Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Hi, I’m O.B from Rope Break and this is my version of the story of The best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be…

This is not going to be an in-depth career retrospective on The Hitman, it’s going to be the reasons why Bret Hart is, was and always will be my favourite wrestler alongside some must see matches from his hall of fame career.

Let’s start at the beginning…

I started watching wrestling in the late 80’s with World of Sport on a Saturday afternoon with my granddad. I was drawn in by the larger than life characters like Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks and Adrian Street. This was regular viewing for me and I knew nothing of the world of wrestling in America until 1989/90 when a friend of mine got Sky TV and introduced me to the WWF.

Watching Superstars of Wrestling, Wrestling Challenge and Primetime wrestling my eyes were opened to even larger than life characters like Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior and Andre the Giant. The WWF was a world away from WoS in its production values, presentation and the look of some of the wrestlers. Everything about the WWF was bigger and better and it wasn’t long before I stopped watching British wrestling altogether.

I not ashamed to admit that 12-year-old me was a huge Hulkamaniac! The Hulkster was my favourite wrestler while my younger brothers fave was Ultimate Warrior. The two biggest good guys at the time. We both had our fave tag teams too. Little bro was a fan of The Rockers and I was drawn to a team who wrestled in pink and black. Jim The Anvil Neidhart and Bret The Hitman Hart, THE HART FOUNDATION!

And so, it began…

After watching the weekly TV shows for months there was a big event coming up, Wrestlemania VI. This event would see Hulk Hogan vs Ultimate Warrior, imagine Vince McMahon saying the next lines (or just watch it on the WWE Network, available for £9.99 per month).

I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like… IT’S TITLE FOR TITLE, IT’S THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE, IT’S WRESTLEMANIAAAAAA!!!

My friend brought around the VHS tape and we watched this extravaganza for almost 4 hours. The main event is still one of my favourite matches to watch as I try and watch it with the innocence of a 12-year-old and not try and give it some silly star rating. On the show The Hart Foundation wrestled The Bolsheviks. I say wrestled, it was record breaking squash match which consisted of The Harts jumping the Russians and hitting their Hart Attack clothesline finisher.

The months of 1990 rolled on and I was still a Hulkmaniac, although Jake The Snake Roberts was a close second fave, but no other tag team could measure up to the Hart Foundation in my eyes. We were closing in on Summerslam 1990 and The Harts had secured a tag team title match against the now bad guy team of Demolition, Demolition who was once just Ax and Smash had added a third member in the newly arrived Crush and seemed more dangerous than ever.

MUST SEE MATCH: Demolition(c) vs The Hart Foundation 2 out of 3 falls for the WWF Tag Team Championship

It was Crush and Smash vs The Harts and Demolition took the first fall with their finisher. The Harts levelled things up 1-1 when they hit the Hart Attack and Crush broke up the pin to cause a DQ. Demolition then started to use Ax as he switched with Smash and it looked like it was slipping away from The Harts until The Legion of Doom exposed Demolition’s cheating and The Harts took the third fall and the titles becoming two time WWF Tag Team Champions.

I was ecstatic! My team had the belts! 

The months rolled by and Bret Hart had decent showings at The Survivor Series and the 1991 Royal Rumble. Wrestlemania VII was almost upon us and it was the newcomers The Nasty Boys, managed by The Harts former manager Jimmy Hart who would challenge for the titles.

MUST SEE MATCH – The Hart Foundation(c) vs The Nasty Boys for the WWF Tag Team Championship

This match for me is possibly the best match The Nasty Boys ever had. The Nasty Boys were two rough looking brawlers and as with other teams of the era were similar. Demolition, 2 and then 3 brawlers. The LOD, 2 jacked up powerhouses. The Rockers, 2 high flyers. The Harts were different. You had The Anvil, a powerhouse brawler who could throw a decent dropkick and The Hitman, the brains of the team, who could brawl when needed, but whose real qualities were his technical and mat wrestling. They complimented each other so well and for me stood out because of their differences. The match was a great back and forth match and after The Harts hit the Hart Attack I thought it was over when out of nowhere that pesky Jimmy Hart tossed one of The Nasties his biker helmet and The Anvil was hit on the back of the head and 1,2,3 we had new champions. 

I was gutted, but what I didn’t realise was this would be the start of Bret Hart’s singles career.

