Metalhead’s Riff: Is it good to be King? (NJPW, Wrestling Hinokuni, WWE, King of the Ring)

metalheadriff1600

Again lots to write about this week, but, I will concentrate on two things and two things only for once. Wrestling Hinokuni, NJPW’s last event before wrestling Dontaku and I will try to look at WWE’s King of the Ring history and see what we can learn from it in light of this year’s event. I will also try to post a review of wrestling Dontaku  this week (as soon as I’ve been able to watch it really) so stay tuned. In the meantime, plenty of stuff to go with so without further ado:

Wrestling Hinokuni

Jay White, Sho Tanaka and Yohei Komatsu vs Chaos (Gedo and Roppongi Vice):

A fun opener, featuring the young lions against the Jr Heavyweight Tag Team Champions and on half of the NJPW booking team (Gedo), Kamatsu, Tanak and White were allowed plenty of offense before their inevitable loss. Still they had a rather entertaining spot with three simultaneous Boston Crabs on the veterans. The fact that Gedo was in there fueled speculations about the booker wanting to get a close and personal feel about how ready the Lions are for bigger things. In the end Komatsu took the fall after a RPG Vice Strong Zero.

Harmless fun.

Captain New Japan and Satoshi Kojima vs Bullet Club (Cody Hall and Yujiro Takahashi):

Nothing special here, aside from the fact that Takahashi and Hall actually picked up the win  after a Tokyo Pimps on Captain New Japan (making  it Cody’s first NJPW victory). Takahashi’s lengthy post-match celebration was more noteworthy than the match itself.

Not bad but easily skip-able.

KUSHIDA & Manabu Nakanishi & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Mascara Dorada & Tiger Mask & Yuji Nagata:

Another one featuring the usual multi-tag match suspects, it felt rushed at times but did deliver an interesting result. Like noted before, in NJPW, the person who scores the win on such matches is usually in line for some sort of push or feud. KUSHIDA scoring the pin on former Jr Heavyweight Title challenger Dorada is therefore relevant, especially in light of the upcoming Best of Jr Heavyweight Tournament. A lenghty run in that Tournament would be most welcome for KUSHIDA, who surely is more than talented and popular enough to warrant a push.

Average match with an interesting result for the future.

NWA Jr Heavyweight Championchip: Steve Anthony (c) vs Jushin Thunder Liger:

Bruce Tharpe was his usual, entertaining self during this one and even had an hand in the finish. Tharpe certainly brings something extra, his antics are always fun but seldom overshadow the action which is as it should be. Liger’s performance wasn’t bad, but the real surprise here was Anthony who delivered a fine showing en route to his title retaining win. Wasn’t expecting much here and was pleasantly surprised. Expect more of Anthony in NJPW in the future.

Fine match, certainly watchable.

NWA World Heavyweight Championship: Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs Big Daddy YumYum:

Tharpe was back for this one, another  NWA title defense. Tenzan seems to genuinely enjoy being NWA champion and delivers another spirited performance. Not sure what to make of Big Daddy Yum Yum at this point. He seems to be rather bad and rater entertaining at the same time. VEry strange but you can’t help but be entertained somehow. Tharpe’s interference backfired this time to give Tenzan the victory.

Not a bad little match.

Alex Shelley, Tetsua Naito and Tomoaki Honma vs Bullet Club (Kenny Omega, Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows):

This one was of course mainly about Shelley and Omega who will clash at Wrsetling Dontaku, but Anderson continued his infatuation-with-Maria story line to the great annoyance of Gallows. Honma was of course just there to keep the crowd entertained. And it worked, a very fun outing that picked up speed whenever Shelley and Omega where in the ring, raising interest for their outing even further. Honma, of course, got the crowd wild every time he entered the ring but ended up taking a Stun Gun and Magic Killer making this a Bullet Club win. The result was logical, unfortunately, but surely more could be made with Honma’s popularity by now.

Fun.

Chaos (Kazuchika Okada and YOSHI-HASHI) vs Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale and Tama Tonga):

What should be the last Fale stop for Okada before moving to bigger and better things, the result was never in doubt. Okada pinned Tonga in what felt  in a rather standard Tag Match. Of course the Tag Match at Wrestling Dontaku will be the first real step toward Okada’s match against Styles at Dominion.

Average but not bad to watch.

