The first ever King of the Ring on WWF pay-per-view was quite a spectacle to behold. With a healthy dose of build-up, it was hard not to be excited for at least the tournament and the WWF championship match. As it turned out, both would satisfy (the tournament especially) while the other matches would predictably not carry their weight. Compared to Wrestlemania, however, it is hard not to be very impressed with this event.
A quick note on my personal history with this event: I recall watching this event multiple times when I was a kid, so I was pretty familiar with most everything that would happen. I don’t remember if I watched this event live, but I saw it enough to have it ingrained in my memory. For those who have not seen this PPV you owe it to yourselves to check it out, if only for the tournament matches, each of which were spectacular (barring Hughes/Perfect).
It’s nice to see Jim Ross is back to call the action here. Not only does he seem genuinely excited, he also seems much more natural in his delivery than Macho King or Vinnie Mac. It’s very easy to see even early on in his WWF run why JR would become the voice of wrestling.
This event is also significant for the fact that it’s the last WWF PPV featuring Hulk Hogan until 2002 or something. Though Hogan had carried this company on his shoulders for years as the Lennon to McMahon’s McCartney, the fallout from the steroids trial along with Hulk’s passion for acting and a hefty offer from WCW would lead to his departure from the WWF. While this was a sad moment for Hulkamaniacs everywhere and there was certainly a tough transition for the WWF, the move would payoff for all involved eventually; WWF would shift their focus to creating new stars, WCW gained a key wrestling figure and would play out the NWO angle, and Ed Leslie got another job.
Here's a sample of the action:
Now that we’ve covered some of the historical bases, let’s move on to the matches themselves:
Bret Hart v. Razor Ramon was a great way to kick off the PPV. These are two of the biggest names in the history of this business, and both were at the top of their games at the King of the Ring. Fighting with the added pressure of a 15-minute time limit, these two athletes put it all on the line very quickly in this match. After a solid back-and-forth match, Bret got the pin after a superplex by Ramon ended with Bret rolling over the landing into a pin. This was a great match that left both men looking strong.
I should also note that, due to the bullshit finish to the championship match at Wrestlemania (which Jack Tunney refused to overturn), Bret Hart is the number one seed in this tournament did not have to qualify by winning a match like the other competitors did. Apparently Tunney thinks this is a fair way of handling the fallout from Mania. This makes the mark in me furious, which in turn makes the real-life person in me feel like an idiot.
Mr. Hughes v. Mr. Perfect was a pretty boring match considering how good both of these competitors are. While Mr. Hughes may not be a wrestling legend, he was a formidable opponent and a hell of a big man who had recently stolen Undertaker’s urn after demolishing Paul Bearer on Harvey Wippleman’s orders. We all know how much I love Wippleman, so it shouldn’t be a surprise how impressed I am with his latest acquisition. Unfortunately, I was not impressed with this match. There wasn’t a ton of action before Hughes grabbed the urn and attacked Perfect, leading to Hughes’ disqualification. This could have been so much better.
Bam Bam Bigelow v. Jim Duggan, while not spectacular, was a solid match. Neither man was overly impressive, but Duggan gave Bigelow a good run until ultimately falling victim to Bam Bam’s devastating flying headbutt. A decent match that showcased two pretty good wrestlers, this is an enjoyable match.
I’ll be perfectly honest with all of you – I was not looking forward to Tatanka v. Lex Luger. Luger, still "The Narcissist" at this point, had been crushing people with his bionic forearm (which has something like 3 steel plates and 6 screws in it) while Tatanka had remained undefeated as well, tomahawk chopping his way into the hearts of millions. Touted as a battle of the undefeated, the match began with the referee insisting that Luger where a pad over his forearm or be disqualified. Luger played up to the crowd before finally agreeing, and the match began. This match was easily the surprise of the night for me – I wasn’t expecting much (ws never a huge Luger fan) but both men really blew me away, scratching tooth and nail to a 15-minute time limit draw. You could see the frustration in both men’s faces, and Luger ended the evening by taking off the forearm padding and jacking Tatanka in the middle of the ring. This was one of Lex’s last heel outbursts, but also one of his finest.
