September 7, 2009
Michael Veloza

Bret Hart: 1998

After watching the recently released “Rise and Fall of WCW” DVD I couldn’t help but notice that one of the many glaring omissions was the signing and subsequent burial of Bret Hart.

Coming off the heels of the now-infamous 1997 Survivor Series in Montreal, Bret’s WCW debut was eagerly anticipated and was even heavily-hyped by the WWF on Monday Night Raw. Vince McMahon did a sit-down interview that aired in the weeks following what is now known simply as “Montreal” where he not only discussed the controversial events of the PPV, but in the process outwardly acknowledged Bret was leaving the company and going to WCW. This was never done before on television and while the WWF could benefit from Survivor Series talk for a few weeks, assuredly WCW would be able to reap even more rewards when Hart walked on to Nitro the following month. In the end who would have thought that the promoter, not the wrestler, would be the performer that would end up using these events as a springboard to bigger things and drawing a ton of money while the wrestler would almost never be relevant again, thanks to WCW.

There seemed to be endless ideas for Bret, who was signed to a contract reportedly in the neighborhood of three million dollars per year by Eric Bischoff. There were dream matches that people clamored for like Hart v. Hogan or Hart v. Sting that would have drawn extremely well if promoted properly. There was the opportunity to play off his real-life feud with Shawn Michaels by wrestling Shawn’s real-life friends, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. There was the chance for great wrestling matches with the likes of Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero or Dean Malenko. It seemed like a win-win for both man and promotion, maybe the shot-in-the-arm that both entities needed to continue in the future.

Instead, he went there and never fit in politically with the right people, namely Hogan. I remember him being buried but had forgotten how badly until I went back and looked at some of the highlights (or lowlights) of 1998. ’98 was his first in-ring year with the company and also when he was killed off to a point that would make it almost impossible for him to ever draw money again. It really is remarkable to see how much steam he came in with and how much was behind him by the time the year came to a close.

Here are some interesting tidbits:

-In the sixty-one matches that Bret had for WCW in 1998 not a single one was for the WCW world title. This was after five WWF titles and clearly never submitting to Shawn’s sharpshooter in Montreal, which could have been a storyline claim to have “unofficial” champion v. champion matches. The NWO of all people mentioned Bret never quitting in the match before he arrived in WCW, but once he was there and competitive it was never pushed as a sticking point. WCW left a lot of money on the table by not doing PPV matches with Hogan, Sting or Goldberg against Hart with the world title on the line before it was too late. The fact that not one of these matches for the WCW world title ever happened at as much as a house show is unbelievable.

-In the sixty one matches that Bret had for WCW in 1998 not a single one involved Bill Goldberg. You would think someone who spent most of the year as a heel and was not only a veteran, but an awesome worker, would be an ideal opponent for the young phenom who needed someone to lead him in the ring. Instead, the hottest act of WCW in 1998 literally had nothing to do with the Hitman the entire year. The two didn’t even have an untelevised encounter.

-Bret did not wrestle for the first time on Monday Nitro until March 2nd, almost three months into his WCW tenure. They cooled Bret off when he should have been at his hottest, fresh off his WWF run and a new star in WCW, by making him invisible and keeping him on the back-burner. The problem is they left him on simmer for so long that he never reached boiling in his career again.

-Besides waiting an inordinate amount of time to wrestle on their flagship show, his opponent was former WWF-mid carder, Brian Adams. You would think it would be a fairly short match that Hart would win cleanly to get him over, but instead he won the match by DQ. That’s right, a cheap non-win over a guy who had just finished a run teaming with the Harris Brothers in the WWF as DOA. I guess they felt like they had to protect the ex-WWF guy at all costs. Bret just wasn’t that guy.

-Bret wrestled in only one WCW pay-per-view main event and it was War Games, which meant he was in the match with eight other men and one of them was Stevie Ray. Just thought it was worth mentioning that Bret Hart shared his one-and-only PPV main event that year with someone the caliber of star as Stevie Ray.

-Bret had seven televised matches in the first six months of the year. That includes, Nitro, Thunder and PPVs. That’s about once-a-month and this was when, in theory, he should have been pushed the hardest. It seems somewhat odd that they didn’t let Bret Hart get over in the beginning by actually wrestling and having great matches. It almost seems as if someone didn’t want him to get over. Imagine that.

