Bret Hart


Bret Hart
Bret Hart

Hart in 2010.
Ring name(s) Bret Hart[1]
Brett Hart[1]
Buddy Hart[1]
Billed height 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m)[2]
Billed weight 234 lb (106 kg)
Born July 2, 1957 (1957-07-02) (age 54)[1]
Calgary, Alberta, Canada[1]
Billed from Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Trained by Stu Hart[1]
Katsuji Adachi[1]
Kazuo Sakurada
Harley Race[1]
The Iron Sheik[citation needed]
Debut 1976[1]
Retired 2000;[3] has made sporadic in-ring appearances since

Bret Hart (born July 2, 1957) is a Canadian on-screen personality, writer, actor and retired professional wrestler. Like others in the Hart wrestling family, Hart has an amateur wrestling background, including wrestling at Ernest Manning High School and Mount Royal College. Along with his famed "Hit Man" nickname, Hart's technical prowess and agility earned him the monikers "The Excellence of Execution", and "The Best There Is, The Best There Was, and The Best There Ever Will Be". He was also known as "The Pink and Black Attack", in reference to his ring attire, as well as his signature mirrored sunglasses, which he would routinely give away to a young audience member before matches.

Hart debuted in professional wrestling in 1976 with his father Stu Hart's promotion, Stampede Wrestling, went on to compete in New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), and later found mainstream popularity and championship success throughout the 1980s and 1990s in the World Wrestling Federation (WWF—later WWE), where he helmed the Hart Foundation, a faction of Hart family members and allies. WWE has recognized Hart as arguably the most popular wrestler of the mid-1990s.[4] He left for World Championship Wrestling (WCW) following the controversial "Montreal Screwjob" in 1997, where he enjoyed continued championship success until his departure from that promotion in 2000, due to a concussion that would force his retirement that same year. After his final match, WCW described Hart as "universally respected by other wrestlers as perhaps the greatest pure wrestler to lace up a pair of boots."[5] Non-wrestling appearances with independent promotions came to a temporary halt when Hart suffered a 2002 stroke, which briefly rendered him a wheelchair user. He returned to WWE programming in 2005, and was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame the following year by former on-screen rival, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Hart returned to sporadic in-ring competition with WWE in 2010, where he won his final championship, headlined that year's SummerSlam event, and served as the General Manager of Raw. He continues to make appearances for WWE, whose chairman, Vince McMahon has described him as the greatest technical wrestler and storyteller of all time.[6]

Hart has held championships in every decade from the 1970s onward, with a total of thirty-two held throughout his career, and seventeen held between the WWF/WWE and WCW. Among other accolades, he is a seven-time world champion, having held the WWF Championship five times (with the highest number of combined days as champion in the 1990s) and the WCW World Heavyweight Championship twice (being the first champion born outside the United States); a record-tying five-time WCW/WWE United States Champion, with his four WCW reigns being the most in the history of the organization; and the second WWF Triple Crown Champion and sixth WCW Triple Crown Champion. He was the first man to hold both the WWF and WCW Triple Crown Championships. In addition to championships, he is the 1994 Royal Rumble winner (with Lex Luger), and the only two-time King of the Ring in WWE history, having won the 1991 tournament and the first King of the Ring pay-per-view in 1993.

A 2001 stroke devastated Hart, ensuring he would never wrestle a match again and leaving him a shell of his former self.

Contents

Early life

The eighth child of wrestling patriarch Stu Hart, Bret Hart was born in Calgary, Alberta into the Hart wrestling family. His introduction to professional wrestling came at an incredibly early age. As a child, he witnessed his father training future wrestling stars like Billy Graham in the Dungeon, his household basement which served as possibly the most notorious training room in the world of wrestling. Before school, Hart's father, also a wrestling promoter, had him hand out fliers to local wrestling shows. In the 1998 documentary, Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows, Hart reflected on his father's discipline, describing how Stu inflicted excruciating submission holds while uttering morbid words to his teenage son. The suffering endured in these sessions even left broken blood vessels in his eyes. Hart also, cited his father's otherwise pleasant demeanor and growing up in the professional wrestling atmosphere. Hart also repeated these statements in his 2007 autobiography. [7]

Amateur wrestling

At Ernest Manning High School, Hart became a standout student in the amateur wrestling division. Hart has stated that he joined the wrestling team "for the sole reason that my dad expected me to... no-one asked me to."[6] He would go on to win significant championships in tournaments throughout Alberta, including the 1974 city championships in Calgary. He would score a victory over competitor Bob Eklund – who would go on to become a CIS national champion, winning Outstanding Wrestler of the Year 1980-1981[8] – en route to the championship.[9] Hart describes the moment where he displayed the medal to his father, Stu, as a "powerful moment", and that the relationship with his father "took a different direction from that point on."[6] To this day, Hart considers his scholastic medal as one of his most prized possessions, "The fact is, even after winning all the big pro wrestling championships in both organizations, including seven world heavyweight titles that took me around the world, I still hold in high regard the city championship medal I won back in '74. It did so much to bolster my confidence and self esteem that it proved to be one of the biggest turning points in my entire life." After reading a Calgary Sun column by Hart, Canadian Olympic amateur wrestling gold medalist Daniel Igali told Hart that it means a lot to him to know how much that medal means to Hart.[10]

By 1977, Hart was collegiate champion at Mount Royal College, where he was studying filmmaking;[6][11] his coaches and other people around him felt that he had shown sufficient promise to compete at the following year's Commonwealth Games, and encouraged him to begin training for the event. Hart, however, was beginning to find amateur wrestling unrewarding amid injuries and fluctuating weight, and wanted to "get off this train".[6][12] Hart has told how Stu still believed that his son, whom he described as being able to "turn around in his own skin", was capable of making it to the Olympic or Commonwealth Games if he put forth the effort. When asked by his father, "Don't you want to walk down the street and hear people say, there goes Bret Hart; he won a gold medal in wrestling?", Hart replied, "I'd rather drive by those very same people in a brand-new car", alluding to his dream of becoming a successful film director.[13] Hart felt that the only way to give up amateur wrestling, without disappointing his father, was to become a professional wrestler. His college grades became poorer as his interest in filmmaking waned; he dedicated himself to professional wrestling, and began training with his father's Stampede Wrestling promotion.[6] Hart has often spoken of how helpful his amateur background was in his professional wrestling career, and also of what a positive effect amateur wrestling has on junior high school and high school-aged boys in terms of building self confidence.[10]

Professional wrestling career

Stampede Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling (1976–1984)

In 1976, Hart began working for his father's Stampede Wrestling promotion in Calgary. Hart first began helping the promotion by refereeing matches, but at one fateful event, a wrestler was unable to perform his match.[14] This forced Stu to ask his son to stand in as a replacement, paving the way for Hart's very first match in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Before long, he became a regular contender, eventually partnering with brother Keith to win the Tag Team Championship four times. Earlier on, however, he was still unsure he wanted to make a career of professional wrestling and continually contemplated the idea.

Hart gained some of his most prominent experience with Japanese combatants and real-life trainers Mr. Hito and Mr. Sakurada, later praising them as his most significant teachers. Before long, Hart was amazing crowds with his high-impact matches against the Dynamite Kid. In the midst of wrestling alongside his brothers and even his aging father, Hart made a point not to ride on the shoulders of his elders as other sons of promoters have. Hart faithfully jobbed as requested of him, taking pride in the believability of his performances. As he said himself, "no one could take a shit kicking like Bret Hart."[6] Although he dreaded partaking in interviews and speaking in front of a crowd, Hart went on to win the promotion's top titles, including two British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Championships, five International Tag Team Championships, and six North American Heavyweight Championships. Hart also wrestled the famous Tiger Mask in New Japan Pro Wrestling, a promotion for whom he often wrestled during the early-to-mid 1980s. He remained one of Stampede's most successful performers until the promotion, along with several wrestlers, was acquired by the World Wrestling Federation in August 1984.

