In my opinion Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart is one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time, his technique in the ring was unparalleled and he was arguably the most committed, hard-working individual in the history of the sport. At Wrestlemania 10 he put on, what is to this day, my favourite ever match, against his late brother ‘The Rocket’ Owen Hart and I whole heartedly respect the professional career he has had. I mention these things because the comments I am about to make could otherwise be taken as some kind of vitriolic rhetoric aimed at taking a stab at Hart’s personality and public image.
Indeed, some of the things I will be touching on during this piece are aspects of my own thoughts that I would prefer not to have. The problem is that there have been a number of events over the last couple of years that I have found slightly unnecessary and one particular event a few weeks back that made me think deeply about how Bret may come to be remembered.
Two weeks ago, the legendary Stu Hart was inducted into the George Tragos/ Lou Thesz professional wrestling Hall of Fame. His son Bret was on hand to accept the honour on his behalf, it is my hope that in future years the WWE sees fit to induct Stu also- if not for his own career, then for the part he played in enhancing the careers of many of the WWE’s stars since. Much like other inductees’ Bret was given the chance to share some words with the audience on hand to commemorate Stu’s achievements.
Unfortunately, Bret’s comments caused some degree of controversy and have been heavily criticised in the ‘wrestling press’. Since unfortunately I don’t have the space on this forum to present the whole speech, I can’t insert it here but as I don’t want to present a biased view on the incident by quoting only certain segments of the speech, you can view it for yourself at BalitmoreSun.com. The first half of the speech is pretty standard and fairly touching, Bret’s thankful comments to Roddy Piper were a nice touch and something Bret obviously felt moved to say (Piper was also being honoured at the ceremony), in these early comment’s Bret’s respect for that which came before him is clear to see. Around about half way through though, Bret’s comments take a turn for the inappropriate when he uses the platform given to him to speak about his father to publicly criticise Greg Oliver, a wrestling journalist who was in the crowd to respect those inducted and also to accept the ‘Journalist Of The Year’ Award. Quite what Bret Hart was thinking is beyond mine or many other people’s comprehension- this was not the time or place for such personal grievances.
And what exactly were those personal grievances? Most of the speculation has pertained to a book that Greg Oliver wrote called ‘Pro-Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Canadians’, in which Oliver ranked Bret as the 14th best Canadian wrestler in history. Apparently, Bret was upset that Oliver’s account did not fairly represent the truth and took it as a personal attack. Whilst I don’t want to believe that this was Bret’s main gripe, the line, ‘Greg Oliver here rated me behind Sky Low Low, as, I think the 13th greatest Canadian wrestler. I have news for him — he’s wrong. Sky Low Low was a much better wrestler than me, but he was only half the man that I was’ would suggest that Bret had at least taken slight exception to Oliver’s ranking. For Bret to be motivated by such a thing is about as ridiculous as his low number in Oliver’s book. The difference is that whilst completely wrong, Oliver’s rank was merely an expression of opinion, which he has every right to express- no matter how erroneous.
Shortly after the hall of fame, Marcy Englestein, Senior Consulting Manager of Hitman Productions, released a statement in reply to some of the earlier reports that had come out regarding the incident. In the statement it was claimed that Bret merely took issue with Oliver’s own induction into the hall of fame, saying that as a not particularly accomplished journalist who was economical with the truth, Bret felt that Oliver had not warranted a place in such a prestigious place. The statement continued saying that Greg Oliver being given a place in the hall of fame only added credibility to Oliver’s work and legitimized some of the less than truthful parts of his writing. If this is the case then I guess I understand Bret’s concerns and empathise with somebody who has put his life into an idea about what wrestling is and should be. However, by making such comments Hart has only given Oliver an even bigger platform on which to exhibit his work, after all, before Hart’s comments, I personally had never heard of Greg Oliver, I wonder how many people reading this article had?
What is most unfortunate about all this is that the sacred legacy that Bret Hart is seeking to protect is being lost, due to his own paranoid concerns about it. As Ms Englestein commented in her statement, ‘After Bret’s speech, while Bret was being mobbed at the side of the stage by the Japanese and European media, I watched as an emotional Terry Funk took the mic, “I speak for both myself and Harley. That kid grew up to do it so much better than we ever could. And we love him for it.” Funk commented’. To be paid such a compliment by a legend in the standing of Terry Funk like this eclipses any comment that a small time blogger like myself or a mildly respected journalist like Oliver could ever make and as such Bret should let these kind of words speak for themselves and ignore those whose opinions don’t match his own. By raging against the comments of somebody like Greg Oliver, Bret only lends credence to them.
In 2004 Bret Hart made the list of the 100 greatest Canadian’s of all time, coming in at number 39- this has to be a pretty incredible honour for a professional wrestler. Such a poll also puts Greg Oliver’s evaluation of Bret as the 14th best wrestler of all time into perspective. Again I mention this because for some reason Bret seems unable to distinguish between the prestiges of the different media opinions surrounding him. For Bret to care about the opinions of one man enough to interrupt an honouring of his own father to address those opinions would suggest that he holds them in pretty high regard, to the point that being voted 39th best Canadian of all time by the Canadian public doesn’t seem to make one iota of difference in comparison to the relative merits (or lack thereof) of Greg Oliver’s book. Bret Hart has been inducted into the WWE hall of fame, a special documentary DVD collection has been created by the company to celebrate his career. Last year, Bret released his autobiography that has been credited as being one of the best books on wrestling around (and in turn, actually outdoing Greg Oliver in his chosen profession) which again looks back at one of the greatest professional careers in history. Not everybody will agree that Bret was the best of all time, but many will, this opinion is unlikely to change based on what is printed in a little known book by a minor league author, people’s opinion of Bret Hart however, can only be harmed by such untimely and petty outbursts such as the one demonstrated at the George Tragos/ Lou Thesz professional wrestling hall of fame induction, and for somebody who take’s their image as seriously as Bret Hart does, it does not make for good public relations.
Bret’s legacy is not in question: he was a 5-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion, 2-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion, WWE Royal Rumble winner and King of the Ring winner. His legend is secure due to his mantle as a WWE Hall Of Fame member and his work will live on through time thanks to his own set of memoirs- both on video tape and on paper. He has the respect of his peers (with the possible exception of Ric Flair), he has the adoration of millions of fans worldwide and he has done all of it with his head held high and dignity intact. For Bret to begin to tarnish any of it now by becoming bitter or undignified in ways such as how he acted at the George Tragos/ Lou Thesz professional wrestling hall of fame induction would be a great shame. It is my firm hope that Bret is remembered as one of the all-time greats and I’ll do everything to remind people of this, just like every other fan who sees Bret in the same light. As for Bret, he needn’t get involved in our (the fans) constant bickering about who was the best, as far as I understand it he truly believes he really is ‘the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be’- and surely that’s all that matters.