Bret Hart in WCW was absolutely never going to work.
In 1997, on the heels of the biggest real story in pro wrestling history – the Montreal Screwjob – Bret Hart jumped from the then-WWF to WCW.
To this day, wrestling pundits talk about how badly WCW squandered the opportunity that presented itself to them.
But when I look back at Bret Hart in WCW, I have to come to a single – and uncommon – conclusion. WCW did about as well as they could have with the Hitman.
On paper, at the peak of the Monday Night Wars, it should have worked. But it was never going to.
Here’s our look at why Bret Hart in WCW was snakebit from the start.
The WWF Guy
With the arrival of Bret Hart in WCW, the possibilities seemed endless.
After all, this was the Hitman. The Excellence of Execution. The best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be.
Here’s something that goes unmentioned when discussing Bret Hart in WCW. Bret Hart was the WWF guy.
You could argue that Hulk Hogan was known as a WWF guy when he jumped to WCW in 1994. But Hulk Hogan was and remains an entity unto himself. Hogan was a cultural icon and the collective culture’s touchstone for pro wrestling.
If there had been a third wrestling promotion in 1994 with decent-but-not-great ratings funded by a billionaire, Hogan would’ve put that promotion on the map.
Hall and Nash coming in as the Outsiders in 1996 was crafted to look like a WWF invasion. But the sheer legalities of that storyline prevented anyone from calling them WWF guys.
Then we come to Bret Hart. Coming off of a story with the Hitman as the meat in a WWF sandwich between Vince McMahon and Shawn Michaels. In fact, if you watch Hart’s first WCW match at WCW/nWo Souled Out from January 1997, just listen to the commentary.
At least twice, announcer Mike Tenay refers to Hart as “five times the champion of the World Wrestling Federation.” In 1997, you were a WWF guy or a WCW guy. If the commentators have to make it clear, “Hey, this guy came from the WWF,” then you aren’t an industry-defining juggernaut.
From the first match, the Hitman’s status as a definitive WWF guy made Bret Hart in WCW a hard sell.
Too Many Moving Parts
All of the talk about Bret Hart in WCW usually centers around how badly VP Eric Bischoff squandered the heat from the Montreal Screwjob.
But look at the whole board. In December of 1997, where exactly was Bret Hart supposed to fit in the WCW world?
Granted, announcing on WCW Monday Nitro that Hart would referee a match at Starrcade 97 between Bischoff and Larry Zbysko wasn’t a great start.
Having said that, all things WCW were built around one feud: Hollywood Hogan vs. Sting. Hogan was at the height of his reign of terror as leader of the nWo and WCW World Champion. And Sting had been built for 18 months as the one man who could dethrone the evil Hogan.
I remember that TV Guide (kids, ask your parents what TV Guide was) listed Starrcade as their must-watch event that night. It was arguably the biggest, most heavily-promoted wrestling PPV since WrestleMania III.
Into what spot, exactly, were they supposed to slide Bret Hart in WCW? They were stuck between a rock and a hard place. They had to strike while the iron was hot, while Hart was still a headline story. But they couldn’t just drop him into the middle of Hogan vs. Sting.
In the middle of 1996, there were rumblings that we’d see Bret Hart in WCW. The Hitman was negotiating a new contract with McMahon, but he also got an offer from Bischoff.
If there was a time for Hart to jump to WCW and make an impact, it would’ve been then.
A Dancer With No Partner
For Bret Hart in WCW to be a success, the Hitman needed a worthy opponent.
But all things considered, who exactly would that have been? Hart’s first opponent in WCW was Ric Flair, but it was, for all intents and purposes, a babyface match. It was a match based around proving who was the best of all time.
But it was a match wrestling fans had seen before. It might have been new to WCW fans not familiar that Hart won his first WWF Championship from Flair. For the guys themselves, though, there was no new gold to dig for.
Does Bret go straight into a feud with Sting? Same problem – you’ve got a babyface vs. babyface match. But let’s assume they did something creative with it (I know, we’re stretching credibility by suggesting WCW be creative). Let’s say Bret turns on Sting after their first match, and you’ve got a brand new program.
Which brings us to Hogan. With respect to Ted Turner, Hulk Hogan owned WCW. No matter how good Bret Hart in WCW might have been, at the end of the road was going to be Hogan, stroking his Fu Manchu and shooting down any idea Hart might have that would make Hogan look the least bit weak.
Hart wasn’t going to be a vehicle to get guys like Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, or Chris Benoit over. That was one of his points of contention for leaving the WWF – Vince wanted him to hang around and use his mystique to put other guys over.
Bret Hart might say he was eager to put those guys over. But every story about the Hitman’s ego over the years suggests the reverse.
One of the Hitman’s all-time greatest opponents would say the bottom line is Bret Hart in WCW never had a chance.
Talk all you want about the heat left over from the Montreal Screwjob. How much could WCW have really gotten out of that?
At the end of the day, Bret’s own legend as the stalwart foundation of the WWF worked to his detriment down south.
Sure, there are some elements here and there that WCW could’ve handled better to make their investment less of a devastating loss. But at the end of the day, Bret Hart in WCW was just never going to work.
All images courtesy of WWE.