes up in the WWE.
That's all I have for this week. As always, I appreciate the time and the read. You can feel free to leave a comment below, and I can be reached on Twitter @coffeyfan77 (trust me when I tell you you'll enjoy 2 AM tweeting) and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, this is Mike Holland saying I can't wait until the next episode of Celebrity Wife Swap featuring Dusty Rhodes/Sapphire and Kenzo Suzuki/Hiroko and have a great week!