-Twenty-six of Bret’s thirty-seven singles matches were against wrestlers who never held a WWF or WCW world title, which is 70.3 percent of all his one-on-one matches. That gives you a really good idea of what kind of regular opponents or programs he was given as a singles competitor.

-Bret did not receive his first title shot until July 12, which would have been about seven months after his WCW debut, and it was for the TV title in a match that he lost to Booker T by disqualification on PPV. Seven months? TV title? A loss to Booker T on PPV? I can only offer more questions than answers on this one.

-Bret won four U.S. titles. They spent the second half of the year not only casting him in Hogan’s shadow as his sidekick/occasional tag partner, but they also completely submerged him in the promotion’s secondary championship. In a truly impressive political feat they took Hart and the babyface who drew the biggest buy rate in company history less than a year prior, Sting, and had them feuding over the United States title. Their first pay-per-view match at Halloween Havoc, which would have been a big money dream match when Hart entered the company less than a year before, was instead third from the top and no where near the importance of either Goldberg/DDP or Hogan/Ultimate Warrior on the same show. To really render it meaningless the two wrestled at a Nitro a couple of weeks before the Havoc match.

-Bret wrestled Dallas Page more than anyone else in singles matches (eight times) in 1998. DDP had a few PPV main events that year (most notably with Karl Malone and Jay Leno as his partners respectively), but was never a world champion and not considered a star at the level of Hogan, Flair, Sting or Goldberg. Much like Hart’s shorter program with Booker T, Page was the one with something to gain working with the Hitman, but Bret only became even further cemented as a step below the upper-echelon of WCW.

-Bret was booked in several babyface/heel turn storylines giving him no real identity and making the character hard to follow or invest in:

He started the year as a babyface, but his first program was with fellow “good guy” Ric Flair. It was probably not best for Bret to be paired with one of WCW’s most respected and liked guys, especially since he was coming off a run as an anti-American heel in the WWF and there could have been some lingering resentment. Still, the fans didn’t turn on him too badly and he and Flair drew a good buy rate at Bret’s first pay-per-view, Souled Out. Strangely they were not put together again after doing good business with one another.

He then turned heel in April when he helped Hollywood Hogan win the world title from Randy Savage on Nitro. The move didn’t make sense considering Hart was primarily wrestling NWO members Curt Hennig and Brian Adams regularly at this point. The idea seemed to be for Hart to work his way through the NWO until he finally got to Hogan, but it never came to fruition. Instead, he was in a heel group where absolutely no one but Hogan could be top dog and played second banana to the guy he was supposed to be drawing money with in matches against one another.

At the end of summer he appeared to be a babyface again. In storyline he supposedly got sick of the NWO and went his own way. He teamed with Lex Luger on an episode of Thunder against brother-in-laws (and heels) Davey Boy Smith & Jim Neidhart. He worked against the NWO a couple of times at house shows and on television and it built to a singles match with Hogan (albeit in three weeks and the match was on Nitro and not PPV but that’s not surprising) until…

Hart swerved the fans and rejoined Hogan by helping him attack Sting in an angle to end the Nitro where Hart and Hogan finally did wrestle. The fans really had no reason to care about Hart by the time all of this was done.

-Finally, 49,180.33. This is the figure Bret ended up making per match in 1998 in WCW if the reported $3,000,000 contract was reality. All of that money per match and most of it was obviously wasted with games and political B.S.

All of this is pretty shocking when you see it again in print. If Bret had been used properly 1998 would have turned out differently. Eventually all of WCW’s shortcomings as a business would have caught up with them, but who knows how long WCW could have dominated the all-important TV ratings in ’98 if Hart was used as a featured attraction instead of occasional throw-in. Who knows how Hart’s ability to draw money would have been in the future without all the bizarre booking and political games his first year in.

But with what they actually did and how it stands, WCW sadly turned Bret Hart into just one more tremendous waste of money.

