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For many sports fans, March is the month of the year they can expect to see a great tournament, but for wrestling fans, they can expect it at any time of the year. With the Women’s Tag Team Championship tournament currently in the semi-finals, fans are reminiscing on some of WWE’s greatest tournaments of the past, and for good reason.
There’s nothing like a hotly contested tournament for a prestigious prize like King of the Ring or a championship title, so let’s look back on some of the most memorable tournaments the WWE has ever hosted!
WrestleMania IV - WWF Title Tournament
After the WWF title was vacated in early 1988 by then-president of the company, Jack Tunney, a 16-man tournament featuring WWF’s finest superstars took place at WrestleMania IV to crown a new champion.
The tournament featured some legendary matchups including a Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant rematch that ended in a double disqualification after both men hit each other with a steel chair. At the end of the night, it was Macho Man Randy Savage who would run the table and capture the WWF Championship after a match with the favorite of the tournament, Ted Dibiase. Afterward, Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth emotionally celebrated Savage’s title win and summit to the top of the WWF mountain. The tournament was star-studded and included seven future WWE Hall-of-Famers competing for the title. All these years later, the tournament is still widely considered one of WWE’s best, and they managed to fit it into a single night.
Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic - 2015
In the wake of the death of the great Dusty Rhodes, NXT debuted the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic, a 16-team tournament featuring both established and break-out teams, all of whom were greatly influenced by Dusty Rhodes in training. It seemed the Superstars were wrestling with a chip on their shoulders and were out to demonstrate what Dusty had taught them. The tournament was nothing short of spectacular with future WWE mainstays such as Angelo Dawkins, Elias, Baron Corbin, and Chad Gable getting their first chances at performing on a big stage, as well as established NXT legends such as Finn Balor and Tyler Breeze reminding everyone why NXT is arguably not a developmental territory anymore.
The finals of the tournament saw the new team of Samoa Joe and Finn Balor defeat Rhyno and Baron Corbin to win the tournament and be crowned the inaugural Tag Team Classic winners. Since then, teams like The Undisputed Era, The Authors of Pain, and MSK have used winning the tournament to springboard their careers to the next level.
Mae Young Classic - 2017
The Mae Young Classic was one of WWE’s best ideas in modern history and led to the signing of dozens of talented female superstars such as Bianca Belair, Doudrop, Rhea Ripley, and Xia Li. The multi-night, single-elimination tournament featured female competitors signed to NXT, as well as the best female wrestlers on the independent circuit at the time including Candice LeRae and Kairi Sane. The addition of performers from the independent circuit added an extra layer of legitimacy to the tournament and all 32 competitors stepped up big time.
The quality of the in-ring action was fantastic with fans on the edge of their seats for matches that included Kairi Sane vs. Toni Storm and Mercedes Martinez vs. Shayna Baszler. The women of WWE proved during the tournament why the women’s wrestling evolution has been such a great success. In the end, Kairi Sane defeated Shayna Baszler in an emotional battle to win the inaugural version of the tournament and take home the crown and a WWE contract.
King Of The Ring - 1993
King of the Ring 1993 isn’t one of the greatest tournaments in WWE history because of the jaw-dropping in-ring action that it saw, but because of the breakout performance of the legendary Bret Hart and how he established himself as one of WWF’s top stars at the time.
In-ring, the matches weren’t lackluster by any means, but they weren’t 5-star instant classics that are still re-watched today. The reason this tournament earns a spot on our list is because of Bret Hart’s unbelievable performance to become one of WWF’s top guys.
After losing his title at WrestleMania 9 to Yokozuna, and with Hulk Hogan on his way to WCW, Hart was left to establish himself as WWE’s top good guy. To do so, WWF gave fans the first ever King of the Ring tournament, which went on to become a fan-favorite staple. Hart’s performances were second to none and he proved in the ring why he was WWF’s best performer at the time. He defeated legends such as Razor Ramon, Mr. Perfect, and Bam Bigelow to win the tournament. And as if it weren't memorable enough, Jerry “The King” Lawler would interrupt Bret’s coronation as the first King of the Ring with a brutal assault that began their storied and historic rivalry that lasted for years.
It could be argued that WWE only held one Cruiserweight Classic because it knows no other tournament can live up to the epic standards that the original CWC set. Everything about this tournament was perfect, from the star-studded lineup of independent wrestlers that people never thought they’d see in a WWE ring to Daniel Bryan of all people serving as commentator, the Cruiserweight classic delivered on all fronts. The storytelling was some of the best WWE had seen in years with stories of underdogs, broken dreams, and triumphs playing out right in front of our eyes.
The tournament was filled with jaw-dropping matches, including Kota Ibushi vs. Cedric Alexander and Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa. In the end, TJ Perkins defeated Gran Metalik in the finals of the tournament to win the new WWE Cruiserweight Title and kickstart the entire Cruiserweight division. If you haven’t seen the Cruiserweight Classic, please do yourself a favor and watch the tournament on Peacock right now!
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