Bret Hart: The best there is, the best there was, the most important there ever will be

If you’re in your mid/late twenties as you read this, the chances are you probably caught on to professional wrestling slightly before or during the attitude era, and what a time to catch on, right? Bikini contests, racially charged story lines, and genitalia references aside; it was a three year period where the popularity of “Sports Entertainment” was at such a level so high – that the smart money suggests it will never be replicated again.

Whether or not the attitude era ended up being a good thing for the business in retrospect is an argument for another day. The fact remains that looking back, car crash TV was entertaining, and boy did we have the perfect roster to dish out the mayhem.

Sitting as somewhat of an on-looker to the most profitable era in wrestling was Bret Hart, who left the then WWF for Ted Turner’s WCW just as the term ‘attitude’ was starting to be coined. Despite being a solid main event player in 1997 when WWE/F began to turn up the risque factor in their programming – the Hitman is rarely associated with the era, mostly because of his departure from Titan tower but also because of WCW’s vastly underwhelming use of the Canadian.

Bret Hart
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As a result of the watered down version we received of Bret Hart from Ted Turner’s organisation, you could easily be fooled into thinking that the Hitman didn’t play a pivotal role in turning WWE into the global phenomenon it is today; you’d be wrong. In fact, Bret Hart is probably the most important wrestling figure we have ever come across. Austin, Rock, Hogan, Flair, Sammartino, Michaels, The Undertaker, he was more important than them all. Bret is often referred to as one of the greatest of all time, but even that moniker doesn’t do his tenure in the business justice.

It seems like a life-time ago, but when Bret made his arrival into the WWF the company, and the world were stuck in Hulk Hogan’s craze of eating vitamins and saying prayers. And Vince McMahon’s mathematics for success were simple: build up a super heel who will eventually be fed to Hogan’s leg drop. You can question the Hulkster’s work rate all you want but the fact is, it worked, and from 1985-1991 Hulkamania was the cash cow that took professional wrestling from mostly regional, to worldwide.

But while Hogan was the undoubted face of the company, Bret was putting in excellent work in the tag team division with his brother in law Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart. Themselves as well as talents such as Ricky Steamboat, Randy Savage, Mr Perfect, and Shawn Michaels etc were starting to put together athletic, captivating performances that were consistently far out shining the main event in terms of entertainment value; a concept that would pay dividends in the years to follow.

Fast forward to the early 90’s and wrestling was nowhere near as hot as it was just a few years prior. WrestleMania wasn’t drawing 70,000 plus into stadiums anymore, and interest around the product in general seemed to be on the decline. The industry wasn’t quite in danger of going out of business – but pro-wrestling was no longer a worldwide sensation.

This was thanks in part to a mass of steroid allegations that surrounded both Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon – something VM was very nearly imprisoned because of. Wrestling needed a new, squeaky clean hero for people to believe in once again – someone who could carry the ball for the company without looking like Mr Olympia.

As it turns out – they had the perfect man for it, by 1992 people had bought in to the character of Bret Hart. By no means the most charismatic, or particularly flamboyant – Bret was respected solely because of his ability to tell you a story in the ring. And its these chapters in the history of pro-wrestling which define the Hitman as the most important wrestler there ever will be.

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When the interest in the product was declining, and the perception of the industry was in doubt; Bret Hart was the courageous knight that kept people invested at a time when WWE was struggling financially. Incredible feuds with Mr Perfect, his brother Owen, and British Bulldog to name a few, allowed fans to invest in the concept of two talented workers taking you through twists and turns until an unpredictable climax, no “Hulk Up’s” necessary.

The pink attire, passing his sunglasses over to children in the crowd, his enigmatic entrance music, and his flawless ability in the ring: Bret Hart was everything that WWE needed at the time. Was the company roster filled with other talented individuals? Undoubtedly yes, but none of them could hold a candle to Bret’s ability to deliver the whole package in a believable manner. He was the very depiction of the people’s choice.

It could even be said that of all the “faces” of the company over the last 40 years, none of them had a job as difficult as Bret. Look at it any way you’d like, the fact is that Bret Hart was a draw at a time when people had started to turn their backs on wrestling, and the fans that stayed were ones that had bought into the art form of the sport. You could argue that Hart single handedly ushered in the era where the most talented, not necessarily just the biggest, got the chance to run with the ball.

