By FSM Staff
FSM: Good morning, William. Are you enjoying being back in the UK?
William Regal: I love it, absolutely love it. It’s just nice to be here.
You’ve spent most of your career being booed. How does it feel to be cheered when you’re in front of the UK audience?
It’s very humbling to hear that, every time it happens. I’ve spent the last 20 years of my career making people hate me – I feel a bit of a fraud sometimes when people cheer me. I usually don’t know what to do, because I’ve spent all my time in the ring pulling faces and scowling at people. On this tour, and the last tour in Belfast and Dublin, I can honestly say I was probably the most hated wrestler that’s ever been, but even they cheer me there now. It’s great to see the kids growing up without the hate [for the English]. You get to a certain age and, especially if you’ve got history with people, they’re glad you’re still alive and are still doing what you do.
Well, nostalgia plays a huge part in wrestling.
And there’s a lot with me. A lot of wrestling fans have been watching me since I was a kid. I was on World Of Sport six times between ’86 and ’88, and there seems to be a following for that on YouTube. My only contact to the outside world is on Twitter.
What do you think of Twitter as an outlet for pro wrestlers?
I didn’t want to get on it – the company made me – but it’s been great. I just don’t deal with any divs on it – they don’t get the time of day. I get so much stuff sent to me that’s been lost in time. Somebody sent me a match from South Africa in 1989, in black and white, and I didn’t even know it existed. I love stuff like that, like old pictures. I get things all the time, like, “We saw you in 1984 at the Pleasure Beach (in Blackpool)”, and then there are people who saw me on TV when I was 18. And there’s stuff from all of the other countries like Germany, and places in Europe, where I used to go before America. The stuff I especially love is British wrestling, and links to these old programmes and wrestling posters – I enjoy it for that. I’m never in character on Twitter, although sometimes I still like to see if I’ve got it in me. I don’t get that interaction (with the fans) much, because I don’t wrestle much anymore, and I miss that. So occasionally I’ll wind people up just to see if I’ve still got it (laughs). You have to stay in shape for verbally sparring with people. I was well known for that, and very good at that, especially at live events that weren’t on TV. But I love it because I can be myself.
I’ve seen you’re involvement in this tour billed as your “retirement tour”. Is that true?
I keep seeing that. Every time I come over, people keep saying, “Oh, he’s said he’s going to retire.” I’ve never said I’m going to retire – I’m just not doing a lot anymore. I’m 45 in a few weeks – this year is 30 years since I had my first match – and I’m still here, I’m still in one piece, and I’m actually in one good piece. I’ve had a few things happen; I had a lot of heart troubles a few years ago, but I’m now 100 percent clear from all of that. I just do little bits now; I like wrestling now and then, but I never was a great TV wrestler.
But you have a great character.
I’m a great character, but I’m also a very good wrestler. I know how that sounds, but I am. The fact is, I don’t work well under time constraints; I’m good when things happen, and you react with the crowd. My career was made by word of mouth – being on live events, because people knew they were going to get their money’s worth out of me. They could either come and hate me, or I could make them laugh, so when I came to WWE, I knew my style didn’t really fit in well with the shorter matches, so I just upped the character stuff. Anything I’ve ever been involved in has never really been wrestling; it’s been talking and being a character with little bits of wrestling. Like when I was the General Manager, it was all entertainment, whether I was making a fool of myself to get people to hate me or laugh at me. As I got older, they laughed with me. That was all planned, because I know the type of wrestling I do doesn’t really fit into crash, bang, wallop TV. I’m happy to wrestle when I need to; I’d rather not do too much because, as I said, I’m healthy and I’m lucky to be healthy, I don’t want to end up all bent out of shape. I’ve had one hell of a career, and I couldn’t ask for any more. If I got another run, great, and if I don’t, then fine.
You talked about the entertainment side of WWE. Just how important are the storylines?
That’s what keeps you interested – the characters. It’s like when you go to the circus: if you go as a child, you go to it in a different way than if you’re a parent paying to go. If you’re the parent, you love to see your kids enjoy themselves, to see them enjoy the pageantry – they love the clowns, and they love the high-flyers. If you’re the dad, you want to see some poor fella get eaten by a lion (laughs). There’s got to be something for everybody – if it was all one thing, you wouldn’t go. If it was all just wrestling, you wouldn’t go, and if it was all entertainment, you wouldn’t go. There has to be that mix, and sometimes it’s hard to find that perfect mix, but we try. This is an entertainment company that uses wrestling as a theme. It’s not a wrestling company – there’s a big difference. You have to be an entertainer; you can be the best wrestler in the world, but if you can’t entertain people, and you can’t talk, you’re not going to be able to make it.
