September 11, 2004
The pleasure of small tours
By BRET HART
A guy came up to me at the airport in San Francisco yesterday, asked for my autograph and inquired what brought me out that way. When I replied I was there to make an appearance at a wrestling show, he got so excited he ran off saying, "I have to call my friend and tell him The Hitman is making a comeback."
Most of you know I had no choice but to hang up my tights as a result of a career-ending concussion. Not to mention it was followed by a major stroke.
You'd be amazed at how many people still come up to me wanting to know when I'll be back. It's a good sign my recovery has come a long way. But, I never really left.
Take last night's show, for example. It was for an outfit called Big Time Wrestling, run by Kirke White, a friend of mine.
Kirke is a struggling independent promoter, who prides himself on making sure all the boys get paid, even when things don't go so well. His old-fashioned realistic style rasslin' shows are simple but well structured.
Since I can't wrestle anymore, what I usually do is sign autographs. Occasionally, I get in the ring and say a few words to the crowd.
I also enjoy visiting the young wrestlers in the dressing room. Even when I was world champion, I always made a point of shaking hands with and addressing every wrestler from the top to the bottom of the card as equal. A lot of wrestlers who go to the top forget they were once on the bottom.
These independent shows give me a chance to catch up with wrestlers I accompanied on the road. Guys like Superfly Jimmy Snuka, Bryan (Crush) Adams, Sabu -- or even Harley Race. Not too long ago, there was actually a Hart Foundation reunion, in Buffalo, New York. The Hitman, Anvil and Jimmy (Mouth of the South) Hart walked out to the ring and we each said a few words to a delighted crowd.
The next day, I was in Toronto doing something with CBC -- and Summerslam was at the Air Canada Centre. Well, there were Hitman sightings all over town. Pointing and with wide eyes wrestling fans naturally assumed I was somehow involved with the pay-per-view and it was amusing how rumours were flying worldwide on the Internet.
Take Wrestlemania XVIII, for example. The WWE invited me to be a guest referee but I declined. I was insulted when a high-ranking WWE suit (no, not Vince McMahon) told me he'd seen me on a small-time wrestling show out of Australia. He proceeded to strongly advise me to stop doing appearances for independent promoters and to look at myself and see my stock was at an all-time low.
I smiled when I realized he just didn't get it. I'm retired from wrestling. And I am fortunate my name is big enough I can choose to do small events -- or big ones -- simply because I enjoy them.
I might accept a booking in Montreal just because I like the food. Or Hawaii, because it's a nice break in winter. Or a small town in the middle of nowhere because I get to see an old friend.
Of course I can't do every show but I try to position myself where I think I'll do the most good. I find something personally satisfying in seeing guys going in there and giving it all they have just for the love of wrestling and not the recognition or the money.
Maybe that's the point. For my whole life I've loved wrestling and it just feels good to go back to my roots once in a while, without any fanfare or cameras rolling.