WWF KING OF THE RING QUALIFYING MATCHES (1993):
* So for this week’s “Dream Matches” column, I decided randomly to take a look at the build up to 1993’s inaugural King of the Ring. As a 12-year old fan, I was way into the idea of this big tournament, and even now the set-up seems great- you have an 8-man tournament in one night on PPV, and in the weeks leading up to the show, you stick your stars up against JTTS guys in “Qualifying Matches” that are mostly foregone conclusions, except a couple of them have a legit question mark. It lets your “Featured Matches” actually count for something, and gives your name guys a big win on TV- and if you were watching back then, you know you only saw “Star vs. Star” matches once per week if you were lucky. I’ll see what I can find on YouTube for these (turns out it’s everything but Shawn/Crush, which ended in a Double Count-Out, which disqualified BOTH for some reason, so we had a different Qualifying Match instead).
The issue with KOTRs, of course, is that with 16 guys, 15 have to do the job. And when times are tough, Vince is squirrelly about letting guys drop legit falls. The real purpose of the first King of the Ring, of course, was to return some credibility to former champion Bret Hart, and set off his new feud with Jerry Lawler.
RAZOR RAMON vs. “EL MATADOR” TITO SANTANA:
* So Razor had debuted the previous year and been given arguably his biggest solo push ever, teaming with Ric Flair in the main program at Survivor Series and then facing Bret Hart for the WWF Title at the Royal Rumble. After his loss there, he was cycled into the upper-midcard, beating Bob Backlund at WMIX. Here, we’re a little bit away from the face turn that would forever change his career. Santana, meanwhile, has fallen all the way down the card and is only rarely featured on TV anymore- he’s been a JTTS for years by this point, and was looking pretty flabby compared to the ’80s. Both guys are in black, here- I don’t recall Tito in that look.
Razor hits a cheap elbow while they’re in the ropes, but takes the flying forearm and has to get his foot on the ropes. Tito controls with an armbar but gets garroted on the top rope, only to fight back from Razor’s punches with some shots of his own. He effortlessly dodges counterpunches and hits bodyslams, but comes flying off the top with a cross-body- Razor rolls through and hooks the tights for the pin (3:17)! This was the first time I’d ever seen that finish, and I thought it was brilliant back then. Clearly it’s there to save face for Tito, who would soon be gone. This apparently became a common “Match-Costing Mistake” from him, like Patera’s idiot charge into the corner and Koko’s dive onto the top rope.
Razor would be “First Seed” Bret’s first opponent at KOTR, and would control most of the match, but lose when Bret fell on him while Razor was attempting a superplex. A very “Bret Hart” finish. Better times would be ahead for Razor.
Rating: 3/4* (Very quick little abridged match- they could easily have gone 10 or so, but nope- just in & out)
TATANKA vs. THE GIANT GONZALEZ (w/ Dr. Harvey Whippleman):
* One of the few Qualifiers with any mystery to it. Tatanka was still undefeated being given a very strong midcard push (albeit without many big wins), while Gonzalez was a Monster Heel feuding with the Undertaker, even after being exposed as an awful worker.
Tatanka is no match for Gonzalez’s raw speed, as the Giant does that big overhand forearm and catches Tatanka trying his war-chops. Another shot and choking in the corner… leads to choking in the OTHER corner, and Gonzalez hits a “big” boot to the stomach (he’s 7’7″ and he can’t lift his leg above Tatanka’s waist). He tries to follow up, but Tatanka meets him with punches, kicks to the leg, and finally two Flying Tomahawk Chops, Gonzalez doing his comical selling, looking approximately like someone trying really hard to hold in a sneeze (look at his face!). A third one comes down, but Gonzalez meets him with a single-hand choke! But when the ref tries to break it, Gonzalez “knocks” him down and that’s a DQ at (2:56).
Gonzalez was hopeless as always, and Tatanka only got a tiny bit of offense before the DQ, so even he didn’t look strong. It was really kind of a weird match, as it was dumb and made Gonzalez look like a fool, hardly helping him in his Taker feud. Tatanka would go on to wrestle Lex Luger to a boring-ass 15-minute draw at the KOTR.
