A Look Back at The Hart Foundation

Years ago, when Vince McMahon bought out Stampede Wrestling, the seeds were planted for the future Hart Foundation stable.  As part of the agreement for buying Stampede Wrestling, Stu Hart made sure that Vince McMahon also hired Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, and Davey Boy Smith to work in the WWE.

Almost Didn’t Happen

The stable (and much of wrestling history) would not have happened had Bret Hart followed through on his desire to quit the WWE early on his career. When Jim Neidhart and Bret Hart were first hired into the WWE, they were singles wrestlers. Jim Neidhart was managed by Jimmy Hart, while Bret Hart was given a cowboy gimmick. He hated the gimmick so much that he threatened to leave the WWE.  Fortunately for everyone, the writers changed their minds and allowed Bret Hart to turn heel and form a tag team with Jim Neidhart.

The Foundation

Years after Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart split up as a tag team, the Hart Foundation was reformed as a stable.  While Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith were wrestling for the WWE European Championship, Bret Hart made a surprising appearance at ringside and convinced both men to stop fighting each other. He stressed the value of family to both of them.  Thus, the stable was born, with Jim Neidhart and Brian Pillman eventually joining the group.  The group was very successful as they maintained a place in the main event scene and captured most of the WWE championships.

Hated in America. Loved Everywhere Else.

The Hart Foundation had a pretty unique gimmick where they were hated by fans in America, but were loved by fans in Canada, Europe, and other regions of the world. Even if the played the role of full heels, they still would have been loved in Canada simply out of respect from the fans. It would take a pretty cruel storyline, which Bret Hart probably would have objected to anyways, to get the Canadian fans to turn on the Hart Foundation.  Their gimmicks had them being opposed to the American culture and values.  They never trashed other nations and cultures. In fact, they even brought Canadian flags and British flags to the ring with them.

Bret Hart

As the most successful member of the group, Bret Hart was easy to buy as the leader. It’s hard to dispute his claim as being the best wrestler there is, the best wrestler there was, and the best wrestler there ever will be.   At one point or another in his career, Bret Hart has either feuded or teamed with Davey Boy Smith, Owen Hart, and Jim Neidhart.  He also helped trained Brian Pillman in his father’s basement.

Owen Hart

Owen Hart was the youngest of the 12 Hart siblings.  Much like the other members of the group, he made his name in the tag team division. Owen Hart found various degrees of success in tag teams with Jim Neidhart, Koko B. Ware, Davey Boy Smith, Yokozuna, and his brother Bret Hart.  While Bret Hart did cast a tremendously overbearing shadow over Owen Hart with his own personal success, the younger Hart brother was able to break away from it with solid performances. He became a star in his own right.

Davey Boy Smith

At just 16 years of age, Davey Boy Smith was recruited by Bruce Hart. While on a scouting tour, Bruce Hart spotted a young Davey Boy Smith wrestling against his cousin the Dynamite Kid. Bruce Hart was immediately impressed and decided to bring Davey Boy Smith to Canada to work for Stampede Wrestling.  After training at Stu Hart’s dungeon, Davey Boy Smith and the Dynamite Kid both ventured off to Japan to work a few shows for New Japan. They then jumped to rival promotion All-Japan to work a few shows. Since All Japan had somewhat of a working agreement with the WWE, Davey Boy Smith and the Dynamite Kid were on the WWE’s radar.  When Stu Hart sold Stampede Wrestling to Vince McMahon and the WWE, Davey Boy Smith was hired, along with Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart.  While there, he engaged in a memorable tag team feud with Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart. Years later, when both men made the successful transition from tag team wrestlers to singles star, Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith engaged in a classic feud as well.  The familiarity with Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, and Owen Hart made him a perfect piece to the Hart Foundation puzzle. He was the perfect person to play the muscles of the group.

Brian Pillman

Despite his small stature, Brian Pillman found a little bit of success in professional football. While playing for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League, Brian Pillman was introduced to the idea of pro wrestling career.  After realizing his career in professional football wouldn’t last too long, Brian Pillman made the switched and started to train for a career in pro  wrestling. He decided to learn the trade from Stu Hart and the Hart Family.  Shortly after his pro wrestling debut, Brian Pillman began teaming up with Bruce Hart. They were known as Bad Company.  During his time in Canada, he became quite familiar with Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart, and Davey Boy Smith. It was this familiarity that led to the writers putting him together with the Hart Foundation.  His loose cannon gimmick was a nice complement to the disciplined style of Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart, and Davey Boy Smith.

Jim Neidhart

Jim Neidhart followed a similar path as Brian Pillman. He ended training for a career in pro wrestling after a short career in pro football.  After playing for the Dallas Cowboys and Oakland Raiders, Jim Neidhart ventured up to Canada to train under Stu Hart and the Hart Family. While there, he met and married Ellie Hart, who is the sister of Bret Hart and Owen Hart.  When Stu Hart sold Stampede Wrestling to Vince McMahon, Jim Neidhart and Bret Hart were part of the deal. Jim Neidhart started his WWE career as a singles wrestler managed by Jimmy Hart. After Bret Hart threatened to quit the WWE, management decided to turn them into a heel tag team.  They teamed for years, winning a few tag team titles. Their tag team run was so successful that they’re still considered amongst the best tag teams ever.  His years of loyalty to Bret Hart made him a perfect enforcer for the Hart Foundation stable.

The Foundation Crumbles

Several events led to the end of the Hart Foundation stable.  The untimely demise of Brian Pillman affected the group; both professionally and personally. On the morning of the In Your House: Badd Blood pay per view, Brian Pillman was found dead in his hotel room. While Brian Pillman did have a long documented history of abusing drugs, the autopsy report revealed that the cause of death was an undetected heart condition.  Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart, and Davey Boy Smith all left the WWE after being  screwed over by Vince McMahon at the Survivor Series in Montreal. Much like most of the wrestlers in the locker room, the Hart Foundation were disgusted and wanted out of the company. Vince McMahon allowed Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith to leave, but he threatened to sue Owen Hart for breach of contract.  Owen Hart stayed with the WWE. Unfortunately, he would die on the air while performing a high risk stunt as the Blue Blazer character at a WWE pay per view.  Davey Boy Smith would die after suffering a heart attack while on vacation. It is believed that years of abusing his body led to his death.  Today, only Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart remain alive.

Closing Thoughts

The Hart Foundation is truly one of the best stables ever in pro wrestling.  The stable had a collective gimmick, and the roster was filled with capable wrestlers. Bret Hart and Owen Hart were considered among the best overall performers in wrestling. Davey Boy Smith and Brian Pillman were above average. Jim Neidhart was a solid performer who played his role well.  They were simply one of the best collection of wrestlers ever.

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