The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that everything in life could be broken down into two extremes: excess and deficiency. He believed that if a person could find the medium or mean between the two extremes in all that they did in life, they would travel down the path to happiness and virtue. With pro wrestling fans, the two extremes are clear: the deficient “markÃ¢â‚¬Â enjoys watching wrestling more than anybody but has very little knowledge of anything not on TV, while the excessive “smartÃ¢â‚¬Â knows every backstage dealing, but as a result can become highly bitter and cynical, losing their ability to enjoy the show. These two extremes view each wrestler differently, often disagreeing with each other. Each week I look at both perspectives and then attempt to find “The MeanÃ¢â‚¬Â between the two. This week, let’s take a look at William Regal
Redemption is a theme that frequently comes to life onscreen in the world of professional wrestling, but tales of behind the scenes redemption can be harder to find. More often we hear of wrestlers burning bridges, destroying their reputations, and letting personal problems overwhelm them. Once a wrestler has experienced a career setback (and I’m not talking injury) involving illegal substances or behavioral problems, it is a specter that will always hang over them, one that can even return after years of seeming-rehabilitation.
For years a respected mid-carder and potential main-eventer, from about 1997 to the year 2000, Steven Regal (later William Regal) was little more than a punchline. Following problems involving drugs, weight gain, health, and lewd public behavior, it was thought that Regal’s career would never get back on track. He was given second chances by both the WWF and WCW and blew them both. By 1999, he was losing a “retirementÃ¢â‚¬Â match to forty-something Jim Duggan. And then less than two years later, he was WWF Commissioner and a tremendous onscreen presence; within a year after that, he was Intercontinental champion. Persistence? Dumb luck? Let us examine the life and times of the man many call “wrestling’s last true heelÃ¢â‚¬Â (credit: Adam Todd).
Regal began his career just as Jim Ross (and before him, famed baseball radio broadcaster Anthony Schiavone) has always claimed: wrestling in carnivals as a teenager in his native England. Though it was the mid-80s when Regal began his career, wrestling in England at the time reflected more of an old-school shoot style than the more theatrical tilt U.S. wrestling was beginning to take under the direction of Vince McMahon and the WWF. Not even twenty years old, Regal was trained by bruisers who had spent their entire lives wasting away in sideshows, and who did not feel the need to take it easy on this neophyte invading their world. His early years instilled Regal with two things: first, a stiff style of working and dedication to the craft of wrestling along with the showier aspects, and second, a desire not to be wrestling in carnivals all his life.
If you ever read about a Steve (not Steven) Regal who wrestled for World Class and other primarily Texas-based promotions in the 1980s, he is not to be confused with the man who would become William Regal. The latter made his U.S. debut in independents and the USWA in the early 1990s before debuting with WCW in early 1993. Lord Steven Regal was a combination of two familiar heel characters: the foreign menace and the arrogant snob. Though he possessed tremendous wrestling acumen, Regal found that he also settled into character work quite nicely. Beyond his interviews, delivered in a posh British accent, and his flowing robes and “butlerÃ¢â‚¬Â (at first, USWA mainstay Bill Dundee, later replaced), Regal’s most effective tool was his mastery of body language and the way he could use both motion and facial expressions to tell the story of the match and the character. Whether it was the way he would brush off his hands after executing a simple body slam or the way he turned his nose upward in disgust at the fans, his opponent, and anything else remotely American, Lord Steven Regal became a heel that fans quickly loved to hate.
After around half a year of breaking into the WCW scene with squashes on syndicated programs, Regal was thrust into the spotlight for the first time at Beachblast 1993, though not in a way that had been planned by any means. The ongoing feud between Tag Team champions Steve Austin & Brian Pillman, aka The Hollywood Blondes, one of the most beloved heel tag teams in the history of the internet, and The Four Horsemen was set to culminate in a title match between The Blondes and the team of Arn Anderson & Paul Roma. Unfortunately, Pillman injured his leg and would be unable to participate in the title match. But WCW chose not to forego or cancel the match (in part because a great deal of footage had already been taped for the syndicated shows of Anderson & Roma as champs) and inserted Regal, one of the few heels who could substitute in and still have the fans hate the character as much as the seeming bait and switch. Regal & Austin lost the match as expected, but Regal showed grace under pressure and that he was ready to hang with the big boys.
