In May of 2002, “the British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith passed away, aged just 39, one of the most enduring figures of the late 80s and early 90s boom period of the WWF’s brand of pro wrestling.

    Just nine short years before his untimely passing, Davey Boy made one of his brief career forays outside of the Connecticut promotion, and hooked this young writer on wrestling for life. It was his brief, nearly year long run with World Championship Wrestling and an epic feud with Vader, then WCW World Champion, that, for better or worse, sucked me into pro wrestling.  

    Ironically, it was Shaun Assael’s ESPN the Magazine article “Overkill” in November of 2002 after the Bulldog’s passing detailing Davey Boy’s lifetime of struggles that hooked me into wrestling history, wrestling families and the incredibly crazy and carney lives of many of the wrestlers beyond the mat.  It was from that article on Davey Boy that I, perhaps macabrely, worked backwards through the lives of the untimely dead: the von Erichs, Bruiser Brody, Gino Hernandez, and on and on.

    At age 9 I had started to watch WCW Saturday Night and whatever other wrestling might have been on our 30 channel “extended basic cable” package when I could get control of the TV.  But I didn’t usually have control of the TV and hardly saw enough to see storylines develop and play out.

    One night, it must have been summer before school was back in session, I was somehow alone, up past everyone in the house and I discovered something TBS made occasional habit of: instead of their usual showcase of rotating syndication movies, the Turner Broadcasting Station would show key matches from recent months all night from the Turner-owned WCW. In the Summer of 1993 that meant key matches highlighting the Vader and Davey Boy collision that played out over the course of ’93 building to the upcoming Clash of Champion 24 rematch for Vader’s World Title.

    For hours until I fell asleep on the couch that night I watched British Bulldog WCW highlights, from the opening promos and matches of Davey Boy on Saturday Night, to an awesome and epic brawl with Vader at Slamboree where Vader got the DQ, to the ridiculous (previously reviewed by me here at TWM) mini-movie where Vader and Sid Vicious, the awesome heel super tag team the Masters of the Powerbomb, try to literally blow up Davey Boy and WCW face mate Sting, to the Beach Blast tag match where Davey scored the pinfall to get the win for he and Sting.

    The question I wouldn’t have known to ask then, but one can’t help but wonder given a little knowledge of early 90s wrestling, is why did Davey Boy find himself in the WCW in 1993? Hadn’t he just had one of that all time great matches at one of the all time great WWF pay per view main events winning the Intercontinental Title from brother-in-law Bret Hart at SummerSlam 1992? 

    Well, yes he had. He was in fact in line for a title shot with newly christened WWF World Champ Bret Hart (elevated despite the SummerSlam loss for delivering such a clutch match) after a scheduled IC Title loss against fellow riser Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series 1992.

    But come Survivor Series 1992, the British Bulldog was out of the WWF, gone before the next pay per view after his glorious SummerSlam victory.  His IC Title loss had been fast tracked and done on a Saturday Night’s Main Event, then the Bulldog was given the boot by McMahon.

    If you don’t know the story I bet you can guess it when I tell you Bulldog’s dismissal was a co-firing with the just-returned Ultimate Warrior. You got it – they were popped for steroids.

    While the WWF/E substance policy has appeared quite malleable at times, from early reinstatements of ‘roid suspended stars like Shawn Michaels or Brock Lesnar (Note; ALLEGEDLY) to pop pay per view ratings to Howard Finkel supplied urine for tests so stars could pass, late 1992 was no such era. In fact, it saw the WWF’s toughest steroid crackdown perhaps ever after Dr. George Zahorian received extended jail time for distributing steroids to WWF athletes, ahead of the trial pending for Vince McMahon on similar charges. 

    When the Warrior and Davey got popped for illegal shipments of human growth hormone from England to the States in the fall of 1992, the WWF couldn’t do much but let both megastars go.  It would be nearly six years before we’d see the Warrior back with the WWF for his ’96 run including his squash of Triple H at WrestleMania XII.  Davey didn’t stay away that long, thank the gods.

    Recognizing the drawing power in England and Europe the Bulldog had shown with his SummerSlam main event, the WCW snatched Davey Boy up.  Having worn out the Sting-Vader rivalry for the bulk of 1992, WCW pushed the British Bulldog as the next top face contender for heel Vader’s World Title.  

