Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper at Wrestlemania VIII
Class of 2023
Inducted by Andrew Ardizzi
Indianapolis, Indiana. The Hoosier Dome. The grandest stage of them all. WrestleMania 8.
So many moments stood out that night. Even as a young fan you knew it and perhaps even more so now with the benefit of hindsight. You had Hulk Hogan wrestling his (one of many) farewell matches against Sid, plus the return of the months-long absent Ultimate Warrior. Ric Flair and Randy Savage clashed over the WWF championship in the first of the card’s double main event features. Shawn Michaels ventured forward from his life as part of a tag team act and wrestled his first solo match at a WrestleMania against Tito Santana. The Undertaker buried Jake Roberts’ first run with the company and we even saw Owen Hart take a step forward in his career with his WrestleMania debut out from underneath the mask of the Blue Blazer.
And then among a handful of other matches sprinkled throughout the card top to bottom, was the clash between two friends, cousins even, over the Intercontinental Championship. Bret “Hitman” Hart and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper met at WrestleMania 8 for the coveted championship. Months prior Hart had dropped the championship he had won from Mr. Perfect at SummerSlam ’91 to “The Mountie” Jacques Rougeau, who quickly surrendered the title to Piper at the Royal Rumble two days after winning it.
What made the moment special for Piper in the big picture of his time working for Vince McMahon was that up to that point in his legendary career he had never once held any WWF championship title. Despite the many featured spots on past cards, not once did he hold WWF gold until 1992. No sooner did he win it though was it clear he was going to have to defend his championship on the big stage against the number one contender—Bret Hart.
The build up and clash was unique. At the time it was rare for two wrestlers, clearly beloved by fans, to be pit against each other in a major match with the cameras on. These days we talk about paradigm shifts, and if cross-promotion, double turns and tweeners are commonplace now, we can certainly look to this match for sprinklings of what was to come over the 30 years that would follow it.
Bret was a clear-cut babyface here and was still very fresh in his singles run. Piper though was a little less straight-forward. We are after all talking about someone who twice over was voted the best heel by the Wrestling Observer, and let’s face it, in his prime there were and perhaps are still very few who ever did it better than the Rowdy one. And while Piper had long since been a babyface since his return, you always knew that antagonist was angling to poke through the surface to say hello with equal parts enthusiasm and pure, sheer underhanded intensity. And yet during the build up, the all non-sense Piper and the no nonsense Hart were cordial, ready to compete with honour for the illustrious strap; even if you knew deep down it was a little bit of a farce and we were just waiting for Piper to do what he needed to do to keep his championship.
That was the case at least right up to their pre-match interview as Hart lost his cool as Piper joked about their time together growing up, with Mrs. Hart making the family sandwiches with one piece of bologna. That was too much bologna baloney for the Hitman, and the interview turned hostile as though all of those months of cordiality was a show for each other, fans, their friends and families. In mere moments a fun, competitive contest became a heated exchange that came down to one thing, as Hart put it during the interview:
Piper: “You want YOUR belt all of a sudden, is that the idea, huh?”
Hart: “Look, all I care about is one thing, I want to win back the Intercontinental belt. You got it, I’m gonna take it.”
Following that, with a little tap upon the title belt, Piper pushed Hart back, got in his face and it’s there they decided to fight it out in front of thousands to see who was the best.
“Watch me rip your head off.”
So basically, the entire dynamic flipped on its head and was spun around at least three times. Months of good sportsmanship was thrown out the window in an instant as Hart threatened to take Piper’s title, while Roddy in turn… well, he threatened decapitation. Piper loved unnecessary escalation.
It was a match you knew was going to be special as it was happening, it’s the one I wanted to see most even beyond the other matches on the card when I finally got to see it on VHS months later. And as they both made their entrances, the looks on their faces told the story—despite the friendship, despite being family, despite the gentlemanly build-up to WrestleMania, this was still all-too personal, it was all business and it was time to fight as the bell rang and they went eye-to-eye and nose to nose in the centre of the ring.
Beginning with two arm drags, the match devolved into a heated shoving match, spit was spat, and while the match saw its share of technical exchanges and enough brawling to make the biggest pugilist proud, the two began to try and out-connive each other with Hart feigning an injury only to grab Piper and attempt a small package.
Piper heartily slapped him for that, but the reason why he did is what matters more—he believed Bret was actually hurt. He showed compassion, even in the face of his pre-match posturing minutes prior. He was still his friend and family. And Bret nearly made him pay for it.
