There are only a handful of men in the world who can lay claim to be a defining talent in the history of professional wrestling.
Men like Buddy Rogers, Gorgeous George, Bruno Sammartino, Ric Flair, and Hulk Hogan. Men who have truly carved their name into the most prestigious monument of this unique form of entertainment. The few who stand above the many.
Bret Hart, the eighth child of wrestling legend Stu Hart, earned his place among these names through unparalleled devotion to his craft and a learned ability to pull the people in no matter what the situation in the ring was.
Bret Hart's accolades in the professional wrestling business are too great too number or list, but sufficient to say he lived up to his nickname "The Best There Is, The Best There Was, and The Best There Ever Will Be."
For almost 15 years Bret Hart worked tirelessly in the WWE to prove that he was one of the greatest of all time.
Few performers worked as hard as Hart or took as much pride in their work. Wrestling over 200 dates a year for over a decade and a half has given Bret a huge catalog of matches to decide from. For that reason I have limited the field down to his time spent in the WWE and his short tenure in WCW.
In this edition of the Pro Wrestling Countdown we will be looking at ten of the greatest matches in an attempt to convey the message that Hart truly was one of the best of all time. Whether these matches prove that will be up to you, the reader.
10. Bret Hart vs. Diesel (Survivor Series 1995)
This is probably the best match I have ever seen Kevin Nash, also known as Diesel, have a part in. That was one of Bret Hart's greatest attributes. Making a match that doesn't look so good on paper truly shine in the ring.
That is largely why I placed this match here. He was often forced to work with some less than stellar opponents. In an interview once a wrestling commentator said:
"...if you look at the WWE in the first half of the 1990's every match worth watching had either Bret Hart or Shawn Michaels on one side of the ring."
As sad as it is to admit this man was not far off from the truth. Save a few exceptions Hart and Michaels were challenged with doing the best with the fellow talent available to the WWE's ever shrinking budget.
Diesel was walking into Survivor Series as the 3rd longest reigning WWE Champion of the proclaimed "Modern Era" of the title. Even with his title reign now being over 300 days long he still had to defeat one of the
greatest technicians in the company under no disqualification rules which would prove no easy task.
The stipulation certainly helped Diesel in this match and disguised his limitations in the ring and only made Hart that more exciting.
The only knock I can give this match is that it is a tad slow but many Hart and Diesel match can be criticized of being slow. This only slightly deserves that criticism.
The match came to an end after the WWE Champion kicked Hart off the apron through the Spanish announcer's table and then threw the challenger back into the ring to finish him off. He went for the Jackknife Powerbomb, but "The Hitman" got the roll up to become the WWE Champion.
This would set up the main event for WrestleMania XII and the 60-minute clinic from Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. WrestleMania XII would also be one of the last times wrestling fans saw Diesel before his defection to WCW as he became the fifth man to fall to The Undertaker's undefeated streak.
I really included this match as an example of all of Hart's matches with "big men." He often had competitors with limited ability and this really shows have good Hart was at putting on a good show no matter who stood across the ring.
9. Bret Hart vs. Chris Benoit (WCW Nitro, October 1999)
Okay, honesty time. I only even allowed WCW matches to be eligible for this edition of the Pro Wrestling Countdown so I could include this absolute gem.
I never cared for WCW Nitro too much. I thought it was a mess of a show week in and week out. However, this match was a diamond in the rough and truly my favorite WCW Nitro match ever contested.
"The Hitman's" time in the troubled promotion was and still is very unmemorable with noteworthy matches coming few and far between. While seeing Hart wrestle guys like Sting, DDP, and Goldberg was cool at first it just didn't feel like he belonged.
"If you want to sum up my greatest moments in WCW, well they're not that many...Kansas City was an important as any night in my life let alone wrestling." -Bret Hart
This match was meant as a tribute to Bret's younger brother, Owen Hart, who tragically perished in an unfortunate accident while performing at a WWE event earlier that year in the same arena Nitro was stationed at on this night.
