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  December 1, 2001



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Wrestling keeps the peace


By BRET HART -- For SLAM! Wrestling
 The other day when I walked into a hotel in Belfast, there were about 30 Hitman fans who had figured out where I was staying and were waiting in the lobby.

 I talked with them for a while. It turned into an impromptu two- hour Q&A session. They asked me everything they could think of and I gave them probably the most candid and detailed answers any wrestling fan has ever heard. They told me they were blown away by our talk.

 Not as much as I was.

 This followed an appearance I'd made that evening at a wrestling show for the World Wrestling All-stars. Before I go any further, I know from your e-mails a lot of you are saying: "But wait a minute. He's retired -- or is he?"

 Yes, I am. I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea this is my return to wrestling because it's not. Due to my injury, I will never wrestle again.

 Meanwhile, there are a lot of talented wrestlers trying to make a good living at it and they have very few alternatives to the WWF. One is the WWA, an upstart promotion that asked me to join them on their tour of Australia a couple of months ago. When I explained I didn't know what good I could do for them since I can't wrestle any more, they asked if I'd get involved in an advisory capacity to help them get off on the right foot.

 It seemed to be an opportunity where my experience could make a positive difference. And, besides, I could also play a nonphysical role in the ring as their "commissioner," have some fun with it and hang out with some of my wrestling buddies who I haven't seen in a while, too.

 The defunct WCW ignored almost every suggestion I ever offered. The small handful they did follow through on were done begrudgingly, yet the fans and various wrestling pundits told me they were the best angles the faltering company had done in a long time -- such as when I KOed the then-undefeated Goldberg with an "iron undershirt" beneath a hockey jersey in Toronto.

 In the WWA, my input is appreciated and I find satisfaction in that.

 Apparently the fans do, too.

 The WWA shows in Australia and now in the U.K. have been selling out. Meanwhile, the WWF's audience has dropped by 49% since Sept. 11. That's all the more curious when you consider the people of Belfast know all too well about terrorist attacks -- and yet they still turn out to see wrestling.

 Lady wrestler Luna Vachone commented to me backstage she thought most of the crowd was there to see me. I wondered what I could possibly do to make it worth their while and not just stand there. I walked out and told the fans the truth was I'd come all the way over here to see them.

 The last time I wrestled in Belfast was back in '93 when I defeated Bam Bam Bigelow and I could tell from their reaction a lot of the crowd had been there with me back then, too. I went on to say how I noticed an important change in their country between then and now. In '93, there were uniformed, armed soldiers on every street corner. Now, there was none. I watched their children walking to school without being pummeled by urine-filled balloons and rocks.

 I'm no politician but, from firsthand observation, it seems to me there is only a small percentage of the people in Ireland who want the fighting to go on. I got the distinct impression most Catholics and Protestants now want peace in Belfast.

 I wondered if the fans were thinking: Who does this guy think he is, just some wrestler, talking to us about war in Northern Ireland.

 I went on to say everyone in the world who has been watching the terrible strife in their country congratulates them on making such brave and significant strides for peace.

 The arena exploded! Catholics and Protestants cheered together, long and loud.

 Once again, just as I had experienced with the Israelis and Palestinians years earlier, somehow my wrestling character had served as a unifying thread in a land of discord. A fighter who brings peace.

 I don't pretend to understand it. I suspect it has something to do with standing up for what you believe in. Never giving up.

 After my abrupt departure from wrestling, I never thought I'd get back to Ireland. I'm privileged to have visited with the people of Dublin and Belfast again and I take it as a compliment that even though I've been retired for nearly two years, they still cared to listen to what I had to say.

 I can assure you they gave me even more to carry with me than I gave to them.

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