It should’ve been one of Bret “The Hitman” Hart’s crowning achievements.
He was going into the WWE Hall of Fame for a second time during WWE WrestleMania 35 weekend, this time alongside his long-time tag team partner, the late Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. It should have been a great moment for a guy who is remembered for a lot of stuff that, frankly, sucks.
After suffering health scares, several deaths in his family, a dreadful stint in WCW, and being screwed (or screwing himself, depending on who you ask) out of the WWE title in 1997, he and his family were getting another bite at the apple.
Then some jackass with a wool beanie rushed the ring in the middle of Hart’s speech and tackled him. On live television, as Entertainment Tonight Canada reported.
Hart took the setback in stride. The ceremony got back on track, the attacker got the shit kicked out of him, and all was right with the world.
And still, it just doesn’t quite sit right with me that this is the number-one thing that comes up in relation to Bret Hart over this past weekend.
With that in mind, here are the five best WWE matches of Bret Hart’s career.
5. WrestleMania VIII: Roddy Piper vs. Bret Hart For The Intercontinental Championship
Roddy Piper was a brilliant heel. He was a fantastic interview. He was one of the most compelling characters in the history of professional wrestling.
He was also a really BAD professional wrestler. And yet, if this was the only Roddy Piper match you ever watched, you’d come away from it thinking, “That Piper guy is pretty good.”
Piper teased beating Hart to death with the bell while the referee was knocked out (these refs are really bad at their jobs), but his conscience got the better of him, and he pulled Hart up and locked in the sleeper hold.
Hart finally gained his wits just enough to make it to the corner and propel himself backward, with Hart landing on top of Piper for the pin and his second Intercontinental title.
If there had ever been any doubt, let this match stand as proof that Bret Hart could make anybody look good.
4. WrestleMania X: Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart
The build-up for this spanned about four months, with Owen and Bret teaming with their brothers Bruce and Keith at Survivor Series 1993. An injury to Bret caused Owen’s elimination, only for Bret to fight back as the sole survivor to pick up the win for their team, which left Owen a tad resentful.
The two made up in time for the 1994 Royal Rumble and challenged for the tag team championship. Another injury to Bret costs the Harts the match, resulting in Owen pummeling Bret’s injured leg, leaving his participation in the Royal Rumble match in jeopardy.
Weeks later, Bret finally agreed to his face Owen one-on-one at WrestleMania X. This is damn-near a perfect pro wrestling match, with a great combination of back-and-forth mat action, good old-fashioned fisticuffs, and over-the-top theatrics.
Owen eventually defeated his brother, with the added drama that Bret would be competing for the WWE Championship later in the show.
3. WrestleMania 13: Bret Hart vs. ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin (Submission Match)
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Why isn’t it higher? Because two other matches are.
Bret Hart came into this match as a babyface whose complaining was starting to bug the fans just a little tiny bit. Steve Austin came into this match as a heel who was starting to get just as many cheers as boos, if not more.
At the end of it, everyone you’ve ever met in your life hated Bret Hart and loved Steve Austin.
Pro wrestling is an interesting business. This match came together almost completely by accident, mostly due to Shawn Michaels being an asshole who does asshole stuff, and yet it’s one of the greatest of all time.
These guys beat the holy living hell out of each other, coming to a head when Hart nailed Austin with the bell (callback?), busting Austin open and leading to the most iconic shot in WWE history, with Austin screaming in the Sharpshooter with blood oozing down his face before passing out from the pain.
It’s important to note that Austin bleeding was Hart’s suggestion, one for which he was willing to take the heat, which was a big deal in 1997. Bleeding was a strict no-no for WWE at the time. Can you imagine how much things would suck if they still … what? Oh.
2. SummerSlam 1992: Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog For The Intercontinental Championship
Remember how I said a while back that Roddy Piper was a bad wrestler? Yeah, British Bulldog is about 138 times worse.
The official bell-to-bell time for this match was 25:40. And the Bulldog didn’t do anything. If you watch the match, it will look like the Bulldog was wrestling a really good match against Bret Hart. But look closer.
He wasn’t – doing – ANYTHING.
Watch him do his signature spots, which mainly amount to “pick man up and drop man.” Five minutes into the match, Bulldog was absolutely blown up. The guy was basically sucking in air like it was going out of style, and Bret Hart sold all of his offense like he was freakin’ dying.
For all intents and purposes, Bret Hart beat the living crap out of himself in this match.
In the finishing sequence the Hitman went for a sunset flip that Bulldog manage to reverse into a pin to claim the Intercontinental Championship, and his home-town crowd at Wembley absolutely EXPLODED.
Hart looked like he’d been in the fight of his life, and Bulldog looked like a million bucks despite doing next to nothing.
That’s why Bret Hart is a legend.
1. SummerSlam 1997: The Undertaker vs. Bret Hart for the WWE Championship (With Guest Referee Shawn Michaels)
Every great match should tell a great story. This one told three.
Not only was Hart challenging the Undertaker for the WWE title, but his feud with Michaels (the match’s guest referee) was still simmering.
And somewhere in the middle, Paul Bearer had been claiming that Undertaker’s brother Kane was alive and coming for the Deadman.
That’s a lot to unpack.
The match itself is pretty standard fare until Michaels is knocked out, giving Hart the opportunity to take the Undertaker out with a chair.
Hart went for the pin, but after the two-count, Michaels noticed the chair. Hart and Michaels argued (those who can read lips will notice Hart saying something that may or may not be “truck stew” to the referee) before Hart launched the biggest loogie you or anyone else has ever seen in your life into Michaels’ face.
This set Michaels off, and he swung the chair at Hart, only for the Hitman to duck, and Undertaker wound up eating Ye Olde Blue Chair. Hart went for the cover, and Michaels was left with no choice but to count the pin and award Hart his fifth and final WWE Championship.
Hart came out of the match with the title, Michaels came out with renewed resentment for Hart, and Undertaker came out both with a vendetta for Michaels and the looming threat of his evil brother.
This match is pure theater, and I would argue is the actual start of the Attitude Era.
For all of the whining and complaining he’s done over the years, Bret Hart is probably the most high-profile unsung hero in the success of multiple eras for WWE. So please, remember him for these matches and so many others before thinking about the screwjob, the stroke, or some moron jumping him at a fake WWE Hall of Fame ceremony during WrestleMania 35 weekend.
All images courtesy of WWE.