Simply Put… The Best There Is, Best There Was, Best There Ever Will Be
The eighth son of legendary wrestling promoter and trainer Stu Hart, Bret “Hitman” Hart would become one of the greatest wrestlers in professional wrestling history. Thanks in large to the training provided by his father, Hart became one of the best technical wrestlers in sports entertainment.
Hart became one of the most popular superstars internationally, but he would also become embroiled in one of the most controversial moments in WWE history– if not all of sports entertainment. He would go on to win the WWF/E Championship five times and the WCW World Heavyweight Championship two times.
Hart’s father never had any true intentions of bringing him into the family business, but Hart’s love grew too strong to keep him away. Stu allowed his to help with the promotion, but not as a wrestler. Hart began working events in 1976 as a referee, but that would all change on one fateful night. One of Stu’s wrestlers was unable to perform and, with no other available options, asked his son to fight his first match. Hart’s first match came in Saskatoon, Saskacthewan, Canada.
Just like that, Stu quickly realized the talent his son had and Bret Hart, the wrestler, was born. Hart never challenged for any of the top titles of Stampede Wrestling because he didn’t want the other wrestlers to believe Stu’s son was being set up to succeed ahead of them. Hart would go on to win the Stampede Tag Team titles with his brother, Keith, four times.
Hart diligently built up his craft in both Stampede Wrestling– for his father– and in New Japan Pro Wrestling from 1976 to 1984. After several years of gladly “jobbing” to other stars in the promotions, Hart would be given his shot and would the top individual titles in the promotion– including two British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Championships and six North American Heavyweight Championships. Without asking for any favors, Hart became one of the top stars and workers in Stampede Wrestling until the very end– the promotion was sold and closed its doors.
In 1984, Vince McMahon and WWF/E promotion bought out Stampede Wrestling and with it its choice stars to keep on the WWE roster. McMahon liked Hart’s talent in the ring and decided to bring him into the WWE roster– despite the fact that Hart dreaded and struggled to cut promos or do interviews. After refusing to accept a cowboy gimmick, Hart requested to be teamed up with his brother-in-law, Jim “the Anvil” Neidhart, to form the Hart Foundation with “Mouth from the South” Jimmy Hart as their manager– debuting as a “heel” tag team.
Hart first made his television debut on August 29, 1984, teaming up with the Dynamite Kid. He had his first singles match on September 11 in Poughkeepsie, New York where defeated Aldo Marino– the match on the September 29 edition of Superstars. Shortly his debut, Hart began to team exclusively with Neidhart to push the promotion’s tag team division. The Hart Foundation name made perfect due to the similarity of surnames between Hart and Neidhart (as well as their manager Jimmy Hart). During this time, Hart began wearing his patented mirrored sunglasses– initially to hide his nervousness when doing promos and interviews.
Hart has always claimed that cutting promos and doing interviews have always been his biggest weakness and, instead, focused to win over fans with his in-ring work. In 1986, Hart began his singles career against Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. The match was originally scheduled for Wrestlemania II but ended up taking place on March 8, 1986. Hart has always listed this match as one of his favorite matches he ever took a part in. At Wrestlemania II, Hart took part in a 20-man battle royal that was won my Andre the Giant.
When he returned to tag team action, the Hart Foundation would win two WWE Tag Team titles. They would team up with Danny Davis against the British Bulldogs and Tito Santana at Wrestlemania III; winning when Davis pinned Davey Boy Smith– after hitting Smith with Jimmy Hart’s megaphone. Shortly after this, the Hart Foundation would make their “face” turn.
During this time, the Hart Foundation was coined as the “Pink and Black Attack”– which continued for just Hart after the team disbanded. Bret Hart also began to give his mirror shades away to kids as the team (and just Hart) walked to the ring. His in-ring style led Gorilla Monsoon to coin Hart as the “Excellence of Execution.”
As Hart’s popularity grew, he began to refer to himself as “the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be”– which was derived from the film The Natural. By 1991, Hart won his first singles title– taking the WWE Intercontinental Championship. He took the title by defeating “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig at SummerSlam that year. He would add the 1991 King of the Ring tournament just a mere weeks later.