Despite his massive contributions and importance to the industry in the early 90’s, Bret’s coup de grace in pro wrestling was to come between 1996/7. As we look upon the sport in 2018, we can all but accept that kayfabe is dead, and for better or worse we understand the workings of the business on a huge scale, nothing is a secret anymore. As a result of this – as fans we now realise just how important it is for wrestlers to “make” their opponent when the time is right, and Bret did one mighty job of making two of his opponents in the late 90’s.

BH vs SM
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His iron-man match with Shawn Michaels in the main event of WrestleMania 12 for the WWE championship was 60 minutes of wrestling to an incredible standard. Before this point, Shawn was looked at as a phenomenal talent with a strong following; but would he ever be ready to hold the mantle of being “the guy”? It took one hour of vigorous, exhausting story-telling in the ring for you to be convinced that Michaels was the right guy for the title.

Shortly following WrestleMania 12 was when WWE were faced with another financial challenge. Ted Turner’s WCW were acquiring former Vince McMahon talents left, right, and centre, and the NWO story-line had taken over wrestling. For the first time in his life, Vince McMahon was sitting in second place to another wrestling organisation – and the future of the company was once again in doubt.

It would be on one fateful night in Chicago that Bret Hart would make yet another, and possibly his greatest contribution to professional wrestling. Stone Cold Steve Austin, you’ve probably heard of him – from mid 96 to early 97 the Texas rattlesnake had put in heel work of such high quality that fans had actually begun cheering him (an unusual concept in pro-wrestling at this time). His tough guy persona, aggressive in ring style, and fresh mic skills saw him turning into quite a fan favourite.

By the same token; Bret’s shining light persona had started to lose some of its shimmer, it was time to freshen things up, and thus: the cards were set for the greatest double turn in the history of wrestling. To perform a match where the heel and face switch roles is a daunting task for anyone who has ever set foot inside the squared circle, but it just so happens that Bret and Austin were going to do so in one of the great matches of all time.

No one could have foreseen that a simple submission match between the two at WrestleMania 13 would change the business in the way that it did. Go back and watch that match, the crowds investment into the two wrestlers is beyond captivating, and if “Sports entertainment” is the descriptive phrase we need to coin when describing wrestling in this day and age; this match was the perfect example of what it could be.

The two managed to execute a performance that looked like a legitimate fight all with the entertainment thrills and spills you’d come to expect from wrestling. The image of the blood pouring down Austin’s face while Hart attacks his legs with a chair somehow made you feel empathy for a man that had never showed it for anyone else – deep down you wanted him to overcome this obstacle.

But if we’re discussing imagery, there will possibly never be a better image in the history of wrestling than the one that appears at the climax of this match. As Bret Hart has Stone Cold locked in the sharpshooter while the camera pans to Austin screaming with blood running down his face and through his teeth – it sends shivers down the spine. You know how it ends, Austin doesn’t submit but does pass out from the pain, Bret continues the assault after the match, the fans boo Bret, and cheer for Austin when he drags himself to his feet. And there it is: Stone Cold turned face setting him up for arguably the greatest run in wrestling history.

BM vs SC

When you look into the folklore of wrestling, this match will be mentioned every single time, and so it should. It was one of the greatest matches of all time that cemented the biggest superstar in history as the guy you could finally cheer for. It’s been talked about to death but when you break it down – Bret Hart was the only man suitable for the role of turning Austin into the good guy; proving he was the excellence of execution.

What followed for Bret was a successful heel run leading the Hart Foundation faction into Survivor Series 1997, you already know what went down in Montreal on that night, but if you don’t: Google “Montreal screwjob” it makes for some fascinating reading.

The attitude era was started at the behest of Shawn Michaels, and Stone Cold, and while Bret’s actual contributions to the era were minimal; it can’t be argued that both Michaels and Austin had reached their star status as a result of their work with the Hitman. And that was the Canadian’s best attribute: his ability to make whoever he was in the ring with look like a legitimate star.

Would we have still seen an attitude era without Bret Hart? Possibly, but whether the era itself would have been anywhere near as impactful can certainly be debated. To put it simply, Bret Hart was the Stretch Armstrong figure that held the company together through the dark times and pulled Titan Tower into a new age of professional wrestling.

When you consider the Mount Rushmore of the industry, and you ask who played the largest roles in making the sport what it is today – it seems harsh to only be able to name four. The star power and mainstream attention generated puts Hogan and Austin on there without question, Ric Flair makes the cut for his sensational work in the 80’s, and the last space belongs to Hart. WWE’s burning light when times were at their darkest; he simply was: the best there was, the best there is, the best there ever will be.

