Spotlight on Harry Smith
May 22, 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.
Since his famed father went by the title British Bulldog, you might call pro
wrestler Harry Smith, Bulldog Junior. Then again, you might not say that to
There's nothing Junior about this 19-year-old, standing six-foot-six and
weighing in at 255 pounds, as he tosses his long-haired hulk of a training
partner around the ring at BJ's Gym, near Calgary's downtown core, like the
guy was a crash test dummy.
The beating 21-year-old Will Hunter takes - happily - is staggering. Multiple
drop kicks to the head and chest; flying power slams; the kid's twisted body
crashing to the mat like thunder, until you'd swear he was going to break
Sure, professional wrestling is just as much theatre as it is sport. The
violence is an illusion, more the work of stuntmen than true combatants. But
tell that to Hunter as he picks himself up after a particularly crushing
slam to mat, just a little bit slower and more pained after the eighth hit
than he was on the seventh.
"Let's try that one again," says Harry, preparing his partner for yet another
round of assaults.
Surrounded by pictures of his Herculean father, the British Bulldog Davey Boy
Smith, his uncles, Bret and Owen Hart, and his grandfather, promoter Stu
Hart, wrestling legends all, Harry is putting on a show for the camera-man
and he wants the pictures to be perfect.
Having wrestled professionally since he was 14-years-old (not counting the
many exhibition matches he took part in from the age of eight), Harry is
about to take the next step in his career. He's making the leap to Vince
McMahon's WWE - the multiple-media empire that rules the world of
professional wrestling - and it's important to him that he makes the
transition looking like a star.
Throughout his teens Harry has been a mainstay of the Hart family's Stampede
Wrestling promotion. Run by Stu Hart, Calgary-based Stampede Wrestling was a
Western Canadian institution from the 1940s to the late '80s, spawning some
of the biggest names in the business, and gaining notoriety around the
world. In 1990 the promotion closed its doors, unable to compete with the
big-budget flash of the WWE (then called the WWF). Stampede's top talents,
including Bret "The Hitman" Hart and Davey Boy Smith, went on to be massive
stars in the WWF.
In 1999 the Hart family resurrected Stampede Wrestling and Harry was on board
almost from the start. But it's been a tough slog. Long gone are the pre-WWF
days when Stampede Wrestling had television exposure and drew in thousands
of fans in arenas across Western Canada each week. Now, the promotion
generally runs once every second week in legion halls and a crowd of 250
fans is considered a big success.
Harry's about to say goodbye to all of that. He's wrestling his last Stampede
Wrestling match on May 12, in Cochrane's Spray Lakes Arena, and on June 5th
the son of the British Bulldog is set to make his debut on the WWE's Monday
Night Raw program, seen in over 100 countries.
Harry's a polite kid and there's not a trace of arrogance in his demeanour,
but rather unwavering determination when he states that he always knew the
day was coming when he'd make the big time. "I could have signed the day
after high school," he says. "(The WWE) told me, 'You've got a job here.'
But I didn't want to sign then. I had an opportunity to wrestle in Japan,
like my father did 20 odd years ago, and that was a dream of mine. I said,
'If I go to Japan and come back to you guys in a few years, will I be
burning a bridge?' They said no. . . . So I've been to Japan and I've been
to Europe and I've become a better, more seasoned wrestler. I feel like I've
built my stock."
Indeed, it's no small feat that a grappler as young as Harry is being drafted
straight into the WWE's flagship Raw program, bypassing the promotion's
official farm team, Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) in Kentucky, where most of
McMahon's young stars must prove their worth. "I'm jumping that," he says.
"I'm not going to OVW, starting as the bottom card guy and making a whole
lot less (money). . . . I'm signed to a pretty good deal."
Harry only has a vague idea of what the WWE's plans are for him, but he's
been told they're gearing him up for a big role. The deal was hashed out
last month, when Harry accompanied his uncle, Bret Hart, to Chicago, where
"The Hitman" was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame prior to WrestleMania
22. There, a talent scout for the WWE told Harry that the time to join the
promotion was now. "He said 'We have a very good opportunity for you on the
Raw roster," Harry recalls. "'A lot of the heavyweights are injured right
now. . . . and we need a big guy like you, a new face. The time is here.
We'll bring you in in a year from now, but we're not sure if this same
position will be available.'" Suitably enticed, Harry signed on.
In doing so, he thinks he may have opened the door for others on the Stampede
Wrestling roster, like his cousin Nattie Neidhart, daughter of Jim "The
Anvil" Neidhart, and his best friend T.J. Wilson, who have been in talks
with the WWE.
But the wrestling business hasn't always been kind to the Hart clan. Harry's
uncle Owen died in a WWE ring in 1999 when a dangerous stunt went awry. For
a time, the Hart family was caught up in a vicious lawsuit with the WWE over
the incident. (Eventually, the case was settled with the Harts receiving $18
million from the organization).
Even more painful for Harry was watching his dad slowly self-destruct,
falling victim to a string of serious injuries and the steroids and
pain-killers diet that had felled so many wrestlers. He watched his parents'
marriage crumble, as his mother, Diana Hart left his father. For a moment,
it looked like Davey Boy had turned his life around. He was trying to kick
his drug habit and make a comeback, even teaming up with Harry in the ring
on a couple of occasions. But in May 2002, 39-year-old Davey Boy died of a
heart attack, linked to years of steroid abuse.
Harry prides himself on his clean lifestyle. He has never touched steroids,
he says, and he's determined he never will.
But can it be avoided in the big
time, where wrestlers often turn to steroids to look the part? Where they
fall back on pain killers in order to perform at their peak, even when
"I'm not worried," Harry says. "The WWE is doing very strict drug testing
right now. They're even testing for pills. If they find some sort of pill or
muscle relaxant in your system, you have to have a doctor's prescription for
it, otherwise you're going to fail the test. . . . All Vince McMahon wants
is for his wrestlers to look like athletes and I'm already pretty much
there. I don't think I have much to worry about as far as that goes." Harry
concedes: "It's a very hard, very fast lifestyle. But I'm pretty sure I can
avoid (the pitfalls)."
Because his father was unable to avoid those pitfalls, and didn't live to see
his son make it to the WWE, Harry admits his dream-come-true is bittersweet.
His father lived and breathed wrestling, and the British Bulldog would have
been proud of his son. "It's a shame he's not around to see this," Harry
says. "I would have liked for him to see me get signed, to see me make it to
the big time. But when I get to the WWE I'm very confident in my wrestling
ability. I won't bring down Davey Boy Smith's name, or the Hart family name.
"I want go there and be Canada's greatest star."
by Heath McCoy
Calgary Herald ..
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