Do you think that’s the right way to do things?
Yes I do. Everybody has a different answer to this. I’m a big wrestling fan, but the best hardcore wrestling companies in the world – and there are some in America and some in this country, and I absolutely don’t mean any disrespect to them at all, because I love watching their products – get 500 people in. WWE is sold out every night. So there’s only a tiny minority of people who go on the internet and write about wrestling – most of the fans come to WWE and want the entertainment value. The pay-per-views are when you get to see the longer matches.
WWE is definitely focused on families, then?
I’m a father who has sat through some of the worst movies of all-time with my three children. I’m happy to do that, but if I go to one of those movies and it’s done well, and I’ve sat and watched it, if they ask me for the DVD, I’m more likely to buy it for them. If they ask me for the videogame, I’m more likely to buy it for them. If it’s rotten, I will never spend another penny on that product. It’s no different to what we do; you’ve got to apply that mindset to everybody. It’s £200 to bring a family to see our shows. Yeah, we get a lot of established wrestling fans, but a lot of the audience come because it’s WWE. If you bring your kids and sit through tripe for three hours, there’s a chance you won’t bring them back, or you won’t spend a dollar more on us. You’ve got to look at it from the big picture.
How are you enjoying being a commentator on NXT?
I love doing the commentary – it’s incredibly difficult, but I’m learning. People have no idea how good these commentators like Michael Cole are – fans have no idea what they have to do. On NXT, I can just be me, and I think because it’s seen in the UK, Australia, and Canada, there’s a lot of British influence. The Brits have always been in on the act with me; it’s like, wink wink, or that Carry On character I’ve always made myself into. I can just be that, and nobody’s bothering me or changing me. I really enjoy doing that, and people say, “You want to be an announcer on [Raw or Smackdown]?” I don’t really know, because I couldn’t be me, because then you’ve got to talk about the pay-per-views, and you’ve got to talk in a certain way, and I haven’t got the time and space to just do my Les Dawson act, and that’s what I like to do. People ask if I wanted to be a wrestler or a comedian or a clown, but I got to do it all.
Managers are enjoying a resurgence in WWE, and you would seem to be perfect for that role.
I think I could do it for anybody. The thing with my deal is that I’m pretty much a long-term person here in a lot of ways, behind the scenes. I’m in no rush to do anything; I’ve always thought I can do something at any time. It’s like now, I’m doing commentating; sometimes I would pull myself out of things, like when I was the General Manager in 2000, and the Commissioner. I would pull myself out and not be in any way close to that. Then I know I can go back, because if you burn something out, it’s gone. And [creative] would pull me off things because they’d want someone younger, or something else. But I can act, I can talk, I can make people laugh, I can commentate, I can work backstage, I can be managing people, all when I’m 60 – I’m not in a rush. One day they’ll think of something. Everything I’ve ever been involved in with this company, the boss has always said, “I’ll only use you when I think it’s the right time.” That’s a nice thing to have, because a lot of people don’t get that.
Triple-H is now having a major influence in WWE. How is it working with him, as compared to Vince McMahon?
I work closely with Triple-H on the talent development side. We used to tag together in WCW, and we’ve always been friends, so he’ll trust my judgement on that. We’ve got a hell of a system going on, training people, so I’m happy doing that. He’s great to work for. Sometimes business is business, and I’m not frightened of getting told off if I haven’t done something right, but we get on good. It’s weird, because we hardly ever speak to each other, but we don’t need to. I can look across an arena and know exactly what he’s thinking. Every three months we may sit and have a chat because he trusts me to do the side of things that I need to be doing. Sometimes I’ll get a message or a one-line text, and that’s it. But we seem to be on the same wavelength, and that’s good.
I think you can see a difference since Triple-H has taken over certain areas. There are good elements from the past being brought back.
Yeah. The talent is also evolving in the right way; they enter in the right way, and learn in the right way.
So the wrestlers are getting the right education, so to speak?
