For UK wrestling fans, there will never be another grappler quite like ‘The British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith. Throughout his storied career, Smith wowed audiences through his unique combination of brute strength, surprising agility and sheer likability.
Smith had runs in Japan, Stampede Wrestling and WCW, but it was in WWE that he became a household name and enjoyed his greatest success as a former Intercontinental, European, Hardcore and Tag Team Champion and a main event star on a number of pay-per-views – including SummerSlam 1992 in front of more than 80,000 fans in London’s Wembley Stadium.
It’s been more than eleven years now since Smith sadly passed away aged just 39, and for years wrestling fans – especially here in the United Kingdom – have been anticipating the Bulldog’s induction into the WWE Hall of Fame; an induction that is now long overdue. I recently caught up with Diana Hart Smith to discuss Davey Boy’s wrestling legacy, his career highlights, and to explore just why it hasn’t happened yet…
WWE has yet to induct Davey Boy Smith into its Hall of Fame, despite there being tremendous fan support for this to take place. Any idea why this hasn’t happened yet?
No, I really am not sure what the process is for deciding to induct someone. I had hoped that they [WWE] would do a WrestleMania in Wembley, over in the UK, which would mean that the Hall of Fame would also be there in the UK. That would be so nice for Davey, if that ever became a reality. I had hoped that was something they were working on, and perhaps that is why Davey hadn’t been inducted yet.
It will happen, regardless of [whether or not it takes place in] my dream location of the United Kingdom, and it will be a great day for Davey, and his fans and family – we are all one.
You were a big part of that incredible SummerSlam 1992 match at Wembley Stadium – did Davey consider winning that bout to be the highlight of his career?
I think so. I think it was a highlight of professional wrestling, and it was flawless and a masterpiece. I am still captivated 100% when I see it. I am so lucky to have been an integral part of that match.
It was a legitimate storyline, something paralleling brother vs brother with Bret wrestling Owen [at WrestleMania X]. It was so important to all of them that they had basically masterpiece matches, because they all cared about what their fans and family thought, and they didn’t want to let each other down.
SummerSlam 1992 was so great. I am honoured to have been a part of Davey’s and Bret’s masterpiece. WWF let them have their moment, and it was, and still is, one of the best things you will ever see in professional wrestling.
Many fans fondly remember Davey’s short-lived but excellent tag team with Owen. Did they enjoy being paired together? It looked like they were having a lot of fun.
Yes, those two had a blast together. They were silly when they could be, and very serious and unbeatable when they were tagging in the ring. They watched each other’s backs, and they had so much fun when so many were like uptight cranky agents who needed a good laugh but didn’t know how to find it.
Bret said comically that he thought Owen had insomnia and thought up his ribs when everyone else was sleeping, and I like to think Davey was rooming with him and helping him to make life on the road more fun with harmless phone calls to people in the middle of the night, and then during the day; they could see the aftermath, and usually no one knew they were the culprits.
They did great work in the ring, and they knew each other’s styles, and complemented them. They were both legitimately skilled amateur wrestlers and very tough, and knew how to handle themselves, but they were professionals first and foremost. They both learned so much from the family and Stampede Wrestling, and as they had been around each other since they were teenagers, they were like brothers. They had a great time, and when we were all together for the bulk of 1996-97 as The Hart Foundation, we had the best of everything and our family was so happy.
How did Davey feel to be given the honour of becoming the WWF’s first European Champion? He seemed to wear the belt with a lot of pride, and for the duration of his first run it was a prestigious title – which made his controversial loss at One Night Only in Birmingham even more upsetting for many British fans.
Davey was so proud to become the WWE’s first European Champion – he was so happy. It is something he did that no one else can say. Davey fought for that title, from the moment it first became a concept to it becoming a reality and he was wearing the belt around his waist.
I think Davey had a lot of power; he and Vince McMahon had a strong relationship and Vince was pleased to see Davey was the one to get that title off the ground. Things really fell apart later, as the rivalry between The Hart Foundation (the whole group of us) and D-Generation X was getting out of control and it was like a real war, and really, the way the One Night Onlyin Birmingham was orchestrated was really a huge red flag. We didn’t know [at the time] what form the storm was going to take – were we in for a monsoon, a hurricane, an earthquake, a fire or what?
