Since his 2016 main roster debut, it’s never been particularly difficult to find the consensus regarding Baron Corbin. After being introduced as a domineering brute, Corbin somewhat stumbled out of the gate, eventually finding his footing but failing to maintain a main event position. Though clearly capable of impressive outings, Corbin’s character failed to connect on SmackDown Live and in 2018’s Superstar Shake-up, he headed to RAW without much anticipation following his next step. In hindsight though, that move would prove pivotal for Corbin’s evolution, even if the surrounding perception would take a little longer to shift.
Featured prominently in an authority role, Corbin showed steady improvements as a personality, increasingly comfortable on the microphone and becoming a genuine antagonist too. His in-ring efforts were encouragingly solid as well, developing his already unique offense against some of RAW’s biggest and brightest stars. However, that progression was far from central within Corbin’s overall perception. While Corbin’s strengths were certainly recognized by some, most onlookers were left disillusioned by his handling, disputing the weekly exposure his new role commanded. Opposite Seth Rollins for much of the summer, Corbin took the brunt of the criticism aimed at WWE’s flagship brand.
Many felt that Corbin just didn’t warrant that position, sparking an ongoing debate about the right and wrong types of heat in modern professional wrestling. That conversation can be a complex one but it can be also be rather simple. Regardless of position or presentation, Corbin was jeered every week, an outlier within WWE’s current product. That element alone made him a valuable figure and was only heightened by Corbin’s expanding skill-set also. Thankfully, just a month after the conclusion of his Universal Title chase, Corbin would land in the perfect vehicle to prove his worth.
An obvious contender in the returning King of the Ring tournament, Corbin’s name was initially viewed as one of the less attractive options. Following just two tournament matches though, it was hard to dismiss Corbin much longer. After advancing to the quarter finals with a victory over The Miz, Corbin gelled seamlessly with Cedric Alexander, producing a gripping affair and moving onto the semi-finals. The match spotlighted Corbin’s finest form, the perfect foe for Alexander, a smaller in-ring standout. Corbin’s size accentuated Cedric’s underdog status but his athleticism allowed for exciting back and forth portions too.
That trend would soon prove pivotal but first, Corbin shined in the semi-finals as well, meeting Samoa Joe and Ricochet in an enthralling triple threat. Corbin’s performance in that matchup wasn’t particularly surprising, historically excelling in WWE’s usually effective multi-man match format. Even still, it was hard to ignore Corbin’s showing, with an unusual ‘Let’s Go Corbin’ chant even emerging from the Madison Square Garden crowd. While Corbin’s greatest feat is his continued conflict with live audiences, that moment was a telling one. It indicated that after being left to his own devices, Corbin’s in-ring efforts had begun to impress.
In truth though, that was rather indicative of the King of the Ring tournament in general. On paper, it appeared promising but in execution, it swiftly exceeded those expectations. The tournament had proved unique in the WWE landscape, a mostly stripped-down collection of matches that rarely did anything but deliver. Corbin had clearly benefited from that approach, but his eventual final foe may have been an even greater example of its advantages. Over three inconsistent years, Chad Gable’s main roster experience had been almost bizarre, competing in three tag teams but failing to truly establish himself along the way.
Though his talent remained undeniable, Gable’s future had begun to look unclear. It was hard to imagine that his potential would be realized in the immediate future, especially with so many rising stars seemingly above him in an already crowded picture. That cynicism was soon rendered unnecessary though, as the King of the Ring tournament swiftly altered Gable’s trajectory. The bracket’s clear underdog, Gable received an intensified spotlight almost immediately, defeating Shelton Benjamin and then more surprisingly, Andrade before even vanquishing Shane McMahon in a SmackDown Live main event.
Understandably, Gable’s journey caught many off guard, contrasting with his prior lack of direction as he captured the audience’s admiration along the way. Gable had the ideal opposition awaiting him too and this past Monday on RAW, combined beautifully with Corbin for a quite gripping final clash. Eventually, it was Corbin that took the crown, capping off a pivotal month in his career while Gable left proceedings with an undeniably brighter future too. In the grand scheme of things, this tournament had probably gone relatively under the radar but by its conclusion, it was hard not to have a positive assessment.
Each week, The King of the Ring had provided an almost escapist element to the transitioning RAW and SmackDown products. With each brand entrenched in their ongoing programmes and title pictures, this tournament had allowed for terrific in-ring action away from those stories. A simpler presentation that more closely focused on the talent’s in-ring acumen and ability. It had been a refreshing return for a classic format, highlighting the current roster’s depth while adjusting the dialogue surrounding its two finalists as a result.
The 2019 King of the Ring will be remembered as Baron Corbin’s trip to the throne but hopefully, it’ll also stand-out as the platform of which Chad Gable’s singles career was built upon. That story currently feels more in development though whereas in Corbin’s case, this has already been a validating few weeks. Baron Corbin’s true ceiling may remain unclear but considering his recent showings, it’s hard to dismiss what he can bring to either RAW or SmackDown. Through repetition, Corbin has steadily become a confident talker that with just a smile or scowl, can elicit emotion from any audience.
That was clear before but after seeing Corbin deliver so impressively inside the ropes, it increasingly appears all the more valuable too. Corbin’s time as King maybe just beginning but if this last month suggests anything, it’s that his relevance and importance are far from dwindling.