With the opening round of the King of the Ring tournament now underway, WWE spent much of the first week looking back fondly at past winners – such as ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin going over Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts in 1996 and Brock Lesnar demonstrating why he was considered ‘The Next Big Thing’ in 2002.
We’ve already looked back at some of the best winners of the event in company history, as well as shared our picks for those most likely to claim the crown this year.
But in the spirit of being contrary, and with tongue firmly in cheek, let’s take a walk down memory lane and rank the five worst crown-bearers in King of the Ring history.
5. William Regal – 2008
One of the best wrestlers to ever do it, Regal was more than fit to be King of the Ring. I mean, the guy’s last name is Regal, after all. But what puts a damper on this win was the man Regal defeated in the finals.
CM Punk, fresh off a Money in the Bank victory at WrestleMania XXIV and a reign as ECW Champion, would’ve greatly benefitted by adding King of the Ring to his already impressive resumé. Two years into his run with WWE, fans had grown attached to the once indy darling, and would’ve gladly embraced the idea of Punk as king.
The win for Regal should’ve been a highlight moment in his career, but is instead easily forgotten. The victory had little impact on either competitor’s credibility in the long run, as both remain well-respected in the industry despite the outcome.
Punk would go on to cash-in his MITB briefcase two months later, defeating Edge to become WWE World Heavyweight Champion – going some way to rectifying the mistake made here.
4. Wade Barrett – 2015
Had Barrett won the King of the Ring in 2012… well, there would’ve had to have been a tournament in 2012… but my point is this would’ve made a lot more sense. When Barrett debuted on the main roster with the Nexus in 2010, he was made to look like a credible big man with the leadership qualities to captain the misfit faction. Hell, the Undertaker even fell victim to Barrett.
A win in 2015, however, was anything but stellar for Barrett. The ring veteran, much like Regal seven years prior, defeated an up-and-coming talent in the finals whom fans had begun to rally behind – being, on this occasion, Neville.
After his win, Wade would begin referring to himself as “King Barrett”, which sparked little fan interest.
And what did his coronation result in? A drawn-out, boring feud with Neville, culminating in a tag match pitting himself and Stardust (a.k.a. The Lords of Darkness) against Neville and actor, Stephen Amell.
A loss to R-Truth, then calling himself “The King What’s Up”, didn’t help either.
3. Billy Gunn – 1999
Involved with one of the hottest factions of the Attitude Era, D-Generation X, ‘Mr. Ass’ Billy Gunn was certainly beloved by the fans. His flamboyant, yet tough, persona drew incredibly well at the time, where attitude was king.
In that regard, Gunn was an easy choice to win the tournament, defeating fellow D-X alumnus, X-Pac, in the final round.
In previous years, the King of the Ring winner would receive a title shot against the World Champion at SummerSlam. Instead of making Gunn a star though, WWE elected to pass on said match in favor of a “Kiss My Ass” match against The Rock – which, of course, Gunn lost.
He’d later continue feuding with X-Pac, and former partner Road Dogg, before D-X reunited just a few months later… sweeping Gunn’s win, and any good that could have come of it, under the rug.
2. Ken Shamrock – 1998
There certainly seems to be a pattern developing among disappointing King of the Ring winners. One in which the runner-up is usually the person who should’ve been crowned king. We saw it with Punk / Regal in 2008, Barrett / Neville in 2015, and one could even make the argument that Razor Ramon should’ve defeated Owen Hart in 1994.
Such, again, was the case in 1998, when Ken Shamrock defeated The Rock. Which is a shame.
After dropping his Rocky Maivia gimmick, The Rock became a household name in 1997 due to his colorful language and show-stopping finishing manoeuvres. To Shamrock’s credit, he proved to be a worthy adversary to the young ‘Brahma Bull’, winning most of the matches between the two.
A tale of two cities, as it were, these could have been the best of times and not the worst. Shamrock, known mostly for his work as a mixed martial artist, never truly resonated with pro-wrestling fans and his King of the Ring victory did little to change that.
1. Mabel – 1995
No need to go asking any magic mirrors “Who’s the worst king of them all?”, as most long-time pro-wrestling fans still regard Mabel’s victory as one of the worst moments in WWE history.
After turning heel, Mabel instantly became the company’s top bad guy and was seen as the Number One Contender to World Champion, Diesel. And Mabel’s win at King of the Ring 1995 was originally intended to culminate in a title challenge at SummerSlam. But he was ultimately replaced by the British Bulldog, who too had recently turned heel.
So instead, the only belt Mabel would come close to holding was a custom King of the Ring championship belt – the first-and-only of its kind.
Mabel would ultimately be fired by the company a year later. In a shoot interview conducted with Kayfabe Commentaries, Kevin Nash (Diesel) stated that Mabel didn’t have the respect of the locker room as a performer at the time, before alluding to multiple injuries Mabel had caused to a handful of WWE’s top performers.
Mabel would return to the WWE as Viscera in 1999 and later ‘Big Daddy V’.