World Wrestling Federation (1984–1997)

Hart Foundation and early singles career (1984–1987)

Hart was asked to start out in the World Wrestling Federation as a singles wrestler with a cowboy gimmick but refused, citing that where he comes from "if you called yourself a cowboy, you'd better be one".[15] He instead requested to join Jimmy Hart's heel stable, the Hart Foundation, which included brother-in-law Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart. He made his televised World Wrestling Federation debut on August 29, 1984, in a tag team match where he teamed with another brother-in-law, The Dynamite Kid.[16] On September 11, in Poughkeepsie, New York, Hart defeated Aldo Marino in his debut singles match, which aired on the September 29 edition of Superstars. By 1985, he was billed as Bret "Hit Man" Hart.[17] While maintaining a singles career, he began to increasingly team with Neidhart in order to build the promotion's tag team division. The "Hart Foundation" name then became exclusive to Hart, Neidhart and manager Jimmy Hart, due to the similar family names of both team members and their manager.[1] Hart's agile, technical style—which earned him the moniker "The Excellence of Execution" (coined by Gorilla Monsoon)[17][18]—created an intriguing contrast with his partner Neidhart's strength and brawling skills. During this time, Hart began wearing his signature[19] mirrored sunglasses, initially to conceal his nervousness during promos.[6] Hart considers his microphone work throughout his career to have been a weakness in his repertoire: he instead relied on his in-ring performances to win over the fans.[20]

In 1986, Hart began his first singles program, with Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. In a match originally planned for WrestleMania II,[21] he lost to Steamboat at the Boston Garden on March 8, 1986, which would be included on Hart's 2005 DVD as one of his all-time favorite matches.[6] At WrestleMania II, Hart would instead participate in a 20-man battle royal which was eventually won by André the Giant.[22] Hart was the last man to be eliminated by André, however.[23] He lost to Steamboat again on the July 28, 1986 edition of Prime Time Wrestling.[24] Hart headlined his first televised WWF card when he beat Ray Rougeau, of The Fabulous Rougeaus, in the main event of the November 3, 1986 edition of Prime Time Wrestling.[24] The Hart Foundation won their first of two World Wrestling Federation Tag Team Championships on the February 7, 1987 edition of Superstars when they defeated the British Bulldogs.[25][26]

The Hart Foundation would adopt the nickname, "The Pink and Black Attack", which would continue to be used by Bret after the team's disbandment. This was in reference to the team's ring attire, as well as Hart's signature mirrored sunglasses, which he would routinely give away to a young audience member before matches, following his face turn in 1988.[19][27][28] As Hart's WWF career progressed, he would also increasingly describe himself as "The best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be" (derived from the 1984 film The Natural), which he would later justify through three claims: he never injured an opponent through any fault of his own; through the entire course of his career he missed only one show (as a result of flight difficulties); and that he only once refused to lose a match—his final WWF match with long-time adversary Shawn Michaels at the Survivor Series event in 1997, which culminated in the now infamous Montreal Screwjob.[29]

Singles ascendancy, face turn, and Hart Foundation split (1987–1991)

The Hart Foundation lost the WWF Tag Team Championship to Strike Force on the October 27 edition of Superstars.[25] Hart subsequently competed in his most high-profile singles contest to date on the November 28, 1987 edition of Saturday Night's Main Event, when he faced "Macho Man" Randy Savage in a losing effort.[30] He began 1988 with a decisive victory over Paul Roma of The Young Stallions (who had scored an upset victory over the Hart Foundation the previous year[31]) on January 11 edition of Prime Time Wrestling,[24] and, at WrestleMania IV, was the last man eliminated in a battle royal by the eventual winner Bad News Brown, which set the wheels in motion for a face turn.[32] Due to Hart's increasing popularity, Vince McMahon approached him with the idea of splitting up the Hart Foundation and turning him face, telling Hart that he received the most fan mail of any of his wrestlers.[33] Ultimately, McMahon decided that the Hart Foundation were too over to split up, but would turn the team face, and have them sack Jimmy Hart as their manager. As a face, Hart enjoyed significant popularity in singles wrestling. In his first singles championship opportunity, he challenged The Honky Tonk Man for the WWF Intercontinental Championship in the main event of the July 18 edition of Prime Time Wrestling, with the match ending in a double count-out.[24]

At a live event in Milan on April 8, 1989, André the Giant requested to work a singles match with Hart. Hart lost the match, but considered André's praise and encouragement after the match to be of key importance in his singles career.[34] He wrestled his first pay-per-view singles match on October 10, losing to Dino Bravo in the first British WWF pay-per-view, which was held at the London Arena and broadcast on Sky Television[35] (Hart was in fact booked to win the match, but incurred a broken sternum, causing an unplanned count-out loss[6]). Hart would score victories over the likes of Barry Horowitz (who had previously wrestled as "Brett Hart"[36]),[37] Steve Lombardi[25] and former Hart Foundation member "Dangerous" Danny Davis[25] throughout 1989. In the first televised contest of a rivalry that would span Hart's WWF and WCW careers, he lost to Curt "Mr. Perfect" Hennig on the November 6, 1989 edition of Prime Time Wrestling, when Perfect pulled Hart's tights during a roll-up.[38] In their first ever singles meeting, Shawn Michaels and Hart wrestled to a double count-out on the February 11, 1990 edition of the Wrestling Challenge.[39]

At SummerSlam in 1990, the Hart Foundation began their second, and final, WWF Tag Team Championship reign by defeating Demolition members Crush and Smash in a two out of three falls match with some help from the Legion of Doom.[40][41] On October 30, the Hart Foundation lost the title to The Rockers (Marty Jannetty and Shawn Michaels), but a few days later, President Jack Tunney returned the title to the Hart Foundation because the decision had been reversed due to a rope coming off of the turnbuckle during the match and the win was never acknowledged on television. The Hart Foundation's reign lasted until WrestleMania VII, where they lost to The Nasty Boys, after which the team split.[42]

Peak of popularity (1991–1994)

Hart won his first WWF Intercontinental Championship by defeating Mr. Perfect with the Sharpshooter at SummerSlam in 1991,[43][44] and subsequently won the 1991 King of the Ring tournament on September 7, 1991 at the Providence Civic Center in Providence, Rhode Island. Hart's first pay-per-view title defense occurred at This Tuesday in Texas, where he beat the undefeated Skinner.[45]

In January 1992, Hart placed in a feud with the Mountie. This feud came about when the Mountie's manager, Jimmy Hart, threw water on Hart. Then, the Mountie proceeded to shock Hart with a cattle prod. Following the loss, Roddy Piper defeated Mountie with a sleeper hold at the 1992 Royal Rumble,[46] and Bret would later pin Piper for his second Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania VIII later that year,[47][48] making him the first, and one of few wrestlers to ever pin Piper's shoulders to the mat.[6] At a Wrestling Challenge taping on July 21, 1992, Hart defeated Shawn Michaels, with the Intercontinental Championship suspended above the ring, in the WWF's first ever Ladder match, which would subsequently be made available on multiple Coliseum/WWE Home Video releases.[49] Hart dropped the Intercontinental Championship to his brother-in-law, Davey Boy Smith, in Hart's first WWF pay-per-view main event at SummerSlam 1992 held before over 80,000 fans at Wembley Stadium.[50] Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers voted it the "Match of the Year";[51] WWE has named the match as the greatest in the history of SummerSlam.[52] Upon induction into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006, Hart would cite the contest as his favorite match of his career.[53]

Hart won the WWF Championship from Ric Flair at a Superstars taping at Saskatchewan Place in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on October 12 of that year, in a match not originally broadcast on WWF television[54]—the match was instead made available on a series of Coliseum/WWE Home Video releases.[55] Hart dislocated one of the fingers on his right hand during the match and popped it back in himself so it would not affect the rest of the match.[6] He would headline his first pay-per-view as champion with a successful title defense against Shawn Michaels at the 1992 Survivor Series,[56] and defeated Razor Ramon at the 1993 Royal Rumble.[57] He would also defend the title against contenders such as Papa Shango[58] and former champion Ric Flair[17] before losing the title to Yokozuna in his first WrestleMania main event at WrestleMania IX, after interference from Mr. Fuji. Fuji then challenged Hulk Hogan, who had come out to help Hart, to compete for the title; Hogan then won his fifth WWF Championship from Yokozuna.[59] Shortly after, however, Hart won the first pay-per-view King of the Ring tournament in 1993 (prior King of the Ring tournaments were non-televised live events), defeating Razor Ramon, Mr. Perfect, and Bam Bam Bigelow, thus becoming the only two-time King of the Ring in WWE history.[60] After being crowned as the King of the Ring, Hart was attacked by Jerry "The King" Lawler. Lawler claimed he was the rightful King and began a barrage against Hart and his family. This began an intense two-year feud which would go on to be considered as one of the greatest in professional wrestling history. The two met at SummerSlam in 1993, to determine the "Undisputed King of the World Wrestling Federation",[61] where Hart originally won the match by submission, via the Sharpshooter. Hart, however, would not let go of the hold and the decision was reversed to a Lawler victory by disqualification[62] (according to Hart, he was scheduled to defeat WWF Champion Hulk Hogan at the event, but Hogan elected to drop the belt to Yokozuna instead in his last WWF appearance at the 1993 King of the Ring).[63] Hart and his younger brother, Owen Hart, would also feud with Lawler during 1993 in the United States Wrestling Association (USWA), with Lawler notably defeating Owen for Owen's USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship.[64] Hart's feud with Lawler was named "Feud of the Year" by Wrestling Observer Newsletter, and voted "Feud of the Year" by readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated.[65]

