Friday, June 24, 2016

The History of WWE King of the Ring (1997)

King of the Ring '97 - Providence Civic Center - 6.8.97

The KOTR took a step back down in 1997, as a disorganized tournament coupled with last-minute card reshuffles made for a muddled show and a thin roster.  It was also something of a do-over for Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who had been pegged to win the tourney in 1996 but was instead punished for the infamous "Curtain Call" incident the night of Diesel and Razor Ramon's WWF exit.  So this show was an endeavor to set his career back on track.

What made no sense though was that Helmsley had been eliminated by Ahmed Johnson in the first round on free TV (the PPV would again only feature the semis and finals), but kayfabe threatened legal action since he was supposedly unaware he could be ousted due to a disqualification (even though that precedent had been set in numerous tournaments already).  So Hunter won the next qualifier against Crush, and would face Ahmed again in the semis.  Their PPV match was brief and just as forgettable as the first, but Hunter won, earning him a finals spot.

In the other semifinal the now-sympathetic, complex babyface Mankind faced Jerry Lawler in a pretty slow, meandering brawl in which Lawler used an invisible foreign object.  By that I mean he motioned pulling something out of his tights that evidently fit all the way into his fist and repeatedly punched Mankind with it.  Now, even if that was supposed to be a ball bearing or some such object, would that really add much oomph to a regular punch?  Did Lawler forget to actually stuff something in his drawers before the match?  Regardless, Mankind won, and would face Helmsley for the crown.

"Wait, I gotta wear this...ridiculous thing?  I resign..."

Their finals match was good but not great - it had some intense spots but was longer than necessary and felt like it never got out of second gear until the waning moments.  Highlights included Hunter hitting the Pedigree through the announce table, and Chyna bludgeoning Mankind with the royal scepter.  After nearly 20 minutes Hunter was crowned the '97 King of the Ring, and thus began in earnest his path to main event status.

Non-tourney matches included a RAW-quality Goldust-Crush match, a fun but middling six-man pitting Owen Hart, British Bulldog & Jim Neidhart against Sycho Sid and the Legion of Doom, and the double main event.

First up was the current WWF Tag Champions Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin facing each other.  The background of this match started with the newly formed Hart Foundation targeting all of the American WWF wrestlers (sparking the awesome US vs. Canada feud).  Owen Hart and the Bulldog had been Tag Champs but lost the Titles to Austin and the returning Shawn Michaels (whom you'll recall went home three months earlier to "find his smile").  Shawn was then set to feud with Bret Hart again and it was announced they would have a ten-minute time limit challenge at King of the Ring (not sure what the point of a ten-minute match was), while Austin would face former friend Brian Pillman.  But Bret sustained a knee injury in a real-life backstage skirmish with Shawn, and would miss the PPV.  The Hart Foundation suggested instead that Shawn fight Austin since the two didn't fully trust each other.  "Divide and conquer" I believe it's called.  The match was quite good but didn't quite live up to my lofty expectations of a masterpiece, and after nearly 23 minutes it ended in a double disqualification.  The best moment though was watching the two walk back to the dressing room while suspiciously keeping an eye on each other.  Hilarious.

My God...look at that team....

As for the main event, recently-crowned WWF Champion The Undertaker would face Nation of Domination leader Faarooq.  Yeah, this wasn't any more exciting than it sounded.  Faarooq was a pretty non-threatening opponent for Taker and there was little suspense here.  Taker won a mediocre match with the Tombstone before Ahmed Johnson ran in and eventually attacked Taker.  The prospect of a Taker-Ahmed match was very intriguing to me, but Ahmed got hurt again before it could ever take place.

"Bitches, prepare to eat armpit!"

King of the Ring 1997 was roughly a two-match event.  Austin vs. Michaels is obviously worth seeking out, and Hunter-Mankind has some good moments and some historical significance, but otherwise this PPV wasn't much better than your average RAW (though at least nothing was terrible).  The WWF would find its creative footing over the coming months with the US-Canada feud hitting high gear and the emergence of the Attitude approach.  But KOTR '97 was a rather shabby entry from a company desperately in need of a fresh approach.


Best Match: Shawn Michaels vs. Steve Austin
Worst Match: Mankind vs. Jerry Lawler
What I'd Change: The tournament felt very half-assed in general.  I know the roster was thin, but it was only an 8-man field and Owen, Davey, Pillman, Vader (who may have still been stuck in Singapore after roughing up a TV host there), and Sid were all left out.  Also, Faarooq as the #1 contender??
Most Disappointing Match: I guess the tourney final, which wasn't bad but wasn't anywhere near as good as their subsequent matches
Most Pleasant Surprise: Nothing really
Overall Rating: 5/10



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