CALGARY — It showed on the faces of the fans, and in the effort put forth by the athletes in the ring: Stu Hart is loved and respected.
SLAM! Wrestling had the opportunity to catch up with a number of members of the Hart Family as well as participants at Friday’s Stu Hart tribute show to contribute their feelings on the night. For many it was bittersweet, for while they were celebrating the life of Stu Hart, the sadness that Dean & Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, Matt Annis and Stu’s wife Helen were not there to help him celebrate was also present. Still, many commented that they felt their presence.
Nearly everyone spoke of how much it meant for them to wrestle, paying tribute to Stu. “The night itself is a true reflection of a great man in this industry,” said “Dirty” Duke Durrango. “Most of the stuff that was built in Western Canada, like the Cruiserweight division, was essentially established out here. It is a great testament that these fans and these workers have come out here just to honor Stu.That is one of the reasons I came back to Stampede (out of retirement). If you can come here and hold your own, you can hold your own anywhere.I thank him for everything he has done for this industry, for stretching us down in the Dungeon.”
Added Apocalypse, “Stu has always been a good influence on me, inspiring me to work harder and harder, just seeing what he has gone through. We want to live up to his expectations no one wants to fall short of the Stu Hart line when we all come from the Dungeon.”
“Stu is all about perseverance, which is the most important thing in wrestling. Stu embodies that,” said Jason “Turtleboy” Carter.
The pride expressed by those who have come out of the “Dungeon” was evident in everyone. “Stu makes me feel proud of training here and of myself and being part of this family,” said Dave Swift. “Looking at him, and knowing how much he has accomplished, makes me proud to say I come from the Dungeon.”
The wrestlers felt a lot of pressure, not only from the packed house at the Legion, but also from Stu sitting at ringside watching. Said Nattie Niedhart, who defeated Belle Lovitz, “There was way too much pressure for me to think straight. I don’t want to disappoint him. I just want him to be proud, and I hope he is. Having my Grandfather watch me (tonight), everyone knows who he has wrestled, trained, and his life stories. He is not your average old-timer, has seen everything, both world wars, he has been around the block. My Grandmother was a bit of a tiger, but I am the first female of the family to wrestle. I can’t let him down.” Neidhart continued. “We have to find a way to keep his legacy alive, and as long as he is here we will keep on wrestling for him, and for ourselves. He is my main inspiration, when I wrestle I think about his struggles, for me to go in there and put on the best show I can, that is the least I can do for him.”
Nattie was not the only one who commented on how Stu has gone through so much, with so many deaths and his family being split apart. “Hotshot” Johnny Devine, who had his first match back in Stampede after a lengthy tour of England, said, “I’m thinking this family has a magnet attached to them. Misfortune seems to fly at them, it is amazing that they and Stu have overcome so much.”
Stu’s influence on many of the young athletes was expressed time and time again. Randy Myers always seems to have a blast in the ring, and admitted that is due to Stu’s advice. “Stu told me it is all about having fun, and since he said that to me that is all I have done.”
For the Hart Family themselves, they seemed truly floored by the turnout. “I am glad to see my Dad being honored, seeing the community come out in support of him, I know it gives him strength,” Said Ellie Niedhart. “He has had a hard time the past few years it means a lot to my dad that his legacy lives on.”
“I love seeing all these young stars, our family and people who are inspired by our family coming out and keeping wrestling going,” Keith Hart commented. “If anything is going to re-create wrestling in the future, it will be the grassroots like here.” When asked about his Dad, Keith added, “My Dad is a hell of a family man, he had a wonderful romance with my Mom. I envy him and the life he’s had. He has always done it his way, is always honest and straightforward, always had time to stop and help somebody. I think they make too much of how tough he was. They should talk more about how kind he was, because he is a wonderful kind guy.”
Diana Hart organized much of the show. “My Dad is irreplaceable,” she said. “The song Lord of the Ring by The Cruzeros (which was performed before the show) is such a beautiful tribute to him. He has so much integrity. There hasn’t been anyone else in my life like him.”
Ted Hart, still hurting the next day after his battle with Sabu, expressed how Stu’s advice has shaped the style of himself, TJ Wilson and Harry Smith. “He has always spoken very highly of myself, Harry and TJ. My Grandfather has a good eye, but he won’t give people undeserved compliments. He taught us to take our high spots and make them make sense. The style of wrestling that we have is the type Stu wants to see in 2003.” Reflecting back on 50 years of Stampede, Ted said, “We produce the best wrestlers in the world because Stu had the vision of putting in the Dungeon and starting Stampede Wrestling. Without that, where would the best wrestlers in the world have gone? Guys like us wouldn’t even have a place to start.”
Added Wilson, “Stu knows a lot about wrestling, and in his opinion Ted, Harry and myself are such great wrestlers, which means so much to us to hear from his mouth.”
The four participants in the tag team main event all were thrilled with how the match turned out. It was a fitting tribute to Stu. Black Dragon was especially proud to be in the ring against Harry. “I’d known Davey Boy for a long time, I watched Harry grow up. Now I get a chance to wrestle him, which is such an honor for me. Stu was the guy who trained me, told me I wasn’t to small, and sent me to Japan. It is an all-around honour to be here for someone who has run wrestling for 50 years.”
NWA-TNA star AJ Styles felt fortunate to be a part of it all. “A phenomenal man to raise as many athletes as he did, and to be in the sport himself. It is such an honor to be up here with him.”
For TJ Wilson and Harry Smith, main eventing a show dedicated to Stu was the biggest thing they have ever done.
“I wanted to make this night special for him because he has done a lot for me and for Calgary wrestling and some of the greats that have broken out of Calgary,” said Smith. “(Running the show) is my way of thanking him for what he has done.”
TJ Wilson really gave everything to his match. “I should be taking it easy, because I am headed to Japan again in a few weeks, but for tonight I wanted to go all out.” TJ was pleased with his match as well. “AJ Styles was amazing, one of the best guys I have ever wrestled, and Dragon was very good as well. We’ve lost a lot of people, but it felt like they were watching, everything clicked.”
Plans are to make Stu Hart’s birthday an annual tribute. As evidenced by the rabid fans and emotional wrestlers, the “Lord of the Ring” is deserving of such tribute.