Unbroken Bret Hart
Updated: Apr 27, 2020
BRET THE HITMAN HART
“I had wrestling in my blood.” - Bret Hart
Known for his world-class in-ring skills, The Hitman is arguably the greatest technical wrestler in the history of WWE. The excellence of execution, once coined by Gorilla monsoon, didn’t take long for others to come to terms with the moniker.
In an industry built around bravado and hyperbole, “the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be” may not be everyone’s opinion of this generation spanning wrestler.
But his character at least deserves to be discussed in those upper circles of grappling’s elite.
His humble yet determined attitude towards his rivals & his honest and truthful look out onto the wrestling industry meant he was both appreciated and respected both on television, by fans In the arenas around the world and in the locker room with his peers.
“I think it's hard to differentiate between your wrestling character and your real character - you kind of end up being both. I've always been my wrestling character in and out of the ring and in and out of the dressing room, and I was always really respected in the dressing room by the other wrestlers.” - Bret Hart
Clad in contrasting neon sunglasses, singlet and trademark leather jacket, the pink and black attack fit nicely into the 90’s new generation aesthetic amongst other colourful characters of the time such as; Macho Man Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan & Shawn Michaels.
“The pink was something that they liked. For those kids, the pink and black and the whole look with the sunglasses and the leather jacket was the right kind of hero they could get behind, and I think that really set me apart from everyone else.” - Bret Hart
I want to delve deeper into the history of one of it’s greatest proponents. Through his personal history, achievements & highlights, as well as taking a deeper look into one of the wrestling industries greatest sibling rivalries.
Born Bret Sergeant Hart on July 2nd, 1957 into one of wrestling’s most prestigious and influential extended families the Hart foundation, headed at the time by his father, feared and respected wrestling legend Stu Hart.
“My dad was a submission wrestler, and he loved to stretch anyone who dared to show up at his door. I remember him stretching the daylights out of Father Roberts, the Catholic priest who baptized all the Hart kids. Father Roberts got closer to God in my father’s basement dungeon than he felt comfortable with. But Stu was non-denominational; he stretched a rabbi once too.” - Bret Hart
As soon as he could walk, Bret was wrestling with his family and starting his journey through his father’s Hart Dungeon wrestling school, as did his brother Owen & as was the family tradition, so did all of their brothers, cousins, nephews & uncles:
Dean, Smith & Ross Hart, Wayne, Bret, Keith, Bruce & Owen Hart.
The list of notable names that passed through this notoriously tortuous and brutal training regime is long and comprehensive:
Abdullah the Butcher,
Billy Jack Haynes,
Davey Boy Smith,
David Hart Smith,
Fritz Von Erich,
Jushin Thunder Liger,
Roddy Piper, The Honky Tonk Man, Jake Roberts, Edge, Brian Pillman & Chris Jericho & Chris Benoit, who said;
“I take a lot of pride in being one of the last guys that had the hands-on training from Stu Hart when I went to the Hart family to train ... It was a good experience just to be there, to imagine all the people that had been through there, and all the blood, sweat, and tears that had been paid ... Going to the Hart family for training was kind of like, if you're a very religious person, going to the Vatican.” - Chris Benoit
IN THE RING
At age 19. Bret’s first in ring appearance came in his father’s Stampede promotion, but not as a wrestler, as a Ref.
Bret debut in Calgary Stampede Wrestling in 1978. In his rookie year, he won the NWA intercontinental title from Keith Hart.
But it was his acquisition of the mid-heavyweight belt that pushed him over the top in popularity. In battles against Tom The Dynamite Kidd – this is where Hart recognised his potential in the classic good vs evil dynamic of wrestling against Dynamite’s egotistical, cheating persona.
In 1980 Hart bulked up both physically as well as his move-set and ability ramping up a notch. He took his first steps as a heavyweight in early 1980. Winning the North American title 5 times, in Calgary Stampede. Feuding with the likes of Davey Schulz & Bad News Allen.
At this time, the Hart brothers toured around the world, wrestling in Europe, Canada, The USA and Japan.
Bret had a series of tag-team matches in Tokyo against the likes of The Original Tiger Mask, Riki Choshu & Nobuhiko Takada.
