My computer couldn’t handle interviews of this magnitude, so I had to invest in a new build and, contrary to popular belief, being an armchair wrestling critic doesn’t pay particularly well. I’m all up and running now though, so get ready for more of whatever-the-fuck-this-series-is-called over the next few months. I’ve got something with Blair that’s been scheduled for one fall, but today Zork is in the non-existant hot-seat…
KON: Zork (of the comments section), what’s your first memory of The Hitman?
ZORK:My first real clear memory of Bret Hart involves him in the middle of his long feud with Jerry Lawler. I remember seeing the Summerslam ’93 PPV at my grandparents’ house, me and my dad were there. I remember after Bret won via the Sharpshooter I was ecstatic, then when he didn’t let go and the decision was reversed I was PISSED. I hated Jerry Lawler back when I was a kid, looking back on it now though I love his work, and when he was more of a heel on commentary. I also got to see the Survivor Series ’93 PPV in which I saw the beginnings of Bret and Owen’s own feud that developed the following year.
KON: Lawler was a fantastic heel, he ticked all the right boxes. I remember chants of “Burger King” and whatnot leading up to that match with Bret… He just seems bored during his commentary now. He’ll throw in a word or two during each match, then read whatever shit he’s been handed about Cena/the main event. Booker has kinda taken his place as “guy that makes remarks about the wimmins” and Cole is sort of a heel, so Lawler has no real place. His commentary worked so well during the “attitude era” because JR was a friendly guy who thanked viewers for tuning in at the start of every show and whatnot. Cole’s heel commentary run would’ve been a lot better if he had a nice (or at least enthusiastic) guy to play off of.
Back to Bret…
I don’t remember a lot about his feud with Owen. I do remember completing the WWF Panini sticker collection in 94 though. Even in those little stickers, Bret looked like he needed a good shower.
ZORK:I agree with all your points on Lawler.
As for Bret and Owen’s feud, Owen was doing a good job being subtle about being a little jealous snot living in the shadow of Bret.
I remember seeing on Superstars or whatever minor show it was back then that Bret had been betrayed by Owen at the Royal Rumble in ’94 which my family skipped out on for whatever reason, where Bret had an injured leg in this tag match with the Quebecers, and Owen got mad at him and attacked him. I felt sorry for Bret and I was mad at Owen. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see Wrestlemania that year either but again I learned of the results just from watching TV and when I found out that Owen beat Bret I couldn’t believe it. But something kind of strange happened, when Owen won King of the Ring that year, I started to like him. But I always was a bit weird about liking wrestlers who were bad guys when I was younger, it just happened to where I did sort of like Owen when he was face, hated him after he turned on Bret initially, but as he continued winning
I grew to like him.
As for Bret needing a shower, and stickers, yeah he looked like he could’ve used a good shower quite a bit in the early 90s. I never collected stickers but I did usually get the old WWF trading cards. Never had a full set though.
KON: He dropped the title to Bob Backlund after the feud with Owen. I wasn’t old enough to have seen Bob’s original run, but he was fucking nuts in the 90’s (and still is, judging by his JCW appearance last year).
Hart would go on to feud with Diesel, then had a non-title rematch against Backlund before going on to face Lawler in a “Kiss My Foot” match at KotR…
ZORK: I never saw the title match he had with Backlund but I do remember his crazy gimmick and all that. I remember watching on the C-shows they would run on Saturdays, the exact moment where Bob Backlund beat him. He had Bret in the Chickenwing, and the deal was that somebody had to throw in the towel or something for Bret to actually give up and he wouldn’t give up…I believe it was his mom Helen that was at ringside. She wouldn’t throw the towel in, but eventually Owen argued with her about it and got her to throw the towel in for him. I never saw his rematch with Backlund though.
I missed pretty much all of the WWF PPVs from 94 to 95 except for Summerslam 94, at that point in time I believe my family was more apt to watch the WCW ones. I never really favored WCW over WWF, I watched both whenever I could but I always preferred WWF even during the worst times, I think mostly because I just grew up with them and never saw anything about WCW until around 94. It sure was fun to watch guys like Sting back in those days though. I’ve seen the results of the Kiss my Foot Match and iconic the footage at the end, it’s something WWE will still bring up once in a while as they should, Bret and Lawler’s feud was pretty much one of the best ones they ever had going.
