Like many, I was first drawn to NXT during the summer of 2015, a year that has since been derided as one of the WWE’s absolute worst. Lamenting yet another long Daniel Bryan layoff and the creative tomfoolery that plagued Raw and SmackDown at the time, I opted to check out what the company’s third brand had to offer on Summerslam weekend. Looking back, it was a choice I haven’t regretted since, as NXT Takeover: Brooklyn surpassed its main roster counterpart in every way imaginable. Unsurprisingly, the match that sticks longest in my memory is the NXT Women’s Championship epic, in which Bayley overcame Sasha Banks in a classic. It’s also a bout that would never have happened if it wasn’t for William Regal, who batted for both in a company that never took women’s wrestling seriously until their marketing team decided to concoct buzzwords for it.
By now, we’re used to WWE letting go of swathes of talented people, but this one hits differently. Five days into the new year, William Regal—along with other influential backstage staff including Brian “Road Dogg” James, his brother Scott Armstrong, and Timothy Thatcher—were unceremoniously fired in a move which is final death knell for NXT’s acclaimed Black & Gold TakeOver era. As inevitable as this massive shakeup was with the brand’s total immersion into “sports entertainment”, Regal’s release was still a surprising one given his role in NXT’s ascension into the juggernaut that changed mainstream American wrestling over the past decade.
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From 2014, Regal’s name was synonymous with NXT’s rise. Not long after his in-ring retirement at the hands of Antonio Cesaro, he became the brand’s on-screen General Manager, redefining the role after years of audiences being accustomed to annoyingly intrusive authority figures with obvious moral alignments. Unlike many of his predecessors in various promotions, he was rarely the centrepiece of the NXT’s biggest storylines. Instead, he amped up angles in tense backstage segments, only interjecting in promos when heel champions like Kevin Owens, Samoa Joe, and Adam Cole would cross lines.
He never overshadowed the show he was running, refusing to resort to physicality even when it was warranted against a disrespectful Joe, a nefarious Pete Dunne, and a brutal Karrion Kross despite his reputation as a legitimate badass. Regal’s run was a nice and necessary callback to Jack Tunney and Gorilla Monsoon’s tenures as a televised figurehead, and you’ll get no argument from me if you labelled the former as the greatest wrestling GM of all time.
Regal’s importance to NXT went far beyond his time as a GM, though. Behind the scenes, he played a vital role in its transformation from a showcase of convoluted competitions into the WWE’s lauded take on independent wrestling. As the head of talent development and global recruiting, Regal oversaw the signings of indie favourites that mainstream audiences were previously unfamiliar with, as well as moulding the majority of a promising roster into the main event mainstays they are today. Kevin Owens went on record to credit Regal’s presence in a Pro Wrestling Guerrilla eventas a major factor in his arrival to the big leagues, and he publicly offered Shotzi Blackheart a contract in person at an EVOLVE event.
NXT icons such as Johnny Gargano and Becky Lynch have acknowledged Regal on Twitter as the driving force behind their respective breakthroughs, and his instrumental part in the signings of KENTA and Shinsuke Nakamura preluded the Forbidden Door currently shared by AEW and New Japan Pro Wrestling. More than anyone, Regal gave an audience who yearned for Ring of Honor’s technical style (or completely missed out on their peak years) the chance to witness an alternative that contrasted greatly with main roster WWE’s overly homogenized product. Even more so than being the best GM around, those contributions formed the foundations of his legacy in NXT.
As much as Regal passed on to NXT from a wrestling perspective, it’s his experiences throughout a storied life that will sorely be missed by a fledgling crop of young grapplers. He overcame cultural barriers after moving to the US from his native United Kingdom, as well as terrible gimmicks in WCW and the then-WWF whilst battling an addiction to alcohol and painkillers. While renowned as a severely underrated ring general, Regal’s personal demons would’ve derailed a celebrated career had it not been for his tenacity and perseverance. Any promising wrestler would benefit from the tutelage of someone who had experienced the pitfalls that inevitably come with professional wrestling. His time in NXT wasn’t just about giving guidance when it came to the squared circle, but also about possessing the tools required to handle the rigours of being on the road for 300-odd days of the calendar year.
With the intimacy of NXT as we knew it transitioning into the cartoonishly fluorescent “NXT 2.0”, Regal’s expertise would’ve been indispensable. Instead, WWE did what they do best by making yet another illogical decision that could have massive ramifications for the future of their company and their gifted roster. The higher-ups in Titan Towers may see these chaotic upheavals as necessary change, but the past couple of years have shown that they are far from the only wrestling ticket in town.
American wrestling is currently experiencing a boom period not seen since the Monday Night Wars, yet the WWE are seemingly left out of this, with their mass cuts being tangible proof. It remains to be seen whether Regal’s firing will prove detrimental, but given the competition out there right now, any wrestling locker room would welcome benefit from his presence. And that would spell bad news for the WWE, who could have kept one of the business’ sharpest minds around but instead was content to create an ostentatious gesture symbolizing the end of the Black & Gold era.
Whether he ends up at AEW, Impact, or retirement, I look forward to where he’ll end up next. It’s a damn shame that we’ll never get to hear him declare another “WARGAMES” from here on out. Thanks for everything, Mr. Regal.