NOTE FROM HEATHER: This article was originally published in 2013, but I’ve re-posted today in honor of William Regal’s birthday. Happy birthday, you splendid fool.
Before this week, I knew only four things about William Regal: 1. He has a clever way with words. 2. He is very dedicated to his wrestling roots in Blackpool, England. 3. Chris Jericho once tinkled in his tea. 4. Everyone in the wrestling business says he is underrated.
This fourth point came up again when I reviewed referee Jimmy Korderas’ book The Three Count. Jimmy listed William Regal and Fit Finlay as two wrestlers who best knew how to maximize the referee’s role in a match. In other books and interviews, Regal’s name is a constant. He is praised for his skill in the ring and his mind for the business. Yet he never struck me as a singular idol. Either I missed something, or my amateur eyes could not appreciate that which his peers could.
Korderas’ book compelled me to conduct my own “survey” of William Regal. I decided to watch some old matches and try to identify just what everyone was raving about. Maybe I was too young to appreciate him in his prime? And then, just last week he wrestled Kassius Ohno on NXT. At almost 45 years old, William Regal, who refers to his own physique as that of an “unmade bed”, wrestled what many called Match of the Year.
William Regal vs. Kassius Ohno – April 2013 on WWE NXT
Regal is very focused. He repeatedly wears down Ohno with wily takedowns and holds. These are not rest holds, they are meant to hurt. And he is so dastardly in the corner! He pretends to break the referee’s count, but continues to kick Ohno while sassing the ref. The ref is distracted just enough by Regal’s words, and the damage is done. This is a stiff match. Regal opts for an attack on the fingers – how refreshing, and disturbing, as the attack is so well-rounded that Ohno’s fingers appear dislocated. At times, Regal was throwing him around by the fingers. What brutality. What a triumph.
William Regal vs. Daniel Bryan – October 2011 on WWE Superstars
Superstars is one of the “phantom programs” that you know exist but are hard to find (or you don’t necessarily make time for, if you need to prioritize your wrestling intake). As many fans commented online, this was a pay-per-view-worthy match. So was his match against Ohno, and it too was buried deep in the clutches of a little-seen program. Let’s check it out (jump to the 23-minute mark for this match):
Regal cannot help but break character and grin when his ominous instrumental theme is mixed with the “He’s a Man’s Man” lumberjack jingle. In the ring, Daniel Bryan smiles too, because this is a semi-homecoming for Regal (in Liverpool). The commentators play up the emotion invested in wrestling at home, coupled with the classic “student and teacher” story.
As the match begins, Matt Striker encourages us to watch all the little things that distinguish Regal from other wrestlers. In short order, I can see that Regal specializes in true grappling. Holds, counter-holds, unique throws at a unique pace for the WWE. He is methodical, but it does not come off as slow. Every blow that he delivers looks real, as does his suffering when Daniel Bryan retaliates. They are both efficient in their movements, and it is a beautiful match with a simple story – no filler – and the proper ending. Bryan wins by submitting his mentor, which makes him look great. And the crowd is thrilled to cheer for Regal, their hometown hero who put on a stellar show.
William Regal vs. Dean Ambrose – July 2012 on FCW
I realize that so far my survey is lacking in breadth, but I have fallen down the rabbit hole into this astounding era of “hidden gem wrestling”. Florida Championship Wrestling served as the developmental site for the WWE before its recent re-jigging as NXT. I can see why they would want William Regal to help train these young talents, and what a treat for the tiny crowd in attendance.
Right away I observe Regal’s inventive use of different body parts to inflict pain. He rubs his boot laces repeatedly across Ambrose’s bicep, which sounds like child’s play, but looks like torture. His detached, precise application of holds makes me think of Stu Hart’s dungeon, as Dean Ambrose emits the requisite mangled cries. He is an excellent opponent for Regal. They are equally gritty.
Ambrose shares that same detached, intense quality during his comeback. His shots to Regal’s ears and head result in a loss of equilibrium, and Regal sells it beautifully. Now how often do you see that as a target for attack? As a civilized person I really shouldn’t, but I love it. They even bring in trainers to illustrate how serious this has become, and Regal comes off looking so tough when he manages to somehow fight back. On commentary, their awe is genuine.
