wrestling / Hall of Fame

411’s Wrestling Hall of Fame Class of 2006: Bret “The Hitman” Hart

January 19, 2006 | Posted by Larry Csonka

Bret Hart was born into the wrestling business on July 2, 1957 in Calgary…dramatic pause…Alberta, Canada. I say born into, because with Stu Hart as your father, there was little to no doubt that Bret would be a wrestler. From age six he was involved in the family wrestling business, selling programs for the shows. Hart attended Ernest Manning High School in Calgary, and was part of the wrestling team. When he left high school, it looked as if wrestling was not in his future as he attended college at Mount Royal, where he took broadcast courses in hopes of one day being a TV director. But after some time, Bret realized that wrestling was his true calling. He went back to the Dungeon and trained under his father and alongside his brothers.

The Dungeon and Stampede saw it’s share of legendary figures pass through. Bret was always a quiet and shy, and kept to himself and soaked in the experiences. Once Bret got into Stampede fulltime, it was clear that this was what he was meant to do. He would win all of the major Stampede titles multiple times as he was a 2-Time Calgary Stampede British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Champion, 5-Time Calgary Stampede International Tag-Team Champion and a 6-Time Calgary Stampede North American Heavyweight Champion. Bret would further gain experience as he traveled to Japan. He would work for New Japan Pro Wrestling and wrestle the legendary Tiger Mask. Things at home weren’t going well, as Stampede was having its lowest times in terms of profit ever. Stu Hart was forced to sell the territory to Vince McMahon in August of 1984. Part of the deal was that Vince would take on Bret Hart to his roster, and so Bret’s tenure in the WWF began.

Bret started slow is the scheme of the WWF as a low card wrestler. Eventually he was paired with his future brother in law Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart as “the Hart Foundation” with “The Mouth of the South” Jimmy Hart as their manager. When it came to promos, Bret was actually very shy and took to wearing wrap around sunglasses for confidence. This would become a trademark of his. After watching a boxing match where Tommy “Hitman” Hearns lost to “Sugar” Ray Leonard, he picked up the “Hitman” name. The WWF quickly took notice of the Hart Foundation and they got their first big break at WrestleMania II in the Wrestlers/Pro Football Players battle Royal. Bret and Jim lasted to the final three, until Andre the Giant eliminated Jim and then pressed Bret over his head and to the floor on top of Jim for the victory.

In January of 1987 the Hart Foundation won their first WWF Tag Team Championship, defeating the British Bulldogs. They would have a 10-month run with the titles until October, when Strike Force defeated them. Bret had a very successful run in the WrestleMania IV battle royal, making it to the last two men again but losing to Bad News Brown. Soon after this they would drop manager Jimmy Hart and turn face as the crowd was warming to Bret and Neidhart by default. Over the next two years they would battle Demolition, the Rougeau Brothers, the Brain Busters, Rhythm and Blues, the Bolsheviks, Power and Glory, and The Rockers in their quest to regain the gold. Finally at Summerslam in August of 1990 they defeated Demolition in a 2 of 3 falls match to win the WWF Tag titles for the second time. They would enjoy a 7-month run with the titles, but would fall to the Nasty Boys at WrestleMania VII.

It was after this that the WWF decided to give Bret a shot at a singles career, something that Bret had always envisioned. In April of 1991 on Saturday Night’s Main Event Bret battled “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase to a double count out finish. At Summerslam 1991 (in a MOTY candidate) Bret earned a shot at the Intercontinental title where he faced and defeated Mr. Perfect with what would become his trademark maneuver, the Sharpshooter. With his first taste of singles gold, Bret’s singles run was off to an instant success. In September he was entered into the 1991 King of the Ring tournament (pre-PPV version.) He defeated Pete Daugherty, Skinner and IRS to win that title. He would hold onto the Intercontinental title until January 17th 1992, two days before the Royal Rumble as he lost to the Mountie. He would get another shot at the IC Title against the new champion Roddy Piper. The two had a great match, and Bret would come out on top for his 2nd IC Title victory.