Well, what’s a shame for the younger fellas now is that they’re expected to be too good, too quick. They don’t get the years to learn. The only way you get good as an act is by falling on your backside thousands of times, dying a thousand deaths, unless you’re naturally talented. Some people can just walk through the door, like Randy Orton, and be just brilliant, but most aren’t like that. We have a group of fellas here now who have fallen on their backsides, like Daniel Bryan, so they’re ready when they get here. So you give them what they need, and it’s just, “boom!” They’ve got a thousand things in reserve that they can do, and now with people like me involved, and Triple-H involved, I can sit down with these guys say, “What happens if you’re in this situation? Well, this is what I did. I tried something 20 times and it failed, but this one time I did this, and it worked – keep that in your head.” There’s a lot of that going on – trying to help the wrestlers get to a better place quicker than I ever did.
Who do you think we should be watching out for in WWE right now?
I do hate to categorise anybody, because you never know who is going to take off. People think they know a lot about this, but there’s only ever room for two top men at any one time. There’s only one main event. People get upset and think, “Why’s he not getting used more?” How many main events do you want on the show? People forget that. A lot of it is to do with grassroots stuff, going out at all the live events and putting in a performance, and by word of mouth people start trusting you. All we are as wrestlers is an act, and just like any other act, you have to build up trust with the public, and if you’re not any good, they find you out. The fellas like Sheamus, Daniel Bryan, Antonio [Cesaro] and Wade Barrett – they go out night after night at every arena, and put the time in. So when they’re on TV, the people watching don’t realise how much their character has developed. It’s slowly-slowly, and then when they’re given the spotlight, they’re ready for it.
Is there anyone who really stands out, though?
All the ones I’ve mentioned are going to be big, big stars, but my personal pick – and I hope I don’t jinx him with this – is Dean Ambrose. People have no idea how good he is yet; they have absolutely no clue how much he can do. He can be everybody’s perfect opponent, and I mean everybody, for the next 10 years. It doesn’t matter what role he’s playing, or whether the fans like him or not – he can be that guy. He’s just so good. I spotted him as soon as he came to work here. He got put on the developmental TV just through one promo – they hadn’t even seen him wrestle. He was on it within a week, and then everyone was like, “Wow, he’s really good in the ring as well.” The people have only really seen him punch and kick so far, but wait to you see what he can really do. It’s the same as Daniel Bryan – he’s invaluable to this company. There are a lot of flashes in the pan in this company, but there are only a few mainstays who can make a career out of it.
Who was the best guy you ever stepped into the ring with?
My personal favourite was an English wrestler called Terry Rudge. He was from London, and he was the greatest of them all. The next best would be Fit Finlay, and after that I can’t pick anybody else.
Was there anyone that you would have liked to have wrestled, but didn’t have the opportunity?
I would have liked to have wrestled Bret Hart. I would have liked a singles match with Shawn Michaels. From an older generation, Nick Bockwinkel and Dory Funk [Jr.], but then you can just keep going – people like Billy Robinson, for example. But that’s the thing: with the career I had, I wrestled everybody. I wrestled Ric Flair a hundred times, Ricky Steamboat – all the best that there was at the time. I even had one short singles match with Hulk Hogan. All the modern-day guys like Austin and Rock, I’ve been in with them, not so much on TV, but on live events and stuff. I’ve been very lucky.
Can you see a point in the future where British wrestling is back on TV in a big way?
I hope so, but it’s up to them. You’ve got to remember that when the majority of people are used to seeing a quality programme, you’ve got to put that quality in [to British wrestling]. Unless they’re really hardcore fans, people are not going to come out to see a 100-watt light bulb above the ring. They’re not going to come and see fellas who don’t look like they know what they’re doing. It’s not about their bodies – it’s about looking like you know what you’re doing. If you can get those aspects together, and get the right minds behind it, with the right people in the right places, and the right characters, of course it can work. It’s always worked, and you can probably make a lot of money out of it. It’s proven – British people love wrestling, and entertainment in general. It’s just about the people putting in the time and the effort. I know it’s hard because it’s about having the financial means, but I can’t see why not. The thing they shouldn’t do is try putting on a cheap copy of what we do. A lot of the wrestlers I meet from Britain now are all just copying American wrestlers, and we don’t need anymore of them. Be unique – that’s all I’ve ever been. I’m just a 6ft 3in, skinny fat fella who can pull faces. But I made myself unique, and obviously, I can wrestle. Most of these fans haven’t got a clue I can wrestle – it’s only the hardcore fans that know I can. I’ll be remembered for pulling faces, which is great because I love entertaining people, but you’ve got to make yourself into something different. If you do copy, make sure it’s not an out-and-out copy; I see people doing the same stuff as Steve Austin and The Rock, and I don’t care how good you are, as soon as I see you do that, I’m thinking of them, and not you. I’ve already forgotten about you.