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WRESTLING COLUMNS

Encounter with Bret "Hitman" Hart
April 12, 2006 by Heath McCoy


Editor's Notes: Heath McCoy is the writer of the highly praised book entitled Pride & Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling and is also a writer for the Calgary Herald newspaper. Mr. McCoy sent this article to me last week and I thought it was so good that I should post it on OWW. Upon receiving his permission, here it is! Keep in mind this was written prior to Bret's Hall of Fame induction. Enjoy.

Did Bret "The Hitman" Hart make a deal with the devil to protect his legacy? Or, has he genuinely mended fences with his former boss Vince McMahon, the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) kingpin who he once perceived to be his mortal enemy, his great betrayer - indeed, his demon? Hart himself seemed torn on the issue in an interview this week leading up to his induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, tonight (April 1) in Chicago, the day before WrestleMania 22 at the Windy City's Allstate Arena.

"I'll never forget what they did to me, or forgive it," says Hart, 48. "But I have earned this (Hall of Fame honour) and they can't take that away from me. . . . We've finally gotten to the point where we're on decent terms. . . . If I see Vince, I don't have a problem with talking to him or shaking his hand." The retired professional wrestling legend has been embroiled in a bitter war with the WWE since 1997 when he was cheated out of his world heavyweight title in what has come to be known as the Montreal Screwjob. As part of the ongoing soap opera of the wrestling game, Hart, whose contract gave him "reasonable creative control" over his character, was led to believe he was going to retain his title when he fought his real life nemesis Shawn Michaels at the Survivor Series in Montreal. Instead, on orders from McMahon, the referee rang the bell while Hart was locked in a hold, as if the world's most famous Calgarian had submitted. Humiliated in front of his Canadian fans, Hart spit in McMahon's face on camera, and later knocked the promoter out cold in the dressing room before leaving the company.

Bitterness turned to bile in 1999 after Bret's brother Owen Hart died during a televised WWE event in Kansas City when an ill-advised stunt went awry during the show. Owen's widow Martha and his late parents, Stu and Helen, former promoters of Calgary's legendary Stampede Wrestling, launched a civil suit against McMahon and others for wrongful death due to negligence. Bret stood firmly in their corner. Some Hart family members wanted to settle out of court however and the venomous dispute tore the family apart. Eventually the case was settled with the Harts receiving $18 million U.S. As the Hall of Fame induction comes on the heels of the The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be, a triple DVD of Hart's greatest matches, released last November through the WWE, some observers have accused the Hitman of selling out on his convictions against McMahon, in order to cash in on his past. But Hart defends his decision. After his falling out with McMahon, he was denied access to his legacy. The footage of his matches, his classic pictures, it was all owned by the WWE. Hart had no creative control over its use. He says after Owen died, McMahon promised him he would again have certain rights over his image, but the promoter soon denied such a promise was made. Yet again, Hart felt double-crossed, consumed with hurt and resentment.

It was in the midst of another tragedy, that McMahon again entered Hart's life after the wrestler suffered a severe stroke in the summer of 2002. The once mighty Hitman was lying in a hospital bed, emotionally devastated and in near total paralysis, when he received a call from McMahon, who wished him well. It was a watershed moment that put the two men back on speaking terms, where they could again consider doing business. But the WWE still showed a mean streak when they began producing a less than flattering Bret Hart DVD called Screwed, which focused on the infamous Montreal incident. The company asked for Hart's input on the project. "I can't believe they let me watch it," Hart says. "I told them: 'You can take every bit of it out.' It was brutal. They cast me in the worst possible light. I had all these wrestlers from Shawn Michaels to Hulk Hogan burying me, talking about how difficult I was to work with, saying I was never very good. Hogan said none of the other wrestlers could trust me and I was never one of the boys. That would have been released and 25 years from now people would remember that stuff about me, rather than the truth." Last summer, Bret sat down with McMahon for "nose to nose negotiations" about the DVD. Finally, Bret heard the words he wanted to hear. "He said 'We can do this your way,'" the Hitman recalls. "'You can have final approval on the finished product.' That's what I've been fighting for all these years.

I have a right to be remembered. I worked so hard and put so much passion into what I did, and for me to stand back and see that erased, to become non-existent and unimportant, I didn't think it was fair." Carl DeMarco, president of WWE Canada Inc. says Hart was wise to again do business with McMahon for the DVD. "I think both Bret and Vince have taken a step forward, together," DeMarco says. "I don't they've forgotten what happened. But it was important to Bret to make sure his career is not forgotten about.