After his victory, it was let out that Davey Boy Smith was his brother in law; and he wanted a shot at the gold. It was decided that the two would face, at Wembley Stadium in England in front of 78,000. Davey Boy Smith would defeat Bret to become the new Intercontinental champion. The next two months were uneventful for Hart, and many questioned what would be in his future. On October 12th, 1992 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada Bret Hart defeated WWF champion Ric Flair at a house show to become the NEW WWF Champion. He would battle and defeat Papa Shango, Razor Ramon, WWF IC Champion Shawn Michaels and Fatu en route to WrestleMania IX. It was there that he fell to Yokozuna, and lost the title.

Without the title, Bret decided to earn his way back to the top. He gained entry to the 1993 King of the Ring Tournament (1st PPV Version.) He would defeat Razor Ramon, old nemesis Mr. Perfect and Bam Bam Bigelow to become the 1993 King of the Ring. After he won, Jerry “The King” Lawler attacked Hart out of anger that he was the real King during the coronation ceremony. This would ignite a feud that would win honors from PWI as feud of the year. They faced at Summerslam and Lawler would win as Bret refused to release the Sharpshooter. The feud became personal as Lawler continually insulted the Hart family, especially Bret’s parents. This feud was supposed to hit its peak at the 1993 Survivor Series as the Hart Brothers (Bret, Owen, Keith and Bruce) would battle Jerry Lawler and his Knights. But Lawler found legal trouble and was replaced by HBK. With Lawler out of the picture for an undetermined amount of time, things were about to change in a big way.

The Harts dominated the match, and after dispatching with the Knights, only HBK was left. Bret was on the apron shaking off the onslaught, as Owen was whipped to the ropes. He collided with Bret and sent him crashing to the guardrail. Owen was then rolled up by HBK and eliminated from the match. Soon after the Harts would win and start a celebration in the ring. Owen returned, visibly upset and confronted Bret, Owen felt as if he was always, and would always be in Bret’s shadow. Bret tried to mend fences, and at the 1994 Royal Rumble he and Owen would team to face the Quebecers to try and win the tag titles. Bret would injure his knee during the match, and try to win with the sharpshooter. With Bret in visible pain, the referee stopped the match and the Harts failed at winning the titles. Owen snapped and started to attack Bret’s knee. Later that night, an injured Bret would participate and Co-Win the Rumble with Lex Luger.

Bret and Owen would have confrontations leading to WrestleMania. Since there were co-winners, it was decided that both men would have title matches and wrestle twice. Lex would face Yoko first, and Bret would have to face Owen. Bret and Owen opened up WM 10, and had what is considered on of the best “wrestling” matches in WM history, and Owen won. Later that night Owen was again placed in Bret’s shadow as he overcame the odds and defeated Yokozuna for the WWF Title. At the 1994 King of the Ring, Bret would face Diesel with HBK in his corner, and Bret called on former partner Jim Neidhart to second him. Neidhart cost Bret a loss by DQ, and later in the night Neidhart would help Owen win the King of the Ring. Now the #1 contender, the brothers would face again at Summerslam in a cage match. In an exciting finish, Bret escaped with the title and Owen was left with nothing.

As the 1994 Survivor Series came closer, Bret was engaged in a feud with former WWF champion Bob Backlund. It was a “throw in the towel” match; Backlund had Owen in his corner and Bret had brother in law Davey Boy Smith in his corner. In the end, with Bret locked in the Cross-faced Chicken Wing and Smith knocked out, Owen pleaded and convinced his mother to throw the towel in and give Backlund the title, and Owen a small measure of revenge.

After a month or so off to sell the injury from the match with Backlund, Bret returned and battled with Owen, Jerry Lawler and Backlund again. He would defeat Backlund at WrestleMania XI in an “I Quit” match, and then at the King of the Ring 1995 defeat Jerry Lawler in a “kiss my foot” match. For the next few months Hart basically ran the gauntlet as many stars were thrown in his path. Jean Pierre Lafitte (evil pirate, Hakushi and Isaac Yankem (evil dentist sent by Lawler) were three of these men that hart battled, and defeated. Finally at the 1995 Survivor Series, one year after losing the WWF title, he regained it by defeating Diesel.

Hart would now have the proverbial target on his back, and was now under fire. Backlund tried to regain the title form him and failed. At the December In Your House, Bret would once again face brother in law Davey Boy Smith for the title. Bret survived a very bloody match, and walked out with the title. In February of 1996 Diesel would finally get his rematch for the title, in a steel cage match. His effort was stopped short though as the Undertaker appeared from under the ring and pulled him under as Bret escaped with the title.

