British grappler Darren “William Regal” Matthews is one of the most well-regarded wrestlers in the business. While he is currently settled in the good graces of WWE, it wasn’t always smooth sailing in his life and career. Personal setbacks led to suspensions and terminated contracts aplenty, and a brush with death would change the direction of his life completely. This is the true, inspirational story of William Regal.
Born in Codsall, Staffordshire, in the West Midlands of the UK, William Regal was born Darren Kenneth Matthews on May 10th, 1968.
Matthews was interested in comedy and pro wrestling from an early age, and he admired “wrestler’s wrestlers” such as Jon Cortez and Terry Rudge.
Training under Marty Jones, Matthews made his pro wrestling debut at the age of 15 for a local promotor at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. Matthews trained as a shooter (a wrestling term that describes a wrestler with a legitimate fighting background), and he often defended prize money against members of the public. Matthews’s extensive knowledge of wrestling holds aided him, even in some of Britain’s most ruthless towns.
After testing his trade in carnivals and holiday camps, Darren soon gained exposure working for the UK’s World of Sport Wrestling.
Not entirely content with only being placed in tag bouts to make his partner Big Daddy look good, Matthews moved over to All Star Wrestling. Here is where he would meet Robbie Brookside, and together they would form a tag team known as The Golden Boys. They would work together as a team in many matches during the final years of the channel ITV’s coverage of British wrestling.
Around this time in his career, Matthews began earning more money touring throughout Europe and Africa.
In 1991, Matthews had his first taste of the then-WWF after having several try-out matches at both the UK Rampage and Battle Royal at Royal Albert Hall events, where he shared a ring with the likes of Dave Taylor and Fit Finlay. Here, Matthews would go by Steve Regal for the first time – a name he saw in an American wrestling magazine in use by another wrestler named “Mr. Electricity” Steve Regal. He would also have six WCW matches during their UK tour that year, wresting Terry Taylor, Giant Haystacks, and Oz (Kevin Nash).
In the fall of 1992, Regal wrote a letter to WCW promotor Bill Watts asking to work for WCW. Watts would happily oblige and soon offered him a contract.
Regal debuted as Steven Regal in January 1993 as a babyface. You can watch his WCW television debut below:
Directionless in this position, he never got over in this role, and the firing of Bill Watts soon after did not look like a positive change for Regal.
Accompanied by Sir William (Bill Dundee), Regal played what should have been a stereotypically posh character. Regal was not just a high-class snoot, but one who had a more malicious and violent side, not being below dirty tactics like low-blows and outside interference to get an unfair advantage.
Regal later reflected on this time in his career, saying, "[In WCW], people really didn’t like the character I did at the time. It was a different time when you could really hammer that anti-American thing home, and people hated it and hated me."
After feuds with Marcus Bagwell and 2 Cold Scorpio, Regal substituted for an injured Brian Pillman to lose the WCW tag titles at Clash of the Champions XXIV. Regal afterward bounced back, beating former NWA World Champion Ricky Steamboat at Fall Brawl ’93 to win his first title – the WCW Television Championship. You can watch this entertaining bout below:
Regal held onto the WCW Television Championship for 225 days, often defending it by the skin of his teeth in time limit draws against Arn Anderson, the British Bulldog, Dustin Rhodes, and Brian Pillman. Eventually, Regal lost the title to Larry Zbyszko in a match that went overtime on Nitro. The recently returned Zbyszko would drop the belt back to the lordship the following month.
After losing the TV title for a second time (being dethroned by Johnny B. Badd), Regal moved onto the tag scene where he formed The Blue Bloods.
Initially, Regal teamed up with faux Frenchman Jean-Paul Levesque before Levesque moved to the WWF to eventually find success as Triple H. “Beautiful” Bobby Eaton was added to the group as a replacement, being repackaged as “Earl” Robert Eaton, where Lord Steven would attempt to teach Eaton in the ways of being a finer gentleman.
The Blue Bloods mainly feuded with their opposites, The Nasty Boys, as well as with Harlem Heat. “Squire” Dave Taylor would also join the group, having been a long-time friend and foe of Regal’s.
Despite their short tenure and lack of tag team gold, The Blue Bloods are often regarded today as one of the best tag teams to come out of WCW.
Outside of his tag team runs at the time, Regal also did some significant solo work, such as challenging for the IWGP World Title as well as a notoriously brutal rivalry with Finlay.
Then known as the Belfast Bruiser, Fit Finlay clashed with Regal in some memorably stiff and painful matches, in a throwback to their bouts back in the UK. This includes a parking lot brawl on an episode of Nitro and – more famously – a hard-hitting affair at WCW Uncensored 1996.
