KING OF THE RING RETROSPECTIVE: PART 2
posted by Brian Swane
One of the trickiest things to do in pro wrestling is create a new star. Just ask WCW.
WCW’s momentary surged ahead of WWE in the late 90s was on the strength of the NWO, a red-hot angle revolving around performers that had become stars in the WWF, like Hogan, Nash, Hall and Savage. When the NWO fizzled out, WCW was left exposed, with no new established stars to carry the torch, save for Goldberg. Within a couple years, they were bought out by WWE.
There is much made of this problem right now in WWE, who are so badly in need of new babyfaces that we’ve seen characters that are natural villains like Alberto Del Rio and The Miz turn face, while the seemingly imminent heel turn of Randy Orton continues to remain on hold. Injuries continue to wreck havoc with the roster, even as they add more programming that needs added bodies to carry the load.
How do you make a star? It really has to be the perfect storm of the right character at the right time, but rarely does it happen without a consistent build, victories over established names, main-event slots, and capturing some kind of title.
This is why the King of the Ring PPV was so important.
Consistent build? The lead-up to KOTR began shortly after WrestleMania in April, and carried through to June.
Victories over established names? The wrestlers that made significant runs in the KOTR tournament would generally have to win four matches, including preliminary qualifying bouts on TV prior to the PPV.
Main-event slots? The PPV was built around the KOTR tournament. The KOTR final was, at worst, the second-to-last match on the card.
Title? Being able to call yourself KOTR — a moniker arguably more valuable than any title, for two reasons: One, you had it for an entire YEAR. Two, it did not come at the expense of an established star. No one had to drop a title belt to put somebody else over. The KOTR was almost like a bonus title, allowing an additional performer to benefit from championship-like prestige.
Let’s examine the role the KOTR PPV played in establishing stars, beginning with Bret Hart’s triumph at the first event in 1993.
Bret Hart was an established star before KOTR 1993. Hell, he had just lost the WWE title less than three months prior at WrestleMania. At that point in time, he was already a two-time time tag-team champ and two-time intercontinental champ. He’d even won the KOTR tournament in 1991, when it was held as a non-televised house show event that rendered it practically meaningless.
But his KOTR victory came at a critical time, keeping the Hitman strong between world title reigns, effectively bridging the gap between his initial stardom and eventual superstardom.
Bret had won his first world title by beating Ric Flair in the fall of 1992, and then successfully defended it at Survivor Series against Shawn Michaels and at the Royal Rumble against Scott Hall, and headed into WrestleMania 9 at the top of the company.
Meanwhile, following a year’s absence, Hulk Hogan had made a return to the WWE, and – as the flawed logic went at that time — if Hogan was going to be in the WWE, he was going to be the face of the company, and booked into the championship picture. Simple as that.
That meant that all other babyfaces – like Bret – were left to battle for second-tier championships, even if such titles were beneath them. So in a screwball turn of events that still makes fans cringe, Bret lost the title to Yokozuna at WrestleMania 9, who then lost the title to Hogan in a matter of seconds.
Hogan wasn’t going to be around much longer. In fact, he would disappear after losing the title to Yokozuna at KOTR 1993. Bret was the new face of the company, its hero; the one would carry it into the future. He had to be kept strong, and putting him in the IC title picture, or something similar, just wouldn’t have cut it.
So instead, he was booked to win the inaugural KOTR PPV, and stole the show with an incredible single-night performance that will probably never be forgotten. In a span of less than three hours, Bret defeated Scott Hall, Curt Hennig and Bam Bam Bigelow, and wrestled for a total of nearly 50 minutes. It was on this night, he truly arrived.
Bret went on to reclaim the world title by defeating Yokozuna at WrestleMania 10 the next spring. He had three more title reigns before departing WWE following the infamous Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series 1997. The 1993 KOTR title is a significant part of Bret’s legacy, and pivotal to his career trajectory.
Next up, we’ll look at the1994 KOTR, someone Bret was very familiar with.