71. WILLIAM REGAL
Real Name – Darren Matthews
Aliases – Steve Regal; Real Man’s Man
Debuted – 1983
Titles Held – WWE Intercontinental; WWE World Tag Team; WCW Television
Other Accomplishments – autobiography, “Walking a Golden Mile”, earned widespread plaudits; began wrestling in Blackpool, England, at 15 years of age; former WWE Commissioner; current Raw General Manager
Dastardly foreign bad guys come to menace these fair United States have been a dime a dozen in professional wrestling for decades, but over the past 15 years William (formerly Steven) Regal has established himself as among the most enduring and arguably the most talented to rise above the pack. For his tremendous in-ring skills, unquestionable charisma on the microphone and impressive ability to bounce back from great personal struggle and tragedy, his Lordship makes our list of the Top 100 Greatest Wrestlers of the Modern Era with his trademark dignity and grace.
When Jim Ross touts on Raw that William Regal has been “fighting professionally since he was 15,Ã¢â‚¬Â he’s not exaggerating, as English-born Darren Matthews indeed began wrestling on the local carnival circuit of his native Blackpool when he was only a teenager. After nine years wrestling in the United Kingdom, Matthews came to the United States in 1992, joining World Championship Wrestling as Lord Steven Regal the next year.
Regal’s European style of wrestling, incorporating unorthodox strikes and more chain wrestling than most American fans were used to, slowly caught on with the WCW audience, but his mastery on the microphone and ability to get fans to hate his arrogant persona while also marveling at his charisma got him over as one of the company’s top heels almost immediately. In the fall of 1993, Regal defeated the legendary Ricky Steamboat in the first of several technical wrestling classics between the two to earn his first WCW Television title.
Over the first half of 1994, Regal successfully defended his Television title against the likes of Arn Anderson and Brian Pillman while also making the occasional pilgrimage up the card to clash with World champion Ric Flair, a rare honor for somebody who had been with the company barely a year. At Slamboree, Regal goaded Larry Zbyszko out of retirement and lost to the self-proclaimed “Living LegendÃ¢â‚¬Â in a non-title match then dropped the belt to him a few weeks later, only to regain it shortly after that. Again to Regal’s credit, career heel Zbyszko drew ovations from the crowd based almost solely on his opposing his even more hated opponent.
Losing the Television title to Johnny B. Badd at Fall Brawl, as 1995 approached Regal turned his attention to WCW’s tag team division, converting former Midnight Express member and veteran tag team specialist Bobby Eaton into the pompous Earl Robert Eaton, forming the initial incarnation of the Blue Bloods. Regal and Eaton came up short in their bid to unseat WCW World Tag Team champions The Nasty Boys and failed to experience much success in smaller feuds with Harlem Heat and the team of Dick Slater & Bunkhouse Buck even after adding Regal’s countryman Dave Taylor to the stable.
In 1996, Regal began competing only sporadically in WCW while spending more time in Europe and elsewhere around the world. On one of his returns to the States, he capitalized on outside interference by the New World Order to win his third Television title from Lex Luger. He spent the rest of the year defending the TV belt around the world, stopping back in WCW occasionally to appear on Monday Nitro and briefly feud with Eaton, who had left the Blue Bloods during Regal’s extended absence.
1997 marked a disastrous turn and the heralding of the beginning of a dark period for Regal’s career. Thanks to a distraction from the diminutive Rey Misterio Jr., Regal dropped the TV title to virtual unknown Prince Iaukea on a February edition of Monday Nitro and was unable to regain the belt in a series of rematches. When Regal finally defeated Ultimo DragonÃ¢â‚¬â€who had succeeded where “His LordshipÃ¢â‚¬Â had failed and upended IaukeaÃ¢â‚¬â€to reclaim the belt, his victory would be short-lived as he’d drop the title back to the Japanese star in a return match.
With the war between the New World Order and big names like Sting, Lex Luger and The Giant dominating WCW and the infusion of flashy foreign talent from Japan and Mexico into the undercard, a veteran technician such as Regal was becoming needed less and less. As his success waned, Regal began turning more and more to alcohol and drugs, painkillers in particular, and his physical conditioning began to suffer for it. At the tail end of 1997, Regal and Taylor teamed unsuccessfully against The Steiner Brothers. In early 1998, following a lopsided massacre at the hands of rookie star Bill Goldberg, Regal was released from WCW following five years of service. While popular rumor at the time suggested Regal was fired for taking liberties with the inexperienced Goldberg, Regal has repeatedly refuted this theory.
