Was The British Bulldog really that good?
This week we look back at one of the greatest British wrestlers and ask: Was the British Bulldog really that good?
Davey Boy Smith, The British Bulldog, the crown jewel of British wrestlers. One half of the legendary tag team “The British Bulldogs” with his real life cousin “The Dynamite Kid”, and a legend in his own right. He was fast, hard hitting and technically gifted. It looked like he was straight out of a Vince McMahon wet dream, but for some reason he never quite made it to the heights he perhaps should have. His personal life had its ups and downs, with Davey becoming addicted to painkillers. He had stints in WWF and WCW as well as the territories. As always, we will be looking only at his body of work and looking past his personal demons, as this week we ask; Was the British Bulldog really that good?
Born David Smith in Golborne, Lancashire, to Sid and Joyce Smith, Davey grew up with his brother Terrance and his sisters Joanne and Tracy. He got his first taste of the ring in 1978 when he started competing for ITV’s World of Sports at just 15 years old, wrestling under the name of Young David with his cousin Tom Billington, the Dynamite Kid. He was mentored by Billington’s friend, Alan Dennison. Working with names like Fit Finlay, he managed to get himself into a feud with the British Welterweight Champion, Jim Breaks. In a match with Breaks, it appeared that Davey had won the title, but the win was discounted because of Alan Dennison’s distraction of the referee. Davey then held Breaks to a 1 – 1 draw, leading to Dennison challenging for the strap, and the match with Jim Breaks caught the eye of Bruce Hart. Say what you want about Bruce the person, but Bruce the scout had an impeccable eye for talent. After speaking to both Davey and Tom, they were Canada bound for Stampede Wrestling.
As soon as they landed in Calgary, Davey was taken to Stu Hart and Roy Wood for further training. Wood’s name may not be known to you, but to British wrestling fans of the era he was a noteworthy name. For those who don’t know him here is a little history lesson for you; He was one of the premier coaches in the game. When he was learning, he wanted to learn at the legendary Snake Pit in Wigan, UK. When he got there, the gym had seen better days, the roof had literally caved in. He was responsible for getting the gym back on its feet. He trained with Billy Riley, but recognising Wood’s talent, took a seat by the mats and let Wood do the training.
It was during this training that Davey upped his technical game, after being stretched and twisted into a pretzel by two legitimate, catch-as-catch-can shooters. He was essentially the total package in terms of look and workrate. He had the body, the speed, the technical ability and the power. It was also during this time that he met his future wife, Diana Hart, the sister of Bret and Owen Hart.
Not long after his training, he debuted in Stampede Wrestling. Davey worked with his cousin and had a very successful programme together. On 9th July 1982, Davey defeated his cousin to capture his first championship in professional wrestling, the Stampede British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight title. What a name! Just roll’s right off the tongue doesn’t it?!
While competing for Stu Hart in Stampede, both he and Billington debuted for NJPW in 1983. Dave became involved in a three-way feud with Dynamite Kid and The Cobra over the NWA Junior Heavyweight title. After the three-way angle was over, Davey and Dynamite created their own little pocket of wrestling history by aligning themselves as a tag team and the British Bulldogs were born. Shortly after forming however, Vince McMahon was on a spending spree, buying out territories and creating one national federation, the WWF. Stampede was one of the territories bought, but in the deal worked out by Stu, there was a stipulation that they had to take Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, Dynamite and Davey. True to his word, Vinnie Mac whacked them on the show.
The Bulldogs stayed together as a team working with the top tag teams of the time. Demolition have been open about what working with them was like, saying that the matches with Davey and Dynamite “were easy”. They also worked a long programme with The Hart Foundation, showcasing what the Stampede boys could do, and they could do it all! They had a stellar showing and drew big for Vince.
At WrestleMania 2, the Bulldog’s squared off against the Dream Team (Brutus Beefcake and Greg Valentine), with Lou Albano and Ozzy Osbourne in their corner, the Bulldogs become the WWF Tag Team Champions.
