With the WWE touring Great Britain over the past week and holding both RAW and SmackDown in England, it has brought a great deal of attention to how big the WWE is across the pond. Great Britain has had just as big of an influence on the WWE over the years as the WWE has had on the island, however.
While no British wrestler has ever broken through and won the WWE's top prize, there have been a number of highly-successful superstars hailing from the United Kingdom. The reaction Wade Barrett received this past week showed us that he may be the next great British wrestler, but his ascent may not have been possible without those who came before him.
The United States, Canada, Japan and Mexico are most often heralded for their professional wrestling heritages, but Great Britain certainly shouldn't be ignored. Although the number of British superstars to break into the WWE may not be as large as I initially thought, I have no doubt that the enthusiasm of the fans will allow quality talent to be churned out for years to come.
With that said, here are the 10 greatest British-born superstars in WWE history. This list is limited only to wrestlers who competed in the WWE, so legends like Giant Haystacks won't be found. Also, in the interest of including all of Great Britain, Scottish and Welsh wrestlers were eligible in addition to English ones.
Yikes! Sorry about this. When I first decided to compile a list of the WWE's greatest British wrestlers I didn't think I'd have to dig this deep, but it turns out that professional wrestling's top company really hasn't brought in many Brits over the years. Because of that, I'm compelled to include Welsh superstar Mason Ryan at No. 10.
Ryan made his WWE debut in early 2011 when he attacked John Cena and joined the CM Punk-led Nexus. Ryan had just come off a successful tenure in FCW where he was the Heavyweight Championship. Unfortunately for Ryan, though, his debut would promise to be the highlight of his WWE career.
He is still technically with the company, but I only recall seeing him once over the past several months and it was as a lumberjack in a match between CM Punk and Sheamus a couple weeks ago. The WWE tried to push him and it even looked like he might be in contention for the United States Championship as a face last year, but that ultimately fizzled out.
Ryan has the look and the size that you look for in a professional wrestler, but unfortunately he lacks charisma and is very robotic in the ring. Perhaps if he focuses less on muscle mass and more on his in-ring work he can still become something, but I'm not overly optimistic.
I promise that this list gets better from here.
Paul Burchill had a fairly lengthy run in WWE from 2005 until 2010, but he will go down as a guy who could never quite live up to his potential. Burchill was a capable in-ring competitor, he had a good look and the WWE brass obviously thought highly of him as he was a four-time OVW Heavyweight Champion. None of that translated into WWE success, though.
Burchill's biggest issue was that he could never quite settle on a gimmick. For a while he was simply a ruthless Brit who teamed with William Regal, but from there he became a pirate. The idea wasn't necessarily a bad one since the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise was popular at the time, but he couldn't rise past the lower mid-card.
Eventually he gained a valet in on-screen sister Katie Lea Burchill, and while that allowed him to get a little more exposure, his push was short-lived. Burchill would soon be relegated to the ECW brand where he put on his fair share of well-wrestled matches, but he simply had no momentum and he was eventually released.
I and many other fans always expected Burchill to become a key part of the WWE, however, it never materialized. There have been many British wrestlers who you can look back on and wonder "what if," and Burchill is most definitely one of them.
She may be the only female wrestler on this list, but Layla has certainly earned her place on it. She may not have trained to be a professional wrestler from a young age like everyone else I have mentioned and will mention, but she has accomplished a lot in the WWE. Layla won the Diva Search contest in 2006 and she has continued to thrive and improve ever since.
Layla is one of only a handful of women to win both the Women's Championship and the Divas Championship in WWE. She was also part of one of the most successful female tandems in the company's history as she and Michelle McCool formed Team LayCool. Layla was primarily used as a dancer, which she is proficient in, and as eye candy, but she has really evolved over the years.
Not only is Layla one of the top overall divas currently in WWE, but she has become a skilled in-ring competitor. For someone who came from a modeling background, it's hard not to be impressed with how much she has progressed since breaking into the company.
Women's wrestling seems to have taken a backseat in WWE, so it's unclear if she will be able to ascend any higher than she already has, but she is already one of the most-decorated British wrestlers in WWE history. What Layla has lacked in overall skill over the years, she has made up for with determination and a willingness to get better.
While he was never a major star in any of the major promotions he competed for, Dave Taylor was an important part of every roster he was on. Taylor is probably best known for being Lord Steve Regal's tag-team partner when they competed in WCW as the Blue Bloods. After years in WCW, though, Taylor did join the WWE in 2006 and remained with the company for a couple years.
