Now we get to a bit of the more juicy stuff.
Wed, 5 April 2006
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As was covered in Part 1 - since joining the World Wrestling Federation, Bret Hart eventually became very well received as the technical wrestler half of the excellent Hart Foundation tag team. Then he transitioned into a popular singles competitor, which lead to him capturing the highly respected (at the time) Intercontinental Title. The next logical step, as far as individual success was concerned, was to see if wrestling fans would embrace Bret "Hitman" Hart as world heavyweight champion.
Nobody was too sure if Bret could get over at the main event level, including Bret himself. He and most everyone else knew he had an abundance of technical capabilities, so he was up to the job in terms of pure skill. But, that alone has seldom been the main factor to making a wrestler popular as a "top guy" with audiences. Having an eye catching look, combined with an engaging and larger than life character tends to be hugely significant. Also, a wrestler's ability to enthral viewers when on the microphone (interviews/promos and such) is another factor that is, usually, of much importance. It was easy to see that Bret's persona and level of charisma, since he arrived in the WWF, had greatly improved. His promos had quite gotten pretty good too; while still a touch wooden, his calm delivery suited the Hitman character well. Still, those aspects were never his biggest forte. They were also, clearly, never as important to him as the quality of his bouts.
Bret's first championship reign now seems like something of a "test run" to see how fans reacted. After the bad publicity the company had gotten from the steroid trials, mixed with the fact that (finally) most everyone had been made aware that wrestling was predetermined, the WWF had begun to lose fans rapidly. So they were trying out different things, in the hopes of finding something that would stick with audiences and help regain some of that diminished popularity.
They even tried making Hulk Hogan the champ again, seemingly out of desperation and they did it a super lame way. It really looked as though they'd put no planning whatsoever into it. For those unfamiliar, it went down like this: Bret Hart lost the world title to the mammoth Yokozuna (whose gimmick was that of a former sumo wrestler from Japan, though in actual fact the guy was Samoan) at Wrestlemania IX. Moments later, Hulk Hogan came out to the ring and challenged the big man to a match for the title. Yokozuna's manager, Mr Fuji, accepted the challenge on his man's behalf, right there and then. So, Hogan proceeded to beat Yoko for the championship, about 2 minutes later. Yep, on the same friggin' show!
|There's only one guy who can get away with dressing like that and you're looking at him. |
Boy did that suck, especially to those, like me, who were fans of Bret and thought the Hulkster's time on top had passed. This surprise ending to the show did get a pretty good pop from the live crowd at the time though. Even so, in the weeks that followed, it soon became clear Hogan's act was no longer an automatic favourite with wrestling fans and he was not getting the ecstatic crowd responses he'd previously assured. Hogan's heart was no longer fully in his wrestling career at that stage either, as he was really hoping to make it big as an actor (I won't even bother with making jokes about that, it is just too easy). So, pretty soon, Bret reclaimed his place as the champ and, this time, he felt like he deserved it. As Bret says on the DVD though, as champion, he had a tough act to follow in Hulk Hogan.
Say what you will about the Hulkster (and I've certainly bagged him many times myself) but, the fact is, Hogan is one of the two biggest individual draws (the other being "Stone Cold" Steve Austin) in professional wrestling history. Pretty big shoes (or yellow boots) to try and fill! Following the likes of Hulk Hogan could make anyone doubt themself. It is safe to assume that, after the huge star that the Hulkster was, the ascension to becoming the WWF's flagship performer would be an enormously daunting proposition.
As I was saying earlier - one reason the Hitman's ability started getting recognised fully by Vince and company was because they decided (due to those previously mentioned problems with public perception caused by the "steroid trials" and a significant decrease in the general viewer's interest in the business) that they wanted to change direction and shake things up somewhat. Their intention was now to push some of their younger (or newer and less established) guys to the top. They also chose to place a larger focus on high quality wrestling matches and the more skilful performers, rather than just pushing crazy characters and/or heavily muscled guys (or giants).
Bret Hart won the WWF world title for his first time by defeating the legendary "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. Flair and Bret are two of the most praised and well respected wrestlers ever. They are generally considered (by fellow wrestlers, along with wrestling writers and fans) to be two of the greatest of all time. Especially when it comes to the quality of their matches. For numerous reasons (most of which would take me too long to go into here), however, the Hitman and Nature Boy's bouts with each other were pretty disappointing, from both their perspective and that of the fans. This, with (once again) a variety of other factors, eventually resulted in Ric (verbally and in print) showing a distinct lack of respect to Bret and vice versa. These days Hart and Flair are known to rip into each other, directing several insults towards each other, with both claiming the other is overrated as a wrestler.
