Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bret Hart

Few wrestlers have experienced as many highs or lows as today’s inductee to the Inside the Squared Circle Hall of Fame, Bret “Hitman” Hart. He is one of Canada’s all time great pro wrestlers, one of the best technical wrestlers ever, one of the most popular, and one of the top stars of the 1990s. Yet, the story of Bret Hart seems destined to have a sad ending, as he has been through more than any person should have to endure over the past six years. No matter what the future holds for Hart, he will always be remembered as one of pro wrestling’s all time greats. Today Inside the Squared Circle inducts the man once called the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be, Bret “Hitman” Hart.

Bret Hart is the son of successful Calgary wrestler and promoter Stu Hart. He was the 8th of Stu and Helen Hart’s 12 children. All the boys went on to wrestle, and all the girls went on to marry wrestlers. Bret as a child did not aspire to be a pro wrestler. Instead, he idolized Martin Scorsese and dreamed of being a filmmaker. However, he got drawn into the family business at the age of 16, and took to it quickly. He had his first match in 1975, but wasn’t a full time wrestler until 1978.

Bret wrestled for Stu’s Calgary Stampede Wrestling on and off for almost a decade. During that period he won many of the promotion’s top titles, including its Tag Title five times and its North American Title six times. The promotion was known for grooming excellent young wrestlers, having been a learning ground for greats such as Dynamite Kid, Owen Hart, Chris Benoit, Hiroshi Hase, Davey Boy Smith and Brian Pillman. Bret was no exception, and became a proficient technical wrestler from a young age.

In 1984, Stu Hart sold his promotion to Vince McMahon. McMahon was attempting to take over wrestling in North America, and he sought to buy out or drive out of business all competitors. In exchange for selling out to McMahon, Stu got the WWF to take three of his top stars, Bret Hart, Dynamite Kid, and Davey Boy Smith. Bret didn’t get much of a chance at first, but then convinced the WWF to team him with Jim Neidhart as a midcard heel tag team. The Hart Foundation was born.

Hart and Neidhart experienced early success, having good matches and impressing WWF officials. They were given Jimmy Hart as their manager, and they began to get a push, winning the WWF Tag Team Titles from old rivals and friends, the British Bulldogs. They feuded with the Bulldogs for a while before dropping the belts to Tito Santana and Rick Martel, collectively known as Strike Force.

It was at this time that Vince McMahon began to experiment using Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart as singles competitors. Bret was clearly the star of the duo, having been dubbed the “Excellence of Execution” by Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura. Over the next few years, Bret became a good guy, and feuded with former manager Jimmy Hart. He wrestled in both singles and tags, and the Hart Foundation won the WWF Tag Team Championship for a second time, defeating Demolition at SummerSlam 1990. They lost the belts to the Nasty Boys at WrestleMania 7.

In the summer of 1991, Vince McMahon finally pulled the trigger on turning Hart into a singles star. He broke up the Hart Foundation permanently, and pushed Bret as a middle of the card babyface. At SummerSlam 1991, Bret defeated Mr. Perfect in a great scientific encounter to win the Intercontinental Title, his first singles title in many years. In January 1992, the WWF took the title off him and gave it to the Mountie, Jacques Rougeau, for reasons still unknown by many wrestling fans. Bret Hart had given his 90 day notice to the WWF that he was going to leave for WCW. WCW was struggling mightily without longtime champion Ric Flair, and was looking to make a big signing from the WWF. Hart fit the mold of what WCW was looking for, a great younger wrestler who could be built around. Unfortunately for Hart and WCW, they had misunderstood Hart’s WWF contract. Performers in the WWF at that time could only give their notice during certain periods of time. That time had elapsed for Hart, and thus his contract had automatically rolled over.

Hart was not particularly unhappy with the WWF, and negotiated a return to the WWF, where he would remain for another five years. At Wrestlemania 8, at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, Hart defeated long time friend “Rowdy” Roddy Piper for the Intercontinental Title in another great bout. He defended that title throughout the summer before losing it at SummerSlam 1992 at Wembley Stadium in London, England. The match that drew a crowd of over 70,000 people was Bret Hart against his brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith. In a classic match that featured a torn Diana Hart unable to choose between her brother and her husband, Smith pinned Hart to win the Intercontinental Title.

A couple months after SummerSlam, the WWF was in need of a new top good guy. The WWF was cutting back on steroid use, and as a result, had lost a lot of top talent throughout the year, from Ultimate Warrior and Sid Justice to British Bulldog and the Legion of Doom. McMahon turned to a new mold of champion, and in Saskatchewan, Canada in October, 1992, Bret Hart defeated Ric Flair to win the WWF Title. The WWF pushed him as the most fighting WWF champion of all time, defeating a series of challengers ranging from Shawn Michaels to Razor Ramon, before losing the belt to Yokozuna at Wrestlemania 9. The original plan was for Hulk Hogan to pass the torch to Bret Hart, but Hogan refused to lose to the smaller Hart, and instead lost to Yokozuna on his way out. The WWF switched directions and decided to build around muscular Lex Luger as their next great champion rather than Hart.

With his top spot taken from him, Bret was put into a mid card feud with Jerry Lawler. He won the first King of the Ring Pay Per View tournament, defeating Bam-Bam Bigelow, Mr. Perfect and Razor Ramon. At the coronation ceremony, he was attacked by Lawler, and they feuded over the title of “king.” Hart defeated Lawler in almost every major match of their feud, which lasted 2 years. At the 1994 Royal Rumble, Bret Hart and Lex Luger were co-winners. Despite the long promotional push for Luger, the fans wanted Bret to win, and the WWF wisely decided to abandon their push of Luger in favor of Hart.