On this classic match, Regal later admitted, “This bout was stopped early by Eric Bischoff as there was so much blood from the broken nose, fractured cheek, and cut eyelid (which required 12 stitches to fix) all from one punch. We were just getting started, ready to go all out for the next ten minutes or so. If it had continued?” Regal has been permanently scarred since this match.
Looking back on this brawl, commentator Tony Schiavone stated that it was his favorite WCW match to call, claiming, "They really beat each other. It was amazing!"
Regal won his third TV title shortly afterward, where he pinned Lex Luger on an August 21st, 1996 episode of WCW Saturday Night. Once he picked up the strap, it became his primary focus, and The Blue Bloods were disbanded.
Regal held this title for half a year, retaining over Jim Duggan, Dean Malenko, and Psicosis. William would eventually lose the belt to Prince Iaukea. However, Regal attacked Iaukea not long after to help Último Dragón win the title. This led to Regal facing and eventually defeating Dragón for the TV title at Slamboree ’97, but he would lose it back to him a short while later.
In his final significant moment in WCW, on February 9th, 1998, Regal was used to put-over the new, undefeated superstar Goldberg.
With Regal being an established name, instead of a typical sub-2-minute match for Goldberg, this was a more competitive 6-minute bout. Goldberg would claim that Regal legitimately tried to hurt him in this match, but Regal has since denied that claim in both his autobiography and on Steve Austin’s podcast.
You can learn more about their match and how things went wrong here.
First Run in WWE
Debuting in the then-WWF in June 1999, William Regal defeated Droz in his first match on Raw. You can watch this match below:
During this time, what should have marked a happy moment in Regal’s life instead was clouded by personal demons.
Regal was in bad shape for his debut match due to the medication he was prescribed to. It was the start of a downward spiral in Regal’s life.
After being sent to Dory Funk Jr.’s training school, Regal suffered an ankle injury. This injury would further be aggravated when Regal fell in his bathroom. He’d break his ankle and leg as a result of the fall. From here, Regal’s addiction to prescription medication would begin to take over.
Being prescribed painkillers such as Renewtrient, Valium, and Nubain, Regal developed a dependence, and factors such as ill-health would be blamed.
Around this time, he took on one of the more memorable Vince Russo gimmicks of the era: the “Real Man’s Man.”
Shown in bombastic vignettes squeezing his own orange juice, cutting down trees, and doing construction work, he only worked a single pay-per-view match under the role – in a double count-out result against X-Pac in Survivor Series 1998’s Deadly Games WWE title tournament.
A feud with The Godfather would soon be cut short due to Regal’s persisting personal problems.
William Regal and His Fight to Overcome His Personal Demons
Behind the scenes, WWE sent William Regal to Talbott Recovery Center in Atlanta in early 1999.
Regal was refusing to admit to his addiction at this time in his life despite the negative effect it was having. Having multiple stays in the facility, he once checked himself out early, went back to England, and went on to have a massive GHB binge. Regal was losing sleep, and his wife was at her wit’s end and even considered leaving William and taking the kids along with her.
In April 1999, Regal was released from the WWF.
On an episode of the Something to Wrestling podcast dedicated to William Regal, Bruce Prichard recalled, “The feeling was that the professionals felt that he needed to be in [rehab]. By this point, we couldn’t take the excuses anymore and said, ‘Either you go to rehab, or we don’t have anything for you.'”
Regal would make a short return to WCW, often wrestling in tag bouts, before losing to Jim Duggan in a career versus career match in February 2000.
Return to WWE
William Regal returned to the WWF shortly after a stint in WWF’s developmental territory Memphis Championship Wrestling.
In September 2000, the now-named William Regal re-emerged on television. He would quickly capture the European title off Al Snow within a month of his return. After trading the belt with Crash Holly, Regal lost it to Test. However, things picked up when Regal hit Al Snow with a Regal Cutter to get the pinfall on an episode of SmackDown, earning himself the WWF Commissioner’s role.
His role as WWF Commissioner is where Regal best showed his comedy chops. Whether he was ignoring Shawn Stasiak, with Tajiri as his sidekick, or having his pot of tea urinated in by Chris Jericho, Regal had more attention in the company than he ever had before. Additionally, his senior role on television gave him top billing matches against The Rock, Kurt Angle, and Steve Austin.
He opened WrestleMania X7 in a loss to Intercontinental Champion Chris Jericho in his ‘Mania debut – finally reaching the big stage, performing in front of nearly 70,000 fans at the Reliant Astrodome in Houston, Texas.
