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Legends of the Ring #2: Bret “Hitman” Hart

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“The best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be”.

There’s no other way to sum up the Hitman than the catchphrase in which he is most associated with. Bret Hart has a storied career which has been well documented in various DVD, books and documentaries. If you were ever lucky enough to have seen Bret Hart wrestle throughout his amazing career, you would understand just why everyone ranks him as one of the best in-ring performers ever. He was born into a wrestling family in Calgary, Alberta; His father was Stu Hart, a famous Canadian wrestler who later became a trainer and a promoter for Stampede Wrestling. A case can be made that Stu trained some of the best wrestlers of all time with Bret being the stand alone star. His impact on the business is everlasting.

Tag Team Competitor to Main Event Stardom

My introduction to Bret Hart began in 1988. He was one half of the Hart Foundation tag team with his brother in law, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. During their two reigns with the titles, it was pretty clear that Bret was the star of the team and come 1991, Bret ventured off on his own and won his first Intercontinental championship from Mr Perfect at SummerSlam in a 5 star match which still holds up to this day. A year later, he put over his other brother in law Davey Boy Smith at Wembley Stadium in yet another 5 star match and my personal 3rd favourite match of all time. It was also in 1992 where Bret got elevated to main event status and finally won his first of five WWE Championships, defeating Ric Flair at a house show in Saskatoon on 12th October. Bret was always a guy who could have been World Champion, but would it ever happen? Vince has always preferred the big muscular guys like Hogan and Warrior but smaller guys have held the title before Bret such as Macho Man and Ric Flair, but with respect, the latter were more charismatic then Hart.

Bret’s title run wasn’t great. He held the title during a time where WWE was under investigation for dealing out steroids and when I look back now, I don’t know if the company fully believed in him. He dropped the title to Yokozuna at WrestleMania XI and watched as Vince pushed Hulk Hogan to the top once again. For the next year, Bret was still near the top of the card, winning King of the Ring later that year and feuding with Jerry Lawler and wasn’t the top guy again until he won the title at WrestleMania X. He never set the world alight in terms of being a top draw (Hogan was a tough act to follow it has to be said) but he always delivered the goods in the ring against guys like Shawn Michaels, Owen Hart, Undertaker, Bam Bam Bigelow, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mr Perfect, Kevin Nash and whole list of names.

Feuds with Austin & Owen

Two of my all-time favourite feuds would have to be those against his younger brother Owen and Stone Cold Steve Austin. I loved everything about the Owen feud. The seeds were planted at Survivor Series 93 where Owen was the only member of his team eliminated from the 8 man tag main event. He was pissed about it. They went after the tag titles at the ’94 Royal Rumble but Bret injured his knee and the ref had no option but to end the match. Owen attacked Bret after the match furthering injuring his knee. Later that night, Bret (along with Lex Luger) won the Royal Rumble and would be given a World Title shot at WrestleMania X. As for Owen, he wanted to fight Bret but Bret said no. Given the circumstances surrounding the Rumble, since Lex or Yoko would be wrestling twice in one night, it was only fair if Bret did too and his opponent was Owen. Their match at WMX was a 20 minute technical wrestling clinic that was contested mostly in the ring and what is considered by many a classic. At the time, I was rooting for Owen. I’m the younger brother myself so that’s why I could relate to Owen so much. As corny as it may sound, Owen’s victory felt like a victory for me and all the younger brothers. Their re-match at SummerSlam inside the Steel Cage is also a highlight in Bret’s career. The feud worked so well because it brought Owen up to Bret’s level and cemented him as a upper mid card guy. It was because Owen’s talented, but also because his brother Bret helped him get there. That’s what top guys do and that’s ultimately how their careers are defined. Being great on your own is one thing, but can you bring others to your level? Bret could do that and he proved that throughout his career with many different performers

