Exclusive interview: Bret Hart separates fact from fiction on who really trained in Stu Hart's Dungeon
It wasn’t much more than a tiny room in the basement of Stu Hart’s Calgary mansion, but The Dungeon has become, perhaps, the most renowned training ground in all of professional wrestling. As Dungeon graduates began to populate the WWE locker room in the 1980s, the basement’s reputation started to grow — as did the names of the Superstars who reportedly trained there. But who really learned the art of grappling at the torturous hands of Stu Hart? WWE.com set out to find those answers and called up the one man who would know best — “The Excellence of Execution” himself, Bret Hart.
WWE.COM: There are so many myths about who actually trained with your father in The Hart Dungeon. For example, it’s widely reported that Superstars like Lance Storm and Chris Jericho did, but they really trained in The Hart Brothers Camp. We were hoping that you could separate fact from fiction.
BRET HART: I think I can give you the truth [laughs].
WWE.COM: Do you remember at what point your father started training people?
HART: My father was training people right from the start, because he was running out of talent all the time and he needed to create new talent to fill out his [Stampede Wrestling] cards. He needed to find somebody who basically wanted to be cannon fodder and travel on the tour.
WWE.COM: How large was Stampede Wrestling’s territory?
HART: My dad bought the territory from [Larry] Tillman in ’48. He had the rights to Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Seattle, Vancouver, Salt Lake City and lots of other Northwest states that nobody else was running. He was based initially out of Great Falls, Mont., where he was from, and he’d drive up to Calgary and Edmonton most days. On one of his trips, he saw the house in Calgary that he bought in ’51.
HART: Nikolai Volkoff was one of the first guys who came out of The Dungeon. He was a teenager when he got here. He was just a big, strong, heavy kid. I remember talking to Nikolai many times in the basement and watching my dad stretch him. [Former AWA World Heavyweight Champion] Gene Kiniski was also trained by my dad.
WWE.COM: Just so we know where to cut off the list of who trained with your father in The Dungeon, who was his last student?
HART: Jim Neidhart. My dad was no spring chicken anymore, and I didn’t see anyone past Neidhart that he put the time into. He completely trained Jim on his own. Jim was my dad’s product. Jim was third in the world at shot put. He was training to get signed by the [Oakland] Raiders and was referred to my dad from somebody at the gym. He called directory assistance, found my dad and asked him to teach him to wrestle. He listed all of his accomplishments and my dad asked him to come up to Calgary.
He was a big, strong kid. He had a bench press close to 600 pounds. He was super-strong and really quick. He left Calgary after my dad taught him and got signed by the Raiders. He came back to train with my dad [after] he was injured. Then he was with the Cowboys and got cut. He was the last cut the year the Cowboys won the Super Bowl in ’78.
WWE.COM: Were all of the Hart brothers trained by your dad, or did the older brothers train the younger brothers?
HART: No. My dad taught Keith, Smith and Bruce when they started, but we had other wrestlers train us. I learned some little things from my dad, some amateur wrestling and submission wrestling, but I was trained in pro wrestling by two Japanese wrestlers [Tokyo Joe and Kazuo Sakurada] who worked for my father. Owen was a fan of my dad’s submission style wrestling. Owen had a lot of respect for amateur wrestling. You can say that Owen trained in The Dungeon, but not in the same way.
WWE.COM: Who trained Natalya and Tyson Kidd?
HART: Nattie, TJ and Harry [ David Hart Smith] trained in The Dungeon with some of the other young Harts with a guy named Tokyo Joe. He was probably the best legitimate wrestling trainer in the world. He trained them for quite a long time, and on the same mat I trained on. They learned very serious grappling. There were no ropes, just walls around the mat. Tokyo Joe was a top-notch instructor, and Nattie, TJ and Harry were his pride and joy.
WWE.COM: Who are some big-name wrestlers that people may not realize trained with your father?
HART: Ole Anderson trained for a couple of weeks in the basement. “Superstar” Billy Graham was someone that my dad taught from A-to-Z, from tying up to submission wrestling. Billy was more of a showman than a wrestler. My dad used to love tying Billy in knots and Iron Sheik would be watching.
WWE.COM: Did Sheik train up there?
