The prestigious King of The Ring tournament has returned for the first time in four years, and will run on WWE RAW and SmackDown over the next month, with the tournament likely to culminate at Clash of Champions.
The tournament was held annually from 1985 to 2002, bar 1990 and 1992. Even as far back as the first tournament in 1985, it has always seemed like the tournament was to be used to help create new stars. We have seen many Superstars rise to stardom following being crowned king, including Bret Hart, Randy Savage, Steve Austin, Triple H, Kurt Angle, and Brock Lesnar, to name a few.
We have also seen the once prestigious tournament help reinvent careers, such as Booker T becoming King Booker in 2006. However, not everyone have been this lucky. We have seen Superstars win the tournament and be crowned king, only to fall to that level of a jester. I am not necessarily saying that any of these Superstars had bad careers following their win, but they certainly didn't rise to that main event level that WWE had planned on them being.
Whether it be applying the king gimmick to the wrong Superstar, or just WWE losing interest in pushing them, here are the 5 WWE Superstars whose careers failed to take off despite being crowned King of the Ring.
#5 William Regal - 2008
William Regal had been a seemingly pretty unusual choice for the King of the Ring at the time.
Although a former WWE Intercontinental Champion, European Champion, and Tag Team Champion, he had also been serving as the General Manager of WWE RAW at the time. Despite this, he entered the return tournament in 2008 and defeated the then favorite/expected winner in the final, CM Punk.
There had been some rumors shortly thereafter that Regal was to be an evil King GM who put everything in his favor as an active performer and maybe even become the World Heavyweight Champion. However, everything was scrapped when Regal failed a wellness violation the following month, and was removed from television. Following his return, he was no longer referred to as the King of the Ring.
William Regal didn't have the worst career following his royal victory. In fact, he defeated Santino Marella for the WWE Intercontinental Championship just a few months after his suspension. After losing it, he would join the WWE ECW roster and feud with Christian over the ECW Championship, but was unsuccessful in his pursuit. Regal wrestled sporadically from 2010-2013 before he retired. Today, he is a Director of Talent Development and Head of Global Recruiting for WWE and still appears on TV as General Manager of NXT.
#4 Billy Gunn - 1999
Throughout 1998 into early 1999, many backstage saw a lot of potential in D-Generation X member Billy Gunn. When it seemed like he and Road Dogg did all they could together as the New Age Outlaws, both would enter the 1999 King of The Ring.
They would also be joined by fellow DX members X-Pac and Chyna. As the Dogg and Chyna were eliminated, Gunn and X-Pac made it to the final, where Gunn was victorious. Gunn was given a major opportunity, not only was he the King, but he was also placed in a feud with WWE's hottest Superstar, The Rock.
The feud culminated in a 'Kiss My Ass' match at SummerSlam, won by The Rock. WWE seemed to lose interest in pushing Gunn just after, as he fell right back down the card and would reunite with DX that October. His career post-KOTR wasn't bad, but definitely below expectations of the star many thought he would become.
He would have several more Tag Team Championship reigns with the Road Dogg and Chuck Palumbo, had a brief run as WWE Intercontinental Champion in 2000 and gave us some controversial moments in his aforementioned tag teams. After he was released from WWE in 2004, he would go onto enjoy a prominent four-year run in TNA Wrestling, before returning to WWE as a trainer and part-time TV roles.
He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2019 as part of D-Generation X, and today works as a producer for All Elite Wrestling.
#3 Ken Shamrock - 1998
There was a lot of hype surrounding Ken Shamrock as he made his WWE debut in 1997. Coming in fresh off of the UFC, Shamrock was a legitimate tough guy who could seemingly take down any WWE roster member in a real fight.
Shamrock occasionally challenged for the WWE Championship throughout 1997, before settling in the Intercontinental Championship ranks in 1998. It seemed like he was stuck here until he entered the King of The Ring tournament. It had widely been expected that WWE's fastest rising star, The Rock, would be taking home the crown, especially given finals came down to The Rock and Ken Shamrock.
In a surprising decision, it was Shamrock who toppled The Rock to become the 1998 King of The Ring. While it seemed like Shamrock would be returning to the main event scene after this, it just never happened. Shamrock remained in the IC Championship ranks, eventually winning the gold towards the end of the year, as well as the WWE Tag Team Championship with fellow Corporation member the Big Boss Man. Following the disbanding of the Corporation, Shamrock had various short feuds before leaving WWE in September 1999 to resume his MMA career.
Shamrock briefly returned to wrestling in 2002, where he won the NWA World Championship on the very first TNA Wrestling show, but left wrestling again a few months later.
#2 Mabel - 1995
After almost two years of playing the role of a positive babyface rapper with the Men on A Mission faction, Mabel would turn heel in 1995.
His new thug heel persona was soon followed by a monster push that saw him briefly enter the main event scene, and it all started when he won the 1995 King of The Ring. There were allegedly plans in place for Mabel to become WWE's new top heel, as his push continued when he was announced to face Diesel for the WWE Championship at SummerSlam that year.
Mabel would lose to Diesel in a critically panned match, and soon lost his main event push. Mabel went right back down the card and had various mid-card feuds until he left WWE in 1996. He returned under the name Viscera in 1999 for a year, before being released again in 2000. He returned again in 2004 and had a four-year run as a top mid-carder, wrestling as 'Big Daddy V'. The height of which was unsuccessfully challenging for the WWE ECW Championship on occasion.
Sadly, the man known as Mabel, Viscera and Big Daddy V, Nelson Frazier Jr. died of a heart attack just four days after his 43rd birthday in 2014.
#1 Wade Barrett - 2015
When Wade Barrett made his main roster WWE debut in 2010, he had future main event player written all over him. He shined with the Nexus, and looked great in his main event WWE Championship matches that same year.
Things went downhill after the Nexus ended in 2011. It wasn't all bad as Barrett did become a 5 time WWE Intercontinental Champion, but he never came close to how he was used in the Nexus ever again. The King of the Ring tournament would return for the first time in 5 years in 2015, and Wade Barrett would enter and win the crown, defeating Neville in the finals.
This would be one of the foolish times where WWE decided to add the king moniker to the winner's gimmick, and Barrett would wear the crown and cape to the ring every week. What followed, was a losing streak. Barrett would go onto lose not just every high profile match he had following his coronation, but almost every match he had. Barrett would finally depart WWE just after WrestleMania 32 in 2016, 11 months after becoming King of The Ring.