The Hit Man: Ten years later - Part One
Never has an electric shade of pink been so revered as when it accented the legendary tights of WWE Hall of Famer Bret "Hit Man" Hart. As venerated as this vibrant color is, however, it has not been seen from within a WWE ring for one full decade.
Boasting accolades to which very few individuals can stake claim, Hart's unmatched mat skill earned him five lengthy WWE Championship reigns, as well as the Intercontinental and World Tag Team Championships (twice each). In addition to his gold-plated successes, the Hit Man was also triumphed in the very first King of the Ring tournament in 1993 and won the annual 30-man Royal Rumble Match just six months later. A gifted competitor and decorated champion, Bret's heart certainly merited the moniker "the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be."
It's been 10 years since the "Excellence of Execution" last stepped within the ropes of a squared-circle adorned with a WWE logo. The last time, in fact, was on a cold November night in 1997, a night of infamy.
On Nov. 9, 1997, the Hit Man locked up for the last time with his archrival, Shawn Michaels, at the 11th annual Survivor Series in Montreal, Quebec -- Canadian soil, Bret's turf. By the conclusion of the pay-per-view, our fans around the world sat with their mouths agape, experiencing the event that forever altered the complexion of sports-entertainment: "The Montreal Screwjob."
On the anniversary of arguably the most controversial, most jarring moment in the annals of sports-entertainment, WWE.com spoke with the WWE Hall of Famer in a rare retrospective interview.
"I wish things had never changed and that I was still [in WWE]," stated a very frank Hit Man. "I look back on that incident as a bad decision by Vince McMahon and WWE. I think we all can look back and know that there was a better way to do things."
He continued, "It's a shame that things happened the way they did, but in the end, I think people have always respected me for being someone who always stood behind his beliefs, and stood up for himself."
In the closing moments of Hart's title defense against Shawn Michaels back at Survivor Series, the leader of then-blossoming D-Generation X locked Bret in the champion's own signature submission move, the Sharpshooter. Though Hart never surrendered within the hold he'd, by then, perfected in his 21-year career, the referee signaled for the bell to end the match. The Hit Man never officially gave up, but the WWE Title was instantly awarded to a scowling HBK. Confusion, anger, betrayal, embarrassment, disgrace, disgust -- all compounding and forming a squall within the belly of the Hit Man.
"There were a lot of elements that worked during that period; a lot of political jealousies and rivalries," the five-time WWE Champion claimed. "I don't forgive anybody involved in that -- from Gerald Brisco to Michaels to Triple H to Vince. But at the same time, I realize that life's too short to carry around hard feelings on an everyday basis."
Aware of Bret's freshly inked contract with World Championship Wrestling, Mr. McMahon devised a plan to call for the bell during the match, causing Bret to lose the title. The WWE Chairman feared that if the WCW-bound Hart won his final match, he would bring the gold with him to WWE's Atlanta-based competition.
Simply stated, it was a deviously contrived plot to underhandedly ensure the WWE Championship would remain in World Wrestling Entertainment. However, as despicable of a scheme it was, many argue that it was a necessary act for Mr. McMahon.
"I take issue with anyone who ever suggests that there was no other choice," Hart asserted. "But, Vince was under a fair bit of pressure financially back then. I can feel for him a little. I think [McMahon] has told me himself -- and I believe him -- that he wishes things had been done differently and has regrets about it.
"It should've never happened, but it did happen … and I have moved on."
In one evening, many feel Mr. McMahon "screwed" the Excellence of Execution not only out of the WWE Championship, but also out of a definitive close to one of the most personal rivalries in wrestling history, in front of Bret's fellow countrymen.
Despite this permanent taint on his WWE fame, the Hit Man can still fondly reflect on some of the greatest times of his storied career and, more importantly, the droves of pink-and-black supporters.
"The fans really believed in me, more so than the Hogans and the Warriors," a candid Hit Man told WWE.com. "I think I was the most basic wrestler; I wasn't the big guy, the most flamboyant and certainly not the most charismatic; but I was the most real. My wrestling was real, my personality was real and my interaction with the fans was real."
Read Part Two of this exclusive story and learn Bret's thoughts on Batista, John Cena and more.
Also check out the hypothetical spin on Hart's final WWE moment in WWE.com's What if... the Montreal Screwjob was reversed?