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  August 19, 2000



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Those were the days!

Stampede Wrestling is where it all started



By BRET "The Hitman" HART -- Calgary Sun

  I often come across people who say to me: "I've been a fan of yours since the old Stampede Wrestling days."

That always means a lot.

I think longtime wrestling fans have a different perspective on my career.

For those of you who weren't there to witness my early days -- or even if you were -- I thought you'd enjoy hearing what those days were like for me.

I never intended on becoming a pro wrestler. When I did, it was with the idea that I'd only do it for about five years.

I wanted to earn the money so I could go back to film school. I figured as long as I didn't hang around too long, wrestling would give me a chance to stay fit and see the world.

The only thing I didn't take into account was the passion I'd soon have for it.

I loved pro wrestling more than I thought I would. The Victoria Pavilion and similar arenas across Western Canada were the perfect venues for a young kid like myself.

Back in 1978, my dad was in a bind because the majority of his best guys were overseas or in the Maritimes.

I started working for Stampede Wrestling on Sept. 1 to help out my dad and immediately became an important player.

Of course, it was nice to have that kind of opportunity, but I also took on all the responsibility that went with it at a time when I was still learning.

I knew I was good, but I needed someone to carry me until I became more confident.

Calgary wrestling fans were tough, especially on hometown boys. The first time I walked out in front of the Calgary fans, I could hear a pin drop as they sized me up.

I knew right away I'd have my work cut out to live up to their expectations. I thought maybe I'd do something a little fancy and razzle-dazzle 'em a bit, so on the way into the ring, I attempted to jump over the top rope. I almost tripped. Luckily, nobody noticed ... but the seasoned fans weren't even impressed with my attempt at showboating. I never tried it again.

Stick to what ya know, I told myself, and settled into the Japanese style that Mr. Hito and Mr. Sakurada had so earnestly taught me.

When I finished with a win over Big Mike York, to my relief, the Calgary fans gave me a nice round of applause.

My first major opponent was Norman Frederick Charles III, who was the British Commonwealth Jr. Heavyweight Champion. I was still very nervous and inexperienced, but the salty Aussie put me to my first real tests.

I soon found myself in taped-fist matches, Texas death matches, lumberjack matches -- but in the end, I found myself the Jr. Commonwealth Champ.

I readied myself for The Dynamite Kid, who was returning from overseas.

In the beginning, Dynamite was not on the friendliest terms with me.

Seeing me as a guy who didn't pay his dues, he set out to teach me the hard way.

What I remember most about our first match, after 60 straight minutes of knocking the daylights out of each other, was Ed Whalen's serious tone when he emphasized: "I kid you not! I have just witnessed the greatest match I have ever seen!"

Dynamite and I went on to have classic matches all over the place.

My personal favourite was a steel ladder match in Regina (1981). The ladder was huge and cumbersome. The object was to climb to the top and grab the belt. In no time, we were both bloody messes.

I was laying practically unconscious as the little British bully climbed up to grab the belt when, out of desperation, I jumped up and drop-kicked the ladder, tipping it slightly as it fell over. Dynamite leaped off, perfectly straddling the top rope, bounced off and ended up on the floor!

What I didn't take into account was the momentum of the ladder, which also bounced off the top rope and was soon careening towards me with deadly force. I rolled and rolled as fast as I could until it crashed only inches from my head.

The crowd went crazy.

I popped J.R. Foley off the ring apron and climbed up to win the belt.

I'm not sure if anyone at the time realized just how truly great Dynamite was -- that once he was gone, they'd never see anything like him again.

I've always been extremely grateful for what I learned from him. He was, pound for pound, the greatest wrestler of all time.

I often tagged up with my brother, Keith. We worked really well as a team. Keith has a great background as an amateur and taught me the art of tag-team wrestling.

We had our great matches with none other than my teachers, Hito and Sakurada, who gave me quite a thrashing every time.

Yet when it was over, they would gently pull me aside and carefully explain any mistakes I'd made.

I found myself learning more and more and got to fulfill my dream of seeing the world, wrestling in Japan, New Zealand, Germany, England, Puerto Rico and even the U.S., still the hardest barrier to break.

I also began to fill out my 6-ft. frame from about 195 lbs. to 225 lbs. and it was soon obvious that I would move into the heavyweight division against the best that Stampede Wrestling had to offer.

Next week, Dr. David Shultz, Duke Myers, Bad News Allen, Archie Stomper Gouldie -- and more!

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