Katsuyori Shibata, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Hirooki Goto vs Kazushi Sakuraba, Toru Yano and Shinsuke Nakamura:

Now this was fun. In a match designed to advance the various feuds between Yano and Tanahashi, Shibata and Sakuraba and Goto and Nakamura, everybody was paired up rather nicely throughout the match. I must say I’m still not very exited about the Shibata/Sakuraba feud, but Yano/Tanahashi once again provide plenty of fun and Nakamura/Goto already provided plenty of spectacle. Their match at Wrestling Dontaku should be awesome, and Nakamura’s antics are entertaining as always. Yano stole another one on Tanahashi with a roll-up. I’m really starting to like Yano here, he plays his role with gusto and aplomb.

Fun! Watch!

NEVER Openweight Championship: Tomohiro Ishii vs Togi Makabe:

The big one for this event, it delivered exactly what was expected. Ishii and Makabe always go in Total War mode whenever they are in each-other’s vicinity, and provide plenty of entertainment in the process. The structure of the match was also interesting because, in stead of the usual champion/challenger mode, we had two wrestlers with a genuine claim on the title (Ishii for having defeated Honma for it, and Makabe for having been stripped of but never defeated for it)). It was not nice, not fancy, just two madmen tearing into each-other with abandon. Great stuff. In the end Makabe won the battle with the King Kong Knee.

Very good! Watch!

Wrestling Hinokuni was often viewed as a warm-up towards Wrestling Dontaku, but ended up being another satisfactory offering by the boys from New Japan. Not great but with the entertaining NWA defences, the very fun six men tag match and the great Ishii/Makabe slug-fest it certainly delivered what it was supposed to. I have no problem recommending it, much better than anything WWE offers these days.

 

It’s good to be King (Sometimes):

Just before and during a rather underwhelming Extreme Rules  PPV  and a RAW edition that just promised more of the same, WWE decided to trow a KING of the Ring tournament into the mix. Announced a couple of days beforehand, the quarter finals were set during RAW, the semi’s and final promoted as a Network exclusive. As you all know by know, Bad News Barret is our 2015 KING of the Ring. It’s safe to say that particular announcement didn’t exactly set the Wrestling World on fire. The whole thing was baffling to me. While, in WWE’s defense, the original seemed to have been a long-termed tournament, spread over several RAW’s, the last minute decision to go frm announcement to final in a matter of days is questionable to say the least. Whatever their reasons, WWE lost another good opportunity to at least attempt to liven up their product with something, that, if used correctly, can hold the fans attention, create new feuds and enhance some talents. I propose to take a look back at wrestling history and see what lessons WWE could have taken from it.

The King of the Ring format was created back in 1985 as a special event. Don Muraco was crowned the first King after defeating Junkyard Dog, Les Thornton, Pedro Morales and The iron Sheik. Muraco would go on to feud with Ricky Steamboat for some time before beginning his slow descent down the card. Still, at the time, Muraco had just headline Madison Square Garden three times in a row (against Hogan) so it is save to state the first KotR winner was someone who was at the height of his career and a deserving first king. The 1985 event was judged enough of a success to convince WWF/E to held a second one in 1986.

It is rather difficult to rate the tournaments in those early days, as it is nearly impossible to find any decent video material or even reviews dating back from that time. Only those who were in attendance really know I guess. Regardless Harley Race was crowned the 1986 King of the Ring after defeating George Steele, Billy Jack Haynes and Pedro Morales. Harley Race is credited with popularizing the “King of Wrestling” after his win, by coming into the ring dressed with crown and Royal attire and forcing his defeated opponents to bow down and kneel before their King (often aided by manager Bobby Heenan), a gimmick he would retain for much of the remainder of his career.  Harley Race’s King title would become the subject of various feuds over actual KotR winners. Race’s crown was passed on to Haku (after Harley went down with injury and Heenan took it upon himself to crown a new king) who would loose it to Hacksaw Jim Duggan, who would then loose it in September 1989 to Randy Savage. Funnily enough this came two years after Savage had won the 1987 KotR tournament (by defeating Nikolai Volkoff, Jim Brunzell, Danny Davis and King Kong Bundy). But the Macho King gimmick was in reality born in 1989, after Randy won the crown first held by Harley Race. Confused? That’s how Ted Dibiasi (the 1988 winner by defeating Brutus Beefcake, Ken Patera, Ron Bass and Randy Savage) and Tito Santana (in 1989 by defeating bad News brown, The Warlord, Akeem and Rick Martel) must have felt. But then both of their wins weren’t about crowns but rather bragging rights (for Dibiase) and the culmination of an almost year long feud against Martel (for Santana). By then the gimmick must have felt a little redundant anyway as no 1990 tournament was held.