The next step for Regal was a huge one in the upwards direction, as we was transitioned into a feud with Television champion Ricky Steamboat, a former World champion, an over fifteen year veteran, and a wrestler widely acknowledged as one of the best pure athletes and ring technicians in history. Regal’s antagonistic style and methodical pace worked perfectly with Steamboat’s offense oriented wrestling and propensity to play the hero; it was the consummate heel against the consummate face. And unsurprisingly, Regal was able to keep up with the more experienced Steamboat in the ring, and the two had a great series of matches. In what also shouldn’t have come as a surprise, WCW saw that they had a marketable property in Regal and decided to cash in sooner rather than later by giving him the belt. Less than a year into his WCW tenure and Regal already had both the Television title and a win over a legendary former World champion.
Regal and Steamboat would continue their series throughout the fall of 1993, with Regal picking up a win at Fall Brawl and a time limit draw to retain the title at Halloween Havoc. Though past heel Television champions including Arn Anderson and Steve Austin had certainly used the television time limit rule to their advantage, Regal quickly made it one of his staples. Much like The Honky Tonk Man in his prime, Regal was a champion that fans wanted the pleasure of seeing lose his title, but were deprived time and time again. On both television and at house shows, a babyface challenger would put Regal’s shoulders to the mat for the 1-2-3, celebrate along with the fans and wave the TV title around, only to be told by the referee that the time limit had expired prior to the pinfall and watch the cocky Regal leave with the belt, sneering at the fans as he departed. This sort of bait and switch further cemented Regal as one of WCW’s most hated on-screen figures.
With Big Van Vader and Sid Vicious, the promotions two top heels, feuding with each other over the World title in a failed attempt to turn Sid face, Regal was left to fend off the shunned babyface challengers such as Davey Boy Smith and Steamboat, and he did an admirable job. At Battlebowl, he teamed with archrival Steamboat in a losing effort that would end their prolonged feud. In the winter of 1994, Regal entered into both the greatest peak and simultaneously the greatest valley of his WCW tenure. On the one hand, on the house show circuit and on an edition or two of WCW Saturday Night, he had an amazing series of “Marquis de QueensberyÃ¢â‚¬Â matches with World champion Ric Flair that was hailed as one of the best pure scientific series in years. However, on the Television title side of the equation, the field had dried up considerably. WCW lacked the confidence in Regal to have him drop the title and move into a main event feud with Flair, but at the same time, he was enough of a heat machine that they didn’t want to take the title off of him and decrease his television exposure. Regal’s character, which he was so good at playing, was holding him back as wrestling was beginning to break away from stylized gimmicks, which kept Regal out of the main event at the height of his prowess.
Regal had a string of uninspired pay per view and television defenses of his title, including a disappointing match at Spring Stampede with Brian Pillman in which it was clear both talented wrestlers lacked inspiration. In hopes of getting something interesting going for the still over Regal, WCW decided to place him in the old standby of the foreign heel: the USA vs the world feud. However, with all the top faces already locked up in feuds, WCW went with Larry Zybysko, the retired AWA champion turned WCW color commentator, who was itching for one last run, as Regal’s foil. The feud produced some fantastic interviews, as Larry was a great talker (not so much anymore, see the last WWA ppv) and could really get under the Regal character’s skin. The matches somewhat polarized the crowds as they were very “old-school,Ã¢â‚¬Â slow and methodical with boatloads of psychology, which appealed to older fans and those fans more interested in scientific wrestling, but abhorred by newer fans who enjoyed the fledgling ECW and WWF sports entertainment styles more. Regal briefly dropped the Television title to Zybysko, but quickly regained it, sending Larry back behind the commentary desk for good (until Bischoff but let’s not get into that ).
The summer of 1994 brought a new arrival to WCW that affected just about everybody on the roster, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Regal had a quick feud with Johnny B. Badd, the future Marc Mero, who had turned babyface some time ago and was coming into his own in the ring and with the fans. As Regal had more or less held the TV title non-stop for about a year, WCW felt it was time to give somebody new a try, and after a brief series, had Regal drop the belt to Johnny in a not-so memorable match at Fall Brawl. So Regal was once again at the familiar crossroads: languish in the mid-card some more or finally move up to the main event. However there was now an x-factor in that new arrival: Hulk Hogan.
Hogan entered WCW to much hype and interest in the summer of 1994, even if not all of WCW’s traditional fanbase celebrated his arrival. Though WCW had been doing well for itself both creatively and financially for the first time in years, rather than continue to simply “do wellÃ¢â‚¬Â under the booking of Ric Flair, they decided they wanted to beat the WWF once and for all, and turned over near-complete backstage power to Hogan, who was wrestling’s most recognized commodity, even if he never shown much mind for the business outside of preserving his own interests. Flair was dethroned by Hogan as World champion and unceremoniously removed from an active wrestling role soon after. Sting and Vader were put in a feud with each other that went nowhere so as not to detract attention from Hogan. Austin and Steamboat were both phased out, both after suffering injuries.