Yes, some sort of DVD was going to come out and Bret realized he'd rather be involved and have a say on it, instead of having it be overly focused on Montreal. He doesn't want his career being remembered for that one moment. . . . "No matter what the issues are between him and Vince, that should not take away from what Bret has accomplished. He was not only only a big star in Canada, (where he is) probably one of the biggest stars of all time, but he was also a big star in countries around the world." When the DVD was released, a major fence had been mended between Hart and McMahon. "A lot of the hard feelings I had centred around my archives and my history, and them locking it up in a basement," Hart says. "When they did the DVD and let me do it my way, a lot of the really hard feelings I had towards Vince dissipated." When Bret was asked to be a part of the WWE's Hall of Fame prior to WrestleMania 22, where he would be honoured for his achievements, he agreed to put the past behind him and attend. "I can't carry (this anger) around forever. The biggest reason I had the stroke was related to stress," he says. "I've got a new life and a new wife. I've moved on." But things can never be like they once were, when Hart felt at home in the WWE. Despite rabid speculation on the Internet, and urging from the WWE, the Hitman says he's going home after he collects his award. He will certainly not be taking part in any storyline at the WrestleMania event. "It will never happen," he says. "I'll never walk out to a ring for them no matter how friendly things get. . . . I know they had designs on me doing more (than just the award show). . . . They put a lot of pressure on me. It would mean the world to them if I would just walk out at WrestleMania and wave. Nah. . . . They always throw these contracts around and I think to myself, since when do contracts mean anything to these people? I had a contract and they screwed me over like I was garbage."Hart's also adamant that if he sees his old nemesis Shawn Michaels at the awards show, he'll walk out the door. "If I see him anywhere, even if he walks past me, I'm getting in a cab," he says. "I just can't be around the guy.

I'm here for my fans and if anybody wants to upset me in any way, I don't mind walking off. . . . "I'm here on good faith and I believe they mean well by inducting me. I'm honoured that they're giving me this moment. I had a great career. I loved my matches and the memories I had. The end was really bad, but my life and my career wasn't about what happened in Montreal or what happened with my brother Owen. . . . It's all done and over with and it's got nothing to do with my decision to be remembered."

Has Calgary's most famous son gone Italian? Senza possibilita! Er, that is to say, not a chance. Bret "The Hitman" Hart was remarried in September 2004 at a ceremony in Milan and since then he has spent a great deal of time overseas, going back and forth between his home in Calgary and his bride Cinzia's residence in Italy.He was in Italy for such a long time this winter, he's started joking that his dog, the pug Coombs, "has gone completely Italian." But Hart gets homesick when he's away for too long. "I'm always anxious to get home," he says, in a tone of mock frustration. "The food and the lifestyle is just not what I'm accustomed to. . . . I miss the hockey. I miss pancake breakfasts and (Canadian) TV and newspapers. . . . I like 7-Elevens where you can get a quart of milk. And God knows why these take breaks in the middle of the day. These siestas. . . . "Everyone tries their hardest to make me feel at home there, but it's not home and it's never going to be." The Hitman stresses his relationship with his new wife is a beautiful thing, despite his yearnings for the land of the maple leaf when he's away. "I'm just paying my dues," he says. "I'm making my moves on her to get her to come back to Canada. "I won't be away from Calgary for long."

by Heath McCoy
Calgary Herald ..


John Austin wrote:
I was one of the people wondering why Bret decided to have nothing to do with the Wrestlemania event itself, and I figured it had something to do with Shawn Michaels. If you have read my article on here about the Warrior, in a response I made to someone who commented on the article in defense of Warrior, I touch on how Bret was a bigger man than Warrior because despite the obvious animosity between himself and Vince Mcmahon, that he worked with McMahon despite this because Vince had control of the majority of his highlights and archives, and that he in turn, had to "deal with the devil" to make sure his legacy was preserved. On a side note, I remember in an old edition of the then-WWF magazine, when the Hitman used to do a column called " Ask Bret", where an Italian fan asked him when he was returning to Italy. He then replied that He wanted to come out there as soon as possible, that he wanted to visit there for a while once he retired, and that Italian women are some of the most beautiful in the world. Ha ha. I guess the Hitman sticks to his word, huh?
Ray wrote:
The third wrestler that attracted my attention after Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair in the mid-80's was Bret Hitman Hart. I remember the Hart Foundation wearing blue and black tights. I was instantly drawn to the Hitman because of his in-ring ability and the whole Hart Foundation tag team union with the Anvil. I followed his career until he went to WCW and I loved just seeing walk to the ring. My first ever WWF event that I attended was October 20, 1997 in Oklahoma City where he was a heel feuding with DX and the Nation. I made a Hart Foundation sign out of respect for the Hitman. That night he defeat Farooq to retain the WWF title. I have argued with anyone that would listen that he and Shawn Michaels were the best wrestlers to ever don the tights.