Stampede Wrestling promotion was bought by WWF in 1983 aswell as the contracts of Bret and Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, Jim Neidhart & Dynamite Kid. 5 of the top talents in Stampede at the time.
August 29, 1984 saw the onscreen debut of Bret in a match on ‘Maple Leaf Wrestling’ in a tag-team with the Dynamite Kid. At this time, Hart started to discover his strong passion for the intricousies of multi-man matches. Going on to say that he liked performing with a partner more than most of his contemporaries.
“I had so many wonderful guys that I worked with and great matches - that's what was most important to me” – Bret Hart
Stampede separates from WWF again but Brett stays with WWF rather than go back to Stampede in Canada with his father’s promotion.
March – formed the Hart foundation in WWF with former Stampede contemporary, Jim the anvil, Neidhart one of the most iconic and recognisable tag-teams in the wrestling industry’s history.
The Hart Foundation won the World Tag Team Championship from the British Bulldogs
WrestleMania III: Danny Davis & The Hart Foundation beat The British Bulldogs & Tito Santana
And would carry on their run with multiple title matches and reigns over the next two years. Fueding with the likes of The Bolsheviks, Demolition & The Nasty Boys.
The year that it all started to come together for the excellence of execution. When in August that year at SummerSlam: Bret beat Curt Hennig (Mr.Perfect) to win the Intercontinental Championship and gain his first singles belt within the WWF. Where he remained dominant over a few interim challengers.
Until, in 1992 he lost the Intercontinental Championship to The Mountie in a shock defeat, only to have a more glorious and reputable victory and regain his title at Wrestlemania 8 against rival Roddy Piper.
SummerSlam came along in 1992 and Bret lost the Intercontinental Championship to the British Bulldog.
In the beaming sun of August in London, at Wembley Stadium, the last main show PPV to come to the UK even to this day. With an incredible attendance of 80,355.
Bret would go on to say that even though he had to drag British Bulldog through the match due to his substance abuse causing forgetfulness – that this was indeed his favourite match.
This 30 minute classic meant the Intercontinental Title headlined over the WWF title, something almost unheard of in the industry even in modern wrestling. And it was very much deserving, if you haven’t seen this match – for the atmosphere alone it’s worth watching SummerSlam 1992.
HART'S FIRST WORLD TITLE WIN
This loss did not resonate for long with the Hitman as in October, just six weeks later, he was informed that evening would be his crowning moment – on an un-televise house show against Ric Flair, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada – when he forced Flair to tap to the sharpshooter.
Perhaps not the lavish coronation Hart would have liked, but he wasn’t going to miss this opportunity and put on what has been called by some in attendance that night a match for the ages. He became the WWF Champion for the first time.
In November of that year Bret & Shawn Michaels faced off one on one at Survivor Series for the first time.
4/4 WrestleMania IX: lost the WWE Title to Yokozuna – more on this horrific moments in wrestling history - see my video and blog 'Hateful Hulk Hogan.'
KING OF THE RING
WWE decided to make the annual King of the Ring tournament into a televised event. It took place on June 13, 1993, at the Nutter Center in Dayton, Ohio. The first time King Of The Ring would get it’s own Pay-Per-View and have the tournament finale as the main event of the show.
In the weeks leading up to the event, combatants had to fight in a series of qualification matches on regular weekly WWF programming at the time with only rounds two, three and four being shown at the special event.
Bret Hart won the tournament by defeating Razor Ramon, Mr. Perfect (In what is a match absolutely going back and watching, it’s on another level) and Bam Bam Bigelow.
Truly what felt like an apology from Vince for the horror of Wrestlemania 9.
Bret was allowed to wrestle in three completely different styles, with contrasting opponent threats, all while gathering injuries and fatigue, for the length of the event Bret wrestled almost 50 minutes across the three exhibition displays.
He shined in every way and started to gather pace towards the eventual stardom that he became synonymous with.
He was attacked by Jerry Lawler during a coronation ceremony, which added to their feud that lasted more than two years.
At the 1993 Survivor series. Bret & Owen were joined by their brothers Keith & Bruce to face Shawn Michaels & his “knights”.
The Hart brothers had their opponents well in hand and they managed to eliminate all Michaels' partners. Shawn Michaels found himself with no partners as the Hart Brothers handily dealt with the threat.
