The Hart family always produced classic matches when wrestling each other. February 26, 1997, in Berlin, Germany was no exception when brothers-in-law the British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith and Owen Hart squared off in the finals of the tournament to crown the inaugural WWF European Champion.
They were also the tag team champions amidst dissension and the increasing animosity between the two suggested that Owen would be the architect of the team’s demise. Despite both men being heels at the time, no one was going to jeer the Bulldog in Europe.
The tournament spanned six cities in seven days. Bulldog pinned Mankind and Vader while Owen pinned Flash Funk and defeated his older brother Bret Hart via DQ to advance to the finals. Deutschlandhalle, an arena that was known for its turbulent past, hosted the historic bout, which aired a week later on Monday Night Raw.
Seventeen minutes of technical wrestling brilliance exhibited the amazing skill of these two performers. Their movements and transition of holds were smooth as silk. Every move was delivered with utter perfection. It was a wrestling clinic.
Everyone expected Owen to cheat at some point. Tempers flared at times with fisticuffs exchanged. Still, Owen never really dug into his dirty bag of tricks, which made for a better match because seeing who was the better wrestler produced a more engaging story.
As the match heated up, Owen countered the Bulldog’s signature running powerslam by hanging on to the ropes, only to release his grip as the Bulldog pulled, landing right on top of him for a near fall.
From there, both men traded near fall after near fall until Bulldog finally hit the running powerslam. Owen somehow kicked out, which didn’t happen often back then. Enough damage was done, however, as Owen was too weakened to kick out of a reversed victory roll.
Bulldog emerged as the winner and the inaugural champion. Owen was bitter and teased attacking Bulldog, which appeared to be the moment the team would finally break up. In the end, a frustrated Owen would congratulate Bulldog and raised his hand in victory. A great scientific wrestling match with some family drama on the side made for the perfect recipe.
According to two long-standing rumors, WCW is credited for inadvertently creating the European Title. One story is that Vince McMahon created the title as a way to cash in on the European market, which WCW was ignoring at the time.
The other story is Bulldog was jumping to WCW in late 96 and would become the fifth member of the nWo. McMahon offered more money and promised to give him a big push if he stayed in WWE. Bulldog stayed and his big push was the European Title.
My Favorite Matches