May 18, 2023, was the 21st anniversary of the death of Davey Boy Smith, otherwise known as the British Bulldog. For any fans of the WWF in the late 80s and early 90s—especially those who were born on this sceptered isle—the Bulldog featured quite highly in our fandom.
In many ways, he was hard not to like: he was a powerful guy who had a decent amount of charisma as well as surprising agility (at times). Smith probably wouldn’t have needed to be that good to be cheered to the rafters by British wrestling fans wanting someone to fight the good fight for good ol’ Blighty…but it helped that he more than held his own in-ring at times when the in-ring product wasn’t always of the highest quality.
When people tend to reflect on Smith’s time on this earth, little attention is given to his involvement in the Attitude Era. It is seen as somewhat of an aberration, a footnote on an otherwise storied career. This was a giant of the industry struck low by physical trauma and addiction, unable to recapture his time in the spotlight truly. However, it is the eventual career-ending injury in WCW and the car-crash nature of the WWF run that means it is probably better remembered than another time in Smith’s career – his brief (first) run with WCW.
If you were a WWF fan like I was, this run may have even passed you by entirely, especially as Smith was back in the WWF the following year. With the WWF facing investigation as part of the overarching steroid scandal, Bulldog’s chemically-altered physique found its way into a main event slot with WCW. The promotion was clearly second best to the WWF at the time in terms of visibility, and the action was variable at best, but they probably saw Smith as a win-win. He had name value, was talented when not otherwise impaired, and could be seen as somewhat of a coup.
In my time watching wrestling, I feel like I’ve watched every match that Bulldog had which headlined a WWF PPV. Whether that was being part of the trio of main events at WrestleMania II, or his woeful involvement in the Six Pack Challenge at WWF Unforgiven 99, his time on top has largely coincided with my fandom or my desire to check out notable historical events. I cannot say the same for his time atop the WCW landscape. Thus comes the benefit of being a wrestling fan in 2023. Those wrongs can easily be put right. I can check out Davey Boy Smith’s three WCW PPV main event matches with ease, as can the rest of you. Let us begin.
WCW World Heavyweight Championship
Big Van Vader © vs. Davey Boy Smith
WCW Slamboree 1993
May 23, 1993
Having already beaten Bill Irwin at SuperBrawl 3 in his WCW debut, Smith was put up against the reigning champion at Slamboree 1993. Vader as an opponent for the Bulldog made a lot of sense from two perspectives. Firstly, it made sense to try and capitalize on the name value of the Brit by positioning him as a top face against your biggest and baddest heel. Secondly, Bulldog thrived in matches where he could convincingly sell his opponent’s offense while showcasing his ridiculous power across several spots. Bulldog’s feud with the Warlord in the early 90s was surprisingly good for that very reason; Vader was a significant improvement on the ‘Woorlord’ in every respect.
The tone was set immediately by Bulldog shrugging off a short-arm clothesline before remaining standing following a flying body attack. Little could be done to stop an onslaught of Vader punches in the corner, though, nor a cheap shot at ringside from Harley Race. This didn’t slow Smith down for long, though. A missed charge into the guardrail left Vader vulnerable to a bodyslam by the Bulldog, the first real display of raw power from the challenger. A stalling vertical suplex followed these up before catching a leaping Vader and drilling him with a powerslam. A crowd that had largely been quiet up until now were enlivened by the way Smith had chucked the champion around with ease.
A sustained beatdown from Vader followed: a crucifix reversed into a Samoan drop the catalyst for punishment. It was slow, it was methodical, it was peppered with the odd hope spot; it was engaging big man wrestling, if not exhilarating. The next ridiculous display of strength was the turning point in the contest as Smith somehow managed to get Vader up on his shoulders, falling backwards to plant the champion in the center of the ring. A modified running powerslam should have crowned a new champion, only for Race to get involved and save his charge by pulling Bulldog out of the ring. A chairshot by Vader to save his manager also ended the contest – an unsatisfying DQ ending aimed at prolonging the feud. The fans may have provided their most vociferous reception thus far for the arrival of Sting to save Smith, but it couldn’t detract from what was a poor ending for a PPV main event. The match would get a *** ¾ from Meltzer and largely earn it. A good, big man tussle with a sour ending.
Davey Boy Smith & Sting vs. The Masters of the Powerbomb
July 18, 1993
Beach Blast 1993
Now, this is the perfect example of an overlooked match in Smith’s back catalog, if only because more people can probably tell you about the pre-show adventures of Cheatum, the bomb-planting friend of Sid and Vader. The Beach Blast mini-movie was exactly what happened when WCW tried to do WWF – it came across poorly and failed miserably. WCW should do what it had done historically and stick to wrestling rather than ape their competition.
The build-up may have been wacky for the sake of it, but on paper, this had the potential to be a great match. There are few more impressive teams on paper than the Masters of the Powerbomb, while the fan-favorite team of Smith and Sting was more than a match on paper.