William Regal vs. Chris Jericho – Wrestlemania 17, 2001
As the one Regal match I have seen many times, I wondered if my crash course in Regal would affect the way I judged it this time. He was WWE Commissioner, which allowed him to showcase his personality (and deliciously-delivered one-liners like, “You cannot besmirch the Commissioner’s tea!”).
Regal has less synergy with Jericho than with his aforementioned opponents. Jericho works quickly, and in the air. He’s getting in all his moves, while Regal rolls around and falls down as needed. He does manage a few fun takedowns and throws, including a double-underhook suplex from the top rope (which Jim Ross deems unnatural for this “ground man”). It strikes me now that perhaps Regal’s grappling is harder to appreciate in a stadium setting, where fast, high-flying action gets more traction from the crowd. Jericho wins, and Wrestlemania begins on a happy note. Not because the match was a thrill, but the feud was well-played.
Paying His Dues, 2000-2010
Regal seemed to be used a lot for gimmick matches and comedy segments, and as a foil for partners like Taijiri and Eugene. I watched a “Trading Places” match against Goldust (where they wore each other’s ring apparel and Regal lost to his own brass knuckles within 40 seconds); I watched him join the Kiss My Ass Club; I watched him be humiliated, often, with gusto. Along the way, he was teaching the featured guys how to get the job done.
He soldiered through injuries, a painkiller addiction, rehab, King Booker’s Court, and a lumberjack gimmick. Lesser wrestlers may have been wished well, but Regal stuck around. He was even crowned King himself in 2008, and held many mid-card titles. He was a regular source of commentary for DVD’s, providing thoughtful insight while the other wrestlers recited empty stock phrases. The man is committed to the sport and to the art (one can follow him on twitter @RealKingRegal to appreciate this, and he has written a book called “Walking the Golden Mile”).
William Regal is a Lifer. It’s in his blood. As a teenager, he started wrestling in a carnival booth – very few today could cite such a scrappy beginning. He then plyed his craft all over the world, and settled in the United States in the early 90’s. This is where I found a match against one of my favourites, Ricky Steamboat.
William Regal vs. Ricky Steamboat – WCW Saturday Night, September 1993
For the first half of this match, Regal plays Punishment Absorber for Hire. The fans love watching their hero Steamboat dominate, but when Regal makes a comeback and starts inflicting some pain, the crowd really gets fired up. They are loathe to see Steamboat being contorted with such aggression. Here Regal is a bit faster, his body only slightly less unmade. Fellow classmates, he is just as good 20 years later. He is the quintessential jerk, and so perfectly composed in his attack.
William Regal vs. Sting – WCW, June 1996
I wanted to look at one more match from the WCW times, and why not against another childhood favourite in Sting? His face paint is quickly rubbed off, as Regal grinds in a headlock while delivering nasty-looking blows with the heel of his palm. This goes back to my observation of him being methodical without looking slow. Everything he does is multi-faceted (are you reading this, Randy Orton?). When he applies a hold, there is a lot more going on that just his arm wrapped around a neck. He’s also twisting a forearm, or flawlessly hiding a cheat from the ref. Regal is always engaged. This must be why wrestlers say he has great ring psychology.
(Sadly, no longer able to find clip online. Let me know if you’re able and I will include it!)
William Regal vs. Chris Benoit – No Mercy 2006
The story here is that Benoit was making a surprise return after 5 months off. JBL promises “unique things” from these two, praising their pinning and submission combinations. These guys are so much fun, and so athletic. It is quick and hard-hitting, showing that perhaps Regal can keep up as long as the action stays grounded. He delivers a modified DDT onto the ring apron, and the two men trade blood-inducing head butts. JBL’s superlatives match the intensity of the Rabid Wolverine, who stands bloody and victorious after submitting Regal.
(Sadly, no longer able to find clip online. Let me know if you’re able and I will include it!)
William Regal makes sports entertainment look like real wrestling. We love to hate him, and he loves us to hate him. He brings a rich history to the ring, and to this day he is working to ensure that we will have real wrestlers to watch for years to come. Long live King Regal.