HART: He was here for quite a while. Verne Gagne got hold of him, but he was just a fan of pro wrestling and didn’t really speak English, so Verne sent him to Calgary. He cut his teeth in Calgary first. He was an amateur wrestler from Iran. He had problems with The Shah and fled the country in fear of his life. He tried to get a job as a wrestler, because all he ever knew was amateur wrestling.
I saw Sheik and he said, “I remember training with you.” I said I couldn’t have trained with him, but I did. I was a high school wrestler. I was city champion. Iron Sheik was green as a pro, but my dad asked him to train with me. The Sheik had this little workout. He would do a squat, then a one-legged squat, then the other leg, then somersaults. He would do this routine. So we did it all over my dad’s yard. It was a little training regimen that they did in Iran. I never trained in pro wrestling with The Sheik, but I did amateur wrestling with pro wrestlers in my dad’s basement.
WWE.COM: What about younger wrestlers like Edge and Christian, who are rumored to have been trained in The Dungeon?
HART: After being signed by WWE, Edge, Christian, Mark Henry, Giant Silva, Test and Ken Shamrock all trained at my house. I had a pool room with an indoor pool and a garden behind it. I took out the garden and put in a wrestling ring.
WWE.COM: How many years were you training people at your house?
HART: About a year and a half until I punched Vince in the face [laughs]. In fact, Edge and Christian didn’t know what was going to happen to them because they were training with me at the time.
WWE.COM: One of the odder rumors is that Gorilla Monsoon was trained by your dad.
HART: That’s true. Monsoon did train with my dad. He started his training up here and then went back to New York. My dad had a great story about Gorilla. He had Gorilla in some kind of submission hold. It took him a long time to get him in the hold, because he was such a tough customer. My dad brought his forearm across his face and busted Gorilla’s nose. Blood was pouring out of nostrils. Blood was everywhere. Gorilla was furious, but my dad wouldn’t let him up. Gorilla said that he was pushed to the limit that day in The Dungeon. Then, for years, he would talk about The Dungeon during my matches. My dad always had a lot of respect for Gorilla.
WWE.COM: Were there other legends that trained with your father?
HART: Mad Dog Vachon started in Calgary. Fritz Von Erich was close friends with my dad before he had kids. He trained with my dad, worked a handful of places in Canada and went back to Texas. Paul and Jos LeDuc started with my dad. Archie “The Stomper” Gouldie started with my dad. He was a football player that wanted to become a wrestler. He was at one of my dad’s shows and he decided to climb the steps, get in the ring and become a pro wrestler right on the spot. My dad grabbed him by the wrist and said, “Come back with me and talk if you want to be a wrestler.” Stomper showed up the next day and my dad stretched him so bad that he crawled out of my dad’s basement. My dad had a scale of 1 to 10 of how far he would stretch somebody and he told me that he gave it all to Archie [laughs]. The Stomper showed up next day, hat in hand, knocked on the door, apologized for his attitude and asked my dad if he would teach him to be a wrestler.
WWE.COM: Greg “The Hammer” Valentine is on the list of wrestlers rumored to have been trained by your father, but wouldn’t he have trained with his father, Johnny Valentine?
HART: Greg Valentine was here. He was trained a little bit by his father, but he was sent up here when he was very green and hadn’t wrestled anyone yet. He looked just like his dad and just like he does now. He was about 19 and did really well. He told me that his foot got so infected from the mat that he had to leave the territory and go back to the States. The mats were never changed.
WWE.COM: Billy Jack Haynes is another name on the list, but Portland seems to be a long way from Calgary, and that would be the 1980s.
HART: Billy Jack Haynes trained with my brothers. I think my dad did train with him a little bit. My dad would bring in a lot of guys with a little experience and they’d get schooled a little bit by my dad, my brothers, me and Dynamite [Kid]. We would get them ready for the tour. He became a fulltime wrestler for my dad and got the name Billy Jack Haynes up here.
WWE.COM: Did Steve Blackman train in The Dungeon?
HART: Yes, but he didn’t train with my dad. He was probably trained by my brothers, mostly Owen. He may have gotten on the mat with my dad, because he liked submission wrestling.
WWE.COM: What’s the status of the Hart House and The Dungeon today?
HART: The house is occupied by three different families. There are three condominiums in the one dwelling. It’s quite an upscale area. It’s cozy, but I have no desire to see it. It’s not the same house that I remember. The Dungeon doesn’t exist anymore. It’s just a room.