Remember when Sable was so over she could be the focus of the poster of a PPV while the freaking HELL IN A CELL match was reduced to a tiny image on the bottom?
WWF KING OF THE RING QUALIFYING MATCHES (1998):
-And now we come to 1998- the company is riding the success of Steve Austin and running wild with it, and fresh new names are all over the company, driving gates and bringing eyeballs to the product. The only problem is, they’ve lost Bret Hart & Shawn Michaels within six months of each other, leaving Austin alone at the very top. Taker’s about to be reinvented, and Foley’s good as a temporary challenger, but it’s mostly a company led by the Austin/McMahon feud. So it seems like an ideal time to build up new challengers, right? So here we have a KOTR with some new faces- The Rock, Ken Shamrock, Mark Henry, a red-hot returning X-Pac, and more! Plus former Kings Owen & Triple-H are here.
We’re back to a 16-man tournament, with eight qualifiers and then the first round on TV. Only one of which I can find on YouTube, but I got all the Qualifiers but one!
OWEN HART vs. 2 COLD SCORPIO:
* Very disparate guys in weird parts of their careers here, as Owen Hart is now the last Hart Family member remaining post-Montreal, wearing his black & yellow “Caution Sign” singlet, and Scorpio’s in blue tights with “Beefcake holes”, and is a total JTTS, having dropped “Flash Funk”. Owen’s actually a member of the Nation of Domination here, and they’re sent back to the locker room before the match starts.
They start doing armbar reversals as JR diplomatically points out that Scorpio is a JTTS (“Scorpio, quite frankly, has nothing to lose here!”), Scorpio running into the spinning heel kick for two. Baseball slide & pescado do more damage, but Scorpio comes back and hits a flying cross-body for two. He throws a few shots but gets caught with a Bridging German for two. Neckbreaker & second-rope elbow get two, but Owen splashes off onto Scorpio’s boot- Scorpio hits a spinkick, then signals the finish and hits a great Falling Powerbomb! Moonsault… misses! That hurts the knee, and Owen throws out a vicious chop-block, kills the knee, and hits the Sharpshooter for the submission at (5:16).
Very good short match here, as they did some feeling-out but kept almost all the moves looking well-applied and important, Owen flying around immediately and making the most of their time. These two had some of the smoothest offense in the business at the time, and filling the match with a German, Powerbomb and other great moves helped it feel a lot bigger than a 5-minute match usually would.
Rating: **3/4 (great use of time)
Dan Severn: A weird combination of “Your Friend’s Dad” and a terrifying monster.
D’LO BROWN vs. DAN “THE BEAST” SEVERN:
* So soon after Ken Shamrock got signed, so too did UFC rival Dan Severn. Unfortunately, Dan didn’t have the look, charisma, nor flashy style to succeed in the WWF, and so he was an awful competitor all-around. He still looks like your friend’s dad you were always afraid of, though, so he’s got that going for him.
D’Lo, who was already fantastic and this young age, slaps Dan to awaken the Beast, then flails like a baby when he’s taken down. D’Lo comes back with strikes, actually knocking Dan over from a waistlock, then hitting his spinning heel kick and doing a big taunt. “Get yo’ ass up!” he shouts repeatedly as Dan struggles, of courts setting up Dan’s arm-trap belly-to-belly suplex. Dan throws strikes and threatens to “snap”, but just doesn’t have Shamrock’s charisma or smoothness, so it falls kinda flat- Release German kills D’Lo, and the Bow & Arrow finishes at (3:10). Owen clobbers Severn, his first-round opponent, but Shamrock makes the save. (Edit: And apparently this move is what leads to D’Lo “requiring” a chest protector for the next year+, giving him an AMAZING “slow healing injury leading to cheating” gimmick that lasts for ages and gets him incredibly over. I had thought it was a Rings of Saturn-like move, but apparently not)
Rating: *1/2 (a super-short match, and Dan just doesn’t have a lot of speed and often looks like he doesn’t know where he needs to be, but some moves were alright)
“Marvelous” Marc Mero: actually one of the most hated heels in 1998 WWF. Then he let his wife powerbomb him.