In all the great matches, the story that’s told during the match is as important as the one we’re told in the build up to it. In this case, it built off what we saw in the weeks leading into WrestleMania 8, and then showed us what lay underneath the surface: two men who wanted that belt more than anything in their lives at that given moment, so much that they deceived, borderline cheated and aimed to take an eye from the other if it meant winning.
After a time, the dynamic shifted and Hart became the one thinking too highly of his friend as Piper held the ropes open for Hart after they had tumbled outside. And surprisingly, Piper let him enter; but it was all a ruse as moments later Piper indicated Hart’s shoelace was untied, and when Bret and the referee looked, Piper measured Hart’s jaw and sucked punched him. From then onward the match was no longer a “wrestling match,” it was a fight. Piper snapped and delivered closed fist after closed fist to Hart, busting him open. He rammed his head into the turnbuckle pad and bit him without even trying to hide it. He slapped him, belittled him and completely controlled the pace of the match, and in doing so he dragged Hart out of his element. This became a war.
Piper continued battering Hart with knees, and even after a fleeting moment where Hart pinned him for a two count, Piper poured on the offense with a series of punches, jabbing Hart into a stupor before dropping him with a cold right.
Despite it all, Hart never quit and kicked out of every pin attempt, and came back with as much tenacity as Piper because he wanted that one thing Piper had that he coveted. The flow was simple and effective, telling the story of two friends–whom fans loved—who wanted to fight each other over one of the biggest prizes in wrestling. They wrestled to a standstill. One connived, and the other returned the favour. Piper took control, beating Hart until blood poured from his face. And then Hart returned the favour as he dragged Piper into his own personal Dungeon and broke him down body part by body part.
As the match came to a close, nearing the 20 minute mark with the ref down, Piper took Hart outside and began battering him again. Against the guardrail, against the ring steps. And then, after rolling Hart back into the ring, he walked over to the timekeeper’s table and took the ring bell. Strolling into the ring, he eyed the back of Hart’s head, never once taking his eyes off of him. Standing over him, holding the bell with intent to deliver a final blow to retain the championship, Hart pulled himself up, clawing at Piper’s kneepads as he came to his feet only to fall back. Yet, something remarkable happened.
For years Piper did what he needed to do to win, no matter what, and that part of his persona reared its head during the match. But when it counted, through all his posturing he couldn’t level Hart with the bell. So he threw it down and chose not to use it. Piper punched, Hart answered with a whiff and found himself in a Sleeper as the ref was coming to. With the match’s closing mere moments away, with Hart on the ropes, he kicked his feet up, launched off the turnbuckle and rolled over Piper into a pinning combination.
Moments later Bret Hart was the two-time Intercontinental champion. Perhaps more importantly, after the bell Piper ripped the title from the referee’s hands and walked over to Hart, standing over him like he had moments ago when he held the ring bell. Unlike before though he nestled the title on Bret’s shoulder and offered his hand to help him up.
Piper strapping the title around Hart’s waist is the perfect snapshot of this entire feud and it book ends the match alongside the cordial buildup, so as to say the fighting was done, you’re the better man, you won, I love you, congratulations. Fights can be both personal and business, which is what this encounter was. It’s the very first match I can point to now personally as one where there was no black and white, no hero and villain, with the match simply existing on the premise of wanting to be the best, and wanting to prove it against a rival, a friend, and perhaps even to a degree a mentor.
Why It Matters
Roddy Piper vs. Bret Hart at WrestleMania 8 is one of the great Mania matchups. For what it offered fans at the time, and even now as an aged fine wine, it’s a touchstone moment for professional wrestling because it conveyed the physicality of wrestling on its own merits, while also injecting a wide range of intense emotions from bell to bell to punctuate what it meant at the time as a story within their careers.
What makes it special, and what etches it in history as one of the great matches, has much less to do with the technical beauty of the exchanges. It was more than that. It was a match built off of friendship and respect. Competition and desire. Aspiration and unbridled will. Championships. While the match build was respectful, tensions exploded as though they held everything back until the last minute and what we were left with were two fighters laying it all out on the line, willing to do everything to win up until a line was set to be crossed; it was that inaction on Piper’s part that summarized the respect they had in spite of everything they had done in the match. It was respect to a tee. That’s why Piper laid the bell down. That’s why he chose to beat Hart mano a mano, and it’s ultimately why he lost. The result wasn’t the story–it was the hug. It was Piper handing Hart the belt and offering him his hand. It was two wrestlers fighting to prove they were simply the best on the only stage that mattered.
Lords of Pain.net/Wrestling Headlines.com welcomes
Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper at Wrestlemania VIII into the Hall of Fame class of 2023.
Related Links: Bret Hart