For reference here is a list of all of his WCW matches in 1998 courtesy of this site:

Souled Out 98 - Dayton, OH - Hara Arena - January 24, 1998 (5,486; announced as a sell out)
Bret Hart defeated Ric Flair via submission with the Sharpshooter at 18:04 following a superplex; prior to the match, Hart gave his sunglasses to a ringside fan (Hart's in-ring debut)

WCW @ Boston, MA - FleetCenter - January 31, 1998
Boston Brawl - pay-per-listen Internet-exclusive audio show
Bret Hart defeated Ric Flair via submission with the Sharpshooter

WCW @ Las Vegas, NV - MGM Grand Garden Arena - February 20, 1998
Bret Hart defeated Ric Flair via submission with the Sharpshooter

WCW @ Philadelphia, PA - Corestates Spectrum - March 2, 1998
Monday Nitro
Bret Hart defeated Brian Adams via disqualification

WCW @ Pittsburgh, PA - Palumbo Center - March 6, 1998
Bret Hart defeated Curt Hennig (main event)

Uncensored 98 - Mobile, AL - Civic Center - March 15, 1998 (7,474; announced as a sell out)
Bret Hart defeated Curt Hennig (w/ Rick Rude) via submission with the Sharpshooter at 13:50; immediately after the match, Rude attacked Hart from behind, with he and Hennig double teaming Hart; Rude then dropped Hart with the Rude Awakening before Hennig threw a steel chair down on top of Bret, placed a foot on his chest, and posed; moments later, the two blocked the trainer from checking on Hart.

WCW @ Baltimore, MD - Arena - March 25, 1998
Bret Hart defeated Curt Hennig via submission with the Sharpshooter

WCW @ Auburn Hills, MI - Palace - March 28, 1998
Bret Hart defeated Curt Hennig (sub. for WCW Tag Team Champion Kevin Nash)

WCW @ Milwaukee, WI - March 29, 1998
Bret Hart defeated Curt Hennig

WCW @ Tampa, FL - Ice Palace - April 2, 1998
Malice at the Palace - Pay-per-listen Internet-exclusive audio show
Bret Hart defeated Brian Adams

WCW @ Fargo, ND - Fargodome - April 16, 1998
Thunder - 4/17/98:
Randy Savage & Kevin Nash defeated WCW World Champion Sting & Bret Hart via disqualification (main event)

Slamboree 98 - Worcester, MA - Centrum - May 17, 1998 (11,592)
Bret Hart defeated Randy Savage; Roddy Piper was the guest referee for the bout

WCW @ Memphis, TN - Mid South Coliseum - May 26, 1998
Sting defeated Bret Hart (main event)

Great American Bash 98 - Baltimore, MD - Arena - June 14, 1998 (12,810; announced as a sell out)
Pay-per-view bouts
WCW World Champion Hulk Hogan (w/ the Disciple) & Bret Hart defeated Randy Savage & Roddy Piper at 11:41 when Savage submitted to Hart's Sharpshooter after Hogan repeatedly rammed Savage's knee into the ringpost; stipulations stated Savage and Piper would wrestle after the match; following the bout, Piper knocked Hart to the floor; moments later, Gene Okerlund attempted to conduct an in-ring interview with Piper regarding Savage's injury and the scheduled one-on-one bout, during which Piper helped Savage to his feet until Savage knocked Piper down to begin their match

WCW @ Jacksonville, FL - Coliseum - June 22, 1998 (8,749; 7,795 paid)
Monday Nitro:
Bret Hart defeated Chris Benoit

WCW @ Inglewood, CA - Great Western Forum - July 10, 1998 (15,678; sell out)
LA Melee - Pay-per-listen Internet-exclusive audio show
Kevin Nash & Lex Luger defeated Bret Hart & the Giant via disqualification when the Disciple and Vincent interfered; after the bout, Konnan helped make the save

Bash at the Beach 98 - San Diego, CA - Cox Arena - July 12, 1998 (10,095; 9,031 paid; sell out)
WCW TV Champion Booker T defeated Bret Hart via disqualification at 8:27 when the challenger hit Booker with a chair on the floor as Booker jumped to the floor; after the bout, Hart continued to assault the champion with the chair and repeatedly hit Booker's injured left leg; moments later, Hart applied the ringpost figure-4 on Booker until Stevie Ray walked out, with Hart then leaving ringside; the trainer then appeared, with Stevie Ray yelling at both the trainer and referee to go away; Booker was then helped backstage by Stevie and the trainer

WCW @ Las Vegas, NV - MGM Garden Arena - July 13, 1998 (10,765; sell out)
Monday Nitro:
Bret Hart defeated Fit Finlay

WCW @ Reno, NV - July 14, 1998 (6,824)
Diamond Dallas Page defeated Bret Hart

WCW @ Stockton, CA - Civic Auditorium - July 15, 1998 (2,333)
Diamond Dallas Page defeated Bret Hart via disqualification when the Giant interfered; after the bout, Kevin Nash made the save for Page Kevin Nash & Diamond Dallas Page defeated Bret Hart & the Giant in an impromptu match (main event)

