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Ask 411 Wrestling: Why Did Owen Hart Stay in the WWF after Montreal?

November 15, 2019 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Owen Hart, Dark Side of the Ring

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.

If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

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Though Ask 411 has answered a lot of questions about the Montreal Screwjob over the years, Bret (no, not THAT Bret) asks about an aspect of it we’ve not heard too much about:

I was just wondering why when Bret Hart left for WCW why Owen just didn’t sit out his WWF contract until it expired? I know Vince wouldn’t release him, but couldn’t he do what Steve Austin and CM punk did? Your thoughts?

Yes, it’s technically possible that Owen Hart could have refused to come to work and rode out the remainder of his time with the WWF. However, he did not, and there appear to be two main reasons for this, both of which were reported on in December 1997 editions of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

The first reason Owen stayed put and continued to wrestle for the company that screwed over his brother is that he didn’t have much of a choice. According to the Observer, the deal that Owen had signed with the Fed prior to the 1997 Survivor Series was incredibly “one-sided” and didn’t allow him a lot of leeway to make an exit until it expired on its own terms. Plus, the contract reportedly had four years remaining on it, so, even though Owen could have technically sat it out, he would have been sitting it out for a LONG time. If he refused to wrestle throughout that entire period, we wouldn’t have seen Owen Hart between the Montreal Screwjob and the end of the WCW Invasion angle, which seems like eons in pro wrestling time . . . particularly when you consider the fact that those years would have been among Owen’s peak as a performer.

The second reason that the youngest Hart brother remained a loyal WWF employee is something that the vast majority of us have difficulty saying no to: Money. In order to keep Owen active and happy, the Fed gave him a significant pay increase (exact figures were not reported) and promised him a main event program with Shawn Michaels, which, had it panned out, would have allowed him to make all sorts of additional pay per view and merchandise bonuses on top of his increased base pay.

Of course, that promised main event push never really materialized, as D-Generation X politicked Owen’s main event feud with Shawn Michaels into a midcard feud with Triple H, which HHH pretty decisively won. I guess Owen should’ve known better than to rely upon the promises of a company that told his brother he was going to be leaving Montreal with the WWF Championship belt.

Night Wolf the Wise has two totally unrelated questions, which is his typical style:

1. Where did this APA fight take place?

That is the now-defunct Friendly Tap bar in Cambridge, Rhode Island, about fifteen miles away from the Providence Civic Center, a regular venue for pro wrestling events. The Friendly Tap was frequently involved in WWF skits when the promotion was in town, because it was owned by referee Tim White.

In addition to hosting this particular APA brawl and several tasteless/pointless skits late in White’s WWE career where he was portrayed as being suicidal, the Tap was also the setting for one of my absolute favorite show-long storylines in the history of Monday Night Raw. On the go-home show for the Invasion pay per view, Austin, who had been a heel up to this point, spent the whole evening brooding at the Friendly Tap, with Vince McMahon and others attempting that he needed to return to being the “old Stone Cold” in order to lead the WWF into battle against the invading WCW and ECW forces. It was only after he saw a locker room pep talked from an aged “Classy” Freddie Blassie on television that Austin commandeered one of the Friendly Tap’s pool cues and made a short drive to the arena, where he basically beat up the entire WCW/ECW roster singlehandedly en route to declaring his allegiance to the WWF.

Of course, we know where the Invasion went from there, so . . .

2. There is always something that always bothered me in wrestling. Why in the hell did Sid Vicious try and land on one leg when he delivered that kick to Scott Steiner? That’s got to be one of the most gruesome injuries I’ve seen in pro wrestling. Was he trying to do a missile dropkick there?

No, he wasn’t trying to do a missile dropkick. He was simply trying to jump off the second rope, kick Scott Steiner with his right leg, and land on his left leg. According to shoot interviews with Sid after the fact (who may not be the most reliable source in the world), that spot is something he was very uncomfortable with but was pressured in to doing by John Laurinaitis, who was working backstage for WCW as an agent at the time. Presumably this was Laurinaitis’s attempt to add at least one somewhat exciting spot to a Sid match, because Laurinaitis spent most of his career working in All Japan Pro Wrestling, which had a significantly more physical, athletic style than what you were getting out of American heavyweights at the time.

Also according to Sid, he went into that match with a shoulder injury, and he was attempting to favor his shoulder throughout the bout. That would be another reason he wouldn’t have been attempting a dropkick, because chances are good that if you’re Sid Vicious (a guy who doesn’t bump much anyway), you’re not going to want to come off the second rope and land on your back or side when you’ve already got a bad wing.

