As good as the match was, the rating for the taped broadcast did not reflect the quality. Raw pulled a 1.9, one of its lowest ratings ever, causing McMahon to flip his lid and declare that wrestling “wasn’t working” and that it was time to take his company in a new direction. Over the course of the next year, that direction would become known as the Attitude Era.
The European Title was rarely defended over the next several months, outside of a rematch between Bulldog and Owen the on March 31, with the WWE United Kingdom Championship currently taking centre stage, 1997 episode of Raw. The bout went to a no-contest when––with the referee down and both men looking to take out the other with a steel chair––Bret Hart came to the ring and talked the brothers-in-law into settling their differences and joining him, which led to the birth of the Hart Foundation faction.
Although happy for Bulldog to carry the belt on television, the WWF wanted to save his title defences for shows on European soil. That way they could market Bulldog––who was a huge name in Europe––as a headline attraction, with the added bonus of having something tangible on the line in his matches.
Bulldog’s first major defence came at September’s excellent One Night Only pay-per-view from Birmingham, England. His opponent that night was Shawn Michaels, who at the time was public enemy number one behind the scenes with the Hart family due to various controversial unscripted comments he had made about Bret. Smith had been told six weeks prior that he was winning the match and was so confident that McMahon’s mind would not change he told local press that he was dedicating his performance that night to his dying sister Tracy.
Only hours before the match, McMahon broke the news that Davey was losing. McMahon explained that he wanted to build to a rematch on the next UK tour in April in which Bulldog would win back the title in his (worked) hometown of Manchester. Smith was powerless, left with no choice but to go along with the new plan. In a time before mobile phones, Davey had no way to tell his family of the booking change. They were left devastated and Smith heartbroken when Tracy––shocked by her brother’s defeat– broke into tears at the bout’s conclusion. The rest of the fans threatened to riot, pelting the ring with garbage as they loudly voiced their displeasure at the result.
Most in the back pointed the finger at Michaels for the abrupt change of plans. The story was given credence by an incident only weeks earlier where Shawn had flatly stated to a gobsmacked locker room that he was not willing to do jobs for any of them. Ultimately the decision had nothing to do with Michaels, rather it was a McMahon judgment call to pre-empt any potential fallout from his upcoming contract talks with Bret Hart.
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