After months of dealing with Lawler, Hart invoked his rematch clause from his match with WWF Champion Yokozuna at WrestleMania IX on the November 20 edition of WWF Superstars. When Bret appeared to have the match won, with Yokozuna locked in the sharpshooter, Owen came to ringside to congratulate his brother. The referee began questioning Owen's motives, which allowed Fuji to assault Bret. Owen then involved himself in the match, resulting in a victory for Yokozuna via disqualification. The brothers' post-match disagreement set the wheels in motion for a family feud that would span the entirety of 1994.[66] At Survivor Series, the Harts (Bret, Owen, Bruce, and Keith) took on Shawn Michaels (a substitution for Lawler, who was facing legal troubles[67]) and his knights. The Harts won the match, with all of the brothers surviving except for Owen, the only Hart family member eliminated.[68] Bitter about his elimination, Owen blamed Bret for this and in the weeks ahead, blamed Bret for holding him back. Owen demanded a one-on-one match with Bret, which Bret refused to accept. In the storyline, Bret, along with his parents, worked over the Christmas holidays to reunite the family and to settle their rivalry. Bret was voted "WWF Superstar of the Year" 1993 by fans,[69] as well as the greatest wrestler of the year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers.[70]

At the Royal Rumble in January, Bret and Owen took on The Quebecers for the WWF Tag Team Championship. Referee Tim White stopped the match after he considered Bret unable to continue after he sustained a kayfabe knee injury during the match. After the match, Owen berated his brother for costing him a title opportunity and attacked the injured knee, setting the feud between the two.[71] Later on, Hart managed to participate and win the 1994 Royal Rumble match amid controversy. Hart and Lex Luger were the final two participants and the two were eliminated over the top rope at the same time. Therefore, both men were named co-winners of the 1994 Royal Rumble match and received title shots at WrestleMania X.[72] Luger won the chance to face Yokozuna first, with Hart having to wrestle his brother Owen, before receiving his title shot. Hart lost his match against Owen[73] but went on to defeat Yokozuna for his second WWF Championship.[74][75][76]

Hart continued to feud with his brother Owen while he also started feuding with Diesel. Hart's friend and former tag team partner Jim Neidhart returned to the WWF and reunited with Hart. At King of the Ring, Hart defended the WWF Championship against Diesel. When Hart was winning the match, Shawn Michaels interfered on Diesel's behalf. Diesel appeared close to victory after he delivered a Jackknife Powerbomb yet before he could pin Hart, Neidhart interfered. Diesel won by disqualification but Hart retained his title. Neidhart left when Diesel and Michaels attacked Hart following the match. Neidhart's motivation was made clear when he helped Owen win the tournament that night, so that he could receive a title shot against his brother.[77] At SummerSlam, Hart successfully retained the WWF Championship against Owen in a steel cage match.[78] This match would get a 5-star rating from Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Newsletter, and the brothers' feud would be voted "Feud of the Year" by readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated.[65]

Hart eventually lost his WWF Championship at Survivor Series in a submission match against Bob Backlund where the manager of either competitor (Davey Boy Smith for Hart, Owen for Backlund) would have to 'throw in the towel' for the wrestler they were representing. When Hart was in Backlund's Crossface Chickenwing and Davey Boy was kayfabe knocked out, Owen persuaded his mother Helen to throw in the towel for Hart, giving Backlund the championship victory.[79] Bret's feud with Backlund would continue into the following year. He was voted the greatest wrestler of 1994 by Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers, winning the vote for the second straight year.[80]

Various rivalries and hiatus (1995–1996)

Hart in 1995

Three days after Hart's title loss, Diesel would swiftly defeat Backlund with a jackknife powerbomb to become the new WWF Champion. By 1995, Hart was focusing on projects outwith the business, such as acting, and shifted to the number two face in the company, behind Diesel.[81] Hart would challenge for Diesel's WWF Championship at the 1995 Royal Rumble, in a match that was continually marred by outside interference and ruled a draw. Both men embraced in a display of sportsmanship after the match. In a rematch from Survivor Series, Hart defeated Bob Backlund in an "I Quit" Match at WrestleMania XI.[82] Hart would be the focal point of the first event in the In Your House pay-per-view series, competing in two matches at In Your House 1. He defeated Hakushi in the very first match of the In Your House series. Hart's acclaimed feud with Jerry Lawler was reignited at the event, losing to him in the penultimate match of the card due to Hakushi's (now Lawler's protégé) interference. Hart beat Lawler in a "Kiss My Foot" match at King of the Ring, and defeated his private dentist, the seven-foot, 320 pound Isaac Yankem, by disqualification at SummerSlam 1995. Their King of the Ring match would end with one of the most iconic images in WWF history, with Hart shoving his foot into Lawler's mouth, then forcing Lawler to kiss his own foot.[83] Although Hart was victorious in their in-ring feud, Lawler remained strongly opposed to Hart as a commentator, however, and would routinely encourage Hart's opponents during matches; it would not be until Over the Limit 2011, some sixteen years later, that both men would finally bury the hatchet. After disposing of Lawler, Hart shifted his focus back to the WWF Championship, defeating Diesel in a No Disqualification match at Survivor Series to commence his third reign.[84][85]

In a rematch from their SummerSlam 1992 encounter, Hart successfully defended his title against the now-heel Davey Boy Smith at In Your House 5: Seasons Beatings. He lost to The Undertaker by disqualification at the 1996 Royal Rumble when Diesel interfered, ultimately retaining the WWF Championship, and defeated The Undertaker by disqualification in a rematch on the February 5 edition of Raw, again due to Diesel's interference.[86] Hart retained his WWF Championship against Diesel in a steel cage match at In Your House 6, and defeated Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who was undefeated on Raw, on the March 4 edition of the show.[87] WWF Commissioner Roddy Piper ruled that Hart would face Shawn Michaels, who had earned a WWF Championship match at WrestleMania XII by winning the Royal Rumble,[88] in a 60-minute Iron Man match at the event. The wrestler with the most decisions during the 60 minutes would win the match and the WWF Championship.

At WrestleMania, with less than a minute left on the clock and the score still 0–0, Michaels jumped from the middle rope; his legs were caught by Hart, and Hart locked in his Sharpshooter. However, Michaels did not submit in the last 30 seconds so the match ended in a tie. President Gorilla Monsoon ruled that the match would continue in sudden death overtime. Michaels hit a superkick to win the championship.[89] Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers voted it the "Match of the Year";[51] in 2004, WWE fans voted the match as the greatest in the history of WrestleMania.[90] After WrestleMania, Hart took his hiatus from television. Towards the end of the year, he would consider offers of employment from both WCW and the WWF, but would ultimately re-sign with the WWF.[91] He was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame Class of 1996.

Feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin, heel turn and Hart Foundation reunion (1996–1997)

Over the summer, Steve Austin, who was fresh from winning the 1996 King of the Ring,[92] continually taunted Hart and challenged him to come back and have a match. After an eight month hiatus from television, Hart returned and defeated Austin at Survivor Series in a match for the #1 contender spot to the WWF Championship.[93] Hart challenged champion Sycho Sid at the following month's In Your House 12: It's Time; Shawn Michaels, who was serving as a guest commentator at ringside, accidentally cost Hart the victory when he attempted to become involved in the match after being assaulted by Sid. The building tension between Hart and Michaels climaxed after the match, when Hart assaulted Michaels. Hart's feud with Austin escalated at the Royal Rumble, when Hart tossed Austin out of the ring, only for Austin (unbeknownst to the referees) to climb back into the ring and win the Rumble.[94] Hart quit the WWF the next night on Raw in protest. In order to deal with this controversy, a Fatal Four-Way between Austin and the participants he eliminated after re-entering the ring (Vader, The Undertaker and Hart) was set up for In Your House 13: Final Four, with the winner becoming the number one contender. After current champion Shawn Michaels relinquished the belt, though, the match officially became one for the WWF Championship. Hart defeated Austin, Vader, and The Undertaker in the Fatal Four-Way.[95][96] However, Austin made sure Hart's fourth reign was short-lived, costing him a title match against Sid the next night on Raw, and making it the only reign of Hart's to last less than three months.[97] Hart challenged for Sid's WWF Championship in a steel cage match shortly before WrestleMania 13 (Hart's twelfth consecutive and final WrestleMania until WrestleMania XXVI), which saw Austin actually attempt to help Hart win, in order to make their scheduled match at WrestleMania 13 a title match. Concurrently, The Undertaker, who had a scheduled title match with Sid at WrestleMania, attempted to help Sid win. Sid ultimately retained, leading to a pure grudge match for Hart and Austin.[98] Following his loss to Sid, Hart shoved "announcer" Vince McMahon to the ground when he attempted to conduct a post-match interview, and engaged in an expletive-laden rant against McMahon and WWF management. This incident has been cited as one which helped lay the foundations of the WWF's Attitude Era, as well as the starting point of McMahon's on-air character, the tyrannical WWF owner, "Mr. McMahon".[99]

At WrestleMania 13, Hart and Austin had their rematch in a Submission match that would later get a 5-star rating from Dave Meltzer. In the end, Hart locked the Sharpshooter on a bloody Austin, who refused to give up. In fact, Austin never quit, but passed out from the blood loss and pain. Ken Shamrock, the special guest referee, awarded Hart the match, after which he continued to assault Austin.[100] This turned Austin face, and Hart became a heel. It was named "Match of the Year" by Wrestling Observer Newsletter, and voted "Match of the Year by" Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers.[51] Hart challenged The Rock for the WWF Intercontinental Championship in the main event of the March 31 edition of Raw. The Rock won by disqualification when Hart refused to release a figure-four leglock applied around the ringpost. He would face Austin again in the main event of In Your House 14: Revenge of the 'Taker, to determine who would challenge the WWF Champion in a title match at the following month's In Your House 15: A Cold Day in Hell. Austin had Hart locked in his own finishing move, the Sharpshooter, in the middle of the ring when The British Bulldog interfered on Hart's behalf, resulting in disqualification and giving Austin the victory and title match. They would meet once again in a street fight on the April 21 edition of Raw, in which Austin injured the now-heel Hart's ankle with a steel chair. The match was ultimately awarded to Hart when Austin refused to release Hart from the sharpshooter. Austin continued to beat Hart while on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance.

Hart's feud with Austin saw Hart shift to the top heel in the company. In the ensuing weeks, Hart denounced American fans, because of their negative reaction to him in the recent weeks in contrast to his continued popularity through the rest of the world, and reunited with brother Owen and brothers-in-law Davey Boy Smith and Jim Neidhart. The family members formed a new Hart Foundation with Brian Pillman; this incarnation was an anti-American stable which was popular within Canada and Europe. As the leader of this stable, Hart would routinely carry a Canadian flag to the ring and engage in promos where he declared the superiority of his home nation; he became so despised by U.S. audiences that they would often throw debris during his ring entrances, interviews and matches.[6] He would go on to be voted by Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers as the "Most Hated Wrestler of the Year" 1997.[101] At In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede, in Hart's home town of Calgary, the Hart Foundation would defeat the team of Steve Austin, Ken Shamrock, Goldust and The Legion of Doom, representing the U.S., in a ten-man tag team match main event.[102] The Canada vs U.S. rivalry escalated on the July 21 edition of Raw in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Bret, Owen and Davey Boy Smith, representing Canada and the Hart Foundation, defeated the team of Dude Love, Austin and The Undertaker, representing the U.S., in a Flag Match.[103] The Hart Foundation's feud with Austin was named "Feud of the Year" by Wrestling Observer Newsletter, and voted "Feud of the Year" by readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated.[65] Hart vowed that if he could not defeat The Undertaker for the WWF Championship at SummerSlam, he would never wrestle in the United States again. The Undertaker agreed to the match, and Hart won his fifth WWF Championship after spitting in guest referee Shawn Michaels' face; Michaels swung a steel chair in retaliation, which accidentally struck the Undertaker. Michaels, who, as part of another pre-match stipulation, would be banned from wrestling in the United States if he did not remain impartial as referee, had no option but to count the pinfall, giving his bitter rival Hart the victory and the WWF Championship.[104][105]

After SummerSlam, Michaels was pushed as the top heel in the company and negative fan reactions towards Hart softened somewhat, as he adopted a tweener role and declared, "I'm not so much anti-American as I am just very, very pro-Canadian".[6] Hart successfully defended his title against The Patriot, with whom Hart had become involved in a feud as part of the Canada vs U.S. storyline, at Ground Zero: In Your House,[106] avenging a loss to him weeks earlier on Raw,[107] and the Canada vs U.S. feud would conclude at Badd Blood: In Your House, where Hart and Davey Boy Smith, representing Canada and The Hart Foundation, defeated The Patriot and Vader, representing the U.S., in a Flag Match.[108] Erstwhile, in a rematch from SummerSlam, The Undertaker challenged Hart for the WWF Championship at One Night Only; after reversing a Tombstone Piledriver attempt from Hart, The Undertaker dumped Hart on the apron when he would not let go of the ropes. As a result, Hart's neck was caught in the ropes, and The Undertaker was disqualified.[109] Hart would cite this as his favorite of all his matches with The Undertaker,[6] and his last great match in the WWF.[110] In late 1997, the Hart Foundation briefly feuded with African American stable, the Nation of Domination, as part of a controversial storyline in which the Shawn Michaels-led D-Generation X framed the Hart Foundation in vandalizing the Nation's locker room with racist motives. In retaliation, during a promo with D-Generation X, Hart called members Triple H (previously billed as "Hunter Hearst Helmsley") and Shawn Michaels "homos". Hart later apologized for his participation in the storyline and said that he had been pressured into it, saying, "I am not in any shape or form a racist. And I don't believe it is anything to kid around about. I also want to apologize for any remarks I made about gay people. It was a stupid mistake on my part."[110] Hart successfully defended the WWF Championship against Nation of Domination leader, Faarooq, on the October 20 edition of Raw,[111] and, in his penultimate WWF Championship match, wrestled Ken Shamrock to a no-contest on the October 27 edition of the show when both men were assaulted by Shawn Michaels.[112]

Montreal Screwjob and departure (1997)

The "Screwjob" — Earl Hebner calls for the bell as Shawn Michaels holds Bret Hart in the Sharpshooter finishing move.

Around this time, Hart's on-air rivalry with Vince McMahon also escalated. A heated ringside altercation between the two led many fans to dislike McMahon, who at the time was being exposed as owner of the WWF more and more frequently on-air. Although Hart was signed to a 20-year contract back in 1996, the WWF was in a rough financial position by late 1997 and could not afford the contract. Although Hart was arguably the biggest wrestler in the world during the mid-1990s,[4] McMahon also felt that the value of his character was beginning to wane,[113] but wished for Hart to remain with the WWF and discuss the contract and the character's future. Nonetheless, McMahon gave Hart his blessing to talk to World Championship Wrestling (WCW) about possibly taking a second look at their original offer to him.[114] Hart subsequently signed a three-year contract with WCW. His final match with the WWF would be a title match against his real life rival Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series in Montreal. Hart did not want to end his WWF career with a loss to Michaels in his home country; McMahon agreed to Hart's idea of forfeiting the championship the next night on Raw or losing it a few weeks later.