As an aside, one thing that some people tend to forget about Sid’s broken leg is that, when the pay per view originally aired, the cameras totally missed how it happened. The directors had cut backstage to show Ric Flair revealing a much-hyped mystery man, so the feed to the pay per view audience did not show the kick at the moment it happened. The home audience just knew that Sid was headed towards the ropes one moment and then, when they came back from the cutaway to Flair, Sid was down in the ring with his leg flopping around at an unnatural angle.

That’s the perfect description of late-period WCW. They couldn’t even do horrifically botched match finishes right.

Mohamed has stars in his eyes:

Why are the McMahons so obsessed with pushing the brand over making new megastars when clearly the former isn’t working. I wouldn’t go to a Wrestlemania if there were no new megastars.

I really dig this question by Mohamed, because it underscores one of the reasons that I fell out of love with WWE and largely stopped watching their product altogether a few years ago.

I think that Mo is absolutely correct that, for quite some time now, the McMahon family has decided that, rather than promoting individual personalities as the reason that you should tune in to watch their shows, they’re going to promote the WWE brand as a whole and try to create a fanbase who will come and watch WWE, no matter what wrestlers may be on a given card.

In my opinion, this is a totally wrongheaded promotional move, because EVERY sports property that I’m aware of – whether it’s a legitimate or worked sport – has managed to have great booms in popularity when there are one or two key athletes who capture the population’s imagination. In wrestling, we’re obviously talking about the Bruno Sammartinos, Ric Flaris, Hulk Hogans, and Steve Austins of the world, but the same general principal would apply to a Floyd Mayweather in boxing, a Connor McGregor in MMA, or even a Michael Jordan in basketball or a Troy Aikman in football.

People may get behind individual teams or whole leagues as brands, but every business indication that I’ve ever seen demonstrates that a hot brand with a hot personality as its centerpiece will do better than just a hot brand every time out.

If we take that premise as true, why would WWE decide to focus on their brand more than any individual wrestlers?

There are a couple of different reasons that I can think of.

The first is that the McMahon family may just view the brand-oriented business model as being more stable. Yes, you might be able to have a “boom period” every ten to twenty years when an epic individual performer comes along, but, if you build an audience that’s loyal to your brand and not any particular characters, you should arguably have a core audience who will support you almost no matter what, ensuring that you always have a solid baseline of business. Plus, if you make sure that no cog in your machine has particular importance over the others, you don’t have to deal with nearly as much negative impact on your revenue when your big star goes down with an injury, decides he’s going to jump ship to a competing promotion, or tries to develop his motion picture career.

The second is that, quite frankly, a wrestler who can be that larger than life, transcendent personality just hasn’t shown up in quite some time. Usually performers of this nature come once in a generation, and, during the last boom period, we wound up with a weird historical fluke where two of them (The Rock and Steve Austin) just happened to show up at the same time. Nobody who has come on to WWE’s roster in the fifteen years or so since Rock and Austin both stopped wrestling on a full-time basis has come anywhere close to filling their shoes, so part of the problem is that WWE hasn’t had much opportunity to rally around one man uber alles. They did try it with John Cena for a period of time, and that worked to a degree. However, in a post-Cena era, the pickings are pretty slim, and fans have consistently rejected just about every top babyface the promotion has attempted to make.

Hopefully that dynamic will change soon, and there will be a wrestler who becomes the primary focus of WWE’s programming because he’s so damn good that the company has no choice but to make him the primary focus of their programming. Until that happens, we’re most likely going to be stuck with generic plug-and-play babyfaces and heels like Seth Rollins and Baron Corbin, who, in terms of personality, could be replaced by one of a hundred different guys.

Last week, I was asked about the many championships that Shawn Michaels has lost outside of the ring and whether anybody else has lost more. My answer was that Jerry Lawler and the Steiner Brothers had dropped more titles without actually losing than HBK, but David K. wants Michaels to regain his crown:

You forgot a couple which puts Shawn in first place.

October 1990 the rockers beat the Hart foundation but they had to forefit because (as the story goes) the Anvil was going to quit but didn’t so the WWF said it was a ring rope broken.

Also the European title he dropped to HHH in a “fake” match is generally counted as a forfeit even though it technically happened in the ring.

