With the King of the Ring Tournament 2019 underway, it is a guessing game over who has the best shot at taking home the crown and scepter this year. The legendary tournament has brought about a literal king persona for many of the winners. We have seen victors take the win and carry on with the same gimmick, such as Brock Lesnar and Edge, but then we have also seen winners go full-royalty, most recently Wade Barrett in 2015 and Sheamus in 2010.
It is unknown whether we will see a new ‘King’ gimmick in WWE, but the role has shot many of its claimants into superstardom. All the way from the 1970s to today, the ‘King’ moniker has been used by dozens but these are the five wrestlers who made the biggest impact as the monarch like character.
5. “The King of Harts” Owen Hart
After scoring the win in the 1994 finals against Razor Ramon, Hart dubbed himself as “The King of Harts”. This led to an incredibly successful part of Owen’s professional wrestling career. After the tournament win, Hart began his legendary rivalry with brother Bret that peaked with a five star match in the co-main event of SummerSlam. The match took place inside a steel cage with the WWF World Heavyweight Championship on the line, which Bret ultimately won.
Owen didn’t don the crown and act like royalty, but the king nickname ultimately boosted his career to a point it had never been before. He had a fantastic rivalry with his brother Bret, joined fantastic partnerships with the likes of the British Bulldog and Yokozuna, and won the tag team championships. There is no telling what more he could’ve done with his career had he not been met with his tragic death in 1999. He will always be known as a King of the Ring both literally and figuratively.
4. The Macho King
“The Macho Man” Randy Savage will go down as one of the most iconic characters in all of professional wrestling history. With matches against the likes of Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Jake “The Snake” Roberts, and many more, Savage didn’t need any help with his popularity, but it turned out adding a crown to the WWF legend added to his incredible legacy. With all of his wacky characteristics, adding a bit of royalty only boosted the out of this world personality to new levels.
Randy Savage took on “The Macho King” after defeating Hacksaw Jim Duggan for the King of the Ring Title in 1989. Savage took heavily to the role and used his royal sceptre as a weapon in numerous matches. A big moment for the gimmick was the culmination of his rivalry with Hogan for the World Title in 1990.
Savage’s portrayal of the King character was possibly as entertaining as any installment simply due to his over the top energy. Committing to the character was huge in making the act believable. There will never be another character quite like “The Macho King”.
3. King Harley Race
With the recent passing of Harley Race, many wrestlers past and present have sang their praises for the legendary grappler. One big portion of his career that is often underappreciated is his work as “King” Harley Race.
Pretty quickly upon his arrival in the then-WWF, the heads in charge wanted to acknowledge his wrestling royalty heritage by having him win the King of the Ring Tournament. He added the “King” moniker to the beginning of his name and with new bleach blonde hair and a classical music theme to lead him to the ring, the character was just beginning to form.
Race added a crown and cape to tie the gimmick together, and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan was drafted in as a royal servant type manager. After a victory, Race would make his defeated opponents bow to his boots, and if the opponent wasn’t able to get to his feet and kneel, Heenan would oblige and physically force the unconscious wrestler to kneel.
Although Race didn’t have the longest stint in the WWF, he made the best of his opportunity and created a very memorable character. People like Ric Flair, John Cena and Hulk Hogan all respect Harley Race for what he truly was: a King of the pro wrestling court.
2. King Booker
One of the more surprising success stories from King of the Ring was Booker T. The five-time World Champion took the crown and completely revamped his character. The Houston native joined the King of the Ring tournament in 2006 and beat Bobby Lashley at Judgment Day to be crowned king.
King Booker took the role quite seriously, and in his mind became the actual king of Smackdown. Decked out in his royal cape, crown, and sceptre, Booker brought his real life wife in as Queen Sharmell and the two became a real life royal couple. After a few weeks as the new character, Booker expanded his kingdom and formed a royal court based around William Regal and Finlay. He took on the English accent and was completely submerged into the character. He even took a page out of “King” Harley Race’s book and began to make defeated opponents kiss his royal feet post-match.
He had arguably the most success of his career during the stint as the king. He won the World Heavyweight Championship from Rey Mysterio at The Great American Bash and reached the peak of his greatness. He crowned himself “The King of the World” and kept the title all the way until Survivor Series 2006.
The King persona was a great way to reinvent Booker T’s character. The mixture of comedy and applying real life monarch attributes allowed him to break out of the comedic wrestler archetype. He was a serious competitor that won the World Heavyweight Championship. It really looked like an old school gimmick put in an era where many new superstars were being made.
1. Jerry “The King” Lawler
There is little argument that Jerry “The King” Lawler is the greatest wrestler ever to don the royal persona. Lawler is a Hall of Famer, a decorated wrestler and one of the more famous color commentators in history. The difference between Lawler and the other wrestlers on this list is that the Tennessee native didn’t win King of the Ring to gain his persona. On July 24, 1974, Lawler won the NWA Southern Heavyweight Championship and with that win, he was crowned “The King of Wrestling” and that was the beginning of the legacy.
Lawler is most known in his commentary career for his team with Jim Ross, featuring heavily from 1998-2008. The Attitude and Ruthless Aggression era will be consistently remembered by the iconic commentary duo and the historic moments over the years. Even in 2019, Lawler is still doing commentary sporadically and doesn’t seem to have lost anything.
The wrestling career of “The King” is arguably more impressive than his commentary, and that’s saying a lot. King has held championships in AWA, NWA, and Smokey Mountain Wrestling. Feuds with Bret Hart, Doink The Clown, and CM Punk make up just a few of hundreds of quality matches competed in by the King.
Making his in-ring debut in 1970, Lawler shows no signs of slowing down, competing in a match for Big Time Wrestling in 2017 where he teamed with Doug Gilbert and his late son, Brian Christopher. They took on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express and Terry Funk and were victorious. Coming back from a heart attack and stroke is very rare, but to still be wrestling is even more incredible. Whenever you hear “The King” in WWE, you should always think of Jerry Lawler.
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