For live event fans and VHS tape traders around the world, the King of the Ring tournament was a golden dream of WWF wrestling that regular fans would miss every year. That changed in 1993 when the King of the Ring tournament became the center of a pay-per-view of the same name. For the next four years, kings were crowned, championships decided and the fans became more and more enamored with each tournament bracket. But the 1998 tournament had to take a backseat to one of wrestling’s most (in)famous matches. Lets see if this pay-per-view event is a classic and not a one-trick pony.
King of the Ring
June 28, 1998
1. Taka Michinoku & The Headbangers defeated Kaientai
2. Ken Shamrock defeated Jeff Jarrett to advance to the finals of the King of the Ring tournament
3. The Rock defeated Dan Severn to advance to the finals of the King of the Ring tournament
4. Too Much defeated Al Snow & Head
5. X-Pac defeated Owen Hart
6. The New Age Outlaws defeated The New Midnight Express
7. Ken Shamrock defeated The Rock to win the 1998 King of the Ring tournament
8. The Undertaker defeated Mankind in a Hell in a Cell match
9. Kane defeated Steve Austin to win the WWF Heavyweight Championship in a First Blood match
Filling Treat (Part 1): Noticing the card was lacking and understanding that most of the matches listed wouldn’t reach the double digits in time, the WWF decided to added some bouts to the show. One of those unscheduled matches featured WWF Light Heavyweight Taka Michinoku teaming with The Headbangers of Mosh and Thrasher to face Michinoku’s fellow Japanese imports and rivals Kaientai (Funaki, Dick Togo & Men’s Teioh). The fans, who really enjoyed Taka dressing like a Headbanger with the ripped shirt and skirt, gave the teams a roaring ovation during the opening minutes as Taka zipped around the ring; doing dives and missile dropkicks to his heart’s content. Kaientai would eventually make a comeback, being taken down by the equally athletic Togo’s baseball slide head scissors on the floor.
Michinoku, though being beaten down by the full Japanese contingent, fought through the pain (specifically with a spinning heel kick) and tagged out to both teammates. The referee let the double tag slide, giving the former WWF Tag Team champions a chance to set up Taka’s Michinoku Driver on Funaki to give the head banging trio a popular victory. A perfect way to open the show as the crowd was into every high flying maneuver, Kaientai’s beating on Michinoku and the Taka victory. Some people complain about filler matches being added to pay-per-view cards at the final hour, but this match is proof sometimes throwing names on a card can work.
On the Road to Royalty (Part 1): Former Intercontinental champions Ken Shamrock and Jeff Jarrett kicked off the semifinals of the 1998 King of the Ring tournament with Shamrock doing his best to leave “Double J” reeling after his vicious right hands and suplexes connected on the floundering music star. The former “Col. Robert Parker” Tennessee Lee, who had become Jarrett’s second during his return to the WWF after a hiatus to World Championship Wrestling, tripped Shamrock when he had the chance. Taking advantage of his manager’s assist, Jeff Jarrett chop blocked Ken from behind, leaving “The World’s Most Dangerous Man” hobbling and prone to Jarrett’s Figure Four Leg Lock.
Jarrett enjoyed taking his time, attacking Shamrock’s leg whenever he had the chance between taking Ken’s comeback strikes and distracting the referee so Tennessee Lee could attack Shamrock. Shamrock’s warrior spirit showed through, giving him the chance to unleash a blistering offense including a hurricarana that saw Ken use more arm strength to push himself onto Jeff’s shoulders than his hurt leg. With Jarrett as stunned as Lee seeing the ground-based wrestler hurricarana someone, Shamrock was able to hook “Double J” in the Ankle Lock for a quick submission.
Solid bout and a nice way to continue the tournament this pay-per-view was named after. It’s not the type of match you’d herald as a KOR classic, but solid nonetheless.
Battle Lines: Four years after their first PPV encounter during the King of the Ring tournament, Owen Hart of The Nation of Domination took on D-Generation X’s X-Pac in Pac’s first pay-per-view match since returning to the company two months earlier. Pac started this match off strong by attacking the entering Hart with a baseball slide. The momentum quickly swung back and forth as the two tried to Irish whip each other to death. With the action spilling outside, Owen found his chance to toss X-Pac into the timekeeper’s table like the DX member had been catapulted from a crashing car.
