February 20, 2010
BRET HART VS. OWEN HART
“Brotherly bond gives way to bad blood”
In 1992, Bret “The Hitman” Hart achieved a career pinnacle, winning his first WWF World Heavyweight Championship from Ric Flair. With this win, Hart improved upon an already staggering resume, which included being only the second man to complete WWF’s Triple Crown, consisting of the Federation’s World, Intercontinental, and Tag Team Titles. Things were looking up for Hart, as he defended the company’s top prize against all comers and came away mostly successful. That was until April 4 of 1993, when he dropped the strap to Yokozuna on the grand stage of Wrestlemania IX.
Through the summer, Hart tried to regain his lost ground, and he found traction by winning the 1993 King of the Ring tournament. However, before he could lay claim to another World Title opportunity, Hart found himself sidetracked in a petty war with Jerry Lawler over recognition and prestige. After Hart nearly injured Lawler in a brawl at the 1993 Summerslam, the war waged onward, spanning both the WWF and Lawler’s USWA promotion in Memphis.
Finally, at the 1993 Survivor Series, a match was signed to settle it all. Since Lawler had taken time to hurl insults and jibes at Bret’s family, “The Hitman” decided to ask for three of his brothers to join his side against Lawler and three handpicked “knights” in a classic elimination match. Bret’s brothers in question included two former wrestlers in Keith and Bruce, as well as fellow WWF superstar Owen, who had yet to achieve any of the success that Bret had already amassed.
ACT I: Seeds of Discontent
Lawler was pulled from the match, due to charges of statutory rape. In his place, Shawn Michaels (returning from a suspension) renewed his rivalry with Bret as the team’s new captain. The knights remained, as three men under hoods who served as nothing more than hired goons.
The Harts (who also had legendary patriarch Stu sitting ringside, as well as mother Helen and many relatives in the audience) went on to dominate the match, eliminating the faceless Knights early on. Owen pinned the Black Knight, and then the Red and Blue Knights both bit the dust, with back to back Sharpshooters from Bret and Owen respectively. Shawn had his back to the wall, and it was looking like a clean sweep for the proud sons of Calgary. However, in a cruel twist, Owen collided with Bret on the apron, and sent him sprawling onto the guardrail. Michaels capitalized, pinning a stunned Owen. The youngest Hart lashed out, unable to believe that he was eliminated, while ignoring his wounded brother on the floor. Yet Owen had to leave, becoming an unlikely casualty thanks to a twist of fate.
Bret soon recovered, and the three remaining brothers pummeled Michaels, until Shawn simply ran off, unable to further deal with the odds. After the was counted out, the three remaining Harts celebrated with father Stu. However, Owen came stomping back to the ring, and he then shoved Bret over the unfortunate slight. Despite the family’s best efforts to calm him down and get him to celebrate, Owen was inconsolable. Within weeks, Owen would challenge Bret to a one on one match, laying claim to the fact that he felt he was living in the shadow of his top star sibling. Bret would rebuke the challenge, saying he would never fight Owen.
Over Christmas ’93, it seemed the brothers had patched up their differences and, in fact had challenged the Quebecers for the World Tag Team Titles at the 1994 Royal Rumble.
ACT II: Rubbing Salt in the Wound
At the 1994 Royal Rumble, the brothers Hart took the fight to the Quebecers, with Bret knowing that to share a triumphant moment with his brother such as winning the Tag Team Titles may ease the wounds of Survivor Series fully shut.
However, during the course of the match, Johnny Polo, the manager of the Quebecers, managed to cause Bret to tumble to the floor by pulling the ropes open. The Hitman had injured his knee on the landing, and the tide shifted to the favor of the champions, Jacques and Pierre. Bret refused to tag out, for reasons unclear, and actually found himself in a position to win when he attempted the Sharpshooter on Jacques. With his knee giving way, Bret was unable to stand to complete the move, and referee Tim White stopped the match at his own discretion. Owen became more livid than he was at Survivor Series, not just at the lost title opportunity, but for the perceived selfishness of Bret, who he felt was trying to be a hero.
After the match, with Bret struggling to even stand, Owen barraged him with anger and frustration, yelling at him for causing their defeat. Without an oblivious Owen helping him, Bret finally regained his vertical base. That was only temporary, because Owen would then violently kick Bret in his wounded leg, dropping him back to the canvas.
