It is was on this day, May 18th, in 2002 that the wrestling world heard the news that Davey Boy Smith, The British Bulldog had passed away.
Fans of a certain age will remember exactly where we were when we heard the news that the guy who had been the gateway to American wrestling companies for so many of us had died at the age of 39.
Whilst his life was so sadly cut short, his career was long, varied and hugely accomplished. Long before a firm pathway from the UK scene to the United States was as established as it is now, this skinny young lad from Wigan made it all the way to the very top in the biggest company in wrestling history, along a road with successful stops in Canada and Japan to boot.
Today, 18 years after his passing and around six weeks after he should have taken his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame, we wanted to write an article to remind people of some of the huge highlights of Bulldog’s career in the United States.
Partly because we think many will enjoy it but frankly, it’s been too long since this author sat back and looked at some of these moments.
This list has been compiled chronologically rather than in any sort of ranking order. Frankly, I don’t think anyone in their right mind would dispute that that night at Wembley would be number one so rather than rank everything behind that, let’s make this a journey.
April 1986 – The British Bulldogs Strike WrestleMania Gold
WrestleMania in 1985 was an enormous success for the WWF but back then, many in the wider wrestling world assumed it would be a one off rather than the start of the most important brand in wrestling history.
So when it came to a second instalment, how did Vince McMahon plan on making it bigger and better than the original? By holding it in three cities simultaneously of course!
The headline bout of the Chicago portion of the event was to see The Dream Team of Greg Valentine and Brutus ‘Not The Barber Yet’ Beefcake defend their WWF Tag Team Championships against Davey Boy and his partner, The Dynamite Kid, collectively The British Bulldogs.
Not content with having the best manager of the era, Captain Lou Albano in their corner, the Bulldogs marched to the ring accompanied by none other than Ozzy bloomin’ Osbourne!
With the legendary hellraiser in their corner, The Bulldogs bested The Dream Team and took home their first and only tag team titles in the Federation in a corker of a match.
October 1991 – By Royal Appointment
By 1991, The Dynamite Kid and the no longer plural British Bulldog had parted ways and Davey Boy made his way back to the WWF, primarily to lead the charge in their Sky Sports fuelled expansion into the UK market. The first major show in the country was a card set in the ornate surrounds of The Royal Albert Hall on October 3rd 1991.
Whilst the card was fairly standard 1991 fare, featuring a mix of weird and wonderful characters, the support for the Bulldog was absolute. After defeating The Barbarian in singles action, our guy returned to the ring for a 20 man battle royal in the main event.
Of course, Davey prevailed, overcoming the devious pairing of The Mountie and runner up Typhoon to have his hand raised and take home the ‘coveted’ Royal Samovar Trophy. Basically a fancy Russian teapot….
August 1992 – Glory Beneath The Twin Towers
Does anyone reading this not know every detail of this historic night for British wrestling fans? On 29th August 1992, over 80,000 (apparently) packed into the iconic Wembley Stadium for SummerSlam 1992, headlined by The British Bulldog gunning after his brother in law, Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart and his Intercontinental Championship.
Truly a night beyond compare for fans in the UK and for both men. After 25 minutes of genuinely one of the best PPV matches WWE ever produced (And one which both men consider their masterpiece), The British Bulldog tied up Hart with an innovative sunset flip counter and saw the stadium come utterly unglued as he took home his first singles title.
The emotion of the night is beyond compare for this writer (who was there as a 10 year old) and made so many of us utterly fall in love with wrestling for life and frankly, with both men in the ring. Simply put, one of the best moments in wrestling history.
May 1993 – A Trip Down South
Not long after dropping the IC title to Shawn Michaels in early November 1992, The British Bulldog was out of the WWE amidst acrimonious circumstances that we don’t need to get into here. His next stop was a logical one, WCW.
There he was treated as a main event player from the off and from a business point of view, a shortcut to catching the WWF in the international markets. That never truly happened but during his WCW stint, Bulldog received his first PPV World title match when he faced Big Van Vader in the main event of Slamboree 1993 on May 23rd.
It was, as you would expect with Vader involved, more fight than match, with Davey picking up the win by DQ. His WCW stint was short-lived and not filled with glory but this was most certainly a career milestone of note.
January 1995 – Coast To Coast
The 1995 Royal Rumble match is most famous for Shawn Michaels becoming the first man to ‘go the distance’ and win the match from the number one slot, albeit in a much shorter Rumble than usual.