An early chokeslam by Sid on Sting showed the heavy artillery the heels were capable of before a double shoulderblock off the top rope highlighted the perhaps preferred tactics of the face duo as they looked to hit hard and fast. Unfortunately, the inclusion of Sid somewhat lowered the overall quality on offer, at least in the early going. A vertical suplex by Smith on Vader will be impressive no matter how many times you see it; a chin lock by Sid on Davey Boy, less so. The match saw what was effectively three heat segments as Smith, Sting, and then Smith again got beaten down by their seemingly insurmountable foes.
The finish comes out of nowhere. The four men end up in the ring briefly, Vader has Smith down and debuts the moonsault (if the History of WWE is to be believed). Though you’d think that would be saved for a finish, the pinfall was broken up by Sting at 2. Then, just as you feel like they might be heading into a final stretch, Smith takes Vader down with a crucifix and gets the win. Considering both Sting and Sid were back on the apron and capable of influencing the outcome, it felt odd that this flash pin hadn’t happened when they’d been otherwise engaged. This match also got a *** ¾ from Meltzer, whilst it also has a slightly higher rating on Cagematch. For me, it is a lesser match with the addition of more men into the equation diluting the quality. Still, Smith had his win over Vader and the next shot at the gold.
Interestingly, Smith’s return match against Vader ended up headlining a Clash of the Champions (Clash 24, to be precise) rather than ending up on PPV. The Clash was still largely being taken seriously as an event with high stakes matches though and the promotion had a bigger plan for the Fall Brawl PPV in September. Clash 24 not only played host to the Bulldog’s last official shot at the WCW World Heavyweight Title but, just like Cheatum’s hijinks before Beach Blast, an event would transpire that would transcend anything involving Davey Boy in the immediate future.
Clash 24 saw the debut of The Shockmaster.
Unfortunately for Smith, his suggestion that the Shockmaster ‘fell on his fookin’ arse’ was the best-remembered part of the show for him as he ended up going down at the hands of some Harley Race shenanigans. A ref bump allowed Race to halt a Smith suplex with a chop block, landing Vader on top of the challenger for the three count and effectively closing this chapter of the feud.
Having had a break from the gimmick, the powers that be in WCW seemed to decide that the War Games needed to become an annual fixture on their supershows. After an outing at WrestleWar 1991 and 1992, the War Games took up its resident slot at Fall Brawl in 1993 to start a tradition lasting another five years. A tradition that this also kicked into gear, outside of the odd exception, was some of the worst War Games matches in history. Time to watch the Bulldog’s 1993 WCW PPV run end with the very definition of a whimper.
Davey Boy Smith, Sting, Dustin Rhodes & The Shockmaster vs. The Masters of the Powerbomb & Harlem Heat
WCW Fall Brawl 1993
September 19, 1993
War Games only really works when you have heels that can gain heat and faces who the fans really want to cheer. The match itself, by its very nature, is largely just a brawl with the odd innovative spot due to the two rings and the cage, but if the wrestlers in the ring are cared about in one way or another, it hits differently. This version of the War Games plays out in front of silence for long periods of time. Whilst some of the names in here are decent enough, I can’t imagine Harlem Heat are ready to be in this position, nor will the fans get excited by any match involving the Shockmaster following his botched debut. Plus, you know, him not being very good either. Dustin and Vader try their best to anchor proceedings from the start, yet the silence, as they say, is deafening.
Sting tried to enliven things when entering fourth, but any spark that the crowd felt died almost as quickly, especially when the heels inevitably took over when the man advantage was restored. Arguably, the biggest pops are reserved for Davey Boy himself; his first seconds in the match seeing him drop Sid with a clothesline and take Vader off the turnbuckle with a powerslam. Kole/Booker T did the most exciting thing in the match as he dived from ring to ring to take out the Man Called Sting. Unfortunately for T, he was also the man who fell foul of the Shockmaster’s winning bear hug, a move made even more ridiculous due to how close Kane/Stevie Ray was and how little he seemed to care about his partner’s precarious position. Awful.
It would only be a matter of months after this that Smith was released from his contract.
This resulted from a bar room brawl with a man who had been hitting on Davey’s wife, Diana. Having put the man in the hospital and with the matter eventually reaching court, Smith was handed his papers. Realistically, there probably wasn’t much more juice to be squeezed out of a main event Bulldog push. The suggestion was that he would end up feuding with Rick Rude (the International Heavyweight Champion at the time), but even that would be a step down really. In reality, Smith was never really suited to an extended run in the main event, at least not in a WCW that had been on a downturn since mid-1992. He came in, wrestled some worthwhile matches (and one absolute clunker), and then headed back to the place where it felt he belonged: the WWF.
Davey Boy Smith’s 1993 WCW run was a worthwhile experiment, but an experiment nonetheless.
What did I learn from this dip into uncharted waters? Two things. Even just through looking around the cards in search of Bulldog’s matches and involvements, 1993 WCW didn’t seem the most inspiring wrestling promotions to be. More importantly, in terms of my thoughts on the Bulldog, is that he made a very good opponent for Big Van Vader. If nothing else, their initial battle at Slamboree was well worth my time and yours if you haven’t seen it.
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