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This Day in Wrestling History (May 18): British Bulldog Passes Away

Today’s TDIPWH is presented in two parts. The first part focused on the events of the day, including the RAW debut of Kevin Owens. This part will focus on the career and life of Davey Boy Smith, who suffered a fatal heart attack 15 years ago today.

15 years ago today, David “Davey Boy” Smith, best known to wrestling fans as The British Bulldog, died of a heart attack in Ivermere, British Columbia. He was 39.

Born November 27, 1962 in Golborne, Lancashire, England, David was among four children (he had one brother in Terrance, and two sisters in Joanne and Tracy). His mother, Joyce Billington, was the sister Bill Billington, father of Tom Billington, aka the Dynamite Kid.

He trained under Ted Betley in Winwick, England, and began his wrestling career at just age 15, competing on ITV’s World of Sport with his cousin Tom Billington. He was spotted by Bruce Hart, and Smith and Billington relocated to Canada to wrestle for Stu Hart’s promotion, Stampede Wrestling.

The cousins had a long-standing feud, with Smith defeating Dynamite Kid on July 9, 1982 for the Stampede British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Championship, his first championship. The feud continued on the other side of the Pacific Ocean for New Japan Pro Wrestling, where Smith and Kid feuded with The Cobra. On February 7, 1984, Dynamite Kid won the NWA Junior Heavyweight Championship by winning a one-night three-man round-robin. Soon after the tournament, the cousins formed a tag team in New Japan and Stampede Wrestling, The British Bulldogs. The duo left New Japan for All Japan just before their annual tag tournament, the World’s Strongest Tag Determination League. Their performance in that tournament drew attention from the World Wrestling Federation.

After the WWF bought out Stampede Wrestling in 1985, the British Bulldogs, along with brothers-in-law Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart joined the company. The Bulldogs would engage in a long-standing feud with Hart and Neidhart, aka the Hart Foundation.

In 1986, the Bulldogs feuded with Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake, aka The Dream Team. At Wrestlemania 2, with Captain Lou Albano and singer Ozzy Osbourne in their corner, the Bulldogs defeated the Dream Team for the WWF Tag Team Championship. In December 1986, the Dynamite Kid suffered a severe back injury. The injury to Billington would soon doom the tag title reign; on January 26, 1987, the Bulldogs lost the tag titles to the Hart Foundation. Though the duo remained in the WWF until late 1988, their days as a top tag team were over. Why the Bulldogs left the WWF following that year’s Survivor Series depends on who’s telling the story (one account says Billington got into a fight with Jacques Rougeau over a prank gone wrong; another says Billington had an issue with WWF management over plane tickets)

The Bulldogs returned to Stampede Wrestling, while also wrestling for All Japan Pro Wrestling. With Stampede on its last legs, the decision was made to split the duo up in May 1989. This was a problem with All Japan, as they were still promoting the Bulldogs as a team. In July, Smith, along with Chris Benoit, Ross Hart, and Karl Moffat (aka Jason the Terrible) were involved in an auto accident. Smith, who was not wearing a seat belt, was thrown through the windshield and sent 25 feet head first onto the pavement. The wounds needed 135 stitches to close. Eventually, Smith healed and returned to the ring, and the Bulldogs continued to team in All Japan.

Just before the 1990 World’s Strongest Tag Determination League, Smith pulled the British Bulldogs out of the tournament, with the story that Billington was in a serious auto accident. In reality, David was covering his tracks: he was heading back to the WWF. As The British Bulldog.

Smith returned to the WWF in October 1990, defeating Haku at a live event in early October, and the Brooklyn Brawler in his televised return later in the month. Smith, who trademarked The British Bulldog during his first run with the company (preventing his former tag team partner Tom Billington from being promoted as such), became quite popular in the United States, but he was immensely popular in the United Kingdom, thanks in part to WWF programming becoming a huge hit on Sky Sports. Multiple cards were promoted in the United Kingdom during the height of Bulldog’s popularity, including UK Rampage in March 1991 and Battle Royal at the Albert Hall in October, where he won the titular match, a 20-man battle royal. He wouldn’t fare as well in the 1992 Royal Rumble match. He entered first and eliminated three men (Ted DiBiase, Jerry Sags, and Haku) before being eliminated by the eventual winner, Ric Flair.

