WM Top 25: #10 – Hart-Austin, WrestleMania 13

Make sure to check out the full article on Examiner.com to see the final minutes of Hart-Austin from WrestleMania 13 and the infamous "blood stone" image.

There are some magical rivalries in pro wrestling that long-time fans talk about for years afterwards. Hogan-Savage, Steamboat-Flair and Sammartino-Zbyzsko are just three of the many great feuds that wrestling historians talk about. As the ‘90s went along many more rivalries were added to that list, and one of the mostly fondly remembered was Hart-Austin.

Bret “Hit Man” Hart was one of the WWF’s biggest stars in the early ‘90s but was never really the company’s “guy.” They were always looking for the next big star and Hart was there to fill in the gaps until they found someone “better.” At WrestleMania XII Hart lost the WWF Championship to Shawn Michaels, the company’s next big thing. Hart took a sabbatical to clear his had, do some film and television work and decide his future with WWF.

He returned to television in November 1996 and announced he was staying with the WWF and he would be facing the “best wrestler in the WWF today” Stone Cold Steve Austin at the upcoming Survivor Series ’96. It would be the start of a beautiful rivalry. That Survivor Series match saw Hart win in a great scientific exchange, but that was only the beginning.

After Survivor Series the rivalry escalated. Austin, the foul-mouthed, middle-finger waving bad guy, was slowly gaining traction with the fans while the long-time hero Hart was becoming more of a whiner and complainer that fans grew tired of. The days of the clear-cut “good guys” versus “bad guys” was a thing of the past and the sides became blurred. Welcome to the era of “shades of grey.”

The stage was set for the culmination of the angle at WrestleMania 13; a submission match between Hart and Austin with Ultimate Fight Championship legend Ken Shamrock in the middle as the special referee. The only way to win was to make your opponent give up; no pinfalls, count outs or discussions. Austin entered the match still as the “bad guy” while Hart was still considered the “good guy,” but the jaded Chicago crowd was dictating different responses for both men. As the match raged on the crowd became more and more behind Austin. Hart’s mannerisms slowly started turning sinister and the crowd booed him mercilessly. Hart took control of the match and Austin was forced to fight from underneath, like any good underdog does.

In the end Hart locked Austin in his patented Sharpshooter. Austin writhed in pain for what seemed like an eternity, locked in Hart’s submission move as blood poured from Austin’s face. The image of Austin screaming in pain as blood rained down his forehead has become one of the company’s most iconic images. (Skip to about 5:30 into the video to see what I’m talking about.) In the end Austin passed out from the pain and Shamrock had no choice but to stop the match and award it to the Hit Man. As Austin lie dormant on the mat Hart celebrated his victory to a chorus of boos.

After the bout Hart attacked Austin to add insult to injury. Shamrock forcefully pulled Hart off and dropped him with a suplex. Hart left the ring as crowd jeered him. Austin eventually rose to his feet under his own power and received a hero’s welcome. Austin walked into the match as a villain and left as the people’s champion, and the start of that match would be the last time that Bret Hart would hear cheers from American audiences for a long time. It was the most successful and well planned out “double turn” in wrestling history.

It was a monumental moment in that help shift the company’s paradigm, and it was an incredibly entertaining and well-put together match to boot. This match help set the WWF down the road to the very successful “Attitude” era that would follow shortly thereafter that saw Austin become the company’s flagship and Bret Hart exiled to World Championship Wrestling. It’s not often that you get such a technically sound match that also played such a historical part in wrestling history.

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