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The Top 7 King of the Ring Winners

August 23, 2019 | Posted by Steve Cook
Booker T King of the Ring

I can’t help but be happy that the King of the Ring is back in my life. I was approaching nine years old when the first King of the Ring PPV aired, and it immediately became one of the most important events of each year in my eyes. The tournament has definitely seen its ups and downs over the years. Some winners were pretty awesome. Sometimes you ended up with King Mabel or King Ass.

The KOTR PPV ceased to exist in 2002, and we’ve seen some intermittent KOTR tournaments take place since then. The most recent one was in 2015, so by World Cup logic 2019 is the perfect time for another one. WWE could certainly use a new star to help hold things together against the oncoming storm.

Today, we look at the seven most magnificent winners of the King of the Ring tournament. Here’s hoping 2019’s winner makes the list in 2029.

7. Bret Hart

Bret was the perfect first winner for the PPV incarnation of the King of the Ring tournament. You needed an established name to put the concept over as a big deal. Bret did his part by working some really good matches on the event with three very different opponents. Why isn’t he rated higher? Well, he was already a big star. The title didn’t elevate him, he elevated the title.

Also, the business with the Jerry Lawler attack during the coronation hurt Bret’s standing, along with losing the “King of the WWF” title to Lawler at SummerSlam by disqualification. Bret wasn’t much of a king, to be honest. He had other things going on, he was just here for a moment to lend some credibility.

6. Hunter Hearst Helmsley

Everybody says that Hunter was originally scheduled to win the tournament in 1996, until somebody had to be punished for the Clique breaking kayfabe in Madison Square Garden. That worked out for the best for everybody involved, including Hunter. The extra year gave him more time to prepare, get some seasoning & credibility with the audience. By the time he beat Mankind in the 1997 KOTR final, he was ready to assume the responsibility of being king.

Hunter’s victory here added to his credibility, and propelled him into the D-Generation X pairing with Shawn Michaels. And now he’ll probably be Lord of all Wrestling if Vince ever goes away (he won’t).

5. Owen Hart

People in the know could tell you that Bret’s baby brother was every bit as talented. People like me that only knew him from High Energy didn’t value Owen Hart as much as his older brother. The WrestleMania X victory could easily be explained away as a fluke. Owen needed a big accomplishment to get to the level where we’d take him seriously. What better accomplishment than winning the same tournament that Bret won the year before? Owen became the King of Harts & gained a useful ally in Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. This made people stand up and take notice. Owen wasn’t going to be a pushover for his brother to easily dismiss.

Owen came up short of taking the WWF Championship from Bret himself, but assisted Mr. Bob Backlund in doing so at 1994’s Survivor Series. He went on to have multiple reigns as Intercontinental & Tag Team Champion, and win a couple of Slammy Awards in a successful career that should have been even moreso.

4. Booker T

Booker T’s WWE run up until May 2006 was…ok, I guess. He came in as WCW Champion during the Invasion, immediately lost that title and became a bit of a punch line for awhile. He did end up teaming with Goldust, which was awesome. Then he challenged Triple H for the World Championship at WrestleMania XIX, there was a storyline where Triple H played the role of a white supremacist, and Triple H ended up winning the match after Booker T was down for three minutes after a Pedigree. Not great. There was some other stuff, including a Kurt Angle feud about beastility & some Boogey Man interaction.

Becoming King of the Ring pretty much saved his WWE career. Booker’s act as a noble king with Queen Sharmell, Sir Finlay & the town crier Sir William Regal was absolutely fantastic. It was everything a ridiculous King gimmick should have been. He got a run with the World Championship out of it and finally got the credibility he should have had from the beginning. ALL HAIL KING BOOKER!

3. Kurt Angle

Our Olympic Hero debuted at Survivor Series 1999. He won the European & Intercontinental Championships not long afterward, managed to lose both without dropping a fall, then moved onto the KOTR tournament in order to claim that championship. There wasn’t much doubt he would do that, then he moved on to win the WWF Championship in October. Dude got every major singles championship within a year in the company. That’s how you make a star!

I feel like that’s something WWE hasn’t even contemplated doing in years. Kevin Owens collected a good number of titles pretty quickly, but I didn’t see them pushed the same way Angle’s accomplishments were. Titles need to mean something in order for any of this stuff to mean anything, including the King of the Ring tournament winner. Kurt winning meant something, even if Billy Gunn won the year before and did nothing with the title. Oh, they needed a big winner after that one, it’s true!

2. Brock Lesnar

The last King of the Ring PPV took place in 2002. I’ve always assumed this was because no King could have followed what Brock Lesnar did. The man debuted right after WrestleMania. He ran over everybody in his path while becoming King of the Ring. He beat The Rock at SummerSlam to become the youngest WWE Champion of all time. Who’s topping that?

Future generations will look back at Brock Lesnar’s career and conclude that he was the greatest wrestler of all time. I mean, did Ric Flair or Hulk Hogan win the King of the Ring in their rookie year? No sir.

Honorable Mention: Harley Race

Harley’s KOTR victory is hampered by the fact that it wasn’t televised in some form. We just heard about him winning a tournament, and then he showed up as a king. I mean, for all we knew, he could have won the thing in Rio de Janeiro. And even if WWE tells us now that the “King” thing was meant as a way to acknowledge Harley’s greatness even though they couldn’t mention his eight NWA title reigns, most of Harley’s fans would tell you that it came off as insulting. Harley wouldn’t have said that because he didn’t give a rip, but he never listed being King of the WWF as one of his greatest accomplishments.

That being said, it’s still Harley Race, and even though he’s dead now I’m afraid not to mention him.

1. Stone Cold Steve Austin

There is not a more famous moment associated with the King of the Ring tournament than Austin’s coronation speech.

People debate over whether or not “Austin 3:16” immediately made Stone Cold a megastar. Those that argue against it point at the fact that he was on the Free For All match at SummerSlam 1996 and say that Austin’s rise truly started when Bret Hart wanted to wrestle him at the Survivor Series. As somebody that was a fan at the time, I definitely noticed Austin’s popularity increase right after his victory & his speech. There were tons of Austin 3:16 signs wherever the WWF went afterward. Maybe the brass was a little slow on the uptake, but the fans were ready to see Austin get his push. We can give Bret credit as well, as his promo accepting Austin’s challenge while putting Stone Cold over as the best wrestler in the WWF helped young me realize where things were heading.

Austin never touched the crown or the cape. He never even sat down on the throne. He still anointed himself as the future of the World Wrestling Federation by winning the tournament, and that really was the bottom line.

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King of the Ring, Steve Cook