Bret “Hitman” Hart is one of the best technical wrestlers of all time. I don’t even know how anyone could make a list of Bret Hart matches because he never had a bad match. Everyone has their opinion on what matches make a list like this. My list is based on match caliber as compared to career importance. Let’s take a look at the five greatest matches of the excellence of execution.
5. Bret Hart vs. Chris Benoit Monday – Nitro 10/4/99
1999 was a tumultuous time for Bret as he struggled to find some footing in World Championship Wrestling. Bret found himself in the position of being irrelevant during the hottest period in wrestling. Many wondered if it was the company’s fault for not having the foresight to book him, or was it that the Montréal incident two years earlier had taken the steam from Hitman for good?
If either one of these is true, then the loss of his brother Owen Hart might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Bret could have walked away, and no one would have blamed him. After taking time off, Bret Hart made his return to the ring on October 4, 1999, when he and Chris Benoit wrestled in a 30-minute tribute match in Kansas City’s Kemper Arena, the site of Owen’s tragic accident.
Long-time Hart family friend Harley Race was the special guest ring announcer for the bout that beautifully displayed the art of professional wrestling. Legend says Bret wanted Benoit to go over in the match, but everyone involved knew there was only one way this match should end. Sharpshooter, submission, Bret’s hand raised as the winner.
Not only did this match show new fans that Bret was one of the industry’s best, but it reminded regular fans, hardcore fans, and the booking committee that Bret Hart was still in the game and as good as ever.
4. Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect – Summer Slam 1991 – 8/26/91
Going into 1991’s Summer Slam, Mr. Perfect, Curt Henning, was the Intercontinental Champion. Bret was known as a tag team wrestler with a reputation for being a great worker, but few thought that would translate to a successful singles run.
Madison Square Garden was the site, and the fans inside, along with millions watching on pay-per-view, were primed for this match. Usually, Mr. Perfect would beat his opponents with ease, and those who provided problems were beaten with style and guile.
This match was different.
Hart matched Henning move for move, hold for hold, and counter for counter. Fans watching live were captivated by every punch, kick, and suplex thrown. Near the end of the match, Hart shockingly kicked out of the Perfect-Plex, something only Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior had done before him.
This lead to a finishing sequence that saw Bret catch Henning’s leg after a series of leg drops to Hart’s abdomen and a transition into Sharpshooter, forcing the submission and the crowning of a new IC champion. Fans went into the arena talking about the main event and came out raving about the second match on the card. It was now undeniable that Bret Hart was one of the premier workers in the business.
3. Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart – Wrestlemania X – 3/20/94
The conventional wisdom of Vince McMahon had Lex Luger penciled in to leave MSG as the new WWF Champion. Vince changed his mind in the days leading up to the event as Wrestlemania ended with Bret Hart as the champion.
Everyone from insiders to fans agreed it was the right call.
His match with Owen Hart opened the show and was a brilliant back and forth match that had fans on the edge of their seats. They incorporated a lot of the Japanese style into the match, which American fans were unfamiliar with. Owen held his own against big brother Bret. who everyone expected to shut down his little brother at some point.
To everyone’s surprise, Owen countered a victory roll that gained Bret many victories but cost him defeat on the biggest stage. This was Owen Hart’s coming-out party as fans began to notice the Hart Family prodigy. Bret produced another WrestleMania classic and elevated his brother to a more prominent spot on the card, showing Owen had the talent to justify his position.
What can be said that hasn’t already been said about this match? It won match of the year honors in 1997, and it one of the best matches ever held on a WWE broadcast. While Bret Hart could have a good match with anyone, he and Steve Austin brought the best out of each other.
Jim Ross has been quoted saying this match was Steve Austin’s best Wrestlemania outing. Ken Shamrock was the special guest referee as the two brawled all over the Rosemont Horizon to see who the better man was.
The conclusion of the match saw Austin making one last effort to get out of the Sharpshooter while blood profusely slides down his face. Austin passes out, and Bret wins the I quit match without making his opponent say the words “I Quit,” thus, we have the double turn. Bret is now the heel, and Austin becomes arguably the most successful babyface in the history of the business.
1. Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog – Summer Slam 1992 – 8/30/1992
Some wrestlers have great matches that will always be remembered in some way, shape, or form. Others have that once-in-a-lifetime, career-defining match that cements your spot in the industry. Davey Boy Smith pinned Bret Hart to win the Intercontinental title in front of 78,927 screaming fans in Wembley Stadium. Hart lost the title, but he gained so much more in defeat.
Bret carried the match from bell to bell in an exciting contest where the fans loved Bulldog and booed Hart’s every move, and he didn’t do anything heel-ish. He just worked over a national hero until he made one mistake that cost him the victory. Fans were not smartened up back then, so it made Bret Hart’s rise to prominence more intriguing.
I attribute it to subliminal psychology. He lost, and yet, fans walked away from that match in this euphoria of excellent wrestling, and even though you couldn’t articulate it at the time, our subconscious was saying, “Thank you, Bret.”
He was untouchable after that match, and merely setting him up for a third IC title run would have felt empty and flat because he ascended higher than his perceived destiny of mid-card status. Sometimes a promoter realizes that it’s time to push the guy who everyone on their roster has their best matches with.
Forty-two days later, Bret Hart defeated Ric Flair to win his first world title. Bret Hart confirmed at his Hall Fame induction speech in 2005 that this was the best match of his career, and it’s not hard to understand why.