There once was a time when late June meant one thing on the hypothetical wrestling calendar. No, not Sid Eudy walking out on a company to go and play softball (is June softball season? Who cares)…the King of the Ring, of course!
It started off as a most stately affair in 1993 where the winner would get decked out with a cheap robe, crown and sceptre, before the late 90s came along and people were far too cool for that.
Baron Corbin gets a lot of flack but to his credit he has kept the gimmick it going since winning the honour in 2019, showing off his princely Game of Thrones-style gown at every opportunity. Now rumours have started that WWE may be resurrecting the classic tournament once again. But who are some of the best ever?
6. Jerry Lawler
An honourable mention for Lawler, who has never won a King of the Ring tournament or defeated anyone for the title, as has happened in some cases. But Lawler deserves his place on the list for his dedication to the “King” gimmick for all these years. Lawler became the “King of Wrestling” during a feud in his native Memphis during the 1970s and gained fame throughout the territories over the following two decades as Jerry “The King” Lawler.
Lawler was protective over the King gimmick and rightly so since it brought him a lot of success. He even sued the WWF in the mid-80s when “King” Harley Race debuted. When Lawler arrived in the WWF in 1992, he brought the “King” moniker with him. Within a few short months it had been worked into a major storyline, as he memorably attacked Bret Hart moments after the conclusion of the 1993 tournament. Jerry Lawler is quite simply most people’s first answer to the question ‘Who is the real king of wrestling’, and with good reason.
5. Baron Corbin
He has his critics but you have to admit that Corbin gave the ‘King’ shtick a good go. Whereas many in his position may have disheartened or disinterested at being lumbered with what could be an outdated prop, Corbin made the most of it. As previously mentioned, adjusting your ring name to incorporate ‘King’ always goes down well in my book.
Corbin won the most recent King of the Ring tournament, which in recent years have taken place every few years without much warning (2008, 2010, 2015, 2019). While some have questioned his in-ring ability, Corbin received high marks for his performances throughout the tournament, which culminated in an impressive victory on Raw in September 2019 over Chad Gable. Following Booker T’s example, Corbin soon recruited a couple of minions to sit at his royal table in the form of the Knights of the Lone Wolf… who were sadly taken off TV and released shortly after.
4. Bret Hart
Frustratingly for Owen Hart – or at least the jealous younger brother he portrayed on screen – whatever he achieved in the WWF, brother Bret had usually already done. That was the case with the King of the Ring. In fact, Bret is the only man to have won a KOTR tournament twice, as he won the final non-televised one in 1991, as well as the first pay-per-view version two years later.
The one that mattered though was the 1993 edition, as the WWF took the bold step of tinkering with its ‘famous four’ line-up of big annual shows, placing King of the Ring in the lengthy gap between WrestleMania and SummerSlam. For the show to succeed it needed to deliver quality action in the ring and produce a credible winner. Enter Bret Hart.
Hart wrestled three excellent and very different matches on the night, working seamlessly with Scott Hall, Curt Hennig and Bam Bam Bigelow. It kept his own momentum going while out of the title picture and kickstarted one of the feuds of the era with Jerry Lawler. Minus points for not adding ‘King’ to his ring name, though.