How To Get Roman Reigns Over… As A Babyface

It’s probably the most talked about topic in the world of pro-wrestling today, it’s the topic every former WWE performer with a podcast has looked into, it’s the present day ‘when will WWE go back to TV-14?’. In a world where kayfabe barely exists to the point of it being often ignored the second a pro wrestler steps foot out of an arena; the business of professional wrestling has been exposed to the extent that as fans, we probably know a little too much about the product.

This does have its positives, it’s easier to enjoy wrestling as a true art-form if you understand some of the workings that have gone into the finished product. A classic example of this is the Bret Hart vs Owen Hart storyline that ran throughout late 1993 – mid 1994. When you find out that when the original angle was pitched to Bret it was supposedly another brother of his (reportedly Bruce) who was set to feud with the hitman, and Bret threatened to leave the company if they didn’t give the opportunity to his thus far under-utilised brother Owen; understanding the pressure they were under to deliver at Wrestlemania X and Summerslam 94 makes it that much more of a beautiful watch.

But of course the major drawback of the exposure of the business in todays age is that by knowing so much, it becomes that much more frustrating when things don’t pan out the way we want. Fans attitudes have (understandably) become not just “I pay my money, I want to be entertained” but also “I pay my money, why aren’t you listening to me?”. And that’s where Roman Regins comes in, the hand-picked guy to take the mantle from John Cena and push this company through the reality era and beyond, but needless to say its far from gone according to plan so far.

Four WrestleMania main events in a row, rubs from Daniel Bryan, John Cena, The Rock, Triple H, and The Undertaker and yet still Roman is treated with utter contempt by large portions of WWE’s audience. The likelihood is that Reigns is going to continue to be pushed as this company’s number 1 guy, and as tiring as that sounds after the last four years, it doesn’t have to be. Vince McMahon and co could get everything they want from their Roman initiative, it would just take a little space and time.

While turning Roman heel would be immediate money and make him the hottest heel in the industry (honestly it’s baffling how WWE still haven’t gone down that route at this point), that would be too easy. So for the purpose of this article, there will be no heel turn for Roman, but there will be some booking ideas that will allow for WWE’s hardcore audience to buy into the character much easier.

It’s worth baring in mind that at the time of writing, The Greatest Royal Rumble hasn’t happened yet, nor has the contract length of Brock Lesnar been fully revealed – so, we will pretend that Brock Lesnar has signed a ONE year extension only to his WWE contract.

The Greatest Royal Rumble (Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns | Steel Cage Match | Universal Championship)

Lesnar Reigns GRR
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Reports have suggested that the steel cage rematch between Roman and Brock for the Universal Title has been set up so that when Roman goes over, the crowd reaction will come across as heavily more positive in Saudi Arabia than it would have been from a hostile New Orleans crowd at WrestleMania. If this was in fact the thinking behind the concept, it all seems obnoxiously political and ignorant from the WWE creative team, who seemingly refuse to accept the idea that Roman is not yet in the position to be anointed as the new ‘guy’.

Anyway, WWE love to swerve their fans, no one expected Lesnar to retain at WM34, just like no one expects him to retain here. So swerve us again, have Roman put up another valiant effort only to be denied by another 40 F5’s – the match won’t be great, but it adds even more credence to Lesnar’s unbeatable status and puts seeds in the mind of fans that maybe the higher up’s are starting to not fancy Roman (this will become VERY important later on).

BackLash (Roman Reigns Vs Samoa Joe)

Reigns Vs Joe
Image Source: WWE YouTube Channel

This is where we need to start really relying on our imagination and pretend that Vince McMahon and co will be open to any idea they’re given. Roman loses clean here, 20 minute match of hustle and bustle, few near falls – Reigns falls victim to the cochina clutch, doesn’t tap out – just passes out.

At this point fans start questioning what exactly is going on here, is Roman being punished? Have they given up on him? This would also start affecting the negative response he receives from TV audiences. Fans always expect the Roman Empire to prevail much like the early 2010 years of “Cena Wins Lol”, the moment they feel like his push is declining, the need to boo him goes with it since he’s not on top anyway.

Money In The Bank Build-up

We’re going to follow the assumption here that this years Money In The Bank has one ladder match for the men, and another for the women, with both ladder matches featuring three competitors from RAW, and three from Smackdown Live. The build up to the event itself features your standard qualifying match set-up with Romans qualifying match taking place in the main event of RAW against a recently returned Dean Ambrose. They go 25 minutes with Roman just, just coming out on top – the aftermath of the match sees Ambrose look frustrated and very tentatively shake Roman’s hand before exiting the ring.