Hart and Benoit had a great mat-based contest that really showcased what made both of these men so unique as wrestlers. Few men have wrestled better mat-based matches than these two and seeing them dance together was always special. It was just about the only thing that validated his stint outside of the WWE for me as a fan.
Bret Hart got the victory over Chris Benoit with the Sharpshooter and the two then embraced in the ring as two brothers would. Bret Hart then saluted the Heavens, and his brother, before leaving the ring.
After this match Hart would go on to have two very short reigns as WCW World Heavyweight Champion and have a match with Bill Goldberg at Starcade 1999 in which he suffered a concussion that served as the catalyst for his early retirement.
I would objectively consider that this tribute match was the last great match of Bret Hart's career. Only months after this Hart was forced to retire due to his concussion and other nagging injuries.
"I really believe that Owen was right there above the ring watching. In a lot of ways, it was a match for only one person. There was only one person in the audience." -Bret Hart
I always take solace in knowing that Hart's last, arguably, great match was for his brother.
8. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels (Survivor Series 1992)
Five years before the match that would loom over their careers like an endless plague Bret "Hitman" Hart, the new WWE Champion, and "Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels, the new Intercontinental Champion, faced off in the main events of the 1992 Survivor Series.
This match, however, featured far less controversy and much more of what made Michaels and Hart the best of their era. When I talk about this match I often compare it to the rough draft of a great noel. In it, exists blemishes, but the framework for a great story can be seen.
The aspect of this match that I think very well nearly dropped it out of the top ten was how often the two men resorted to rest holds. The used the stalling to help build anticipation, but I feel like they allowed too much down time. This fact certainly hurt it's standings. In saying this, the match that we are left with is still absolutely worth watching.
Some modern fans might find it a bit dated, but otherwise this was a great match for the WWE Championship. Shawn gave everything he had, but was not quite ready to usurp "The Hitman" who had just begun his journey as the face of a Hogan-less WWE.
After the match Santa Claus came to the ring and celebrated with Bret Hart. Yes, I'm serious. The 90's were weird, man.
Hart and Michaels were both coming into their own as superstars during this time while Vince McMahon was faced with sex scandals and steroid allegations from government officials.
These two men marched on as the leaders of the troubled Next Generation Era and would figuratively speaking be fighting in the trenches as the company came close to closing down completely.
7. Bret Hart vs. The 1-2-3- Kid (WWE Raw, July 1994)
When discussing the greatest matches of the largely uneventful early days of Monday Night Raw this match has to be in the discussion. The 1-2-3 Kid is notable for a couple of now iconic early moments in Raw history. The most memorable being the match in which he defeated Razor Ramon almost a year earlier. Had he not have won that upset victory over Ramon this match, with the WWE Champion, may well have never taken place.
This was also the only second ever WWE Championship match to be broadcast on the show.
Not bad for a kid who was just two days shy of his 22nd birthday.
The 1-2-3 Kid held his own with the much more seasoned Hart and even kept the champion grounded as he utilized the moves no doubt taught to him by Boris Malenko (father of Dean Malenko).
After about 10 minutes of action the Kid went for a crucifix pin, but Bret countered dropping him onto his back and seemingly getting the victory. However, the 1-2-3 Kid had his foot on the bottom rope and Bret Hart refused to have his hand raised as he noticed the Kid's foot when the referee did not.
I think this was a great way to put him over as a fighting champion and made the crowd love him even more. While the WWE's popularity may have been waning in the early 1990s it is hard to tell on this night as the fans in attendance chanted ''The Hitman's" name periodically throughout this bout.
After the action resumed the 1-2-3 Kid went all in and gave Hart all the high flying maneuvers he had in his arsenal. However, Hart capitalized on that and was able to take advantage once the Kid missed one of his high risk moves. The Kid, in his immaturity, made the mistake again and found himself in the Sharpshooter.
