It’s the First Day of #WilliamRegalWeek, a celebration of all things Made in England and the third installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week series. As always we’ll start by making Mr. Regal a Wrestler You (Should) Probably Know Better. Tomorrow, we give you the finer points of the Darren Matthews oeuvre with some Essential Viewing then march through Wednesday with a GIF Parade. After Hump Day we’ll make our Amazon.com-on-steroids dreams come true with “Juice Make Sugar Recommends…” before finishing everything off on Friday with a Difference of Opinion (where JMS HQ erupts in a Knee-Trembler-fueled civil war.)
There was a moment when I thought William Regal might be a World’s Champion someday. It was after winning the King of the Ring tournament while serving as the commissioner of Raw. He’d been on a hot streak, having recently been so infuriated with John Cena that he had (in kayfabe) cut transmission of Raw, and the King of the Ring victory had for the first time in his career given him the in-and-out of the ring gravitas to finally compete for one of the big boy belts.
Then Mr. Kennedy ruined everything. Well, kind of.
It’s not so much that he ruined everything, as his existential suckiness intersected with a nadir in the career of Lord Steven William Regal when, only a week into his reign, Mr. Regal lost a Loser Leaves the WWE match to him. Of course, Regal wasn’t actually fired, but suspended 60 days for his second violation of the E’s then-nascent Wellness Program. Instead of a chance at a main event title match, a puncher’s chance of a (very) short run with the belt and at the very least, a crown, cape and scepter, he was given a two-month unpaid vacation. When he came back, he was no longer a king but a “free agent”, and gone, along with the royal accoutrements, was his massive push.
Regal never winning a top title isn’t a travesty, though, even by kayfabe standards. For that moment, when he was sitting on the throne, he had a chance to be king. When you think about where he came from, it’s remarkable he got there in the first place.
The real origin stories of many professional wrestlers – how they got into the business and what they did before – have long been part of the fabric of the medium, and one of the most integral parts of the quasi-reality that wrestling attempts to construct . In the same way that Mick Foley’s jumps off his roof and Dude Love promos articulated a very specific version of his “character”, Regal’s time as a carnival wrestler tells us a great deal both Darren Matthews and how he became Lord William.
The idea of – as a teenager, especially – wrestling grown men for money as part of a travelling show like a reincarnation of the Gold Dust trio was mindboggling when it first started, back before JR’s beloved Oklahoma was a state. The idea that there is someone who got his start in the business that way is still semi-active feels anachronistic, not just for the danger involved, but the level of dedication to the craft of wrestling not just for sport or entertainment, but the preservation of the artform itself.
It helps to explain why he’s accepted the role he has in WWE developmental, too. The love he has for the business informs nearly every aspect of his time in FCW and NXT. How eager he is to talk up performers, his willingness to put over young talent, and especially, the palpable giddiness that comes across his face and voice when he’s particularly tickled by something, speak to a love of what he does that is rare in any walk of life, but especially nice to see in THIS BUSINESS.
That love can be found in his protégé, Daniel Bryan, who has ridden Regal’s signature hard-nosed grappling style (mixed with the acrobatics of his other mentor, Shawn Michaels) to one of the hottest runs of the last decade. That’s right, it’s fairly easy to argue that the resurgence of wrestling (spearheaded by Bryan and CM Punk, another Regal pupil) in the WWE has been a result of the influence of Lord Steven himself.
But Regal has been bucking against the trend of entertainment encroaching on the artistic aspects of the for longer than most people remember, and it’s even cost him work.
A lot can be said about Goldberg’s career. Most of it involves underwhelming action buttressed by overwhelming crowd reaction. Although he was pushed to the moon, he was, at best, a middling worker and never really had a *great* (or even particularly good) match during his short run at the top. The matches were “exciting”, inasmuch as they told an overarching story that the crowd enjoyed. But especially during his “streak” his matches left a LOT to be desired, even for squashes.
That was until February of 1998, when in what was supposedly planned to be a squash match, Regal took some, well, liberties. Although he claims that no such thing happened, considering he was let go immediately following the match, it seems much more likely that he forced Goldberg to actually “wrestle” with him, using chain wrestling and no-selling to make him improvise his way into an actually enjoyable match.
So, even if Daniel Bryan’s career stalls out and NXT dissolves, Regal can be known for something no one else will ever be: he made Goldberg watchable.