Life after the crown

A WWE tradition for 15 years, the King of the Ring tournament was put on the shelf after the 2002 edition. After four years of dormancy, SmackDown General Manager Theodore Long announced this past Friday night that he was bringing the tradition back.

From 1985-1991, the tournament was held every year at a non-televised WWE event in the Northeast. The first King of the Ring tournament was held in July 1985, with Magnificent Muraco defeating The Iron Sheik in the finals to become the first winner. In following years, such Superstars as Randy Savage, Harley Race, Ted DiBiase and Tito Santana would go on to win the tournament.

Following a year off in 1992, King of the Ring became a pay-per-view event in 1993. On June 13 of that year in Dayton, Ohio, Bret Hart defeated Razor Ramon, Mr. Perfect and Bam Bam Bigelow in one night to become King of the Ring. It was actually his second tournament victory, as he defeated I.R.S. to win the final non-televised tournament in 1991.

Once King of the Ring hit pay-per-view, the event became a launching pad for the career of the winner. In 1994, Owen Hart defeated Razor Ramon in the finals; two months later, Owen headlined SummerSlam in a Steel Cage Match against brother Bret for the WWE Championship. The following year, Mabel faced WWE Champion Diesel at SummerSlam 1995 after winning the King of the Ring tournament.

The spoils of winning King of the Ring have not just been immediate, however. In 1996, a then-unheralded Stone Cold Steve Austin won the King of the Ring tournament.  Following the match, Austin gave his coronation speech, where he coined Austin 3:16 as well as his "that's the bottom line because Stone Cold said so" catchphrase. In the following years, Austin became one of the most popular Superstars in WWE history, amassing six WWE Championship reigns along the way…but it was all spawned by his victory over Jake Roberts in 1996.

The same happened to Triple H in 1997. While he already had one Intercontinental Championship reign to his credit when he defeated Mick Foley to win the 1997 tournament, becoming King of the Ring launched his career to another level. Triple H went on to win the European Championship in December, and has since become one of the most decorated WWE Superstars in history, with 10 WWE and World Heavyweight Championship reigns to his credit.

1998 winner Ken Shamrock went on to win the Intercontinental Championship within months of winning the tournament, and 1999 winner Billy Gunn also went on to become Intercontinental Champion. In 2000, Kurt Angle won the tournament just eight months after his WWE debut. While Angle had already held the Intercontinental and European Championships, the King of the Ring victory propelled him.

Angle nearly repeated in 2001, but was defeated by Edge in the finals. Outside of a one-night reign as Intercontinental Champion in 1999, it was the first significant singles accomplishment of Edge's career. Edge went on to win the Intercontinental Championship again at SummerSlam that year, and since 2001, he has won three more Intercontinental Championships, as well as the WWE Championship this past January.

In 2002, the final King of the Ring tournament carried a WWE Championship opportunity for the winner. Just two months after his WWE debut, Brock Lesnar tore through Booker T, Test and Rob Van Dam to win the tournament. Two months later at SummerSlam, the man touted as "The Next Big Thing" defeated The Rock to win the first of his three WWE Championships.

Now in 2006, one SmackDown Superstar will have the opportunity to put his name alongside 15 other WWE Legends as the King of the Ring. Who will claim the throne? To find out, stay tuned to Friday Night SmackDown as the tournament progresses. 

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