Several folks have astutely pointed this fact out; if anyone has the right, experience and knowledge of the business to express their opinions, or criticisms, regarding another wrestler's skill, Ric Flair and Bret Hart would be at the top of the list. Even so, I really feel that both guys, (due mainly, as far as I can tell, to a series of misunderstandings and/or miscommunication, along with the clash of their monumental egos) are unfair in their judgements of the other. My reasons for disagreeing with the people, like Bret (and others), who aren't fans of Flair's will have to wait for another day. However, these articles are meant as rather detailed accounts of my opinions regarding both Bret Hart and the fantastic DVD dedicated to his career. So this seems like as good a time as any for me to address the negative things Flair and other critics have had to say about the Hitman. I'll address the first of these issues now and get to the others later on.
Bret "Hitman" Hart, as world champion, didn't sell enough tickets, take a firm grip on people's attention, or create a worthwhile amount of audience interest:
Frankly, I don't put much stock into it when people say Bret Hart was a not a successful WWF world champion for the company, and/or that he never attracted substantial crowds during his time (or times) at the top.
It was, in general, a pretty low stage for the wrestling business when Hart undertook his first and subsequent title runs. Crowds and ticket sales had decreased and public interest (after reaching an extraordinary, and previously unheard of, peak) started sinking fast. Another facet to keep in mind is that the very style of wrestling was at the early stages of undergoing another of its numerous transformations. They'd just begun to move on from Hulk Hogan and, with him, what'd been a steady period of pushing mainly just the huge guys. The concept of giving the spotlight to smaller dudes, who (mostly) had the ability to put on top quality matches, was only just getting established and rather jarring to those more familiar with 80's style WWF.
When watching some of Bret's best bouts, it is clear that nearly every one of them has a story to it (Vince McMahon himself even mentions, on the Hitman DVD, how great Hart was at telling a story with his matches). For me, that usually resulted in them being quite enthralling to follow. I'd say that several other wrestlers have incorporated some of Bret's work into their matches too. Take another look at a couple of more recent and highly praised matches, eg; the Shaun Michaels/Triple H/Benoit main event from Wrestlemania 20, or the Angle vs. Michaels bout from WM21. I thought both those matches were classics, utterly worthy of the praise they've been given. However, to old Sammy's eyes, the influence of Bret's style on those matches (and a great many others) seems undeniable. They were like a mix of Bret's best work with Ric Flair's- especially his legendary bouts with Rick Steamboat. Mind you, I strongly suspect that HBK would deny the Hitman side of that influence! Anyway, what I'm getting at is that the impact Bret's work has had on so many of today's best workers seems, to me at least, extremely obvious.
When people (including Ric Flair) attack Hart by saying he didn't draw as world champ, I think they often forget to consider the full circumstances. As I said, Wrestling was going through a "transitional phase", since that huge 80's "Rock 'n' Wrestling" bubble had well and truly burst. The mass appeal was no longer there and, basically, NOBODY would have been a huge draw as champ at that time. Especially not when compared to the previous decade. Bret actually did keep the loyal wrestling fans happy though. What's more, he did so mainly by just going out and having great matches with everyone he was in the ring with. He worked his arse off and did everything he could as the company's top guy. I honestly believe he did a great job of holding things together during such a difficult stage for the business.
|Yeah, those were the days. |
Bret Hart was about as popular in the role of champion as anyone could have been, at that particular time. Come to think of it, I know (or knew) some people who hadn't watched wrestling in quite a while and only started getting into it again when Bret became champ. They recalled liking him a great deal and being impressed by his "excellence of execution" in his earlier days with Jim Neidhart and were keen to see Bret Hart's ascension to a more exalted position. So, I don't think you could fairly claim the Hitman failed to generate any fan interest.
Well, that's enough of my rubbish for now. For those who actually find these articles interesting, I'll have the next part done as soon as I can for you. I will be covering the other negative things people have directed Bret's way. Eventually I'll get back more to the DVD itself and the matches on it, but I'll not go into as much detail there. Otherwise, I'll end up with a novel. Also, by the time I get to the third part of this "review" (or whatever you want to call it) I am hoping to have watched Bret's recent Hall of Fame induction. Cheers.
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