On a night when the Westminster Dog Show pre-empted the live USA broadcast of WWE RAW, Canadian and British fans got in on the news first: after months of speculation, Bret “Hitman” Hart will be accepting entry into the WWE’s Hall of Fame on April 1, the day prior to Wrestlemania XXII.
Whilst the announcement has surprised many in the wrestling industry, given the history between Hart and WWE owner Vince McMahon, the decision was clearly the result of a lot of soul-searching on The Hitman’s part. Just two weeks ago, when asked him about a return to WWE TV, he wavered. “At this point, I’m not looking. I’m kinda on the fence about the Hall of Fame.” He was candid in the interview, and brought up the Hall of Fame ceremony without a prompt, showing that McMahon’s offering was truly tempting.
In Britain to promote the release of his new DVD set, appropriately titled The Best There Is, The Best There Was, And The Best There Ever Will Be, Hart chatted about a variety of topics.
The DVD was one that WWE fans had begged to be made, but one that looked like it might never see the light of day. “It took a lot of diplomacy,” Hart said. “But I think we just softened. Vince McMahon called me up when I had my stroke in 2002, and I think that was a big step towards where we are now. I always appreciated the fact that he called me and that softened a lot of the bad feelings between us.”
The bad feelings, of course, originally stem from the infamous Survivor Series incident in 1997, where McMahon essentially terminated Hart’s employ with the WWE during the live pay-per-view. There were also hard feelings over the death of Owen Hart, which his brother believes could so easily have been avoided.
Still, almost 10 years have passed now since the “Montreal Screwjob” — which, would you believe, has it’s own Wikipedia entry?! — and the fact of the matter is that Hart, in his own words, “doesn’t want to be forgotten.”
But despite his eagerness to protect his legacy, in truth the WWE forced Hart’s hand on the timing of the DVD. “The title of the DVD was to be Screwed,” he said, “and when Vince called me to partake in it, I said that I would never be a part of it. When I eventually saw it, it was nearly complete, and it was right up there with the Ultimate Warrior’s DVD. I told Vince that my career was never about what had happened at Survivor Series or about Owen’s death.”
Having hurdled these early stumbling blocks, Hart is clearly delighted with the end result. As well as having control over the final edit of the documentary, he had control over which matches were to be included in the set, and he summed up those choices with the telling words: “I think it is fair to say that nobody has studied Bret Hart, more than Bret Hart.”
That said, many are intrigued — or shocked — by some of those choices. How, for example, could Bret justify the inclusion of an obscure 1989 match with Ted DiBiase, at the expense of his World title win over Ric Flair from Saskatoon?
“Flair and I had pretty good matches, by Flair’s standards anyway,” Hart explained. “But on the day that I won the belt, and from that point on, we starting having really shitty matches. He sort of, accidentally-on-purpose, began screwing up the matches, getting the endings wrong. I found that this was happening consistently, and I ended up going to Vince McMahon and telling him that Flair was sabotaging the matches. They ended up calling us together to try and sort it out, and I remember him confessing to me that he was having problems with his wife, at home, that he was distracted, and he apologized for not being able to give me the matches that we had had before.”
Given his opinion on the his title-winning match, there is some irony in the fact that Hart’s favourite career bout — included on the DVD — is his Intercontinental title loss to Davey Boy Smith at 1992’s SummerSlam, from Wembley Stadium in London, England.
Rumours have always been around about the physical and mental state of The British Bulldog at that time, and Bret elaborated. “He had gotten hurt at the beginning of the summer, and I think that instead of going home to recuperate, he partied pretty hard. I know that when I saw him in Wembley on the day of the show, he told me that he had been up drinking for 24 straight hours with Jim Neidhart.”
This was certainly not the way to go into the biggest match of your career. “I think he was hoping that I was going to save him that day, and I did,” Bret continued. “I remember that after the first minute of that match, he called up to me that he had forgotten everything — he panicked. He basically told me that he was [adopting Davey’s heavy English accent] ‘fucked’. You know, it is one of the only Bret Hart matches where you will catch me talking a couple of times, and the only reason that you can catch me talking is that I pretty much had to recite the Gettysburg Address to him, to get him back on track. And in some ways, to me, that is why it is such a great match. I helped him to get to where he needed to be.”
British fans are still proud that this momentous match occurred in their country, and also proud of the way their Canadian cousin has gone about his wrestling business. The fact is not lost on Hart.
“There really was something very special about the UK fans, they were like the real wrestling fans that I loved to work in front of,” he said. “It is a privilege to come back, to see these fans again. I’m grateful for the chances that I had over here, to be a wrestling hero to wrestling fans. It seems to have been genuinely appreciated by the fans here that watched me.”
That intuition is current; The Best There Is, The Best There Was, And The Best There Ever Will Be is currently riding high on the charts of Amazon UK, outselling every soccer DVD in its path. If the UK’s love of The Hitman is equaled by that from the USA, you can rest assured that his appearance at the Hall of Fame ceremony will be greeted by the most vociferous ovation of the entire evening.