Hart would spend the next several minutes grounding X-Pac whenever he could. If Pac fought back, Hart would drop him with the spinning heel kick or a gut-wrench suplex. Pac, surviving everything Owen threw at him, hit the X-Factor to counter Hart’s sleeper attacks (this was before Pac’s face buster became his legitimate finisher). Pac was making his comeback when Owen pitched him to the floor. Suddenly, Nation member Mark Henry ran to ringside to splash the downed Pac. Things quickly took a turn for the worse as Chyna got in Mark’s face, Vader attacked Henry (hilariously falling down upon body splashing his target), the referee refused to watch Owen make Pac submit in the Sharpshooter, and a simple Chyna DDT put Hart’s lights out for the X-Pac victory.
A pretty average match that the fans were really into. If this match was given more time and didn’t have such a cluster finish, these two could’ve stolen the show. With that being said, it’s still a good match to keep the event moving along at a nice pace.
Filling Treat (Part 2): Following the opening match’s lead, WWF World Tag Team champions The New Age Outlaws of Billy Gunn and Road Dogg took on the Jim Cornette-led Midnight Express of Bart Gunn and Bob (Not Yet Hardcore) Holly. It didn’t take long before the former Smoking Guns came face to face, leading to an unexpected lucha style Irish whip exchange featuring monkey flip attempts and rolls like you’d expect from Taka Michinoku. Seeing the acrobatics worked less than simple forearms and punches, Holly clubbed the entering and legal Dogg from behind so The Express could take over. With Dogg isolated on the wrong part of town, this latest interpretation of a legendary team attacked the former Jesse James with simple one-man attacks and double teams like Holly press slamming Bart on top of a prone Road Dogg.
The fans, while not fully into the action, reacted positively any time Road Dogg tried to punch his way to Billy. Dogg eventually made it to his partner for the hot tag, giving Billy Gunn a chance to pepper both opponents with strikes before going for the finish. Jim Cornette interjected himself into the action by hitting Billy with his tennis racket, but the valiant DX representative had the will to fight through the pain. Having no choice, Chyna evened the odds, hitting Cornette in the groin before her team could use the double flapjack on Holly to pin him.
A very formulaic tag team encounter, but it worked. The fans loved everything The Outlaws did and they had very good chemistry with the new Midnight Express. An extended feud could’ve done wonders for both teams, but it was for naught.
On the Road to Royalty (Part 2): After several months of trying to gain a measure of revenge against The Rock, Ken Shamrock worked his way to the 1998 King of the Ring finals to face none other than Rocky Maivia. The Intercontinental champion looked to ice Shamrock’s potential onslaught by scurrying to the floor for haven, only to find the 1997 KOR Triple H sitting at the announcers’ table. Spitting on Triple H set off the leader of D-Generation X, forcing the referee to come between the two faction heads as Shamrock reminded The Rock he was Maivia’s current problem. Shamrock wailed on Rocky until his opposition went low with a low blow aimed Ken’s rocks.
The Rock took control of the match, mixing suplexes and neck breakers with simplistic rear chin locks. Even some of Rocky’s biggest maneuvers like the People’s Elbow damaged his opponent, but couldn’t keep him down. Like his match with Jeff Jarrett, Shamrock fought through the pain long enough to make a comeback. Unlike Shamrock’s previous bout, The Rock was ready with counters of his own that dropped Ken and left him on his back. But Shamrock, being the world class wrestler and former MMA star, was able to sweep a parading Rocky from his vertical position into the Ankle Lock. The Rock, screaming in agony, couldn’t hold on and was forced to tap out.
Easily the best match of the show thus far – getting more time than any other match. The fans not only enjoyed The Rock’s antics, but Shamrock finally gaining a measure of revenge on his rival. The only negative of this match had to be Triple H on commentary. Hunter tried too hard to be funny with his sophomoric humor and his euphemisms also fell flatter than a board (“Everyone is on their feet in here, this action’s got them on the edge of their seats.” – Triple H).
“…He is Broken in Half!”: There’s really no need to go into great detail about the Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and Mankind. More than likely if you’re reading this you’ve seen the barbaric bout at least once. What can be detailed is the fact the match goes beyond just the two falls (one planned, one accidental) Mankind suffered on that night. After falling through the Cell, Mankind struggled to fight off The Undertaker while being hit with the steel ring steps, blasted with chairs and even choke slammed on a bed of thumbtacks. Wrestling legend Terry Funk felt some of the wrath of ‘Taker, literally getting choke slammed out of his shoes. The match became one definitive, star-making, yet incredibly hazardous moment for Mick “Mankind” Foley that would propel him into main event/iconic status in the company. If there’s one match worth owning from this show, it’s Hell in a Cell.