Arguably, the peak of Smith’s popularity—and career came on August 29, 1992. With an audience of over 80,000 in Wembley Stadium in London, England at Summerslam, Smith, accompanied by British and European (and future world) boxing champion Lennox Lewis, defeated his brother-in-law Bret Hart for the WWF Intercontinental Championship. Smith would hold the title for just over two months before he was defeated for it by Shawn Michaels on Saturday Night’s Main Event that November. Later in the month, Smith and The Ultimate Warrior were both found to have received shipments of human growth hormone from a pharmacy in England. With the company under investigation of steroid use, Smith and Warrior were released.

In 1993, Smith had a brief run in World Championship Wrestling, teaming with Sting in his feud with Big Van Vader and Sid Vicious. Smith challenged for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship at Slamboree and Clash of the Champions XXIV, with the two splitting the pair of bouts (Smith won the Slamboree match via disqualification).

In July, Smith was involved in an altercation with a 22-year old man making advances towards his then-wife Diana. Smith would be charged with aggravated assault later in the year and would end up being released from WCW in December. Charges against Smith were dismissed in February 1996.

After a brief stint for United Kingdom outfit All Star Wrestling in early 1994, Smith returned to the WWF at Summerslam, teaming with his brother-in-law Bret Hart against Owen Hart and Jim Neidhart.

At the 1995 Royal Rumble match, Smith entered second behind Shawn Michaels. They would wind up being the last two men in the ring. Smith tossed Michaels over the top rope, but only one of Shawn’s feet hit the floor. Shawn re-entered and eliminated Bulldog soon after, giving him the win and a WWF Championship match at Wrestlemania XI (Michaels would lose that bout to Diesel). As for Bulldog, he would team with Lex Luger to form the Allied Powers. Their alliance was brief; in August, the Allied Powers were set to take on Men on a Mission, but Luger was a no-show. Bulldog got a replacement partner in WWF Champion Diesel. But it was a trap; Bulldog attacked Diesel, and would join Jim Cornette’s Camp Cornette with Owen Hart and Yokozuna. This was Bulldog’s first-ever heel turn in the WWF.

The heel turn did help Bulldog get a WWF title match against Diesel at In Your House 4 in October, but Smith won via disqualification due to interference from Bret Hart. Two months later, Bulldog would get another shot at the title, this time with Bret Hart as champion. Despite Hart bleeding during the bout (a no-no for the WWF at the time), he defeated Bulldog and retained the title. In the 1996 Royal Rumble match, Bulldog was the next to last entrant, but was once again eliminated by the match’s eventual winner Shawn Michaels.

In the spring, Bulldog feuded with WWF Champion Shawn Michaels, with the basis being that Diana accused Michaels of making advances towards her. This angered and motivated Bulldog to take the championship from Shawn. He couldn’t do it. They fought to a draw at In Your House 8: Beware of Dog, but Shawn retained a month later at King of the Ring.

Soon after, Smith formed a tag team with brother-in-law Owen Hart. At In Your House 10: Mind Games in September, Bulldog and Owen would defeat The Smoking Gunns for the WWF Tag Team Championship. They would hold the titles for eight months, the longest title reign in four years (they would lose them to the unlikely duo of Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels in May 1997). While they were champions, the WWF European Championship was created. Owen and Bulldog would be the finalists in the inaugural tournament, with Bulldog winning the title in March 1997.

