Top-Down Smackdown: KOTR, WTF?


When the first round of the King of the Ring tournament happened last week on Raw, I thought to myself, great, now I can talk about who should win it in next week’s column.

Then they finished the whole thing on a WWE Network off-night, amidst several other new launches. What the hell? Doesn’t hype and buildup matter any more?

Still, this allows me to look back a bit on the King of the Ring and what it has meant over the years – as an event, it has weirdly bounced back and forth from being treated as a joke to taken deadly seriously.

Initially, it wasn’t even televised, and the winners not acknowledged at all on TV storylines. Then Harley Race was given a goofy “King” character following victories in the tournament – perhaps the ultimate example of a ’70s era wrestler being given an embarrassing ’80s makeover in order to stay relevant.

Then, even as the tournament continued off TV, Race “defended” the gimmick of King against Haku, who defeated him and then began a pretty epic losing streak under the newly incongruous appearance of a Pacific Islander dressed as an English monarch. (That Haku is allegedly the most legitimately dangerous guy in the business proves he had a good sense of humor about this to allow it to happen.) And them, for a while, it became like a title, won by Hacksaw Jim Duggan, who would hilariously let the crown bounce off his head and sometimes break every time he yelled “HOOOOOO!” Finally, Randy Savage rode the “Macho King” shtick into first retirement.

King of the Ring was legitimized as a TV storyline during the new generation era, when it was used both to anoint Bret Hart as the next face of the company, and get Jerry Lawler over as a villain, AND to explain how Lawler could have a “king” gimmick separately from the existing one (his predated the tournament, but in the pre-smark era not all WWF fans could be expected to know that).

In the years since, whether as a pay-per-view of its own or as a storyline part of other shows, KOTR has essentially served two different, conflicting purposes: it either anoints the next main-eventer (Steve Austin, Brock Lesnar and Triple H never looked back) or offers a comedy gimmick and absurd costume to somebody the company deems in need of a refresh (King Mabel, King BOOKAH), or merely an amplification of an existing one (William Regal).

So which one is Wade Barrett? Paradoxically, Barrett began his main-roster career as a main-eventer when he led the Nexus invasion, but then got sent back down to the bottom and has earned his way back with a semi-humorous “Bad News” gimmick. Because he is in fact English, I doubt WWE will be able to resist having behave like a more traditional monarch, though the Bad News gimmick was so over it will seem weird if we have to start calling him “King Barrett” instead.

Or perhaps it will mean nothing, and that’s why they had it suddenly and on a little-hyped show. In the age of a gimmick pay-per-view, a tournament is a fine one to do annually, especially if it is allowed to deviate from brackets that allow you to predict winners by only ever matching good guy against bad guy. A gimmick-free show like Payback or Fast Lane could be spiced up by becoming King of the Ring instead, if WWE wanted it to matter – instead, it feels like they ran out of ideas and just looked around to see what IPs they weren’t using.

Barrett seems ready to be a main-eventer to me, whatever the case. Though they could have easily made him IC champ last week to save time.