The Bulldogs left the WWF in 1988, in part due to backstage problems between the Bulldogs, specifically Dynamite, and the Rougeau Brothers over a rib pulled by Mr. Perfect. The Bulldogs were blamed for the rib, and this caused tensions and multiple confrontations, leading to Jaques Rougeau knocking out four of Billington’s teeth, with a roll of quarter’s hidden in his fist.
In 1988 the Bulldogs went back to Stampede, who thought the return of the Bulldogs would be the spark that reignited their struggling product. This wasn’t to be the case and the decision was made to split the Bulldogs up whilst they were booked to tour Japan, and this soured Stampede's relationship with NJPW. They were there until 1990. During these years, the relations between Davey and Billington became rocky and tumultuous and full of personal issues between the two, and the Bulldogs would never team again.
In 1990, Davey went back to the land of the giants and re-signed with WWF under the British Bulldog moniker, which he had trademarked and owned the rights to. He would feud with the workhorses of the company such as Mr. Perfect, Shawn Michaels and then finally Bret Hart. Before the match with Bret though, Davey had been out with an injury, and his first match back was his absolute barnburner at SummerSlam 1992. This match is a testament to both Davey’s in-ring career and what a ring general Bret was. The match was held in the UK at Wembley Stadium. Walked to the ring by then Heavyweight Boxing Champion, Lennox Lewis, Davey captured his first Intercontinental Championship that night.
Soon afterwards he was WCW bound, where he teamed with Sting and revealed the biggest wrestling botch in history, the Shockmaster. He was back with the WWF soon enough having an iron man performance in 1995 in the Royal Rumble, only losing out to a sneaky Shawn Michaels. He would go on to win the tag titles with Owen Hart and become the inaugural WWF European Champion.
He was also a member of the Hart Foundation during the run up to the infamous Montreal Screwjob. After Montreal, Davey was WCW bound with Bret and Jim Neidhart, who he tagged with briefly but never amounted to much, but was back with WWF until 2000 where he tried to become edgier and wore jeans to wrestle in. This run was forgettable and didn’t do much in the way of furthering Bulldog. During that same year, Diana divorced him due to his addiction issues, he was addicted to painkillers and morphine, as he became an addict after a back injury in WCW. Shortly after his divorce, at the insistence and expense of Vince, he entered rehab again and was released from WWF shortly after.
In 2002, Davey was training for an in-ring return and had tagged with his son Harry three times the weekend before his untimely death. On May 18th 2002, Davey Boy Smith suffered a heart attack whilst on holiday in Invermere, British Columbia, and sadly passed away. An autopsy report revealed that anabolic steroids may have played a part in his death, Bruce Hart also corroborated the steroid abuse claims.
Davey in his prime was a specimen. He could really go; he could do everything. He was fast, powerful, and technical. He would be chain wrestling one minute and head stand flipping out of a wristlock the next. He could’ve probably gorilla pressed an actual gorilla if he tried. Where he fell short was his charisma. His skills on the mic were lacking, bordering on boring on good days and a potent insomnia cure on a bad day. He wasn’t the greatest showman either, he didn’t work the crowd. He could read one, but he couldn’t work one. That being said, most of his showmanship came from his in-ring ability which was rather excellent. I just wish he worked on his words rather than his workouts. That, was truly a missed opportunity, if he had worked on it he would have been the complete package.
So, was he really that good? I have to say he was. He was a great worker, but he wasn’t without his flaws. He put British eyes on the WWF and he inspired a whole generation of British kids, some of which are now current superstars in NXT and NXT UK respectively, and for that you have to give him credit. If Bulldog wasn’t brandishing the Union Jack in Old Glory territory, British wrestling might not be where it is today.
And that’s just my two cents.
Thanks for reading and I’ll catch you next week with another ‘Were they really that good?’
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