As a result of all this I did end up missing most of the important matches with Bret Hart and Diesel. I have seen their match at Survivor Series 95 which is probably the best match Kevin Nash was ever in, it was quite good. Once 96 hit I was sort of back in the swing of seeing WWF PPVs again starting with the Royal Rumble, where Bret fought Undertaker and he lost via DQ because Diesel interfered and they were continuing that feud. I did think that was lame because I did want to see Undertaker have a title reign, I always liked him as well.
KON: And then we had the 60min long Iron Man match at WrestleMania XII.
They cover the work that went into this match on the Shawn Vs. Bret: WWE’s Greatest Rivalries DVD set, and a lot of people think of it as the best match of ’96 (if not ever). What say you?
ZORK:I do think it probably was the best match of 96, that I saw anyway, even now after I’ve seen more. I’d so it probably is one of the best matches ever too. The hype the produced for this match to make it seem really important to both men involved was done very well, especially the interviews and and footage gathered when they were both training. It was a pretty unique match for everyone that only watched WWF and at that time I had never even known that an Iron Man match existed before or was done. I watched it again recently on the Shawn vs Bret DVD (Which I recommend for anyone to pick up, it’s an excellent set) and thought it held up really well and was very enjoyable.
It was interesting to see how heated the rivalry was and how angry both guys got at each other during the match, it was believable that these guys didn’t like each other. Little did we know that was actually the case later on after this match. As for how I remembered it back when I saw it in ’96, to me it was the best match ever, two of my favourite wrestlers going at it over an hour? It was pretty amazing. The results of the match were shocking and I was pretty mixed about it.
At first I remembered thinking that it was unfair to have Bret continue after a draw, and even if they were to continue Shawn was practically dead. Then when they went back at it, one Sweet Chin Music later BAM! Shawn Michaels is now the World Champion for his first time. I was disappointed but then I was also really happy for him, besides his entrance was cool. After this though I know Bret took time off, so I was watching WWF TV with Shawn as World Champion, but then some other guy was causing waves as well and then he won some PPV in 96 and cut an awesome promo or whatever…
KON: Hart feuded with Austin when he returned though. Even going as far as “quitting” because Austin won the Rumble. Their submission match at WrestleMania 13 is, again, considered one of the best matches that year.
ZORK: Another case where it was believable that neither of these guys liked each other, the promo work each guy did to build this feud was really great too. They were complete opposites in almost every way imaginable. In terms of speech, how they carry themselves, and even down to how they fought in the ring. That match is probably one of my top favorites of all time. It was really intense, and camera work was perfect, and the double turn that happened was executed perfectly. I liked Austin before but this match really sold me on him. I’d say this is easily another one of the greatest feuds in wrestling.
I continued to support Bret after his heel turn though and even during that time before where he was considered to be whiny and a choke artist so to speak. I remember feeling like he did get sort of screwed over in the odd match once in a while because of weird interference or whatever. Similar to how Stone Cold wasn’t really lying when he would always say he was being overlooked and nobody made vidoes out of him when he was hurt and he wrestled anyways. I think it was after his win at Wrestlemania though, he put together the new Hart Foundation made up of Owen, Bulldog, The Anvil, and Pillman. I don’t really remember when exactly they all got together but this group produced some interesting TV.
KON: Is it possible that Bret actually didn’t like most of the roster by this point? He considered jumping over to WCW when he took time off and he did a “worked shoot” on Vince after he returned. I really don’t think he was happy (or comfortable) as a heel.
ZORK: I don’t think so, as I recall from reading his book and other accounts (unless he and others were lying) Bret did get along with most of the locker room. Bret and Austin were actually pretty good friends during that time and still are I think, of course he got along well with Mick Foley, Undertaker, Goldust, etc. I think it was later on in 96 was when he was starting to have problems with Shawn and company. I do recall Bret saying in his book that he wasn’t comfortable being a straight up heel and doing profanity laced promos such as this:
He did like it though when he got into that unique position where he was treated as a heel in America, but he was treated as a face in Canada, most of Europe and any other parts of the world. I can’t really think of any other guy that was able to get set crowd reaction like that where if he’s in one part of the world he’s hated, but just by crossing the border or going overseas he’s more over than anyone else on the roster.
KON: Which sorta brings us to Bret v The Undertaker w/special guest referee Shawn Michaels at SummerSlam and the rematch at One Night Only. Bret considers the rematch to be his last great match with the company.