At WrestleMania 10, Bret Hart wrestled two matches. First, in one of the greatest matches in the history of WrestleMania, Bret lost to his brother Owen. He then defeated Yokozuna to win the WWF Title. This of course led to a summer feud with Owen which was Owen’s first chance at major stardom. Bret defeated Owen in a classic cage match at SummerSlam 1994. Towards the end of 1994, McMahon was once again inclined to push a new “big man.” As a result, Bret lost the WWF title to Bob Backlund at the Survivor Series, who promptly lost to Diesel, Kevin Nash. Nash held the WWF Title throughout 1995, while Bret feuded with midcarders ranging from Lawler and Backlund to Isaac Yankem (later known as Kane) and Jean-Pierre Lafitte.

However, at the end of 1995, it was apparent Nash’s reign as champion was a disaster. McMahon once again turned to Bret Hart to get him out of a tough situation.
At the Survivor Series 1995, held at the Capital Center, Bret Hart defeated Diesel to win back the WWF title. He defended it against the likes of Diesel and Undertaker prior to losing it in another classic match, this time an Iron Man bout designed to make Shawn Michaels the top WWF star. At this point, Bret Hart went into semi-retirement, doing some acting and resting his body from years of tear.

When Hart let it be known he was getting back into wrestling in the fall of 1996, there was a bidding war between WCW and WWF for his services. WCW offered a much larger financial package, a 3 year, $9 million deal. However, Bret was loyal to the WWF and Vince McMahon, and took a smaller economic package and 20 year contract to stay with the WWF. Hart then did an interview on Raw stating that he’d be with the WWF forever, a legend who stayed through the thick and thin, loved by the fans and remembered for a legacy of success. Unfortunately, that happy ending was not meant to be.

Bret’s return to WWF brought about a feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin. They had a great match at Survivor Series, and continued their feud into 1997. However, in the middle of the feud, the crowd began to turn on Bret and get behind Austin. Hart was the classic good guy who followed the rules and loved the fans, but Austin was the rebellious troublemaker who was cool because he was back. Despite Hart’s reservations, he eventually agreed to a “double turn” at WrestleMania 13.

On that night, after an epic war between Hart and Austin that saw Austin refuse to submit and instead pass out from pain, the crowd fully turned on Hart and fully got behind Austin. Hart went on to blame the American fans for turning on him, and the WWF embarked on a U.S. vs. Canada feud. This hot feud was the real start of the WWF “attitude” era. Hart became a really hot character, and won the WWF Title for a fifth time from Undertaker at SummerSlam 1997. It was to be his final WWF title reign.

At Madison Square Garden a month after SummerSlam, McMahon told Hart he couldn’t afford to pay Hart’s contract, and that he was going to renege on the deal. Hart went back to WCW, and agreed to the previously offered contract, ending his long relationship with the WWF. One matter still remained. Bret was the WWF champion, and had a title match scheduled against hated opponent Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series 1997.

For whatever reason, Vince McMahon elected to screw his loyal long term superstar at the Survivor Series. Bret had creative control in his contract and had to agree to any finish. He did not want to lose to Michaels in Canada, so McMahon said they would do a disqualification finish. Instead, McMahon had referee Earl Hebner signal Bret Hart had submitted when he had not. The WWF went on to ridicule Bret Hart about the incident. The event caused deep emotional pain for Hart, who wanted to leave the WWF the right way, and felt wronged after being loyal to the WWF for so many years.

Things did not improve for Hart in WCW. He debuted at Starrcade 1997 at MCI Center, but quickly saw his career sabotaged. He was the hottest character in wrestling, but backstage maneuverings saw his character undermined. He was turned back and forth from good guy to bad guy despite having incredible babyface momentum behind him. He held numerous WCW Titles, but never lived up to the promise that accompanied his signing with the company.
Bret Hart’s life was taken for a loop in 1999, when his brother Owen was killed in an accident in a WWF ring. With big money involved, the Hart family began to be torn apart. Siblings turned on one another, and Bret saw himself labeled bitter over being screwed while he mourned his brother’s death. Bret had his last classic match with Chris Benoit as a tribute to Owen later that year.

Bret Hart’s career ended at Starrcade 1999 when an errant kick to the head from Bill Goldberg gave Hart a severe concussion. Hart after that had problems with his memory and speech. Matters were made worse when Hart had an accident while riding his bicycle without a helmet in 2001. He is currently recovering from the incident, but it is not known if he will fully regain all capacities from prior to the incident. Hart is currently writing a book on his life and career which promises to be one of the best wrestling books ever written. He recently had a face to face meeting with Vince McMahon, and it is possible he will make an appearance in the WWE at some point in the future.

Bret Hart’s career is filled with triumph and failure, joy and misery. But for all his ups and downs, Hart’s lasting historical impact cannot be downplayed. He ushered in a new era in the WWF, where smaller guys could get a chance because of what they did in the ring. He had some of the greatest matches in recent North American history. Unfortunately, he will probably be best remembered for other reasons: the screw job in Montreal and the tragic death of his brother. But those incidents do not take away from the greatness the Excellence of Execution exhibited throughout his career. It is our pleasure to induct into the ITSC Hall of Fame one of wrestling’s all time greats, Bret “Hitman” Hart.


Anonymous MAZ said...

Bret Hart is simply the best!

I would hate to see him return as today's product isn't worthy of his talent.

If he did return, the only match that I would like to see is Hart vs Angle. I think that would be a classic!

5:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

CAN'T GET ENOUGH of hearing/reading about Hart's excellence. Great tribute -- brought back some fantastic memories.


4:16 PM  
Blogger hitmandsilver said...

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9:33 PM  

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