WCW @ Salt Lake City, UT - E Center - July 20, 1998
Monday Nitro:
Bret Hart defeated Diamond Dallas Page via KO; due to pre-match stipulations, Hart won the vacant WCW US Title (TV main event)

WCW @ Baton Rouge, LA - July 29, 1998 (7,284 paid)
Lex Luger defeated WCW US Champion Bret Hart via disqualification in a non-title match when Scott Hall interfered; moments later, Kevin Nash made the save Kevin Nash & Lex Luger defeated WCW US Champion Bret Hart & Scott Hall (main event)

WCW @ Alexandria, LA - July 30, 1998 (5,695 paid)
Lex Luger defeated WCW US Champion Bret Hart via disqualification in a non-title match Kevin Nash & Lex Luger defeated Scott Hall & WCW US Champion Bret Hart (main event)

WCW @ Shreveport, LA - Hirsch Coliseum - July 31, 1998 (8,929)
Lex Luger defeated WCW US Champion Bret Hart via disqualification in a non-title match when Scott Hall interfered; moments later, Kevin Nash made the save Kevin Nash & Lex Luger defeated Scott Hall & WCW US Champion Bret Hart (main event)

WCW @ Little Rock, AR - Barton Coliseum - August 1, 1998 (8,084)
Lex Luger defeated WCW US Champion Bret Hart via disqualification in a non-title match when Scott Hall interfered; moments later, Kevin Nash made the save Kevin Nash & Lex Luger defeated Scott Hall & WCW US Champion Bret Hart (main event)

WCW @ Denver, CO - Coliseum - August 3, 1998 (7,697 paid)
Monday Nitro:
WCW Tag Team Champions the Giant & Scott Hall defeated Sting & WCW US Champion Bret Hart via disqualification (TV main event)

WCW @ Rapid City, SD - Rushmore Plaza Civic Center - August 10, 1998
Monday Nitro:
Lex Luger defeated WCW US Champion Bret Hart via submission to win the title with the Torture Rack

WCW @ Fargo, ND - Fargodome - August 13, 1998 (9,721)
Thunder taping:
8/13/98:
Bret Hart defeated WCW US Champion Lex Luger to win the title (TV main event)

WCW @ Providence, RI - August 16, 1998 (7,192)
WCW World Champion Bill Goldberg was a no-show due to a cancelled flight; fans were told they could get a refund for their tickets within the next week or exchange them for a free ticket to the next show in Providence
Bret Hart fought Sting to a no-contest when the Giant interfered

WCW @ Hartford, CT - Civic Center - August 17, 1998 (12,655; sell out)
Monday Nitro:
WCW US Champion Bret Hart defeated Diamond Dallas Page

WCW @ Miami, FL - August 31, 1998 (12,481; sell out)
Monday Nitro:
Sting & Lex Luger defeated WCW US Champion Bret Hart & Hulk Hogan (main event)

WCW @ Evansville, IN - September 9, 1998 (4,143)
Lex Luger & Konnan defeated WCW US Champion Bret Hart & Scott Hall (main event)

WCW @ Lexington, KY - Rupp Arena - September 10, 1998 (10,620)
Thunder taping:
9/10/98 - shown live:
WCW US Champion Bret Hart & Lex Luger defeated Davey Boy Smith & Jim Neidhart

WCW @ Cincinnati, OH - September 11, 1998 (13,338)
Sting & Kevin Nash defeated WCW US Champion Bret Hart & Scott Hall

Fall Brawl 98 - Winston-Salem, NC - Lawrence Joel Coliseum - September 13, 1998 (11,528)
Diamond Dallas Page, Warrior, & Roddy Piper defeated Kevin Nash, Sting, and Lex Luger and Hulk Hogan, WCW US Champion Bret Hart, and Stevie Ray in Wargames at 20:04 when DDP pinned Stevie Ray with the Diamond Cutter; smoke filled the ring at the 16-minute mark as Hogan attacked the "Warrior," with the Warrior disappearing only to run to the ring moments later; Hogan later escaped the cage and had it locked behind him with Warrior escaping as well and brawling with Hogan to the back; after the match, DDP celebrated into the crowd; due to pre-match stipulations, Page earned a WCW World Title shot at Halloween Havoc

