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Hitman Hart: A legend returns to the road
By RICHARD KAMCHEN - SLAM! Wrestling



The "Excellence of Execution" may be coming to a town near you, but instead of tights, boots, and maybe a championship belt or two, he is carrying the fascinating anecdotes of his amazing 23-year pro wrestling journey.

Bret Hart is in the midst of a cross-Canada media tour to promote his autobiography, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling.

The book's basis is audio diaries Hart recorded during his long career, material Hart said he did not initially intend to use for posterity.

But as he told SLAM! Wrestling in an exclusive interview, Hart came to consider using his diaries for something other than a memento of his career not long after he won his first WWF Heavyweight Championship. Before his brother Owen's in-ring death, Hart had already three-quarters of the diaries transcribed by his lawyer's stenographer. Upon reading them, Hart said he felt amazed he survived the heavy grind of his WWF days.

"There was a lot of stress and worry and fear. Some days I'm surprised I was able to keep my head," he said.

Separating his home and professional lives became one of many coping mechanisms.

"The second I was dropped off at the airport, Bret 'The Hitman' Hart came to life and Bret the dad and husband went away for awhile."

The lonely existence on the road led Hart to often stray from his marriage. But aside from female companionship, Hart also depended on the support of his fellow wrestlers to keep him going.

Hart heaped praise on many of his colleagues, particularly those who helped him early on in the WWF, like "Cowboy" Bob Orton Jr., Don Muraco and Roddy Piper.

"They provided support and advice on how to get up the card and into bigger matches. Roddy was a huge source of support," he said, explaining Piper gave him counsel on what to do and what to be prepared for, even after Hart won the world title.

Jim Neidhart assisted too, but in other ways for he was crazy, yet still like a brother, Hart said.

"I don't know if I would have survived the first six years if it wasn't for 'The Anvil.'"

The Dynamite Kid, one half of the British Bulldogs, represented another valuable pillar for Hart, especially before Dynamite's injuries began taking their toll.

"He played a pretty big role in my life, maybe bigger than the book says," Hart said. "We would sit around and talk, be honest with each other ... He had a lot of street smarts. He had an intuition for the business and the personalities in the dressing room."

Although rightfully described by many, including Hart, as a bully, Hart stressed Dynamite also provided an important role to the business and one that is sorely lacking today -- that of a locker room enforcer who knocked prima donnas down a few pegs.

The other half of the Bulldogs, Davey Boy Smith, was almost the opposite of his cousin Dynamite.

"He was more of a teenage son you had to teach things to. More of a follower. A na´ve simple guy sometimes. But all in all, never a shit disturber, genuine, and had a good sense of humour about the business," Hart said.

Some wrestlers, however, did disappoint Hart, most notably Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and Kevin Nash. Hart called all three a cancer in the dressing room, and remembered never before having seen wrestlers so openly act out for only themselves.

"They're the guys that ruined everything for everybody."

WRITING A CLEANSING PROCESS

Hart admitted he felt apprehensive about putting together his own story when Mick Foley's autobiography Have a Nice Day! A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks first appeared. But after reading the book, a work he very much enjoyed, Hart said he felt relieved as he realized his own story was so different from Foley's.

Once immersed in the project, Hart would find his storytelling therapeutic.

"It took a big weight off my back ... I tried to put things in perspective," Hart said, explaining his book is meant to put people in his shoes to see what wrestling life was really like.

He recognized he tore down his image as a role model by freely admitting to womanizing, and steroid and recreational drug use. His honesty partly reflected that these would be his final words on the wrestling business.

"Most of the young kids (who watched him in the ring) are old enough now to try to understand," Hart said. "I tried to put an honest face on it. I think the majority of people who read the book will walk away with a different kind of respect for me, but a respect all the same."

Hart called the editing process "extremely hard;" his Random House Canada editor Anne Collins told him she had 1,600 pages to sift through.

