Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho all held the European Championship, but as of a few weeks ago, it looks like no one will be able to follow in their footsteps.
When Intercontinental Champion Rob Van Dam defeated European Champion Jeff Hardy in a Unification Ladder Match two weeks ago on RAW, it spelled the end of the European Title on World Wrestling Entertainment television.
"I kind of think it was a worthless title anyway," Jericho told WWE.com. "It was never promoted as (a prestigious championship). In boxing, there are too many titles. I think in WWE there might have been a few too many titles. So I think it's good that it's been unified, because it didn't really mean too much anyway."
But many superstars disagree with Jericho, and there's no denying that the European Title -- whether it was prestigious or not -- brought about some of the most memorable moments in WWE history.
Davey Boy Smith, the British Bulldog, was the first man to hold the championship after he won a tournament for the title in Berlin, Germany -- appropriately, in the heart of Europe -- in February 1997. But the belt wasn't seen on RAW (this was before the advent of SmackDown!) until that September, when Shawn Michaels defeated the Bulldog at the "One Night Only" Pay-Per-View in Birmingham, England, and brought it back to the U.S. with him. That November at Survivor Series (yes, that Survivor Series), Michaels captured the WWE Championship, meaning that he held two belts.
Sgt. Slaughter, who was WWE Commissioner at the time, forced Michaels to face off against his D-Generation X cohort Triple H with the European Title on the line in an attempt to create dissention between the members of DX. But Michaels simply allowed himself to be pinned and, after the match, lampooned the fact that he had lost the "prestigious" European Championship. Meanwhile, Triple H mockingly celebrated as if he had just beaten Apollo Creed in "Rocky II." That episode of RAW was one of the more entertaining of the early "Attitude" era, and it helped solidify DX as a faction that fans would still chant for several years after its demise.
The dubious but entertaining history of the European Title continued as 1998 rolled around. When Owen Hart pinned Goldust, Commissioner Slaughter awarded the European Title to Hart because Goldust was dressed as the champion, Triple H. It was probably the only time in WWE history that a title changed hands when the champion wasn't even at ringside. But Triple H won the title back at WrestleMania XIV in Boston.
Four months later, D'Lo Brown upset Triple H on RAW to secure the title. D'Lo's reaction to winning and his subsequent reign as champion were priceless. Immediately after his victory, Brown's face lit up like the proverbial kid in a candy store. He jumped around exclaiming, "I'm the Champion of Europe!"
"It was without a doubt one of the highlights of my career," D'Lo says. "I still have that picture framed and hanging up in my office."
As champion, Brown would be announced from a different European city each time he came to the ring. In all, Brown held the title four times.
Asked if he is the greatest European Champion of all time, Brown said, "There have been a lot of great guys who have held that title. I'm probably the most celebrated. I've held it more than anybody else."
Then he stopped being modest: "You know what, maybe I am the greatest European Champion of all time. I'll just say it."
D'Lo, for one, would have loved to see the title stick around.
"It's sad to see it go away because there are always hopes of getting it again," he said. "So I may never have the opportunity to be European Champion again."
May is the key word. After all, the European Title has been retired from and brought back to WWE television before.
After Shane McMahon defeated X-Pac to retain the championship at 1999's WrestleMania XV in Philadelphia, he "retired as an undefeated champion," even though he had won each of his matches on a fluke. The European Title, however, (as well as Shane himself) would return to active competition. Later that summer, Mideon found the belt in Shane's duffel bag and asked Shane if he could have it. Just like that, the European Title was active again. Mideon lost the title to Brown soon after.
Several months later, in February 2000, Kurt Angle won the title, his first in WWE.
"I felt that the European Title was one of those titles that, not only does it bring another storyline and another dimension to the show, but it's kind of a catapulting belt," Angle said. "It's like, 'Hey, you're the next guy coming through. Keep your eyes on this guy because soon he's going to be Intercontinental Champion. Or soon he'll be vying for the WWE Title.'"
That was certainly the case with Angle. Less than three weeks after winning the European Title, the Olympic gold medalist won the Intercontinental Championship, and went on to that year's WrestleMania as the "Euro-Continental Champion." While he lost both titles at 'Mania, Angle defeated The Rock the following October at No Mercy in Albany, N.Y., to become the WWE Champion, and cap off arguably the best rookie campaign in history.
"You hate to see a title like (the European Championship) get dropped," Angle said. "Then again, there's only a certain amount of time in the show."
That may be true, but the European Title provided its fair share of entertaining time to WWE's shows in the championship's five-year history. And while it may be gone, many fans and superstars alike won't soon forget it.