In a twist that was sure to further gnaw at Owen’s psyche, Bret would go on to co-win the Royal Rumble match itself with Lex Luger, despite his badly damaged leg. To decide the World Title match for Wrestlemania, a special coin toss took place. As a result of the flip, Luger would face champion Yokozuna first, and then Bret would face the winner at the end of the night. To make things fair, Bret would have to wrestle earlier in the evening against somebody else.
It would turn out that “somebody else” would be Owen Hart himself, whom Bret was no longer adverse to facing, saying during a sitdown interview on All-American Wrestling; “If he wants a fight, I’ll give him a fight. I’ll give him a damn good one”.
ACT III: Proof Positive
Bret and Owen Hart would open Wrestlemania X with a match that many agree is the greatest opener not just in Wrestlemania history, but in the history of all pay per view. For twenty minutes, the brothers fought to one up each other, with no man ever counterwrestling the Hitman in the manner that his own brother would demonstrate. This was never more evident than the finish, in which Bret tried for his trusty victory roll, an intricate pinning combination. But Owen, knowing his brother better than anyone, dropped down in mid-move and pinned Bret’s shoulders to the canvas. It was an upset to end all upsets, as Owen had gone in four months from “afterthought” to “rising contender” by beating his incomparable brother.
At the end of the night, however, any ground that Owen had gained would be moot. After Lex Luger was disqualified against Yokozuna earlier in the night, the champ went on to defend against Bret. Owen could only watch, as Bret covered a stunned Yoko, who slipped during a Banzai drop attempt, and snared his second WWF Title. When Bret was joined in the ring by his allies on the good guy side of the locker room, Owen watched with disbelieving eyes from the aisleway. It was bittersweet for “The Rocket”: on the one hand, the brother who he envied with relentless passion was now champion again, much to his chagrin. However, on the upside, he had just showed the world that he was capable of beating said champion clean as a sheet.
Yes, Owen could beat Bret again, in his eyes. He knew he could not only beat him, but also become the WWF Champion. He just needed a way to get that chance.
ACT IV: A Bitter Campaign
Owen Hart would qualify for the 1994 King of the Ring by defeating Doink the Clown, and found himself in a field of eight. If Owen could duplicate Bret’s 1993 feat, it would go a long in way in proving that his victory over the Hitman at Wrestlemania was no fluke.
After Owen downed Tatanka in round one, Bret found himself in an awkward moment. Defending his championship against IC titleholder Diesel, Bret had brought back brother-in-law, and former tag team partner, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart to be in his corner. The timing was weird, as Neidhart hadn’t been seen in WWF since 1992. But what was weirder was that Diesel would win by disqualification as Neidhart interjected himself. What made it weird was that Neidhart didn’t save Bret when Diesel and Shawn Michaels proceded to beat him down in frustration. What was Neidhart’s deal?
Owen dispatched the 123 Kid in the semis, and found himself against Razor Ramon in the finale. With the help of interfering Neidhart, Owen would pin Ramon and become the 1994 King of the Ring. Neidhart’s involvement was a set up, as Owen had enlisted his brother-in-law to help him in his cause against Bret. Neidhart, no doubt jealous of Bret going onto singles greatness without him, had ample reason to help the runt of the Hart litter.
After declaring himself “The King of Harts”, Owen Hart now had all the ammo in his arsenal to secure himself a shot at the WWF Championship. He would get his big chance, a little over two months later.
ACT V: Caged Fury
At the 1994 Summerslam, Bret and Owen would tango while surrounded by a fifteen foot high steel cage. To add the heated nature, many of their siblings and in-laws sat ringside, as well as parents Stu and Helen.
For over a half hour, both men ripped into each other like bloodthirsty savages with a taste for the jugular. This wasn’t their game of can-you-top-this from Wrestlemania, but rather a wild brawl between two brothers who took very different roads. The climatic point occurred when Owen had Bret locked in the Sharpshooter, a hold lifted from his brother, which led to Bret countering his pet move with a leg trip, standing up to apply the hold himself.
Finally, as both men attempted to escape the cage, they came down over the wall and Bret, in desperation, rammed Owen’s face into the bars and caused him to get his legs stuck in the bars. Bret jumped down to the floor to claim victory.
The celebration was short lived, as Neidhart leapt over the railing and helped Owen drag Bret back inside the cage to inflict further punishment. It took 4 of their brothers, as well as the returning Davey Boy Smith, to scale the cage wall and save Bret, as Owen and Neidhart ran off like cowards. The war was not over.
