Historically Speaking: Made in Europe

“In its amplest meaning History includes every trace and vestige of everything that man has done or thought since first he appeared on the earth.” – James Harvey Robinson

The Opening Chapter
Last week I talked about the rise and fall of the WWE Hardcore Championship and the subsequent unification of the belt with the Intercontinental Championship. Rob Van Dam became the unified I-C and Hardcore Champion. However, a month previously Van Dam was also responsible for unifying his Intercontinental Championship with the European Championship, at the time held by Jeff Hardy. So this week I thought it would be fitting to chronicle the five-year legacy of the European Title. It just seemed right as Jeff Hardy just won singles gold this past week, I just picked up Van Dam’s DVD recently, and the RAW that had the debut of the European Title was just featured on WWE 24/7.

The Champion of Europe
In the initial stages of the Monday Night War, the World Wrestling Federation was getting its proverbial ass handed to them by World Championship Wrestling and Nitro. The WWF seemed desperate to do anything to gain an upper hand. They began throwing things against the wall to see if they stick. Thus came the idea of the European Title, a third tier championship that was seen as below the Intercontinental Title, almost like WCW’s Television Championship.

The original eight-man tournament was held over a week in February 1997 during WWF’s tour of Europe. The finals came down to then WWF Tag Champions Owen Hart and “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith. The pair put on a classic match, especially for 1997 RAW standards. Davey Boy emerged victorious and it became obvious that this new belt would merely be a vanity belt for the WWF’s resident Englishman, not that there was anything wrong with that. Davey Boy carried the belt through the summer and fall until the UK-only PPV One Night Only in September where he dropped the belt to WWF Champion Shawn Michaels. The match was the main event of the show and logic dictated that Davey have a successful title defense in front of his countrymen and subsequently earn himself a WWF Title shot against Michaels back in the states. Unfortunately the “Kliq’s” backstage power took over and Michaels walked out with a belt that he didn’t need. Michaels used the belt as merely a prop until December when he was ordered to defend the belt against his DeGeneration X co-hort Triple H. And in a move that pre-dated the “finger poke of doom” by a year, Michaels laid down and let his buddy get the belt; only this swerve-job was for a third string title belt that so far had only been used as a vanity piece, as opposed to the promotion’s biggest prize.

With Triple H as champion the belt found a solid home in the mid-card. The belt’s credibility was raised thanks to a spring time feud between HHH and Owen Hart that saw the pair trade the Title back and forth. In July of 1998, Triple H dropped the belt to D-Lo Brown as part of the burgeoning DX-Nation feud. D-Lo actually took the championship and ran with it, crowning himself ‘the Champion of Europe” and making sure he was billed from a different European city upon every defense. He spent the summer and fall continuing the Nation-DX battles by trading the belt with X-Pac.

By the fall of 1998, X-Pac had come out of the feud as champion and soon found himself challenged by the WWF’s new resident Englishman, Steven Regal before moving onto a run against Shane McMahon. His battles with McMahon culminated in a better-than-expected WrestleMania XV street fight. McMahon came out as champion and promptly retired the belt, claiming he was retiring undefeated.

The Return
Just like virtually all retirements in wrestling, this one didn’t last long either. By June both McMahon and the European Title were back. Mideon, McMahon’s co-hort in the Corporate Ministry, found the belt in Shane’s duffel bag and promptly took over as defending Champion. Within a month, D-Lo Brown returned to the fold and beat Mideon for the reinstated Championship. The next night Brown also won the Intercontinental Title from Jeff Jarrett, making the first ever Euro-Continental Champion. Jarrett would gain both belts a month later at SummerSlam, who then handed the European belt over to Mark Henry. Within weeks D-Lo beat Henry to win his belt back. A three way feud then erupted between D-Lo, a returning Davey Boy Smith and Val Venis that saw all three trade the Title between themselves.
By early 2000, Kurt Angle, a relative newcomer at this point, beat Venis for his first taste of singles gold. He soon after won I-C gold as well, making himself the third Euro-Continental Champion. To remedy the situation Angle was forced to defend both belts against Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit at WrestleMania 2000 in a two-fall triple threat match. Angle dropped both belts, with Jericho winning the European Title. Jericho was the definition of a transitional champion as the night after WrestleMania he lost the title to Eddie Guerrero. Guerrero took the belt through the spring and summer, including forgotten gems against Essa Rios in April and a triple threat against Saturn and Dean Malenko in May. Saturn eventually got the belt in July but was only a placeholder until Al Snow took over as champion a month later. Snow reprised D-Lo’s gimmick of being billed from a different European origin every week, only Snow took it a step further, as he and Head would also don dress like that of the country of the week. The highlight of that run included a pretty good Dracula impression during that time he “lived” in Transylvania.

