For Your Consideration…Matisyahu’s King (of the Ring) Without a Crown

For Your Consideration…Matisyahu’s King (of the Ring) Without a Crown

No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you, it’s really a Thursday “For Your Consideration”. In honor of the announcement of the returning King of the Ring, I decided to go vintage and bust out an old school Thursday morning column (as I announced on my Twitter feed, which you can follow at http://www.twitter.com/awheeler316). For those of you new to FYC, my old format used to be a Thursday content-driven column where I would dwell on one issue and present it in the always-popular law school brief format. Don’t get your hopes up that this will be a weekly deal since I can’t challenge Glazer’s workrate and cranking out quality columns, but for now, sit back, relax, and enjoy…

For Your Consideration…Matisyahu’s King (of the ring) Without a Crown

On November 29 in a live, three-hour RAW “event” (which, unlike the television show “The Event”, will actually have things that happen and are interesting), we will have our first King of the Ring since 2008. I’m a huge fan of the King of the Ring because the idea of tournaments in wrestling gives purpose to seemingly meaningless matches. I’m also a sucker for the plush red throne.

The King of the Ring, in it’s current format, dates back to 1993. Yes, there were Kings of the Ring starting in 1985 with Don “Fuji Vice” Muraco, but just like his Rock moniker, his King title is largely glossed over. In 1993, the WWE busted out a PPV Tournament that culminated with Bret Hart winning the crown (something he did in 1991, but once again, ignore the man behind the curtain).

The idea behind the reinvented King of the Ring Tournament was to create a new star because the Royal Rumble match became too valuable for the company to take risks. It’s rare in wrestling to create a gimmick that is going to (theoretically) instantly get someone over as a big deal. The seemingly wide open world of the Royal Rumble, where any of the 30 entrants “could” win, is in reality a small pool of established main eventers. Vince isn’t going to risk the main event of Wrestlemania on a random fluke or an untested midcarder, so for guys like Evan Bourne and Luke Gallows, a Rumble appearance means a short night of work ending with a bump.

King of the Ring was designed to catapult someone from their current position to one higher, with mixed results. Bret winning the first King of the Ring was part of a concentrated and continuous effort to make us forget about the mustached one, and along with a Rumble win and a World Title run, seemed like a possibility. By having Bret become the first “modern era” king, we were assured that the gimmick was being taken slightly seriously.

When Owen won the title the next year, we knew that Vince had faith in the littlest Hart. Owen’s quest to prove “anything Bret can do, I can do better” allowed him to stand equal to The Hitman without actually winning the Rumble.

In 1995, Vince firmly believed that anyone could win King of the Ring and get over as a legitimate threat. Much like the theory that anyone could be put on the court with Wade, James and Bosch and the Heat could still win the NBA Championship, Vince decided to take his new toy out for a spin and see what it could do. In a field including Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Razor Ramon, Jeff Jarrett and Lex Luger, the Chairman of the Board decided to put the gimmicky crown on the blonde Mohawked head of Mabel. Yes, THAT Mabel. Mabel was dressed in purple and yellow and pushed to the moon against Diesel, effectively killing Kevin Nash’s title momentum (assuming any was actually left).

Thankfully, there was a silver lining to that atrocious decision. During the Savio Vega/Mabel finale (again, you read that correctly), the restless Philly crowd began to loudly chant for ECW. This, according to revisionist history and urban lore, is what made Vince McMahon aware of Paul Heyman’s bingo hall promotion. That match was also what made Vince aware of the little-known Boring promotion, as most of the fans were chanting that as well.

1996 was the redemption year for the gimmick, and proof positive that King of the Ring, when used properly, is worth its weight in gold. With a broken jaw and a sneer, Steve Austin went from DiBiase’s former flunky to the biggest star in wrestling history. I determine the success of an idea or a gimmick based on the results. Much like NXT, which I consider a success based solely on the success of Wade Barrett (along with Daniel Bryan, Kaval and now the Nexus angle), I consider the KOTR experiment an unquestioned success based solely on the fact that it led to the creation of “Austin 3:16”, the adlib that sold millions of shirts.

In 97, Vince tried to see if lighting could strike twice, so he put the crown on Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Hunter was still finding his footing (though by now he had Chyna), and his final opponent of the night was Mankind. The victory didn’t catapult him to Triple H levels just yet, but it was a nice feather in his nose…I mean cap.

1998 and 1999 stand as memorials to overpushed guys that just never hit their potential. 98 was won by Ken Shamrock, who, due to several start-and-stop pushes, couldn’t parlay his UFC success into WWE success. In 2010, the idea of a UFC champion not breaking out in wrestling seems absurd, but back then it was going to take more than an octagonal rep and a feud involving dog food to get someone over. 1999’s winner was the King of Not Getting Over, Billy Gunn. For some reason, Vince just looked at that guy and saw dollar signs. Yes, when he was in the New Age Outlaws, he became part of the hottest tag team of the Attitude Era. But as a stand-alone guy? Ye gad man. Vince tried everything for this guy, including giving him Torrie Wilson as a valet and putting him in a top-level feud with The Rock, but nothing would help out this horse’s ass. Cosmo Kramer, not Billy Gunn, was the most famous Ass Man of the past twenty years.