After his victory the WWE Champion applauded the Kid for his efforts and embraced him before raising his hand to the roaring crowd.
While everyone may point to his match with Razor as the match that made him a star I think it was Bret Hart who truly legitimized the future degenerate, X-Pac. Much in the way The Undertaker would someday do for a young Jeff Hardy. A match I've discussed in previous editions.
I love matches in which you can see veteran performers, like Bret Hart, acknowledge the talents of up-and-coming stars. This is one of the absolute best examples of that type of match.
6. Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect (King of the Ring 1993)
Bret Hart had many matches with "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig. The one that occurred at SummerSlam 1991 is probably their more recognized encounter, but one in which Hennig was not at 100%.
Curt Hennig was wrestling with a very injured back and can be seen sporting a similar posture that Shawn Michaels displays when wrestling his final match for five years at WrestleMania XIV due to a career threatening back injury.
While Hennig's injury was not nearly as severe, it was still a testament to his fortitude that he was able to work though that injury at SummerSlam. Even still I opted to pick their King of the Ring match.
The match does not have as much historical significance as the SummerSlam match, but it's one of the better encounters the two ever had.
Now a more seasoned main event talent, Bret Hart took on a healthier Mr. Perfect in the semi-finals in the 1993 King of the Ring tournament. A tournament Bret Hart would go on to win.
The match started out with both of the athletes quickly trading and countering submission moves. The commentators spend much of the match discussing how crisp and "perfect" the two men executed their maneuvers.
Savage, JR, and Heenan were right at any rate. Hennig and Hart both had excellent ring movement that was further highlighted by their impeccable timing. They both moved around the ring together as if their eyes were closed, having memorized every step of the contest.
Perfect controlled this match much more when compared to their 1991 match. Even though he played defense for much of this performance the "Excellence of Execution" bettered Mr. Perfect once again with a school boy.
A perturbed Mr. Perfect begrudgingly shook the hand of the man who once again bested him.
Hart advanced to the finals and defeated Bam Bam Bigelow, in a much more underwhelming contest, to become the first ever WWE King of the Ring.
This is the Bret Hart that comes to mind when I think back on him. Crisp offensive maneuvers and silky smooth wrestling sequences. Hennig was Hart's perfect opponent.
5. Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin (Survivor Series 1996)
For many years I never knew about this match as it took place before I became attached to the pro wrestling product. Several years ago I watched it when doing research for a write-up on the history of Survivor Series and I was not disappointed at the result.
Sometimes forgotten, this match of contrasting styles was the precursor to the much more famous WrestleMania 13 match between these two WWE Hall of Famers.
Austin began this match with two middle fingers right in the face of the former WWE Champion. In this time, Austin was still working as a villain and Hart as the hero.
The early going of this match surprisingly enough saw Austin try to play the mat based game with "The Hitman." It didn't work in his favor for long as Bret, even having just returned from an extended leave of absence, was as every bit the "Excellence of Execution" as he used to be.
Like any great adapter, Austin switched his offense over to his well known brawling style which really gave the match a nice back in forth dynamic. Austin punched and Hart would look for a way to lock in a hold.
About 20 minutes into this match "Stone Cold" really got the upper hand taking the action to the outside and just abusing Hart. Still the devious heel could not put him away to the delight of the fans who filled Madison Square Garden.
Even the Stone Cold Stunner could not keep the veteran down with three unsuccessful pin attempts to Austin's misfortune. As he ran out of offensive maneuvers "Stone Cold" locked in the Texas Clover Leaf in an attempt to get Bret Hart to submit, but to no avail.
Finally Austin made a mistake that gave the technician the opening he needed to get the victory. The Texas rebel locked in DiBiase's Million Dollar Dream hoping it would be enough to finish the technician, but the wiser Hart used his positioning in the corner of the ring to spring off the ropes and flip Austin, back first, on to the mat. The referee counted to three before "Stone Cold" could recover from his rough landing.
