Class of 2015
Inducted by Samuel Plan
How do you define a hero?
Is a person heroic because of their actions? Is a person heroic because of their words? Is a person heroic because of their achievements?
How do you define a hero?
It is a question to which I do not know the answer. All I know is that Bret “Hitman” Hart was my life’s first hero, and remains my life’s most enduring.
We all know professional wrestling is a fiction; a theatre; the world’s greatest industry. To my mind, Bret Hart was quite possibly the greatest performer in that industry. My recollections are vague at best, but there are hints of awe through the haze of my years inspired by how Bret “Hitman” Hart would stand up to monsters like Yokozuna as nobody else did and get the better of liars and cheats like Jerry “The King” Lawler as nobody else could. The way he never surrendered to the frighteningly unstable Bob Backlund and the way he rose above the fetid jealousy of his younger sibling were inspirations to me in my infancy. That this inspiration that came during the purity of this fan’s infantile years stuck enough to develop into a matured admiration speaks volumes for Bret Hart’s famed skill set.
Story-telling; psychology; words the definitions of which remain elusive and infinitely varied from fan to fan, but in every definition of these words Bret Hart was sublime. I could write you a list of his greatest matches and most famous moments. I could analyse some of his most popular compositions. All of these range from the fun and breezy to the gritty and dark. He could create a piece of work epic in its scope or powerful in its specificity. He could blend with styles of all kinds and craft as lucid a tale in tag team action as he could when performing alone. That he was half of some of the best matches in the careers of legends like the British Bulldogs, The Undertaker, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Kevin Nash and, yes, even Shawn Michaels is no coincidence. To watch two Bret Hart matches back to back is to experience two wholly different fables. Bret Hart was a performer who would rarely finish a match using his famous finisher, such was his dedication and ability to originate.
As one half of The Hart Foundation, Bret was a key player in the WWF’s true golden age of tag team wrestling. As a break-out singles star, Bret was actively responsible for a handful of the Intercontinental Championship’s greatest nights. As a fresh injection into the main event, Bret helped usher in the New Generation and shift professional wrestling away from the old hat of the 1980s towards greater nuance and denser content. As a veteran, Bret never failed to give back to the industry that made him, helping create new stars like Diesel, Michaels and Austin. As a brother, Bret was one half of the greatest family rivalry ever seen in the promotion. As a leader, Bret was a pathfinder in the Attitude Era’s first majorly successful angle: the Border Wars. As a defector, Bret was a part of the most infamous, divisive, controversial moral complexity the industry has ever seen.
The Montreal Screwjob is an issue everybody has an opinion of. I know I have always had mine, and in recent years I was afforded an opportunity to change it. I have always fervently defended Bret Hart’s decision-making in the lead up to that turn of events, and have stuck by him in support through the wilderness years of what I thought of as justified anger that followed. Truthfully though, the historical truth of Montreal lies not in what happened, who caused it or whether it was necessary; it lies in the necessity to not live in the past, to move on, to forgive others and, though not to forget, to learn from remembering. This is exactly what happened in 2010 when, after having a legacy languishing under the shadow of 1997 for many years, Bret Hart returned to WWE and buried the hatchet with Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon. That I could witness that live as it happened on the night was an incredible thing to me; a memory of chills, smiles and goosebumps that will endure for as long as Bret Hart has endured in my life as a hero.
As a performer, there were few heroes as tremendous as the Pink and Black Attack. As a man beyond the character, I have taken no greater a cue from any other performer in the industry’s history. Of course I do not know Bret Hart. I do know what Bret Hart said over the years though, and how he has acted. Though you might feel justified in calling into question his choices and his words, one thing should be said by all about Bret: he is nothing if not a man of his principles. That is what I admire about him most. That is where I take my cue. I live my life with principles I consider to be irrefutable. I will not undermine them, no matter the cost. Doing so can cost; doing so has cost. But if you can swallow a principle at the first sign of it demanding a difficult, painful decision then it was never really much of a principle in the first place. Some might say I cut off my nose to spite my face because of this belief, but I sleep better every night for knowing my decisions were made because I believe them to be right. I learned that from Bret Hart.
Saying this, I do not want to become too heavy. After all, any Hall of Fame induction of any kind is a time for celebration more so than muse. It brings a smile to my face to be given this opportunity to celebrate the Hitman, who so often was pushed aside during his heyday in favour of other ideas. Bret “Hitman” Hart never had that one long definitive run as champion like many of his forbears, contemporaries and successors had. He played more the role of a utility champion; the trustworthy continuity reliably underpinning this oftentimes faddy promotion’s fickle attentions. There is glory to be had in that role, no lesser in its importance even if far lesser in volume.
This is not to say the Excellence of Execution has not left his own mark on history. The Hitman was the second man to ever win the World Championship five times; at the time of his underplayed landmark achievement, only Hulk Hogan could boast the same and that is most certainly high company to keep. The World Championship is a belt only five others have cumulatively held onto for longer, three of which came before the advent of “sports entertainment.” In similar circumstances, Bret “Hitman” Hart was the second ever Triple Crown Champion, and the first following the advent of “sports entertainment.” The Son of Stampede Wrestling was officially the first man to ever enter a Royal Rumble, and went on to have the Royal Rumble’s first ever iron man performance. Bret “Hitman” Hart participated in the first ever sixty minute Iron Man matches against Ric Flair, Owen Hart and, of course, Shawn Michaels. He was featured on the first ever Survivor Series and the first ever Summerslam; at the latter event, he would forge a career of quality mirroring that of his most famous nemesis’s at Wrestlemania. He won the first ever King of the Ring pay-per-view tournament, opened the first ever In Your House show and participated in the first ever ladder match- a concept he introduced to the promotion in the first place.
And most importantly of all to me, Bret Hart was the first hero I ever knew. He inspired me as a child. As an adolescent, I admired his work. As an adult, I appreciate his legacy and his strength of character. It is said often and threatens to become cliché but it is hard for me to imagine any other time when any other man has felt as much honour, privilege and humility as I feel in being afforded the opportunity to induct Bret “Hitman” Hart into the Lords of Pain Hall of Fame. That may seem a little much or a little silly to some. This is a Hall of Fame created by fans, voted for by fans, compiled by fans all on a website for fans. But Lords of Pain has been a big part of my life for the last seven years, professional wrestling an even bigger part of all my twenty five, and Bret Hart has been the biggest part of it all. So with unabashed pride I say this is an honour more incredible than any other I have encountered as a columnist here.
I do not know how best to define a hero. All I know is Bret “Hitman” Hart always was one, not just to me but to millions of fans around the world; in fiction; in fact; in achievement; and in principle. There is no competitor more deserving of this spot.
In closing, I would like to reiterate the words uttered by Vince McMahon upon Bret “Hitman” Hart’s return to WWE.
I’d like to personally thank you for all your contributions to WWE. I’d like to thank you for every thrilling moment that you gave the entire WWE Universe. I’d like to thank you, Bret. Thank you for you just being you, for being the real Bret Hart. And lastly, I’d like to thank you for being the Best There Is. I’d like to thank you for being the Best There Was. And the Best There Ever Will Be.
Those words come not from a father figure or the world’s most successful wrestling promoter but from just a fan. From a fan you have never and probably will never meet, but from a fan, whose life, your career was always one of the very best parts of.
So it is with pride that I hereby officially induct Bret “Hitman” Hart into the Lords of Pain Hall of Fame Class of 2015.
Related Links: Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart at Wrestlemania 13
Stone Cold Steve Austin- LOP/WH Hall of Fame