Bret Hart: A GotS Discussion
Hello everyone! Welcome back to the main event, the headlining show stopping hullaballoo which is the Ghosts of the Stratosphere!
As some of you might have guessed we have quite a lot of pro wrestling aficionados here at GotS in addition to being fans of the funny books. In fact, I’ve often said that comic books and pro wrestling are in some ways pretty much the same thing and it’s not uncommon to become rabid fans of both through the course of a typical geeks life.
Although I’m not as huge of a fan as I was in the ’90s and 2000s, I still keep my finger somewhat of the pulse of professional wrestling, every once in a while tuning back in to see what’s new in the squared circle.
However, one thing I haven’t yet here on GotS, is write a true wrestling article. Sure, I wrote a semi sort of one last month where I reviewed the old WWF Wrestlemania Arcade game, but that was still more of a video game review than an pro wrestling one. But today on the blog with the help of my frequent collaborator here on GotS, Jabroniville, we’re going to take a look back on one of my favorite wrestlers of all time, Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
So without further ado, Jabroniville, can you give us some background good ol’ Bret?
BRET “HIT MAN” HART
Nicknames: The Excellence of Execution, The Best There Is, The Best There Was and the Best There Ever Will Be
Role: Canadian Patriot, Ring Technician/Technical Wrestler, Babyface
“The Sharpshooter”: A submission hold similar to several other holds such as the cloverleaf leg-lace and the Boston crab.
Although the move was invented by Riki Choshuand, and is also known by several other names, Bret’s use of the move in the WWE really popularized it among fans to the point where its now commonly known by the name sharpshooter.
The only other commonly known alternative name for the move is the Scorpion Deathlock as popularized by WCW legend, Sting, however, his move was often done in the standing position rather than the sitting position like Bret Hart would employ.
“Russian Legsweep” : Probably the most famous of his FIVE MOVES OF DOOM! It was phenomenon in which he would lead up to the Sharpshooter with the same five moves in succession if he wasn’t feeling like coming up with a unique finish.
These moves were an inverted atomic drop, Russian leg sweep, backbreaker, elbow drop from the second rope, and then the Sharpshooter.
It was so infamous that it eventually became a tongue-in-cheek joke among wrestlers, as Bret was better than almost anybody when it came to doing inventive, new finishes yet he still often found himself going back to this reliable sequence to finish his matches.
Enemies & Note worthy Feuds:
Arguably Shawn Michaels should be considered by most wrestling fans to be Bret Hart’s true arch nemesis. Their mutual respect gave way to an intense rivalry (both real and on-screen), with Shawn’s “sexy boy” antics disgusting the straight & narrow Hit Man.
However other notable feuds include his singles matches with Jerry “The King” Lawler, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mr. Perfect, and Dr. Isaac Yankem DDS (yeah that last one is a joke).
As a member of the tag team the Hart Foundation, Bret also had some killer tag team feuds with the likes of The British Bulldogs, Demolition, and D-Generation-X.
I’m glad you brought up Shawn Michaels and the ongoing feud between the two superstars, because honestly it’s the main reason I became a Bret Hart fan in the first place.
You see I’m a huge, huge fan of Shawn Michaels. He is without question my absolute favorite professional wrestler ever! And for me, Bret Hart was always his equal, but opposite. His arch enemy. His eternal antagonist and perpetual heel. And like how when you really like a comic book character you often times also really like their arch enemy, Bret Hart was just that for me.
It was loving the Fantastic Four and then my extension loving Dr. Doom, or Spider-man and the Green Goblin, or Batman and the Joker. You just wanted to see these two characters fight each other, and every time they did, you would get goosebumps. It just felt right and feeds into your overwhelming need for continuation of the conflict. And when these characters would fight others, it would always be a let down, because it never really measured up to this very personal blood feud.
Anyways, that’s just my two cents. Why don’t you continue with the biography of Bret?
Well, Bret Hart is the son of Stu Hart, the promoter of the Stampede Wrestling territory in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and is such kind of a hometown hero to most Albertans like myself.
A tag team wrestler during the ’80s, he was the gifted technical wrestler to his brother-in-law Jim Neidhart’s football-playing powerhouse. As a result, The Hart Foundation was one of the best tag teams of its era, which is saying a lot given it was somewhat of a golden age with teams like the Road Warriors, Demolition, the Rockers, and the Bulldogs.