The competitive fire between the brothers-in-law nearly tore them apart, until Bret Hart got them to reconcile their differences. Along with Jim Neidhart and Brian Pillman, they would form a new version of the Hart Foundation, feuding primarily with Stone Cold Steve Austin. Interestingly, while the Hart Foundation were vilified for their actions in the States, the group were heroes most everywhere else in the world, particularly in Canada. This was best proven at In Your House: Canadian Stampede in July, when the Hart Foundation defeated Stone Cold Steve Austin, Goldust, Ken Shamrock, and the Legion of Doom. Just a week later, Austin and Dude Love defeated Owen and Bulldog in a tournament final for the tag titles (Michaels was suspended and was forced to vacate his half of the titles).

In September, Bulldog lost the European title to Shawn Michaels at the UK-exclusive One Night Only. This marked the first time Smith was defeated at a WWF event in the United Kingdom. Bulldog was originally booked to win, but Michaels convinced Vince McMahon to change the booking to build his feud with Bret Hart and to build a return bout with Bulldog at a future UK show. The return bout never came to pass. Following the Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series in November, Bulldog, along with Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart, left the WWF.

Smith followed brothers-in-law Jim Neidhart and Bret Hart to WCW. Smith feuded with Steve McMichael, who was tired of the plethora of wrestlers coming from “up north” (a thinly veiled reference to the WWF). Smith’s second WCW run was not nearly the success of his first; he teamed with Neidhart, but the two were rarely featured, used primarily on Thunder.

In April 1998, Smith suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for a month. He would suffer a much more serious injury five months later; at Fall Brawl in September, Bulldog landed awkwardly on a trapdoor—twice—resulting in him injuring his back. It wasn’t until a month later when it was discovered that his back injury was a serious spinal infection that could have resulted in paralysis. Bulldog spent six months in a hospital; while in recovery, he was released from WCW via FedEx. Smith would soon develop an addiction to morphine and painkillers.

It would not be until nearly a year later Smith returned to the wrestling ring. In September 1999, he returned to the WWF as The British Bulldog. In keeping with the “Attitude Era”, Bulldog wrestled in jeans and entered to a remix of “Rule, Britannia!” for a brief period before switching out to a rock theme beginning with a dog bark. On his first night back, Smith defeated The Big Boss Man for the WWF Hardcore Championship, then gifted said title to Al Snow.

He soon pursued the WWF Championship, the one title he’d never won in the company. He eventually turned heel and feuded with The Rock. At Unforgiven, he failed to win the title in a six-man match (Triple H won the bout and the then-vacated title). In October, Smith wrestled as a heel for the first time in his homeland at the UK-exclusive Rebellion. He defeated X-Pac at that event. His feud with The Rock concluded at No Mercy, with Bulldog being defeated by The Rock. Just over a week later, Smith defeated D’Lo Brown for the WWF European Championship. He lost the title at Armageddon in mid-December to Val Venis.

On May 6, 2000, Smith defeated Crash Holly for the WWF Hardcore Championship in London. Holly would win it back five days later. Soon after, Bulldog was sent to rehab at the request of Vince McMahon due to his addiction to prescription painkillers and morphine. His feared relapse led to Smith’s release.

Around that time, Diana and Davey divorced, with Davey getting shared custody of their two children, Harry and Georgia. Soon after, Davey began dating Andrea Redding, the estranged wife of Bruce Hart. The couple had plans to marry.

On May 18, 2002, while vacationing in Invermere, British Columbia, Canada, Smith suffered a heart attack. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful. He was 39. A later autopsy revealed his past use of anabolic steroids may have contributed to his death, as well as stress and serious injuries. Also at the time of his death, Smith was planning a comeback, as the previous weekend, he had teamed with his son Harry in three tag team bouts.

Two funeral services were held, one by his girlfriend Andrea, the other by the Hart family. Bret Hart attended both. Smith is buried in his hometown of Golborne.

Smith, the winner of the 1992 Pro Wrestling Illustrated Match of the Year award with Bret Hart, is a member of the Stampede Wrestling Hall of Fame.

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