I thought I’d do something a bit different this week as Ridge Racer Month ended up being quite a draining experience (Though hopefully a rewarding one for my kind readership) and I felt like giving a shout out to one of WWF/E’s less appreciated title belts in the form of the European Championship. The WWF European Title first came into existence in 1997, with the idea being that the WWF would cater to its ever growing European fan base by creating a belt that could be defended in the European territories.
Sadly the European Title ended up being an often besmirched belt, with it usually being used as a comedy prop, especially when Shawn Michaels and Triple H held it their D-Generation X days. Indeed, Michaels would often mockingly refer to it as “the prestigious European Title” in a manner which made it sound like he used it more as a paperweight than anything else. This led to further denigrations during the (mostly) sad existence of the belt, such as non-wrestler Shane McMahon winning the belt and just retiring it, followed by lower card grappler Mideon finding the belt in a gym bag and then being allowed to be Champion because “finders keepers” I guess.
Despite the numerous low moments though, there were a handful of fun feuds and matches for the belt, so today I’ll be giving a shout out to Five European Title bouts that did the poor unlucky hunk of metal and leather some credit. I personally find WWE’s miserable treatment of the belt to be particularly galling, firstly because I’m actually European and WWE’s constant dismissal of the belt felt like a dismissal of European fans in general, and secondly because the European Title is to this day still one of the nicest looking belts in WWE’s history.
Davey Boy Smith Vs Owen Hart – Raw is War 3rd March 1997
“British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith was chosen as the inaugural European Champion, being that he was actually European and all, and the bout where he won the Title is an absolute classic. Smith and Hart were brothers in law and were actually tag team partners at the time the bout took place, so they had a lot of chemistry in the ring with one another which made the match between them all the smoother and more enjoyable.
Having the bout take place in Berlin, Germany (a city where Smith was wildly popular) gave it a fantastic atmosphere to go along with the excellent wrestling on offer, making an already wonderfully worked match even better. Some of the counters and technical exchanging of holds in this bout are outrageously good, and the German crowd is on tenterhooks throughout the contest as both man tries to out-grapple the other to become the first holder of the European Title.
This match is still a great watch even today and it comes highly recommended from yours truly!
X-Pac Vs D’Lo Brown – Judgment Day 18th October 1998
X-Pac and D’Lo Brown’s 1998 feud over the European Title might genuinely be the best individual rivalry in the belts short history, mainly because it was light on gaga and just featured a slew of really good matches between two talented young wrestlers who were entering their prime years. It was the first time since that night in Berlin that the European Title actually felt like it was a “proper” belt and not just a prop that was beneath the wrestler that held it.
D’Lo even went as so far as to make the European Title a core part of his characters personality, demanding that the ring announcer announce him as being from a different European city every time he defended it. One week he would be from Helsinki, the next he’d be from Milan and so forth. It was only a little thing, but it was entertaining and it sent a message that the D’Lo character genuinely cared about being European Champion.
To him it was a big deal to hold the belt, and it was an equally big deal for X-Pac that he try to wrest it from him, thus making the European Title itself actually feel important as a result. X-Pac and D’Lo had more than one great match during the Summer and Autumn of 1998, but this climactic battle is always one that I have really enjoyed and if you enjoy it as well then you should certainly dip into the archives of the WWE Network (Or Peacock whenever they finally get around to moving everything over) to find some of the other fantastic collisions the two had for the European Title.
Shane McMahon Vs X-Pac – WrestleMania XV 28th March 1999
Shane McMahon’s reign with the European Title wasn’t controversial in the sense that he was a non-wrestler who won a belt, but more because he never really suffered any comeuppance for doing so. Shane won the belt from X-Pac in a tag match on Raw and then “retired” the belt following this WrestleMania bout, meaning that he never had to lose it in the ring and then was allowed to voluntarily give it up, thus robbing the fans of the cathartic thrill of seeing one of the WWF’s heroes finally bringing his evil ways to an end.
This really flew in the face of common wrestling logic and not in a good way either, as someone could have got a real boost from being the one to finally take Shane out and it ended up going to waste just so Shane could be a jerk. This match at WrestleMania XV should have really been where Shane’s reign came to an end due to it taking place at the biggest show of the year, but sadly it wasn’t to be.
Despite that though this match is super entertaining, as X-Pac is a good worker who holds things together well and Shane shows off some impressive unexpected athleticism during the bout itself. Result of the match aside, this match is almost a template for how to have a good non-wrestler heel Vs babyface wrestler bout, as Shane is shown to be the weaker of the two whilst also pulling out the odd impressive move to show that he isn’t totally out of his depth. WrestleMania XV is a pretty rubbish show overall, but this match is one of the few bright spots.
Eddie Guerrero Vs Essa Rios – Backlash 30th April 2000
Eddie Guerrero’s reign with the European Title in the Spring and Summer of 2000 was another occasion where the belt got a genuine boost due to who was holding it, firstly because Eddie was a great wrestler who could defend it in good matches, and secondly because his act with Chyna at the time was outrageously entertaining and just having the belt associated with a duo that hot automatically made it seem more important by default.
Eddie had a handful of very good matches whilst Champion, but this one would be my personal pick of the bunch due to Eddie and Rios’ ring styles meshing very well and Eddie just really being on his game both in wrestling and character terms. Backlash 2000 supposedly happened on the night of Eddie Guerrero’s prom (he’d done some form of adult degree in the build-up to the show) with the twist being that Eddie and Chyna arrived at the show just as the match was due to start.
As a result Eddie had to wrestle the bout in his suit pants but, in a fantastic extra touch, he also left his bowtie on as well, which lead to him looking like the coolest bloke in the whole city of Washington. I have tremendous nostalgia for Backlash 2000 as it was shown on terrestrial TV here in the UK, meaning it was one of the rare occasions I was actually able to stay up and watch a WWF pay per view event as I didn’t have satellite TV at the time. I still enjoy going back to watch the show now and then and this is always one of the matches I look forward to!
Matt Hardy Vs Eddie Guerrero Vs Christian – 29th April 2001
Matt Hardy was one of the more prominent holders of the European Title during the last year of its existence, winning the belt in the Spring of 2001 and holding it for an impressive 125 days. This match came very early in his reign, and was sadly the only time he would get to defend the belt on pay per view. It’s a really fun match because Matt already has a lot of chemistry with Christian and adding Eddie to the mix just makes things all the better.
What’s telling about this match for me is that they put it in the slot just before the Main Event, which is where WWE usually puts “come down” matches that are supposed to calm the crowd down before the big match at the end of the show. As a result some of these matches tend to get pretty lacklustre reactions from crowds as they kind of just want the Main Event to start and not have to bother with another match.
This match is so good though that they do eventually manage to get the crowd to care by the time the bout reaches its closing stages, which wasn’t always a guarantee when shoved into this slot on the card. The days of great classic matches for the European Title were sadly over following this as the belt was rarely defended in a match that lasted more than five minutes and it was killed off in the Summer of 2002 when WWE merged it into the Intercontinental Title. Still, this was at least another fun pay per view bout to add to the Title’s lineage.