I grew up in a house where wrestling was in the fabric of the family crest. It all began in 1993. The advent of RAW started making it easier to scratch the itch that was professional wrestling, and in doing so, my dad introduced me to a world of big hulking guys, a number of overweight men, and announcers that sounded like they took themselves way too seriously. From that moment on, my 10-year-old self was hooked. Granted, I took a few breaks in the wrestling world, most notably after WrestleMania 24; after my dad died, I just didn't see the reasoning. Last year, I made my triumphant return alongside my college roommate who began attending college at age 14. I may not have matched up intelectually, but in terms of professional wrestling, we were on equal ground.
For the longest time, WWF/E only had three titles: the WWE Championship, Intercontinental title, and tag team titles (I'm told these still exist, but they're as elusive as Sasquatch taking a shit on the side of the road.). I always had a love for the titles when I was younger. I loved the shape, the shine, and how they looked around the waist of any wrestler who was humble and within their waistline to wear it. I loved them so much that I became one of the douchebags in the crowd that owns an actual title belt. I own two actually, and I've taken the douchey pictures with them and have pretended to be badass.
In 1997, the landscape of the WWF/E was changing. The show was starting to appeal to a wider mass; it was getting edgy, racier, and as young adolescents, we loved it. However, my favorite moment of 1997 was...wait for it...wait for it...the introduction of the World Wrestling Federation European Championship. Call it a guilty pleasure -- I love's me some gold and bad grammar. But in a way this was an expansion for the company. If by expansion, I mean Ryback "can't stop eating" expansion. Perhaps it was how colorful the title was, but I was entranced -- so much so, that I made my mom buy me this four-pack of action figures that had title belts with them just to get this piece of rubber that resembled the belt. I still have it, stop judging me.
The first European Champion, crowned in 1997, was the British Bulldog in Berlin, Germany. Started out good, didn't it? Crowned in Europe by a European who rightly deserved it. Bulldog held the title for 207 days before Shawn "Fucking" Michaels happened. Some might think this a good thing, but from then on the belt was doomed to absurdity. Putting it on Shawn Michaels' shoulders at the beginning of his run was a good move, but as soon as he started vying for the WWE championship, it took a back seat. Some would say, force him to vacate, right? No, let's let him hold onto it. Adding more humiliation to the title was the way Triple H gained it. Forced into a match by Commissioner Slaughter, Michaels would have to defend to Triple H. Instead of a match, Michaels laid down and allowed the pin. That's a great way to get a title over!
Next the title would find itself on the shoulders of Owen Hart (I will openly admit that WWF/E's greatest crime was not putting the WWE Championship on his shoulders), who might be my favorite European Champion. It was during a time when Hart was becoming a strong singles competitor, who was eventually banished to nuggets and blue blazers. After Triple H would regain the title and have his longest run with it, it would come to D'Lo Brown, arguably the best European Champion in history. Now if you're thinking what I'm thinking, it should be WTF! It'd be one thing if D'Lo went anywhere in the WWE; aside from being the first dual -- Intercontinental and European -- champion, what was D'Lo known for? The head bob, the worst fucking frog splash in the history of wrestling (I could probably go on a separate rant about that pile of shit. It rightfully deserves a "fuck you of the week"), and a chest protector. In a way, the European Championship became a gimmick to the character, alongside that damn chest protector (no, I will not call him WWE's first "ultimate opportunist." Nope, not going to do it!)
After a feud with X-Pac that resulted in numerous title changes, the championship would come to Shane McMahon. That's right, I said Shane McMahon. The match he won this title in was as asinine as the champion himself. The title was defended in a tag team match, Kane & McMahon vs. Triple H & X-Pac with the stipulation that if Kane or McMahon got the pin, they would win the title. Kane would have made a worthy champion, but instead, we were stuck with McMahon! Less we forget that every McMahon, at one point or another, held a title in WWE. David Arquette, anyone? So, after a 43-day reign, Shane retired as champion before any further damage could be done, or so we all thought. Normally, a tournament or battle royal-type match would take place to crown a new champion. No, instead Mideon finds the title in Shane McMahon's bag and he becomes the new champion. Sigh! Mideon, because you know, he deserved the fucking title! Mideon didn't deserve to shine my fucking shoes and yet he has the European Championship!
BO Brown would regain it, Jeff Jarrett would have the title for a single day, Mark Henry became the third person to technically be "given" the championship, because defending it is an absurdity in itself. Thankfully, the title would fall into the hands of a European again, the same one that originally won it in 1997, thus ending the reign of stupid hats and map pointing. Val Venis won it; moving on.
February 8, 2000, became one of the championships' greatest days as it started becoming a platform for Superstars who would go on to win either the World Heavyweight Championship or the WWE title. In fact, the next three European champions (Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, and Eddie Guererro) would go on to win either major championship, multiple times. Then Al Snow took the championship way too seriously and started billing himself from different parts of Europe all the while wearing ridiculous outfits. Enter William Regal, the only other European to hold the title, and in doing so, he brought a little class back to it. From there, the title went through a number of champions who would fade out of WWE, including each of the Hardy Boyz, Spike Dudley, The Hurricane (great wrestler, terrible gimmick), Test, and it's final champion, Rob Van Dam. The title was finally absorbed into the Intercontinental title in 2002.
The European Championship was a legitimate mid-card title that quickly lost it's power in WWF/E. In fact, we're enough generations removed in which few remember it, and most don't even know it existed. My secret love for the title is often met with a mix of, "Are you serious?" and, "What the fuck are you talking about?" Needless to say, the years following 1997 didn't quite measure up to the initial excitement of a new championship in the WWF/E and one of my favorite matches of all time, Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels, feuding while they were tag team champs. Oh well, there's always the WCW Cruserweight Tag Team Titles, right?