Bret Hart is without doubt, one of the all-time greats in the industry and a true Canadian sports hero. This past week, Bret was cast into the unfamiliar role of literary critic as he reacted to an unflattering assessment of his ability in Ric Flair's new book To Be the Man.
In the book Flair, somewhat surprisingly, buries Bret, Mick Foley and others, at times actually saying it is payback for previous slights directly at him. This has raised much speculation not just about whether it is all to garner publicity but about whether his claims are correct, or what the motivations are behind them.
First off, guys in Flair and Bret's category, a fraternal order populated by very few great historical figures in the industry, have some leeway in being critical of each other where lesser lights do not. Being huge fans of both I cannot imagine being critical of either.
Having said that, Flair basically states that Bret was a solid wrestler, but repetitive and not a money draw. This is acknowledged as a receipt for Bret's Calgary Sun columns during the 1990s when he talked about being somewhat disappointed when he first wrestled Flair, describing him as a "routine man" or someone who had the same basic match night in, night out and was basically a comedy performer. In Bret's defence, in the '90s this was a valid point where Ric was concerned.
The Flair of the '80s was a different animal, and someone whose record of having huge amounts of long, hard matches loaded with action will never be matched. (Flair routinely pulled 60 minutes with a variety of different opponents, sometimes seven and eight times per week). Similarly, Bret Hart never missed a WWF booking and was an ironman in his own right.
The repetitive knock could be made of both, but don't most top wrestlers use the same arsenal of offensive moves? Think Jericho, Benoit, Angle. Isn't part of the interactive process popping for the triple German suplex routine, or the lion-sault? Flair was repetitive in the '90s in terms of running similar spots, and Bret had a similar comeback in all his matches. So what? In Flair's case the spots always worked and people came to expect them and would be disappointed if he didn't do them. Bret's comebacks were believable and a signal to the fans to engage in the emotion of the babyface shining.
Who knows how much of this is an attempt at PR, with Flair and WWE knowing full well that Bret would respond? The fact that Bret has responded has made this a more interesting feud than anything currently going on in actual wrestling rings. It is also the fodder for much debate in the industry.
Who was really better? For my money it is kind of like deciding if you are having the lobster or the steak.
Next week, I will attempt to rank the two in several areas, head-to-head as wrestlers, money draws, interviews and historical figures.
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Ric Flair: To Be the Man