This week’s Monday Night Raw will feature the return of the WWE King of the Ring Tournament, which at one point was likely the most well-known annual pro wrestling tournament in the world.
Those of us who grew up watching the WWF in Boston in the 1980s will remember that the King of Ring was actually something that started locally. The Magnificent Muraco won the first ever such tournament in July 1985 at Foxboro Stadium (Foxboro, MA, is south of Boston), which at the time was the home of the New England Patriots.
Did the initial King of the Ring tournaments launch anyone into superstar status? No. Let’s look at the five past winners of the King of the Ring from the 1980s:
- Muraco—He was well established as one of the top heels in the WWF, although ironically, he played babyface in the final tournament match by beating the Iron Sheik.
- Harley Race (won in July 1986 in Foxboro)—Race was on the tail end of his wrestling career when he became King of the Ring. But never let one’s past as a multi-time NWA World Champion be a good enough gimmick; instead, Vince McMahon pushed King Harley Race, and even at one point Race was simply known as The King. Race abdicated his crown to Haku (later known as Meng) due to an injury, thus began the reign of King Haku.
- “Macho Man” Randy Savage (won in September 1987 in Providence, RI)—The WWF never made a big deal about Savage winning the tournament (in fact, at the time, Race was still being called the king). However, Savage eventually won the crown from Hacksaw Jim Duggan, although that victory was not related to his Providence tournament win. Savage went by the name “Macho King” for a while.
- Ted DiBiase (won in October 1988 in Providence)—DiBiase was already the top heel in the WWF when he took the tournament. What a year for DiBiase, who earlier in 1988 went to the finals of the WrestleMania IV World Title tournament, which he lost to Savage. The WWF never pushed DiBiase’s King of the Ring win, again leading to the argument that DiBiase may have been the most talented yet shafted heel in WWF history.
- Tito Santana (won in October 1989 in Providence)—Like others who had won the tournament, Santana was a veteran of the ring at the time, having held the Tag Team and Intercontinental Titles on multiple occasions. He was never pushed as King of the Ring.
There was one more local King of the Ring in 1991 in Providence, which saw Bret “Hitman” Hart take the crown. After a short break, the event returned as a WWF pay-per-view in 1993 in Dayton, OH, which Hart again won (Hart is the only person to win two King of the Ring tournaments).
Those who won the tournament after the 1980s constituted a mix bag. Some of the winners launched into superstardom, like Stone Cold Steve Austin, while others could only be described as jokes in winning, such as Mabel and “Mr. Ass” Billy Gunn (now Kip James in TNA Wrestling). Yes, there was really a dude whose gimmick was Mr. Ass, and he was our king.