July 22, 2012, marked 10 years since the European Title disappeared from WWE. Not that anyone noticed.
The championship, which was first won by The British Bulldog in a tournament final in Germany in Feb. 1997, was held by Shawn Michaels, Triple H and Chris Jericho, defended at multiple WrestleManias and unified with the Intercontinental Championship in a Ladder Match between Jeff Hardy and Rob Van Dam. And yet, it’s little more than a historical footnote today. A forgotten aspect of the fabled “Attitude Era” as easily overlooked as the Light Heavyweight Title or Head Cheese. But why is that? Why do some titles become integral parts of sports-entertainment while others fade into obscurity?
The European Title wasn’t designed to fail. When it was introduced to WWE fans during a Raw tour of Europe in 1997, it was meant to be a big deal. A completely new championship hadn’t debuted in years and the sight of United Kingdom hero The British Bulldog raising the title in the air after a classic tournament final against Owen Hart was something to be inspired by. The Europeans finally had their own title in WWE. They could be proud of that, right?
“No, not really,” current World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus flatly told WWE.com. “I mean, when it first came out, it had that prestige with The [British] Bulldog winning it and Shawn [Michaels] beating him for it. But I don’t think it ever took anything away from the WWE Championship and Intercontinental Championship. I never really saw it as a serious championship.”
A serious championship. That’s the issue, isn’t it? Sports-entertainment fans take their titles seriously and the championships they do respect (the WWE Championship, the Intercontinental Championship, etc.) have two main things going for them — longevity and credibility. The European Title wasn’t going to have any history behind it right out of the gate, but it had a chance at credibility. When Bulldog beat Owen Hart for the championship in one of the best matches in Raw history, it made it apparent that this title mattered. But that changed.