Bret Hart v. Mr. Perfect was next following a heated interview with both men. While it was obvious that they both respect each other’s wrestling abilities, these two titans of the ring threw in a few personal jabs as well as some paternal insults. The war of words quickly moved to ring where both men put on a great performance. This was easily the match of the night. Both men attempted their finishers unsuccessfully, and in the end Hart would reverse a small-package by Perfect to steal the match in a hard-fought battle.
Hulk Hogan (c) v. Yokozuna for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship was up next, which really surprised me. This match had the biggest star in the industry, and was for the most prestigious title in the company, yet it preceded an 8-man tag match and a match featuring Crush. I don’t know if Vinnie Mac was making a statement to Hogan or what, but I was really sprprised to this match at this point in the card. Moving beyond that, I love this match. I think Yokozuna was an extraordinary talent, and watching him in the ring with Hogan was a lot of fun. The match was very much in the typical Hogan style – Hogan gets his ass kicked for a bit before Hulking up and whipping tail – but had a few key differences that made this more entertaining than most Hogan matches. Hogan tried to get Yoko up for a slam, reminiscent of his Andre moment, multiple times. He failed every time. Also, after Hulking up and giving a great “YOU!” finger point, it took Hogan three big boots to put the big man down. After an atomic leg drop, Yokozuna shockingly kicks out of the Hulkster’s legendary finisher. Now, it’s been rumored that Hogan was not willing to do the job cleanly and lose the title to Yoko, so the crazy ending the WWF came up with was a Japenese camera man’s (reportedly Harvey Wippleman!) camera exploding and shooting a fireball into Hogan’s eyes which led to Yoko getting the pin and winning the title. I remember thinking that was nuts when I was a kid, and I still think it’s a crazy ending to a big match. I’m also jazzed that I no longer have to watch Hulk Hogan for a while.
Oh yeah, I also want to add that Yokozuna has an amazing belly-to-belly suplex.
The Steiner Brothers and Smoking Gunns v. The Headshrinkers and Money, Inc. was a throwaway match if I’ve ever seen one. Nobody impressed me in this stinker, which is weird because there are a number of great wrestlers involved in this match-up. In the end, Billy Gunn takes advantage of DiBiase’s arrogance and gains the win with a small package. Dumb.
Shawn Michaels (c) v. Crush for the Intercontinental Title was a pretty stupid match. My hate for Crush is well-documented, as is my love of Michaels. Unfortunately, my hate outweighs my love here and even with Diesel and some excellent power spots, this match was just not very exciting. I don’t even remember how it ends, though I’m fairly certain it involves Doink distracting Crush and nobody caring. At least Michaels retains.
The final match of the night was the King of the Ring final, Bret Hart v. Bam Bam Bigelow. Bigelow had received a bye after the Luger/Tatanka fight, so he was fresh while Bret was wrestling his third match of the night. This was another great match for both men and with the odds stacked against Hart it looked like Bam Bam was going to make history. Even with an advantage over Hart, Bigelow and his main-squeeze, Luna Vachon, used illegal tactics to gain a pinfall over the Excellence of Execution. Luckily, my main man Earl Hebner spotted the chair shot and restarted the match. After the restart, Hart eventually gains the pinfall to win the first King of the Ring tournament.
One of the real highlights of this PPV event did not take place in the ring, but rather during Hart’s coronation ceremony with “Mean” Gene Okerlund. Jerry “The King” Lawler came out and threw a few insults at Bret, claiming to be the real king of wrestling, before Bret told him he was nothing but a burger king. With Hart leading the crowd in a “burger king” chant, Lawler hit Hart with the scepter and continued to destroy Hart until the show went off the air. I thought this was great, as it began an entertaining feud that would last for years.
Quote of the Night: “He’s the 14th of 13 children.” – Bobby Heenan on Bret Hart
Reflections: King of the Ring was definitely a step up from Wrestlemania in terms of overall wrestling matches sheer excitement. While Wrestlemania may have had a bigger build-up, King of the Ring actually delivered where they needed to as opposed to Mania. This is a great show from this period in wrestling and you should do yourself a favor and at least check out the Bret Hart matches if you ever get the chance. Hopefully the rest of June can live up to the standards set at the PPV.