During all of this, Shawn Michaels had won the Royal Rumble, and a shot at Bret at WM XXI. It was decided that these two men would face in a 60-minute Iron Man match. They had a good series of promos to build up to the match, first starting respectful and then turning towards jealousy. They ran a great series of training vignettes for both men that made the match seem even more important. WM XII came and the two men battled for that 60-minutes, and as Bret had HBK in the Sharpshooter the bell rang and both men were tied 0-0. As Bret left the ring, thinking he had regained the title WWF President Gorilla Monsoon came out and ordered an overtime period stating that there MUST BE A WINNER. Bret protested, but finally went back to the attack. HBK got a desperation superkick, and then another to end Bret’s 4 month title run. Bret was extremely upset, and would leave the WWF (storyline) and tease retirement.

As he was gone, Steve Austin was running wild on the WWF. He started calling out the “retired” Hart repeatedly. He was so obsessed with Hart, and wanted to establish his dominance by defeating him. He also attacked anyone who would mention, in his words “the Shitman” and there were even a set of vignette’s where Austin ran him down. This went for his former tag team partner Brian Pillman as well, who had history with the Harts. Austin brutally attacked him, and “destroyed” his ankle with a move that has been since referred to as “Pillmanizing.” Bret finally returned to accept the challenge of Austin. They met at the 1996 Survivor Series in a stellar match that saw Hart win as he reversed the Million Dollar Dream into a pin.

Austin was far from done with Hart, he was obsessed with obtaining greatness. He ran through anyone is his way on route to the 1998 Royal Rumble. Austin entered #5 and tossed out 10 wrestlers before Bret Hart eliminated him, or so it would seem. The referees didn’t see it so Austin entered back in and eliminated The Undertaker, Vader and Hart. He was declared the winner among great protest. This led to the “Final Four” Match. It was supposed to be an elimination match, with the winner getting the title shot at WrestleMania. But when HBK “lost his smile” it was now a match for the vacant WWF Title. Hart would win the match and the title, and to add insult he eliminated Austin first. The next night on Raw, Hart defended against Sid Vicious. Austin came out and nailed Hart with a chair, costing him the title and setting the two up for a rematch, at WrestleMania 13.

Leading up to WM 13, the tide was changing. The fans were seeing Hart as a whiner, and started to embrace Austin. The match at WM 13 was everything a fan could have wanted, as the two men battled under “I Quit” rules with special referee Ken Shamrock added to keep control. Austin was busted open badly, and when Hart locked in the Sharpshooter the match was over. Austin struggled to escape as blood poured down his face and in the end passed out in a pool of him own blood. Hart attacked Austin after the match until Shamrock stopped him. This build, match and ending executed one of the most perfect double turns in wrestling history; and now Hart who was once loved was now hated.

Hart was now solidly a heel, the most hated man in the WWF. He would reform the Hart Foundation with Owen, Davey Boy Smith, Jim Neidhart and Brian Pillman. They battled with Austin still, as Bret would have them try and take him out at every turn. This led to the Canadian Stampede PPV in Calgary, as Bret, Owen, Davey, Neidhart and Pillman would battle Austin, Shamrock, the Road Warriors and Goldust. The Hart Foundation were the faces in Canada as the whole deal was that they loved Canada, and were perceived as whiners and anti-US. The Hart Foundation would win at Stampede as Owen pinned Austin.

Bret would move on to Summerslam as the #1 contender to face the Undertaker for the WWF Title. Michaels would serve as the special referee for the match. Late in the match Michaels grabbed a chair and swung in an attempt to take out Hart, but Bret ducked and HBK nailed the Undertaker costing him the title and giving Bret his 5th WWF Title. It was decided that Bret and HBK would face at the 1997 Survivor Series, a match that would change the landscape of wrestling forever.