As the tone of WCW shifted from Flair’s scientific wrestling showcase to Hogan’s Hollywood sideshow attraction, Lord Steven Regal found himself in a bind. Though his greatest strength lay in his in-ring work, his character work was strong enough so as to survive in the circus-like environment (though it did represent the carnivals he had tried to escape in a strange way). In fact, Regal would have been a perfect opponent for the American hero Hogan and could finally have had his main event run. However, Hogan would only feud with proven superstars or personal friends, and Regal was neither. Regal’s Television title was beyond his grasp as Johnny B. Badd was busy feuding first with Hogan’s buddy The Honky Tonk Man, and then later with Arn Anderson. Another Hogan friend, Jim Duggan, had snagged the U.S. title, and again, the patriotic Duggan would have made a perfect opponent for Regal, even if the matches might not have been stellar, but the U.S. title was used instead to pacify Vader, and later Sting. So, with few other options, Regal was shuffled into the career limbo of tag team wrestling.
Towards the end of 1994, WCW decided to pair up Regal with a young wrestler they had just hired from the Northeast independents named Terra Ryzing, whom they rechristened Jean-Paul Levesque. The thinking was that a young veteran like Regal, who was well versed in scientific wrestling and character as well as being known as a firm but helpful taskmaster to younger wrestlers, would help group Levesque as an eventual successor. The two did not actually team very often, with Regal more frequently accompanying his charge to the ring for his matches (including a brief series against old Regal nemesis Zybysko, to continue Levesque’s training). The team never even got a chance to really get off its feet as Levesque left WCW for the WWF shortly after his pay per view debut, a loss to Alex Wright at Starrcade 1994 (Levesque went onto modest success as Triple H in the WWF).
With the Regal-Levesque pairing something of a flop, WCW decided to go in completely the other direction with the next Regal tag team, and hooked him up with Bobby Eaton. Eaton, best known as a member of the Midnight Express, one of the greatest tag teams of the 1980s and perhaps of all time, with both Dennis Condrey and Stan Lane, had also formed a successful partnership with Arn Anderson in the early 90s, but had been fairly stagnant since. The thinking was that each man could help the other: Eaton could ease Regal into tag team wrestling via his experience while Regal could help Eaton, historically a wrestler and not a talker, develop a character.
Firmly rooted in the Hogan era and determined to put a storyline behind every tag team and feud, Regal & Eaton could not simply be paired for the sake of two men who both sought success, they needed a back story. Though the gimmick they were given seemed fairly hokey in the abstract, Regal had the chops to pull it off and create an amusing and modestly successful heel tag team in The Bluebloods. It was well known by any fan who had followed WCW, and before WCW, the NWA, that Bobby Eaton was a born and bred Southern boy, a proud Alabama native. To inspire the pairing with Regal, WCW had Eaton discover that he had ancestral roots based in British royalty, which of course led him to team up with a fellow English nobleman. The backstage vignettes in which Regal instructed the former hillbilly in culture and how to turn his nose up at base American culture ranged from dumb to inspired, and “BeautifulÃ¢â‚¬Â Bobby underwent a successful transition to The Earl of Eaton.
In the ring, The Bluebloods were solid, good enough to place them as the top heel contenders to the Tag Team titles by Spring of 1995. And as happy coincidence would have it, the Tag champs at the time, the babyface Nasty Boys, a team of uncouth street brawlers with the particularly rank habit of sticking their opponents’ faces in their armpits, made perfect rivals for the aristocratic team. Though the styles of the Nastys and Bluebloods did not match terribly well, the Ã¢â‚¬ËœBloods were able to hold their own in brawls well enough to make the matches at least passable (which was better than most of 1995 WCW). Harlem Heat was eventually thrown into the mix, as they were a team that could both brawl and wrestle, to balance the sides a bit more evenly. The culmination of the feud came at Bash at the Beach 1995, where the Heat, who had snagged the titles a few weeks prior, got a win over both teams in a Triangle match. With the Heat gaining, well, heat, with the fans, WCW thought it best to leave them as champions, being pursued by the Nastys as well as teams like The American Males, and move The Bluebloods onto other things. The only problem was it didn’t seem like WCW had anything else for Regal & Eaton to do.