Although Hart stated to McMahon he would not take the WWF Championship with him to WCW TV (and despite insistence from then-WCW President Eric Bischoff, according to Hart's DVD biography,[114] that Hart would join WCW with a "clean slate"), McMahon was still concerned; this led to him breaking his word in what eventually came to be known as the Montreal Screwjob. Even though Hart did not submit to the Sharpshooter, referee Earl Hebner called for the bell as if he had, on McMahon's orders. This resulted in Hart "losing" the WWF Championship to Michaels.[115] The night ended with an irate Hart spitting in McMahon's face, destroying television equipment, and punching McMahon backstage in front of Gerald Brisco, Pat Patterson, and McMahon's son Shane. Hart also confronted Michaels backstage about the match finish. Many behind-the-scenes events leading up to the Montreal Screwjob were filmed for the documentary Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows, released in 1998. WWE has described the Montreal Screwjob as "arguably the most controversial, most jarring moment in the annals of sports-entertainment."[116]

World Championship Wrestling (1997–2000)

Early WCW run (1997–1998)

Hart signed a three-year contract with World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in November 1997, the perks of which included a salary of $2.5 million per year, a substantial increase from his WWF contract, as well as a greatly reduced live schedule and complete creative control over his television character.[117] A day after the Survivor Series pay-per-view, Eric Bischoff, while with the New World Order (nWo), announced that Hart was going to be coming to WCW, and joining the nWo. Hart made his debut on WCW Monday Nitro on December 15, 1997 when it was announced by WCW Chairman of the Board J.J. Dillon that Hart would be the special guest referee for the match between Bischoff and Larry Zbyszko at Starrcade.[118] Bret was involved in the Sting versus Hulk Hogan match at Starrcade, stepping in toward its conclusion as impromptu referee. He attacked referee Nick Patrick, accusing him of making a fast count and shouting he would not let "it happen again" (a reference to the Montreal Screwjob).[119] During Bischoff's period in control of the company, the goodwill towards Hart generated by the Montreal Screwjob resulted in his being pushed as a face. In January, his 30 day no-compete clause expired, and he was immediately pushed as a main event superstar. His first feud in WCW was against Ric Flair: both Flair and Hart considered themself the greatest professional wrestler of all time. Hart main-evented the Souled Out 1998 pay-per-view with a victory over Flair in his first WCW match, which co-headlined with Lex Luger vs "Macho Man" Randy Savage.[120] After this, Hart would begin feuding with the nWo, defeating Brian Adams in his debut Nitro match on March 2, and defeating old WWF rival Curt Hennig (formerly known as "Mr. Perfect") at Uncensored.[121]

Heel turn and hiatus (1998–1999)

In April 1998, Hart turned heel by interfering in a Nitro main event between Hogan and Randy Savage, helping Hogan recapture the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. He became an associate of the nWo, but did not officially join the group. Hart defeated Savage in singles action in the first of two main events at Slamboree, thanks to assistance from Hogan. The following night on Nitro, however, guest referee Roddy Piper changed his decision and declared Savage as the winner by disqualification.[122] In a tag team match at The Great American Bash, Hart and Hogan defeated Savage and Piper.[123]

A two-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion and the first born outwith the United States, Hart is also a record-tying five-time WCW/WWE United States Champion, with his four WCW reigns being the most in the history of the organization.

Hart competed in his second Nitro match on June 22, defeating Chris Benoit with assistance from nWo members: Hart had attempted to recruit his long-time friend into the nWo, but the offer was rejected.[124] At Bash at the Beach, Hart competed in his first championship match in WCW when he faced Booker T for Booker's WCW World Television Championship. He was disqualified after hitting Booker with a steel chair.[125] Hart would headline his first Nitro card on July 20, defeating Diamond Dallas Page for the vacant WCW United States Heavyweight Championship, with assistance from nWo member, The Giant.[126] On the August 10 edition of Nitro, Hart lost the United States Heavyweight Championship to fellow WWF alumnus Lex Luger.[127] Hart regained the title from Luger, the next night on Thunder.[128] In the main event of Fall Brawl, Hart would compete for the #1 contender spot to the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, with he and other wrestlers losing to Diamond Dallas Page in a WarGames match.[129] Hart subsequently asked the fans for forgiveness, turning his back on Hogan and the nWo and ostensibly turning face again. A match between Hart and Hogan was booked to headline the September 28 edition of Nitro. During the match, Hart sustained a knee injury, with Sting taking his place. Hart's rift with Hogan had been a swerve: Hart turned on Sting, delivering a DDT, and the match was officially ruled a no-contest. Sting, a member of the rival nWo Wolfpac, was assaulted after the match; this betrayal began an intense feud between Hart and Sting. On the October 11 edition of Nitro, Sting and the Warrior beat Hart and Hogan. Hart's feud with Sting ended at Halloween Havoc with Hart controversially defending the United States Heavyweight Championship and (kayfabe) injuring Sting. On the October 26 edition of Nitro, Hart lost the title to Diamond Dallas Page.[130] The two would headline the following month's World War 3 pay-per-view in a title match which Hart lost.[131] Hart regained the title from Page on the November 30 edition of Nitro in a No Disqualification match with help from The Giant.[132]

On the February 8 edition of Nitro, Hart lost the United States Heavyweight Championship to family friend Roddy Piper.[133] On the March 29, 1999 edition of Nitro held at Toronto's Air Canada Centre, Hart appeared in street clothes and called out Bill Goldberg, claiming he could beat him in five minutes and verbally coercing Goldberg into tackling him. Hart was wearing a metal breastplate under his Toronto Maple Leafs sweater, which resulted in Goldberg being knocked out. Hart then counted his own pinfall over Goldberg's unconscious body, announced over the mic "Hey WCW, Bischoff, I quit!", to close the show, arising speculation on whether Hart was actually leaving the company. In reality, Hart had suffered a groin injury at the hands of Dean Malenko in November, and needed time off for surgery.[134] In May 1999, his brother Owen Hart died in an accident during a WWF pay-per-view. Hart took a further four months off from WCW to be with his family.

Return, injury, nWo and departure (1999–2000)

Hart returned to wrestling as a face on the September 13, 1999 edition of Nitro in a match with Hulk Hogan against Sting and Lex Luger. On the October 4, 1999 edition of Nitro he defeated Chris Benoit in a tribute match for Owen — this match took place in Kemper Arena in Kansas City, where Owen had died months earlier.[135] Hart challenged for Sting's WCW World Heavyweight Championship on the October 18 edition of Nitro, but lost the match when he was attacked by Lex Luger.[136] Due to controversy over a series of WCW World Heavyweight Championship matches between Sting, Hogan, and Goldberg at Halloween Havoc, the title was declared vacant. A tournament then took place over several episodes of Nitro. Hart's first round match came against Goldberg the night after Halloween Havoc, with the match being a tournament match for a berth in the next round, as well as being a match for the United States Heavyweight Championship that Goldberg had won the night before. Thanks to outside interference, Hart was able to defeat Goldberg, handing him his second official WCW loss, and winning the United States Heavyweight Championship for the fourth time. Hart holds the record for most reigns with the title during the company's history (he would again make history with the title in 2010 by winning the rebranded WWE United States Championship, making him a record-tying five-time champion overall).[137][138]

On the November 8 edition of Nitro, Hart lost the United States Heavyweight Championship to Scott Hall in a ladder match which also involved Sid Vicious and Goldberg.[139] Hart went on to win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship tournament by defeating Perry Saturn,[139] Billy Kidman,[140] Sting, and Chris Benoit at Mayhem, held at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, giving him his first of two reigns in WCW and his sixth world title overall.

On December 7, Hart and Goldberg won the WCW World Tag Team Championship from Creative Control, thus not only making Hart a double champion (as he was still World Champion at that point) but also the first wrestler to win both the WWF and WCW version of the Triple Crown Championship.

Hart and Goldberg would lose the tag team titles to The Outsiders on the December 13 edition of Nitro.[141] At Starrcade, Hart defended his WCW World Heavyweight Championship against Goldberg. During the match, Hart was struck with a thrust kick to the head, resulting in a severe concussion. Hart later speculated that he may have suffered up to three additional concussions within matches over the course of that day along with the days immediately following Starrcade, having been unaware of the severity of his injuries.[142] As a part of this, Hart placed Goldberg on the post in a figure-four leg lock which ended with Hart hitting his head on the concrete floor when Goldberg failed to receive the move correctly.[143] The sum total of those injuries left Hart with post-concussion syndrome and ultimately forced his retirement from professional wrestling. Hart wrote a Calgary Sun column in which he said that Goldberg "had a tendency to injure everyone he worked with."[144] As part of his DVD documentary, Hart expressed regret that "someone as good-hearted as Bill Goldberg" was responsible for hurting him.[114] Like with the Montreal Screwjob, referee Roddy Piper simply rung the bell when Hart held Goldberg in the Sharpshooter, although Goldberg did not submit. Piper simply walked away, leaving both Goldberg and Hart bewildered.[145] This would be Hart's last WCW pay-per-view.