Without much or any explanation The Anvil disappeared, and The Hitman started wrestling singles matches, this is when he came into his own. He’d pick up wins against the likes of Haku, The Barbarian and Virgil with different pinning combinations and a new finisher, a submission move he named The Sharpshooter.

Again the summer months rolled by and then came the news that Bret was to challenge the Intercontinental Champion, Mr.Perfect. Although Mr.Perfect was a bad guy I loved his style, technical and kind of a mirror image of Bret’s. This was a match I was really looking forward to and it did not disappoint.

MUST SEE MATCH – Mr.Perfect(c) vs Bret The Hitman Hart for the WWF Intercontinental Championship

This match still holds up today, almost 30 years later. The match starts off intense and both men trade holds, everything they do is crisp and looks real. Later in the match Bret kicks out of the vaunted Perfect Plex and then Mr.Perfect seemingly gets over confident and has a leg drop to the stomach blocked and then he’s twisted into the Sharpshooter and seconds later submits and The Hitman has his first major singles title.

In the following months Bret takes on all comers and is the epitome of the fighting champion until 2 days before Royal Rumble 1992 he runs into The Mountie. In a major upset Bret loses his title, The Mountie went on to lose the title to Rowdy Roddy Piper just 48 hours later at Royal Rumble.

The months again rolled on until it was announced that Bret would get a shot at the title and Hot Rod at Wrestlemania VIII

MUST SEE MATCH – Rowdy Roddy Piper(c) vs Bret The Hitman Hart for the WWF Intercontinental Championship

This is another great match that pits two fan favourites against each other. A real back and forth brawl with Bret getting the old crimson mask and Piper becoming a little heelish. The finish came when Piper threatened to use the ring bell on Hart, changed his mind at the urging of the crowd and slapped on his sleeper hold finisher, The Hitman looked beaten until he performed an amazing counter by running up and pushing off the turnbuckles and pinning Hot Rod beautifully to become a 2-time IC champ

The Hitman again spent the next few months taking on all comers, The Mountie, Skinner, Repo Man amongst others. We rolled around to Summerslam 1992 and it was to be another babyface match with Hart set to be challenged by his real-life brother-in-law The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith in front of 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium in London, England

MUST SEE MATCH – Bret The Hitman Hart(c) vs The British Bulldog for the WWF Intercontinental Championship

This is another match, there’s a pattern emerging here and one common denominator that still holds up today. The match is part technical masterpiece and part brawl which is back and forth for over 20 minutes and quite rightly main events the show. The finish sees Bret try for a sunset flip on Davey Boy and Smith collapses forward with a beautiful pinning combination on the Hitman.

I was gutted the Hitman lost, but even as a 14-year-old new he would be onto bigger and better things. Later that year he would defeat Ric Flair to win his first of 5 WWF Championships. I am going to pass over this as it wasn’t a memorable match and took place at a normal show without much fanfare. 

Bret would defend the title again against all comers until he ran smack bang into the 550 lbs monster, Yokozuna. With the help of his manager Mr Fuji, the big man would pin Bret Hart and that would be the end of his first title reign.

What happens next is for me the greatest night of Bret Hart’s career:

King of the Ring 1993…

The WWF at the time had 4 major PPV’s a year and this year had added a 5th. This was to be a one night, 8-man tournament to crown the King of the Ring. Qualifying matches took place and the final 8 men to compete to be crowned king were, Bret Hart, Razor Ramon, Bam Bam Bigelow, Mr.Perfect, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Tatanka, Mr.Hughes and Lex Luger

MUST SEE MATCHES – Bret The Hitman Hart vs Razor Ramon

Although Yokozuna would defeat Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship and ultimately send him to WCW this PPV was all about Bret Hart. Bret clearly wanted to prove that with or without the WWF title he was the best wrestler in the WWF. In my humble opinion he accomplished that by winning 3 very different matches against 3 very different opponents in one night.

