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Hitman has his day
By TJ MADIGAN - Calgary Sun




Paying tribute to the great ones. It's a time-honoured tradition in sports, media and just about any other entertainment medium you can think of.

But for Calgary's own Bret (The Hitman) Hart, arguably one of the greatest wrestlers to ever step foot in the ring, the tributes he deserved never came.

After a series of professional setbacks and personal tragedies -- including the infamous Montreal screw job in 1997 and the death of his brother Owen Hart in a WWF ring in 1999 -- Hart's bitter real-life feud with WWE left his legacy in limbo.

"I felt my career had been locked up in a vault somewhere," Hart told the Calgary Sun in an exclusive one-on-one this week.

"It always bothered me that 25 years from now, most people would remember me more for the WWF's interpretation of my career than for what I really did. People would always hear those negative slants on me, how I was tough to get along with and all that crap."

After suffering a devastating stroke in 2004, Hart decided to call a ceasefire with WWE boss Vince McMahon.

"I carried around a lot of hard feelings until I had my stroke. Then, I just couldn't worry about that stuff anymore. All I could worry about was getting myself out of a wheelchair.

"Vince called me in my hospital bed and I told him I don't want to be forgotten for everything I did. He said he'd make sure I'd be remembered."

This Saturday in Chicago, McMahon will make good on his word.

Hart will finally be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame and honoured as an all-time wrestling legend. The induction ceremony can be seen April 3 on TSN, before Raw.

"I think a lot of it is a sign of good faith," Hart said. "I don't think either of us has ever really forgiven, but Vince and I have made peace to a certain extent."

While most fans support the decision, Hart hears the haters who begrudge him for accepting McMahon's invitation.

"No one is more tuned into that opinion than I am," Hart said.

"I know there are people that feel I sold out, but I don't see it that way. I feel I have a right to be remembered."

Besides, Hart may be accepting the honour on WWE soil, but no one can accuse him of doing it on anyone else's terms.

For starters, he doesn't want to appear at Wrestlemania the day after the inductions.

"I'm not trying to be difficult," Hart explained.

"I just wouldn't want anyone to think I have finally got in bed with them enough that I can accept what they did to me. At this point, I'm set to fly out of Chicago early in the morning, before Wrestlemania."

Hart is perfectly aware WWE has every intention of changing his mind on that decision, though.

"Oh, they're certainly going to try to sell me on Wrestlemania between now and then," he said with a laugh.

"They're going to sit me down and talk to me about all kinds of stuff. But I'm not planning on doing anything more than walk out in front of people at the Hall of Fame. That's my only promise."

Hart is also declining a paycheque for the appearance, and refusing to put his name on the dotted line.

"They've sent me a contract and I don't have any intention of signing it. I know what contracts mean to them. I had a contract and they screwed me over on it. Now they come back to me with a contract 10 years later and ask me to sign it?

"For what?"

Hart's final request pertains to the man who cheated him out of the WWF title all those years ago in Montreal, Shawn Michaels.

The Hall of Fame would be the first time the two have come face to face since that match -- but not if the Hitman has anything to do with it.

"I've basically told them that if I see Shawn, I'll get back in a cab and go straight to the airport. They'll have to get him to do my induction speech. I just feel that there's too much anger for me. Too combustible."

But for the most part, the ceremony is going to be a positive experience for the Hitman, a chance to end his WWE career on a happy note.

"I never did get to say goodbye," Hart said. "This will give me some closure. I don't carry around any bad blood anymore. I just want to enjoy my life. I have the whole second half of it ahead of me and I plan to make it just as interesting as the first."

RELATED LINKS

  • More on Bret Hart
  • More on WrestleMania 22
    Lots and lots of Bret Hart! Visit the SLAM! Wrestling store


  • The Bret "The Hitman" Hart Triple DVD Set
  • Pain and Passion: The History of Stampede Wrestling
  • Hart Foundation 3-Pack Figures
  • The Pro Wrestling Hall Of Fame: The Tag Teams