Welcome back as we once again take a journey into wrestling’s past to look at the WCW World Television Title and those wrestlers who have held it. Last week we closed off with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat winning the WCW iteration of the Title for the second time by ending the less than thrilling reign of Paul Orndorff. However, just like the first time he had claimed the belt in 1992, Steamboat’s reign was scheduled to be a short one. Whereas Stemboat’s first reign had ended at the hands of Scott Steiner in an effort from WCW to keep the latter day “Big Poppa Day” from jumping ship, his second one was to end to a wrestler that WCW were hoping could elevate both himself and the Title.
Darren Matthews had debuted in the wrestling industry at the age of just 15, wrestling shmucks for real at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in order to prevent them from winning a cash prize. It was certainly a trial by fire to say the least, but the young Matthews acquitted himself well and was soon wrestling all over the scene in England under the new alias of “Steve Regal” (He also occasionally wrestled under the name of “Roy” due to the promotion he worked in at the time thinking they had too many Steve’s on the books already). At 6 foot 3 and with a solid physique gained from dedicating himself to traditional callisthenic exercises like Hindu Squats, Regal was eventually able to gain the attention of the two main American companies, earning try out matches for both the WWF and WCW.
It was eventually WCW and Bill Watts who decided to bring him to the States, with Regal first gaining the attention of the WCW bigwig by writing a letter with the assistance of veteran grappler Rip Rogers where he essentially went through a game of “Impress Bill Watts Bingo” when it came to listing his qualities. Regal supposedly sealed the deal by refusing to join WCW until he had fulfilled his prior commitments, even though he was only working on a handshake deal at the time. Impressed with Regal’s attitude, Watts signed him up and brought him in to WCW at the turn of 1993.
Regal struggled to adapt to life in American Wrestling at first, with even the concept of a finishing move or hold being something that he hadn’t had to bother with whilst working in Europe. After some iffy performances on television there was a genuine chance that WCW were going to let him go, but when they got to see him wrestle in a longer match at the House Shows they quickly realised that he could work to a high standard and that led them to keep him around. Eventually Regal managed to build up some steam by playing up to the perception of British people over in America, by becoming a snobby aristocrat who sneered at all before him.
Taking the new name of “Lord Steven Regal” and adding long time big star of the territories Bill Dundee as his manager “Sir William”, Regal quickly began to get over with the WCW audience, who all loved to hate his condescending interviews and dastardly behaviour. Regal would regularly indulge in devious tactics, such as hitting his opponents with Sir Williams’ umbrella, and after a feud with Erik Watts through the summer of 1993 it was decided that WCW would take the next step with him by putting a Title on him, hence Regal was booked to defeat Steamboat at the Fall Brawl pay per view to claim the WCW Television Title and write his name into the history books as a result.
Fall Brawl 1993 – 19th September 1993
WCW Television Title
Champ: Ricky Steamboat Vs Lord Steven Regal w/ Sir William
I’ve always enjoyed Regal’s WCW theme, as it has such a pompous air to it that really suited the character he was playing. The always virtuous and valiant Steamboat made a perfect opponent for the nefarious and snide Regal, especially as both men were proficient when it came to scientific technical wrestling. WCW had started bringing in boxing ring announcer Michael Buffer for their special bouts by this point, so he does the announcements here due to it being a Title match.
Steamboat has the left side of his ribs taped due to a previous Regal assault on an edition of WCW’s flagship show Saturday Night, so Steamboat is fired up and throws strikes right from the off rather than going for the technical style he would normally employ. WCW’s inconsistent “over the top rope” disqualification rule rears its ugly head once again, as Steamboat forcefully flings Regal out, but Regal lands on the ramp way instead of the floor so it’s classed as not counting because the match isn’t due to end just yet.
Steamboat is really fired up here and he continues to take it to Regal, even outright choking him in the corner at one stage, doing a great job of getting across the story that Regal has properly agitated his onions and now he’s going to try and make him pay. Regal sells all of Steamboat’s offence really well, and it’s a really strong opening section of the bout in general. There do appear to be a couple of fans who really don’t like Steamboat, to the point that they actually yell advice to Regal at certain points, but the rest of the crowd are behind the Champion.