In 1991 WWE resurrected the event as part of their ongoing efforts to push Bret hart as a singles star. Bret would defeat Pete Doherty, Skinner and IRS to be crowned King of the Midcards or something. Seriously, already Intercontinetal champion by then, Bret’s win was more fodder for statistics. In fact it didn’t really have much effect has Bret would continue his various feuds over the IC title for the remainder of the year. In 1992 the tournament wasn’t held, but in 1993, WWE/F decided that the market could support another PPV between Wrestlemania and Summerslam and so, the first Official King of the Ring PPV was held on June 13 1993.

The first round was held on various “Superstars” and RAW tapings to raise awareness of the event, Quarter, Semi’s and finals were held during the PPV. The 1993 event is still notable for Bret’s performances (he had three very different matches against Razor Ramon, Mr Perfect and Bam Bam Bigelow, all of which were well received, and his win would be the starting point of what many considered 1993’s feud of the year against jerry “The King” Lawler. Therefore the 1993 event can be considered a success as far as the tournament itself goes. Enhancing  wrestlers reputation and creating new feuds at the same time, what a novel idea…

In 1994 Owen hart was right in the middle of his feud against brother Bret. His main reason for entering the event was to prove that he could do everything that Bret could, only better. In typical wrestling fashion the 1994 event was a notch or two beneath the 1993 event, as far as in-ring action goes, still, by defeating Doink the Clown, Tatanka, The 1-2-3 kid and Razor Ramon and by crowning himself the King of harts afterwards, Owen proved his point storyline wise and would go on tho push Bret to the limit in a amazing Steel Cage match at Summerslam. So again the event achieved its purpose. While one can say that Owen never really achieved full main event status, his 1994 win gave him more than enough reasons to continue his heelish claims of being better than his brother.

By then, it became clear that the KotR format was ideal to use for enhancing a wrestler reputation or create /advance feuds. It’s ability to create new stars remained to be seen. So, WWE/F decided to use the tournament to push none other than Mabel to the moon. yes, Mabel. The uncoordinated and clumsy Man on a Mission to unintentionally injure as many wrestlers as humanly possible. Needles to say the whole thing was a utter and dismal failure. While King Mabel would go on to challenge Diesel for the WWE title at Summerslam, this only served to emphasize how bad WWE programming had become. A best forgotten chapter in WWE history.

People often point at the 1996 KotR to prove the event’s ability to create new stars. While Stone COld Seve Austin would turn heads for the first time by defeating Bob Holly, Savio Vega, Marc Mero and Jake Roberts and, more importantly by uttering his “3:16” phrase for the first time, it is debatable whether KotR was the actual start of the Austin rise. In fact Austin would spend most of the rest of the year doing little. It took Bret Hart’s return at the Survivor Series and their subsequent feud to really put Austin on the map. In hindsight his 1996 win was little more than a anecdote as it didn’t accomplished much in itself.

At the Austin podcast, Triple H candidly admitted probably not being ready to win the tournament in 1996 as originally intended. He wasn’t much readier in 1997 to be fair, still, while the event was little more than another anecdote, it was the starting shot of the Triple H/Mick Foley feud who would indirectly lead to DX and Hunter’s eventual rise. So, in a very roundabout way, it did more or less achieved is intent (if the intent was to push Triple H vs mankind).

The 1998 event was another strange one. WWE/F used the tournament to further to push Ken Shamrock (who defeated Kama, mark henry, ken Shamrock and The Rock), but after, even if Ken Shamrock/the Rock in the final was perceived as a good match no-one was talking about that. Completely overshadowed by the infamous Undertaker/Mankind Hell in A Cell match, Kenny’s victory barely registered afterwards. WWE’s attempts at crowning Shamrock King of Kings (by rolling out a few previous winners like Mabel) only served to emphasize the gap between “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” and the real stars like Austin.

Despite KotR’s checkered star-making record , WWE/F once again attempted the feat in 1999. After, all, if booked correctly, having one wrestlers defeat several others in the course of one event is bound to increase one’s reputation, right? Well yes, unless that wrestler’s name is Billy Gunn. While Billy did achieve success as part as the New Age Outlaws, nothing could hide the fact that he was an uncharismatic, average singles wrestler unable to hold the crowd’s attention. The fact that the whole thing failed to deliver even one noteworthy match didn’t help either. It’s fair to say the 1999 event failed on all counts as WWE/F would soon trow in the towel on Billy’s singles push anyway.