ZORK: I don’t think I’ve actually seen the One Night Only match with Taker. That match was good at Summerslam though, and they did a great job re-igniting the feud with Shawn. This time it was really different since both guys were not face, Bret’s unique position not withstanding. I was really digging Shawn’s work at this point though and early formations of DX. Looking back, Shawn was literally the hugest prick on screen.
At this point the Hart Foundation was pretty much feuding with the entire company and Shawn and his little band.
KON: Now we’re kinda at Montreal…
ZORK:Yeah… About that…
Just like when you talk about Bret Hart and can’t help but mention his tag run with the original Hard Foundation, his feud with his brother or Jerry Lawler, or the Iron Man match, Montreal can’t help but be mentioned as well. I don’t really remember a lot of the build up to Survivor Series ’97 and I did end up missing the PPV the night of, but I was able to watch it on tape on Monday and to be honest I don’t really remember any of the other matches besides The Road Warriors, Ahmed Johnson, and Ken Shamrock taking on The Nation of Domination. But, anyway, I remember the match with Bret and Shawn being good up to the point where Vince told someone to “RING THE DAMN BELL!!”, and the match abruptly ended. Everything that transpired after that was surreal. I was in literal shock of what was going on.
Bret spat in Vince McMahon’s face and proceeded to just destroy the announce table at ring side, the Hart Foundation (Minus Brian Pillman, he died a month earlier may he RIP) came out comfort or calm Bret down. Then he was spelling out WCW in the air. At first after I watched this I didn’t know what to think about it. I thought it may have been a storyline due to the nature of wrestling on TV at that time. But I was also hearing about this on the news and stuff, and eventually Raw came on that day and I watched as Shawn Michaels proceeded to mock Bret and Vince was interviewed saying the famous words “Vince McMahon didn’t screw Bret Hart, Bret screwed Bret.”.
My thoughts on the whole situation are as follows. Nobody was really in the right in this situation when it happened. It’s understandable that Vince had a fear or being embarrassed on TV again after the incident with Medusa on Nitro and the old Women’s Title, but at the same time shouldn’t he have known better? That just didn’t seem within Bret’s character as a human being to do something petty like that. At the same time, he wouldn’t have gotten himself into that situation if he did not give Bret moderate creative control in his contract, but hindsight is 20/20 and all that jazz. I’m sure Vince thought when he wrote that contract out that Bret was going to be on board until he was too old to wrestle and he would be able to honor it, and that he was basically rewarding someone who had pretty much given him his all over the years.
Then… Bret went to WCW.
KON: It was a strange situation.
I’m sure that Bret is the only wrestler in the history of the company to have signed a 20 year contract. Was he right to make a deal with WCW?
Time has shown us that it was a bad move, but back then he had Vince telling him “We’re not going to be able to value this contract” while being not only forced into a heel role, but slowly pushed out of his spot in the company. With that in mind, I can see why Vince would think “this guy might take the belt with him” (especially with Hunter and Shawn in his ear). Vince brought the whole situation on himself by handing out such a ridiculous contract in a time when profits were down and they were being slaughtered in the ratings. Was he smart enough to know that he’d have to back out of the contract and use Bret’s remaining time to make himself the biggest heel the company had ever seen? I doubt it. A lot of things that happened in the wrestling business during the 90’s (and maybe before, but I’m not as well versed in the 70’s and 80’s) seems to be a product of luck, rather than planning.
ZORK: Yeah, I don’t believe Vince planned for any of that to happen. He was just trying to deal with the situation as best he could, it just so turned out that he ended up becoming Mr. McMahon as a result of all this. Pretty crazy when you think about it like that. At the time when Bret signed his deal for WCW, he was probably thinking of just trying to keep making money for himself and his family after he’d been told that Vince would have to release him from his contract. I do remember him saying in his book that he didn’t really want to leave the WWF but felt that he had to so he could continue providing.
Hart’s deal with WCW was pretty typical of those super lucrative contracts if you were somebody, he had a $2.5 or $3 million dollar contract for three years. They did push him as a main-eventer at first at least, after his no compete clause ran out. I have to admit that the idea of Bret being in WCW sounded really cool to me, I’d get to be able to see him cross paths with Ric Flair and Mr. Perfect again. Perhaps even Sting, Hulk Hogan, DDP, anybody. Everything seemed like it should’ve been great but it didn’t end up that way. WCW pretty much signed the hottest talent in the business at the time and just after a few short months squandered him.
Even back then in ’98 when I didn’t know the full extent of what was going on I was disappointed with how Bret was being used. I thought that it didn’t make any sense that he would eventually join the NWO or whatever.