As 1996 kicked off, WCW’s tag team scene was, not for the first time and certainly not for the last, a mess. Though the mix of six or seven teams made for decent matches on WCW Saturday Night, there were not enough credible teams to create a title picture, so the titles were shunted off to superstar team Sting & Lex Luger. The division actually got quite the fix when The Steiner Brothers and The Road Warriors, arguably the two greatest teams of all-time, were brought in to feud with Sting & Luger as well as Harlem Heat. However, both situations left The Bluebloods out in the cold. David Taylor, a British wrestler, was brought as the third member of the group, and he and Eaton became a team while WCW decided to focus on a renewed singles career for Regal. The first program Regal worked was quite successful, as he matched up against Fit Finley, an Irishman whom Regal had wrestled in Europe. The two Europeans had an intense, but short brawl at Uncensored that left fans wanting more. Unfortunately, Finley had other obligations to fulfill across the Atlantic, and would not return to WCW for over a year. While Luger was getting shots at rookie World champion The Giant, WCW needed something for Sting to do, and matched him up with Regal for a quick feud as, surprisingly, the two WCW stalwarts had never faced off. Again, Regal had a solid feud with Sting, but again, it was cut short as Sting wrapped Regal up quickly and headed for the fledgling NWO angle.
With the WCW-NWO war now in full swing in the summer of 1996, traditional face/heel lines were blurred, as anybody not in the NWO became a face by default. This didn’t fit very well with Regal, a natural heel, and so he began to take extended breaks from WCW to wrestle in his native country on independent shows. But Regal did happen to be stateside when WCW made the decision that they wanted Luger to drop the Television title to a heel via NWO interference to build up the heel stable even further. As pretty much every heel had been pacified by the necessity to defend WCW, Regal fit the bill, and received his third run with the TV title. Still, despite holding a WCW title, Regal still rarely appeared on WCW television during the fall of 1996.
As Regal was in Europe, WCW worked a breakup angle between the other two Bluebloods, with Eaton blowing a few matches, Taylor getting angry, and Eaton eventually turning babyface and leaving the group. A feud between Regal and Eaton, two veterans and great wrestlers who knew each other very well, over the Television title seemed natural, especially since, outside of a nice scientific series of draws with Dean Malenko, Regal was doing very little with the belt. However, all the higher-ups in WCW at the time had very little but NWO on their minds at the time, and the match was relegated to Regal going over Eaton clean on a WCW Saturday Night broadcast.
It seemed as if Regal’s usefulness to WCW was running out as 1997 dawned. The NWO angle showed no signs of letting up and it while it was great for ratings, it was horrible for any non-NWO heels (Chris Jericho was one of few notable non-NWO heels to succeed in WCW between 1996 and 1999). Since they were basically just throwing mid-card programs together haphazardly while focusing on the main events, WCW officials decided to try and duplicate the WWF’s Rocky Maivia, with his fluke Intercontinental title win over HHH, by giving completely unheralded Prince Iaukea a total upset over Regal for the TV title on Nitro after Rey Misterio Jr., whom Regal had an on-again, off-again feud going with, distracted Regal.
The Iaukea angle was not considered successful by most, but it was yet another example of WCW blowing a chance to do something with Regal. Rather than undergo a significant character change due to his loss (though he did “snapÃ¢â‚¬Â on Iaukea at one point after losing a return match) or move up the card, Regal poked his nose in a few Iaukea-Misterio matches, but otherwise, still remained in Europe for the majority of his time. Regal made a fulltime return to WCW in the spring of 1997 and began his latest tour of duty by losing again to Iaukea at Spring Stampede. The next night on Nitro, Regal attacked Iaukea, causing him to lose the TV title to Ultimo Dragon, which did very little for anybody, as Iaukea never made much of an impact again, and Regal and Dragon were suddenly feuding over a title with no other motivation on the part of either man (and another Regal-Iaukea match, which at least would have had some logic behind it, was again blown off and put on Nitro).
Shortly before facing Ultimo for the TV title at Slamboree, Regal gave a great sound bite on WCW Saturday Night that was one of those things Scott Keith would call “shoot comments not meant as shoot comments,Ã¢â‚¬Â while trying to justify his pursuit of the Television title: “I don’t want to be associated with your country, thus I do not wrestle for the U.S. title. I’m not a bloody midget, so I can’t compete for the Cruiserweight title. There is nobody in WCW worthy of teaming with me for the Tag Team title, and the people who run this federation have always done their best to keep me away from the World title. And so, I have made the Television title my home.Ã¢â‚¬Â At Slamboree, Regal would win his fourth and final Television title.