After and accidental collision between Owen & Bret, which allowed Michaels to eliminate Owens via the distraction.
The match ended in count-out and the Harts had won. Owen, who was dissatisfied with the manner of the victories stormed back to the ring & let off some steam in Bret’s direction.
As their mother watched on crying, The rest of the Harts in attendance managed to quell any tension between the brothers before anything more dramatic could unfold.
In the weeks that followed, Owen further antagonised Bret by stealing his classic glasses & jacket look and even adopted Bret’s famous sharpshooter as his finish.
Bret and Owen even started to team up again after their parents begged them to make peace. and they fought in a selection of good tag team matches together.
At the 1994 Royal Rumble, they faced The Quebecers over the Tag Team Championship.
During the match, Bret sustained a serious knee injury so the referee stopped the match.
Owen attacked Bret’s knee after the match and truly started the peak of their rivalry when he blamed his brother for their failed chance at the tag team championships.
It was the start of Owen's heel turn and it led to massive boos for him.
Later in the night in the Royal Rumble match main event Owen attacked Bret during the match & Bret & Lex Luger were declared co-winners when it was determined they were eliminated at the same time.
But the crowd let their feelings be known and it was clear that the majority was behind the Hitman cheering him on to Wrestlemania 10.
He started the night with an incredibly match in which he lost to Owen. The brothers put on an expectedly awesome match, dripping in technical quality with Owen famously wrestling a completely different style, clarifying his position as a bad guy in the ring.
From high-flying excitement, Owen adopted a more clinical and methodical approach to taking down his brother, showing his hatred, and determination to cause Bret as much physical pain as possible.
Anything he could do to stop Bret’s rise to the main event later in the evening.
Owen did lay it all on the line by the finishing bell which included a jumping tombstone piledriver. Owen won the opening match, sitting out on a victory roll by Bret from the top rope.
Bret more than made up for it though as he beat Yokozuna to regain the WWE Championship later in the night in a crowing moment for the wrestler.
But for the first time in his wrestling history, Bret Hart’s focus wasn’t laser-beamed onto the WWF title. His vision blurred by this new-found rivalry with his younger, dastardly brother Owen.
This lead to August and SummerSlam where the two battled in one of the most vicious match-types ever put into action.
Bret beat Owen Hart in a steel cage match which was a mix of hate fuelled aggression and sublime grappling technique between two athletes who have spent their entire lives building to this moment, fighting each other from children, through adolescence and into adulthood hundreds of times.
The moves flow seamlessly as a world-class ballet. The punches are crisp and effective at getting across the emotion from Owen. After the match, Anvil and Owen would lock themselves inside the cage with Bret, doing significant damage before other members of the family could run them off.
Surprisingly, it would take nearly five months for the pair to face off for the title. Bret would instead focus on the rising Diesel, while Owen would plot his own path to becoming the “King of Harts” defeating Razor Ramon to win the 1994 King of the Ring.
Owen would also play his part in the finish of the title match, as he and his new partner in crime Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart would cause a DQ when Diesel appeared to have the match and the title won. Owen didn't just want to win the WWF Title, he wanted to beat his brother in the process. Owen's “coronation” promo was a fine effort from a man who was settling nicely into his new heel persona.
After this Bret sored continuously to the top of the company. Focusing on other heels and switching between champion and challenger over the next few years. Having undoubtably the best run of his career in terms of both company recognition and technical abilities.
At WrestleMania XI the next year, he beat Bob Backlund in an I-Quit Match and continued his iconic feud with Jerry Lawler through King Of the Ring in June where the Hitman won the right to force the King Lawler to kiss his sweaty toes, straight out of his stinking wrestling boot after the match.
This feud also famously facilitated the debut on 8/27 at SummerSlam of Isaac Yankem (later known as Kane).
WrestleMania XII: Hart lost the WWE Championship to Shawn Michaels in a 60-Minute Iron Man Match an absolute classic and clinical display of two of the greatest wrestlers to ever exist. An absolute must-watch match for all those wanting to see how far technical mastery in the ring, both physical and emotional – can be pushed.
Not to be slowed down, Bret continued onto one of the most memorable rivalries of his entire career and his Survivor Series match where he beat Steve Austin for the first time.
