Saturday, June 25, 2016

The History of WWE King of the Ring (1998)

Possibly the best-remembered King of the Ring is this one....

King of the Ring 1998 - The Igloo - 6.28.98

The WWF got back on track in a huge way in 1998, fueled by Attitude and with Steve Austin at the wheel.  Between Austin's white-hot run as World Champ, DeGeneration X's crass-but-lovable antics, and The Rock oozing charisma all over the place, the WWF finally pulled ahead of WCW in the ratings after nearly two years.  While the King of the Ring won't win any points for scientific grappling, the intensity of some of the brawls on this show (one in particular) makes it an essential chapter in WWF lore.

The tournament once again took a bit of a backseat to the two main event matches, but after two forgettable semi-finals (The Rock defeating Dan Severn, and Ken Shamrock trouncing Jeff Jarrett), we were treated to a pretty damn good final match.  The Rock and Shamrock had faced each other several times on PPV already, both in tag matches and in singles bouts, but this was the first time they were given long enough to really shine.  In a tremendous back-and-forth match (aided by Triple H's amusing guest commentary), Shamrock finally scored a decisive win over the I-C Champ to win the tournament (No ceremonial crown and scepter for Ken).  While Shamrock never reached the heights of the previous two KOTR winners, it did solidify him as a reliable semi-main eventer.

You don't see the seated anklelock anymore...

The non-tournament matches on this PPV were numerous and varied, beginning with a fun little six-man tag.  Taka Michinoku teamed with The Headbangers against his former (and future) teammates Kaientai in a near-seven-minute whirlwind.  Nothing amazing but a good way to kick things off.

The one stinker on this show involved Jerry Lawler refereeing a match between Too Much (later renamed Too Cool) and Al Snow & Head (Al's disembodied mannequin head).  The story here was Al trying to win a WWF contract after spending several months in ECW.  He lost, but ended up on the roster anyway.  This was crap.

Next up though was a neat little singles match as Owen Hart took on the newly-returned X-Pac.  Now equipped with one of the coolest characters in wrestling, Sean Waltman put on a strong showing against the massively talented Owen, and the two created a midcard highlight.

An underrated Tag Team Title match was next, as the hugely popular New Age Outlaws took on the New Midnight Express (Bob Holly and Bart Gunn).  While the NME gimmick may have been ill-advised, at the time I liked this pairing, and they gelled quite well with Billy and The Road Dogg.  Solid stuff there.



The semi-main event is of course what this PPV is remembered for, as The Undertaker and Mankind rekindled their two-year feud in a Hell in a Cell match.  Only the second such match ever held, Mick Foley's involvement essentially guaranteed we'd see something unique and cringeworthy.  And that's what we got.  The two adversaries began the match atop the 16-foot cage, and within minutes Taker had thrown Mankind OFF THE ROOF through the Spanish announce table.  This remains easily the most insane-looking bump I've ever seen a wrestler take.  Foley apparently dislocated his shoulder on impact but was otherwise ok.  The air of realism was impressive; doctors and officials stormed the ringside area with a stretcher, the cage was lifted with Taker still on top of it, and Mankind was carted away, the match seemingly over.  But Foley wasn't finished.  He angrily scaled the cage again and this time was chokeslammed through it to the hard canvas below, in a sickening unplanned spot (Foley's near-300-pound frame having legitimately broken the cage).  Surely, I thought, this must be it.  But incredibly the match continued another ten-plus minutes, with Foley absorbing even more punishment including a chokeslam onto a pile of thumbtacks.  Taker finally brought the bout to a merciful end after a Tombstone, thus completing one of the most violent matches in history.  That Mick Foley was even able to function after the two infamous bumps, and Taker able to wrestle the entire match on a broken foot, is a near-miracle.

The most famous bump of all time.

Steve Austin had the unenviable task of following such a landmark display of carnage with a WWF Title defense against unproven heel Kane in a First Blood Match.  Kane's body suit had been altered to cover his entire body (previously his right arm was exposed), leaving only one hand uncovered and creating an obvious uphill battle for Austin.  The week before this PPV Kane vowed to light himself on fire if he couldn't win the Championship.  This match felt a little tame after the Hell in a Cell, but Austin and Kane managed to scrape together enough wild brawling and foreign object mayhem (the Cell was even partially lowered halfway through) to make for a memorable fight.  Near the end of the match both Taker and Mankind ran in, each apparently helping their respective allies.  But an "errant" chair shot from Taker split Austin's forehead wide open, giving Kane the win and the belt.

Where are the refs and doctors to stop the match and wipe his face??

The next night Taker revealed that he'd struck Austin on purpose to prevent his little brother from burning himself alive.  Austin would win back the Title only 24 hours after losing it, reducing Kane's first and only WWF/E Title run to a footnote.

The 1998 KOTR was a very fitting cross-section of the Attitude Era at the peak of its freshness.  A new booking philosphy, combined with exciting new characters and no-holds-barred outlook helped the WWF once again become the premier wrestling organization in North America, and this show presented a trio of memorable bouts plus a handful of fun little warmups.  Not too shabby at all.

Best Match: Underaker vs. Mankind
Worst Match: Too Much vs. Al Snow & Head
What I'd Change: Lose the Al Snow match and give the extra time to the X-Pac vs. Owen bout
Most Disappointing Match: Maybe Austin vs. Kane but that was still fine
Most Pleasant Surprise: That Mick Foley's career didn't end on this night
Overall Rating: 8.5/10




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