In WWE he once again teamed with Regal, and while they found themselves in the Tag Team Championship mix, they could never capture them. I can't help but think that Taylor will always be remembered as Regal's sidekick, but it isn't fair to take away from what Taylor accomplished as an individual.
Taylor's success can't be measured in gold, but he was incredibly helpful to many of the younger stars he competed against while in WWE and other promotions as well. Every young wrestler needs a veteran to show them the ropes and put them over when the writers call for it, and Taylor never had an issue with losing to help further the careers of others.
He fully understood his role and what he had to do in order to remain in the wrestling business, and he was a good soldier for many years. It's a shame that he and Regal never had the opportunity to have a Tag Team Championship run in either WWE or WCW, but that doesn't make me think any less of Taylor.
While Drew McIntyre is most commonly referred to as Scottish, I decided that he qualified as a British wrestler for the purposes of this list since Scotland is a part of Great Britain. McIntyre is a guy who seemed to be on the fast track to success and perhaps even a world title run, but he was derailed for whatever reason. Even so, McIntyre's story is far from over and he still has an opportunity to achieve greatness in the WWE.
McIntyre's initial WWE run was brief and unsuccessful in 2007, but the light seemed to turn on for him in 2009. McIntyre was branded "The Chosen One" and it was said that Vince McMahon handpicked him to be the future face of the WWE. This led to McIntyre going on a dominant run which ultimately saw him capture the Intercontinental Championship.
Once McIntyre dropped that title, however, his push stalled. He did hold the Tag Team Championships with Cody Rhodes for a short time, but his singles success was basically over. McIntyre went on a major losing streak and never was able to recover. In fact, he was never seen on television until about a month ago when he joined forces with Heath Slater and Jinder Mahal to form 3MB.
I don't anticipate 3MB launching McIntyre to new heights, but at least he is somewhat relevant again. Some argue that McIntyre is a little boring on the mic, but aside from that he has an ideal look and he is quite good in the ring. He does have a championship pedigree despite the fact that it seemed to have been formed ages ago, but perhaps that past success will allow him to return to prominence one day.
Wade Barrett has only been in the WWE for a couple years, but he is already unquestionably one of the most impactful British superstars in WWE history. Barrett is best known for winning the first season of NXT and serving as the leader of the revolutionary Nexus stable. Poor booking ultimately sunk Nexus and sent Barrett off track for a little while, but the fact that he was feuding with the likes of John Cena and Randy Orton immediately upon debuting speaks to how special of a talent he is.
After the dissolution of Nexus, Barrett formed the much less successful Corre. Barrett did become Intercontinental Champion during that time, but the title reign didn't do much for him. Barrett's career went into a lull, but he busted out of it in late 2011 as he went on a dominant run that he called the Barrett Barrage. He scored wins over top superstars like Randy Orton, Sheamus and Daniel Bryan, and seemed well on his way to becoming a world champion.
Barrett unfortunately suffered a dislocated elbow that kept him out of commission for several months, but he has since returned with a vengeance. Barrett looks to be on the verge of a breakthrough, especially now that he has a favor from Paul Heyman in his back pocket. With the World Heavyweight Championship picture now in a state of flux, Barrett could be in a line for a main-event run very soon.
Truth be told, Barrett is No. 5 on this list because of what he may achieve in the WWE as much as for what he already has achieved. The British fans showed how much they love Barrett over the past week and they deserve to see a British world champion in WWE at some point. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Barrett will be the one to give it to them.
Although Lord Alfred Hayes was probably best known for his work as a commentator in the WWE from 1982 through 1995, he was also a very accomplished wrestler during his time. Hayes wrestled primarily for the NWA when he was in the United States, although he did compete very briefly for the WWE before retiring and taking a position as an announcer.
While Hayes' contributions to the company as a competitor are almost nonexistent, I can't help but think that he deserves a spot on this list because of his many years of service. As a wrestler, Hayes played both the heel and face roles effectively, and that was true of his announcing as well. His friendly, British disposition made him quite likable, but there were times when he was supportive of the heel characters as well.
Hayes never seems to get enough credit for how great of an announcer he was because the likes of Jesse "The Body" Ventura, Bobby "The Brain" Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon were present throughout his tenure. For anyone who watched wrestling during the 1980s and 1990s, though, Hayes' voice was an iconic one that won't soon be forgotten.
Aside from the top stars of the time like Hulk Hogan, Randy "Macho Man" Savage and Ultimate Warrior, there weren't a lot of guys in the company during Hayes' tenure who was more synonymous with WWE. I consider Hayes to be the greatest British announcer of all time, and he was no push over as a wrestler either.