Rating: 1/4* (for Tatanka’s chops. At least it was short)
“THE NARCISSIST” LEX LUGER vs. BOB BACKLUND:
* This is Lex during his amazing “admiring his own reflection” gimmick, up against dull babyface Backlund. Lex was treated as a major up & comer and potential threat to the babyfaces by this point, but his feud with Mr. Perfect had gone nowhere. Bob, meanwhile, looked like the world’s hugest dork and was treated like a fossil despite being in his early 40s (keep in mind the average Main Eventer’s age today)- he was given a “trying another shot at it” run, but at this point had been easily beaten by Razor at WMIX and was looking like a nobody.
Backlund tears in for four flash-pin attempts in a row, sending Luger to the aisle to scream (Bob’s “thing” at the time was to just have the best pin attempts- it was pretty well his finisher!). Back in, Bob plays by the rules with a clean break and gets tagged with an elbow for it, so Lex beats him down with heel stuff until Bob reverses a whip- armdrag, bodyslam & atomic drop as we teleport back to the 1970s, but Lex dumps him out of another flash-pin. Bob sells this as devastating, and when he gets to the apron, Lex BLASTS him with the Running Forearm, putting him on the floor. Bob’s KO’d and is Counted Out at (4:52).
Almost all stalling, with like 5 moves from Lex. Not a match that made either guy look good- Bob jobbed in minutes and Lex had to cheat. Lex would go on to a Time-Limit Draw with Tatanka, and then become the company’s top guy in a disastrous run.
Rating: 1/2* (nothing to it)
BAM BAM BIGELOW vs. TYPHOON:
* This tournament gives us not one, but TWO Fat Man Stand-Offs, as the pretty newly-returned Bam Bam is given a JTTS in big Typhoon (who was sticking around after Earthquake already left). Bammer’s actually noticeably smaller than Typhoon, but not by much. As a kid, I was desperately hoping for ol’ Fred to make it, but I didn’t understand booking back then.
We start off with my favorite spot, FAT GUY NO-SOLD SHOULDERBLOCKS, but Typhoon takes the lead with a big bodyslam and an armbar. Bam Bam tries his own bodyslam but only slams Typhoon sideways, then misses a headbutt. Typhoon goes back to the arm, but Bigelow goes to the eyes and hits a backdrop suplex, only for Typhoon to rear back up and clothesline him to the floor. Bigelow leads him on a chase and of course tags him on the apron when Typhoon tries to get back in, then smashes him into the post- this takes the fight right out of him, and Bam Bam wears him down with a chinlock. Back from break with Typhoon’s comeback cut off by missing an avalanche, and a HUGE Samoan drop puts him down. The Flying Headbutt finishes for Bam Bam at (5:23 shown).
Actually the best match so far, as they do the FAT MAN STAND-OFF spots and just throw slams and shots at each other. Great finish, too, with Typhoon Patera-ing into the corner and eating an impressive power move (fireman’s carries are designed to make it easy to lift hefty people, but STILL) and the finisher- one of the only decisive victories in the Qualifying round. Some pretty extended restholds for a 5 minute match, though. Bam Bam would actually go all the way to the finals, beating Jim Duggan and getting a bye before dropping to Bret Hart’s victory roll.
Rating: ** (solid enough Fat Guy match)
“HACKSAW” JIM DUGGAN vs. PAPA SHANGO:
* This would almost have sounded like an even contest, except Shango hadn’t been featured since late 1992, after his Warrior AND Bret feuds got abridged due to changing plans. As he just never seemed to improve, he was mostly cut loose… but would pop up at the Royal Rumble or at a WrestleMania dark match or something until he was finally gone. So he’s largely here as a JTTS for Duggan, who’s now in a blue singlet with the American flag on the back.
Shango attacks from behind at the bell, throwing rights until Duggan hits two clotheslines, then knocks him down with a third. Shango bails, and takes over back in the ring with brawling when Duggan puts his head down too early. Shango clotheslines him down and hits a chinlock. They tease the knock-out, with Duggan getting his hand up at “3”, but Shango goes right back to it- like 1:45 in that damn hold, then knees Duggan out of ANOTHER comeback. But he KenPateras into the corner and bounces off- Duggan throws lefts and rights, hits a terrible back body drop, and ends with the Three-Point Stance running clothesline at (4:40).
