It’s the mid-90s, and I am a young boy. I’m watching a VHS copy of “WWF: Best of Saturday Night Main Event”. Andre the Giant faced WWF champ “Macho Man” Randy Savage to a double count-out. Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior trounced the villainous Mr. Perfect and The Genius (must not have been much of a genius though if he couldn’t find out how to beat them). But, someone in the next match would catch my eye.
The Rockers would face off against The Hart Foundation, which would see the match end in a double-disqualification as Demolition wrecked the competitors. The one that stood out to me among all the meatheads of the industry in my little kid brain was that of “The Hitman”, Bret Hart. Mostly because pink is one of my favorite colors. Add that to the cool, flowing black hair and Hart would be someone I would root for every time. To this day, I still want to have those dark, pinkish-purple sunglasses he’d wear to the ring before imparting them on whichever young and impressionable youth awaited him in the front row.
I’d always circle back to Bret Hart. Bret just had this thing about him, it was nigh impossible to root against him as a babyface. I didn’t know it yet, but Bret made matches feel real. Probably because I was at that age where wrestling was real.
WWF Raw, WWF Royal Rumble, and WrestleMania: The Arcade Game on the Super Nintendo always had me hyped to play as the Hitman, I still remember hearing the 16-bit version of his entrance theme playing in the character select menus. Little Corey was ready to put some mofos in the Sharpshooter and get the pin before dropping the controller and strutting about, arms outstretched like the Hitman.
Whether Bret was having his fingers damaged by the stomps of Mr. Perfect or a whip into the turnbuckle leaving the pink one clutching his back, the stories told with the Hitman in the ring felt legitimate, and still do when returning to his work as an adult. In that, you’d see Hart continue to sell an injury or emotion through the entirety of his matches or feuds. Sometimes, this was to such a degree that you wouldn’t even notice.
Nowhere is this more evident then when Bret Hart faced Mr. Perfect in the 1993 King of the Ring tournament. Perfect’s stomps to Hart’s fingers was enough to cripple the Hitman through the match, but this injury carried into a backstage interview later in the night. Hart was seen during the interview taping his fingers, and in his match in the tournament final against Bam Bam Bigelow, he was still wearing it, still selling the wear and tear of the previous matches against Mr. Perfect and Razor Ramon.
As if the man wasn’t already one of the most compelling wrestlers, the heel run in 1997 was something neat and complex, as Bret Hart came to a shocking realization – The United States of America stinks. Thanks to the unforgettable double-turn during his WrestleMania 13 bout with Stone Cold Steve Austin, Bret became disdainful and spiteful towards America in general. Anywhere else, Bret would play to the crowd. I so, so wish this type of stuff would happen more in wrestling, not just when a show is in a heel’s hometown.
Despite all of these accolades and achievements, Hart for the time still was overlooked. The fact that the Montreal Screwjob happened, and his misaligned tenure in WCW following the Screwjob, is proof of that. If it hadn’t been for the Owen Hart tribute match on Nitro in 1999 against Chris Benoit, or Hart’s feud with Goldberg that saw the very moment that would end Bret’s career in 2000, you would be forgiven for forgetting his time in WCW.
Sometimes I still salivate over the what-ifs we could have gotten had Bret’s career continued: Kurt Angle, Edge, Christian, Eddie Guerrero, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, BRYAN DANIELSON(!!!), I could go on. I’m even getting an urge to write fantasy booking for the missing decade Hart could’ve had through the industry. It’s honestly quite unfair, as life is sometimes.
Bret has such a mind that fans and wrestlers alike would love to pick. Any promotion would be lucky to have him, especially behind the scenes. That, to me, would compare to Bryan Danielson training Jade Cargill in AEW, growing stars into something bigger.
Yet, I am content with all we’ve gotten with Bret Hart. He set the template for most of what we see in wrestling – a paragon of technical wrestling that convinced us all that the fiction we see play out in the ring week after week was something real and tangible. I’m glad he was able to bury the hatchet with Shawn Michaels and WWE. I know it’s an unpopular and many wish it didn’t happen, but I’m glad I got to see him come back for a few matches, even if they were small, short, and working around his condition. I’m glad he got to introduce Sami Zayn to the main roster, that he introduced the AEW World Championship at Double or Nothing 2019, and if he does anything else, you best fucking believe I will be proud of the man that was my first favorite wrestler.
Knowing what else has transpired in his life, I genuinely hope with every fiber in my being that Bret Hart sees what the industry has evolved into, and feels a swell of pride as a wrestler and as a fan. He’s lost a lot, been through a lot, and yet he’s still standing, even after all this time.
There’s a reason as to why fans to this day sing praises of the Hitman to high heaven, why he’s still getting his flowers. I know that by the sounds of this writing, I might come off as someone who’s telling everyone what they already know and feel about Bret Hart, but we all know these things, we know why his existence was, and still is, vital to this industry.
He’s the reason I’ve ever had an interest in wrestling, sparking a love that took a while to truly appreciate. While many in the industry have faced problematic individuals, it takes someone special to leave a positive mark, and Hart has done just that, over and over.
If it weren’t for Bret or Razor or Austin, I wouldn’t be here writing this. I’d be watching all sorts of other things, content with not knowing anything about wrestling. I’d be absolutely oblivious to all of these moments that brim with sheer significance.
But I’m here, and I get to see all who drank from his well and grew from it, like a lush garden. And boy, is it ripe. The fact that the man in pink and black is here to gaze upon a grateful world, upon all that he has wrought, brings a smile to my face, as he sees that what he started will forever grow and grow.
The term GOAT is tossed around frequently in the modern age, and wrestlers use that to great lengths to describe themselves as the best in the world, the best in the universe, the best of all time, but for the excellence of execution, Bret Hart will forever go down as the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.