The first match saw the Hitman have a good back and forth match with Razor Ramon, Ramon stamping on Hart’s fingers which meant he couldn’t use his hands to apply the Sharpshooter. Bret wins the match turning a top rope back suplex into a cross body pin. Next up, a rematch of sorts with Mr.Perfect. This is a really good 10-15 match which again was a back and forth part technical masterpiece and part brawl. Hart picking up the win when he reversed a small package. The final saw Hart best the almost 400 lbs Bam Bam Bigelow, Bam Bam was not your usual big man, he could move, throwing dropkicks, moonsaults and using a flying headbutt finisher from the top rope. Hart won the match with a beautiful victory roll and won the King of the Ring.

The next few months were fairly uneventful, and Bret had a forgettable feud with Jerry The King Lawler before co-winning the 1994 Royal Rumble with Lex Luger with both men going over the top rope at the same time.

This would lead to both Bret and Luger having title matches scheduled for Wrestlemania X. Luger would take on Yokozuna and would be DQ’d meaning Bret would face Yokozuna for the title in the main event. Firstly, The Hitman would have to face a new, yet very familiar foe in his real-life brother The Rocket Owen Hart…

MUST SEE MATCH – Bret Hart vs Owen Hart

This match for me is another that still stands up today and is arguably the best opening match in Wrestlemania history. This is a fantastic back and forth match, with a ton of emotion between two men who understandably know each other extremely well. The finish was an upset when Bret went for the same victory roll that bested Bam Bam, but this time Owen Hart stepped into the roll and expertly pinned his older brother.

The Hitman would go on to win back the WWF title in a fairly forgettable main event vs the now almost 600 lbs Yokozuna.

MUST SEE MATCH – Bret The Hitman Hart(c) vs Owen Hart in a steel cage for the WWF Chamionship

The rest of the year would see Owen Hart with the help of a returning Jim The Anvil Neidhart chomping at the heels of his older brother. This would culminate in a great cage match at Summerslam 1994. The WWF at the time had a no blood policy so this was different than most cage matches in that neither man bled. What we got was numerous near escapes and Bret winning as Owen got his leg caught in the big blue cage.

Later in the year Bret would lose his title to a returning Bob Backlund with the help of Owen, Backlund would have a forgettable title reign losing the title to Diesel in a matter of seconds in early 1995. Diesel would hold the title for the best part of a year until The Hitman defeated him at Survivor Series in what was one of Diesel’s best matches.

As 1996 and Wrestlemanis XII rolled around a new challenger to the Hitman’s title had emerged in the form of the ultra-popular Heart Break Kid Shawn Michaels. It was determined that these men would meet in a 60-minute Iron Man Match in the main event at Wrestlemania XII

MUST SEE MATCH – Bret The Hitman Hart(c) vs Shawn Michaels 60-minute Iron Man Match for the WWF Championship

The Iron Man Match is either considered a classic or boring depending on who you speak to. I see it as a classic between two of the best of all time in a ONE HOUR match. The match is of course a back forward affair which mixes, technical wrestling, high flying and brawling and what makes it different to later Iron Man matches is that there is only one decision in the entire 62 minutes. That’s right, after 60 minutes the match ended in Bret twisting Shawn into the Sharpshooter and the time running out. The match ends in a draw and the champion retains his title, right? Wrong! WWF president Gorilla Monsoon orders the match to go into sudden death overtime. HBK hits not one, but two Sweet Chin Music’s and Bret loses the title once again.

1996 saw the Hitman step away from wrestling and try his hand at acting, but he returned to have a newcomer after his scalp. STONE COLD STEVE AUSTIN! The rattlesnake seemed obsessed with besting the Hitman and this would lead into one of Bret’s greatest feuds and send him on another course in his career.

MUST SEE MATCH – Bret The Hitman Hart vs Stone Cold Steve Austin

A returning Bret Hart vs Steve Austin. This match is unbelievably intense with the veteran big dog, trying to hold off the challenge of his younger, dogged rival. The match is a great brawl which sees Bret survive Austin’s challenge with a call back to Wrestlemania VIII as he used a similar pinning combination he defeated Roddy Piper with.

The following months saw Austin not giving the Hitman a chance to breathe and ended with a submission/I quit match at Wrestlemania XIII

MUST SEE MATCH – Bret The Hitman Hart vs Stone Cold Steve Austin – Submission/I Quit match

This is my favourite Bret Hart match and is in my top 10, possibly top 5 matches of all time. The match is super intense from the start with both men willing to do anything to beat the other man. The finish is one of the most iconic images in wrestling history as a bloodied Steve Austin passes out, without quitting in Hart’s Sharpshooter.

