Britain's contribution to professional wrestling is sometimes under-appreciated in the modern world. There only ever seems to be one or two men in each era that really break the mold and go on to become huge stars.
Growing up in the 1990s in England, the biggest hero of mine was inevitably The British Bulldog. He is without doubt the biggest star from these shores ever to break into the top level of the WWE—and will no doubt forever remain the biggest.
However, just around the time the Bulldog was starting to wind down with the company, another Brit was on the cusp of breaking into the main roster. His birth name is Darren Kenneth Matthews, but we know him best as William Regal.
Bold, brash and never afraid to tell people what he thought of them, Regal had a huge impact on the company in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And, from one British wrestling maniac in tribute to another, here is his story.
The Early Years
Like any British wrestler, Regal's beginnings can be found in the wrestling promotions dotted around the country. His ring debut was actually in the seaside resort of Blackpool—the place he is billed from, although he is actually from a much more rural part of England, Codsall—when he used his extensive knowledge of submission maneuvers to defend prize money against members of the public.
He actually wrestled on TV as early as 1988, on ITV's British wrestling show during its final years. Plenty of touring followed before he headed to America to further his career in 1992.
World Championship Wrestling
He debuted with the WCW in 1992 as a babyface, under the name Steve Regal. However, a character change quickly followed—and it was a classic American stereotype that he adopted. He became Lord Steven Regal, declaring himself to be a descendent of famous British monarch William the Conqueror.
His arrogance was remarkably fantastic for someone who was in their infancy on the American scene, and he quickly rose to the top of the company with his outstanding promo work. He won the WCW TV Championship four times.
He formed a brief team with the man who would go on to be known as Triple H, but he headed for WWE soon after. He was quickly replaced by Bobby Eaton—who created the birth of The Blue Bloods after he was named "Earl" Robert Eaton.
The story around the team was Lord Regal using his snobbish persona to try and educate his partner on the finer points of British culture and etiquette—again, a bit of a bug bare for British fans who simply wanted to see Regal succeed. "Squire" David Taylor became a member of the stable—but they never won a championship between them.
After the dissolution of the stable, Regal left the company shortly after. He was headed for the WWF.
World Wrestling Federation and Return to WCW
His first stint with the WWF/E was actually a pretty short one, staying with the company from 1998-99. And, unfortunately, his first run with the company was a bit of a disaster.
He debuted in June 1998, defeating Droz in his first appearance on Raw. However, after twisting his ankle during a match with Rhyno shortly after, he fell at home and broke his ankle and his leg. When he did return, he did so with a completely new character build.
He was still known as William Regal, but he was infamously dubbed a "Real Man's Man." Most of his promo videos were centered around him chopping wood and acting strangely like a lumberjack. He made his full debut in October 1998 at Survivor Series, when his contest with X-Pac ended in a double countout. However, his run with the company was about to come to a disappointing end after he was released in April of 1999.
His return to the WCW was patchy and done pretty bizarrely. He had no real role to speak of throughout. Most of his matches were as part of a team—meaning he couldn't really get himself across. By the time February 2000 came around, he was on the move again, heading back to WWF/E for a second time.
The WWF/E Years
Regal returned to the main roster of the company in September 2000, but this time as a villain, known as William Regal. Much of his character was similar to the one he performed as in WCW, which led to much more success with the WWF/E than before.
He had stints as commissioner of both the WWF/E and The Alliance, and played a hugely important role of that storyline whilst it was happening. However, when The Alliance were defeated at Survivor Series in 2001, Regal only kept his job (kayfabe) by joining Vince McMahon's "kiss my a**" club.
It would also be remiss not to remind everyone of perhaps the most bizarre match of Regal's career—at Backlash 2001. Operating as a heel, he defeated Chris Jericho in a match performed under the "Duchess of Queensbury" rules. Of course, the only people who knew the rules were the "Duchess"—who was at ringside—and Regal.
The crazy stipulations involved no submissions (after Jericho made Regal tap) and no disqualifications (after Regal hit Jericho with a chair), and the match was scheduled by rounds.
2002 was arguably the biggest year of Regal's career, though. He won his first gold with the company when he defeated Edge for the Intercontinental Championship—the first of two reigns. Regal's villainous character was at its very best during this time. His infamous use of brass knuckles became synonymous with his character.
When he lost that championship, a new stable was quickly formed—The Un-Americans. It consisted of Regal and Canadian wrestlers Lance Storm, Test and Christian. However, that stable was a bit of a disaster, but something good came out of it. Regal formed a permanent partnership with Storm, and they went on to win the WWE Tag Team Championships on two occasions. He also won the belts with Eugene and Tajiri later in his career.
Other accolades during this period include winning the WWE Hardcore Championship on five occasions and the European title four times.
However, by the time the mid-2000s had rolled around, Regal was battling it out in the middle of the card, as opposed to the top end.
The Modern Years
The last few years have seen Regal wrestling on a mostly part-time basis. In 2007 he was general manager of Raw—eventually siding with Vince McMahon in the role. However, he did have a couple of good runs left in him.
2008 saw him win the King of the Ring when he defeated CM Punk in the final. That was the first time Punk had submitted whilst with the WWE. Aptly, Punk was trained by Regal in his early days with the company.
His second Intercontinental Championship reign came in late 2008, when he beat Santino Marella in Manchester, England. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the crowd reaction to that result was huge. He then engaged in a rivalry with Punk in the forthcoming months—which he ultimately lost out in.
Sporadic appearances on the ECW brand then followed, before that was disbanded in 2010, to be replaced by NXT. He has been a color commentator on the show since season three—but still wrestles on occasions.
He still wrestles when the WWE come to the United Kingdom on their regular tours—and often receives massive reactions from the crowd. He is Britain's biggest wrestling export since The British Bulldog—and will, no doubt, be entered into the Hall of Fame one day.
His career has not been the most title-laden, of that there can be no question. But in terms of breaking the mold for a new breed of British—and American wrestlers—Regal's impact on the company is far reaching. Just ask Daniel Bryan and CM Punk, two of the men whom he trained in their early days with the company. And that is not a bad accolade to have.