Name: Bret Hart
Year Inducted: 2008
Induction Category: Modern Era
Bret "Hitman" Hart
Bret was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada on July 2, 1957 as the eighth child and sixth son of Stu and Helen Hart in one of the world's most famous wrestling families. Bret loved sports; excelling in baseball, football, and amateur wrestling. Throughout junior high and high school, he won various city and provincial championships. After winning the provincials while enrolled at Mount Royal College, Bret earned high praise as an amateur; a distinction he would share with his older brother Keith and younger brother Owen. As a child, Bret grew up watching his father's weekly Stampede Wrestling show and was inspired by such stars as Dory Funk, Jr., Terry Funk, Billy Robinson, Archie "The Stomper" Gouldie, Abdullah the Butcher, Harley Race, and Leo Burk. When he grew into a teen, he would learn the art of submission wrestling in many gruelling sessions with his father in the famous Dungeon in the Hart House.
While studying Art in college because of his drawing and cartoon skills, Bret made the decision to try professional wrestling and follow the footsteps of his older brothers. Even though his father was disappointed he didn't further extend his amateur career and try out for the Olympics, Bret was spotted by tough Japanese stars Mr. Hito and Mr. Sakurada as a potential professional star. He trained with them for several months while refereeing in smaller shows before debuting in Saskatoon in 1978. He was considered a natural and continued working on the undercards before touring Puerto Rico for Carlos Colon's Capital promotion with his older brother Smith. He returned to Stampede to make his television debut that summer where he instantly became a local crowd favorite. He soon captured two titles; the British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight title and International tag team title with brother Keith. He had a great rivalry against Dynamite Kid with several of their matches going to one hour draws. He also went on to tour Japan where he challenged Tatsumi Fujinami and Tiger Mask for the WWF World Junior Heavyweight Championship as well as Germany, Britain, New Zealand, and various areas of the States.
Bret filled out in size and graduated to the heavyweight division. He captured the North American heavyweight title from one of his idols, Leo Burk in 1980. He would hold this title several times having inspirational battles with the likes of "Dr. D." David Schultz, Bad News Allen, and Archie "The Stomper" Gouldie, and he challenged Harley Race, and Nick Bockwinkel for their respective world titles. Bret had become an accomplished worker who had proven he could wrestle in any major territory and was quickly recruited by Vince McMahon of the WWE as he bought the rights to his father's Stampede promotion in 1984. He was also a devoted husband to his wife Julie and father to their four children; Jade, Dallas, Sabina, and Blade.
Finding it difficult to make headway among the larger behemoth stars who dominated the WWE at that time, Bret was paired with brother-in-law Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart as a tag team against the British Bulldogs. Their matches were considered the best ever in the history of the WWE tag team division and established Bret as a great in-ring leader who could call and lead a match. The Hart Foundation went on to capture the coveted WWE World tag title twice; in 1987 and 1990.
Bret would branch out as an individual star as he won the Intercontinental Heavyweight title from "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig at Summer Slam in 1991. He would drop it to brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith in a memorable Wembley Stadium encounter at Summer Slam the following year. But he quickly rebounded and captured a bigger prize when he won the WWE World Heavyweight title for the first time ever from Nature Boy Ric Flair in his father's hometown of Saskatoon in Canada a few months later. It was stars such as Bret and Shawn Michaels who led a new era of smaller but better technical performers in the WWE. He would continue to dominate the WWE holding the world title on four occasions. After dropping the title in a controversial Marathon Match to Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania in 1996, Bret took a brief hiatus from wrestling and enjoyed a brief lead role in a tv series "The Lonesome Dove". He then became the subject of a bidding war between the WWE and WCW but chose to remain in the WWE. He would have several more famous rivalries including a unique brother vs brother series against Owen Hart in 1995 and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Their bloody Wrestlemania encounter in 1997 marked another turning point for Bret as he became a heel once more and reformed the successful Hart Foundation. This time with Owen, Davey Boy Smith, Jim Neidhart, and later Brian Pillman. Bret would capture the WWE World title one last time from The Undertaker at Summer Slam in 1997 before dropping it in the infamous screw job to rival Shawn Michaels at the Survivor Series in Montreal later that year. This incident was well documented in Bret's "Wrestling with the Shadows" documentary released shortly after which gained several entertainment awards.
After his bitter departure from the WWE, Bret finally signed with Eric Bischoff and debuted for the WCW in 1998 and re-established himself as a major star. 1999 proved to be a tragic year for Bret and his family as his brother Owen fell seven storeys to his death at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City on May 23, 1999 at a WWE pay-per-view. Bret's life would dramatically change as his family and Owen's widow Martha would launch a class action lawsuit against the WWE over Owen's death. In a match he dedicated to Owen, Bret captured the WCW World Heavyweight title later that year from fellow Albertan, Chris Benoit. He later suffered a serious concussion after a kick to the head from Bill Goldberg which forced him into retirement in early 2000 and he would never return to the ring. He would face the biggest challenge of his life, however, when he suffered a major stroke in 2002 after falling from a bike. He underwent a year of physiotherapy at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary to overcome paralysis on the right side of his body and attributed his miraculous recovery to his sheer determination, strength and conditioning.
WWE released a dvd compilation of Bret's incredible career two years ago which highlights some of his most memorable matches and his personal commentary on each. He also released a long awaited autobiography entitled "Bret Hart - My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling" in 2007 which has become a critically acclaimed best seller in Canada and will soon be available in the U.S. and other countries. Bret Hart is truly a Canadian sports icon and one of the most famous and recognized athletes in the world.
- Ross Hart