As a result of this incident, Hart could not, in good conscience, consider himself the true WCW World Heavyweight Champion, and vacated the title on the December 20 edition of Nitro. Out of respect for Goldberg, Hart suggested that he, without the championship advantage, face Goldberg that night to determine the true champion. During the match, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash came to the ring looking to attack Goldberg with baseball bats. Hart convinced them to stop, then in a swerve hit Goldberg with one of the bats. The three continued to beat down Goldberg and were eventually joined by Jeff Jarrett.[146] As a result, not only did Hart regain the championship, the nWo was reformed (now billed as "nWo 2000"), and Hart turned heel once again.[147][148] Hart wrestled Terry Funk to a no-contest in a non-title, hardcore rules match on the January 6 edition of Thunder. In his final match in WCW, he defended the WCW World Heavyweight Championship against Kevin Nash on the January 10 edition of Nitro, which also ended in a no-contest. Hart vacated the title in late January 2000 when he was forced to withdraw from the main event of WCW's Souled Out due to his injuries. Hart continued to make appearances on WCW television, generally cutting promos. He was an official participant in a battle royal on the May 3, 2000 edition of Thunder to determine the number one contender for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship: the extent of his involvement in the match—ultimately won by Ric Flair—was to hit Hulk Hogan with a chair. His final WCW appearance occurred on the September 6, 2000 edition of Thunder, in a promo where he confronted Bill Goldberg on the injury he sustained nine months prior. WCW released Hart from his contract in October 2000, due to his ongoing incapacity, and he announced his retirement from professional wrestling soon afterward. Hart and several critics considered his storylines during his tenure to be lackluster. Nonetheless, he had, upon departing, held seven titles and headlined multiple pay-per-views for WCW.[6][149] Hart has cited his WCW World Heavyweight Championship victory at Mayhem 1999, the "steel plate" segment with Goldberg and his tribute match to Owen, against Chris Benoit, as his greatest moments with the company.[6]

Post-retirement appearances (2001–present)

World Wrestling All-Stars (2001; 2003)

In late 2001, Hart became the on-screen commissioner of World Wrestling All-Stars (WWA), a role that ended prematurely due to a 2002 stroke, which temporarily rendered him a wheelchair user.[150] In his first major appearance since recovering, Hart traveled to Australia to appear at another WWA event in May 2003.

WWE (2005–2006)

In mid 2005, Hart worked with WWE for the first time since 1997, contributing hours of interview footage and selecting matches for his WWE Home Video release, Bret "Hit Man" Hart: The Best There Is, the Best There Was, the Best There Ever Will Be. He was interviewed by Todd Grisham on the November 16, 2005 edition of Byte This!, marking his first appearance on WWE programming since his departure.[151] In April 2006, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by former on-screen rival, Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Independent promotions (2007–2009)

On May 9, 2007, it was announced that Hart would make his first appearance for a professional wrestling event since the 2006 WWE Hall of Fame. Hart signed autographs at "The Legends of Wrestling" show at the Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida.[152] On June 11, 2007, Hart made his first appearance on Raw since October 27, 1997 when he appeared in a pre-taped interview voicing his opinions on Vince McMahon as part of "Mr. McMahon Appreciation Night." During the months of October and November 2008, Hart went on tour with American Wrestling Rampage promotions, touring many places throughout the UK and Ireland, posing for photographs and signing autographs before the show. On the weekend of July 11, 2009, he made an appearance at One Pro Wrestling in Doncaster, England, where he held a Q&A, and then entered the ring to address the fans at the show. On September 27, 2009, Hart appeared in New York City's Manhattan Center to sign autographs during a Ring of Honor event. He spoke to the crowd, reminiscing about some of his more memorable matches in New York.

Return to WWE (2009-present)

Hart confronts Michaels on January 4, 2010

On December 28, 2009, after weeks of controversy surrounding Hart and his presence in World Wrestling Entertainment, Chairman Vince McMahon announced that Bret Hart would be special guest host on the January 4, 2010 episode of Raw.[153] Hart made his first live appearance on Raw in over 12 years by hosting the program. There, he thanked the fans for their continued support, jokingly teased announcer Jerry Lawler about their long-running 1990s feud, and confronted Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon regarding the Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series in 1997. Hart and Michaels were able to agree on a truce, shaking hands and hugging. While many cast doubts on the sincerity of their reconciliation, both men have confirmed that it was indeed genuine.[154][155] It also appeared that he had buried the hatchet with Vince later in the night, until Vince subsequently kicked Bret in the gut (this was in fact part of a storyline, as Bret and Vince have been on speaking terms since 2005).[154]

During different encounters the following month, Hart and McMahon would reproduce similar events that occurred in the Montreal Screwjob: McMahon spitting in Hart's face (as Hart did to McMahon), and Hart destroying parts of the technical equipment that goes into producing Raw (as he did to the Survivor Series equipment).[156] On the February 15 episode of Raw, Hart made a farewell from WWE, but as he left to go inside his limousine, another vehicle reversed into the door of his limo and injured his leg. On the March 1 episode of Raw, Mr.McMahon, who would take advantage of Hart's condition, challenged Hart to a match at WrestleMania XXVI; Hart accepted.[157] The match was later changed to a No Holds Barred Match as Hart revealed the staging of his injury. Hart, along with his family, inducted his father Stu Hart into the WWE Hall of Fame, a controversial decision that aggravated Hart and McMahon's rivalry in 2010. At WrestleMania, McMahon attempted to buy Hart's family into turning against him; however, they turned against McMahon instead and helped Hart defeat McMahon.[158]

On the Raw episode after WrestleMania, Hart was about to announce his farewell from WWE until Unified WWE Tag Team Champions The Miz and The Big Show taunted Hart. This led Hart to request a match between the champions and The Hart Dynasty (David Hart Smith and Tyson Kidd), a stable stemmed from the Hart family. Ultimately, the Dynasty would win a championship match that culminated in them winning the championship on April 26. Hart would manage in the Dynasty's corners while they battled with the Miz and Show in various matches, which eventually led to The Miz losing a match that guaranteed a WWE United States Championship match to a Hart family member against him. Instead of choosing a member of the Dynasty, The Miz chose Bret; with the help of the Dynasty, Hart would defeat The Miz to win his record-tying fifth United States Championship on May 17.[159]

Hart with WWE in 2010.

On the May 24 edition of Raw, Hart was named the new General Manager of Raw. He set up qualifying matches for Fatal 4-Way Pay-per-view, but one of which involving the injured Batista and Randy Orton. Batista refused to take part and quit the WWE. He vacated the United States title, which was later won by R-Truth, and once again retired from the ring to fulfill his duties as General Manager.[160] The next week, he was confronted by Vince McMahon who congratulated Hart on becoming General Manager but warned him that he would have to make tough decisions in the future. Hart retaliated by declaring a Viewer's Choice episode of Raw.[161] The week after the Viewer's Choice episode, he confronted the NXT rookies who demanded WWE contracts. Hart denied their requests and fired NXT Season 1 winner Wade Barrett. At the end of the night, the NXT rookies attacked Hart and demanded for contracts giving Hart until the Fatal 4-Way pay per view for his answer.[162] Hart legitimately did not appear at the pay-per-view or the following night's Raw as advertised. On Raw, Vince McMahon scolded Hart for failing to appear at the pay-per-view, and to hire extra security to prevent the "chaos" caused by the NXT rookies, relieving him of his duties as General Manager.[163] Hart's profile was subsequently removed from the Raw roster on WWE.com. Some speculated that Hart had left the company, with the most commonly reported explanation being that Lloyd's of London, with whom he has an insurance settlement following his career ending injury in WCW, were unhappy with the level of physicality involved in his WWE appearances.[164][165]

