Wrestling fans have always had their sentimental favorites. You know? The ones you’d love to see the world title, but their mid-card ceiling seemed unbreakable. On October 11, 1992, Bret Hart was one of those favorites. Masterful tag team fare followed by an exciting singles run served as an example of Hart’s exquisite craftsmanship in between the ropes.
On October 12, 1992, all that changed for Calgary’s favorite son.
Today marks the 30th Anniversary of Bret Hart defeating Ric Flair to win his first WWE Championship. Due to a litany of circumstances, Hart’s life-changing win occurred at an untelevised event in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. In the shadow of Hulkamania, business was down, the steroid trial was looming, and the Ultimate Warrior and the British Bulldog were fired for using HGH.
WWF needed a new world champion, quick, and it had to be someone who didn’t have a blinking neon sign that said, “I take steroids.” The infamous list was created as Vince McMahon decided who would be the new face of the Federation. If that’s not bad enough, then champion Ric Flair suffered an inner ear injury when the Warrior dropped him on his head in a match the night before.
While no one knows the list in its entirety, those confirmed to be on it were Randy Savage, Bob Backlund, Ted DiBiase, Tito Santana, and Bret Hart. McMahon eventually went with Hart, citing the heaps of “Hitman” fan mail the company had received, plus Hart’s wrestling style and athletic look were the antithesis of a superhero physique.
Hart was under strict instructions to fly to Saskatoon on that fateful Monday, go straight to the locker room and find Vince. According to an interview with the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, Hart said he was initially booked in a tag team match with the man he’d recently dropped the intercontinental title to, the British Bulldog against Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior.
Hart met with McMahon that morning and received a speech that made him think he was getting fired until it ended with “So we’re going to put the big belt on you tonight.”
Bret Hart submitted Ric Flair with Sharpshooter in a twenty-six minute match on a Monday to win his first WWF Championship, with no notice or build, and in his father’s hometown.
This all occurred before the advent of the internet, meaning Hart was already champion for 5 days when fans first heard the shocking news on Saturday morning wrestling.
I’ll never forget where I was when I first heard the news.
WWF Spotlight Wrestling aired on Saturdays at 7:00 am on WUNI (Worcester-Boston). No cable tv meant I was fighting with the “bunny ear” antennas for a clear-ish picture and sound. WUNI never had the strongest broadcast signal, meaning a black-and-white scramble image was often the best-case scenario.
Instead of the Spotlight’s customary studio opening, the show began with “Mean” Gene Okerlund on the old-school blue interview platform. Okerlund introduced the new champion, and Hart emerged with the title. The signal was so poor that I couldn’t distinguish what Hart was saying or the belt on his shoulder.
“Wow, cool,” I said to myself as Bret Hart was once again the intercontinental champion. It felt right. It felt normal.
My good buddy Robert called me an hour later and said, “Did you hear about Bret Hart?” in a super excited voice. I replied, “Oh yeah, Bret Hart won the intercontinental title again.” I could hear the glee in Robert’s voice when he immediately shouted, “NO, HE WON THE WORLD TITLE!”
“WHAT?!?!” I bellowed into the phone as I joyously followed up with, “YOU MEAN, BRET HART IS THE WWF CHAMPION?!?!” Robert gave me one final “YES” to confirm.
My mind was blown…I couldn’t believe it. Bret Hart was the WWF Champion. Not the intercontinental champion, but the actual world champion. The title that Hogan, Warrior, and Savage held before him.
As a kid, I was never good at telling when someone was pulling my chain, but Robert wasn’t a liar, and he had crystal cable tv. He had to be telling the truth! I asked him all sorts of questions, like who, when, and how the match was. Robert said they never showed the match.
“Weird,” I thought, but it didn’t matter. Bret Hart was the WWF Champion. I impatiently waited until 10:00 am when WWF Superstars aired on the superior broadcast station FOX 25. I was thankful that Robert had given me the great news.
However, I need to see, hear, experience, and take it all in for myself with my eyes and ears. The clock had struck ten, and I feverishly turned the dial to channel 25, and sure enough, “Mean” Gene Okerlund introduced the new champion as Hart came out with a slight limp, selling the hard-fought battle he’d endured with the “Nature Boy.”
I saw it, but I still couldn’t believe it. There it was. Not the square-shaped i.c. belt, but the circular, majestic, winged eagle belt was draped over Hart’s left shoulder. While he gave a fine celebratory promo, I didn’t hear a word of it. I was in a state of euphoria as my favorite wrestler, Bret “Hitman” Hart was the WWF Championship.
Years later, it was interesting to hear Hart say in an RF Video shoot interview that he looked at the intercontinental title as the world title because he never thought they would make a guy like him world champion.
Even as a young fan who didn’t know terms such as push or mid-carder, some wrestlers seemed destined for only so much success, despite their immense talent. Bret Hart was the first one of those wrestlers who broke the mold to such a degree that timing, circumstance, or maybe even just plain luck put him at the top of the mountain.
No matter how Bret Hart got to the top, his work proved that he belonged before and after.
30 years later, it’s still amazing that the Bret Hart’s big moment never aired on television. Later on, it was included on a random Coliseum Home video release (WWF Smack ’Em Whack ‘Em.)