By this point Steven Regal, now billed as William Regal, had returned to the WWF and seemed destined to take over as champion. Regal won the belt in October and held it into the New Year, save for a two day drop to Crash Holly during a tour of England. Test then got the belt shortly after the Royal Rumble, but did nothing for the belt and handed over to Eddie Guerrero at WrestleMania X-7. Guerrero had another short reign as within weeks he lost to Matt Hardy on an episode of SmackDown! That outcome was quite unexpected as just days later Guerrero was slated to defend the belt against Raven at Judgment Day. Instead Guerrero, Christian and Hardy battled in a triple threat while Raven put on a Hardcore Title classic with Rhyno. Hardy would go on to have a solid four-month Title reign that led into the InVasion. A newly christened “Hurricane” Helms was the man to take the belt from Hardy. The InVasion was known for its fast and nonsensical Title changes and the European Title was no different. The belt went from Helms to Bradshaw for all of a week and then to Christian, who survived the InVasion as champion. He spent the winter and early spring feuding with Diamond Dallas Page that led to Christian’s losing streak angle and then the creepy “positively Christian” angle.

Soon enough the belt was back with William Regal, who took the belt with him to RAW during he initial brand expansion. Regal traded the gold with Spike Dudley during the spring of 2002. At this point the RAW brand had the I-C, European and Hardcore belts, and it seemed to be a bit much for a brand of barely 30 performers. Jeff Hardy eventually beat Regal and took the belt into an Intercontinental and European Championship ladder unification bout with Rob Van Dam in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on the July 22 RAW. It was a nice nod to the pair’s Hardcore Championship ladder battles from the summer previous. Ultimately Van Dam came out on top to officially unify the two championships and essentially make Rob Van Dam the fourth and final Euro-Continental Champion. As previously noted last week, Van Dam would go on a month later to unify his now US-European-Intercontinental Championship with the Hardcore Championship as well.

The Perspective
What started as a way to drum up business in the WWF’s foreign markets and create a vanity title for the WWF’s European Davey Boy Smith ended up becoming a third string belt for mid-carders who needed a little direction. During the Attitude era the belt was a nice prop to have around but by the time WCW folded and the InVasion occurred, it seemed a bit extraneous. When a guy like Davey Boy Smith or William Regal held the gold belt, it seemed fitting. And other guys like D-Lo Brown and Al Snow had some fun with the belt and differentiated it from the pack. But otherwise the European moniker meant little to nothing to WWE fans and perhaps been more fitting to be renamed the WWF Television Championship, or was the Western States Heritage Title not available?

For this week the vault is closed

Linked to the Pulse
David B. talks about Kevin Nash, X-Division pioneer. I’m still surprised he didn’t win the X-belt during this era.

GRUT gives a refreshingly different review of a recent Ring of Honor show.

SK has a review of the match that kicked off the epic Von Erichs-Freebirds feud that kept World Class alive for years.

This Day in History
I figured if we are talking history around here we should pay homage to what has happened on this very day in the years gone by. It will either make you long for the old days or be happy for what we have now.

1981 – Charlie Cook defeated Dory Funk, Jr. for the Florida State Heavyweight title
1993 – The Moondogs defeated the Dogcatchers for the USWA Tag Team title
1997 – Steven Dunn defeated Doomsday for the USWA Southern Heavyweight title
2000 – Rob Conway defeated Nick Dinsmore for the Ohio Valley Heavyweight title
2003 – Nigel McGuinness defeated Chad Collyer for the Heartland Wrestling Association Heavyweight Title
2003 – Quinten defeated Lee Rory Fox for the Heartland Wrestling Association Cruiserweight Title

1988 – Leroy Brown died of a heart attack at 38

The Assignment
It’s important to know your history to know where you have come from and where you are going. Nova implemented history assignments for the students of the developmental territories months ago so they would know pro wrestling’s history and they would learn just how many moves Nova did create. I feel this is a smashing idea and every week I will assign a book or DVD for you to check out and learn from. They are not only educational but very entertaining.

Rob Van Dam’s DVD is unlike so many great discs that have come out in the recent couple of years. Rather than focusing on an in-depth documentary about the performer this DVD instead highlights seventeen of Van Dam’s favorite matches. Each match is introduced by Van Dam, explaining either the build up to the match or a where he was at that point in his career. There are also nice clips about the debut of the Van Terminator, the official Van Dam lift and a really good InVasion promo clip that I hadn’t seen anywhere else that has interviews with both RVD and Jeff Hardy. All of Van Dam’s clips from the old Confidential show are included as well. There are some truly phenomenal matches as well, including two bouts with Jerry Lynn, some good stuff with and against Sabu and the 2002 King of the Ring match with Chris Jericho that Jericho himself called a classic. The best ones though have to be his early WCW matches as Robbie V, including his debut against Pat Rose and another against a young Scott Levy, aka Scotty Flamingo, aka Raven. Watching that match in 1993, no one could have guessed where those two would’ve ended up.

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