Pretty awful match- Shango’s entire offense consists of kicks and punches, so he needed to wait until the Attitude Era to fit in properly. Duggan ate almost all the offense in a “Randy Savage Template” sorta way, but Shango wasn’t really helping (barely going up for the backdrop, for example). Duggan faced Bam Bam in the first round, but HIMSELF KenPatera’d into the corner, taking the Flying Headbutt.
Rating: DUD (too long and plodding- not even 5 minutes and you need nearly 2 in a hold?)
MR. HUGHES (w/ Dr. Harvey Whippleman) vs. KAMALA:
* Hell yes- another FAT MAN STAND-OFF, this time with Kamala in his JTTS babyface phase, about to be crushed by Mr. Hughes, who was kind of a bust as these things go. Hughes being so enormous but only having a “point with one finger while scowling” as his one personality trait was a huge waste. He’s feuding with the Undertaker at this point.
Kamala gets distracted by his former manager when the bell rings, so Hughes attacks from behind, clobbering away. A couple of comebacks are halted by Hughes going to the eyes, and he hits a couple of DROPKICKS, but Kamala finally blocks a punch and hits his cross-chop and throws a weak crescent kick to put Hughes on the mat. Kamala does a splash to the back, hooking the leg for his classic “pins him on his belly” mistake, and then KIM CHEE comes out for the first time in ages, distracting him. Kamala then bails completely and beats Kim Chee’s ass on the floor, hitting a splash out there as he gets Counted Out at (2:44). Wait, SERIOUSLY? They’d jobbed Kamala all over the place this year, and they can’t give him a real loss against a big monster like Hughes, who’s feuding with one of the company’s top names? Kamala attacks Hughes and dumps him after the bell, then slingshots Harvey into the ring, but he quickly hauls ass to the dressing room.
Mr. Hughes would take on Mr. Perfect in the “Battle of the Misters”, but get disqualified for using Taker’s Urn, which he’d stolen at that point. His WWF career would end ultra-quietly as he’d just end up gone one day.
Rating: 1/4* (just some basic strikes before the Fuck Finish, really)
MR. PERFECT vs. DOINK THE CLOWN:
* This is probably the Qualifier with the most up in the air, as while Mr. Perfect had recently retired Ric Flair, he’d sorta entered this uncomfortable midcard zone, and Doink was pretty fresh as a new act. So neither one was in any position to job in a short TV match against the other. The booking solution to this was rather ingenious.
Doink, with his classic heel theme music, attacks Perfect (in a salmon-colored singlet!) on the floor, sending him all over the place until he misses a knee back in the ring and Perfect works on that. Then Doink takes a full “SmackDown! Royal Rumble” bump all the way over the top on a chop to the chest, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Perfect sends him into the steps, works the leg, kneelifts him and more as it’s methodical but very precise. We’re clipped to Perfect going into the ringpost as Vince declares this a “nip & tuck match-up all the way!” (like… surgical precision? Is that what he means?). Doink hits a double-axehandle to the floor as he appears in picture-in-picture for an interview (“It’s an ILLUSION!”). He works Perfect’s back with his usual tightly-applied stuff, hitting a double-axehandle but not following up. They get into a slugfest and Perfect hits an inside cradle, backslide & rollup off the ropes for two-counts, then a backdrop suplex for the same, and finally catches Doink in the Perfect Plex just as time expires at (6:35 shown).
Rating: **1/2 (very solid, if methodical. Both guys were legitimately great workers even in a TV match that had to draw out the action)
MR. PERFECT vs. DOINK THE CLOWN, Round 2:
* So since the Time Limit expired and neither man was actually “eliminated”, they had a second match.
