Over the years, multiple championships have been retired in the WWE only to be reinstated a few years later, including the Intercontinental Championship and the United States Championship. Similarly, the Cruiserweight Championship, the Women’s Tag Team Championships, and the Hardcore/24/7 Championships were relaunched with new incarnations.
But one classic championship that has stayed retired for over two decades is the WWE European Championship.
The Beginnings, Double Champions, and the misleading European lineage
The inaugural Champion of Europe was crowned in 1997 after a series of matches in Germany which culminated with the British Bulldog defeating brother-in-law Owen Hart via a roll-up to take the Championship home.
Owen and the Bulldog were also the WWF Tag team Champions at the time, making Bulldog a dual Champion. Interestingly, the very first European title reign would become the longest in the history of the championship, with Bulldog holding on to the title for over 200 days.
He would lose the title to Shawn Michaels, who would become another double champion with that triumph – Michaels also held the World Championship at the time.
In fact, the dual champion aspect would come into play multiple times for the European Championship – Jeff Jarrett, D-Lo Brown, and Kurt Angle would make history by holding both the European and the Intercontinental titles at the same time, being unofficially named the ‘Eurocontinental champions’.
Another interesting aspect of the title is that despite it being dubbed the ‘Championship of Europe’, only two of the 27 European Champions were actually from Europe. They were the inaugural Champion Bulldog and four-time champion William Regal.
Regal shares the record for most European title reigns with D-Lo Brown, who also held the title on four different occasions. Multiple championship reigns were notoriously difficult to come by, with 21 out of 27 European title holders having only a single run with the belt.
A precursor to the World title was eventually relegated to irrelevance
While the Intercontinental title was mostly considered to be the workhorse’s belt and a stepping stone to the World Championship, it is surprising to note that nearly one-third of European champions also won World Championships eventually.
10 superstars including the likes of Jeff Hardy, JBL, Eddie Guerrero, and Triple H went on to become World Champions after capturing the European Championship. However, the once prestigious belt gradually lost its prestige in the early 2000s after WWE acquired WCW and brought all the WCW belts over.
The Intercontinental title was well-established in the company and with the history of the WCW United States Championship trumping the European title, it wasn’t long before the European belt became a tertiary belt, seemingly on par with the overused Hardcore title.
Even before the WCW acquisition, the sheen had taken a hit with multiple European title changes happening via shenanigans. World Champion Shawn Michaels laid down to have the title pass to his DX teammate Triple H, Jeff Jarrett later handed over the belt to Mark Henry because he no longer wanted it, and then Mideon became Champion by simply finding the belt in former Champion Shane McMahon’s bag.
Eventual unification and end of the WWE European Championship
All this led to the title being unified with the Intercontinental title on the 2002 July 22 episode of RAW. On that night, Intercontinental champion Rob Van Dam would take on European champion Jeff Hardy in a ladder match – but WWE inexplicably decided to hang just the Intercontinental title above the ladders which meant that the European was done with even before the conclusion of the match.
Van Dam won the match and celebrated with the Intercontinental belt as the European title belt wasn’t even shown on TV during the final moments of its existence. It remains unclear whether Van Dam is even considered to be a European Champion as the WWE lists Jeff Hardy as the final holder of the belt.
The spiritual successor to the WWE European Championship is the NXT United Kingdom Championship which incidentally came into being in 2017, 20 years after the creation of the European belt. In another eerie coincidence, that belt also lasted for just five years, with it getting unified with the NXT Championship in 2022.
More From LWOS Pro Wrestling
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. You can check out an almost unlimited array of WWE content on the WWE Network and Peacock.