Battle of the Cooler Nicknames: The second King of the Ring semifinal bout featured WWF Intercontinental champion Rocky “The Rock” Maivia and leader of The Nation of Domination taking on Dan “The Beast” Severn in a match that teased either a potential epic/before its time MMA-infused wrestling match or the continuation of The Rock and Ken Shamrock’s problems that started several months earlier. The latter occurred after The Rock and Severn plodded around the ring, trading arm bars and stomps until The Nation of Domination members Kama “The Godfather” Mustafa and Mark Henry came to the ring to distract the referee. Why? So D-Lo Brown could avenge himself for losing to Severn in the KOR opening round and tearing Brown’s pectoral muscle. Brown knocked out Severn with the Lo Down Frog Splash while wearing his padded chest protector. Maivia took advantage of the situation, pinning Severn to win a very mundane match.
This is Not What Everyone Wants: After trying to be a New Rocker, Leif Cassidy left the WWF to pursue other opportunities in Extreme Championship Wrestling. Going by his real name of Al Snow, the former Cassidy found himself as a psychopath who talked to a mannequin head. Looking to earn his job back in the company, Snow challenged Brian Christopher and Scott Taylor (collectively known as “Too Much”) to a tag team match where if Snow won, he’d get to have a sit-down meeting with Vince McMahon. If Snow lost, he’d be out of luck. Sadly for Al, not only was he stuck with a lame partner in the disembodied, inanimate object known as “Head”, but was also stuck with a special referee in the form of Christopher’s father, Jerry “The King” Lawler.
And, of course, Lawler did everything in his power to give his son’s team a break while shortchanging Snow. Fast counts for Too Much, extremely slow counts for Snow, not noticing Christopher or Taylor choking Al. The crowd completely died as the match reached its harrowing conclusion where Christopher stuck a bottle of “Head & Shoulders” shampoo on Head to pin Snow’s tag team partner. Just a terrible, terrible match that lasted woefully longer than both King of the Ring semifinal matches.
Stacking the Deck: As most people know, during this time Vince McMahon didn’t want “Stone Cold” Steve Austin as the WWF Heavyweight champion. After failing to stack the deck using a corporate Dude Love as his representative, McMahon struck a deal with Paul Bearer and his monster of a son in Kane. Defeating his brother The Undertaker with some help from Mankind, Kane earned his rite to face Austin for the gold. But McMahon didn’t just want the match to be a simple one on one bout, but the first ever First Blood match in the company’s history. The rules stated the first man to significantly bleed would lose the match. The stipulations were made even more intense as the believed previously burned Kane offered himself as a sacrifice through immolation if he lost. The problem with this stipulation and the match itself: Kane wore a full body outfit complete with his trademark mask.
Austin, having spent a majority of the week leading to the main event in the hospital with a staph infection in his elbow, entered the arena fighting from behind while doing his best to beat back “The Big Red Monster’s” clobbering offense. The announcers smartly questioned how Austin would make a man completely covered bleed; especially with Austin refusing to rip at Kane’s clothes because doing so would reveal a secret later retconned that proved Kane really wasn’t burned after all.
So the fans were left watching Austin and Kane fight around the ringside area as the Hell in a Cell cage lowered for some unknown reason. Then Mankind and The Undertaker came out in an effort to continue their war while assisting their respective alliances. In the end, ‘Taker accidentally hit Steve Austin, splitting the champ’s forehead and forcing the referee to award Kane the WWF title.
Not necessarily a bad brawl, but a horrible stipulation topped by another interference-laden ending. The ending was made worse by the fact Austin won the championship back one night later on “Raw”. Not a good way to end an otherwise solid show.
Is It A Classic: This show is known mostly for the Hell in a Cell match – and for good reason. A majority of the show is solid to good, with some noticeable disappointments along the way. In reality, the only match worth going out of your way to see is Mankind vs. ‘Taker; and that match has been released on various complications over the past few years that owning this show isn’t necessary. In truth, this event felt like an extended version of “Monday Night Raw” with one exceptional, insane match.