Long live the King: Harley Race remembers 1986, anticipates 2006
In 1986, Harley Race battled through the brackets to be coronated the "King of the Ring." To take the crown, he defeated the likes of George "The Animal" Steele, Billy Jack Haynes and Pedro Morales. Twenty years later, he's still remembered as "The King" Harley Race. Now that SmackDown has brought back the King of the Ring tournament and will crown a new "king," WWE.com caught up with Race to put the tournament into the proper context:
WWE.com: When people think about the image of "the king" in sports-entertainment, they think, "The King" Harley Race. What do you remember about your coronation in the King of the Ring tournament in 1986 in Foxboro, Mass.?
Harley Race: In the tournament itself, I had to advance four times. Getting by Morales at the end was something special. He had been World Wrestling Federation Champion. He was the guy who I really wanted to face to make the King of the Ring mean something. I think overall, it did real well.
WWE.com: What was it about facing Pedro Morales that was so important to the success of the King of the Ring?
Race: I had just come out of the NWA. I was the NWA World Champion at the same time that Pedro Morales was WWE Champion. This match was kind of like, "the two finally meet." It was important to me and to the fans. The concept of the tournament was great, and battling Morales in the finals is what made it super.
WWE.com: What do you think about the way King of the Ring has developed into what it is today?
Race: It's a way to feature some really important matches, where becoming king could take their career to another level. And with so many big names in there, that just makes it much more exciting.
WWE.com: Are there any hard feelings about your King of the Ring win not being televised?
Race: Well, it was just the way it was at that point in time. I was on TV as "The King" a lot of times. The world changes, and if you don't go with the change, you're left behind. I'm happy to see this change. I think having the King of the Ring on television can only help with the importance of matches and help wrestling.
WWE.com: What was it like being King?
Race: Well, when I was coming in (to WWE) I still had some real good years left in me. And I didn't want to be just "another guy." And being world champion eight different times around and then being coronated as king, I mean, how much better does it get?
I remember walking out there with that crown and cape on and Bobby Heenan with me. It was just a great feeling. I got the same reaction out of that that I got out of walking out there with the NWA title. It was a huge reaction — one that was very, very good for that point in time. And bringing back the King of the Ring now puts a lot more meaning into the (SmackDown matches) because they've got to fight through the bracket. It makes those matches a lot more important to the fans.
WWE.com: At the end of this tournament on SmackDown there's going to be a new Superstar wearing the crown. Would you recognize the winner of this tournament as king, or is there only one "King" Harley Race?
Race: Well, there was only one King in wrestling for decades — that was me. But I'm not in the ring, now. So, if it's put together where the guys have to wrestle through the brackets, then the guy who wins it should be called king.