Later, at Survivor Series , we saw what happened to Bret, and it was pretty awful, to say the least. Things are better, obviously, as time has healed, but then, it seemed so wrong, and to take that title away from Davey the way they did, and then the way they took Bret’s title from him, well, it just seemed very unfair.
But getting back to the bright side of things, I can take great pleasure and say with immense pride that the prestigious European Title was Davey Boy Smith, and he was a really proud European Champion. If Davey hadn’t been so immensely and loyally supported by his fans across Europe, I doubt that the WWF or Vince would have ever created the title. It says a lot about Davey and his huge devoted fan base over in Europe.
Davey was not happy to lose the way he did at One Night Only. He was not a cry-baby about losing, but it just seemed like there was something more going on behind the scenes, and we all saw it come to a nasty head in Montreal.
I heard that the belt doesn’t even exist anymore. That’s a shame. Davey was proud to be European Champion.
You managed Davey alongside Jim Cornette during his heel run in 1995 – 1996. As a fan, I always got the impression that Davey preferred being a babyface to being a heel. Is that correct?
Maybe; I know he was happy to get the push with me, and Jim Cornette there as a mouthpiece – Jim was pretty good on the mike. I think Davey started to really get into the feud with Shawn Michaels, because I saw an unbeatable side to him when he was dragging Shawn Michaels into the ocean over in the Middle East on some beach. It was quite good, actually, and it made people see that Davey was, or could be, unstoppable if he got mad. It’s worth watching on YouTube, that scene with Davey dragging Shawn into the ocean.
When Davey got paired up with Owen, he again got more into his heel role, but he was so good-looking and well, I always knew him as a babyface from his days in Stampede Wrestling, and so I always encouraged him to stay as a babyface, but he was a devastating and convincing heel when he got [the chance] to prove it. I think he liked being a bit more of a heel in places like Japan, and then in places like Canada, England and Germany, well, he was a hero there, and he preferred to be a babyface. I think that makes sense, and that isn’t being difficult to want that. It just makes sense. He could have been anything though, he was that good!
WWE has a huge global presence, and a very strong fanbase here in the UK. What role do you think Davey played in establishing that?
Davey deserves a lot of credit for establishing the huge wrestling fan base that evolved in the UK around the early 1990s and that has continued to grow in great bounds ever since. Davey was not just some mealy-mouthed wrestler who had a bit of a look or a bit of popularity within the creative forces in WWF at that time. He, and Bret, as part of both The British Bulldogs and The Hart Foundation, and all the guys from Stampede Wrestling that went over to WWF/WWE were not shoe-ins for any special roles. They were the outsiders and they had to fight, really fight, to prove they deserved a chance, and then to prove they were worthy of carrying belts and being in main event spots for months at a time, while they went coast to coast proving themselves.
They were not part of the USA scene and I always felt they were a threat to a lot of the wrestlers, especially the lesser wrestlers who were not secure with their abilities and were given huge pushes for reasons that had little to do with their abilities. Davey and Dynamite, well they were truly superstars in Japan, and Vince had to have them. They were the best tag team around. Bret and Jim hadn’t been tagging in Japan like Davey and Dynamite. Davey and Dynamite were actually not even interested in going to join the WWF in 1984. They continued to wrestle in Japan and finally Vince convinced them to join him, but it took a lot of persuasion and a lot of phone calls between Vince and my dad, and my dad with the Bulldogs.
The stuff they did in Japan is a lot like the MMA stuff, the grappling and chain wrestling, and it was just so awesome. When you watch their stuff from Japan, and some of the stuff they did in Calgary for Stampede Wrestling, you just believe in wrestling and watch in awe at how tough they all were and how much they loved what they were doing. So when Davey eventually became a singles wrestler and returned to WWF in the early 1990s, Sky Sports in Europe was introducing WWF and its product to England, and there was Davey, having recovered from a lot of sh*t, like a car accident that should have killed him, and the break-up of him and Dynamite, and trying to make it on his own doing independent shows and doing tours in places where there were buildings being bombed and he’d come home with nothing, and still suffering from what was the beginning of his dreadful agonising injuries.