Regal eventually manages to find a window into the match by going after the rib injury, which gives Steamboat a chance to sell, something he’s also excellent at. It was always the little things that Regal did that made him so good, such as the way he would drive his knees or elbows into his opponent when applying standard holds just to make them look even nastier than usual. Steamboat makes sporadic attempts at a comeback, but all Regal has to do is go back to the ribs and he’s back on top. It’s a simple story but they tell it well.
Steamboat is eventually able to get a comeback going after reversing a Regal attempt at a Tombstone Piledriver. We get some near falls, with Steamboat mostly going for quick pinning holds due to the pain in his ribs limiting the type of moves he can go for, which is another nice little touch in a match full of them. Eventually though Sir William proves to be the difference maker, as he hits Steamboat with his umbrella when the referee isn’t looking and that leads to a Regal suplex for the win and the Title to a chorus of boos.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: LORD STEVEN REGAL
I’ve always enjoyed this match. The wrestling is really good but so too is the selling and storytelling, with Steamboat overcoming the issues with his ribs only to then be cheated out of the Title due to the villainous ways of Regal and William. They could have easily had Regal defeat Steamboat cleanly and used the ribs as an excuse, but they made sure to have Regal cheat as well just to make him even more dislikeable than he already was. Lovely stuff!
In a lot of ways Lord Steven Regal was the perfect person to hold the TV Title. He had the stamina not only to defend the belt regularly but to go the distance in time limit draws as well, and he was a good enough technician that he could carry guys through matches even if they didn’t have the same level of technical wrestling acumen as he did. Indeed, when one wrestler asked Regal what to do when it came to trading holds with him in a technical battle, Regal was said to reply dryly “just hold on” and he’d handle the rest.
A lot of Regal’s Title defences would see him eek out draws in order to retain his belt, including pay per view battles with the likes of Davey Boy Smith and Brian Pillman, and on other occasions he would lose either via disqualification or count out to set up future battles for the belt down the line. Regal’s superior wrestling skill and great character work ensured that the bouts were always solid efforts and in some cases they were the highlights of the cards they took place on. WCW was certainly a company in transition at the time, with the shadow of Hulk Hogan looming as the company entered into 1994, but Regal’s dependable TV Title matches always gave fans of good wrestling a reason to continue tuning in to WCW programming.
One notable feud from Regal’s first run as Champion was against Arn Anderson, himself a multiple time holder of the TV Title during the NWA days. Anderson had become a babyface in 1993 due to reuniting with a returning Ric Flair in order to form a new version of the famous Four Horsemen group along with Paul Roma and Ole Anderson. Anderson and Roma had been the Tag Team Champions, but after losing the belts to The Nasty Boys the team had broken up and Roma had gone back to being a Heel whilst Anderson had remained on the babyface side of the divide. Regal and Anderson had gone to a few 15 minute time limit draws so a special 30 minute match was booked for the SuperBrawl IV pay per view. Would they go the distance once again or would the longer time limit ensure we would get a finish this time?
SuperBrawl IV – 20th February 1994
WCW Television Title
Champ: Lord Steven Regal w/ Sir William Vs Arn Anderson
Anderson gets a fantastic ovation during his entrance. I’ve been meaning to give this one a re-watch for a long time, mainly owing to the fact that it kind of divides opinion online. Dave Meltzer and Scott Keith (hardly bedfellows with one another) have both given the match poor reviews over the years, but there are also a lot of people who love it and say it’s one of the best matches of 1994. I must admit that on the one occasion that I watched it I really didn’t enjoy it at all, finding it to be a bit of a slog. However, it’s been many years since then so I’m intrigued to see if my opinion has changed in the proceeding time. Let’s see if it has.