Staying a constant presence throughout, William Regal eventually turned on the WWF to join The Alliance in 2001. Once that storyline was complete, Regal was allowed to be rehired, but under embarrassing circumstances. This is as he became the first member of the ‘Kiss My Ass’ Club, being forced to kiss Vince’s backside on TV. You can watch this moment in all its richness below:
At the 2002 Royal Rumble, Regal defeated Edge to capture his first Intercontinental Championship. Significantly, Regal used a pair of brass knuckles to get the cheap win. This object would soon become a trademark of William’s, as he would commonly use them to knock out his opponents illegally.
After a successful win at the following pay-per-view, Regal dropped it to Rob Van Dam at WrestleMania X8. Regal bounced back, however, winning the European title later that very week.
Shortly afterward, he would be drafted to Raw. From April 6th to 14th in 2002, he held the Hardcore title on five occasions; however, he always lost it the same night he won it.
Regal would soon after go on to lose the European title in iconic fashion – being pinned in 4 seconds by Spike Dudley after the Dudley boy used some ‘knucks that William had hidden for later use. Regal had his fourth and final European title reign in May, regaining it from Dudley, before losing it to Jeff Hardy.
Soon after, Regal joined up with Test, Christian, and Lance Storm to form the Un-Americans as the only non-Canadian member.
Michael P.S. Hayes claimed on an episode of the WWE Network‘s Legends of Wrestling that the extreme heat the wrestlers experienced from that angle was enough to make the wrestlers fear the wrath of patriotic fans, and death threats were frequent. It is said that every wrestler – aside from Regal – was scared of the reactions they were garnering. However, this claim has been disputed by Storm.
Christian was asked about his time with The Un-Americans. “That was hard,” Christian admitted. “It wasn’t hard working with those guys because I was friends with all those guys, and they were super talented, so that wasn’t the issue. The issue for me was I couldn’t sink my teeth into that character as much as I wanted to because I didn’t necessarily believe in it.”
Captain Charisma continued, “The things I was saying and doing, and it’s hard to go out there and make people believe when you’re trying to figure out how to do it. When you don’t believe 100 percent, it’s hard to go out and make people believe what you do. So, I struggled with that a little bit, and it wasn’t for lack of trying; it was just that I couldn’t figure out how to make that type of character connect with the audience the way I had before that after it. So, it was a good learning experience for me as far as character development and things like that.”
A Near-Death Encounter for William Regal
In early 2003, William Regal, alongside Lance Storm, picked up the world tag team titles before trading them with the Dudleys. However, Regal had to step away from the group due to a serious illness.
When defending the belts at the 2003 No Way Out pay-per-view, a routine scoop slam by Kane dropped Regal on his head, giving him a massive concussion in a freak accident. William was clearly disoriented, but the match continued with Lance doing his best to work around the injury.
Regal recalls having swelling all over his body, a high heart rate, and trouble sleeping due to the concussion. This required him having to drink fifteen pounds of water the next day.
As his heartbeat so fast, an electric shock had to be administered to restart his heart. The doctor also told him of a previously contracted heart parasite that he had caught in India. This coupled with an irregular heartbeat defect – conflicting reports were released, with one claiming his right side of his heartbeat out of sync from the left and nearly killed him.
For the next two months, he was on anti-blood clot treatments, and he gained 40 pounds in weight as a result.
Return After Sickness and Tag Team Runs
Returning in April 2004, William Regal was partnered with General Manager Eric Bischoff’s nephew Eugene.
Initially reluctant to have to team with Eugene, Regal soon grew affection towards him – even helping him fight against the Evolution stable. A truly valiant and determined hero for the first time, Regal showed how he could manipulate a crowd’s emotions.
Mid-way through their tag title run, Eugene ruptured his left patellar ligament after a botched dropkick in a tag title defense at New Years Revolution 2005. They dropped the belts soon after, but Regal bounced back with a new tag partner: Tajiri.
They would win the straps for the first time from La Résistance in Saitama, Japan. They would have some successful title defenses before losing them in a tag team turmoil match three months later.
After being drafted to SmackDown, he had a memorable catch-wrestling match against an opponent at the third annual Brian Pillman Memorial Show, Chris Benoit – with both matches rated 4 and ¼ stars by Dave Meltzer.
When Booker T became King Booker after winning the 2006 King of the Ring, he started up a faction called the King’s Court. In this, Regal played a town crier role, being knighted by the former 5-time WCW champion. Regal spent most of this time teaming with fellow faction member Finlay before being forced out of the group due to a loss at the 2007 No Mercy pay-per-view. Afterward, he would enter comedy rivalries in the mid-card against a dress-wearing Vito and Pirate Paul Burchill.
Following this, William dismissed his role as comedic fodder, reuniting with old tag partner Dave Taylor.
Instead of depicting the stuck-up Blue Bloods, they played some mean-street ruffians. Similar to their WCW run, they were prominent tag title challengers but never won the straps. The duo was memorably involved in the four-way ladder match in which Joey Mercury shattered his nose.
