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My Encounters With the Hitman / Bret Hart Comes Full Circle.

December 30, 2009 4 comments

Hell has frozen over, and the swine have flown to Mexico for the winter.

The term “Never Say Never” has, well, never, been more appropriate.  Bret Hart is coming back to WWE TV. 

We all had childhood heroes, and Bret “Hitman” Hart happened to be one of mine.  Though I would find out much later in life through his 2007 autobiography, “Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling”, that he cheated on his wife a lot and dabbled in steroids; I looked up to the guy, or at least his on-screen persona, for most of my adolescence.  The “Hitman” character was a great role model (as far as wrestlers go); always standing up for what was right, never backing down from a challenge, the pursuit of excellence, teamwork, national pride, and all sorts of other BS that plenty of parents have a difficult time instilling in their children.  He even took a verbal stand against the sexual content appearing in WWE programs, knowing full well how many children tune into the show.

Though I saw him perform on TV plenty of times, I only ever got to see him wrestle live once at a non-televised “house-show” in Vancouver’s Agridome when I was in 7th grade.  We had seats pretty far back, but when I heard his entrance music start, I rushed up to the ringside barrier and was quite surprised how easily I got right to the front.  He was the WWF Champion at the time, so when he was coming around high-fiving all the fans around the ring, he had the title belt draped over his shoulder.  I remember as he drew closer to me that I was going to have to make a split-second decision over whether to slap his hand or touch the belt.  Citing in my elementary school educated mind that the belt had been with the likes of Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Andre the Giant, and other legends, I elected to touch the belt.  As Bret moved onto the next fans beside me, I sort of remember getting a bewildered look from him.  Immediately, I knew I had made the wrong decision, and I’ve regretted it ever since. 

I encountered Bret again at the Molson Indy Vancouver in 1998 or 1999.  I can’t nail down the date for certain, but I remember I was still in school, and he was signing 8×10” glossy’s of him posing with the WCW US Title belt, which he held in both of those years.  My dad had gotten tickets to the race nearly annually through work.  While in the hotel, I caught on the news that Bret was at the event signing autographs, and starting the race, or something celebrity-ish.  After quite literally racing down to the track (pun) from the hotel with family in tow (actually, I couldn’t drive yet, so they were effectively towing me), I got to the end of the dwindling autograph line.  The security guard told me that he had already been signing overtime and was about to leave.  I tried my best to be a good, well-behaved fan for as long as I could, but it was to no avail.  My hero eluded me.

Right in between those encounters is where an event took place that makes this pending return to WWE TV so incredible.  The whole series of events is documented in a 1998 film called Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows, a movie that accidentally uncovered the most dynamic real-life drama in the history of the wrestling business.  Around 1997, Bret’s contract was set to expire.  He resigned a 20 year deal with the then WWF to secure him in the company, and away from competitor WCW that had taken Hogan, Savage, and many other past-prime wrestlers and edged them out of the ratings war with.  Later in the year, McMahon informed Bret that the company was in “financial peril” and he wasn’t going to be able to make good on the contract.  Vince helped Bret negotiate a deal with WCW to commence at the expiry of his current contract at the conclusion of 1997.  There was concern on McMahon’s side that Bret, the then world champion, would bring the title belt to WCW TV and exploit it the way Alundra Blayze did when she took the WWF Women’s title to WCW and threw it in a garbage can during a live broadcast in 1995.  As Bret was given “reasonable creative control” of his character for the remainder of his contract, he and Vince worked out an “amicable” finish to his WWF run (Bret wore a “wire” in a backstage meeting), which would have him drop the belt gracefully on Monday Night Raw, the night after Survivor Series 1997; as he was having issues losing to his storyline and real-life nemesis, Shawn Michaels (yes, actually real fist-fights off-camera) in Canada as Bret’s character was currently a overtly Pro-

A moment of infamy.

Canadian one.  The Survivor Series match went down and concluded with an entirely different finish than was discussed; Shawn “beat” Bret after the referee said he submitted (he didn’t) and Vince himself ordered the bell rung.  After the match, Bret spit in Vince’s face, and destroyed a bunch of monitors and TV equipment.  A further backstage confrontation between Bret and Vince turned into McMahon walking out of Bret’s locker room with a black eye, woozy from being knocked out, and limping from a sprained ankle.  Needless to say, Bret hadn’t just left the company on friendly terms. 

In the last 12 years, Bret has still remained in the WWE realm.  The very next night after SS ’97, Shawn brought out a little person dressed as Bret to further humiliate him, and gloat about his title win.  A few years later, Shawn “apologized” on-camera for his part in the “Montreal Screwjob”; though he didn’t really say he was sorry.  Bret smelled a rat and declined his apology on his website.  Bret’s brother Owen died in 1999 while performing a ring entrance stunt that went wrong; Bret and his family sued the WWE, and seemingly further divided the already strained relationship. 

In 2005, Bret and WWE jointly produced a DVD collection chronicling Bret’s

A relationship on the mend.

 wrestling career.  It was a large success, and some would say that this partnership paved the way for Bret’s WWE Hall of Fame induction in 2006, where Bret appeared live, and gave a speech.  He declined to appear in front of the live audience the next night at Wrestlemania, citing that he wasn’t comfortable with it.  Interestingly, he stipulated that he didn’t want Shawn anywhere near the event or he would walk out.  Michaels obliged, and there was no incident.  This year, WWE teased a Hitman appearance at a Calgary event; they played his entrance music and introduced him, but the Canadian crowd was greeted by “American Hero” Sgt. Slaughter waving “Old Glory” instead.  And this brings us to the latest incident, where after Raw guest host Dennis Miller teased Bret’s return again, amongst internet rumors of Bret signing an on-camera contract, McMahon himself (with the aid of Michaels) announced that Bret will return to WWE as Raw’s guest host next week.  With his contractual obligations speculatively lasting until Wrestlemania, a Bret/Vince/Shawn storyline seems unavoidable.

So now I’m emotionally torn.  I’m thrilled that my former hero is returning to TV, but I’m concerned about the motives behind the comeback.  Bret suffered a career-ending concussion while in WCW, and a stroke while in retirement; so the odds of him actually involving himself physically are ultra slim.  He made a lot of money over his career, and I doubt he’s hurting for a payday.  So what’s the motivation?  He could be in it to help out his relatives of The Hart Dynasty.  But after all the years of sticking to his guns, and saying he’d never forget what happened to him or do business with WWE again, here he is.  Bret has been criticized for years about not being able to “move on” or “let it go”; is this maybe just simply the way to bring closure to a legendary, but expired, issue?  Has he finally been able to forgive and forget?  Should his fans do the same as well?

To those who follow wrestling, it’s no secret that Hulk Hogan is making his debut for TNA Wrestling on the same night; so clearly Bret’s return is in hopes of thwarting a ratings shift.  But contrary to the last few years of haphazardly tuning in to WWE due to uninteresting storylines and over-played feuds, I’m going to be absolutely glued to my TV come Monday.

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