March 13, 2004
More 'Mania memories...but I won't be there
By BRET 'HITMAN' HART - SLAM! Wrestling
Wrestlemania X. March 20, 1994. Madison Square Garden. It was unquestionably one of the biggest nights of my career. It was arguably the greatest opening match held at the greatest wrestling hall of them all.
In the first of two co-main event matches on a huge show celebrating the 10th anniversary of Wrestlemania, my feud with my brother Owen was at its red-hot peak and we blended his high-flying skills and my solid technical style to build a match that would finally earn Owen the respect he had so long deserved.
It seems ironic now the only way both Owen and I could get to the top of the WWF was to become nasty, vicious villains.
What a lot of people don't know is how Owen and I figured out two different ways to reverse the sharpshooter.
In what was then considered to be one of the biggest upsets of all time, Owen pinned me when I went for a victory roll. It might seem strange but nobody was more proud of his victory over me than I was.
I opened the show and closed the show.
In the other main event, I squared off with 500-lb. Yokozuna and regained the world heavyweight title.
The wrestlers piled out of the dressing room and hoisted me on their shoulders in what was a genuine and spontaneous showing of respect I'll never forget.
Wrestlemania XI was at the Hartford Civic Center on April 2, 1995, when I took on two-time world champion Bob Backlund in a classic matchup of the old generation versus the new. Unfortunately, it was a submission match centred around one of us having to say 'I quit.'
When I finally hooked old Backlund in his own hold, the cross-face chicken wing, he soon found out just how painful it really was.
It hurt so much that when guest referee Roddy Piper stuck the microphone in his face and asked him if he'd had enough, he couldn't remember to say 'I quit,' so he blurted out, "Yes!"
With no disrespect to Backlund, this was probably my least memorable Wrestlemania match but only because it was such a poor concept.
I redeemed myself the following year at Wrestlemania XII in the infamous iron- man match with Shawn Michaels. This was the toughest match I ever had.
That year, Michaels took the winter off to train solely for our one-hour marathon match, while I was being jackknifed and pancaked all winter in short but physical matches with the biggest behemoths in the WWF at that time -- Diesel, Undertaker, Psycho Sid and Yoko. This, along with a gruelling tour of India only weeks before Wrestlemania XII, made it extremely difficult for me to build my stamina for a one-hour pay-per-view main-event match.
Luckily for me, I could see I was being set up. The plan was for Shawn to scrape me off the mat, so Vince McMahon and Jim Ross could describe in their commentary how Michaels, who was a few years younger than me, had just taken over for the new generation.
Instead, I trained like an absolute lunatic every day -- on my own time -- and I think if you watch that match, you'll come to find that, more often than not, it was The Hitman scraping The Heartbreak Kid off the mat. To both our credit, I think the iron man match at Wrestlemania XII still sets the standard for hour-long matches.
The following year, I fully expected to have my planned rematch with Michaels, the still-reigning champion, but rather than lose to me, he came up with another of his many phony injuries.
So, plans were changed and I was hastily matched with Stone Cold Steve Austin, who was just beginning to make a name for himself. I've always felt this match opened the door for Stone Cold, who told me just a few months ago it was his all- time favourite match.
In my opinion, it was not only my best Wrestlemania match but also the single greatest Wrestlemania match ever.
And as for the rumour I'll be appearing at Wrestlemania XX tomorrow at MSG, I want to wish Chris Benoit all the luck in the world and, to all the grapplers, have the time of your lives.
I'll be watching but I won't be there.