From 1993 to 2002 June was the month of kings in World Wrestling Entertainment. A launching pad for many future greats in the WWE including Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, and Brock Lesnar, the King of the Ring Tournament was a fan favorite from the very first event.
Like the Royal Rumble, the KOTR was built around a single concept (the tournament) and featured several non-tournament matches to fill out the card. With that in mind, we’ll be looking at 5 of the best non-tournament matches and 5 of the best tournament matches in the PPV event’s history.
— WWF World Heavyweight Championship – “Champion vs. Champion Match” (WATCH – 52:52)
Special Guest Commentator: 1968 Pro Football Hall of Famer Art Donovan
Diesel (WWF Intercontinental Champion) w/Shawn Michaels vs. Bret “Hitman” Hart(c) w/Jim Neidhart
WWF King of the Ring 1994 ? June 19, 1994
Diesel wasn’t known for having classic matches. In fact, aside from working with Scott Hall, Diesel wasn’t known for having good matches in general. That all changed on this night. This wasn’t just Diesel’s best match yet, but the best match yet at the King of the Ring event and a standout in both men’s Hall of Fame careers.
— “Non-Title Champion vs. Champion Grudge Match” (WATCH – 1:37:35)
Stone Cold Steve Austin (WWF Tag Team Champion) vs. Shawn Michaels (WWF Tag Team Champion)
WWF King of the Ring 1997 ? June 8, 1997
HBK, out for over 3 months with a “knee injury”, returned to the ring on the May 26, 1997 edition of RAW, teaming with Steve Austin to win the WWF Tag titles from Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith. The team, however, quickly imploded, leading to this classic encounter at the 1997 KOTR.
— WWF Championship (WATCH – 1:18:00)
The Rock vs. The Undertaker(c) w/Paul Bearer
WWF King of the Ring 1999 ? June 27, 1999
Having survived a frantic “Triple Threat Match” to earn this title shot on the June 14, 1998 edition of RAW, The Rock was primed to take out the head of the Corporate Ministry and win the WWF Championship for the 4th time since Survivor Series ’98. This match is vintage “Attitude Era” booking complete with brawling around the arena, a slow build, and interference.
— WWF Tag Team Championship – “Four Team Elimination Match” (WATCH – 51:37)
Edge & Christian vs. T & A (Test & Albert) w/Trish Stratus vs. The Hardy Boyz (Matt & Jeff) w/Lita vs. Too Cool (Scotty 2 Hotty & Grandmaster Sexay)(c)
WWF King of the Ring 2000 ? June 25, 2000
Too Cool, with the help of Rikishi and the late Joe C., won the WWF Tag titles on the May 29, 2000 edition of RAW (currently unavailable on the Network). Aside from the title change this match had little backstory or build, but still delivered a fun, unique match. With this win, Edge and Christian would win their 2nd WWF Tag Team Championship, ending Too Cool’s first and only reign at 27 days.
— “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 1:28:45)
“Hollywood” Hulk Hogan vs. Kurt Angle
WWE King of the Ring 2002 ? June 23, 2002
The “Battle of the Real American Heroes” was a dream match few thought would ever happen. The match served as the end of the beginning in the Mr. McMahon/Hulk Hogan feud that would culminate at WrestleMania XIX in a “Street Fight”. This match was more of a fight than a wrestling match, but it exceeded expectations nonetheless. Hogan tapping out was a sight few thought they’d ever live to see.
King of the Ring Tournament Matches
— Semi-Final Match of the 1993 WWF King of the Ring Tournament (WATCH – 56:00)
Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. Mr. Perfect
WWF King of the Ring 1993 ? June 13, 1993
The first PPV King of the Ring was the “Bret Hart show”. After dispatching of Razor Ramon in a compelling first round match, Bret Hart entered the semi-final against one of the greatest foes of the “Hitman’s” Hall of Fame career. This isn’t just the best match of the 1993 KOTR event, but arguably the greatest KOTR tournament match in event history.
— Semi-Final Match of the 1996 WWF King of the Ring Tournament (WATCH – 2:45)
Special Guest Commentator: Owen Hart
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. Marc Mero w/Sable
WWF King of the Ring 1996 ? June 23, 1996
Originally the 1996 tournament was to go to Triple H, but the “Curtain Call” ended that push. Austin, the new choice, didn’t just take advantage of the opportunity, Stone Cold nuked it. This match set history in motion and furthered the growing mythology around Stone Cold Steve Austin.
— Finals of the 1998 WWF King of the Ring Tournament – “Non-Title Match” (WATCH – 1:25:54)
Special Guest Commentator: WWF European Champion Triple H
The Rock (WWF Intercontinental Champion) vs. Ken Shamrock
WWF King of the Ring 1998 ? June 29, 1998
One of the most disappointing KOTR tournaments up to that point, the 1998 incarnation was more “attitude” than action. This match, which largely saved the entire tournament, was a nip and tuck affair that could have gone either way. Though Shamrock would fade out of the WWF, this match remains a testament to what was and what could have been.
— Finals of the 2001 WWF King of the Ring Tournament (WATCH – 54:23)
Kurt Angle vs. Edge
WWF King of the Ring 2001 ? June 24, 2001
2000 King of the Ring winner Kurt Angle pulled double duty in 2001, competing in the final two rounds of KOTR tournament as well as doing battle with WCW owner Shane McMahon in a “Street Fight”. An early classic in the singles career of Edge, this match elevated Edge and set the stage for a legendary war later in the night between Angle and Shane O’Mac.
— Semi-Final Match of the 2002 WWE King of the Ring Tournament – “Non-Title Match” (WATCH – 2:33)
Chris Jericho vs. Rob Van Dam (WWE Intercontinental Champion)
WWE King of the Ring 2002 ? June 23, 2002
The 2002 King of the Ring tournament was a true stand out. Between dueling split-brand mini-tournaments and the stacked roster, it’s hard not to see the 2002 incarnation as one of the best ever. This first semi-final nearly stole the show and is, for my money at least, one of the best, most complete KOTR tournament matches ever.
The King of the Ring, while a fan favorite, was a hit-and-miss event. Some of the events were great, others not so much. These featured matches are but 10 of the classic encounters to take place at the King of the Ring event from 1993 to 2002. Though its time has come and gone, fans around the world still clamor for the day King of the Ring makes its triumphant return and reclaims its crown as one of the best WWE PPV events of all-time.
That’s it for this week’s TBT – thanks for reading! Already have the WWE Network? Then check out these classic King of the Ring matches, see them for yourself, and let us know what you think.
Until next week, see ya at ringside!