What happens to the Hitman next is career defining. During the match some of the crowd started to boo the babyface Hitman and cheer the heel Austin and over the coming weeks and in one memorable promo Bret Hart turned heel for the first time in many years, BUT only in America! This heel turn along with Austin’s face turn was, pun intended, excellently executed. Austin, as we know would morph into THE biggest star in the history of the business and Hart would become a hated heal in America, but along with the new Hart Foundation, himself, Owen Hart, The British Bulldog, The Anvil and Brian Pillman would become firm fan favourites in the UK and Europe and especially Hart’s country of birth, Canada.

MUST SEE MATCH – Canandian Stampede – 10 Man Tag Team match – The Hart Foundation vs Steve Austin, Goldust, Legion of Doom and Ken Shamrock

This is one of the best multi man tag matches of all time with a red hot Canadian crowd cheering their boys onto victory. Check out the hard cam shaking at the beginning of the match. As you’d expect with 10 men in the match it’s a wild affair with Owen Hart rolling up Austin for the pin

1997 saw the Hart Foundation battle with Austin and saw the emergence of Degeneration X, HBK, HHH, Chyna and Rick Rude. At Summerslam Bret would win his fifth and final WWF title as a misplaced chair shot from HBK saw Hart pin The Undertaker.

This would be Bret Hart’s final great moment in WWF, but the most memorable was yet to come.

It became common knowledge via the early days of internet dirt sheets that Bret Hart had agreed to leave WWF after a long career to sign a massive multi-million-dollar contract with WCW. What happened next will always be remembered as The Montreal Screwjob and is still one of the most controversial events in wrestling history. I’m sure anyone reading this knows what happened so there’ll be no in-depth analysis of the main event of Survivor Series 1997 from me. It was a pretty poor match which ends with HBK putting the Hitman in his own Sharpshooter and Vince McMahon instructing the timekeeper to ring the bell and screwing Bret Hart out of the title and bringing a sorry end to his WWF career. What happened after the match with Bret spitting in McMahon’s face, destroying equipment and painting WCW in the air with his fingers, plus by all accounts knocking out Vince McMahon in the locker room left a sour taste in my mouth.

I didn’t really watch much WCW and although Hulk Hogan and the NWO was hot at the time I found watching Bret in WCW weird. Of course, his theme music changed and even though he should’ve been a big star there he seemed to be overshadowed by the NWO. 

Bret, for me had one memorable match in WCW and that was for the WCW title vs Chris Benoit where Bret won the WCW title. This came after the tragic passing of Bret’s younger brother Owen at a live WWF PPV (which I’m not going to write about) and Bret just never seemed the same after Owen’s untimely death.

Bret’s career was ended not long after by a stray boot by Goldberg which lead to a major concussion and in part caused Bret to suffer a stroke some years later.

Bret would write an excellent autobiography away from the control of the now WWE which if you haven’t read it (of course I have a signed copy!(MARK!) ) is well worth a read as he is very candid about his in ring career and personal life and goes into great detail about his professional and personal rivalry with Shawn Michaels, The Screwjob and Owen’s passing.

Bret would ultimately return to WWE to take his rightful place in the Hall of Fame and would release a career retrospective DVD in conjunction with WWE where you can view some of the matches I deemed MUST SEE, for the rest head to the WWE Network.

Bret would return once more in 2010 burying the hatchet on air with HBK and heading into a feud with Vince McMahon. This return would even see Bret defeat The Miz and win the United States title and get on air closure by twisting Vince McMahon into the Sharpshooter and making him submit at that years Wrestlemania.

2019 saw Bret become one of only a handful of two-time Hall of Fame inductees as The Hart Foundation, The Anvil and The Hitman were inducted. As with a lot of Bret’s career there was even some controversy that night when some idiot ran into the ring like stage and took Bret down before being unceremoniously “escorted” from the stage.

Who knows if we’ll see The Hitman at another WWE event, if they induct the other version of The Hart Foundation with the Bulldog, the Rocket and Loose Cannon maybe he’ll become a three-time Hall of Fame inductee.

Thanks for sticking with me, I hope you all enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. This is why I’ll always consider Bret The Hitman Hart to be the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be.

                                                                                                Lee O’Brien

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