The animosity continued into 1997, where in January at the Royal Rumble: Steve Austin won, by last eliminating Bret Hart. After in fact Bret had first eliminated Stone Cold, something that the referees claimed to have missed.
At In Your House. Bret Hart won the vacant WWE Championship in a 4-Way Elimination Match that also featured Steve Austin, the Undertaker, and Vader. Showing exactly just how highly WWD regarded his career at this time.
WrestleMania 13 served as the finale for the battle against the Texan Rattlesnake when The Hitman beat Steve Austin in a Submission Match, imagery from that night, those moments seared into the consciousness of wrestling fans globally.
In the background some tension was building between Shawn Michaels & Bret, both on-screen and off. SummerSlam allowed Bret to beat the Undertaker to win the WWE Championship in a match that featured Shawn Michaels as the referee, further adding subtext to this intriguing competition.
It was around this time that WCW made a large offer towards Bret, promising a contract that financially far overshadowed his current WWF paycheck. But Bret was decicive, he was going to stay loyal to WWF even if he hadn’t been treated the best. Even if he had (until recently) been looked over for the likes of huge muscle men Hogan & Luger.
Bret was an honourable man and wasn’t going to turn his back on those who had paid his wages for so many years. But this didn’t stop Vince Mcmahon, longstanding owner and chairman of WWE and Bret to come to a stand-still over new contract negotiations, with the clock running out on Hart’s duties, neither man was willing to budge. Hart was willing to hand over the title via a loss and even said he’d do so after his contract had expired. However due to the previous conflicts with Shawn Michaels, his only stipulation was that he woudn’t drop the belt to HBK.
This led to a situation where WWE’s main champion was out of contract and still in procession of it’s most important and historical belt.
With WCW circling, Vince Mcmahon, not wanting to lose one of his biggest stars and his biggest titles as the same time made an industry changing decision.
One that not only changed the fate of Bret Hart, but those around him, Vince Mcmahon’s long-running character arc, the fan’s perception of WWE and the path that sports entertainment would take from that moment fourth, the incident which will now and forever, be held up in wrestling folklore as the…
I’m sure most of you are familiar with this wrestling-universe altering event. November 9th, Survivor Series a show where Shawn Michaels & Brett Hart already had a lot of history.
The main match of the evening, which just so happened to be in the Molson Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada – obviously, the home country of the Hitman. For him this just added more pressure.
Under the bright lights, the pressure boiled over when Shawn had Bret temporarily in his own finisher, the famous ‘sharpshooter’ submission. A truly villainous move on your average show, but when the ref Earl Hebner signalled that Bret Hart had submitted, the arena deflated with confusion.
Bret clearly hadn’t tapped out or shouted that he submitted, he hadn’t made any gestures towards the officials and was only in the hold for a second or two.
In this moment he lost the WWE Championship to Shawn Michaels. But that wasn’t the reason that Hart tried to wrestle Shawn Michaels to the mat after the bell, shot straight over to loom over Vince Mcmahon who had made the call ringside and spit in his face.
He knew he had been betrayed. Barring some run-ins with wrestling’s biggest cunt Hulk Hogan, The industry famous back-stabbing Bret had upto this point managed to avoid.
I believe that the universe is completely random and non-determined.
But sometimes in the wrestling universe, the stars seem to align.
His greatest rival, Shawn Michaels, the sharpshooter, Canada and his last match all culminated in one of the biggest instances of double-crossing and back-stabbing ever seen in professional wrestling.
On his was out of the door of WWF for his then final time, Bret walked backstage and gave Vince Mcmahon a black eye. Picked up his patented leather jacket and shades and rode off towards Orlando Studios and WCW.
His first match in WCW was indicative of how the rest of his run with the company would go. Not the best of fit in terms of Hart’s serious, work-hard mentality and WCW’s lockeroom filled with party-goers and ego-maniacs.
December’s Starrcade saw Larry Zbysko beat Eric Bischoff with Bret Hart as a special guest referee.
In his first big singles match at that year’s Souled Out he beat Ric Flair in a match of notably less quality than you would expect from tow of the greatest ever. Bret would mention numerous times, negative comments about Flair’s in-ring ability which goes to contradict what most have come to think about the Nature Boy.
