wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Did WCW Ever Figure Out How to Use Bret Hart?

March 26, 2021 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Bret Hart WCW

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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Ernie is wondering what could have been:

I have a question about Bret Harts WCW run and it is pretty well reported and accepted that his run with the company was a colossal failure. While I – admittedly – did not do my homework for this question – I do recall the Hitman winning the World Heavyweight Championship on several occasions prior to the kick that ended his career. My question: Was WCW finally learning how to properly use Bret Hart before the untimely injury?

No.

Bret Hart is only a two-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion, and really he only has two separate reigns as a technicality. Why do I say that? Well, the Hitman won his first WCW Title at Mayhem in November 1999 and then voluntarily ended that first reign after he successfully retained the championship against Bill Goldberg at Starrcade ’99 due to outside interference, stating that he didn’t deserve to keep the belt in that manner. However, that turned out to be a swerve, as, the next night on Nitro, Hart and Goldberg had a rematch for the vacant championship and Bret won with help from Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, which was the formation of the silver-and-black nWo 2000.

So, yeah. Hart got about one month of a normal title reign, and then that ended due to a swerve that was executed for the sole purpose of putting him into a retread faction that was at its hottest when it was an invading group of outsiders but was now clearly just a generic stable of heels who had been in the promotion for years.

I don’t see that as WCW figuring out how to use Bret Hart. I see that as him being trapped in the same pattern of desperate, shock booking that the rest of the roster was trapped in at the time.

Lee in Liverpool just superglued some dinner plates to an old leather strap:

How many unofficial titles have there been in major promotions over the years? The Million Dollar belt for example, where they were on the line in some matches but not sanctioned by the promotion.

Unfortunately it does not seem like there is a good, comprehensive list of these out there in the world, so I’m doing the best that I can to piece one together. Additions from the comment section are going to be welcome, but I was able to come up with ten different examples on my own.

The first and most prominent, as stated in the question, is the Million Dollar Championship, initially held by “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. In later years, the Million Dollar Man would transfer his signature belt to proteges of his, the first being “Ringmaster” Steve Austin and the second being Ted DiBiase Jr.

Up next, we’ve got an unsanctioned championship that is still on television today, the FTW Title. This orange-and-black belt was originally introduced by Taz during his time in ECW but has since been adopted by AEW and placed on Brian Cage of Team Taz.

TNA had a couple of brushes with unsanctioned titles. For a period of time, James Storm ran around with a toy belt that he dubbed the World Beer Drinking Title. Also, when Booker T was on the TNA roster, he unveiled an unsanctioned TNA Legends Title, though at some point it seemed to become sanctioned by the company despite not starting out that way. It eventually underwent some name changes and became the TNA Global Title and the TNA Television Title.

Though many promotions have had TV Titles over the years, there’s only been one major promotion where that concept was carried over into new media. I’m of course talking about the WWE Internet Title created and held exclusively by Zack Ryder. This championship was so unsanctioned that I don’t think it ever even appeared on a WWE television program, just in videos on the company’s streaming platforms.

I can also think of two unsanctioned championships that shared the same name. When Ric Flair joined the WWF in 1991, he famously brought the NWA World Heavyweight Title belt with him, and it was referred to as the Real World Championship (not to be confused with MTV’s The Real World). In 2019, Matt Taven also declared himself the Real World Champion in Ring of Honor after getting a visual pinfall over legit champ Dalton Castle in a four-way.

Some wrestlers want to be bigger than the world, though. That’s why the Headbangers once declared themselves the Tag Team Champions of the Universe while working with the WWF. They carried toy championship belts with them to represent these fake titles, though they did eventually lose them tot he Parade of Human Oddities.

As to the last three entries on my list, I admit that they are all a little bit borderline, but I want to mention them nonetheless, because I have fond memories associated with them.

The first is the original WWF Hardcore Championship handed over to Mick Foley by Vince McMahon. Though it quickly became a legitimate title, in its earliest days the belt was not discussed as though it were anything more than a joke, being a toy that McMahon created to placate Mankind.

Though if you blinked you probably missed it, there was briefly a Backyard Wrestling Championship in WCW, which arose out of a skit in which Norman Smiley had been fired from the promotion and, with nothing better to do, stumbled into a backyard wrestling match being held by some children and beat them for their title.