However, like Shawn Michaels, Bret was just way too good of a wrestler to stay in a tag team for the rest of his career. In fact, Bret’s technique was so legendary, it earned him the “Excellence of Execution” nickname from commentator Gorilla Monsoon.
He truly applied moves with PERFECTION, never botched anything, and was one of the best workers of his generation.
But despite all this, it took YEARS for him to finally get his push, and by the time it happened, sadly the business was on a downturn at the time.
Yeah, that’s the thing that always bothered me about Bret Hart.
It seemed he had all the goods to make an incredible main event wrestler. Top Notch technical in ring skills, decent mic work, and yet, even when he reached that main event status, he was always overshadowed by his contemporaries, such as Shawn, or Stone Cold Steve Austin, or the Undertaker.
It was like he was missing some sort of key component that couldn’t be quantified for me. Maybe it was that compared to these other wrestlers, he always came across as somewhat “white bread” lacking in some sort of charismatic flair that made him over the top or larger than life. As a result, he always seemed like the foil for other main event wrestlers that had that extra edge to play off of.
That was really sad for me, because compared to other technical based wrestlers of the time like Dean Malenko or the infamous Chris Beniot, Bret did have a ton more personality. He could cut decent promos and he was well liked. But there was just something missing…
I agree. Bret was a pretty likeable guy, and had a lot of credibility with his ultra-realistic selling. I really respected the way he almost always looked like someone who had been legitimately injured, never flopping around like some over-sellers. Plus he was a huge star internationally, but you are right, he never QUITE hit the peak in the States.
I can agree he wasn’t as charismatic as many of his contemporaries, though I will say when pushed, he could be as good as anybody. I think back to the famous “This is BULLSHIT!” promo on RAW where he tore into Vince McMahon over being screwed out of the Title.
Or better yet, the promo where he challenges Cruiserweight Jobber El Dandy to a match instead of a legit competitor, and scolds Mean Gene with “Who are you to doubt El Dandy?” with classic sarcasm.
Plus he could show genuine emotion in these promos, like when he reunited with Owen Hart & The British Bulldog by lashing out at American fans. It was great stuff.
I mean, there’s no doubt the guy had talent and is well deserving of being a two time WWE Hall of Famer. I mean I still remember when he became a 5 time WWE champion, back when holding the title for more than a couple times was considered an extremely big deal.
Nowadays there are a slew of wrestlers that have 3 times that amount of title reigns to their credit, but back in the day, you could hang your hat on the fact that Bret was one of the few that climbed that mountain 5 times. Not only that, but fun fact, he was the longest reigning champion of the 1990s, holding the title for more than 600+ days during that decade. That’s close to 2 years as the top dog in a highly competitive business.
Plus, after he jumped ship for WCW, he went on to become a 2 time Heavyweight champion there as well, becoming the first person to do so that wasn’t an American. Gosh knows what that WCW time might have yielded if he hadn’t sustained that concussion at the hands of Goldberg in a botched figure 4 leg lock around the post (which he put on both Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin more than a couple of times than I can count without incident…then again Goldberg is NO Heartbreak Kid or Stone Cold.)
Altogether, he’s one of the greatest workers of all time, and has wrestled as many five-star matches as anybody in history, I’d be lying if I didn’t say he wasn’t also fairly controversial.
This is mainly due to his own ego as he makes no bones about how great a worker he is, (like most great workers) and will often times go on and on about it, much to the chagrin of others.
However, more importantly, he lives in the perpetual fall-out from The Montreal Incident.
See, Bret had a real-life feud with Shawn Michaels, but despite this was supposed to drop the Title to him before he left for WCW. This was after Vince lied and told Bret he couldn’t afford his contract anymore which pissed the wrestler off to no end. Despite being booked to drop the belt at Survivor Series ’97, Bret refused to drop the belt to Shawn in Canada, and instead offered variations on him dropping the belt at some later point. He was somewhat in his rights to do this as he did have some contractual control over his final dates.
So, Vince McMahon told him they’d book a Disqualification finish for the Survivor Series match, and have him just hand over the belt the next night as a way of appeasing the star. However, right before the DQ could happen, Bret got caught in a submission maneuver, and Vince at ringside demanded the crew “ring the bell!” to make it look like Bret had submitted.
This REAL-LIFE screwjob took place in front of a live crowd in Montreal, and resulted in Vince looking like an total asshole. I will say this was the real life impetus that would set off his future Heel character that he would use so effectively in his feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin as a manipulative cheating evil boss of the highest order.