It only took a few months for the World Wrestling Federation to snatch up Regal, who they saw as still having value as a known WCW star at the height of the Monday Night Wars in spite of his lackluster finals days at the rival promotion. Regal debuted as Steven Regal (no longer a Lord) without fanfare or any real gimmick other than being a generic tough guy and defeated Droz on a June edition of Raw. Unfortunately, Regal suffered an injury almost immediately and disappeared from WWF TV for several months.
A series of promos heralded Regal’s return to the WWF in the fall of 1998 in a gimmick that could not have been more different that the way fans were accustomed to seeing the former nobleman. Donning a hard hat and flannel as he was shown performing outdoorsman acts like chopping wood, Regal was billed a “Real Man’s ManÃ¢â‚¬Â and played up as a sort of modern day lumberjack. Regal ran with the bizarre gimmickÃ¢â‚¬â€and even weirder entrance musicÃ¢â‚¬â€getting over to some small degree as a heel once more and looking to be set for a feud with European champion X-Pac. However, once again only weeks after making his first television appearance, Regal vanished mysteriously once more. In January of 1999, it was announced that he had checked into a rehab facility and been released from the WWF.
A humbled Regal made a completely unheralded return to WCW at the Bash at the Beach event in July of 1999, teaming once more with Taylor in the poorly conceived “Hardcore Junkyard Invitational,Ã¢â‚¬Â a multi-competitor brawl that took place in a gimmicked area outside the venue so poorly lit that few even realized he was back. Over the next several months, Regal would rarely make Nitro or Thunder broadcasts, more often teaming with Taylor and fellow Brit Chris Adams in matches on WCW’s syndicated programs, a far cry from his run only a few years prior as one of the company’s top heels. Regal last less than a year back in WCW and seemed destined to fade into obscurity, a victim of personal demonsÃ¢â‚¬â€Regal had other ideas.
Having hit rock bottom both professionally and in terms of his health, Regal did what he had done since his carnival days as a boy: he fought. He fought to get clean and fought to get back in wrestling shape. At the Brian Pillman Memorial Show in the spring of 2000, a renewed Regal took on Chris Benoit in a classic quickly hailed as his best match ever, catching the eye of WWF talent and scouts in attendance, who quickly signed Regal to become an instructor in their Memphis developmental territory. Within months, Regal was booked to return to WWF television.
With the new first name of William, Regal re-debuted in the fall with a slightly re-tooled version of his traditional gimmick: in place of his aggressively arrogant “LordÃ¢â‚¬Â character, he was now an obnoxious “Goodwill Ambassador,Ã¢â‚¬Â oozing false politeness. With the smile of a used car salesman but the demeanor of a “Masterpiece TheaterÃ¢â‚¬Â extra, Regal excelled in his new role and quickly drew crowds into a frenzy with the fans wanting to see the pompous Brit get his comeuppance.
Despite being among perhaps the most talented roster in the history of the WWF (or wrestling) with the likes of Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, The Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho and dozens more at the top of their game, Regal managed to emerge as one of the company’s most valuable upper mid-card heels in 2000 and 2001. Within a month of his WWF return, Regal captured the European title, defeating Al Snow. After less than memorable feuds with Bob Holly and Test to wrap up 2000, Regal scored an even more important victory over Snow in early 2001 to claim the position of on-screen WWF Commissioner, the role that would cement him in the minds of most who became fans during wrestling’s boom period at the turn of the century. Able to utilize his considerable skills on the microphone in a niche perfect for his upper crust character, Regal participated in many a memorable backstage skit as his tea set and Union Jack-adorned office became a staple of WWF programming in early 2001.
While he excelled outside the ring, Regal proved no slouch inside it as well as he continued on the workout regimen that had earned him his way back to the big time and had memorable feuds and matches with Jericho, Benoit and others including coming up just short against Jericho in a match for the Intercontinental title at Wrestlemania XV.