After a five-week absence from WWE programming, Hart returned to Raw on July 19, where it was announced by John Cena that he, The Great Khali, R-Truth, Edge, Chris Jericho, John Morrison, and Hart would face the NXT rookies, now known as The Nexus, at SummerSlam.[166][167] The following week, Hart teamed with John Cena to wrestle SummerSlam teammates Edge and Chris Jericho to a no-contest.[168] In the SummerSlam main event, Hart's first pay-per-view headlining match since Starrcade 1999, he was disqualified for using a steel chair on Skip Sheffield. However, his team went on to win the match.[169] On the August 16 edition of Raw, Bret Hart introduced the new tag team title belts to the champions, The Hart Dynasty. Later on in the night during the Nexus vs. Raw challenge, Hart was scheduled to face Justin Gabriel, but was unable to compete after the anonymous GM, citing his disdain for Hart, removed him from the match and replaced him with Randy Orton.[170] On August 30 Hart appeared on the 900th episode of Raw and was booked in a match against The Undertaker by the anonymous GM. The match, however, would never take place as The Undertaker was assaulted by the Nexus and Kane.[171] On September 25, 2010, WWE hosted a tribute event to Hart in Madison Square Garden, where he and the Hart Dynasty defeated Nexus members Heath Slater, Justin Gabriel and Michael Tarver in a six man tag team match, when Gabriel submitted to Hart's Sharpshooter.[172] At Raw on October 18, 2010, Hart made an appearance in his hometown of Calgary, working as the special enforcer in the main event dark match between Randy Orton, Sheamus and Wade Barrett and, after the match, saved Orton from a Nexus beatdown and locked Heath Slater in a Sharpshooter.[173] As of November 2010, Hart's WWE contract had expired.[174][175][176]

Hart appeared on WWE.com's Legends of Wrestling: Rivalries on March 23, 2011, discussing the greatest professional wrestling rivalries of all time with other prominent industry figures. On the April 25, 2011 edition of Tough Enough, the contestants focused on developing their agility. Hart, who was described in his introduction by host Steve Austin as the personification of "courage, technique and agility", motivated the contestants by giving a talk on the attributes required to be successful in WWE.[177] On May 22 at Over The Limit, Hart's long-running 1990s rival, Jerry Lawler, defeated Michael Cole in a Kiss My Foot match. Harking back to Hart's victory over Lawler in a Kiss My Foot Match at the 1995 King of the Ring, Hart came to the ring after the match and, along with Jim Ross and Eve Torres, forced Michael Cole back into the ring so he could kiss Lawler's foot, as agreed in the pre-match stipulation; Hart placed Cole in the Sharpshooter to accomplish this. Hart and Lawler then embraced, laying past animosities to rest. The following night on Raw, Hart refereed the main event, which saw John Cena and Rey Mysterio defeat R-Truth and CM Punk with Hart's assistance. On the August 23, 2011 tapings of the August 26, 2011 edition of Smackdown, Hart served as guest General Manager. Hart announced that Mark Henry would get a shot at Randy Orton's World Heavyweight Championship the following week, but he was forced to give Christian a title shot instead, after Christian invoked his rematch clause. Hart, however, used his authority to add a steel cage stipulation to the match. Hart also guest refereed a Street Fight between Randy Orton and Christian in a Dark Match. After the match, Christian squared off with Bret, who applied the sharpshooter on Christian.

On September 12, 2011 Hart appeared on RAW and was placed in a tag team match with John Cena against Alberto Del Rio and Ricardo Rodriguez which he won after putting Rodriguez into a sharpshooter.[178] Later that week on Smackdown, which was filmed in Toronto, he took part in a post-show tribute for one of his biggest fans (who also was forced to retire early, due to injuries), Edge.

Acclaim and honors

Bret Hart accepts his induction into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame

Hart has been credited by WWE and prominent industry figures as one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time.[6][17] WWE has also described him as one of the biggest names in the history of the business,[179][180] and said of his popularity, "In the mid ’90s, there were very few, if any, Superstars as popular as Bret “Hit Man” Hart."[4] WCW described Hart as, "universally respected by other wrestlers as perhaps the greatest pure wrestler to lace up a pair of boots." The organization also called Hart "an incredible international draw, attracting standing room only crowds in every corner of the globe."[5] Since Hart's retirement, WWE chairman Vince McMahon has described him as the greatest technical wrestler and storyteller in the history of the business, and as giving the best match of the night every time he wrestled.[181] Stone Cold Steve Austin,[182] The Undertaker,[183] Shawn Michaels,[184] Chris Benoit,[185] Roddy Piper,[186] Bam Bam Bigelow[187] and other wrestlers[188][189] have named Hart as one of their favorite opponents. Veteran AWA, WWF/E and WCW announcer Gene Okerlund has asserted that Hart should appear in anyone's list of the top ten greatest wrestlers of all time.[190] Pro Wrestling Illustrated (PWI) readers voted Hart the greatest wrestler of 1993 and 1994 in the "PWI 500",[70] as well as the "Most Inspirational Wrestler of the Year" 1994.[191] He was voted "WWF Superstar of the Year" 1993 by fans.[69] PWI ranked him #4 of the top 500 singles wrestlers of the "PWI Years" in 2003, after Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Andre The Giant.[192] WWE has also credited Hart as the top "Submission Specialist" in professional wrestling history,[193] and for popularizing the Sharpshooter submission hold, named by the organization as the most devastating submission hold in professional wrestling history.[194]

In 2004, Hart was chosen as one of the Greatest Canadians, coming in at number thirty-nine. He was also the advocate for Don Cherry during the televised portion of the competition. Hart said he would be done with professional wrestling following his U.S. book tour. He believed his wrestling career would be complete after saying good-bye to his American fans on various book signing tours to promote its release in the States. Hart was content saying good-bye to wrestling through his book and not working for a promotion after spending seven years on the project. "I'd be happy being remembered for really brilliant storytelling in my matches, not for some last chance to snap up some money," Hart said. "I respectfully understand my light in wrestling is fading. I can live with that." Hart said he nearly gave up on the project while trying to fight with the illnesses he faced after suffering a stroke in 2002. However, Hart wanted to bring closure on his wrestling career. "A lot of times, I thought about giving up because it was hard reliving some of these events. But I couldn't say goodbye to my wrestling character until I finished."

On the February 16, 2006, episode of Raw, it was announced that Hart would be a 2006 inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame.[195] Hart had also been approached by Vince McMahon for a potential match between the two at WrestleMania 22 but declined the offer.[196] On April 1, 2006, Hart was inducted by "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.[197] He thanked every wrestler he worked with (even thanking Vince McMahon) and said he's "in a good place in life."[198] Despite Hart's claims around the time of WrestleMania 22, the idea of a match between Hart and McMahon was revived in 2010 following Bret's guest appearance on the January 4th edition of Raw. On March 1, 2010, it was confirmed that Hart and McMahon would have their match at WrestleMania XXVI.

On July 15, 2006, Bret Hart was inducted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame, at the International Wrestling Institute and Museum in Newton, Iowa. The induction took place in an immensely crowded and humid display room showcasing one of Hart's ring entrance jackets. The honor is only awarded to those with both a professional and amateur wrestling background, making Hart one of the youngest inductees. During his acceptance, Hart compared this induction to his place in the WWE Hall of Fame, saying "This is a much bigger honor for me."[199]

In June 2008, Hart returned to the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame ceremony, this time to induct his father Stu Hart. At the induction ceremony in Waterloo, Iowa, he ridiculed Slam Wrestling editor Greg Oliver, calling him a "charlatan" and his books on wrestling "fiction" to the standing ovation of some wrestlers in attendance. At the end of the speech, Hart said "Either you go or I go." After Oliver refused to leave, Hart walked out of the ceremony with other wrestlers to scattered applause.[200]

On October 16, 2010, Bret Hart was honored at MainStream Wrestling Entertainment's Maritime Wrestling Expo event in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The Mayor of Halifax, Peter Kelly, declared the date as Bret "Hit Man" Hart Day and delivered a proclamation in honor of Bret's lifetime contributions to wrestling and for naming the City of Halifax as a favorite place in which to perform. Bret was also given a special custom-made plaque by MainStream Wrestling Entertainment, which was designed by Custom Design Cycle in Liverpool, Nova Scotia.

In December, 2010, WWE released the "50 Greatest Superstars of All-Time" DVD in which Bret was ranked #4 behind Steve Austin, Undertaker, and Shawn Michaels.

Outside the ring

Writing

Hart wrote a weekly column for the Calgary Sun from June 1991 until October 2004.

On October 16, 2007, Hart's autobiography titled Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, was released in Canada by Random House Canada, and released in fall 2008 in the United States by Grand Central Publishing, with a U.S. book signing tour. Hart began writing the book in July 1999 with Marcy Engelstein, his longtime close friend and business associate. They did not complete the book until eight years later in September 2007 due to Hart suffering his stroke in 2002, among numerous other tragedies that occurred during the writing. Hart's chronicle is based on an audio diary that he kept for all of his years on the road in professional wrestling.

Acting

In 1994, Hart played a prison inmate in Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers; however, the scene he appeared in was deleted.