“MARVELOUS” MARC MERO (w/ Jacqueline) vs. STEVE BLACKMAN:
* Interesting pairing of real-life fighters of very similar size, though Blackman was pasty white and Mero was so dark most of us legit thought he was black for years. Mero’s a great heel character at this point- a cowardly, arrogant jackass who’d just banished Sable from the WWF “forever” thanks to a contract stipulation. He actually debuts his manager Jacqueline, boasting about how black she is. Blackman’s a legit badass with no charisma who never “took”- just a totally wrong era for him.
It’s Boxing vs. Karate to start, Blackman handily winning and sending Mero scurrying out for a hug from Jackie. He takes more of a beating, even getting faceplanted after trying the old “corner headscissors” bit, then takes a karate thrust, backbreaker & snap suplex. Karate Thrust Kick (Blackman’s finisher) hits, but Jackie puts Mero’s foot’s on the ropes. She hops up on the apron for the distraction, allowing Marc to hit the ol’ Flair Uppercut. Samoan drop (called a “TKO” by the moron Michael Cole) & Shooting Star Press score the pin at (2:56). Classic “RAW Formula Match” with one guy dominating and the other cheating, scoring the easy win in a short match.
Rating: 1/2* (Some okay stuff from Blackman, but way too short)
MARK HENRY vs. TERRY FUNK:
* Oh NICE! Found this one on DailyMotion. It’s early-career, awful Mark Henry as a Nation member against Funk. Funk’s in those red & white striped black tights, as usual. These two are on such wildly different swings of their career at this point, Funk being a washed-up but still crazy hardcore legend, and Henry being ultra-green.
Funk hits chops and a neckbreaker (Mark dropping first), but gets launched off trying a pin. Ballshot and more chops, but Henry comes back with a clothesline. Terry takes a beating, but tries a Vader Bomb to the floor, Henry catching him and ramming him into the post. Henry gets reversed and goes into the steps, though, and Terry waffles him with the Attitude Era Unprotected Chairshot! Funk then hits his insane Asai Moonsault, suicidally flying into the guardrail! Mark sells it as a hit, but back in the ring they run into each other and Mark gets the splash for two. Slam & legdrop get two, then Funk gets an inside cradle for two, but Mark catches him with a release powerbomb (??) and a Running Splash for the three (4:53).
Fairly short but not as bad as the other matches, actually- this seems like a chance for the veteran to lead Mark through a bout, and he did a good job of it. He controlled with sneakiness, but went up for Mark’s comebacks, then acted crazy and got him on the ropes. Kinda weird having Mark just hit a normal splash, then winning with a running version (which was his actual finisher at the time) later- probably a rookie mistake.
Rating: ** (perfectly fine TV match with a great suicidal bump from Funk)
Good things about Vince Russo: Everyone on the card is doing something! Bad things about Vince Russo: Sometimes that “something” is Southern Justice.
“DOUBLE J” JEFF JARRETT (w/ Tennessee Lee & Southern Justice) vs. FAAROOQ:
* Yes, this is the era where the company was SO DESPERATE to get Jeff Jarrett over, they’d staple guy after guy to his act in hopes of him being taken seriously so he could be pushed to the next level. In this case, the Godwinns THANK GOD have dropped their “Hog-farming hillbillies” gimmick… but instead are just silent guys in nice suits. Well, Russo was TRYING— well, no he wasn’t, this was just filler garbage. Hilariously, their theme would later go to Debra McMichael, who HERSELF would be stapled to Jarrett (and thankfully for the Vinces, that one finally got him over).