“Ric has never been able to do anything but his one routine match, which consists of cartoon high spots borrowed from Jackie Fargo and midget wrestlers, along with an assortment of tired old ripped off Buddy Rogers’ high spots. My dad always called Flair a ‘routine man’ – because he did the exact same routine every night and was forever stuck with it.” – Bret Hart
What Bret called his saddest day happened when his beloved brother and rival, Owen died in May 23rd 1999 during a WWE pay-per-view match when he fell 78 feet to his death while being lowered into the ring from the rafters at Kemper Area in Kansas City. He was just 34 years old at the time of the horrific incident.
"Hey Owen, can't believe it's been fifteen years since you left us. It still hurts the same and not a day goes by that I don't think of you and smile. There are so many things I wish I could tell you but, most of all, I'd just tell you how much I miss you Brother." - BretHart
Hart, always a traditionalist who valued hard work over all else, didn’t take a day off. He continued to train and work matches straight after this loss. Choosing instead to bury his anguish in his passion for the squared circle.
I feel torn on this issue, it’s nothing to do with me and he can live his life however he wants to. But it makes me feel so sad for Bret knowing how the road went following what is one of the most miserable days in wrestling.
He won the U.S. Title & WCW title from Goldberg on two different Nitros. WCW flagship weekly show as well as beating Sting in this period.
Throughout his tenure in the Ted Turner owner promotion Bret faced al of the biggest stars it had to offer, but never had the same spark and magic that we had seen during his time at WWF.
And even as a young fan watching WCW here in the UK I never gravitated towards him and upon reflection he just didn’t seem like the same person after everything that had come before.
Finally on an episode of Nitro, 16th January 2000: the WCW title was declared vacant due to the career-ending injury Bret suffered when he was accidentally kicked in the head by Goldberg.
He suffered a severe concussion and side-effects from this meant he lost vision, hearing and chunks of his memory. As well as a host of ailments with his muscles.
Showing that in the most brutally real way possible, he did eventually give everything physically to the business that he so dearly loved.
Hart would later go on to host and train a whole manner of WWE talent over the 00’s. Imparting his knowledge and wisdom that he has acquired over the last 25 years onto the next generation of sports entertainment.
“After being signed by WWE, Edge, Christian, Mark Henry, Giant Silva, Test and Ken Shamrock all trained at my house. I had a pool room with an indoor pool and a garden behind it. I took out the garden and put in a wrestling ring.” – Bret Hart
But for years he would not step back inside the offices or ring of the now WWE. He refused to come to terms with the dishonour that Vince McMahon had shown him and vowed to never forgive him. In wrestling, as in life – things change fast, old wounds heal, egos become less inflamed and apologies can be made.
Bret returned in 2010 for roles in a few matches including one story-line classic no holds barred match against Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania 26.
And a chance to win his very last title from the Miz in a No DQ match on Raw, in the form of the US belt. Before days later vacating the championship.
His last match came at SummerSlam in 2015 when Team WWE (John Cena, Bret Hart, Chris Jericho, Edge, John Morrison, R-Truth, and Daniel Bryan) beat The Nexus (Wade Barrett, Darren Young, David Otunga, Heath Slater, Justin Gabriel, Michael Tarver, and Skip Sheffield) in an Elimination Match – something that is still hotly contested to this day. With many believing that the young up and comers should have won the match and continued their assention to the top.
“Hart found beauty in the wrestling simplicity. he strode to the ring against the whirr of an electric guitar, pausing only to gift his trademark shades to a small child waiting ringside. Inside the ring, he wasted no movement, systematically focusing on his opponents’ weaknesses until they were too tired to endure his patented Sharpshooter submission. He was also an innovator of offense and possessed an uncanny ability to create pinning combinations out of seemingly any predicament.” - WWE
An innovator and influencer to so many modern-day wrestlers. An honest and reputably man who stood by his morals and acted towards what he thought was right. Admired by all for his in-ring mastery and respected for his strong backbone, stiff upper-lip and true grit.
A man who’s career and personal life has been laden with deceit, manipulation and tragedy all of which fell out of Bret Hart’s control. He just soldiered on and will forever be known as the one they call;
The best there is, The best there was, and the best there ever will be.