Born in Wigan on 27 November 1972, David Smith – best known to me and you as The British Bulldog – won every major title in the WWF/E…apart from the big one.
Entering the sport at the incredibly young age of just 15, Davey would compete on ITV’s World of Sport programme with his slightly older cousin Tom Billington. It was here he was spotted by Bruce Hart who was in the UK on a scouting mission for Stampede Wrestling. After travelling to Canada it didn’t take long for the soon-to-be British Bulldogs to impress, and entering in to a feud with each other would see Davey go on to capture his first championship in the shape of the Stampede British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight title.
A quick stint in NJPW and AJPW caught the attention of the WWF, and before long the Bulldogs were on their way back stateside. After Vince McMahon bought out Stampede Wrestling he secured the signatures of not only Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart, but also that Davey and Dynamite. The two tag-teams would go on to have some hellacious wars in a feud which would run on and off over numerous years.
The newly-christened Bulldogs captured their first WWF gold, defeating The Dream Team (Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake) at WrestleMania 2, and they would hold the titles for nearly 9 months before a serious back injury to The Dynamite Kid would see them drop the belts to long-term rivals the Hart Foundation.
Going on to feud with some all-time great WWF tag teams such as the Islanders, The Rougeau Brothers and Demolition, the Bulldogs left the company in late 1988 after a backstage prank led to issues in the relationship, not only in the locker room but between the team itself.
The team spent a year back in the new Stampede Wrestling, with occasional appearances in NJPW, before Davey Boy was resigned by the WWF as a singles competitor, resurfacing as The British Bulldog. Smith had trademarked the name during his earlier tag team run in the WWF, thus preventing his former partnerBillington from using the name. In the next couple of years following his return, the Bulldog would feud with The Warlord and Mr Perfect.
Any recap of Smith’s history would be incomplete without mentioning what a hugely popular figure he was with the audiences both in the UK and US, and I think it’s fair to say that his popularity was a definite driving force behind the decision to hold the 1992 edition of SummerSlam at Wembley Stadium in London. Davey would face long-time enemy, and real life brother in-law, Bret Hart in the main even. With all due respect to Davey, Bret would at some points literally drag him to one of his greatest, if not the greatest – match of his career in front of 80,355 (legitimate) fans that night. And when all was said and done, Smith walked out of the show as the new Intercontinental champion.
That night in London would be the pinnacle of his career however, as just under 3 months later Smith would drop the title to Shawn Michaels and shortly after leave the WWF. The reason for Smith’s release was that he and The Ultimate Warrior were receiving shipments of Human Growth Hormone from a pharmacy in England.
Inevitably, Smith found himself snapped up by WCW pretty quickly. A short and very uneventful year in Atlanta followed, and in 1994 he returned to the WWF at SummerSlam – the scene of his greatest accomplishment – where he helped Bret Hart after an attack by Owen Hart and Jim Neidhart.
Early 1995 saw Smith finish runner-up in the famous Royal Rumble match with eventual winner Shawn Michaels, before finding himself in a tag-team with Lex Luger, known as the Allied Powers. They defeated the Blu Brothers at WrestleMania that year.
In late 1996, a now-heel Smith found himself towards to the top of the card again, and received a WWF championship shot against then-champion Diesel at In Your House 4 which he won via DQ after Bret Hart interfered. In December, at In Your House 5, Smith was granted a title shot against new WWF Champion Hart in a rematch from their SummerSlam 1992 epic. They had another critically-acclaimed match, and this time Hart came out on top. A notable incident from this match was that Hart bled during the match, which was controversial because WWF outlawed bleeding at the time.
In 1997, the WWF created the WWF European Championship, and Smith became the inaugural holder of the title, winning a tournament which culminated in him defeating his own tag team partner, Owen Hart, in the finals. He held the title for seven months before losing the title to Shawn Michaels in September at the awesome One Night Only UK PPV. Smith also became a two-time Tag-Team champion when teaming with Owen Hart, and the two became one of the New Generation Era’s best teams, defending their titles against teams such as Doug Furnas and Phil LaFon, Vader and Mankind, and The Legion of Doom. He and Owen joined forces with Bret and Neidhart to form the new Hart Foundation, which dominated the company in the latter part of 1997, spearheaded by the incredible Bret heel/face angle.
Something else pretty major in the history of wrestling happened in 1997, you may have heard of it…a certain screwjob in Montreal, Canada, an event which changed not only wrestling, but the career of Smith. Siding with the family, Davey followed Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart to WCW, however it wasn’t a happy return. While taking a bump during a match at Fall Brawl in 1998, Smith landed awkwardly on a trapdoor that had been disguised in the ring to enable The Warrior to make a dramatic entrance in the night’s main event. The result was a spinal infection that nearly paralysed Smith, hospitalizing him for six months. While recuperating, Smith received a FedEx informing him that his WCW contract had been terminated. That Eric Bischoff…
He would again return to WWF in 1999, and go onto win the Hardcore title on 2 separate occasions and also recapture the European strap for one more run with that. He also had a short feud with The Rock and found himself flirting once more with the WWE Championship in the main event. He never would claim possession of the one title that evaded him.
Smith would quietly leave WWE in 2000. Two years later, on 18 May 2002, David Smith passed away following a heart attack.
At the peak of his career, he was one of the biggest stars in the business, and still to this day the biggest UK wrestler there has ever been. SummerSlam ’92 brought the WWF and professional wrestling to the mainstream in the UK, and Smith was the spearhead for that. His influence and legacy is far-reaching, and will never be forgotten.