KON: The WCW run was shite. I can’t remember much of it, aside from being disappointed that we never got a real Sting v Bret match. I remember watching the Fistful of Dollars moment against Goldberg and wondering why nobody else had tried it. They just kinda fucked about for a few months before throwing an nWo shirt at him.
WCW might have gave him creative control, but he wasn’t really in a situation where he could do anything with it. Sting was tied up with the Hogan feud and you know what Hulk was up to backstage.
ZORK:Yeah the thing with Goldberg was actually pretty cool I thought. I did know that Bret had been given creative control with this contract as well but it certainly seemed like it didn’t help much, so I agree with you on that point. As ’98 rolled on, I was watching WCW less and less honestly because WWF got way more interesting in a hurry. Owen was in a pretty interesting position at first after the Screwjob though. It looked like they were making his character a kind of outsider or loose cannon kind of deal as a result of what happened with his brother but after a while all that got dropped.
I was disappointed in that, and when he eventually joined the Nation of Domination I thought “What the hell? Why would he join them? Why isn’t Owen just on his own?”, and I just sort of gave up on him for a while. I always wondered what would’ve happened if they stuck with that “Black Hart” character. But anyhow, after Stone Cold beat Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 14, I was locked into watching WWF TV. It wasn’t until ’99 when the incident at Over the Edge happened with Owen that I really bothered to watch Nitro again, but they weren’t really doing anything to commemorate him and I didn’t know at that time that Bret was out on injury and that he was taking time off to be with his family as well.
It wasn’t until October when I finally saw him come back and he had an excellent match with Chris Beniot, probably the only good match he had in WCW. I didn’t see this match again until a few years ago, but this was after the incident that cost Benoit his family and his own life. I still thought it was a great match, and it was a real feel good moment at the end between the two of them. It’s one of my favorite matches and moments in wrestling. Both guys knew each other well, and knew Owen, and they wanted to do a match in the same arena Owen was last in.
It was just a great, clean, competitive wrestling match, and one guy won and that was Bret. But after it was over, both men held each others arms up and showed respect, and embraced because they knew they did something cool for someone close to them and for themselves. They gave the fans, and Owen a great match.
KON: Vince himself has said in interviews that, had WCW built their show around Bret, the WWF would not be the company it is today. I don’t often include hypothetical questions in these interviews, but it does sort of rank up there with “What if Sheik accepted the offer to break Hogan’s legs?”…
Ignoring the whole AOL-Time Warner aspect of WCW’s demise, what do you think might have happened if Bret became the star of the show?
ZORK: Vince had gone on record a few times saying things like. At first sometime in late ’96 or early ’97 I believe, Bret had said that he had been made offers by WCW and actually told Vince about this, since they were both discussing his long term contract and how Vince may not be able to honor it. Vince had told him something like “WCW wouldn’t know what to do with a Bret Hart.”, I suppose he was correct on that point. But I actually find the hypothetical questions about wrestling and through wrestling history fairly interesting, so I’ll indulge with gusto!
I do think that if WCW did strike when the iron was hot so to speak, and not just completely squander Bret it probably would’ve bought them some more time. But that would’ve required them to actually do some booking and reigning their damned inmates who run the asylum in. Basically I think if Bret were to have been utilized correctly in WCW it would’ve required a massive restructuring of their booking because otherwise he was pretty much…for lack of a better term, screwed. Bret was considered to be the hottest free agent on the market post Screwjob. It would be like if Sting was acquired by the WWF then.
I don’t know about you or anyone else and I could see how someone would think differently on this, but when I think back to most of the 90s and who the face of that company was, it was obviously Bret. I think you could say the same for Sting being the face of WCW until things got terrible. Getting the face of the company is a big acquisition, and you should be able to do some major business or damage with that, but that didn’t happen at all. I think another interesting question to ponder in terms of being hypothetical though is, what if Bret stayed with the WWF and Montreal was just a work? Man that would be crazy.
I know in December of ’99 Bret’s career started to come to an end due to the injuries he received from having a match with Goldberg. I gotta come clean, for a while after I found out what had actually caused Bret’s retirement, I always had some level of resentment for Goldberg and his carelessness. It was his fault that one of my favourite wrestlers of all time had to retire! Eventually I got over that though as I got older. You gotta think it’s the ultimate irony though, Bret had a reputation for being a safe worker and taking care of the other guy he would work with always, but then it turned out that another wrestler who worked somewhat recklessly injured him and ended his career.