Speaking of children, this last one is a bit odd. Having an unsanctioned championship is normally a heel move, and this is the one time that I can remember it being done by a babyface on television. Circa 1985, Bob Backlund was wrestling for a regional promotion known as ICW, and he was the ICW People’s Champion. The idea was that a bunch of kids loved Bob Backlund so much that they made a championship belt for him out of construction paper and other arts and crafts supplies, which he was then so proud of that he actually carried it out to the ring on a regular basis.

So there you have it. Ten unsanctioned championships if you count all of my borderline cases. Again, any additions are welcome down in the comments.

RayS is taking us down to the sun-drenched stars of the Gulf Coast:

I have a question that I hope is not too vague, as I am going off of a recollection from my youth. I used to visit my grandparents in Florida for a month during the summer when I was younger, and I recall watching a local wrestling show while there, and since I was new to the whole TV wrestling world, I didn’t know any of the wrestlers. This would have been in the summer during the years of 1978 and 1979. They lived in the panhandle area and I recall all of the big ticketed shows were held in Dothan, Alabama. I recall being enthralled with this red hot babyface and rooting for him, but I have no idea nowadays who it was, or even who the big names were at the time in the area. Any ideas on who was wrestling down there at the time?

I think you might be surprised by some of the answers here.

First off, let’s establish the promotion. Even though there was a Florida wrestling territory, if you were staying in the panhandle and hearing shows in Dothan, Alabama being promoted, you weren’t watching Championship Wrestling from Florida. You were watching Southeastern Championship Wrestling and specifically the “Southern Division” of Southeastern Championship Wrestling, as during this period there was also “Northern Division” of the same promotion with its own television show being run up in Knoxville, Tennessee. (There’s a chance you may have seen some Knoxville footage, as their TV did air in the “Southern Division” for a time, but by ’78 and ’79 I believe it was mostly a truly local television show being produced for the Gulf Coast market.)

The main title in the Southern Division of Southeastern Championship Wrestling was the NWA Southeastern Heavyweight Title. During the summer months of 1978, there were two men who held that championship, namely Ron Fuller and Bob Armstrong. In 1979, there were three champions over the summer, those being Ox Baker, Austin Idol, and here’s the potential surprise . . . Terry Boulder, who a few years later would be known as Hulk Hogan.

This means that, without realizing it, you might have seen the first somewhat major championship reign of the Hulkster. Hogan also had a match for the NWA World Heavyweight Title around this time, as he challenged the visiting champion Harley Race on June 22, 1979 in Dothan.

There was also an active tag team division in Southeastern. The teams who held their championship during the summers of 1978 and 1979 were Ricky & Ruben Gibson (Ruben would eventually change his ring name to Robert and become half of the Rock ‘n Roll Express), The Wild Samoans, Rick Fields & Terry Latham, twins Leroy & Luther Dargon, and The Assassins.

John is having a mirror match:

I keep hearing about this all-time great match where Helmsley fights Hunter and gets seriously hurt. But I can’t find anything about it. When and where did it happen? Who were these two wrestlers? How was Hemsley hurt?

The most famous Helmsley in wrestling and the most famous Hunter in wrestling are the same dude, so I am not entirely sure what you are referring to here. Perhaps somebody in the comments will be able to shed some light.

Frequent column participant Tyler from Winnipeg has been sending in some questions lately that have a bit of a theme, so I figured I would just knock them all out at once:

Does Pamela Anderson belong in the WWE HoF?

There are two ways to answer these Hall of Fame questions. The first way is, “Do I think WWE will actually put this person in the Hall of Fame?” The second is, “Would I personally put them in the Hall of Fame?”

When it comes to the former question in regards to Pamela Anderson, it’s pretty clear by this point that WWE will put ANY celebrity into the Hall if they think that their inclusion will result in some extra attention being paid to Wrestlemania weekend. This is true no matter how much involvement they had with the company in the past. If they had at least one prior appearance and will come back to the live HOF show, they’ll get in. As a result, a Hall of Fame induction is basically Pamela Anderson’s for the taking.

Would I personally put the former Mrs. Tommy Lee into the Hall? No, probably not. First off, if I were the sole arbiter of who got a Hall of Fame ring, there probably would not be a “celebrity wing” at all. However, if you tell me that I am required to have a celebrity wing in my WWE Hall of Fame, she probably still would not make the cut. In my mind, celebrity Hall of Famers are the ones who have had a significant impact on the wrestling industry, people like Mohammed Ali, Mike Tyson, Cyndi Lauper, or Mr. T. Pam Anderson made two forgettable appearances at a time when business was way down . . . and there was also that one episode of Baywatch where Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Vader, and Kevin Sullivan were guest stars. There’s just not that much to her wrestling career.