The WCW/ECW Invasion angle proved an interesting wrinkle for Regal as it put him in the unfamiliar position of being cheered since all WWF wrestlers became de facto babyfaces against the invaders. Regal segued nicely into a new role as the general rallying the WWF troops as one of their authority figures and also formed an entertaining on-screen partnership with newcomer Tajiri who became his man servant and sometime tag partner, leading to much hilarity ensuing. However, as the angle unraveled in the fall of 2001 and the WWF powers that be seemed desperate to pull off surprise after surprise each week, Regal made a nonsensical heel turn, joining the WCW/ECW Alliance and losing his Commissioner position in the process. After the angle concluded with the WWF banishing their foes by winning Survivor Series in November, Regal was forced to become the first ever member of the “Mr. McMahon Kiss My Ass ClubÃ¢â‚¬Â the next night on Raw in order to remain on the roster.
Without the Commissioner role to provide extensive camera time, Regal faded a bit into the background as 2001 became 2002 despite a fairly high profile feud with Edge over the Intercontinental title. At the 2002 Royal Rumble, Regal actually claimed arguably the biggest win of his career, besting Edge for the IC strap. However, Regal’s reign as champion was less than memorable as his clashes with Edge and later Rob Van DamÃ¢â‚¬â€who defeated him for the belt at Wrestlemania XVIIIÃ¢â‚¬â€were mismatches of style. For the remainder of 2002, Regal fell even further off the radar, winning the European title a couple of timesÃ¢â‚¬â€though by that point the title had become an afterthoughtÃ¢â‚¬â€and engaging in forgettable feuds with Spike Dudley and Jeff Hardy. By the end of the year, Regal was teaming with Lance Storm and pursuing the World Tag Team titles.
Regal and Storm captured those titles early in 2003, but as had happened so often before, with the good news came bad: Regal was diagnosed with a heart condition and immediately ordered off the road by his doctors. It would be over a year and a half before William Regal would again grace WWF television.
In the summer of 2004, Regal returned not in a wrestling role, but as the reluctant mentor to Eugene, the “specialÃ¢â‚¬Â nephew of Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff, who ordered Regal to keep an eye on his relative or face losing his job. Initially Regal played the heel, annoyed to be saddled with Eugene, but gradually grew attached to his young charge and in the process endeared himself to the fans, turning babyface for only the second time in his career. Even after the crowd began to turn against Eugene legitimately, they still cheered Regal.
Unfortunately for Regal, aside from a few memorable matches against Triple H, his popularity failed to elevate him out of the mid-card. He would briefly hold the World Tag Team titles with Eugene and then again with old ally Tajiri in 2005, but made few pay-per-view appearances. In the summer of 2005, Regal was traded to the Smackdown roster, upon which he promptly turned heel and formed a team with countryman Paul Burchill, but the duo ended out the year jobbing to newcomer Bobby Lashley in Handicap matches.
2006 seemed like it was going to be for of the same for Regal, who feuded with Burchill after their team dissolved and was forced to dress as a woman after losing a stipulation match, but of all thing Booker T winning the King of the Ring turned out to be just what the European needed to kickstart his career. The newly anointed King Booker formed his own Court consisting of Regal and his former rival, Finlay. In addition to increased screen time as one of main-eventer and eventual World champion Booker’s henchmen, Regal also got to settle comfortably back into the pompous character traits that made him a star to begin with.
Even after the dissolution of King Booker’s Court in early fall of 2006, Regal kept his momentum going by bringing in old WCW tag partner Dave Taylor and going after Paul London and Brian Kendrick’s WWE Tag Team titles. While the British duo never won the gold, they certainly captured the hearts of Internet fans anew and put on some good matches in the process.
Only a couple months ago, Regal found himself back on Raw and in a familiar position: Commissioner. Only a few weeks into his tenure, Regal was winning rave reviews as one of the most consistently entertaining parts of the show.
Unfortunately, also only weeks into his tenure as Raw Commissioner, Regal’s name was one of the many tied to the Signature Pharmacy steroid scandal and ended up suspended for 30 days. However, given the incredible odds Regal has overcome more than once in his career and life, no question he’ll rise above this latest setback and return better than ever.
The entire Top 100 Wrestlers feature can be found here.