    I think we all know the WWF did the Bulldog a favor when he got Jim Cornette as his manager after turning heel in 1995.  Jim Cornette was one of the best ever on the mic, and Davey Boy Smith wasn’t.  Straight babyface promos without much character or gimmick are a tough thing, but the Bulldog’s were especially painful at times throughout his early 90s WWF and WCW runs.  Still, his bland babyface persona aside, WCW fans were hot for the incoming Bulldog to take the WCW title.

    Given early squash matches on Saturday Night heading into Slamboree 1993, the Bulldog was as ripped as ever (he also added glorious gold tassels to his pants and arm bands for the WCW run).  The clear fan favorite in the match Davey Boy and Vader knocked the snot out of each other in the Slamboree matcup.  It’s worth noting that a lot of Vader matches from 1992 through 1995 and his battles with Hogan when management finally started to lean on him to stop looked awesomely stiff.  Check out the way he and the pre-Goldust Dustin Rhodes slap the shit outta each other at Clash of Champions 29 and you’ll get a feel for what I’m talking about.  Not quite as intense as Vader-Rhodes, the Vader-Bulldog match at Slamboree 1993 is still the definition of what JR would come to call a slobberknocker.  

    Vader and the Bulldog bounce off the ropes at the beginning of the match for a series of lock up and collisions.  Davey has never worked the crowd better in his life than in this match:  as Vader collides with him Davey Boy remains stone solid.  When Vader appears stunned by this Davey Boy shakes his finger at Vader and shakes his head, making the WCW crowd go ape shit.  Finally (kayfabe), someone Vader couldn’t just shove around.

    Bulldog gets put over huge in this matchup too.  He takes everything from Vader and keeps kicking out, and Vader has to retain the title via a DQ, picking up ringside commentator Larry Zybysko’s chair to bash Bulldog, distracted on the outside by Vader’s ever-present WCW handler Harley Race.  

    Naturally, Bulldog teamed with the other biggest babyface in the company throughout the summer, and he and Sting defeated Vader and Sid at Beach Blast.  Again, Davey Boy was the competitor put over strongest, getting his finisher and the pinfall.  At Clash of Champions 24, it again appeared that the Bulldog would get the win.  He kicked out of a Vader Bomb and made the babyface comeback.  As he had Vader up for a huge delayed vertical suplex, Harley Race clipped his knee and caused Vader to flop down on the Bulldog for the 1-2-3.

    At a house show in a tour of England just a couple months after Clash of Champions 24, Davey Boy actually got the pinfall over Vader and seemingly the World Title, only to have the decision reversed with Dusty Booking to please the hometown faithful but keep the title on the heel.

    By any measure short of actually getting the World Title belt, from February through October of 1993, the British Bulldog was the strongest booked and pushed wrestler in WCW, more than Sting, more than Sid Vicious, and given the cheats and DQs Vader had to use in booking to retain the title, more than the world champ.

    Yet, oddly in November of 1993, at the lottery tag tournament with tag winners advancing to a battle royal pay per view called Battlebowl, Davey Boy was paired with a young Booker T (then called Kole of Harlem Heat) in a booked loss to RoadWarrior Hawk and Rip Rodgers (in a match where Davey Boy appears so babyfaced he cheers on fellow face Hawk more than on his own randomly assigned heel tag partner), excluding the Bulldog from the Battlebowl main event battle royal.  The WCW then released Davey Boy in December of 1993.

    So, What the hell happened?

    As this series will document at several points this month, trouble again caught up with Davey Boy in 1993.  While Diana Hart’s book on her marriage with Davey Boy has long been pulled from shelves for libel and slander, the way she tells it there, the bar fight that occurred on the road in June 1993 that lead to Davey Boy’s firing from WCW wasn’t his fault.  According to her, a guy had been hitting on her at a bar and trying to instigate a fight with Davey.  When Davey Boy was finally enraged, he beat the guy up.  

    Unfortunately for Smith the man suffered long term injury, including a reported coma, from the incident.  Charges and lawsuits were coming and the WCW just plain dropped the Bulldog rather than deal with the fall out. 