The 2000 event was highly anticipated. Featuring 32 wrestlers at the start (the first two rounds were held on TV) and most of the WWE’s new and rising names (Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Edge, Christian, Eddie Guerrero the Hardy’s, The Dudley’s and more) on paper it looked like a sure-fire hit. However the booking was at fault here, as one after the other fan favorite fell to the likes of Rikishi and Val Venis. Eventual winner Kurt Angle (by defeating Bradshaw, Bubba Ray Dudley, Chris Jericho, Crash Holly and Rikishi) was his usual talented self but even he couldn’t drag Rikishi’s ass to an acceptable match in the finals. Still the event would lead Angle toward a Championship Triple Threat match at Summerslam and certainly can be pinpointed as the start of his main Event push, so objectives achieved I guess.

The 2001 edition is a puzzling one. When Edge defeated 2000 winner Kurt Angle in the final (after having defeated Test, Perry Saturn and Rhyno) EVERYBODY was predicting great things the future Rated R Superstar. Edge himself hilariously vowed not to “Billy Gunn” this opportunity. But, inexplicably, Edge would soon be lost in the shuffle of the ill-conceived Invasion angle and who soon drift back to opening match territory.  It’s difficult to blame the wrestles for this really, the only explanation is that WWE had other names to cuddle, and Edge simply wasn’t on that list. In fact it would still take years before Edge would finally become the Superstar every observer knew was in him.

In 2002, the tournament was used to further enhance Lesnar’s meteoric rise to WWE’s top. After defeating Bubba Ray, Booker T and test Lesnar basically squashed IC Champion in the finals, which would kick-start a feud between the two, in what felt as Lesnar passing the time before his real push and Championship match against the Rock at Summerslam. Not bad in se, but the whole original Lesnar push was so rushed that KotR just felt like a quick bus stop on the way to his inevitable WWE Undisputed Title win.

After the 2002 event, WWE abandoned the idea, perhaps finally realizing that, unless they had a well-defined and creative plan for the eventual winner, the event itself often served as a statistic in any given wrestler’s career. It was a bit of a surprise then when WWE announced a KotR revival in 2006. And this time there WAS an idea behind. Booker T and Sharmell had been turning heads recently with their well received hell characters, so KotR was used to finally push Booker T in Main Event territory. The first rounds where held on various smackdown (Booker defeated Matt hardy and Kurt Angle), including all sorts of side story-lines and the final between Booker T and Bobby Lashley was held at Judgement Day. It also marked the start of the King Booker and Queen Sharmell characters which could often become the highlight of Smackdown thereafter. Bokker T would go on to win his first World heavyweight Championship against Rey Mysterio at The Great American bash. While somewhat forgotten nowadays, the 2006 event can serve as a good example on how to book such an event nowadays. Well dispersed over various smackdowns, most matches were given time to develop and Booker’s win actually served a double purpose (start of a main event push and new character).

The 2008 edition  was much less successful due to WWE seemingly not having much of a plan beyond portraying winner William Regal as a delusional and power hungry king (and RAW general manager) leading to his eventual dismissal at the hands of Mr Kennedy. The whole thing was set as a special Raw which made it seem rushed and ultimately pointless of course. To be complete Regal defeated Hornswoggle, Fit Finlay and CM Punk to become King.

The 2010 event was again held over the course of several weeks, with the first round deciding which RAW and Smackdown wrestlers would compete against each other in the quarters. Not an uninteresting concept really, of course WWE spoiled it a bit by featuring two RAW wrestlers in the finals (leaving no doubt at what is, was and always has been the premier brand). As part of his on-going push Sheamus defeated R-Truth, Kofi Kingston and John Morrison to be crowned King. He would take to wearing a greenish cape and Celtic crown for some time before the whole thing was quietly forgotten. In typical modern WWE fashion, the whole thing once again seemed rather pointless due to their inability to come up with any kind of descent follow-up.

Which brings us to this year’s event. As history has proven, KotR CAN be useful if used in a logical and creative manner to enhance a talent or push. But one of the most important things to remember is KotR never created a star. It was a stepping stone for talent and/or storyline or pushes and should always be used as such. Therefore it’s difficult to envision what Barret’s KotR win could possibly achieve. Barret is a mid-carder at best. While somewhat better than Mabel or Billy Gunn, unless WWE has a definite plan for a coherent push and  somewhat entertaining gimmick in the coming weeks, The KotR 2015 will ultimately be seen as nothing more than time filler on the network, and that, as so many things in WWE nowadays, is a shame.

Video of the week:

This week, to keep with the KotR theme and to honor two legends of the ring, I decided to go with the 1993 Semi-final between Bret Hart and Mr Perfect. It’s difficult to express in words the incredible chemistry there was between those two whenever they faced each other. Each of their matches felt like something special which is the greatest compliment you can make to any wrestler. Enjoy!

That’s all from me this week, see you all later and have fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: , , ,