Rise and Fall of A King
In August 2007, Regal was drafted to Raw. Here, he managed to win the role of Raw GM after emerging victorious in a battle royal. Once again, the gentleman villain was placed in a significant role in WWE – with his heelish antics in power getting him in feuds with Triple H and John Cena.
The former Lord Steven abused his new position to punch an easy win at the King of the Ring tournament in 2008. Submitting Hornswoggle in 18 seconds in the first round, before beating an injured Finlay, advancing to beat a worn-down CM Punk in the final, William Regal became the first wrestler to make the latter submit. It seemed as if this prestigious accolade would propel him further up the card with a pompous, evil gimmick; however, this was not the case.
William Regal Gets Suspended After His Coronation
At the coronation of William Regal, he was interrupted by a face Mr. Kennedy. Weeks later, Mr. Kennedy would beat Regal in a match where the loser would be fired. Regal had violated the WWE’s Substance Abuse and Drug Testing Policy for a second time resulting in a 60 day suspension, so he was written off in this angle.
According to reports at the time, WWE had become more stringent with their drug testing when they found out that people had been cheating tests by using a Whizzinator (an easy to conceal urinating device with a realistic prosthetic). All urine collectors were fired for not monitoring more closely. WWE then decided that all superstars would be tested in front of a new crew of monitors, with the rule being that they had to be nude from their ankles to their nipples while giving their sample.
Regal was in the midst of his biggest push since 2000.
Returning to Raw on July 28th, he lost to the then-World Champion CM Punk. Afterward, Regal earned the services of valet Layla after winning a feud with Jamie Noble. This duo clearly worked as a few weeks later, Regal won the Intercontinental Championship in Manchester, England, beating Santino in less than a minute.
Playing the role of the face in his home country, Regal’s win surprised the audience – a post-match interview had Regal declaring how proud he was to be a British champion.
This title reign would not last as CM Punk soon won Regal’s belt. After some matches with shenanigan finishes – Regal’s reign lasted 70 days. After this, Regal failed to capture the United States belt from Kofi Kingston.
Regal was soon drafted to the WWE revamp of ECW, where he led the forgotten Ruthless Roundtable faction alongside Ezekial Jackson and Vladimir Kozlov. Here, he made multiple challenges to Christian’s ECW world title but failed on every occasion. On the last-ever episode of ECW in February 2010, Regal aided Jackson in winning the belt and becoming the last title-holder.
Recommended related read: WWE ECW Relaunch | Where Did It All Go Wrong?
Slowly Stepping Away From the Ring
On the first series of NXT, Regal was the mentor for Skip Sheffield (who would later become Ryback). After this, the British bruiser went on to have an intense feud with Jon Moxley in Florida Championship Wrestling – a rivalry that legitimately left a permanent mark on Regal’s ear after he was hit on an exposed turnbuckle.
Around this time, Regal was wrestling less and less and was occasionally used as a veteran hand to give a rising star more credibility. One of the more memorable moments was when Regal was ribbed on an episode of WWE Superstars.
Set to wrestle Daniel Bryan, Regal’s ‘Real Man’s Man’ theme played as a rib as he walked down to the ring. You can watch this unfold in all its hilarity below:
On the 21st of November 2013 episode of NXT, Regal wrestled his last match to date, putting over Cesaro – a current star Regal clearly is a big fan of.
On wrestling Regal, Cesaro recalled, “He helped me get here. I had only met him a couple of times, but when I decided to come here, he helped me out, and he looked out for me … and still does. I think the great thing about him is that he cares about wrestling, and he cares about young guys who try and learn it the hard way. He appreciates that.”
He soon afterward transitioned to an NXT commentary role before becoming the NXT GM in 2014, where he remains to this day. His role is not too dissimilar to that of former WWF President Jack Tunney – a beloved figurehead who only makes appearances when necessary. He has also become popular for his shouted "Wargames!" catchphrase.
Nowadays, Regal has an even bigger role behind the scenes as the WWE Director of Talent Development and Head of Global Recruiting, playing a significant role in building the future stars of WWE. He is also a trainer at the WWE Performance Center, where he trains the newest batch of WWE superstars. In 2020, he also took over as the owner of the 205 Live brand.
Despite the setbacks William Regal has faced over the years, he seems to have comfortably settled into an inspiring leadership role in WWE. He has become one of the most trusted employees, and despite the rocky roads traveled earlier in life, he has more than earned his redemption.
William Regal’s story is a great representation that it doesn’t matter where you come from, what demons you have, or where you are in life. As long as you work hard and strive to improve yourself, you can achieve whatever you put your mind to.
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