    The Bulldog’s first run with WCW was over.  A short stint, but monumental for this wrestling fan.

    I don’t know if most fans can point to the match, the moment, the wrestlers that got them hooked on wrestling, but I can. It was Vader, and it was Davey Boy refusing to budge, hammering his chest and shaking his beaded dreadlocks “no!” at Vader in the opening moments of that Slamboree match, rerunning late one summer night in my parents’ living room, just me and the TV, me and wrestling.

    When that surprisingly strong but ill-fated 1993 run in WCW came to an abrupt end due to a bar fight (WCW let Davey Boy go amid the ensuing legal issues), the Bulldog eventually resurfaced in the WWF for a serious World Title push there, off and on, which I’ll chronicle next week.

    He almost went back to WCW in 1996 after Bash at the Beach when contract renegotiations were breaking down with Vince. He was briefly considered by Bischoff and co. as the alluded to incoming 4th member of the nWo, the next ex-WWFer to invade after Hall and Nash and Hogan. Vince caved though in the rising tensions of the Monday Night Wars and paid Davey Boy for fear of losing such a big name to WCW. The Giant was eventually picked as the fourth man, kinda ruining the whole WWF invasion thing (which Bischoff may have wanted at the time given Vince’s lawsuit against WCW over the angle).  Imagine if Davey Boy had gotten the kind of push (and heat) as the guy to go nWo after Hogan.

    After The Montreal Screwjob in 1997, Davey Boy did leave the WWF with his brother-in-law Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart for the WCW once again.  

    But 1998, was not 1993.  For reasons never clearly explained WCW did very little other than a nWo, seemingly made up on the spot, promo cracking on Canada and telling Bret Hart to come join the nWo to capitalize on the hot angle of the Screwjob and the incoming WWF’ers as a result.  Davey Boy just showed up on Nitro in black jeans and a black vest to challenge…Steve “Mongo” McMichael. Yea, no good.

    During 1998 Davey Boy was primarily paired with his brother-in-law Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neihardt, which is actually a pretty intriguing thought.  I mean, it’s half Hart Foundation and half the British Bulldogs. Though Bulldog and Neihardt had always been connected in the WWF because of the Harts, the Anvil had primarily tagged with Bret and Owen while Bulldog primarily tagged with Owen and Yokozuna after sharing the Bulldog name with Dynamite Kid.  If the nWo storyline hadn’t been so weak by this point, or it had been a year earlier, it would have been genius to put heel, jealous brother-in-laws Neihardt and Smith in the nWo to feud with and attempt to sabotage incoming face, Bret Hart.  

    But that didn’t happen. While Davey Boy and Neihardt did get several cracks at the WCW Tag Titles, they never actually got the belts or title push.  Primarily they were used as names to boost ratings on the flailing new Thursday show, WCW Thunder.  They found themselves feuding with the likes of the Dancing Fools, the team of Alex Wright and Disco Inferno. Sigh.

    It was in a match against those Dancing Fools at Fall Brawl 1998 that Davey Boy would make his last WCW appearance. Ironically, like his 1992 WWF departure that landed him in WCW for the vaunted 1993 run, his 1998 WCW run came to an end due to the Ultimate Warrior as well. Sort of.

    In 1992 Bulldog and Warrior were popped together for having HGH shipped from the same British pharmacy to the States.  In 1998 it was because of a stupid gimmick rig.  For the big Warrior debut in WCW later in the night, and the Warrior’s newfound WCW power of appearing and disappearing in clouds of smoke, the ring at Fall Brawl 1998 had a trap door.  Davey Boy landed awkwardly on the door taking a bump. He badly injured his spine, which eventually got infected, which temporarily paralysed the Bulldog and worsened his addiction to painkillers (Smith and Neihardt did win the match at least).

    To cap it off, the WCW fired him Steve Austin style, sending a FedEx telegram while Davey Boy was recovering from his injuries.  Unfortunately, Davey Boy didn’t have the same kind of run left Austin would go on to have in the WWF after his WCW dismissal, but he did make an inspiring comeback from the paralysis and spinal injury for a respectable last run in the WWF/E to end a Hall of Fame career. And good job on the WWE for making that happen this year.