WCW @ Fairfax, VA - Patriot Center - September 26, 1998 (7,973)
WCW US Champion Bret Hart defeated Scott Hall

WCW @ Erie, PA - September 27, 1998 (2,273)
WCW US Champion Bret Hart & Sting defeated Stevie Ray & Vincent

WCW @ Rochester, NY - Blue Cross Arena - September 28, 1998 (10,523; 9,814 paid; sell out)
Monday Nitro:
Hulk Hogan fought WCW US Champion Bret Hart to a no contest

WCW @ Dayton, OH - October 9, 1998
Sting, Lex Luger, & Rick Steiner defeated WCW US Champion Bret Hart, Scott Norton, & Stevie Ray

WCW @ Columbus, OH - October 10, 1998
Sting, Lex Luger, & Rick Steiner defeated WCW US Champion Bret Hart, Scott Norton, & Stevie Ray

WCW @ Milwaukee, WI - October 11, 1998
Sting, Lex Luger, & Rick Steiner defeated WCW US Champion Bret Hart, Scott Norton, & Stevie Ray

WCW @ Chicago, IL - United Center - October 12, 1998
Monday Nitro:
Sting & the Warrior defeated Hulk Hogan & WCW US Champion Bret Hart via disqualification (main event)

WCW @ Minneapolis, MN - Target Center - October 19, 1998 (15,722)
Monday Nitro:
WCW US Champion Bret Hart defeated Sting via disqualification (main event)

Halloween Havoc 98 - Las Vegas, NV - MGM Grand Garden Arena - October 25, 1998 (10,663; sell out)
WCW US Champion Bret Hart defeated Sting at 15:03 via KO with the Sharpshooter after Sting hit his head on the ringpost while attempting a Stinger Splash, with Hart then repeatedly hitting Sting with his own baseball bat; after the match, Sting was fitted with a neck brace and taken backstage on a stretcher (Sting's last appearance for 6 months)

WCW @ Phoenix, AZ - America West Arena - October 26, 1998
Monday Nitro:
Diamond Dallas Page pinned WCW US Champion Bret Hart to win the title with the Diamond Cutter; after the bout, Hart attacked both Page and referee Mickey Jay, then repeatedly hit Page's leg with a steel chair before locking on the Sharpshooter (main event)

WCW @ Topeka, KS - Expocenter - November 8, 1998
Bret Hart defeated Booker T

WCW @ Long Island, NY - Nassau Coliseum - November 9, 1998
Monday Nitro:
Konnan defeated Bret Hart via disqualification

WCW @ Wichita, KS - Kansas Coliseum - November 16, 1998 (13,981)
Monday Nitro:
Chris Benoit defeated Bret Hart via disqualification (main event)

WCW @ Salina, KS - November 17, 1998
Saturday Night taping:
Booker T defeated Bret Hart via disqualification
WCW US Champion Diamond Dallas Page defeated Bret Hart (main event)

WCW @ Topeka, KS - November 18, 1998 (3,445 paid)
Bret Hart defeated Booker T

WCW @ Ft. Wayne, IN - Allen County War Memorial - November 19, 1998
Thunder:
Bret Hart defeated Konnan (TV main event)

WCW @ Toledo, OH - November 20, 1998
Lex Luger defeated Bret Hart (main event)

World War III 98 - Auburn Hills, MI - Palace - November 22, 1998 (17,670)
WCW US Champion Diamond Dallas Page pinned Bret Hart at 18:55 with the Diamond Cutter; Hart originally won the match and title at 18:14 when the nWo referee - who took over officiating duties late in the match - stopped the bout as DDP was in the Sharpshooter but referee Mickey Jay argued the call, with DDP then dropping Hart with the move; after the bout, DDP celebrated into the crowd and past the WCW.com commentary team (last match on the show)

WCW @ Grand Rapids, MI - Van Andel Arena - November 23, 1998
Monday Nitro:
Dean Malenko defeated Bret Hart via disqualification

WCW @ Chattanooga, TN - UTC Arena - November 30, 1998
Monday Nitro:
Bret Hart defeated WCW US Champion Diamond Dallas Page to win the title in a No DQ match at 4:14 via KO with the Sharpshooter after the Giant interfered, hit a chokeslam on the champion, and then hit a second chokeslam after sitting Page on the top rope; prior to the bout, Page entered through the crowd; Hart wrestled the match in street clothes; after the match, the Giant and Hart embraced before the Giant put the title belt around Hart's waist (main event)

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