On August 12, 2019, the WWE announced a reboot of their classic King of the Ring tournament. The 16-man tournament wrapped up five weeks later on September 16, 2019 during Monday Night Raw. The finals pitted Chad Gable, a clean-cut amateur wrestler who wore royal-purple-and-gold trunks for the match, against Baron Corbin, a no-nonsense big man donning a black tank top and slacks. At the end of a highly contested match, Corbin won, ascending the throne that has been made for him since his debut in the company.
Widespread frustration and anger from fans marked Corbin’s road to the crown. The former on-screen authority figure for Raw was blamed for the show’s lull late last year. Fans were critical of Corbin beating Kurt Angle in the legend’s retirement match at Wrestlemania. Critics panned his summer feud with Seth Rollins over the Universal Championship. This led to Corbin being absent on television in the weeks after its conclusion. The King of the Ring was as much of a proving ground for Corbin, who had been a regular on WWE TV since 2016, as the younger wrestlers in the tournament.
With a brash personality and rugged offense, Corbin consistently appeared on TV against perennial heroes like John Cena and AJ Styles. Still, general consensus said he needed an extra oomph to stack himself up against main event opponents. Opportunities came in droves for Corbin; he just could not capitalize on many of them. His most noteworthy accolade in three-plus years was a Money in the Bank contract win. Corbin squandered the contract in a quick loss to WWE Champion Jinder Mahal two months later.
Corbin then went on to beat The Miz, one of the longest-tenured stars on the WWE roster, Corbin took care of the Mix in the first round of the tournament. Next, Corbin bested Cedric Alexander in a highly-competitive match in the quarterfinals, followed by a win in the hallowed Madison Square Garden in the semifinals against both Ricochet and Samoa Joe. Throughout this run, Corbin seemed to find that edge that eluded him for much of his career.
Wearing expensive jewelry in backstage segments gave Corbin an added layer of character. He was aggressive in the ring and gloated out of it. Corbin fed off the legitimate crowd hatred of him, which made the twists and turns in his matches all the more palpable. Crowds went from just booing Corbin to passionately willing on his opponents. Corbin’s eventual tournament wins meant more, prevailing over valiant faces in front of crowds deeply invested in seeing him lose.
With the win, Corbin became the first King of the Ring winner since Bad News Barrett’s 2015 crown. Like Corbin, Barrett had main event opportunities in the past, but never got past the hump. Unlike Barrett, Corbin used the tournament to revitalize his character, fine-tune his in-ring work and ultimately revive his career. It was never a straight shot to the top, but Baron Corbin’s coronation as a legitimate star in WWE played out royally well.