What I loved most about the Bret/Austin feud was that they made it look real. They made you believe as if they truly hated each other. After a five star match at Survivor Series ’96, the returning Bret Hart got the victory over Austin and it planted the seeds for a more long term feud. Their paths collided once again after Austin screwed Bret at the Royal Rumble and the only way to settle the score was a submission match at WrestleMania 13. It’s one of the greatest matches in history and one that I can watch over and over again without getting bored of it. There was a unique element with the double term where Austin went from heel to face whiles Hart became a villain to most while still sticking to his values. The key to being a good heel is to believe that what you are doing is right, which was what Bret did in this match. He didn’t think he was wrong to attack Austin after the bell. He thought he deserved it. Those of us at home? We hated him for it. Austin put up a valiant effort and he lost, but he went down fighting. He didn’t quit. He simply lost to the better man on that night. The most telling thing about this match was the reaction Austin got after it was over. He was offered help. He refused. He stood on his own two feet and walked out of there like a man. He won over the audience in a way that makes this match as my favourite moment in the history of wrestling. Like the Owen feud, it helped elevate Austin and showed people that Bret could be an elite heel. Not only did he pull it off but he drew some incredible heat as the anti-american heel along with his Hart Foundation team-mates; Owen, Davey Boy, Anvil and Brian Pillman. It’s a shame most stuff in 1997 gets overlooked considering what happened at Survivor Series….

The Screwjob

When talking about Bret’s career everybody is going to bring up the events which took place at Montréal. I remember watching Survivor Series at the time and having no idea what was going on. I was 11 years old and still thought wrestling was “real” but that moment right there was as real as it got. I also recalled thinking “why’s Shawn so angry about winning the title?” Apparently he was told to act that way by Vince so it would take the heat off him. Building up to the event, Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart legitimately hated each other. There was an incident at WrestleMania XII where after winning the title, Shawn asked Earl Hebner to tell Bret to “get the fuck out of the ring” so he could savour the spotlight. Another key event was the “Sunny Days” comment Shawn made on TV suggesting that Bret, a married man at the time, was having an affair with Tammy “Sunny” Stych which escalated to a locker room fight between the two. Although the two weren’t directly feuding with one another, they were encouraged to take shots at each other in a professional way so it would build interest for a re-match but on this occasion Shawn went too far. It was also around this period where Bret received Vince’s blessing to negotiate a deal with WCW due to the financial problems WWF were facing.

In Hart’s book, he wrote about how he talked with Michaels in October 1997 about how he would put Michaels over if that’s what McMahon wanted. Hart claims that Michaels told him he would never put Hart over even if Vince wanted it, which led Hart to say he would not lose the title to Michaels in Montreal at Survivor Series. On November 1st 1997, eight days before Survivor Series, Bret signed for WCW for $3 million per year although he wanted to stay in the WWF out of loyalty. People say if Bret wanted to stay he should have balanced the books, I personally believed that he left as a favour because of the financial situation. The problem was Bret was the champion who had no intention of dropping the title to Shawn Michaels. Vince feared that Bret could show up on Nitro with the belt (personally, I don’t think Bret would have done that). Could Vince trust Bret? Could Bret trust Vince or Shawn? So many questions heading into the show and what we saw was one of the most controversial, most famous moment in wrestling history and the turning point for the WWF.

The most common question asked is, whose fault was it? I think it was the fault of Vince and Bret, with some of the fault being placed on Shawn also. It was mainly a Bret/ Vince thing and it all boiled down to trust. I understand Vince’s paranoia which his champion signing for a rival company and I get Bret for refusing to lose to Shawn and the position it put Vince in. I also totally understand why Vince has openly admitted why he didn’t regret doing it. The incident spawned the “Mr McMahon” character, one of the best heels ever. It lead to the turnaround of the company and the next four years were the most profitable in the company’s history. That’s why I said earlier that the Screwjob was the turning point for the WWF. Does Vince regret doing what he did to Bret? Personally, yes but from a business standpoint, no.

In a perfect world, Bret and Shawn would have been friends like they were prior to 96 and had that series of matches which Bret talked about in his autobiography. He would have stayed with the company for the next 4 years and would have prevented Owen from doing that ridiculous stunt which cost him his life in 1999. He would never have stepped foot in WCW. They wasted him. Bret has always gone on record about how much he hated it in WCW and it showed too. He always seemed miserable whenever I watched WCW programming. Thankfully, he was able to mend the fence with Vince in 2005. They released that incredible DVD set and Bret took his rightful place in the Hall of Fame. More on those subjects later.

