I was seeing ghosts
By BRET "The Hit Man" Hart -- For The Calgary Sun
For weeks I wondered what it would be like for me to wrestle in Kansas City again. I wasn't really worried about winning or losing. I just wanted to be able to look at myself in the mirror and know that Owen would have been proud and I wanted the same for Chris Benoit.
It was an important hurdle for me to get over. I'm not saying I'm over losing my brother, because I think that's something you adapt to without ever really getting over it, but I wanted to erase the black spot hanging over wrestling in Kansas City by giving the great fans there a more positive note to go on.
When Benoit and I came out to the ring, the love, support and respect we felt from the fans is beyond words. But there was something else I felt. Something that didn't really surprise me, but it still made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
I could feel Owen watching -- as if he'd pulled up a chair, like a fan, eager to see something special from me and Chris. Something we all hadn't seen on TV for too long a time. 'Dungeon' wrestling. A straight-forward, shoot-from-the-hip, wrestling match. Pro wrestling in its purest form, just two people telling a story with their bodies. Artistry at its best.
It was the kind of match that long-time fans reminisce about and hunger for. And fans who've been around for only a couple of years told me they'd never seen anything like it before -- and they loved it.
I also saw something in that match that I'd never seen before -- and at the same time, it was as familiar and comforting as an old friend.
There was a ghost in the ring. I'm sure Owen saw it too. It was the ghost of The Dynamite Kid.
Tom Billington is living in England. But his alter ego, The Dynamite Kid, tragically crashed and burned a few years ago. Passion took over for common sense when Dynamite kept on fighting despite doctor's warnings that his back just couldn't take it any more. He was the consummate wrestling artist and much like Beethoven wrote his most brilliant masterpieces while he was going deaf, The Dynamite Kid had some of his most incredible matches while his back was disintegrating. The price he paid is that he's trapped in a wheelchair. The gift he gave is that he changed the face of wrestling.
Dynamite might not be as big a household name as a Hulk Hogan or a Ric Flair and I take nothing away from them or from any main eventer, because they'd be the first to agree with me when I tell you that, plain and simply, The Dynamite Kid was the best there is. Period.
Dynamite was as much or more to wrestling than Gretzky was to hockey! There was no one in his league.
He changed the face of wrestling with his high-flying yet solid style when nobody was doing that sort of thing -- and nobody has mastered it since. And he brought with him a real toughness of character -- and boy he was tough and was he ever a character! Sometimes he could be a bully, but it's good to have a bully around to deal with other bullies and bigheads. A wrestler like Shawn Michaels would have been put in his place.
On the other side, he had a great sense of humour and could make racial or nationalistic jokes right to a guy's face and the guy would laugh because there wasn't any malice in it, like seeing yourself drawn by a great caricature artist. Just ask Tiger Jeet Singh or Bad News Allen.
Owen wrestled Dynamite when Kid's back was already pretty bad and Owen said he was still the toughest, most talented guy he'd ever seen -- and he loved every minute of it and was honoured to have been in the ring with a legend.
Back in '78, I'd only been in the business for a few months when I locked up with Dynamite in a Stampede match. I was grateful I got to work with him and learn from him. I'll never forget Ed Whalen's voice coming from the TV, excitedly saying, "I kid you not. I have just witnessed the best wrestling match I have ever seen!"
Around that time, there was an 11-year-old boy who used to hang around the locker room in complete awe of The Dynamite Kid. He obviously had great taste in wrestlers, but I mean this kid worshipped the ground Dynamite walked on. He walked like him and talked like him and moved like him and even bore an eerie resemblance to him. And for years, every time Stampede Wrestling pulled into Edmonton there was this kid, waiting and watching. Seems like next thing you know, I heard someone say, "hey remember that kid from Edmonton? Well, he's training with Stu now ..."
And then one day, after a match, Dynamite was so impressed with him, he picked up his boots, leaned over, and handed them to the kid, "Here, I want you to have these." It was the ultimate honour. It only made the kid get even better because he was devoted to living up to it, which I wouldn't doubt was Dynamite's plan. A lot of guys wanted to fill Dynamite's boots, but talent on that level comes once in a generation or maybe just once and for all.
So, last Monday, with Owen watching over my shoulder, there I was in the ring with the kid from Edmonton, the ghost of Dynamite Kid. And since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I know Billington will be pleased to know that The Dynamite Kid is alive in Chris Benoit.
I don't know if it's magical or miraculous. I only know that I set out with Benoit to do something special for Owen and for those who loved him. Some indefinable thing summoned up from the depths of our souls, humbly searching for the courage, strength and guidance to make our best good enough. We gave of ourselves out of respect, out of love. We expected nothing in return, except maybe the satisfaction of knowing we'd done our best.
In the giving, we found release. But there was joy in what we got. Chris got to become his mentor and I got to wrestle a memory that I can only hope will be the future.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up, again, when my father emotionally told me, "That was the best wrestling match I have ever seen!"
Funny how that's exactly what Ed Whalen said two decades ago when I wrestled The Dynamite Kid. I guess I wasn't the only one seeing ghosts.
Whatever we lost, we've still got it.