KON: Funnily enough, I’ve spoken to other writers recently who happened to voice that same resentment.
Goldberg was “green” for sure, but I’m willing to bet that Bret had faced guys who were far “greener” in the past. Even with people who’ve had massive amounts of training, accidents happen. Every time they step into the ring, they run the risk of concussions, breakages, internal bleeding… Maybe not the risk of four or five concussions during a single match, but it’s still a relatively dangerous profession.
A lot of the greats worked stiff back in their heyday, partially due to the work they did in Japan and various other rough places. The true greats worked soft, but made it look like they killed the other guy. That’s something hard to get right. I’ve noticed with guys at the top right now, their moves tend to look really gentle (Cena placing the guy down on the mat while guiding with his free hand, Punk letting his opponents feet touch the ground for a bit too long during the GTS…).
I also noticed during the 1000th RAW that Bradshaw stiffed Heath Slater in order to get a cheap pop, as if that’s something he’d want to be known for (although, it’s slightly better than the shower thing).
I think the danger aspect is why I hate stuff like IWA Mid-South and CZW. I’m not anti-hardcore, but things like light-bulbs and plate glass are just fucking stupid. The former is extremely dangerous (with ridiculous after effects) but looks like a joke, the latter is second only to c4 in terms of things that could kill you during a wrestling match. It’s ridiculous that we still see these things in a post-Benoit world (not that he was stupid enough to use plate-glass, but considering what we’ve learned from his passing, from Bret’s stroke, from Nowinski’s situation…).
ZORK:Yeah, accidents will always happen, this ain’t ballet etc. That’s why I let it go after a while. To clarify, if someone works stiff sometimes to make things look good and it’s okay with the other guy I’m cool with that. Sometimes people take liberties though like The Rock clocking Mick Foley sixteen times with a chair in the head or whatever, that’s not cool. I’m not anti hardcore either, but there needs to be a limit.
After Bret’s stroke though, and seeing as how he would never wrestle again, I figured he would just live his life and never go back to do anything with wrestling again. Then in 2005 he buried the hatched with Vince and put together a DVD for his career, and got inducted to the Hall of Fame in ’06. I never really thought all that would’ve happened but it did. I was happy with that.
KON: They’ve used him sparingly since, which was a wise decision.
Some of us thought they’d have a thing on RAW 1000 to commemorate all the talent they’ve lost since the show began. They didn’t, but it felt like Bret was out there for them.
ZORK:Yeah, I think Bret’s appearance and the match would’ve been a little better if Bret was the special guest ref instead an announcer? What? Why?
I guess I should give my thoughts on all the things he’s done the past couple of years as well. For one thing, it was great to see him and Shawn also bury the hatchet on screen and become friends again. The feud with Vince was entertaining sometimes, sometimes not. It was nice to finally get closure on that and I get what they were trying to do. It was difficult to watch that match at Wrestlemania 26 though.
When they used him after Wrestlemania to help get the Hart Dynasty over and give them a boost, I thought that was pretty smart of them and it seemed to work for awhile until they suddenly decided that having a real tag team was bad and had them jobbed out and split up. It was kind of cool to see Bret get a US Title victory over the Miz and served as a way to get the belt off of him and a little something to the title for name dropping. Since then, Bret’s sporadic appearances have been appreciated and have done no real harm or anything because he doesn’t really overstay his welcome any.
KON: He’s in the very small category of wrestlers who’ve held every active belt in WWE (assuming the WHC carries the prestige of the WCW big gold belt, which is arguable). He’s also won King of the Ring twice and was the last man standing at Royal Rumble ’94. For a man who’s career was cut short at a relatively young age, he managed to do just about everything.
ZORK:This is true, if I recall right Bret is the only guy in WWE to win King of the Ring twice. He was also the first to become a triple crown champion in both WCW and WWE. Even if his career was cut short, he had one hell of a run, a lot of excellent matches and he’s still fondly remembered by fans. On top of that he seems to be leading a decent life outside of wrestling when so many other guys can’t. What more could you ask for?
KON: Thanks for taking part (and for your incredible patience).
ZORK: Thank you for letting me on, and allowing me to discuss one of my favourite wrestlers of all time.
Martin is a mediocre blogger who somehow managed to blag his way onto the Pulse Wrestling team. When not writing about men in spandex, he can be found fannying about with synthesizers.
He goes by the names KON in the comments section & martyrshow on the twittors.