Faarooq hits a powerslam early, missing a falling headbutt but landing a clothesline. Attitude Era Brawling follows, but Jarrett makes a babyface-style comeback despite being a heel, because surprise- he STILL FUCKING SUCKS AT WRESTLING. He misses an elbow but gets legdropped for two. Faarooq gets two off of a suplex and a punch, but gets crotched on the top rope. Jarrett does punches (REALLY? Use your speed!), but takes a release spinebuster, so Southern Justice runs interference while Lee gives him a big ol’ belt-buckle, and he smashes Faarooq in the face with it for the three (3:22). Yeah, the former Nation of Domination LEADER is reduced to taking a loss to Double-J. Sure it was four people working against him, but come on! I believe this led to an argument with the Rock, who was a subordinate yet made the tournament. (edit: Nope- they’d split before this)
Rating: 3/4* (horrible match. Both guys kinda working heel and nobody had any heat at all- both were dead acts at this point, and didn’t mesh well with the Attitude style)
The Rock at this point had taken a garbage babyface character and become an arrogant heel, which worked so well he was the most hated guy in the business next to Vince McMahon in almost no time at all.
THE ROCK vs. VADER:
* A Dream Match for the ages, but unfortunately it’s “mid-1998 Vader” and not Main Event Vader, though this is still a highly-competitive bout for a Qualifying Match. The crowd’s all over the Rock with “Rocky Sucks!” chants immediately- a great sign this heel character is working. He’s the IC Champion here.
The Rock throws some shots to start, but Vader just eats him alive with headbutts, bearpaws and a Vader attack, sending Rock spiraling with great selling. A clothesline brings him down, and an avalanche & splash off the second rope get two. Rocky hits the kick & floatover DDT, but gets launched off at “2”. He throws punches, and manages a slam after Vader falls on him on the first attempt, then hits the People’s Elbow, back when it was a ridiculous, goofy heel mannerism. Slack cover gets two, then Vader nails him and gets a splash for two. Rocky clotheslines him out, and Mark Henry comes out to attack Vader- FAT MAN STAND-OFF ON THE OUTSIDE! Vader gets clobbered and hit with a big splash while the ref is dealing with Rocky, and the Rock tosses Vader in for the Rock Bottom and the three at (4:39).
Actually not a bad little match! Weird as it is seeing Vader do such an even back-and-forth with someone, the Rock is at least as tall as him and muscular as hell so it worked. Both guys bumped like crazy, Rock survived some big splashes, and cheating led to the win, much as it hurts Vader’s aura to take falls in 5-minute matches on live TV.
Rating: **1/4 (solid TV match- short but well-wrestled all the way through)
TRIPLE-H vs. X-PAC:
* Now THIS is an interesting one- setting HHH against fellow DeGeneration-X member X-Pac, and JR points out this is X-Pac’s return match after “nearly a year” on the injured list (and it’s his first match back since joining the WWF again!). This is one of the first matches of his I’ve reviewed since I became aware of his infamous “Jobbing Face”, and sure enough, he has the most annoyed, blank expression on his face and doesn’t have even the remotest bit of excitement in his body language, just kinda hitting the corner and raising his arms. Keep in mind this is a guy who often came down the aisle gesturing like he’d drank a truck full of Red Bull and snorted all the world’s cocaine. Tonight he’s in crimson red & black tights, while HHH has shiny black tights and his MAGNIFICENT mane of hair. Both shake hands before the match and do matching DX crotch chops! But then X-Pac dives in with a cradle before the bell!
Mike Chioda actually counts “2”, THEN rings the bell after HHH’s kickout, which I’m not sure is legal. HHH is actually impressed, and they do a solid sequence ending in X-Pac getting his roundhouse kick caught, but fires off a spinkick while HHH is holding the other leg. HHH’s high knee puts X-Pac out and here comes Chyna, tossing him back into the ring. Clothesline, inverted atomic drop, suplex & kneedrop (hey- another knee move!) get two. VICIOUS whip to the corner wows the crowd, and X-Pac suuuuuuuper gingerly reverses a whip and limp-walks to the corner for his spinkick, putting HHH out. But now Chyna throws HIM back into the ring, not playing favorites, and the crowd loves that. X-Pac catches HHH with a roundhouse when he’s all “WTF?” to his valet. HHH manages a backbreaker for two, then loudly calls the spot for his knee-facecrusher and clotheslines X-Pac out. But now the Rock distracts everyone via the mic, allowing Owen Hart to crush X-Pac’s balls on the railing. HHH finally notices his buddy is hurt and goes out to check, X-Pac demanding “Get in the goddamn ring!” so Hunter isn’t counted out, too. Triple-H wins by Count-Out at (5:14).