This is a match where the actual wrestling on display is excellent, with both men being technically proficient scientific wrestlers who know how to have a grappling contest on the mat and make it look believable. The only real issue is that it sometimes feels like they are stalling, less for character reasons and more simply to artificially extend the length of the match because they need to fill half an hour. Regal is of course excellent at playing the whinging villain unhappy that Anderson is out wrestling him, constantly using stalling tactics to try and take the challenger off his game. Good as the wrestling and character work is though, the match probably would have fitted better into a 20 minute time slot rather than a 30 minute one.
Anderson spends most of the first half of the contest getting the better of things, with Regal reduced either to taking punishment or stalling to try and find a way to gain control. The match does tell a good story of two men trying to outthink one another, playing into the idea of wrestling being “the human game of chess” as both men try to think a step ahead of their opponent. Eventually Sir William sees a chance to bonk Anderson with his umbrella whilst the referee isn’t looking, which leads to Regal taking over as we get the 20 minute time call.
This angers Anderson and he starts really targeting the bandaged left thigh/hip of Regal with kicks and stomps, but Regal is able to fight off an attempt at a Figure Four Leg Lock. Anderson stays on the appendage though, getting a modified leg lock that forces Regal to make the ropes to break it up. The final 4-5 minutes of the match are built around Regal trying to run out the clock whilst Anderson tries to get a flurry of offence in so he can pick up the win, with the crowd being fully behind him. It looks like it’s going to go to a time limit draw like their other matches, but they end up bowling a Yorker by having Sir William help Regal pick up an umbrella assisted pin for the three count.
WINNER AND STILL CHAMPION: LORD STEVEN REGAL
This was a very good 20 minute match with an additional 10 minutes added to it. Both men worked extremely hard and some of the wrestling was fantastic, but it also did start to drag a little bit after a certain point. I didn’t personally see it as the absolute classic as some seem to, but it certainly was a good match, it just needed a bit of trimming in my opinion. I did enjoy the finish as it really seemed like it was going to a draw but then they had Regal get the pin out of nowhere in a nice bit of misdirection.
With Anderson defeated the next big feud for Regal would be an unlikely one, as it involved former wrestler now turned announcer Larry Zbyszko. Zbyszko would perhaps be best known for his huge feud with the legendary Bruno Sammartino, which saw a young Zybszko clock his mentor Bruno in the face with a wooden chair, setting up a vicious cage match between the two at the famous Shea Stadium. Zbyszko had also been one of the bigger stars in the days of the American Wrestling Association (AWA) where he had been the AWA World Champion and led his own team against Sgt Slaughter and Col DeBeers in the dreadful original Team Challenge Series.
Following the eventual demise of the AWA, Zbyszko had entered into WCW, where he had formed a tag team with Arn Anderson. Dubbed “The Enforcers”, Anderson and Zbyszko had enjoyed success in the tag team ranks, winning the WCW Tag Team Titles by defeating Rick Steiner and Bill Kazmaier in a tournament final. When The Enforcers lost the belts to Ricky Steamboat and Dustin Rhodes, Larry moved into the singles ranks whilst Anderson started up a new tandem with Bobby Eaton. All three men were members of Paul E. Dangerously’s “Dangerous Alliance” stable, and Larry would ultimately be the eventual reason the group would lose a War Games match in 1992 as he accidentally hit Eaton with a detached ring post, leading to Eaton being submitted.
Zbyszko stepped away from the ring in 1992 and became a regular announcer for WCW, usually handling the role of a colour commentator. Personally I never really liked Larry’s announcing, as it always felt to me that he spent far too much time trying to make himself look good than putting the wrestlers over, which kind of goes against the whole purpose of wrestling commentary to begin with. Lord Steven Regal seemingly agreed, as he and Larry began verbally sniping at one another on television each week, which ultimately led to them clashing over Regal’s TV Title.
Zbyszko first defeated Regal in a non-Title match at the Slamboree 1994 pay per view event and then followed that up with another victory on WCW’s flagship show Saturday Night. Interestingly, the bout where Larry had won the Title was already in the can before the match on the pay per view, so if that match had been a flop then WCW was already committed to putting the belt on “The Cruncher”. Thankfully the bouts between Regal and Zbyszko were solid outings, as both men knew how to work a crowd and the fans seemed genuinely into the idea of Larry coming out of retirement to shut Regal’s gob.