Doink sprays a little boy with a squirt-flower, drawing OUTRAGE from Jim Ross on commentary (funny part is the adult holding the kid was laughing and the kid just looked bewildered), and Perfect hits the floor to fight Doink this time. Bobby points out the mystery of Doink’s identity, saying he’ll do a move that makes it clear he’s one wrestler, only to do a move that guy couldn’t do the next. Perfect attacks the leg, staying on it with a lot of capability for a guy with no submission finisher, yanking on it, hitting an Indian deathlock and a figure-four. Doink makes the ropes, and wisely hauls Perfect to the floor, then smashes his face into the steps- Heenan marks out, realizing only a veteran had that kind of ring-positioning smarts. Doink kicks some ass in the ring, but still limps like a motherfucker, hitting a BRUTAL stomp on a hammerlocked arm, looking like it could have legit broke a wrist. Doink dumps him and works the arm some more, then both get into a slugfest (“Oh, HERE WE GO!”- Heenan), won by Doink, but Perfect slams the mat in anger and fires back, only for time to expire again at (7:05).
Rating: **3/4 (actually better than the last one, even though it was mostly sitting in holds, as they applied them super-well and all had proper limb focus. Great selling by Doink, too, limping through the entire thing)
MR. PERFECT vs. DOINK THE CLOWN, Round 3:
* ONE MORE TIME.
Doink attacks Perfect before the bell again, choking him with Perfect’s own towel, then wiping himself off with it (even the “butt-floss” technique!). But Perfect slugs him in the gut and uses the towel to clothesline him! He pounds away and works the leg, but back from the break he charges into a boot and takes another ass-kicking on the floor. Back in, Doink lays in some boots and they fight amateur-style, going for holds and counters on the mat- Perfect escapes an armhold and just STOMPS the knee, working away at it. He puts on a painful-looking deathlock, even slapping Doink every time he tries to sit up, but Doink goes to the eyes and bites the shit out of him- they both hit the floor, Perfect hitting the post but firing back, but now Doink smashes his arm into the post. He hammerlocks the arm and does the same stomp as last match, then it’s a hammerlock bodyslam for two. Back from another break with Perfect hitting an atomic drop & great clothesline- Doink drags him into the turnbuckles, but Perfect hits a monster clothesline to flip Doink over the ropes and to the floor! But then only NOW to we get “Two Doinks”, as another Doink comes out and heads under the ring, doing a “Doink Swap” while the clown is hurt on the floor. And now the fresh Doink (with fresh facepaint) easily reverses on the exhausted Perfect, kicking his ass. He hits some jobber-fu, like a monkey flip out of the corner, but puts his head down and BAM! Perfect Plex catches him and finishes at (11:40)!
The first Doink charges IMMEDIATELY at the bell, attacking Perfect to the confusion of the dumbass referee, but the decision stands. The two Doinks beat the shit out of Perfect, robbing him of the joy of victory, but in comes Crush, who cleans house and press-slams Original Doink, chasing them both off. The overall result of these three matches was terrific- Perfect looks good for having Doink beat on one show and then beating him despite the flagrant cheating here, while Doink looks good because it took a guy on Perfect’s level three tries to beat him (never mind not taking the actual fall himself)- the best possible result for both dudes. Mr. Perfect would go on to beat Mr. Hughes by DQ, then face Bret Hart in a great ****+ Semi-Final match that saw both tease using nastier tactics in a friendly bout, until Bret pulled out a lucky win.
This one was REALLY quite good, as both guys used repeated spots from their prior matches, but in a more hard-fought, vicious contest, just hitting very snug offense and good reversals. The leg & arm stuff just looked brutal, especially Doink’s “hammerlock stomp” (which I’ve never seen before). Great bumps from Doink on those clotheslines, and Perfect is a great combination of skilled brawler and technical guy.
Rating: ***1/4 (one of the better TV matches of the era)
Wow, a ton of matches, all under ** for the most part! Boy do *I* regret doing this set! Actually, no- it’s always fun to look at a bunch of continuous stuff from one era, as it lets you see what’s up with the business at any given time. So overall, Gonzalez, Kamala & Backlund all got screwjob finishes that leave no one strong. Typhoon, Santana & Shango are the “jobbed out losers”. Doink looks strong in defeat (he wasn’t even the actual one who took the fall!). The KOTR show itself had finishes of a similar bent, with Hughes, Tatanka & Luger being eliminated without actually jobbing, but at least Bret picked up three legit big wins as he went on to be crowned- which is what the tournament was all about in the first place.