Pretty basic HHH match for the time, with his three knee-based moves, but they worked pretty well together until the fuck finish. It’s pretty hilarious that X-Pac’s return bout is a count-out loss via screwjob to his own loyal stablemate, but that’s Russo’s booking for you. It’s unpredictable, but sometimes that’s because it’s stupid!
Rating: ** (going okay until it got all screwy)
Other Qualifying Matches: Ken Shamrock defeats Kama via Anklelock (2:43). Oddly this is the only one not on either big video-sharing site.
* I could only find one on YouTube:
“MARVELOUS” MARC MERO (w/ Jacqueline) vs. “DOUBLE J” JEFF JARRETT (w/ Tennessee Lee):
* Heel vs. Heel, Because Russo (I mean, it makes it less predictable than usual KOFs). Mero’s in red boxing shorts while Jarrett’s still in the damn “chest strap” gear. Hilariously, Mero, who is about to be de-pushed, has INCREDIBLE heat, while Jarrett, whom every booker he’s ever met has loved and wanted to push, can barely draw casual boos.
Mero loses it when the crowd chants for Sable, who we’re told has just be reinstated after losing that “Retirement Match” against Mero. I think Shane McMahon did that one. Mero manages a rollup for two, then Jarrett puts his head down and gets POWERBOMBED (the second move of the match?). He spins around on the top rope and hits a Merosault press for two. Jarrett just casually comes back and hits a weird powerbomb-type move that tosses Mero leg-first onto the top rope. Mero just lands on his feet from a backdrop to ignore that leg damage and hits an inside cradle, then catches Jarrett with his head down AGAIN to come back. Jarrett gets a punch and chokes away, but Jacqueline trips him up. Mero uses the distraction to hit the Flair Uppercut and the TKO (fireman’s carry to swinging cutter), but the ref’s still dealing with Jackie & Lee outside so there’s no count. And then the crowd goes COMPLETELY BONKERS as sure enough, out comes Sable with a leather jumpsuit and INSANELY huge implants- jumping jehosophat, I forgot she had them THAT BIG. She looks like she’s about to lift off! Mero loses it over her appearance, and walks right into a DDT on the distraction, Jarrett winning at (4:31).
A bit of a “random moves” match, with Mero hitting a powerbomb & moonsault immediately, only to have them be ignored so Jarrett can do his “random punches and basic shit” type of match with no rhyme or reason to match-flow or the crowd. Then we get two sets of interference to lead to Mero getting embarrassed and Jarrett heading to the PPV.
Rating: *1/2 (basic nothing RAW bout)
THE REST OF THE TOURNAMENT:
* We miss out on: Dan Severn beating Owen Hart (2:56), The Rock beats Triple-H (8:06) and Ken Shamrock beats Mark Henry (4:37). At the PPV itself, The Rock beats Dan Severn (4:25) and Ken Shamrock beats Jeff Jarrett (5:29). In the Finals, Ken Shamrock beats the Rock at (14:09) to become the 1998 King of the Ring– this is actually the cap-off to their legendary feud (the one that got the Rock over as the most hated heel in town), giving Ken a win without costing Rocky his IC Title, which is used for his upcoming feud with HHH. The Rock would do okay for himself- this SummerSlam he’d have the Ladder Match with HHH that ended up being a big part of the mythos of those two’s rise to the top. Shamrock himself did okay at first, but petered out by the end of the year, and eventually just became the Corporate goon and that was that.