Dynamite Kid has had a tumultuous life to say the least, but he may very well be one of the most talented in-ring performers in the history of professional wrestling. Casual wrestling fans probably remember Kid most for his partnership with Davey Boy Smith in the WWE during the 1980s. The British Bulldogs were one of the premier teams of the time and even captured the Tag Team Championships, but he was highly successful as an individual as well.
Dynamite Kid never really got a chance to launch a singles career in WWE, but some of his matches from Stampede Wrestling, All Japan Pro Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling are the stuff of legend. Specifically, his match against Tiger Mask in 1983 is considered by some to be the best wrestling match ever. With such high praise, it's a shame Kid didn't accomplish more in the WWE.
Injuries were a big factor in Dynamite's failure to become a top singles star in WWE, but it's tough to blame him. His all-out wrestling style was incredibly exciting, however, it took a toll on his body. Kid could do a little bit of everything as he was a capable brawler, a solid mat technician and most impressively a top-notch high flyer. It wouldn't be unfair to compare him to someone the caliber of Shawn Michaels.
From a pure talent standpoint, Dynamite Kid is probably the greatest British superstar in WWE history, but he lacked when it came to longevity and individual accomplishments. Had he been able stay healthy and clean throughout his career, there's no telling what he might have accomplished, though.
Having been with the WWE on and off since 1998, William Regal is one of the longest-tenured superstars in the entire company. He has been used sparingly as an in-ring competitor over the past couple years, but his technical prowess allowed him to become one of the most well-respected men in wrestling. In fact, perhaps the only thing missing from Regal's impressive resume is a run with a world title in WWE.
Although Regal has never been world champion, he has won more titles than most wrestlers could ever dream of. In WWE alone, Regal is a four-time Tag Team Champion, four-time European Champion, three-time Hardcore Champion, two-time Intercontinental Champion and the winner of the 2008 King of the Ring tournament.
It was back in 2008 that Regal seemed likely to finally break through and become a world champion, but his push was ruined when he was suspended 60 days for violating the WWE's wellness policy. That wasn't the first time that Regal's inability to remain clean cost him as he was released from the WWE in 1999 for the same reason. Those problems kept Regal from reaching the pinnacle of the business, but he still accomplished a ton despite them.
In addition to what Regal was able to do as a wrestler, he continues to pay dividends for the WWE. He was fully or partly responsible for training many stars in the business, including CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Brian Kendrick, Chris Hero and Samoa Joe. Regal is primarily a talent scout for WWE now and there is no better person for that position.
Regal came within a whisker of becoming the WWE's first British world champion, and while it wasn't meant to be, maybe he will be successful in finding and grooming one in the future.
Not only is he the best-known British wrestler of all time, but I feel very strongly that British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith is the greatest British superstar to ever step foot in a WWE ring. Davey truly had it all and was a key part of the company across four stints. His evolution was extremely impressive and although he never became a world champion either, Bulldog will always be remembered as one of the best athletes the WWE has ever seen.
Smith began as primarily a tag-team competitor with Dynamite Kid and they had plenty of success together. Smith played the power role while Kid was more of the high flyer and their styles mixed very well. Smith left the WWE in 1988, but he resurfaced as a singles competitor in 1990. Smith gained a ton of popularity over the next couple years and achieved his greatest success in 1992 when he defeated brother-in-law Bret Hart for the Intercontinental Championship at Wembley Stadium in his home country.
The match was the best of Smith's career and perhaps the best of Hart's career as well, which is really saying something because of how many classic encounters he competed in. Bulldog had so much support by that point that he could have been a factor in the world title mix, but the steroid scandal surfaced in WWE, and as a main offender, he was released.
Bulldog returned yet again in 1994 and he was a fixture in the upper mid-card until 1997. He won the Tag Team Championships with Owen Hart, he was the first European Champion and he even engaged in a feud with Shawn Michaels over the WWE Championship. Bulldog challenged for the WWE's biggest prize on a few occasions, but he never was rewarded with it.
Bulldog's true downfall began in WCW in 1998 as he landed on a trapdoor in the ring and endured severe back problems because of it. He became addicted to painkillers and when coupled with his steroid use, it led to him tragically passing away at the age of 39 in 2002.
While Smith met an abrupt and unfortunate end, he was undoubtedly one of the most impressive physical specimens in WWE history. Had he burst onto the scene a little earlier perhaps he would have become an even bigger star, but no Brit ever made a bigger impact in the WWE than Davey Boy Smith.