Why isn’t Lex Luger in the WWE HoF? Is he in the WON HoF?

There’s never been a definitive reason given for why Luger hasn’t been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, but there are two reasons I can think of off the top of my head that are likely major contributing factors. The first is that he seriously burned a bridge with Vince McMahon and the WWF/WWE when he jumped to WCW to appear on the first episode of Monday Nitro at a time when the WWF was under the impression that Luger was going to re-sign with them. Though McMahon has made amends with several people who screwed him over in similar ways and against whom he held longstanding grudges, he’s not been as willing to do so with Luger – possibly because his in-ring career came to an end so quickly after WCW went under. The second factor likely barring a Luger induction is his involvement in the death of Miss Elizabeth, which is not a good look for the Total Package.

Luger is not in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, either. He was placed on the ballot in 1998, but less than 10% of the voters checked the box next to his name. Under the rules of the WON HOF, a candidate who receives less than 10% of the vote is dropped from the ballot, so Luger has not had another chance to get in. Dave Meltzer has occasionally re-added candidates to the ballot if people push him to do so or if something happens that leads to a critical reevaluation of the candidate’s career, so it is technically possible that Luger could still get in down the road, but it seems highly unlikely.

Do you see Dave Meltzer in the WWE HoF ever happening?

No. Though he has had an on again, off again relationship with WWE, including being on their payroll as a consultant for a brief period of time in 1987, Meltzer has by and large been a guy that the company does not want to acknowledge having any connection to. Though younger generations of wrestlers don’t seem to be as harsh on Uncle Dave as the old school folks, Triple H is part of that older group, and he appears to be the one primed to take control of the company once current management rides off into the sunset. He’s probably no more likely to sanction a Meltzer induction than Vince McMahon is.

Do you think Scott Steiner goes into the WWE HoF?

It’s more likely than Meltzer, but I still would be surprised to see it occur. Big Poppa Pump’s relationship with WWE has seemingly been nonexistent since 2015, when he allegedly threatened Hulk Hogan’s life during Wrestlemania weekend, which reportedly lead to increased security for Hogan at WWE events. If there is Hogan/Steiner heat and WWE wants to continue doing business with the Hulkster – one of the three biggest stars they have ever produced – I have a hard time seeing them also honoring Freakzilla.

The feeling appears to be mutual as, in recent years, Steiner has gone on rants about the Hall being a “joke” any time the subject is raised around him:

The only possible path that I can think of which ends with Scott in the Hall of Fame relates to recent developments elsewhere in his family. Rick Steiner’s son Bronson, a.k.a. Scott’s nephew, recently reported to the WWE Performance Center at the time of this writing. If his career takes off and he becomes at least a moderate success in wrestling, I could see him inducting the Steiner Brothers at a future Hall of Fame ceremony to create a feel good moment and give him a bit of a rub.

Brad is wrapping it up:

I was wondering if there were any notable wrestlers on the WCW roster near the end of the company’s existence who ended up finishing their careers when WCW closed. As a casual fan, it seems like just about anyone with name value eventually ended up making an appearance in either WWE or TNA.

There is one significant wrestler who never saw the light of day in a major promotion once WCW closed, none other than . . .

Bam Bam Bigelow.

The Beast from the East was on the final episode of Nitro, putting over Shawn Stasiak in about 90 seconds in a move meant to help establish Stasiak as an up-and-coming star. (We all know how that turned out.) Bigelow didn’t have another wrestling match for over a year after WCW closed because he was sitting out the rest of his contract with the company, basically getting paid to do nothing . . . and I can’t say that I blame him. When he returned, he exclusively worked independent dates, most of them being in the New York/New Jersey area. WWE never brought him back to the promotion, and he was never signed by TNA, all likely because of significant personal demons that he was dealing with in his later years. He would pass way in 2007 as the result of a drug overdose.

To a lesser extent, you could say that the closure of WCW was also the end of the previously mentioned Lex Luger’s career. It is true that he had one match with TNA and has done a couple of appearances as a non-wrestler there over the years, and he also worked with the upstart WWA promotion, but those shows were way under the radar. In total, he had only thirteen matches after WCW folded and about half of those were on the same WWA tour of Europe in November and December of 2002 – probably a way to get a free vacation as much as anything else.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected]. You can also leave questions in the comments below, but please note that I do not monitor the comments as closely as I do the email account, so emailing is the better way to get things answered.