EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch for Donnie Abreu's column every Thursday.
Thursday May 21, 1998
Belly Achin' About Bret ... AND his fans!!
A lot of letters I got said "Bret made Vince". To a Hart fan, that non grammatical sentence makes perfect sense; to anyone else, the idea is completely asinine. It was only 9 years ago that Bret was a preliminary tag wrestler, getting pinned (fair and square) in the middle of the ring by the likes of Tully Blanchard, Bad News Brown, and Jumpin Jim Brunzell. He was getting beat, regularly, by guys who weren't exactly considered to be world championship material. He rarely spoke and when he did it was uninspired at best. From there, Vince decided to make something with this Canadian kid. He got rid of "The Mouth Of The South" Jimmy Hart, and his long time tag partner, Jim Neidhart. The Hart Foundation was no more but the legacy had begun. What was the difference in 1989 between Bret Hart and Tom Zenk? Nothing! Take away the pink tights, the shiny shades, and half a bottle of hair gel and you've got virtually the same athlete. In 1998, it's a different story ... a lot of you probably don't even remember the ol' Z-Man! Why? Vince developed Bret ... while the NWA / WCW never really knew what to do with anyone, let alone Tommy Z!
Hart was in the right place at the right time. Vince was in need of a star. The people's interest in Hogan and Savage was waning, nobody knew for sure if the Ultimate Warrior would ever be back, and guys like Mr.Perfect and The Texas Tornado just didn't draw enough crowd noise. So Vince did the best thing he could do. He took a midcarder, who he had prepped with the Intercontinental title, and put him in a NON-TELEVISED title match with the man who has been called the greatest of all time, "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair. Doesn't that in itself tell you something? The match was untelevised? The WWF didn't even know if anyone would be interested in watching this match. By today's standards, it would be like expecting Dallas Page to beat Hollywood Hogan. Who were they trying to kid? Surprisingly, Hart won the big prize and since Flair was so hated in the WWF his profile automatically increased 10-fold. From there, it was a simple snowball effect... the fans kept cheering, so Bret kept winning. No one could have predicted how big Hart would become ... in truth, he was probably supposed to be nothing more than a stop- gap. A place holder ... someone to hold the gold until a more suited competitor came along ... like Hogan, Michaels, The Undertaker, or Sid. In those days I would've rather seen ANY of them carry the title.
Let me ask you diehards out there a question ... what makes "The Hitman" the greatest of all time? His technical skill? That's hard to believe, considering there are dozens of others, including Bret's own baby brother Owen, Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit, Davey Boy Smith, or Steve Regal who are far better in ring performers. Is it his sheer size, presence or charisma? Hardly. If Bret wasn't a famous wrestler and he just passed you in the street, you wouldn't be the slightest bit impressed by his stature. He looks ... very average. Others command attention. Is it his ability to work a mic and give a fantastic interview? Nope ... sorry! Guys like Hall, Nash, Austin, Jesse James, even Chris Jericho are more entertaining! They are the speakers. When they talk, people listen.
So. Why do Bret fans continue to refer to Bret as "The Best"? Is it the 5 World titles?
Maybe it's the fact that each time he won it, he beat relative superstars: 1) Flair 2) Yokozuna 4) Diesel 3) Sid 5) Undertaker. Then again, non of those title reigns were especially long. There isn't one among them that compares to Hulk Hogan's 3 years ... not to mention the 7 year stranglehold that Bruno Sammartino had on that same belt.
Remember Winter/Spring of 97? EVERYONE was booing "The Excellence" ... they said he was whining too much. He complained that everyone was against him and he wasn't being treated properly. I'm still not sure if that was the "REAL" Bret or another angle. Regardless, it turned the fans against him. They were tired of him. So, then a new gimmick is created ... Bret, the Canadian hero! All of a sudden, he carries our flag, wears a maple leaf on his tights, and yells about the hellhole that the rest of us call the United States. First of all, despite what Kevin Kelly or Jim Ross would have you believe ... the Can-Am heat wasn't created by this story line. Canadians have been trying to carve out their own identity for years ... that meant breaking away from our American cousin. When Bret took up the cause, our country's wrestling fans blindly followed.
