This past Monday’s news that Bret “Hitman” Hart is in the midst of a fight with prostate cancer came as a blow to his millions of fans. The news of Bret’s diagnosis comes weeks after his elder brother Smith received a similar diagnosis, and follows a spell where cancer has robbed us of the likes of David Bowie, Lemmy and Alan Rickman. We at BackBodyDrop of course wish Bret all the best in his battle.
Bret Hart was the first wrestler I ever saw on TV. It’d have been midway through 1992, just before SummerSlam came to London, when my parents first got Sky TV, and as an eight-year-old I sat down to watch WWF Superstars. In that era, Superstars was particularly heavy on the squash matches, with Bret’s victory over Skull von Krush (who would later gain fame over a decade later as being “that guy who wrestled in a dress”) lasting barely ninety seconds. The longest match on the remainder of that show would be a Ric Flair vs. Sgt Slaughter encounter that barely topped six minutes, but I was hooked.
In the weeks and months that followed, a variety of characters would be showcased, but in spite of the Legions of Dooms, the Crushes, it was the Hitman who managed to hold my attention. Although not stellar on the mic, Bret’s storylines were able to take ridiculous elements and make them believable, or at least, not entirely implausible. A feud with Jerry Lawler over Bret’s newly-won King of the Ring title that descended into a “Kiss My Foot” match for instance, or the family feud with Owen Hart that was the highlight of WWE’s 1994. Of course, we also had the reformation of the Hart Foundation and the long storyline (off- and on-camera) with Shawn Michaels, culminating in Survivor Series 1997 and *that* incident in Montreal. We’ll be covering Bret’s in-ring WWE career down the road – however, following Montreal, Bret was criminally underused in WCW, as he became “just another guy” with the ship of WCW heading for the rocks.
The Hitman’s final feud as a full time wrestler came with Bill Goldberg, the highlight of which was a segment on Nitro where he would be speared by Goldberg. The pair were “knocked unconscious”, only for Bret to stand up and reveal a metal plate underneath a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey.
Bret would team with Goldberg to win (then lose) WCW’s tag team titles, before successfully fending off Goldberg’s challenge for the WCW title. Well, I say “fended off”… Bret retained via a non-finish in their ill-fated Starrcade 1999 match, where Goldberg would deliver a kick that would concuss the Hitman. Bret would vacate, then win back the WCW title before vacating it again the following month, as injuries would force Bret to the sidelines for good, limiting his role with the revived-yet-again new World order to sporadic speaking appearances on Nitro and Thunder, before WCW terminated his contract in October 2000.
Following his retirement, Bret worked some dates for the upstart group, World Wrestling Allstars, playing the role of commissioner for the Australian-based promotion. In 2002, Bret would suffer a stroke and was temporarily paralysed as a result. Hart would recover, and in 2005 would resume a working relationship with WWE, albeit only to provide new material and curate a DVD release chronicling his career. Following the release of the DVD in November 2005, Bret would accept an invitation to be inducted into the company’s Hall of Fame, with former foe Steve Austin providing the induction speech. However, Bret would forego the traditional appearance at the following night’s WrestleMania, with the Hitman not appearing at WrestleMania 22 unlike the rest of his fellow inductees.
In spite of his induction, Bret remained on somewhat cool terms with WWE for several more years, but he would re-sign with the company in late 2009, and ultimately re-emerge on WWE television at the start of 2010. In storyline, Bret was welcomed back onto Raw by Shawn Michaels, but in truth, that return would be used as a selling point for the January 4, 2010 episode of Raw (which was going up against TNA Impact’s first live show on Monday nights as they attempted to spark a second Monday night war).
Hart’s return would set up a natural storyline with Vince McMahon, which culminated at WrestleMania 26, with Bret winning a gimmick-laden no holds barred match, after the Hart family present for the match threatened to turn on Bret, only to double-cross Vince. After setting up a storyline for the Hart Dynasty (DH Smith and Tyson Kidd), and defeating the Miz to become the US champion for a week, before dropping the title as he became the storyline General Manager of Raw. That role would last for a month as Hart would be relieved of his duties following the arrival of the Nexus, a group whom Bret would return to the ring and help defeat in a 14-man tag team match at SummerSlam that year.
After SummerSlam, Bret’s part-time in-ring career wound down, with his appearances becoming fewer and further between. At time of writing, Bret’s last televised appearance came as he introduced Sami Zayn as John Cena’s mystery opponent in May 2015 (in the match that saw Zayn injure his shoulder, ruling him out for six months). As a fan of the Hitman, and as someone who has been lucky enough to have been able to interview him, I’m rooting for the Hitman in what is going to be his toughest fight yet, and selfishly, I hope that the appearance in Toronto in 2015 wasn’t his “last time” on Raw.