Regal’s latest TV title reign would be marked with very few televised defenses before he lost the title back to Dragon, who was receiving a push, barely two months later. Four years after his debut in WCW, Regal was not what he once was. As many an online critic had noticed, he had put on a significant amount of weight (so much that he switched from the “speedoÃ¢â‚¬Â style short trunks he had always worn to a full singlet) and slowed down significantly in the ring. He wasn’t being given as much mic time and when he did, his interviews were hardly the classics they once were. As Regal was unable to perform up to WCW’s expectations of him in the ring, they partnered him with Taylor as the new Bluebloods so somebody else would be able to carry the load. The two presented a challenge to The Steiners for the Tag Team titles at World War 3, but were more or less squashed in a plodding match. Behind the scenes, alcohol, painkillers, and a variety of other drugs were becoming a presence in Regal’s life, partially due to frustration with his role in WCW. He continued to gain weight and lose mobility, and also began to experience problems with his family and home life that were sending the former TV champion on a harsh downward spiral.
Two incidents in the winter of 1998 that occurred within weeks of one another led to Regal’s dismissal from WCW. The first was on a plane ride back from a WCW European tour when an intoxicated Regal became unruly, even threatening to urinate on a stewardess. The second occurred when Regal was asked to lay down in a squash match for the rookie sensation Goldberg, and the resentful veteran Regal refused to go along, and made Goldberg look bad by putting up a fight, no-selling many of his moves, and using real wrestling moves to expose him. At this point, Regal was contributing nothing to WCW, and in reality, they’d had no use for him for years anyways. Regal was let go and sent packing from the company he had been with for the past four and a half years.
In 1998, after two years of losing the ratings game to WCW, thanks to the NWO angle, the WWF was beginning to bounce back under the direction of Vince McMahon and star power of Steve Austin. Any WCW cast-offs were instantly signed to the WWF so that McMahon could rub it in his competitor’s face that he could handle their talent better than they could (as Austin, Mick Foley, and others convincingly showed). Hot off the signing of Sean Waltman, the former 1-2-3 Kid and Syxx, in March, McMahon signed Steven Regal in the spring of 1998. Though he wasn’t given any vignettes building up his arrival, Regal was talked up by both WWF Magazine and WWF.com writers as a legitimate tough guy, focusing on his carnival days and getting very far away from his WCW character which had brought him so much success.
Steven Regal (no longer a Lord) made an uneventful debut on a late-spring edition of WWF Raw, looking far more in shape than he had in his final WCW days, squashing rookie Darren Drozdov in a dull match that was a harsh clash in styles. By matching him up with Droz, a former NFL player, the WWF planned to showcase a new, brawling Regal, who was supposedly one of the toughest men in wrestling. But the usually astute McMahon failed to recognize that two of Regal’s strongest attributes were his scientific skills and his rapport with the crowd, two things his new character would not allow him to showcase. However, before the character even had a chance to flop, Regal was hit with more bad luck.
Regal developed a pneumonia that put him out of action for several months. The upside of this was that the WWF powers that be had another chance to give Regal a more impressive buildup, which they would endeavor to do. The downside was that during the time off, Regal once again hit the painkillers hard, and put back on much of the weight he had dropped to enter the WWF.
The gimmick Regal was given in preparation for his second foray into WWF competition was considerably more inventive than his initial one. Billed as “The Real Man’s Man,Ã¢â‚¬Â Regal came to the ring in a ridiculous hardhat, flannel shirt, and jean shorts, and came out to a theme song so laughable it has actually gained something of a cult following. The WWF did not take any chances this time, with several weeks of vignettes leading to Regal’s on-air arrival. Still slightly out of shape, Regal made his return in November of 1998. Though he was still having significant substance abuse and personal problems, Regal did a top notch of making the slightly quirky gimmick a respectable success. The gimmick relied on Regal trying to portray himself as a blue-collar man of the people, while at the same time making it obvious enough that he was really just mocking that group of people. Fans who had followed Regal’s WCW career “gotÃ¢â‚¬Â the character more (it was “Lord StevenÃ¢â‚¬Â posing as “SteveÃ¢â‚¬Â to further his career and mock the “commonersÃ¢â‚¬Â), but Regal brought enough panache to the role that even fans who had never seen him before got into the character.