This was as physical as any match I can remember seeing Bret Hart in. It isn't at all akin to the pretty matches he is famous for with the likes of Mr. Perfect or Shawn Michaels. This makes it stand out among them and shows how versatile of a performer Hart could be in the face of a change in direction in the company he had helped maintain over the last five years.
Austin and Hart both showed off different styles of their wrestling ability here. We saw much more brawling from Hart and many submission moves out of Austin. It made for a very engaging experience to see the two outside of their typical wrestling styles.
4. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XII)
There have been instances where this match was touted as the greatest professional wrestling match to ever take place. I think, while not being the most ridiculous thing ever said, that this would be a gross overstatement.
What Michaels and Hart truly did in their greatest encounter was redefine what a match on the main stage of the WWE should be about. This was the first Era in the WWE that the small more athletic performers were moved from the middle of the card to the forefront of peoples consciousness. The main event. The "Hitman" and the "Heart Break Kid" set the blueprint for modern five star matches.
My personal opinion has always been that Iron Man matches are ridiculously hard to pull off. This is due to the entire pacing of the match being determined by the fact that the fans know exactly when the contest is ending.
This takes away a layer of spontaneity from the performance on top of the fact that the athletes have to perform for a long amount of time.
The matches usually have a very "on-and-off" momentum which can disengage even the most determined viewer. The middle of the matches especially tend to lag and even this classic match suffers from this pattern.
Even in saying that, there probably is no greater example of how and Iron Man match should play out than this one. The WWE's two greatest attractions at the time pitted against one another in a match no one in the WWE had ever competed in before. It was the perfect scenario for the main event of WrestleMania made all the better by the classic overtime finish after no winner could be declared when the sixty minute time limit expired.
The sudden death overtime definitely helped add some unpredictability to the end of the match in which Shawn Michaels finally captured the WWE Championship.
While fans everywhere love and adore this match the man who walked in WWE Champion admits that to him it was more of an athletic display of endurance than a good scientific wrestling match.
In that regard I would have to agree, but still this contest is one of the mos iconic WWE Championship matches ever.
3. Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart (SummerSlam 1994)
I would point to this performance if I wanted to give someone an example of how great a Steel Cage match can be if the right two competitors are in the ring.
It also has to be the most well done brother vs. brother feud I've seen. It is just such a great story. One brother not wanting to live in the other's shadow. It is often botched though, but the story here worked so well. Owen made me believe he truly hated his brother.
What I loved so much about this match is that Bret and Owen brought logic to a match that often is absent logic. They spend so much time trying to escape the cage viva the door and then over the cage walls even when
there was little hope that they will not get caught by the other man. I think it plays up the desperation that this stipulation match should have; especially from Owen Hart.
At WrestleMania X Owen finally defeated his older brother and by doing so he thought he had moved out of his shadow for good. However, later that night the older Bret won the WWE Championship and once again reaffirmed that he was the better brother.
A few months later Owen Hart won the King of the Ring tournament replicating the feat his brother had accomplished a year earlier.
At SummerSlam the sibling rivalry reached it's apex when the two collided for Bret's championship. With the entire Hart family ringside, the two brought their expert knowledge of match pacing and ring psychology to the steel cage. They delivered a smart, logical, and captivating bout which for these reasons I had to rank it over their WrestleMania match.
I think part of me wanted to bring this match on the Countdown because they managed to make me interested in a Steel Cage match. This has always been a gimmick match that I have found somewhat underwhelming. This is the highest a traditional Steel Cage match has ever made it on the Pro Wrestling Countdown.
It will probably stay that way.
2. Bret Hart vs. The British Bulldog (SummerSlam 1992)
If Shawn Michaels is "Mr. WrestleMania" then I think Bret Hart is deserving of the title "Mr. SummerSlam." Matches with Mr. Perfect, Undertaker, Owen Hart, and this match all number among SummerSlam's greatest matches.