Bret had given his notice to the WWF, as he had accepted a multi-million dollar offer from WCW. He had negotiated with Vince to stay, but Vince said he just didn’t have the money and Bret had to do what was best for him. Problem was is that Bret was still the WWF champion, and they had to get the title off of him before he left. Bret had a reasonable amount of creative control, and refused to lose the title in Montreal as he felt it would hurt him. He and Vince seemed to have it worked out for a DQ finish, or so Bret thought. As they neared the finish of the match, HBK locked in Bret’s own sharpshooter. Vince, who was at ringside yelled at the ref and then bell keeper, “RING THE DAMN BELL” and they did. Vince had taken the title that Bret refused to lose, and HBK was the new world champion. The event is no longer “just” Survivors Series 1997, but referred to as “The Montreal Screw Job.” Bret wad livid, and spat at Vince, yelled at him and then destroyed several monitors. Backstage they would get into an altercation in which Bret would strike McMahon at least once. The 13+year career of the Hitman in the WWF was over.

With Montreal behind him, Bret debuted in WCW on Nitro to announce that he would be the special referee for the Zbyzko vs. Eric Bishoff match. Both the n W o and WCW sides thought that Hart was with them, but Bret never pledged allegiance to anyone. At Starrcade 1997 he was the special referee for the Zbyzko vs. Eric Bishoff match. Later on in the evening, he would overturn the decision in the Hogan vs. Sting match, which led to Sting defeating Hogan; and in that action proved that he was with WCW. He was joined by Davey Boy Smith and Jim Neidhart, and then moved into what turned out to be a minor feud with Ric Flair. He would defeat Flair at Souled Out, and then Savage at Slamboree. Bret seemed to have the WCW brain trust behind him, and finally in July of 1998 he would defeat DDP for the vacant US Title. He would trade the title with Luger and then finally lose it in October to DDP, only to win it back a month later.

In February of 1999 he would face off with Roddy Piper and lose the US Title to him. For the better part of the year WCW wasn’t sure what to do with Hart, added to that was the loss of his brother so Hart took some time off. Finally in October he would return and capture his 4th US Title. Also during this time, he and Chris Benoit would put on a tribute match to his fallen brother Owen, a match many consider a classic. He would vacate the title just days later to pursue the WCW World Title. November saw a tournament for the vacated world title. He defeated Perry Saturn, Billy Kidman, Sting and finally Chris Benoit to win the WCW world title. At Starrcade Bret would face Goldberg for the WCW title. Although Bret would win the match, he received a concussion after an errant kick from Goldberg. Bret continued on, and in a hardcore rules match with Terry Funk received another concussion. After evaluation it was discovered that Bret had suffered three concussions, and in January he vacated the WCW World Title.

In late 2001 Bret Hart officially retired from Pro Wrestling due to post concussion syndrome. Tragedy hit the Hart family again on June 24th, 2002 as Bret suffered a stroke while riding his bike around Calgary. After a long recovery, Hart would appear for the WWA promotion as a special commissioner during their Australian tour in 2003. Rumors pop up from time to time of a possible reconciliation with the WWE, but nothing has come to pass. On September 15, 2004, Bret Hart was married to an Italian woman named Cinzia. In December of 2004 he appeared in an on stage production of Aladdin the Magical Family Musical.

A return to wrestling on any form has seemed unlikely, but Hart “returned” to the WWE, to protect his legacy. He worked with WWE productions to help produce his Triple Disc DVD set, possibly the best the company has released to this date. Hart denies any other work will be done with the WWE, but you never know.

Why Bret Hart was selected…

When all is said and done Bret Hart has certainly had a storied career. He holds the distinction of being a triple-crown winner in the WWF (World, IC and Tag Titles) as well as in WCW (World, US and Tag Titles.) He climbed the ladder from king of Stampede, to WWF jobber and all the way to the very top of the business. Hart’s moniker was that he was “the best there is, the best there was and the best there will ever be.” Of course, on this list he seems to have fallen just short of that goal. For all of his successes, Hart’s legacy has been undeniably tarnished over the years as the Montreal Screw Job is all people seem to talk about in regards to him. Since that day Hart’s life has been in a downward spiral. He lost his brother, his career was ended at the hands of another man and in 2002 he suffered a stroke. For as much as he accomplished in his career, I fear that people will only remember Bret Hart from November of 1997 on. But if you look at the body of work and his accomplishments, it is hard to argue that Bret Hart doesn’t belong in any Hall of Fame.

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Larry Csonka
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