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WRESTLING COLUMNS

What if Bret Hart Never Left WWE"
August 8, 2005 by Justin Henry


As I was born in the early 1980's, I never got a chance to watch a television series like Dallas. A precursor to the modern Desperate Housewives, Dallas was a famous prime time serial which focused on the money grubbing, conniving events of the Ewing family, headed up by the ruthless J.R. Ewing (whose cowboy hat and simple first initials played a part in the character development of wrestling's good ol' J.R., Jim Ross). The show hit its pinnacle with a cliffhanger episode known as "Who Shot J.R."", a mystery that much of America wanted to see. In all, 41 out of 78 million American households tuned in to find out the truth, giving the show a 53.3 in the ratings. The record would hold up until M*A*S*H* broke it in 1983 with a 60.2 for their series finale.

I bring up Dallas because I want to mention the case of Bobby Ewing, portrayed by TV veteran Patrick Duffy. After deciding to leave the show in the spring of 1985, the writers decided to end his tenure by having him be run over by a car on camera during the season finale. Certainly a memorable way to go, yes" Well, it would be if that was how it ended. A year later, in the 1986 season finale, the episode ended with Duffy, in present day reality, emerging from the shower as if nothing had happened. The reasoning" The writers decided to write-off the entire season (including Bobby's death) as a bad dream of Victoria Principal's character, Bobby's wife Pamela. It was a creative way to bring Duffy back onto the show, without question. I mean, Hell, imagine if WWE could write off the last three years of Stone Cold Steve Austin's life and he could just resume his in-ring career, without the hassle of neck injuries and spousal problems"

One of these days, I hope to wake up one day with a forehead covered in sweat and really bad shakes. I want to be trembling from some terrible, hideous nightmare. I'm hoping that I'll be breathless, gasping for air. At which point, I want to leap out of my bed and run down the hall, just to make sure I'm in the safe haven that my home provides. I want to run up to my brother and scream "What year is it"!". Hopefully he'll respond "2005". Then I will ask "Who is our president"". In which case, he'll say "George W. Bush, of course!" Then, I'll ask the dreaded third question. I would ask "What is Bret Hart doing these days"" I want to hear something like "He's still WWE Champion at age 48" or "He's the general manager of RAW" or something of that nature.

But we know that's not going to happen, don't we"

I accepted in 1997 that Bret Hart would no longer be working for my cherished Stamford based wrestling promotion. I watched in disbelief as he lost the WWE Title in dubious circumstances in Montreal the night of Survivor Series 1997. I accepted in 1999 that Bret might possibly leave the business forever after the tragic death of his brother, Owen. I lowered my head in 2000 when Bret Hart officially called it quits after a head injury inflicted upon him by Bill Goldberg. I cringed in 2002 when I discovered that The Hitman was laid up in the hospital after feeling the effects of a devastating stroke which occurred in a bicycling accident. I wish I could write all of this off as some ghoulish nightmare, that one my childhood heroes who worked so hard to achieve the Hollywood ending that he deserves hasn't had the last eight years of his life plagued by tragedy and misfortune.

I wish someone by now had invented a time machine, so that one of us could go back to 1997, that fateful autumn day when Bret Hart accepted the release of his WWE contract and faxed back his WCW contract, signed and self-approved. I would do SOMETHING, knowing how it all turned out. I would have smashed his fax machine with a baseball bat. I would have tried to reason with Hart. Hell, I may have just told him that I'm from the year 2005, and that grave things are going to happen if he sends back that WCW contract. I mean, he HAS to believe a man who appears out of thin air, right" I'm sure I could convince him while he's still trapped in shock.