ACT VI: If One Can’t Have It, Neither Will the Other
Owen had one last chance to win the title, on the premiere episode of WWF Action Zone in the fall of 1994. After a grueling fifteen minutes, Bret staved off interference from Neidhart, and it would be assistance from Davey Boy that gave the champion the boost he needed to pin Owen and end the feud.
Or so it seemed.
Bret would defend the gold against Bob Backlund at Survivor Series that November, in a “towel match”. Bret had Davey in his corner, and Backlund had Owen. To win, you had to have the opposing cornerman throw in a towel to surrender for his charge, similar to the fashion in which Backlund lost the title in 1983.
After a skirmish that saw Davey Boy get knocked unconscious on the floor, Backlund locked Bret in the dangerous Crossface Chicken Wing, a hold nearly inescapable. Owen seemed to have a change of heart, watching his brother writhe as his neck, shoulder, and arm were being ravaged. With Stu and Helen Hart in the front row, Owen pleaded with his mother to throw in Bret’s towel to save him from further pain. Stu refused to let her do it, both because Bret wouldn’t want that, and because Stu sensed Owen was being dishonest in his intentions. Still, the sight of Bret being torn apart was too much for Helen, who threw in the towel to give Backlund the title.
Afterward, Owen expressed sheer elation and celebrated the end of his brother’s reign. If Owen couldn’t be champion, then Bret couldn’t be either. As far as the King of Harts was concerned, this made them equals again.
ACT VII: To the Bitter End
Diesel would win the belt three days later from Backlund, and Bret would come back from his injury to challenge for the title at the 1995 Royal Rumble. The match was marred with interference, which included a run in from Owen himself. The match was thrown out, and Owen had again prevented his brother from being champion. Bret, however, would jump Owen during his entrance into the actual Royal Rumble match and would play a part in his fast elimination.
It all came to a head in March of 1995, when Bret would defeat Owen in a No Holds Barred match that would air six days before Wrestlemania XI. To fully exorcize his aggressions, Bret not only won with his Sharpshooter, but he kept it locked in well after Owen had submit, humbling his baby brother once and for all.
Bret and Owen would have occasional matches with each other over the next two years, but none with the fury and bitterness that their rivalry showcased. Bret would remain a fixture in the main event picture, whereas Owen found his slice of life as a tag team wrestler, winning gold with both Yokozuna and Davey Boy Smith.
In March 1997, Bret and Owen would reunite under dubious circumstances, aligning themselves with Davey Boy Smith, Jim Neidhart, and Brian Pillman as a patriotic Canadian rendition of The Hart Foundation, ready to do battle with WWF’s proudest Americans, such as Stone Cold Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, and Ken Shamrock, among others. Bret and Owen’s reformed bond would last until Bret departed that November after the infamous “Montreal Screwjob”. Owen remained in WWF until his tragic 1999 death, something Bret has taken years to fully get over, if he even has.
Bret himself has found peace with WWF, working with them in 2005 on his DVD release, and in 2006 for his Hall of Fame induction. In 2010, Bret began to make regular appearances with the now-WWE, feuding with the man who orchestrated his controversial exit, Vince McMahon.
It was this feud that showed that any wrestler used in an undercard role for any length of time can achieve a credible push in the right circumstances. The WWF was becoming cartoony in 1993, but there was plenty of realism in a sibling rivalry between two expert wrestlers in Bret and Owen Hart.
Although the time period in which they worked together was largely abysmal, and wrought with misfires and goofy characters, the feud between Bret Hart and Owen Hart will be remembered as a gift of relief. Their battles were both technically sound, as well as grittily fought. Although it was not a big money drawer, it’s a textbook on how to create a compelling story without blood, vulgarity, blasphemy, or needless controversy.
After all, if you can tell the perfect story without such elements, then one must assume that you’re an expert storyteller.
The Hitman and the King of Harts were just such experts.
Justin Henry is an aspiring wrestling writer that is fascinated by the history of the business, as well as they ways in which it evolves. Henry writes event reviews, historical accounts, and editorials on professional wrestling for both The Camel Clutch Blog (http://www.camelclutchblog.com), as well as his Facebook fanpage, The Cynical Examination ( http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Cynical-Examination/257452252539).