The forgotten legacy of the European Title

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  1. The forgotten legacy of the European Title


    July 22, 2012, marked 10 years since the European Title disappeared from WWE. Not that anyone noticed.

    The championship, which was first won by The British Bulldog in a tournament final in Germany in Feb. 1997, was held by Shawn Michaels, Triple H and Chris Jericho, defended at multiple WrestleManias and unified with the Intercontinental Championship in a Ladder Match between Jeff Hardy and Rob Van Dam. (PHOTOS | VIDEO PLAYLIST) And yet, it’s little more than a historical footnote today. A forgotten aspect of the fabled “Attitude Era” as easily overlooked as the Light Heavyweight Title or Head Cheese. But why is that? Why do some titles become integral parts of sports-entertainment while others fade into obscurity?

    The European Title wasn’t designed to fail. When it was introduced to WWE fans during a Raw tour of Europe in 1997, it was meant to be a big deal. A completely new championship hadn't debuted in years and the sight of United Kingdom hero The British Bulldog raising the title in the air after a classic tournament final against Owen Hart was something to be inspired by. The Europeans finally had their own title in WWE. They could be proud of that, right?

    “No, not really,” current World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus flatly told “I mean, when it first came out, it had that prestige with The [British] Bulldog winning it and Shawn [Michaels] beating him for it. But I don’t think it ever took anything away from the WWE Championship and Intercontinental Championship. I never really saw it as a serious championship.”

    A serious championship. That’s the issue, isn’t it? Sports-entertainment fans take their titles seriously and the championships they do respect (the WWE Championship, the Intercontinental Championship, etc.) have two main things going for them — longevity and credibility. The European Title wasn’t going to have any history behind it right out of the gate, but it had a chance at credibility. When Bulldog beat Owen Hart for the championship in one of the best matches in Raw history, it made it apparent that this title mattered. (WATCH) But that changed.

    After HBK wrestled the title away from Bulldog at 1997’s European exclusive One Night Only pay-per-view, he was forced to defend the championship against his D-Generation X running buddy, Triple H. But instead of fighting for the title like it meant something, Michaels simply let his friend defeat him. Sure, it was the type of arrogant, nose thumbing that DX was infamous for, but it was also a big shot to the title’s credibility. The next time the title changed hands, Owen Hart won the championship from Triple H by beating Goldust who was dressed up as The Game. Make sense? Of course not. Shot number two.

    The European Championship wasn’t dead yet, though. In fact, it was revived, somewhat unexpectedly, by D’Lo Brown. A flunky in The Rock’s Nation who won the bulk of his matches thanks to a superfluous chest protector, Brown brought the title some interest through a series of exciting matches against Sean “X-Pac” Waltman. Pac, in turn, gave the championship its greatest exposure during one of 1999’s most memorable rivalries. (FULL TITLE HISTORY)

    “[The European Title] was the centerpiece of probably one of the hottest feuds I had in my career with Shane McMahon,” Sean Waltman told WWE Classics.

    A referee and commentator early in his WWE career, Mr. McMahon’s son found his footing as the type of entitled, prep school jerk that people would gladly pay money to see get kicked around. When he shockingly defeated X-Pac for the European Championship, it led into a rematch at WrestleMania XV with WWE fans desperate to see the DX member get the title back. (WATCH)

    “I have to take my hat off to him,” Waltman admitted. “He was up there with the toughest I’ve ever been in the ring with.”

    Shane O Mac successfully defended the European Title that night and the championship was never hotter. Suddenly, the title was doing exactly what it was supposed to do, which is inspire passion in young competitors and give them something to fight for. Then along came Mideon.

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