After reading an article from OWW.com, I believe the Hitman has let me down. I understand that he is a man and he has his issues with Vince, but I really would have liked to see him just walk the isle one last time at Wrestlemania 22 to wave at the fans and give a few words. I ordered the PPV because I believed he would be there. Again, I totally understand that he may have differences with Vince, but maybe he should have came out for the fans that still hold up signs at events that say "You Screwed Bret." I still love the Hitman, but I believe not showing up to Wrestlemania might have been selfish.
John Postons wrote:
I respect the writer of this articles opinion but i was more impressed with Bret not going back on his word and attending Wrestlemania like he promised he wouldn't. Much reapect goes out to him for doing that.\\
David Temrick wrote:
When it comes to Bret Hart I have a lot of feelings on the matter. As some of you may know, I wrote the "Who really screwed Bret" article here in which I defended Vince for "screwing" Bret in Montreal. Despite several of you disagreeing with my interpretation of the events that lead to and followed the "screw job" I will always stand by my conclusion;

Wrestling is a business the same as any other and losing one of your main eventers to a rival company is hard enough, but having him leave as the champion is ridiculous.

That being said. I was very excited and happy to see Bret on at WWE stage again. Even more so that he and Steve are still getting along (don't forget that Owen is the one that injured Steve's neck and shortened his career). The Hart-Austin match where Steve passed out rather than submit to the "sharp shooter" will always be one of my all time favorites.

I have yet to watch the DVD because I've heard that even though Bret had unprecedented control over it's production that it's still VERY unflattering to a man who's only fault to date was to hold Vince over the coals so he could go over to WCW as the WWF champ.

I was kind of disappointed that Bret Hart didn't come out during WrestleMania. I think a lot of fans were let down. I'm not sure on the reasons, but I believe someone came pretty close to a good reason with Shawn facing Vince later that night. I read a rumor that the plan was to have Shawn kicking Vince's ass, and then Shane and Bret Hart was going to come in and deliver the sharp shooter to Shawn, thereby "erasing" the screwjob. I'm glad that didn't come to pass. People don't want that. They just want it to all go away.

Congrats to Bret for being inducted to the Hall of Fame and I hope to see his nephew (Davey Boy's Son) in the WWE someday.
Richard wrote:
Bret the Hitman Hart made the right decisions vis a vis the DVD and not having anything to do with WM XXII. Sometimes, for VERY SELECTIVE REASONS (and I do stress the selective part) you have to make a deal with the Devil, especially if he is holding all the cards, which Vinny Mac was in terms of Bret's matches and memoirs. Nothing would have been more despicable than seeing the highlights of Bret's career going up in smoke or getting a Warrior hatchet job from Vinny Mac. And by not having anything to do with WM XXII, Bret Hart maintained a dignified stance through it all. The DVD was just business, (with personal reasons attached to it) but not doing WM XXII was a priceless act that Bret Hart should be commended for. Don't get me wrong, nothing would please me more than seeing the Hitman compete again. But, afterall, Bret said it himself, (not in these words but his own) the Montreal Screwjob should prove conclusively that having a contract with Vinny Mac is no assurance at all against getting screwed. So for those of you trying to hold not going out to the ring for WM against the Hitman, I have five words fer ya: "Put a sock in it"..................
Cowboys28790 wrote:
I just don't understand this. Hart said he would only be introduced into the hall of fameif Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon apologized. When did Shawn Michaels and Vince apologize? I'm glad he went, but I just don't understand it. Vince might have brought it up once, I think I remember something about that, but Michaels I know didn't. Anyway, great to see Hart in the Hall of Fame, he sure deserves it.
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