Sadly, Regal’s WWF success would be fleeting. He was launched almost immediately into a feud with European champion X-Pac (both of whom had been employees of WCW less than a year earlier), a natural one, as he was the only prominent European in the WWF. Despite a difference in styles, Regal and X-Pac managed to put on some entertaining matches. It was rumored that Regal would eventually be given a run with the European title, but until then, he was paired with Tiger Ali Singh, a wealthy Arab who played much the same character Regal had in WCW, to take on Val Venis, a former porn star, and The Godfather, a pimp (it was the WWF’s attempt at a study in class structure). But while Regal was excelling in his character work, his in-ring prowess was nowhere near the levels it had been during his WCW prime. The reason for this was continued abuse of painkillers, alcohol, and drugs. His chemical abuse was also destroying Regal’s personal life, which was already under strain since his family lived in England and he worked in the U.S. The WWF had only a year before witnessed the self-destruction of Brian Pillman, which led to his eventual death, and did not want to watch the same thing take place again. Regal was released from his WWF contract and told to get himself help; he was told that if he could pull himself together, there would still be a place for him in the WWF.
Regal did his best to deal with his problems as 1999 began. The upside of his unemployment (besides sporadic dates in the U.K.) was that he was able to spend more time at home and mend fences with his loved ones. With his personal life stable, Regal also slowly forced himself off of chemical dependency and excessive drinking. Unfortunately, the one thing Regal did not take care of (and understandably so, given that he was dealing with bigger issues) was his physical conditioning. Not wrestling regularly or maintaining his old workout routine, Regal once again gained significant weight and fell far out of wrestling condition. Though he had straightened himself out, he was no longer an asset to the WWF in his physical state. WCW, however, was throwing around money like it was no tomorrow, and decided to let bygones be bygones and hire Regal back.
The WCW of 1999, however, was a far different WCW than the WCW of 1993, and Regal was hardly his former self. The new WCW had little place for pure wrestling outside of the cruiserweight division, and had a nasty habit of hiring too many mid-carders to fill space on house show rosters and syndicated programming, then having nothing for them to do that would move them anywhere up the card. For somebody like Regal, who had been so close to main events he could taste it, his second WCW run must have been extremely disappointing.
He made an unspectacular return at the “Hardcore Junkyard InvitationalÃ¢â‚¬Â battle royal, a dimly-lit special effects extravaganza at Bash at the Beach 1999 which also saw the unspectacular return of Public Enemy. Following that (literal) car wreck, Regal made next to no appearances on Nitro or even Thunder, instead forming an alliance of European wrestlers with old partner Dave Taylor and old rival Fit Finley, that competed primarily in the hardcore division. Regal’s methodical scientific pace was replaced by punches and eye rakes. When Finley was injured after the Europeans were set to receive a minor push in the hardcore division, Chris Adams took his place, and few fans noticed. When former WWF head writer Vince Russo took over WCW in October, he sought to make the program edgier, and didn’t need a washed-up cartoony heel, as Regal was perceived, doing much of anything. So it was back to WCW Saturday Night and touring Europe for Regal. When, in early 2000, Regal was released from his WCW contract durin financial cutbacks and lost a “retirementÃ¢â‚¬Â match to Television champion Jim Duggan (one last brush with “greatnessÃ¢â‚¬Â) on a pre-taped edition of Saturday Night, it was both a career low point and a mercy killing at the same time.
It was the winter of 2000, and after over seven years in the business, after seeing the heights of professional wrestling and the very bottom, Steven Regal decided he had seen enough. This did not however mean he was ready to retire and settle down back in the U.K., no, Regal decided once and for all after years of misfires he was heading back to where he belonged: the top. Already back at his peak mentally, Regal threw himself back into training until he lost all the excess weight he had been carrying around off and on since 1997 and got himself in the best physical shape of his career. At the same time, Regal decided it was time to take charge of his career and where he worked; he remembered his pledge to himself long ago that he would not end his career working in British carnivals. Regal got in touch with Jim Ross, vice-president of the WWF in charge of talent, and proved to him that he could once again be an asset to the world’s number one wrestling company and reminded Ross of the WWF’s vow that there would always be a place for him. Ross, a fan and friend of Regal’s since his early WCW days, agreed, but wanted Regal to prove himself, and so instead of giving him a spot on the WWF roster, Regal was assigned to be a wrestler/trainer in the WWF’s Memphis Championship Wrestling developmental territory.