The Dark Days

If Bret’s life was a movie there would be a portion dedicated to the worst experiences which he suffered. After basically being kicked out the company which he worked his ass for in 1997, Bret begin his new life in WCW. He hated it as I mentioned before. Two years into his run there, he was forced into retirement after suffering a severe concussion caused by a stiff kick from Goldberg. An incident in which Bret doesn’t blame Goldberg for. So that was it. No farewell match and no retirement speech. A sad way for a legend to go out after dedicating his entire life to the sport

It was in May of that year when his brother Owen, arguably the closest family member he had due to their careers in the WWF, passed away while repelling down to the arena in a silly Blue Blazer outfit. Bret was working for WCW at the time when he found out. Owen never told him about the stunt. If he did, Bret says he would have tried to talk him out of it. That stunt was never going to sell a PPV or draw a TV rating. It wasn’t a necessity. It didn’t need to happen. Owen should still be with us today.

In 2002, Bret Hart suffered a stroke. He completely paralysed on his left side, which required months of physical therapy. It took him a few years, but he has recovered from that. He goes into all the details in his book about all the emotional and physical pain it caused him. Sadly, some people never regain their health, yet Bret is one of the lucky ones who did. He’s speaking find, walking fine and even getting into the ring although he obviously can’t move like he did back in the day. It was so at the time where he received a call from Vince out of the blue wishing him luck for his recovery. It was the beginning of the rebuilding process in Vince & Bret’s relationship and possibly a return to World Wrestling Entertainment.

The Return

Bret returned to the WWE in 2005 to work on a DVD set. Arguably one of the best I’ve ever seen and that opinion still holds today. He was also included in the “Raw vs Smackdown” video game and had a action figure released as part of their Classic Superstars line. Bret Hart was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006 by his former rival, Stone Cold Steve Austin. He didn’t appear at WrestleMania the following night. His haters blamed his ego and his fans were disappointed, but they could understand that some bad blood still existed which was hard to erase.

Late in 2009, they announced on RAW that Bret Hart was returning as part of the guest host concept they had going on at the time. It got the whole internet community buzzing. My reaction was positive because I have so much respect for Bret Hart. Bret Hart made his return to Raw in January 2010. “I guess hell just froze over”, that was a funny line. Bret spoke from the heart and buried the hatchet with Shawn Michaels in one of my all-time favourite moments in wrestling history. The word is they never really talked about it much beforehand. They each knew what they wanted to say, so they went out there and did it. In the end, they buried the hatchet, shook hands and hugged in the middle of the ring. The most memorable moment of WWE in 2010. No question about that. After that, Bret beat Vince in a match at WrestleMania 26 and had a brief run as the RAW GM. You can tell by his facial expressions that he truly belongs in the WWE. It felt great for him to be back “home” again. He has worked a few shows since then and even participated in that excellent “Greatest Rivals” DVD with Shawn Michaels. If you told me 10 years ago that any of that would happen, I would say you’re crazy. I guess you can call me crazy!

The Best There Ever Will Be

When I think of Bret I think of him as the guy who cared the most. Everything he did in the ring he did it for a reason. He cared about his matches, cared about his career and he cared about his fans. He always went out of his way to put on a show for the fans and never coasted. He could if he wanted to and we the fans would have no problem with that because of all that he’s achieved but Bret had too much pride and respect for the business. He would have found it hard to do so and that’s why I respect Bret Hart so much.

He’s got his haters. Which famous person doesn’t? Most people say he comes across as a mark for himself and how bitter he is. I see where they’re coming from but if you achieve all that he has in his career then aren’t you going to be proud of your accomplishment. I love how honest he is. Read his book. He’s as open as they come. He admits having affaires, talks about how stubborn his is and how he’s far from perfect.  The wrestling business is full of phonies, con artists and bullshitters but Bret has been honest throughout. He’s going to give it to you straight. His honestly has made him some enemies yet it’s also earned him millions of fans the world over.

Admittedly, I never liked Bret growing up. I always preferred Owen because, like me, he’s the younger brother. However, now that I’m older and have some understanding about how the wrestling business works behind the curtain, I have the upmost respect for Bret Hart. He says it himself; the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be.

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This entry was posted on October 19, 2014 by in Legends of the RIng and tagged , , , , , , , .
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