Debates rage about the Screwjob to this day.
Was Bret right for refusing to job to Michaels? NUMEROUS other Champs have done the same thing (Shawn, quite notably, but also Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and Triple-H, among others).
And Shawn WAS a legit asshole at the time, so Bret’s insistence that he would lose to ANYONE ELSE was a positive factor on his side.
Still though, Bret was leaving the company for Vince’s biggest rival and he was the champ. There was a very real threat that Bret would not relinquish the title at all and instead show up on WCW with the WWF championship belt, which would have been a possible death nail for Vince’s company who was barely keeping its head above water at that time.
I’m not defending what happened in Montreal that fateful night, but I also feel as if there was no one particular person at fault. Like so many soap opera like story lines that the WWE has become famous for over the years, this one was a real life story line with just the right group of personalities and circumstances that culminated in what I consider the only logical ending.
The years of conflict between Shawn and Bret over the title such as Shawn refusing to lose the belt to Bret at Wrestlemania 13 and forfeiting it instead. The stress Vince was under after seeing his best talent being poached by WCW’s huge bank account. It all had to come to a head, and in doing so it created one of the most infamous moments in modern wrestling history.
But enough about this match…what are some other best matches you feel Bret Hart had?
Best Match? That’s tough because he has a TON of possible picks!
I’d go with either his bout against Owen at WrestleMania X,
His match against Davey-Boy Smith at SummerSlam 1992 (the giant pro-Bulldog British crowd puts it over the top),
Or the LEGENDARY “I Quit” Match against “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at Wrestlemaina 13, the bout that made Austin a Face, Bret a Heel, and changed wrestling forever.
Of those three, I have to go with the “I Quit” match.
I mean it really did catapult Stone Cold Steve Austin’s career into the Stratosphere (no shameless plug intended). I mean, I think that his feud with Bret Hart that started at Survivor Series ’96 and continued throughout 1997 was maybe Bret’s most important accomplishment because in helping to build Stone Cold’s rep and being such a quality heel that he could play off of, it helped naturally build Stone Cold into the type of wrestling force that would carry the company to the best viewership it had…ever.
Bigger than Sammartino, bigger than Hogan.
Plus, it helped usher in the next era of wrestling with WWE Attitude, a hallmark of which was behaviors previously considered only to be used by heel type characters were now viewed as hip and anti establishment.
It might have taken Bret Hart a while to figure that out, and maybe he never did, given he still seemed bewildered that his clean cut virtue was mocked so openly, and in the end was met by boos instead of cheers. But regardless, he was absolutely the right wrestler at the right time and his consummate in ring performances against Austin helped showcase them both as some of the best wrestlers the world had to offer.
Speaking though of great matches, a personal favorite of mine is still the match with “Rowdy” Roddy Piper at WrestleMania VIII, which was a real work of art. It’s a match between friends, but they start getting to each other more and more as the match goes on- they start slapping, cheap-shotting each other, etc.
At one point, Bret goes down holding his knee (“He’s Goldbricking!” screams Bobby Heenan on commentary. “He is NOT!” is Gorilla Monsoon’s disgusted reply), and Piper goes in to capitalize… then Bret pops up with a quick pinning combination, revealing that he WAS faking the injury (Heenan is proud and laughs his ass off)!!
Piper is FURIOUS, and later grabs a ring bell to take Bret out… but can’t bring himself to hurt his friend.
Despite so DESPERATELY wanting to win, he listens to the horrified crowd and puts the bell away. And gets pinned for it. Just a brilliant example of storytelling through the medium of pro-wrestling.
In closing, my personal favorite match is still the Iron Man Match from Wrestlemania 12 vs. Shawn Michaels. It was a match that a lot of people think is boring given it highlights a lot of mat technician skills at times, (y’know like real wrestling), but I think there’s no better match that highlights what these two performers could do when their unique styles and professionalism intermixed to the point of pure art.
For me, if there was a course put on at Pro Wrestling College on how to mix all the various styles, from grappling, to high flying, to power maneuvers, with expert showmanship and excitement this is the one I’d pick.
Even at a 60+ minutes, it’s still one of those matches I find myself watching time and time again. And that’s really saying something given I don’t do much of anything any more for 60 minutes other than podcasting. (you can ask my wife…she’ll sadly attest to that.)