Regal threw himself into his role in MCW with great aplomb, anxious to prove himself to Ross, McMahon, and the rest of the higher-ups in the WWF. Not for the first time in his career, Regal was given primarily the role of trainer based on his experience and propensity for showing young workers the ropes. Thinking Regal’s best years were behind him, Ross had intended to use him solely as a trainer as a way of both helping his old friend an at the same time not wasting room on the WWF’s roster. However, Regal’s rejuvenated performance as a heel in MCW forced Ross and the WWF to take more than a second look. Sensing that his destiny was in his hands, Regal took full advantage when he was asked to main event the 2000 Brian Pillman Tribute show against the perfect opponent: Chris Benoit. Recently transplanted from WCW to the WWF, Benoit was a tough, old school wrestler with incredible athleticism who could also brawl; he was considered among many to be the best wrestler in the world and was the perfect opponent for Regal. Regal and Benoit brought the house down at Pillman 2000 with a technical encounter that is still held in high regard, and Regal’s ticket back to the big time was signed, sealed, and delivered.
In addition to his superlative match with Benoit and the support of Ross, Regal also had two other old friends with powerful backstage positions in the WWF lobbying for him in Steve Austin and Triple H. Regal worked several house shows developing a character before making his return to Raw in September of 2000. Now going by the slightly altered name of William Regal, when the show came back from commercial, Regal, decked out in a posh suit, was seated at a table in the middle of the ring and greeted the crowd politely, intending to teach them table manners. Regal’s new character was a clever way of refining his old “Lord StevenÃ¢â‚¬Â character, which after more or less seven years in rotation had become a stale gimmick. Now instead of insulting American fans, Regal was polite to them to the level of being condescending, still reminding everybody of his superiority, but in a way even more grating. The initial segment drew heat, but in a smart move, before fans got too bored of the inaction, Chris Jericho interrupted (and was sneak-attacked by X-Pac), giving Regal a rub from an established WWF star right off the bat.
Regal’s in-ring work was back up to the level it had been during the height of his WCW success. Though his old-school style was something different in 2000, it made for a nice change of pace. His rise to become one of the WWF’s top heels, through a combination of hard work and backstage confidence in the veteran, gained him the European title, via a win over Al Snow, within weeks of his debut. He was matched up against unlikely challengers ranging from Mideon to the Holly cousins for the remainder of 2000, but Regal made all of his feuds entertaining, if not instant classics.
With a lack of heels at the top of the card at the dawn of 2001, Austin made a push that he wanted to work more with Regal. The two had a series of impressive non-title encounters that cemented Regal as a capable main-eventer at last. There was even some fan outcry when he was virtually squashed by Test for the European title in February of 2001, but little did the fans know he was being groomed for a role that he would take to perfectly.
Mick Foley had spent nearly half a year as the Linda McMahon-appointed, crowd friendly WWF Commissioner, making matches the fans wanted to see and putting the heels in their place. But the WWF under Foley became almost too fun, with little or no challenge for the babyfaces with Foley always there to act as a back door, and so when Vince McMahon made his onscreen return in early 2001, he assigned a new Commissioner more in line with his way of thinking: William Regal. After defeating Al Snow once more to “earnÃ¢â‚¬Â the position, Regal eased into the role of Commish as if he were born to it. Segments in his office, complete with ever-present teakettle and picture of Queen Elizabeth, became guilty pleasures of each Raw and Smackdown. Whereas Foley would humiliate the heels and joke with the faces, Regal would try to make underhanded deals, but could still be bullied by the likes of The Rock and The Undertaker, making things far more interesting. Regal had never been better on the mic, and held shows together, sometimes practically by himself. For the most part he stayed behind the commissioner’s desk, emerging only to have a highly entertaining feud with Intercontinental champion Jericho (which led to Regal’s Wrestlemania debut) and a classic tag series where he partnered with Kurt Angle against Jericho & Benoit. Regal even got a measure of revenge against the company that had screwed him over when, on the final episode of WCW Nitro, which thanks to McMahon purchasing his competition featured WWF talent, Regal got to make a few disparaging remarks which left WCW commentator Tony Schiavone speechless.
In June of 2001, Regal took on a new comedic sidekick in ECW import Tajiri. The “Japanese BuzzsawÃ¢â‚¬Â soon proved quite capable in the ring, and in addition to backstage lighthearted segments, Regal & Tajiri also formed a formidable tag team in the ring. In July, Regal was forced into a role he had never played before: that of the babyface. An “AllianceÃ¢â‚¬Â of former WCW and ECW wrestlers went to war with the WWF under the direction of Shane & Stephanie McMahon and Paul Heyman, making all WWF wrestlers babyfaces by default, much as the NWO angle had done to WCW years earlier. Though a bit awkward in his new role after eight solid years as a heel, Regal delivered some classic interviews packed with emotion as he lashed out against the Alliance and portrayed himself as a proud man with loyalty, if not strong morals. Alas, this loyalty would not last, as towards the end of the Invasion, Regal turned tail and joined the Alliance, taking him out of his role as Commissioner, but putting him back in his more familiar heel’s clothing; his alliance with Tajiri also crumbled, and the two faced off several times.
