One of the greatest Canadian heroes of our time celebrates his 56th birthday today – this is the point where I’d say “no, it isn’t (Canadian person) or (Canadian person)” but the truth is, this man has always been the first person I think of when I think Canada…probably due to my comparatively sheltered life.
By the time he retired from professional wrestling in late 2000, Bret Hart had held a world title with either of the big two wrestling companies on seven different occasions – five times with the then-WWF and a further two with the main competition at the time, WCW. Although his final years in the business were under the cloud of accumulating injury and lacklustre storylines – not to mention the almighty betrayal he experienced in a Montreal ring in 1997 – I find it hard to accept that the man is anything less than the most gifted ring worker and celebrated wrestler of all time. (Again, my scope not extending much further outward than the warring North American factions which dominated pop culture in the 1990s)
He first made a name for himself as part of The Hart Foundation, where he and future brother-in-law Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart became tag team champions. Neidhart’s pure muscle combined with Bret’s wily ring technician skills and the loud-mouthed manner of manager Jimmy Hart to give them two reigns as champs; after which time Hart was rewarded with the singles push given to reward outstanding performers.
Hart won his first WWF singles belt with a victory against Mr. Perfect at Summerslam 1991 for the Intercontinental Title, having been given the ultimate gesture of respect between wrestlers; the gesture of kicking out of an opponent’s finishing move. With a similar mark of respect given to him by the man who gave way to his second IC reign; Rowdy Roddy Piper allowing his shoulders to be counted for what would be one of very few decisions he lost via pinfall.
Hart would go on to win the big one in 1992 by defeating Ric Flair, finally passing the torch to the next generation of up-and-coming wrestlers; the ones who grew frustrated as old-timers like Hulk Hogan and prima donnas like The Ultimate Warrior got treated like royalty due to their sheer build and wild wrestling styles. In reality, the WWF was under Federal investigation for their superstars’ heavy steroid use; Hart’s title reign felt like a true sign that things would move on despite these controversies.
It wasn’t to be; Hart lost the belt to sumo monster Yokozuna at Wrestlemania IX in 1993, only to see Hulk Hogan take it back from Yoko less than a minute later. Frustrated with the way he’d been handled, Hart threw himself back into competition – even getting the chance to make a star out of younger brother Owen, who pinned Bret clean one year later at Wrestlemania X before Bret regained the World Title from Yoko later the same night.
The rest of the tale is, sadly, rather depressing – so let’s not talk about it! Instead I urge you to read his book – Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling. Not only is it my favourite autobiography of all time, it’s one of my favourite books ever – recounting the days of one of the most storied and gloried wrestlers ever to get in the ring.
And now, a montage. Happy Birthday, Bret!