We are days removed from the best tournament in wrestling, The G1 Climax. Serving the fanbase for 29 years (for the most part), the tournament features the very best that New Japan Pro Wrestling has to offer. It’s an event that stretches six weeks, and weaves multiple storylines angles and gimmicks into the event.
Small stories matter as much as large ones. Wrestlers eliminated from winning are somehow made even impressive through their shortcomings. In one night the G1 propelled Minoru Suzuki, a man not even in the tournament into title contention. It turned KENTA, a beloved Japanese wrestler back on his home soil, into the biggest heel in the company. It cemented Jay White as irredeemable due to his cheating ways and it elevated wrestlers like Shingo Takagi, Jon Moxley, Juice Robinson and Will Osprey above where they were. It even got 40-year old mid carder Hirooki Goto to feel fresh and relevant again after years of being stuck in the mid card.
It was the perfect event to make the wrestlers involve all look better after it ended, even if only one person won. Hell, even Bad Luck Fale got a huge rub, pinning Hiroshi Tanahashi in the tournament.
Now the WWE though will counter that with the King of the Ring tournament. A once vaunted star-maker tournament that saw the likes of Edge, Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnrar, Stone Cold Steve Austin and Bret Hart all take home the crown. That was then, however and the tournament now is a joke.
Since the WWE discontinued the stand-alone event in 2002, the tournament has generated no new top stars. Yes Sheamus won the WWE Championship but 1) that was a year before he won the King of the Ring tournament, 2) he never was a real ‘top guy’ despite the company trying, 3) he didn’t beat anyone who at the time was a top level guy to win the tournament.
Outside of Sheamus, Booker T, William Regal and Wade Barrett all won the tournament. Booker and Regal were already into their 40’s and well established when they won it, and Barrett didn’t do anything after winning the tournament. The King of the Ring Tournament has been treated like a cheap angle to generate cheap heat for heels, and fans realize this by and large. It’s why the people who win aren’t seen that favorably afterwards. No one puts stock in the King of the Ring winner anymore because the WWE doesn’t put stock in it.
Now we are doing it again, four years after the last, on one weeks worth of build. Is it a star-studded affair of the who’s who of the WWE? Sure, if you think Ali and Andrade are top guys.
RAW is sending Cedric Alexander, Cesaro, Drew McIntyre, The Miz, Ricochet, Sami Zayn, Samoa Joe and the draw himself Baron Corbin. SmackDown is sending Ali, Andrade Almas, Apollo Crews, Buddy Murphy, Chad Gable, Elias, Kevin Owens, and Shelton Benjamin.
Now, in fairness ,the crop of talent is there. This isn’t a pile of grounded up wood chips. These cats can bang (mostly). However, again, this is a tournament lacking well booked guys. Cedric Alexander has no character or gimmick, he’s just the fun-smiling-black-guy (Boy, don’t see those in the WWE often), same goes with Ali, Andrade, Apllo, Chad Gable, Buddy Murphy and Shelton Benjamin. None of them are anyone worth talking about character wise. Who are they? What do they do? Be replaceable, that’s really it.
Then there’s Cesaro, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens and Samoa Joe. Four ‘indy darlings’ who have yet to do anything of note in the WWE. Only now is Owens getting a real push, but that was only thanks to Shane McMahon.
Then there’s Baron Corbin who…is Baron Corbin.
Of the lineup that is being used…well enough…we have Ricochet, Drew McIntyre and The Miz. Sure, Ricochet isn’t that impressive as a character, and as a wrestler he’s a dime a dozen these days, but fans react to him still because of his name brand. McIntyre is everyone’s “next big thing” but he’s been that for ten years. We’ll see if the WWE can make him into a true star. Then there’s The Miz, who has his own TV show and a lot of Intercontinental Champions. He’s the best B+ Player on the roster.
At the end of the day this isn’t going to get anyone over. Not like it should. The King of the Ring has been dead for 17 years, bringing it back now only serves to show the fans that the WWE doesn’t know what they’re doing. The event will take place over the next few weeks with the finals happening at Clash of Champions. It doesn’t have the same prestige it once had, and coming off of the heels of the G1 Climax, fans are going to see it as a knockoff tournament with little to take stock in.
The winner will probably be Drew McIntyre, because Vince McMahon sees European and thinks “KING!” I doubt Ricochet wins it, though he’ll probably win a few matches. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cedric Alexander faces off with McIntyre, because we can’t dare make new stars or anything within this tournament. Not that a Buddy Murphy or Apollo Crews type will really generate that much of an interest in the product if they actually won.
At the end of the day this just further serves to remind fans what could’ve been with the WWE if Vince McMahon was removed from power decades ago.