The Bridge

Some time ago I hosted a sports talk radio program.  I’ve also been a lifelong fan of pro wrestling.  Time and again in numerous conversations about the legitimacy of professional wrestling, the inevitable always occurs:  Who are the greatest of all-time?  Okay, narrow it down:  The five best of all-time?  Well, after much consideration and over the course of the next five months (that’s one wrestler each month) I will write about one particular wrestler, starting with number five and going up to the greatest of all time.  As with the sport itself, there’s always a caveat:  This is my personal list and it looks at the five best (my opinion) of the modern era.  Now, I will be using some tried and true metrics, including but not limited to: influence, longevity, storylines, mic skills, character, and good old in-ring ability.

Again, my list.  The greatest five pro wrestlers of all-time in the modern era.  Starting with number five, we take a look at The Bridge.

Enjoy!

 

Number 5: Bret “The Hitman” Hart

 

Of all the wrestling families; the Von Erich’s, the Funks, the Vachon’s and on down the line, none have made a greater impact on the world of pro wrestling than the Hart family.

To this day they are a dynasty.  A foundation, if you will.  The frontman of this band was The Hitman.

Originally making a name for himself in his legendary father’s stampede promotion in Calgary, Bret was essentially sold as a package deal to Vince McMahon upon purchase of the company.  There, in the WWE, Bret started off slowly in singles competition but gained traction when a larger, more brute force partner, in Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart was introduced.  Together with a no nonsense approach, they quickly climbed the ranks to become known as The Foundation, winning the tag titles on more than a few occasions.

Eventually, The Hitman broke off on his own for good and began to carry the company on his back as champion even before Shawn Michaels, the man with whom he’d have more than a few epic matches, including a sixty minute Iron Man match.

Ultimately, the man dubbed “The best there is, The best there was, and The best there ever will be” left the WWE in tragic fashion but moved on and found a spot in WCW.

Here we will take a deeper look, step by step, as to why Bret Hart is on my personal list of the top five wrestlers of all-time.  Checking in at number five:

Mic Skills:

Bret was admittedly never the best on the mic.  In fact, in the early days it was his tag partner “The Anvil” that carried most of those duties.  However, due to Bret’s nervousness and the subsequent darting eyes during promos, he decided to put on a pair of pink wraparound sunglasses that became synonymous with the Hitman character.

After the sunglasses and moving into singles competition, Bret became better on the mic and improved to the point of becoming the perfect foil for arch nemesis Shawn Michaels’ hijinks.  This, of course, was after his feud with real life brother Owen Hart, a feud in which Bret played up the perennial good guy character by refusing to duel with his own flesh and blood.  This was way ahead of its’ time in the sense that the WWE would revisit this exact storyline years later with Undertaker and Kane (Though the latter was contrived and certainly not organic).

His tag line of being “The best there is, was, and ever will be” is a bit dramatic but it worked.  Not simply because he said it but because his work ethic proved it.  At the time nobody was working more or harder than The Hitman.

In-Ring Ability:

While WCW was the place to watch technical wrestling, The Hitman was changing the way a champion in the WWE could be.  He didn’t have the build of some of the bigger guys in the business and yet he wasn’t a high flyer either.  He was mostly a no nonsense, ground game type of wrestler that employed real life joint manipulation and locking tactics not seen since the early days of the sport.  And certainly not seen in front of large mainstream audiences.  Looking back, Bret wasn’t as good as his counterpart Owen but “The Blackheart”, as Owen called himself, was, at the time, probably too far ahead of the curve in terms of skill sets.  People just weren’t ready for that style of wrestling yet.  The Hitman became a necessary bridge in the world of pro wrestling for both the fans and technique.

Character:

Contrary to popular belief, and even Bret’s own words, he wasn’t always a good guy.  He started out as a heel.  With that in mind the “Hitman” moniker starts to make more sense.  This turn was short lived because the fans enjoyed Bret so much that he just had to become good.  And he never really looked back (WCW storylines aside).  As some of the bigger good guy names started to fade in the business Bret took over and carried the company to new heights as a character that never backed down from a challenge.  The ultimate good guy, however, needs a bad guy in order to keep things going.  Enter Shawn Michaels.

Storylines:

As previously stated, Bret ruled the roost in tag competition.  What makes him number five on this list is his feud with dastardly Shawn Michaels.  Without taking anything away from Shawn, Stone Cold Steve Austin, or any contributors during the Attitude Era, it is important to remember that this specific era in wrestling, quite possibly the biggest ever, wouldn’t have been possible without Bret.  His departure from the company in a PPV event in Canada ushered in the era of blurred lines of reality, crossing into real life contract disputes, the advent of the “Mr. McMahon” character, and Shawn Michaels taking over the reigns of a fledgling company.

In one momentous, backstabbing, real life storyline, Bret Hart kicked off one of the best era’s in wrestling history.  Sadly, he moved on to WCW and never really enjoyed the spoils of what he literally started with his own firing.  Right or wrong.

Longevity:

After, by most accounts, a very successful career everywhere else he’d been Bret was relegated to the dregs of WCW.

Without any creativity in knowing what to do with the Hitman character he became a shell of his former self, at least professionally.  WCW ignored the fact they had a guy who kicked off an entire generation of pro wrestlers, the Attitude Era itself, a phenomenal technical wrestler, and someone who managed to become a good guy in one entire country and a total bad guy in another.  Shortly thereafter, WCW seemingly moved on to other, bigger names and factions, deciding to scrap what they had in the Hitman.  While his later successors haven’t really panned out (gee, wonder why?),  the entire Foundation; British Bulldog, Owen Hart, Jim “The Anvil”, Brian Pillman, and the rest, were able to reach the pinnacle of their respective abilities in front of huge crowds due to the trailblazing efforts of “The best there is, The best there was, and The best there ever will be“.

Number five. My opinion.

 

 

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