"I was too close to it to know what was good about it and what was bad about it," Hart said, adding he owed Collins a great debt of gratitude.

Of course, some stories got left out -- Hart said some of the funnier stories about Stampede Wrestling got whittled down, as well as details about his family tensions. Some of those conflicts were minimized or altogether omitted as Hart believed there had already been enough said to give people an accurate picture of the situation.

MODERN WRESTLING DISAPPOINTS

Hart said he rarely watched wrestling nowadays, and remembered one of the last full matches he saw involved Chris Benoit.

"He didn't look like he was happy; like he was going through the motions. Like he was broken inside a little bit," he said, adding he made a note to himself at that point to speak to Benoit the next time WWE came to Calgary. But sadly, that would never come to pass.

So much has changed that the business hardly resembles the one Hart knew so well during his heyday.

Championship belts mean little any more and have become a bit of a joke, Hart said. The fact there are so many titles certainly does not help, but flat wages have hurt even more.

The decision to guarantee pay shortly after WrestleMania 12 practically ensured the belts would never mean anything again, Hart said. The prestige faded as holding the title no longer meant being the top paid guy on the roster or being accepted by the locker room as a leader. A championship belt now is probably more a pain to carry around than anything else, Hart said.

Hart also lambasted typical wrestling storylines of today for being too far-fetched and phoney, and he believed the matches themselves lack a shoot "feel" that once kept fans riveted to their seats.

He seemed disappointed a top athlete like Billy Kidman, who Hart said in his book reminded him of a younger version of himself, had disappeared from the main stage, and almost annoyed someone like Ric Flair continued to receive accolades.

"If Kidman had been six-foot, 220 to 230-pounds, he'd have been one of the best wrestlers in the world. He had catlike instincts and could take the most unbelievable bumps," Hart said.

As for Flair, Hart called him "a great mechanic" but a less-than-stellar worker.

"A lot of green wrestlers and marks thought he was a great worker. But to me he never knew how to put a match together or read the fans," Hart said.


Bret Hart at April's Cauliflower Alley Club banquet.
Photo by Bob Leonard
He described a match in which Flair might work over a leg in the ring. After his opponent sold it to the point where the audience might expect the appendage to fall off, Flair would pick up his foe and throw him running into the ropes, thereby making the last series of moves senseless.

"I found with Ric he bungled up a lot of matches ... and if he dropped the ball, he'd blame you for how you threw it to him."

Ever since the infamous 1997 Montreal screw job, Hart said he could not remember seeing many realistic matches, aside from those that included Kurt Angle. He pointed out fans have become enamoured with mixed martial arts contests because it feeds the fix wrestling used to fulfill.

"Wrestling's changed to bikini contests and bodybuilders cutting promos," Hart said. Remembering The Fabulous Moolah as one of the mainstays in the women's division when he wrestled in the 1980s, Hart said, "It's nice that the girls look better but I feel bad that's the highlight of the show."

Hart could not understand just why so much had changed given the Vince McMahon he once knew had always been a wrestling fan first and foremost. Perhaps the writing staff or Triple H, who has "no respect for titles or psychology," have seized too much control, Hart speculated.

Another aspect he found lacking was respect for past performers and accomplishments.

When he attended his first Cauliflower Alley Club convention in April, Hart said he remembered having a good time, not so much for being back among his former peers, but instead because he had a chance to sit and speak with wrestlers who performed before his time. He even recalled his pleasure in being photographed with legend Don Leo Jonathan.

"Meanwhile guys like Hogan, Hunter, and Shawn wouldn't give a shit about having their picture taken with Don Leo Jonathan, one of the best workers of all time."

RELATED LINKS

  • Book review: Hitman's autobiography heartbreakingly honest
  • October 21, 2007: Hitman's heart to Hart
  • More on Bret Hart
    Visit the SLAM! Wrestling store!


  • Preorder Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling
    Winnipeg correspondent Richard Kamchen can be e-mailed at richardkamchen@hotmail.com.