Regal would finish out the year feuding with Intercontinental champion Edge, in a harsh clash of styles that drew mixed reviews. The feud continued into 2002, where Regal at long last moved beyond third tier titles and won the IC belt. Regal’s reign would last a healthy two months until he dropped the title to Rob Van Dam in a hot opening match at Wrestlemania XVIII. Throughout the spring and summer, Regal took a step back a bit from the spotlight, with two more brief European title reigns and minor feud with the likes of Spike Dudley and Jeff Hardy. In the summer, he introduced Christopher Nowinsky, Harvard graduate and Tough Enough alumni, as his new protÃƒÂ©gÃƒÂ©. The alliance lasted a few months before Regal left Nowinsky to join heel stable The Un-Americans (which also included Lance Storm, Christian, and Test) as their new defacto leader in September of 2002. Though the future of the stable is uncertain, the WWF seems to have returned Regal to another character-heavy role, giving him yet another chance to shine.
If any man’s career in professional wrestling could be described as a roller coaster, it would be William Regal’s. Like many other wrestlers, he was successful for a period and then experienced a fall from grace, but unlike some of those wrestlers, he rebounded. And it should be noted that Regal did not immediately bounce back; it took him over three years to return to, and even eclipse his former success. So how do those outside the business view this rather extraordinary case? Let’s take a closer look
THE MARK: Give Regal a chance, and he’ll have the mark fans hating his guts within one interview. At first glance, he’s not physically impressive, and his wrestling style takes some getting used to. But it is in Regal’s mastery over character and interviewing that he can draw tremendous heat. After Regal is given sufficient time to get his character over through interviews, mark fans begin to appreciate his in-ring style, and all the nuances built into it designed to annoy the casual fan. The almost always-successful anti-American heel gimmick of course never hurts. However, as proven by his disastrous first WWF run, don’t throw Regal out there in a match without introducing him to fans with sufficient mic time or skits first. Regal is at his best with the mark crowd as a character.
THE SMART: Though Regal’s unorthodox in-ring style and the clashes it creates with most other WWF superstars will polarize internet reviews of his matches, his hard work over the years has earned him the respect of the smart fan. Unlike the casual viewer, the internet historian knows of Regal’s trials throughout the years, and the lengths he went to in order to overcome them. Also, even if they can be few and far between, Regal has had matches that are the smart fan’s wet dream, including his match with Benoit at Pillman 2000 first and foremost, but also his series with Flair in 1994 and early WCW matches with Steamboat as well as 2001 matches with Jericho, among others. The only thing that really works against Regal in the eyes of the smart fan is the lingering memory of his period as an overweight tag team/hardcore wrestler from 1997-1999; smart fans are somewhat like elephants in their tendencies to forget. And of course, not every internet fan appreciated the “brillianceÃ¢â‚¬Â of the “Real Man’s ManÃ¢â‚¬Â gimmick. Regal will also occasionally catch flak from the smart fans over working too stiff when matched up against certain wrestlers, but curiously, if he’s “teaching a lessonÃ¢â‚¬Â to a wrestler not favored by smart fans, he’ll be praised. Fickle bunch .
THE MEAN: One word should sum up William Regal at this point: respect. He began his career as a dedicated student of the game, and has always remained a consummate professional devoted to his craft above all else. More importantly and more impressively, he came up against his inner demons and he came out on top. I’d like to stress again that I think it’s impressive in a unique way that Regal did not bounce back immediately, instead doing so after several years and several subsequent falls even further down the ladder. By the time Regal clawed his way back to a respectable career, he didn’t just have one knock on him, he had a whole slew.
In addition to the obstacles he faced, Regal was also not given the multiple second, etc. chances of a Scott Hall or a Curt Hennig. Regal was told by the WWF in 1998 to shape up and he’d receive a second chance. His second WCW stint was not a second chance, it was just more WCW over-spending. He made the most out of his WWF second chance, working incredibly hard and actually ending up in a better position than he had been when his fall from grace had occurred nearly five years earlier. One of the best pure heels of the 90s and a fantastic in-ring performer, William Regal is also one of the most amazing behind the scenes stories in a business plagued with unhappy endings. The most exciting part of the William Regal story is that he is still relatively young despite all his years in the business; who knows what twists this roller coaster will take next.
In the mean time thanks for reading.