He would win his first WWE Championship by defeating Ric Flair in the city where he worked his first match. Hart would go on to headline Wrestlemania IX, X, and XI. At Wrestlemania IX, Hart defended his WWE title versus Yokozuna. Yokozuna would go on to winning the title after Mr. Fuji, Yokozuna’s manager, blinded Hart and Yokozuna got the pinfall. This led to the about to depart Hulk Hogan to enter the ring and defeat Yokozuna for the title.
Prior to Wrestlemania X, Hart teamed up with his brothers at Survivor Series in a Survivor Series elimination team match against Shawn Michaels and his “Knights”. The team of Bret, Owen, Bruce, and Keith defeated Michaels and his Knights with only Owen being eliminated for his team. This began a feud between the two active Hart brothers, Owen and Bret. After an “injured” Bret was unsuccessful in applying the Sharpshooter– his famous submission move– that led to the Quebecers defeating the Hart brothers in a tag team match at Royal Rumble; Owen attacked his older brother and set up a match between the two at Wrestlemania X.
At the same Royal Rumble event, Bret and Lex Luger both hit the floor at the same time during the Royal Rumble match– this led to both superstars earning a WWE title shot at Wrestlemania X. At Wrestlemania X, Bret Hart would become one of a small list of superstars to pull double duty at Wrestlemania– in a match against his brother Owen and for the WWE title in the main event.
In the opening match of Wreslemania X, Hart would lose a classic match to his youngest brother. After Yokozuna defeated Luger in the first WWE title match, Hart would go on to defeat Yokozuna. After his victory, many other superstars entered the ring and hoisted Hart on their shoulders in celebration of his victory.
At Wrestlemania XI, Hart and Michaels would battle to a 0-0 tie in a 60-minute Iron Man Match. Then-General Manager Gorilla Monsoon deemed the match must enter a Sudden Death period where Michaels was victorious after landing his “Sweet Chin Music” Superkick on Hart to get the pinfall.
As the Monday Night Wars were beginning to heat up, some fans began to turn on Hart and began cheering for the “heel” Stone Cold Steve Austin. This led to great match with Austin that was won by Hart when Austin– refusing to quit– lost consciousness and was unable to continue. Hart would then turn “heel” and make Austin a “face” with one swift kick to Austin groin area.
Hart created the Hart Foundation faction with his brother Owen, brothers-in-law Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith, as well as fellow Canadian Brian Pillman. McMahon convinced– and was correct– that being an Anti-American “heel” would cause him to be hated in the United States but keep him popular outside the US.
Hart had signed a 20-year contract with WWE, but less than a year into the deal McMahon could no longer afford the deal. He gave Hart the opportunity to seek whatever deal he could get from WCW, so Hart can get the kind of deal he deserves. After Hart signed his deal with WCW, McMahon decided to give Michaels the WWE title at 1997’s Survivor Series. Considering the event was taking place in Montreal, Hart didn’t want to lose title in his home country. He concocted and idea to win at Survivor Series but drop the title to Michaels at a Monday Night Raw event a couple of weeks later and McMahon agreed to follow through.
McMahon, however, ordered referee Earl Hebner to ring the bell as soon as Michaels placed the Sharpshooter on Hart– though Hart never submitted. This was the first time McMahon openly acted as the owner of WWE on any televised event. This event has become known as the “Montreal Screwjob.” This led to a very messy divorce between Hart and WWE that took almost a decade before both parties reconciled with each other.
After a very uneven tenure in WCW, Hart retired after several concussions affected his health. Hart also suffered from a stroke after another concussion was caused by a bicycle accident. By 2005, while Hart was recovering from his stroke, McMahon approached and reconciled with Hart. Hart also was able to forgive and became friends with Michaels after Michaels’ role in the “Montreal Screwjob.”
By 2009, Hart was back on WWE TV. First he was the guest host of Raw and also had a match with McMahon at Wrestlemania. Hart had a small run as Raw General Manager before being “fired.” At this point, Hart officially retired from professional wrestling but made TV appearances to promote the Hart Dynasty– made up of Natalya Neidhart (daughter of Jim Neidhart), David Hart Smith (son of Davey Boy Smith) and Tyson Kidd (who was the last wrestler to be trained by Stu Hart).
Hart’s legacy is– as McMahon put it– the greatest technical wrestler and best storyteller in the history of the business. McMahon would add the Hart had the best match of the night “every night he worked a match.”
With very little doubt, each time we witnessed a Bret “The Hitman” Hart match, we were witnessing “The Best there is, The Best there was, and The Best there ever will be.”