While we're all certain that Hart's life would have been different in the incumbent eight years, I wonder how wrestling as a whole would be different" Much like the Halloween episode of The Simpsons where Homer discovers that his toaster is a time machine (don't ask) and Homer recalls his Father's bizarre advice about time travel ("If you go back in time, don't do nothing! The slightest change could alter the future in ways you can't imagine!") and proceeds to kill several animals. The future changes, of course, in radically hilarious ways. But with a slight change to Bret Hart's past, if he chose to keep Vince McMahon at his word and outright told him to honor the remainder of his contract, what would have happened"

First off, I think the roster in the time from the fall of 1997 to the fall of 1998 would look VERY different. With Bret Hart's contract (a 20 year deal he signed in 1996 for multi-millions, one that would have taken him to a front office position after his active wrestling days), McMahon would have probably had to make some talent cuts. While bigger names like Steve Austin, The Rock, and The Undertaker would have been unscathed, some of the names of the future may have been axed before they could blossom. What if The Hardy Boys had been cut in 1998, pre-body paint and pre-vengeful ex-lover". How about Bradshaw, who was rumored to have been near the chopping block before the Acolyte days saved him" JBL would never have existed, let alone sat inside a white limo. The Big Show never would have come over from WCW for such a large contract, given what The Hitman was making. In fact, with a smaller salary, McMahon may have found it more feasible to release him in the last few years after proving to be a bust. Also, the talent in-box would have been less full with Hart's contract providing less breathing room. Christian may never have made it to the dance, ditto William Regal, and maybe, just maybe, with a tighter budget McMahon may have found it easy to say "We're only hiring on a smaller basis, please come back when we have more to spend, Mr. Angle". It sounds far fetched, but with a different money situation, anything is possible.

Another question would be the level of lewd and violent content seen on WWE programming. Toward the end of Hart's run in Stamford, the influx of Vince Russo ideas and ECW's influence packed a tremendous wallop on the WWE product. In 1997, the WWE's former cute and cuddly family programming image was all but in the casket. Hart was very adamant about not wanting to work for a smut peddler, even though that peddler in its old form had given him more successes than he could have ever dreamed. If Hart was still there in 1998, given how close he was to McMahon and how much influence he had as a veteran and a "respected elder", would McMahon have scaled back the extreme in any way" Would there have been a point where someone like Vince Russo would pitch a wild idea and McMahon would cringe, knowing that Hart would be disgusted by such a notion. When Hart and Russo both worked for WCW, the WCW product was edgier than it was, but not edgy to the point where the Parents Television Council would have a fit. With Ted Turner's rigorous standards, WCW never could be the bawdiest product on TV, which would make Hart happy. Hart has had countless matches where he's bled and used weapons, and has on many occasions used coarse language, so it's my opinion that it's just the sexuality that was bothering him. With McMahon's imperialistic attitude and his desire to draw more money, even through smut, WWE kept on pushing the bar, and it showed all through the "Attitude" era. But just how far would Vince have gone knowing that Bret Hart was looking over his shoulder for the next 19 years" Would Vince have tried to make Bret happy for his loyalty alone" Or would Vince keep on making the money, while shooting Hart a "It's just business" glare"

And what about Triple H" It seems like that with a 20 year deal and a million different incentives, that Bret Hart would be Vince McMahon's greatest ally. If Triple H had gone ahead and married Stephanie McMahon, would he have gained the inner circle power he currently has" Being married to Stephanie gets you pull, but would that pull have been enough to nullify what Hart had and was gaining" Given the real-life turmoil between Hart and the notorious Clique, is it possible that Hunter would never have even been in a position to gain ground given Hart's standing in the company" It just might be possible that Bret could have buried Hunter out of spite. Consider loss after loss to midcarders of the time like Headbanger Mosh, Brian Christopher, Savio Vega, and so forth. If Hunter was put through that by the Hitman, he wouldn't have the momentum to make a play for Stephanie, I wouldn't think. When Shawn Michaels retired in 1998, he was out of the picture. And let's say with Bret's contract, the WWE couldn't hire Sean Waltman when WCW dropped him. Without the Outsiders around either, Hunter would suddenly be without friends. Imagine just how life would be different if Hart had gone to McMahon and said "Hey boss, money's tight and Levesque's not doing much for us. And since you're looking to cut costs...."