This match, however, is without a doubt SummerSlam's grandest match. A match so good and a moment so historic that is almost feels like a "WrestleMania moment" that has lost its way.
History has told us that Bulldog went into the match infamously "out of his head" due to being hooked on multiple substances.
Davey Boy Smith had been suspended earlier in the year and had also been rehabbing an injury. Knowing Smith's history with drug use he very well could have been off his face going into this match, but we only have second hand reports from Hart to go no at this point.
Somehow this match still managed to become one of the biggest moments in WWE history even with claims that Bulldog was compromised before the show.
I largely contribute this matches success to Hart's ability to guide his brother-in-law after Smith had allegedly forgotten all of the matches sequences. Bulldog without a doubt carried his weight much more than Hart would have us believe, but it should be said that the "Hitman" definitely gave the British Bulldog the greatest moment of his career.
Hart can be seen using arm-bars and headlocks to communicate the next spot to Davey Boy. To me, it could just be that Hart was leading the match like any veteran would, but it could have also been Hart trying to piece together a match that Davey had forgotten. None of us can know.
Moving past Bulldog's condition this match was an excellent display and the 80,000 British fans were absolutely squarely in the hands of these two performers.
This was the first major WWE event without Hogan many other big names that had defected to WCW since WrestleMania VIII. This was the transition period and the end of the "Golden Era." Within months of this Randy Savage and Ric Flair would also leave for WCW and leave WWE without any major names. Hart would become their new torch bearer.
After being unable to make the British Bulldog submit to the Sharpshooter Hart goes for a Sunset Flip, but Bulldog catches him and gets the pin. After the match Hart teases leaving the ring before congratulating his brother, but opts to celebrate with his sister and her husband, the new WWE Intercontinental Champion.
The Intercontinental Championship has never been as important as it was that night. This was it's peak.
Tragically, Bulldog's career would never eclipse this moment as many of the troubles in life would hinder his career. Steroid and human-growth hormone addiction caught up to his heart and the former WWE superstar passed away in 2002.
1. Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin (WrestleMania 13)
The most famous double turn of all time. How could any other Bret Hart match eclipse this one?
Few professional wrestlers have a better in-ring dynamic than Bret "Hitman" Hart and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin had together in my opinion. Their characters and styles complimented one another so well.
I won't recap this match for you here, but I will say that more than almost any other match I would consider this a must watch.
Hart and Austin both walked into the Chicago arena teetering on the edge of both heel and babyface. Both had displayed traits of both good and bad characters. Seeing the slow turn take it's final spin was a moment in time.
Bret Hart locked in the Sharpshooter on an exhausted "Stone Cold." Austin, however, would not give in, and passed out instead of tapping to the man he had tried to defy for months on end. The sight of Austin screaming
in agony as blood spewed everywhere might be one of the most iconic WrestleMania moments ever.
Special referee Ken Shamrock had no other choice but to call for the bell. "The Hitman" then continued to attack Austin which promoted the Mania crowd to drown Hart with boos.
Steve pulled himself up by the ropes and refused to have anyone help him to the back. The guts, determination, and refusal to give up gave the fans a reason to support "Austin 3:16" and this effectively resulted in possibly the most successful and important face turn in WWE history.
I don't think any performer has gained as much out of a lose as Austin gained from losing to Hart the way he did at WrestleMania 13. It might have been the perfect ending to what I would consider one of the greatest wrestling matches ever.
The next year at WrestleMania XIV Bret Hart would be gone from the WWE after the infamous Montreal Screw Job at Survivor Series later that year and Steve Austin would win his first WWE Championship and give a broken Shawn Michaels his final match for nearly five years.
"Stone Cold" would spend those next five years leading the WWE into a Renaissance of creativity and profitability. All of that may well not had happened had it not been for the perfectly executed babyface turn at WrestleMania 13 courtesy of "The Hitman."
This was Bret Hart and Steve Austin's Ninth Symphony and Hart's last dance on the legendary stage of WrestleMania during his prime.