October 10, 2001
What's next for William Regal?
Regal has been able to get himself out of the grasp of drugs and an unhealthy life, and made the return to the WWF last fall as an aristocratic, pompous English man, who would be teaching everybody about proper behaviour. His gimmick has been very entertaining and it has caught on even with the casual WWF audience. There is no doubt Regal is very resourceful, creative, and good at verbal skills and facial expressions. These go best together with a heel role.
As successful as his gimmick has been, the fans of the WWF have never been able to appreciate his wrestling style. This style is technical, a bit slower, but very original. JR himself has been pointing this out, and during a recent Smackdown! he made a comparison to Rob Van Dam, saying that in a different way, also Regal's style is very unorthodox, and Regal is capable of doing some unique things. And that is no doubt true. The problem is that this style will be appreciated by an educated wrestling fan, but not by a regular WWF fan.
For the past year Regal has been wrestling on a sort of on-and-off basis. He has gotten response from the fans only when he was in the ring against top-superstars like The Rock or Austin. In his feud against Chris Jericho, the matches were solid, but the audience never really got into them except some high spots (e.g. the double-underhook suplex Regal pulled on Jericho from the top rope).
Apparently, his successful gimmick has been able to evoke interest in his wrestling only to a very limited extent. Regal himself pointed out in a recent interview that his house show matches with Lance Storm, which he enjoyed, have only gotten response occasionally. The match that has gotten Regal the biggest response was his match against Chris Benoit at last year's Brian Pillman Memorial event. At such events, though, as Regal, put it, there are "educated wrestling fans."
Meanwhile, the majority of WWF wrestling fans cannot be considered educated wrestling fans, and the Pillman Memorial show only happens once a year. Therefore, where is the solution for Regal? The fans are the way they are, and it is not possible to exchange them for some other fans. It IS possible, to a certain extent, to change them and shape their interest.
Back in his WWF days, Vince Russo argued for delivering so little wrestling content in the WWF shows by saying he was simply doing what the fans wanted, and that the fans didn't want that much wrestling. This has been shown not to be true -- since Russo's departure from the WWF, there has been more emphasis on wrestling, and the fans had to adapt to this.
Also, it is now clear that the face role is not an efficient role for Regal. Regal himself said that he likes to be the villain. Regal's interaction with Tajiri has been entertaining at first, but now it is getting a little bit stale, augmented by the fact that Regal is a "good guy", which sort of suspends any tension in his actions. Although he is still the Commissioner, he is hardly physical anymore, since he wrestles infrequently, and his role in the storylines doesn't seem to be as powerful as it used to be. That will undoubtedly change now.
The WWF and Regal are facing a big challenge -- a consistent push that generates fan interest in his wrestling. Regal simply deserves it. The answers to the questions whether it will be possible or not, and where William Regal will end up, will give us a reflection of the state of the WWF and professional wrestling today.
Ivan Bútora is originally from Slovakia, but is now attending Princeton University. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.