Hunter aside, what if Bret began to abuse the power" Suppose one day, he and The Rock got into an argument backstage and Rock made the mistake of really pissing Hart off" Maybe Hart would have buried Rock, much in the same manner that Hunter had Jericho executed Capone-style. Maybe The Rock never would have been a main event player, spouting catch phrases and dropping elbows on opponents across the nation. And by proxy, The Rock never would have become a Hollywood star that could serve as an ambassador to what's good in the wrestling world. Little things like this could happen if another direction in history was taken. Bret Hart could very well have been Triple H instead of Triple H. Hart may have been declared wrestling's Satan, much in the same sense that Hunter is today. For all we know, Hart may have used his power to ruin lives and make the WWE into the miserable place it sometimes is today. I'd like to think not, but it's entirely possible.

Here's a really touchy one that I hope doesn't garner me a lot of hatred for even suggesting this. I wonder, had Hart stayed, if Owen Hart would still be alive. While I hate to editorialize when I'm pointing things out, I'd have to think yes. With Bret in power, wrestling or not, Owen would have been taken care of. It's possible that Bret may have even jobbed the title to his brother as a reward for all of his hard work. But I believe very strongly that Owen Hart never would have fallen to the midcard, which then would have put him in position to re-don the blue mask and outfit, which would then have made somebody suggest "Let's have Owen made his entrance from the ceiling so it will look spectacular", which then leads to the fateful night in Kansas City which I believe is the untoppable worst moment in wrestling history, no matter how many times the names Katie Vick and David Arquette get thrown around. Bret's leaving isn't to blame for Owen's death, I mean, how could Hart have known" No one told him that his leaving would kick off a series of misfortunes and coincidences that, in some small, sick way, led to the demise of his baby brother. At the very least, I think Bret would have completely objected to Owen making an entrance from the ceiling. What happened, happened. No one can really be blamed for it, but yet I still wonder what Owen would be doing were he among us today.

Finally, I ask, what would Bret Hart be doing right now in the year 2005" The Bret Hart DVD seems about right, given that a legend of his stature deserves to be immortalized among those who have their own DVD sets like Hogan, Flair, Michaels, Foley, and the like. At the age of 48, would Hart still be wrestling" He never had a major injury until Goldberg's errant kick, and that was after he left WWE. I mean, if Hogan and Flair can still go to a certain extent, perhaps Bret would like to prove that he still could. Would he have an on-screen role" Absolutely. Whether wrestling, serving as a general manager for some brand, acting as an announcer, whatever, Hart would have at the very least made sporadic appearances, given he'd still work for McMahon and the demand of the fans would be there. Given all that Bret Hart has done and has earned, perhaps he would be like Hogan, met with chants of "ONE MORE MATCH!" at appearances. Maybe he would be like Flair, wrestling the modern stars of the business just to prove he could still keep up. We've seen numerous dream matches over the last several years, like the ones between Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels and Randy Orton vs. Mick Foley. Bret Hart vs. John Cena" Bret Hart vs. Rey Mysterio" Bret Hart vs. Chris Jericho" Or the one the true fans would give an arm or a leg for, Bret Hart vs. Kurt Angle" I'd kill for a day where this match could take place, though I fear the only arena it could happen in is my mind. Regardless, Hart I believe would have played his cards right and would most certainly have had the Hollywood ending he had hoped for.

Some days I wake up and hope the world will be a different place. I'd love to wake up and see Michael Jordan still playing for the Bulls. To rise from my bed and find out that Seinfeld never ended. To catch the news during breakfast and discover Kurt Cobain's been in hiding for 11 years and has a new triple CD set coming out. To spend my days wishing for them to happen would be foolish. These ideas are found on the Christmas wish list of somebody who will surely be waiting in vain. Many wrestling fans have had wishes about Bret "The Hitman" Hart that they thought were just pipe dreams. To see Vince McMahon and Bret Hart smiling side by side, to see Bret Hart once again a part of the WWE family, to see Bret Hart's legacy immortalized by the company he had his greatest successes in....it's impossible. It could NEVER happen.

On August 5, 2005, a photo of Bret Hart shaking hands with Vince McMahon appeared on WWE.com. Bobby Ewing didn't just walk out of the shower, he did so with pink sunglasses and pyro. It just sucks that the last eight years weren't a dream.

by Justin Henry ..


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