From 1995 to 1996 Hart appeared in the Lonesome Dove television series playing "Luther Root". He has made numerous televised appearances since, including a guest spot on The Simpsons in 1997 (as himself, in "The Old Man and the Lisa") and episodes of the Honey I Shrunk The Kids TV series (along with his brother Owen), The Adventures of Sinbad, Big Sound, and The Immortal. Hart provides the voice of pro wrestler character "The Hooded Fang" in Jacob Two-Two.

Hart also guest starred on the sketch comedy series MADtv in 1997 where he acted as enforcer at a fan's house, appearing with his WWF Championship belt. Hart later appeared again on MADtv in 1999 and 2000 in an angle with actor Will Sasso in which the two feuded on the set of MADtv and in World Championship Wrestling; this culminated in a grudge match on WCW Monday Nitro, where Hart decisively defeated Sasso.

Hart had a stint playing The Genie in a theatrical production of Aladdin in 2004, a role which he reprised in the Canadian Touring production of Aladdin in late 2006.

Wrestling-related

Hart was the subject of 1998 documentary, Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows, which chronicles the events leading up to his transition from WWF to WCW.

In mid-2005, WWE announced the release of a three-disc DVD originally named Screwed: The Bret Hart Story, with the title a reference to the Montreal Screwjob. After he was approached about appearing in the DVD, Hart visited WWE Headquarters on August 3, 2005 and met with Vince McMahon. Hart filmed over seven hours of interview footage for the DVD, which was renamed Bret "Hit Man" Hart: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be. The DVD includes a compendium of Hart's favorite matches, including a match against his brother Owen held in White Plains, New York and his first match with Ricky Steamboat. Before the DVD's release, WWE released a special magazine covering Hart's career. The collection was released on November 15, 2005.

On April 6, 2010, WWE released Hart & Soul: The Hart Family Anthology, which is a 3 DVD set featuring a documentary on the Hart wrestling family as well as 12 matches. It is unique in that it also features previously unseen home movies from the Harts as well as candid interviews from surviving family members.

Hart appeared on many talk shows (Larry King Live, Nancy Grace, Hannity & Colmes, On the Record w/ Greta Van Susteren, etc.) discussing the Chris Benoit double murder and suicide. Hart is shown putting his finishing hold, the Sharpshooter, on Chris Benoit in the opening credits of Malcolm in the Middle which was footage from WCW Mayhem 1999 .

In 2010, The Fight Network produced a documentary entitled 'Bret Hart - Survival of the Hitman' produced by John Pollock, Jorge Barbosa and Wai Ting chronicling the rise of Hart, his split with WWE in 1997 and his road back to the company in January 2010. The documentary features interviews with Bret, members of the family, Carl DeMarco, former sports agent Gord Kirke, producer of 'Wrestling with Shadows' Paul Jay and more.

In June 2011, tweets from Jim Ross, Shawn Michaels and Hart announced that the three were working on a DVD chronicling the careers of Hart and Michaels that the WWE was planning to release in October 2011. The subject of the DVD would be their on-screen rivalry and real-life conflicts, with a particular focus on the Montreal screwjob. In his tweet, Hart described working on the DVD as a "cathartic" experience, and Ross asserted that both Hart and Michaels had been very honest and emotional in their interviews.

Personal life

Family

Hart married Julie Smadu-Hart (born March 25, 1960) on July 8, 1982. Bret and Julie have 4 children:[201] Jade Michelle Hart (born March 31, 1983); Dallas Jeffery Hart (born August 11, 1984); Alexandra Sabina Hart (born May 17, 1988), nicknamed "Beans"; and Blade Colton Hart (born June 5, 1990).[202] The 4 hearts located on the right thigh of his tights symbolize his 4 children, as do the 4 dots following his signature.[203] Bret and Julie separated in May 1998 and they eventually got divorced on June 24, 2002 just hours before Bret suffered his stroke.[204] Hart married an Italian woman named Cinzia Rota in 2004, but they got divorced in 2007 after failing to agree on where they should live.[204] In July 2010 Hart married a woman named Stephanie Washington.[205]

His 7 brothers were either wrestlers or involved backstage with the wrestling business; his 4 sisters all married professional wrestlers. 3 of his brothers-in-law, the Dynamite Kid, Davey Boy Smith, and Jim Neidhart had successful careers in the business. His youngest brother Owen Hart had become a decorated wrestler in his own right before his death in 1999, caused in a real-life accident at the WWF pay-per-view Over the Edge.

When Hart began the controversial "Canada versus America" angle, he was criticized in public, accused of being anti-American and often told by angry American fans "go back where you came from". Hart responded in an interview with the Calgary Sun, stating that "[there is] a difference between a show and reality". In actuality, Hart holds dual citizenship with Canada and the U.S. as his mother is originally from Long Island, New York in the U.S.[206]

On June 24, 2002, Bret Hart suffered a stroke after hitting his head in a bicycle accident. The Calgary Herald reported that Hart hit a pothole, flew over the handlebars of the bike, and landed on the back of his head. Hart suffered total paralysis on his left side, which required months of physical therapy. Hart has since recovered much of his mobility and is in good health, although he suffers from an emotional imbalance and other lasting effects common to stroke survivors. Hart wrote in detail about his stroke in his autobiography, Hitman: My Real Life In The Cartoon World of Wrestling.[207] Hart later became a spokesperson for March of Dimes Canada's Stroke Recovery Canada program.[208]

The Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League took their name from Hart, who was a founder and part-owner.[209]

Feud with Ric Flair

In 2004, Hart engaged in an off-screen rivalry with Ric Flair. In his autobiography, Flair criticizes Hart for exploiting the death of his brother, Owen Hart, and the controversy surrounding the Montreal Screwjob.[210] Flair also claimed in his autobiography that, despite Hart's popularity in Canada, he was not a formidable money-making draw in the United States, a claim which Hart dismissed as "plain ridiculous" in a column written for the Calgary Sun.[211] Hart claimed that he drew greater revenue than Flair, citing his headlining performances on consistently sold-out tours throughout his WWF career, while Flair wrestled to allegedly near-empty arenas. He also criticized Flair on what he perceived as insults to fellow wrestlers Mick Foley and Randy Savage. Hart did acknowledge a decline in the WWF's popularity during the mid-1990s, but he, and others, felt that this was largely attributed to the WWF's well-publicised sex and steroid scandals, as well as WCW's acquisition of former top WWE stars.[211][212][213] In contrast to Flair's claims, longtime "dirtsheet" writer Dave Meltzer, of the Wrestling Observer, said of Hart, "there is no denying he was a major draw in the United States";[214] WWE owner Vince McMahon has asserted that whichever company hired Hart could "have built the entire franchise around [him]," describing him as an "extraordinary star who you know is going to give you the best match of the night every time he goes out there." McMahon added that it was "fortunate for me, in terms of my company," that his chief competitor, WCW, did not utilize Hart to his full potential.[6] WCW described Hart as "an incredible international draw, attracting standing room only crowds in every corner of the globe."[5]

In wrestling

  • Wrestlers Managed
    • The Hart Dynasty
  • Nicknames
    • Buddy "The Hearthrob" Hart[1]
    • Bret "The Hitman" Hart[1]
    • "The Excellence of Execution"[1]
    • "The Best There Is, The Best There Was and The Best There Ever Will Be"[29]
    • "The Pink and Black Attack" (while teaming with Jim Neidhart)
  • Entrance themes
    • "Hart Beat" by Jimmy Hart and J.J. Maguire (WWF; 1988–1994)
    • "Hart Attack" by Jim Johnston, Jimmy Hart, and J.J Maguire (WWF; 1994–1997)
    • "Hitman in the House" (WCW; 1997–1999)
    • "Hitman Theme" by Keith Scott (WCW; 1999–2010)
    • "Rockhouse" by Jimmy Hart and H. Helm (WCW; used while a part of the nWo 2000; 1999–2000)
    • "Return of the Hitman" by Jim Johnston (WWE; 2010–present)

Championships and accomplishments

Amateur wrestling

Professional wrestling

1 Hart became the fifth man to win the Triple Crown along with Goldberg as they both won on the same day.

2Hart co-won the Royal Rumble with Lex Luger after both simultaneously eliminated each other.

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Further information

Documentary
  • Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Vince McMahon (December 8, 2009). Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows (Documentary film). ASIN B001NG9GZ0. 

External links


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