Money In The Bank (Reigns vs Lashley vs Rollins vs The Miz vs Almas vs Bryan)


Money In The Bank Graphic
Image Source: WWE YouTube channel

As Roman is climbing the ladder to seemingly grab the briefcase, Ambrose returns, pulls him from the ladder, gives him a Dirty Deeds – this is followed by him shouting towards Roman “It was supposed to be my time!” Or words to that effect. The Miz wins Money In The Bank and will eventually cash it in on a Daniel Bryan Vs Shinsuke Nakamura (c) match at Survivor Series, setting up The Miz vs Daniel Bryan at the Royal Rumble.

By the way, if you’re wondering what Brock Lesnar has been doing, he and Strowman wrestle to a double count out at this event.

Extreme Rules

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Image Source: WWE YouTube Channel

In the build-up here you have Ambrose’s rhetoric being along the lines of: “It’s never been about me, I took a backseat in The Shield, and I’m not taking a backseat in this company for one more day”. So at the pay-per-view there’s an extreme rules match between Ambrose and Reigns, it’s a brutal one, or at least as brutal as it can be in the PG era. Roman wins via a quick roll-up after a gruelling encounter, Ambrose carries on the beat-down to Roman after the bell and gets suspended by Kurt Angle for gross misconduct.


SummerSlam Graphic
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In the build-up here, Seth Rollins is still IC champion, and Roman wins a no 1 contender triple threat against Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn to challenge Rollins at SummerSlam. During the promos Rollins asks Roman: “Do you think you’ve got what it takes to win the big one anymore? You haven’t won one in a while”. Now this is where Roman can start to get over with the hardcore audience: simply focus on his positives and hide his weaknesses.

For all his questionable charisma and lack of promo technique, Roman Reigns is a good worker, that’s not up for debate, and so: put him in situations where he can show off his in ring ability where him winning won’t be looked at as the worst case scenario. Rollins and Reigns go 30 minutes at SummerSlam, putting on an absolute wrestling clinic before Ambrose returns again, and delivers yet another dirty deeds to Roman, causing disqualification.

From here on out there are several ways you can book this, although the option that points to the most money would be a triple threat match between The Shield members inside Hell In A Cell for the IC Title at the pay-per-view, as long as Roman comes out on top whatever follows should work.

And here’s why: the Intercontinental Title spent a long part of WWE’s lineage being the working man’s, wrestling fans championship, the workhorse belt. Roman is particularly accomplished in the ring, so giving him 20-25 minutes on every PPV, managing to come out on top against whoever he faces not only elevates him, but also his opponent and the stature of the IC title. In turn this should build the crowds respect and enjoyment level for Roman up much more than seeing him cut generic promos on RAW about being “The big dog” and eventually holding the weird looking big red belt.

Hart Vs Perfect
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The thought here is: accentuate Roman’s positives i.e. his in-ring ability and hide his flaws i.e. his awkward promos and clumbsy charisma. Though Bret Hart far exceeded Roman, and most other wrestlers in terms of ability inside the squared circle, you’ll remember that Bret wasn’t the best on the mic, especially in the early 90’s; what got Bret over with the fans was their appreciation of his ability inside the ropes, after all – that’s what we’re watching for, right? Apply the same thoughts to Reigns and there’s no reason why the fans won’t gravitate.

This should all culminate with Reigns still being the champ come WrestleMania 35 where he can drop the belt to, well, anyone you’d like, although NXT’s Adam Cole stands out as the obvious choice. By this point, beating Reigns will be a HUGE rub for whomever does so, and there’s a level of prestige bought back to the IC title that hasn’t been there in years. Reigns can now take his respect level from the fans, and apply it to a world title hunt on either RAW or Smackdown Live, though SD Live would be the preferred option here – keeping things fresh and unpredictable.

A star can be made out of Reigns, Rollins, make Ambrose interesting for the first time since The Shield with a heel persona, prestige can be added to the IC Title again, as well as giving fans wrestling to get truly invested in, it all makes perfect logical sense.

There’s proof here that there could be a reason to cheer for Reigns if we are given enough reason to do so, stop treating him like Hogan and Cena and more like a modern day professional wrestling athlete and there’s the investment element right there. Or, you know, you could just turn him heel.