In the year 2000, the potentially gimmicky overly-genuine Olympic hero Kurt Angle won the King of the Ring. The field of competitors started at a ridiculous 32 people, with matches occurring on television for the first few weeks. The final eight included Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, with the eventual winner being Angle. If for nothing else, this was just another way of letting the fans know that Vince had faith in Kurt. I’m totally fine with this outcome.

Edge won the 2001 King of the Ring, as part of one of his many failed pushes. Everyone assumed that the final match would be Edge versus Christian, but we wuz swerved, yo, and it wound up being Edge and Angle. Vince’s logic wasn’t bad here: Kurt wanted to be the second person ever to win back-to-back King of the Ring titles, while Edge wanted to prove that he was a legitimate singles star. In the end, they went with the guy who should have been over as a major babyface, but to this day, Edge’s face routine just doesn’t connect with the audience. I’m sure he’ll cry himself to sleep knowing that all he was able to do was win several WWE Titles, main event Wrestlemania and become one of the best heels of all time.

Brock Lesnar’s meteoric rise in 2002 included a King of the Ring victory, which allowed him to challenge The Rock at Summerslam and establish himself as the next true main eventer. This would be the last King of the Ring PPV, which was odd when you consider how successfully it worked at getting Lesnar over further as a beast. With guys like John Cena, Batista and Randy Orton in developmental, it’s stunning that Vince didn’t want to continue with this gimmick.

In 2006, King of the Ring returned as a Smackdown-only gimmick. The decision to make it brand-exclusive wasn’t a terrible idea given the fact that people would spend more time obsessing which brand one as opposed to which star. Besides that, with RAW being the main focus at that point, the odds of a Smackdown star being allowed to shine seemed slim.

Everyone assumed in 2006 that the winner would be Bobby Lashley, as he fit the mold of a young, up-and-comer who could use the vault from midcard to main event. Instead, the WWE decided to flip the script and give the crown to Booker T. At the time, people cried foul over the fact that a veteran who “didn’t need” the win wound up coming out the victor. As it turned out, Booker’s reign as King Bookah wound up creating not just a career resurgence, but another run with the title.

The final King of the Ring, in 2008, ended in similar circumstances. RAW GM William Regal beat CM Punk in the final round of the tournament to be the last reigning King of the Ring. He didn’t do too much with the monarchy, but much like the Booker T formula, the WWE figured that giving an established veteran a win like that could possibly jumpstart his career. It’s 2010 and William Regal is main eventing Superstars (and still proving that he is one of the best active wrestlers around) while Punk is a bona fide main eventer, even without the crown.

So now on November 29, in the same city where Mabel’s coronation took place, we will get a brand new King of the Ring winner. Quite frankly, it couldn’t come at a better time. Coming a week after Survivor Series, the tournament could add some intrigue to the WWE heading into RumbleMania Season. The midcard in the WWE has never been stronger, with several people more than capable of winning the crown.

The likely favorite to win the tournament has got to be Wade Barrett. Much like Lesnar before him, Wade has become a true main event threat. If he doesn’t win the belt at Survivor Series, a King of the Ring victory would propel him back into the main event picture.

Sticking with NXT, Daniel Bryan and Kaval are the two other alumni from the SyFi show that could win the crown. Both guys are showing that they can handle being on television in the “big league”, and while a Kaval win would be something of an upset, Bryan going over could go far towards establishing him as a true upper midcard threat.

Dolph Ziggler, Kurt Swangle, Cody Rhodes and Dolph Ziggler are the four major Smackdown heels that just seem to hover in the same position, with each guy jockeying for that role as cocky heel. A KOTR win could be in the future for any of them as a way to distance themselves from the pack.

Alberto Del Rio could win the tournament as he’s been earmarked as the “next big next big thing”, but as he’s shown in the past with his scarf, giving him a fashion accessory could be a dangerous thing.

Several established stars could use the King of the Ring victory. The newly turned Edge could become the second person ever to win two KOTRs, which would probably give a lift to his new face push. CM Punk could win the whole thing, giving him another reason to stand out in a crowded RAW heel pack. Sheamus, who seems directionless for the moment based on the Santino feud, could be the next monster to win the tournament, though it would actually feel below him for some reason. John Morrison seems like an odds-on choice with his most recent quasi-push, though the company probably can’t resist using him to put over The Miz (who doesn’t need the crown since he has the suitcase already).

My pick for the winner of the tournament is actually Kofi Kingston. Kofi’s been spinning his wheels for years, and aside from that one bit of forward momentum in the feud with Randy Orton, he hasn’t done anything of much importance. The problem Kofi has is that heels tend to make more of the KOTR victory than faces do, but if this were to somehow get him a World Title shot, it could firmly establish him as a main eventer on Friday Nights.

In the end, the purpose of the tournament needs to be refocused to remind fans that the winner is the person that the company has faith in. Yes, there’s already the Money in the Bank suitcase, but the person who wins that gets the briefcase by unhooking it. The winner of the final round of the King of the Ring usually wins by pinfall or submission, which is just a stronger visual trigger for the fans.

Hopefully this year’s King of the Ring successfully elevates SOMEONE. At the very least, we’re spared another train-wreck three-hour directionless RAWs.

(I hope).

This has been for your consideration.

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