First off, even if you add both of those to Shawn’s tally, he ties Lawler at eight titles and does not surpass him. I would also say that the Rockers’ Tag Team Title “win” and “loss” shouldn’t really count towards this question, because it wasn’t even a title reign that was officially acknowledged by the WWF/WWE for many, many years. In my mind, that’s more akin to a title change being reversed by a Dusty finish than it is the sort of title loss that we were covering in the column . . . and, if you’re going to start adding Dusty finishes to everybody’s counts of titles they lost without wrestling, you’re going to have a wildly different data set than what I presented last week.

As far as his intentionally dropping the European Title to Triple H is concerned, I think that comes much closer to fitting the bill. I still wouldn’t really count it, because there was technically a bell-to-bell match, but I can see the argument.

One other thing to note is that, if you count the Michaels/Helmsley Euro Title change, you also have to count the Hulk Hogan/Kevin Nash “Finger Poke of Doom” in WCW, which would move Nash up to six title losses outside of the ring and tie him with Ric Flair.

Maurizio AC is getting us into a sticky situation:

31 years out of 39 of being a fan but I still wonder why so many married wrestlers will often times sport black rings (possibly black tape over the actual ring) on their finger. I mean, it’s not like they’re taking the ring off to keep kayfabe.

It’s pretty common for athletes like wrestlers to put tape over their wedding rings as opposed to attempting to take them off, because some people wear their rings particularly tight, to the point that it would be too large a pain to take them off. (I know more than one person whose wedding ring is essentially permanently attached because they’ve, ahem, “grow into it” over time.)

Also, some wrestlers tape their fingers for reasons other than covering up jewelry. In the olden days, taped fingers were a good place to hide razor blade fragments if you were going to be bleeding during a match. There are also some pro wrestlers that tape their fingers for additional support, in hopes that they can prevent dislocations and jams. That’s not just limited to pro wrestling, as you’ll sometimes see legitimate combat sports competitors like amateur wrestlers and BJJ practitioners taping their fingers for that reason as well.

Adam loves you:

Why was Bruce Prichard fired from the WWF in 1991?

According to Prichard himself on an early episode of his Something to Wrestle podcast, he was let go in May 1991 because he was a “spoiled brat” and threw a big tantrum over the fact that he didn’t want to work with a new executive producer that the company had hired for its television shows. (Though Prichard had been on the air as Brother Love during the time, his primary job was putting together TV for the promotion.) This version of events is essentially corroborated by the June 3, 1991 issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, which notes that Prichard did not get along with new producer John Fillipelli, though the Observer account also puts part of the blame for Prichard’s release at Fillipelli’s feet, as he reportedly wanted to work with his own crew of producers who he was bringing in from outside of wrestling.

Mike T. has what I think is a question:

When it comes down to it, is there an actual standard for what paved the way? Most everything is cyclical but in an updated format. I can respect what has hardened the cement that has been built upon but are there any certain things, in general, that really shifted the tide? We’re inundated with pro wrestling and maybe we’re being a bit forthright?

I’m guessing Mike used to have a job with the WWF writing Ultimate Warrior promos.

Connor reeks of arrogance:

Do you think Rick Martel will ever go into the WWE Hall of Fame? He was very entertaining as The Model.

It’s entirely possible. One thing that you have to keep in mind about the WWE Hall of Fame is that it’s not really a “hall of fame” in the traditional sense of the phrase. It’s not as though there is a dedicated panel of voters as in the baseball or even rock n’ roll halls of fame, with those voters maintaining a fairly high bar regarding who can get in and who cannot.

Instead, the WWE Hall of Fame is an opportunity for the company to sell some tickets to another live event during Wrestlemania weekend and to promote some of their nostalgia-centered merchandise be reminding of the stars of yesteryear who might be featured in those wares. Yes, I’m sure that many wrestlers legitimately feel honored by going in to the HOF, and I’m sure that some in WWE do see it as an honor for them as well, but the reality is it’s more of a marketing gimmick than it is anything else.

Because of that, literally anybody can wind up in the WWE Hall of Fame as long as someone involved in the decision-making process thinks of their name in the right time and at the right place. As a result, Martel has just as much chance of making it into the Hall as any other 1980s/1990s upper-midcard performer who is still alive and has no known heat with the McMahon family.

And, before anybody bites my head off in the comment section, my remarks about the nature of the WWE Hall of Fame are in no way meant to be critical. It’s their Hall, and I have no problem with them running it however they may see fit. In fact, I’m all for the current HOF structure if it helps some of the old school performers who I grew up with feel good about their careers. It’s just that, when I get asked whether so-and-so will ever be a WWE Hall of Famer, analyzing the question feels like a bit of a pointless exercise, because decisions regarding who makes it in and who does not seem almost arbitrary from year-to-year.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].