Punk vs. Harwood: A Love Letter to Bret Hart

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, AEW Dynamite opened with admiration for an all-time great on Wednesday. CM Punk defeated FTR’s Dax Harwood in a match of the year candidate; however, the story lies with the appreciation shown for a certain “Excellence of Execution.”

Last week, FTR fired their manager, Tully Blanchard, and The Young Bucks mocked them, citing they will always be the second-best tag team in the world, and it doesn’t matter if their manager is THE BEST THERE IS…

Wait! That sounded like a Bret Hart reference!

That comment immediately stoked the rumor mill of the “Hitman” becoming All Elite.

FTR is a tag team rooted in the tradition, and despite Hart’s Canadian ancestry, his family heritage is professional wrestling. An association between Hart and FTR is a match made in catch-as-catch-can heaven.

The match on Wednesday piqued the curiosity of a future Hart appearance even more. If you ignore the match structure for a moment, Punk and Harwood firmly pray at the altar of Bret Hart.

“Sometimes I wonder if Bret Hart knows he’s the greatest ever.” Harwood expressed Twitter several months ago. CM Punk said he would happily trade his comeback to allow Hart to continue his career and proclaimed, “I Love Bret Hart.”

Examining the in-ring machinations, Punk hit a few deep arm drags and locked up the arm with a subtlety emphasized grip near Harwood’s upper shoulder. Harwood eventually created separation by putting his knees to his chest and kicking off Punk. 

Today, most wrestlers only use their legs as they kick-off, while Hart used his hips, back, and legs with authority. Arm drags and kick-offs are moves that won’t set the world on fire but are easily noticed if you’ve spent countless hours combing over Bret Hart matches.

Punk delivered a Bret Hart style backbreaker where he lifted Harwood a little higher for that extra oomph on impact. Later on, Harwood measured Punk and delivered one poignant short leg drop similar to Hart. They’re virtually identical if you watch a side-by-side video of Punk, Harwood, and Hart delivering the moves.

Several moments from Bret Hart vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (Survivor Series 1996) were displayed. Punk sold punches from Harwood when he was perched on the top turnbuckle with the extra flail of the left arm and the way both executed and sold the top rope superplex from Harwood.

Punk blocked a vertical suplex attempt and delivered one of his own as he and Harwood went over the top rope and crashed to the floor, a troupe in some of Bret Hart’s classic matches. 

Then the moment when it became clear what we were seeing. Punk rolled up Harwood with an inside cradle for a near fall, and Harwood countered with a cradle for his own nearfall, emulating the finish of Bret Hart/Mr. Perfect from the 1993 King of the Ring.

Harwood blocking the GTS and applying the Sharpshooter, followed by Punk’s transition into the Anaconda Vice, was the crescendo of a splendid love letter to Bret Hart. 

Even if the Bret-isms weren’t apparent, it was still an excellent match, which is the genius of CM Punk and Dax Harwood. Two total pros who got to mark out and apply their craft in an artistic display of homage while telling their own story to ensure above all else that the fans came first.

Wednesday was the 25th anniversary of Bret Hart vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13. The match is not only considered the best of their respective careers but declared by many as the finest outing on “The Grandest Stage.”

 I’ll bet it’s no coincidence how Wednesday’s match played out.

Some AEW matches resemble a dance where the wrestlers take turns doing moves instead of emulating a fight. The psychology and in-ring awareness between CM Punk and Dax Harwood accentuated the best of sport and spectacle with a wink and a nod to Bret Hart’s work.

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