What is sometimes forgotten though is that the man who entered number two in that match, Davey Boy Smith, was not only right there at the end as well but he in fact had his hand raised and his music played as the winner.
As it turns out, HBK had used his amazing agility and timing to ensure that one foot had not touched the floor when he was tossed over by the Bulldog. He came back in and launched our man over the top rope as Rule Britannia was still playing over the PA system.
Cruel? Sure. But a wonderful bit of storytelling and a great performance from Smith.
December 1995 – The Rematch
Three years and change later, Bulldog and Bret had their long-awaited rematch at In Your House 5 on December 17th 1995. The stage may not have been as grand as their first encounter but the stakes were higher with the WWF Championship being the prize.
The key difference this time is that Bulldog was no longer a beloved babyface, but an angry heel with Jim Cornette by his side.
As you would expect with these two, the match was another superb encounter. The result was different with Bret defending his title this time, but the quality was still right up there.
For a wrestler often defined by his huge physique and power alone, Davey Boy was recognised by fans and peers as someone who could have excellent matches both in singles and tag teams. That reputation would carry on through to very late in his career.
February 1997 – European Campaign
In early 1997, WWE were deep in a period of financial uncertainty and declining business as they were penned back by the resurgent WCW and their NWO-led march to the top of the wrestling business.
WWE were desperate to maximise every area of potential profit they could and one area where they still had the edge over WCW was foreign tours.
Outside of North America, the WWF was still massively the dominant wrestling brand. To that end, the WWF made the call to increase the number of international events in this period and to bolster their frequent tours to our part of the world they introduced the new European title to give some extra sizzle to the cards on that continent.
It was on a Raw taping in Berlin in February that The British Bulldog became the first holder of the new title by defeating his long time partner Owen Hart in a tournament final.
Do I really need to go to the bother of saying it was a fantastic match? Of course it was!
The Hart/Bulldog tandem had been a successful unit for some time but their egos were beginning to fray the bonds of their team and that situation was accelerated by this match. Not long after it led to all-out war between the two which didn’t last too long as an unlikely mutual party stepped in to play peacemaker…
March 1997 – Re-building The Foundation
The aforementioned tensions had spilt over to outright hostility around the time of WrestleMania 13 and Bulldog and Hart’s team had exploded with no hope of reconciliation – or so we thought.
Midway through a heated match between the two on March 31st 1997, none other than Bret Hart came to the ring to bring his two relatives together.
Bret and Owen hadn’t seen eye to eye for over three years (Read about their fall out in detail here) but Bret’s recent turn and anger at mutual enemies in the American fans and Steve Austin brought the family back together.
In short order, Brian Pillman and Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart bolstered their numbers and rounded off the formation of one of the best stables we’ve ever seen.
In truth, this entry is more of a whole storyline than highlighting a specific moment. However, one match that the group took part in as a unit deserves mention above all else….
May 1997 – Raw’s Greatest Match?
While that headline is very much up for debate now after 23 subsequent years of some wonderful matches, it’s very easy to say with certainty that on May 26th 1997, The British Bulldog took part in the very best Monday Night Raw match to that point.
Owen and Bulldog were defending their Tag Team titles against the warring pair of Steve Austin and a newly returned Shawn Michaels. This was before the ‘odd-couple’ win tag titles trope became hilariously overexposed.
And win the titles the pair of Texans did in an utterly wonderful tag team match with Owen and Bulldog giving, in this writer’s opinion, the absolute best ever sneaky heel tag team performance. They used every trick in the book to press home their advantage illegally and the fans ate it up.
Truly a wonderful, wonderful match that is not mentioned half as much as it should be nowadays.
July 1997 – One Night In Calgary
The feud between the Harts and essentially, the whole American WWF fanbase in 1997 led to a wonderful dynamic whereby they were hated heels in the US but beloved anywhere else they set foot. This was encapsulated perfectly at one of the WWF’s best ever PPVs from top to bottom.
The atmosphere was insane in Calgary as The British Bulldog and his Hart Foundation squad were greeted as returning heroes on their Canadian home turf. Conversely, the team of Steve Austin, Goldust, Ken Shamrock & The Legion Of Doom were given the hated heel treatment. Truly the night Bizarro World was born.
Has anyone not seen this match? It’s magic. Action, story, atmosphere and a wonderful after match where the entire Hart clan fill the ring to celebrate, including Bulldog, his wife Diana and their kids Georgia and Harry, now known in NJPW as Davey Boy Smith Jr.