July 25, 2005
WWF World Championship
Bret Hart © vs. The 1-2-3 Kid
Monday Night Raw
July 1, 1994 (aired July 11)
The video package preceding this match is fantastic! It's obvious the vision Bret had for both himself and the company, and it plays out in the pre-match hype as well as in the match. He speaks in a somber tone, as they show clips of him speaking at the Hall of Fame banquet stating that he looks forward to following the careers of great wrestlers like the 1-2-3 Kid and Jeff Jarrett. He was attempting to be Jack Brisco in 1974, only he was doing it in 1994. He enjoyed the role of the serious babyface champion, the respectable guy, the one who kept the company prestigious and credible. It's sad that wrestling no longer had a place for someone like that as we shifted into the Attitude era, an era almost completely dominated by style, with substance taking a smaller role. In the 1980s, Ric Flair was considered the consummate professional, and Bret Hart wanted so badly to carry the torch that would expand on that approach to pro wrestling, and honestly, he was the best candidate to take the American pro wrestling art form where it needed to go after the Flair/Steamboat feud ran its course. Bret was the perfect champion to keep the wrestling in wrestling, and this match is a statement in that direction as much as it is anything else, a statement that no matter what WCW was doing at the time running Hulkastalgia dry, Bret was the guy in his prime who had been left to fill the numerous potholes left by Hogan, and he had an enormous challenge -- make wrestling a fun, unembarrassing, clean business that can be respected. He wanted to shift paradigms and redefine the role a world champion is expected to take, a role that had been forgotten after the first national expansion of a wrestling company the decade before. He ultimately fell short of his goal in the long haul, but it wasn't for a lack of effort.
The 1-2-3 Kid embodied the shift in company philosophy as much as anyone, just as he embodied the hesitance to stick with that direction and have patience. He scored major upsets over top stars from time to time, but he was never given a sustained opportunity as a top guy, because he was too small, a plight Bret knew all too well. The 1-2-3 Kid challenging Bret Hart in a world title match in the WWF was a middle finger in the face of the cartoonish 80s, and a celebration of professional wrestling itself. Bret goes out of his way to make Kid look credible here. He sneaks in an armdrag in the early stages and Bret's facial expressions make the point nicely that he's both surprised and impressed. Bret attempts to use his size to his advantage by bodyslamming Kid out of his second armbar attempt, but Kid kips up, showing that both for that moment and as long as Bret has anything to say about it, size does not matter in the WWF. Kid switches to a hammerlock, which Bret attempts to snapmare him out of, but Kid keeps the hold locked in. Bret eventually elbows him coming off the ropes, and puts him in a chinlock.
The effect of the chinlock here can not be understated. The match started with the crowd firmly behind Bret, booing Kid's act, and the chinlock started the ball rolling in the right direction, putting sympathy on Waltman. The first image after a commercial break is one of Kid once again in control, with Kid keeping the move on no matter what reversal Bret tries, with a knee to the gut off the ropes finally turning the tide. Bret stays on Kid's stomach and upper body, eventually moving to his head. He does this by kicking Kid in the stomach and legdropping him. The pace is slower at this point because Bret needs it to be that way to neutralize the speed advantage his opponent has. A series of *awesome* European uppercuts in the corner do the job of both keeping Kid down and further endearing him to the audience, as they are now slowly siding with Kid.
Bret aims higher, moving his focus from the stomach to Kid's head and neck. There are occasional hope spots to keep it interesting, but Bret has him where he wants him, with a swinging neckbreaker getting a good nearfall, and a drop down off of a sunset flip getting an even better nearfall. Kid tries to come back again, but Bret blocks his crucifix attempt and covers him for a three count! The problem is that Kid made the ropes, and the referee didn't see it, so Bret explains the situation to him and demands that the match be restarted. Compare this to Jarrett/Razor where the countout in the middle of the Rumble match only served to derail the momentum. Here, it has a purpose, but it's again hammering the point home that the WWF has changed and the new champion finds it important for his title defenses to have finishes without controversy. In fact, the idea that he was the honest one who pointed these things out while others took advantage of similar situations is what led to his frustration and eventual heel turn three years later. When the match is restarted, Kid sneaks in a quick rollup on a distracted Bret and almost gets the victory, once again making a point that in Bret Hart's WWF, the great wrestlers stand a chance of winning the title at any time. Bret regains control and works a chinlock tenaciously, and the crowd is now divided. They rally behind Kid's comeback as he reverses Bret's hiptoss attempt with a backslide, but Bret immediately cuts him off again, dropping an elbow on his head.
He toys with Kid briefly as the crowd is now in full support of the challenger, chanting "1-2-3! 1-2-3!" Bret continues his assault on Kid's head by dropping a DDT, but Kid breaks up the five moves of doom by kicking Bret squarely in the face when Bret tries his middle rope elbow, reinforcing the point that high-flying is Waltman's game, not Hart's. Kid's educated feet drive his comeback, as he neutralized Bret with a series of great kicks from all angles. His flying crossbody gets an amazing false finish and Kid continues reminding the audience that size no longer matters in the WWF, as after Bret kicks out of a top rope legdrop, he clotheslines his larger opponent out of the ring. Kid now feels as big as anyone in the company. Bret attempts to block a somersault plancha, but he isn't effective completely, as some of the move still makes its mark, but when Kid gets overzealous back in the ring and tries a senton bomb, Bret moves out of the way and goes for a sharpshooter, but he can't lock it in because Kid is out of position.
We get some more uppercuts in the corner, as at this point, the crowd is going crazy. The best nearfall of the match comes when Bret attempts a superplex, but Kid blocks it and lands on top of Bret for a pinfall that's way too close for comfort, at least for Bret. Again, Kid gets overzealous and misses a splash in the corner, and Bret follows that up by going back to his head with a bulldog. He goes up top yet again, but Kid again reminds him that it's not his domain. He makes a last attempt at a missile dropkick, but Bret counters that into the sharpshooter for the victory. The ringside announcers immediately stand up and applaud the effort put forth by both, as Bret and Kid embrace. Jim Ross has the wherewithal to stay quiet, as the story is being told in the ring without his assistance, a sixth sense he would no longer have a decade later.
Some would argue that on a global scale, the work Bret was doing was too behind the time or too basic, as his peers in Japan and Mexico were pulling off far superior moves and even in most cases telling better stories. Admittedly, it did make him seem old-fashioned by comparison, but to argue that point is not to understand Bret's role in attempting to rebuild American wrestling into something to be proud of, as he was taking a step back so someone else could expand on that and take a step forward. Sadly, no such person would come along, at least not anyone who would be given the opportunity to do so, but it wasn't because the groundwork wasn't laid with matches like this.