His career was rejuvenated. He patched things up with Owen and The Bulldog and was on top of the world. He had an exaggerated case of "Lawler Syndrome". You know, when they LOVE you in one town, and HATE you in another! But you don't really think it was Bret's idea do you? When he was off camera all he did was complain about how he didn't "REALLY" hate Americans, and his mother is American, and his money is ... BLAH BLAH BLAH ... Vince simply said ... "Look Mr.Excitement ... Do what I tell ya and you'll win another title!" If he didn't he'd be back to wrestling the likes of Bob Holly and Leif Cassidy. If it WAS Bret's idea to change his attitude and fight for his beloved country, then why wasn't he singing "Oh Canada" when he took on Japan's evil threat, then WWF champion ... the mighty Yokozuna? Hart and Lex Luger were considered the big hope to bring the title back to the good ol' USA. The American fans would've laughed or simply booed him right out of Wrestlemania ... that's why!
There STILL seems to be some dispute as to "WHY" Bret is no longer with Titan. Some believe the story that he wasn't happy with their direction, or the slimy politics. Others believe that his ego was out of control and he went to VKM and said "It's Michaels or Me" ... in which case, Vinnie Mac did the right thing. There are others still he say Vince decided Bret was becoming a pain, his attitude and work ethic were lacking and he was physically breaking down. That's actually what McMahon said himself on Off The Record. There are others who believe the conspiracy theory. These people go so far as to suggest that Bret and Vince worked together on this ... the idea, to cause as much hype and generate as much heat as possible for both parties
What do I think? I think the whole thing is STUPID!! I can't believe I'm writing about a topic that I considered to be dead last Christmas, when there are so many more interesting things I could be discussing. But you people continue to ask me about it ... I continue to receive hate mail on this issue ... Everything from "You're an idiot if you don't realize Bret rulz!" ... to, "You're not a true Canadian ... The Hitman's a hero". All of you who are still crying about the politics and Bret getting screwed .... GET OVER IT! I for one am sick of hearing about it ... and this WILL be the last time I make ANY public statement on the subject.
I will say this though ... If McMahon was forced to choose between The Heartbreak Kid and Calgary's favourite son ... he did the right thing. Sure, Shawn is on the shelf, but Hart might as well be. He's just now being worked into the incredibly predictible story lines in WCW. Do ANY of you Bret Hart enthusiasts actually like the direction of his character today? Does anyone believe for a second that Hart is "NWO-Hollywood" ... Of course not. He has said since day one that he wants the world title and he wants Hogan ... This is just leading up to another "stab Hulk in the back" scene; much like Savage, Orndorff, Warrior, Brutus, Nash and others. Thrilling. I can hardly wait. Let me go waaay out on a limb and say that Starrcade '98 will feature Hogan Vs. Hitman for the big gold. Bret will, obviously, win the title, be loved by the fans and then hold onto it for slightly longer than Ken Shamrock held the I-C crown.
How many truly "GREAT" Bret Hart matches can you identify? I count three. SummerSlam, when he LOST to the Bulldog, and the back to back WrestleManias where he LOST to Michaels and then somehow ended up with a victory over the Austin express. Does that make a wrestler "GREAT"?? To be considered the greatest, would you not have to have had the greatest matches? Hey, it's the same reason why I'm still unimpressed by Goldberg. Even my grandma could beat Mike Enos, Barry Darsow and Glacier!
I could go on and on ... but I won't ... So go ahead and send me your death threats and hate mail ... I'll be sure to print the most entertaining ones in next week's article.
Til then fans ...
Agree? Disagree? Think I'm completely out to lunch? E-Mail me your response and let me know. firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll sample some responses in next week's column.
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