He went back to WWF, with new agents and new wrestlers, and he was pretty much on his own. Bret and Jim were doing their own thing, and Davey was just sort of trying to find his way. It reminds me of Harry, my son, and things he’s been dealing with. Davey just did his best, and worked some programs with some of the bigger guys, and unbeknownst to him, he was becoming a huge favourite over in Europe, especially in the UK. One of the UK’s own, Davey Boy Smith, The British Bulldog, was how they were discovering him now. No one really knew about the tag-team of the British Bulldogs, even though they were both cousins and born and raised in Northern England. They didn’t get the exposure from being WWF World Tag Team Champions because Sky Sports hadn’t erupted yet. So when the UK viewers saw their own son, so to speak, looking like a God and representing their country with the Union Jack and he was so absolutely phenomenal, well they loved him. They knew they were getting the cream of the crop. They knew Davey was unlike anything the WWF already had. He was special.
So when the time came for Wembley Stadium and SummerSlam 1992, the Goldsmith Brothers, Harvey and Martin, promoted the show and what we saw at the event was the culmination of their promoting genius, Vince’s appreciation for the two wrestlers’ abilities (Bret’s and Davey’s) and his business savvy, and the huge devotion from the UK fans towards these two fine athletes, and you have what is one of the greatest matches of all time. It was earned, but not achieved by only Davey’s determination, but by the culmination of a lot of people and their visions, maybe not all seeing the same directions, but they all helped create one of wrestling’s very finest moments. The fans were so amazing.
So I think Davey played a huge prominent and prestigious role in creating that momentum and if he had been allowed to keep going, he would have been as iconic as the likes of David Beckham or The Beatles. He really didn’t get very long to shine, unfortunately. It seemed like there were people who didn’t want to see Davey get the endorsements, or the inside door opening to read for the new James Bond, or to get exploited in the ways that make people superstars; even though Davey was a superstar, it just seemed like he was always getting messed about because he was not good at politics.
Davey was honest and called it as he saw it, and if he didn’t like something, or saw someone bullying somebody, he would stand up for them. He was a good guy to have on your side. He was taken advantage of a lot, however, and I’m sure he had his heart broken a few times by the way things happened in wrestling. I guess it happens to a lot of people. But, again, I think Davey played a huge role in creating the huge fanbase that’s in the UK now, and I bet not too many within the current wrestling business end of things will give Davey the credit he deserves for what he did, but the UK fans know it, and it’s the fans who mattered to Davey, not agents or new CEOs etc.
Yourself, [son] Harry and [daughter] Georgia regularly speak about Davey’s career – how important is it to the three of you that younger fans are made aware of his contribution to the sport?
It’s very important! I think it is necessary to make sure that the legends and the pioneers, even the ones going back to before my dad started Stampede Wrestling, are remembered.
To take the word “wrestling” out of things, and no longer use the term “belt” or “tag team” make me think the powers-that-be are trying to erase the hard work that these guys did in helping to create an empire. It is selfish to not give them credit or to hide away years of wrestling tapes from wrestling territories and only show what they want the world to see. It is not fair that Davey did so much for professional wrestling, as my whole family did, and he is not alive to speak or train people to pass on what became an art form to him. He was a gifted athlete, and he was a real wrestler.
I want people to know how much it means to me and my children that they appreciate what Davey did for this sport. And when they share their stories about Davey on Facebook, or put poems together or tribute clips together of him on YouTube, it means so much to us, because that is helping keep Davey’s legacy alive. His legacy is one worth keeping very much alive.
Davey was a great wrestler and he deserves to be remembered and honored for all he did for professional wrestling. He went through rough times and good times and it all created what I see as a person who devoted his life to professional wrestling.
In what way do you think Davey should be remembered by fans?
It is hard to summarise, and what I think changes from day to day, but I am always in favour of having Davey’s fans remember him as a man’s man; a wrestler’s wrestler.
Davey was one of the boys. He fought for the rights of his brothers (wrestlers) inside and outside of the ring. He cared about what his fans thought, and when he couldn’t perform like he once could it almost killed him because he didn’t want to disappoint his fans.
Davey was a tremendous showman, so handsome and powerful, and he wanted people to look twice at him and be impressed, but genuinely impressed as he was no phony. He loved his family, and he loved wrestling. The fans are a common denominator there in that they were part of his family and they were a part of wrestling.
Davey was not afraid of too much – I can’t think of anything he couldn’t do. He was one of the strongest wrestlers ever, truly. Not many can hold a candle to him. He should be remembered as one of England’s best fighters, and finest champions.
Thanks to Diana Hart Smith for giving us this interview. You can find out more about Diana by following her on Twitter at @DianaHartSmith, and can shop online for the latest and greatest collectibles from the British Bulldog at www.hartsmithlegacy.com.