When Drew McIntyre steps into the ring at WrestleMania he is expected to end Britain’s long, long wait for a WWE champion – but have British fans been made to wait too long for one of their own to be the face of wrestling’s biggest company?
Right now UK talent is making more of an impression on WWE than ever before, with the exciting British scene capturing the company’s attention in recent years and tempting it to open a UK branch known as NXT UK. The likes of Pete Dunne and Zack Gibson are among several talents poised to become big stars for WWE in the coming years, but will they benefit from the breakthrough that McIntyre may be about to make at WrestleMania 36 on April 5?
The Scottish-born superstar is expected to leave the biggest show of the year with the biggest title in WWE, but British fans will believe it when they see it. After all, they have seen several top stars over the years get overlooked when it comes to the WWE title, and here we run down the top 5 British stars never told the WWE’s top championship…
Paul Burchill may not be a household name, but in many ways he was the man who broke down a few barriers that British wrestlers no longer face. The former schoolteacher was scooped up from the UK independent scene in a rare move back in 2005 and there were high hopes that he would go to become a big player for the company. Burchill had the look and the in-ring talent to go a long way, but his career never really got started when he made the move up to the main roster. He found himself playing second fiddle to more experienced British talent, William Regal and Dave Taylor, and when he did break away he was saddled with a ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ style character that condemned him to midcard obscurity. Burchill had one last shot when he adopted a more serious ‘Ripper’ character in the company’s smallest brand, but that never went anywhere.
While Paul Burchill never got close to the top of the card, the same cannot be said for Wade Barrett. The Lancashire lad exploded onto the main roster when his Nexus group laid waste to top talent and trashed the ringside area in one of the most shocking endings ever on Monday Night RAW, and he soon found himself rubbing shoulders with WWE’s elite in John Cena and Randy Orton. His career soon stalled, but he enjoyed a resurgence in late 2011 that led to many believing he would finally be the man to end Britain’s wait for a WWE champion. A dislocated elbow halted his momentum, but Barrett would once again bounce back with his popular ‘Bad News Barrett’ character becoming very popular with the fans. The WWE booked him into oblivion though, failing to make the most of his growing popularity, and it was in 2016 that he decided enough was enough and quit the company to embark on an acting career, leaving British fans to wonder what might have been.
William Regal has been a part of the WWE for the best part of 20 years now, and despite holding a whole host of titles over the years he never got his hands on the top prize. He went close though. Regal’s career appeared poised to reach a new level in 2008 when he won the company’s King of the Ring tournament and it was widely reported that he was set for a major push at the very top of the card that would result in him becoming the first British performer to ever become WWE champion. His momentum came to a screeching halt, however, when he violated the company’s ‘Wellness Policy’ and was suspended for 60 days. Regal did return to in-ring action after that suspension, but by that point the WWE had seemingly lost faith in him as a potential top line talent. Within a few years he had hung up his boots and taken on the role of training the next generation of WWE talent at the Performance Center.
‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper
Roddy Piper’s not really Scottish, I hear you shout. Well, if Venice Beach, California can claim Hulk Hogan, Death Valley can claim The Undertaker and Parts Unknown can claim the Ultimate Warrior, we can sure as hell claim a man who was billed as being from Glasgow, Scotland. And why wouldn’t we? Piper played a major role in wrestling’s first big boom in the 80s, playing the bad guy rival to Hogan with perfection, and when it was finally time for him to become one of the business’ most popular good guys he made the switch to become one of the most beloved performers in the history of wrestling. He did go on to have a brief run as WWE Intercontinental Champion and did hold WWE Tag Team gold later in his career, but he never had a major run with the top belt. Few could match the outrageous charisma that made Piper a huge star, but back when he was at his peak the WWE was the land of the good guys where the story at the top of the card tended to be the babyface hero trying to fend off all comers. As a result Piper never had that huge heel run with the belt that he would have almost certainly had during the 90s ‘Attitude Era’.
‘The British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith
Of course we had to wrap up with arguably the biggest star British wrestling has ever produced on a global scale. While the likes of Mick McManus, Big Daddy and Jackie Palo were huge domestic stars, they never reached the level of popularity that Davey Boy Smith garnered across the globe in the 90s. With his gigantic physique, union jack attire and braided hair, ‘The British Bulldog’ was instantly recognisable to wrestling fans across the globe and played a major role in WWE drawing over 90,000 people to Wembley Stadium for the only major event the company has ever held outside of North America, SummerSlam ’92 (forget these Saudi Arabia shows, they don’t count). Davey Boy won the WWE Intercontinental title from brother-in-law Bret Hart on that night, causing Wembley to erupt in scenes of wild celebrations. That should have led to bigger and better things for him (perhaps another huge UK event with him headlining), but instead ‘Bulldog’ was gone from the company by the end of the year and he did not return until the summer of 1994. A heel turn in 1995 propelled him into the world title picture for the first time in his career, and although he did have several matches for the belt, against Diesel, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, the WWE decided against putting its top prize on him. He left the company again in 1997 and although he did return for a brief third stint a couple of years later, Davey Boy was seen as nothing more than midcard talent. He passed away in 2002.