Zbyszko’s reign as Champion wasn’t especially notable outside of the matches with Regal , although in an interesting curio he did take on a young Triple H in between matches with his British rival, although Triple H was going under the name “Terra Ryzin’” at the time. Eventually it was time for Regal to get the belt back, and he did so at Clash of the Champions 27. Ending the feud with the Heel ultimately winning was a bit strange, but Regal had already lost to Larry a couple of times by that stage so it wasn’t like the former Champion was hurt at all when he had to pass the baton back.
Whereas Regal’s first reign had gone on for an impressive 225 days, his second one clocked in at a more slender 87, but by that stage the belt had already established him as a player in the WCW mid-card and WCW had designs of moving him into the tag team ranks with fellow snooty European Jean Paul Levesque (Triple H’s next gimmick when it was time for him to no longer raise some terror), so the comparative brevity of the second reign didn’t do him any harm. His main rivalry of his second reign saw him going at it with Johnny B. Badd, and it would be Badd who would eventually take the Title away from him for the second time.
Badd (Marc Mero) had originally entered WCW in 1991, playing an outrageously flamboyant character that cosplayed as Little Richard and wore extravagant outfits and makeup in order to look as suitably fabulous as possible. In the early days of the gimmick Badd was mostly all character, but as he gained more experience he eventually started becoming a pretty solid in-ring competitor who could work a decent match with most people and have genuinely good ones with the more talented wrestlers, such as Regal. Regal had managed to defeat Badd at the Bash at the Beach 1994 pay per view, but a rematch was signed for Fall Brawl 94, and this would be the moment that Badd would finally breakout from being just a character wrestler into becoming a credible competitor in his own right.
Fall Brawl 1994 – 18th September 1994
WCW Television Title
Champ: Lord Steven Regal w/ Sir William Vs Johnny B. Badd
The crowd really likes Badd and he controls things in the early going, mostly working a wrist lock. There is the occasional moment where it doesn’t look like they are on the same page, but they always manage to cover it and its fun action for the most part. What I like about pro-wrestling is when you get two wildly divergent wrestlers and characters like these two and just throw them in there to react to one another. One problem I have with WWE these days is that too many of the wrestlers wrestle the same generic WWE style, which means you don’t get as many fun styles clashes as you used to.
Regal does eventually manage to gain control of the match and tries to grind the challenger down with holds and strikes. The crowd stays with Badd though, and get behind him whenever he tries to make a comeback. Badd sells well during the heat actually, and his comeback attempts are timed well, with Regal also selling well when it’s his turn to do so. In a fun call-back to the match we just watched, Regal and William try the same trick they did in the match with Anderson where Regal grabs on to the umbrella for an illegal boost to his pin, but the referee knows to look for it now and breaks it up, allowing Badd to get a great near fall by countering to his own pin for two. I love stuff like that!
William tries to help again, but Regal ends up running into him by mistake and Badd gets another great near fall from a school boy roll up. Some of the near falls here have been fantastic and the crowd has been biting on all of them. I love how all of Regal’s treachery is either being spotted by the referee or outright failing too, meaning that he has to actually be the better man rather than using his usual shortcuts, thus putting him on the back-foot against Badd who is good enough that he doesn’t need to do those things. That’s just great storytelling and an excellent example of how wrestling is the ultimate morality play. With William taken out, Badd gets a backslide and that’s finally enough for the three count and monster pop from the crowd.
WINNER AND NEW CHAMPION: JOHNNY B. BADD
This was a really enjoyable match, with good wrestling for the most part, some excellent storytelling and a crowd that was invested throughout the contest
This won’t be the last time that we talk about Regal in these articles, but for the time being he was now out of the TV Title picture and competing instead in the tag team ranks. His eventual partner ended up being Bobby Eaton though, as Jean Paul Levesque decided to take up Vince McMahon’s offer to join the WWF, becoming Hunter Hearst Helmsley in the process and re-writing wrestling history. Badd’s reign with the belt wouldn’t be without incident, but we’ll save that for another day…