Columns

Still Crazy After All These Years

I’ve had an interesting week and I’ve come away with a profound respect for my elders.

I was in Toronto at a fund raiser that Bell Mobility did for The United Way. On the steps of my hotel, as I waited for my limo ride to the event, I ran smack dab into the even greater one, Walter Gretzky.

His face lit up and he said he couldn’t believe it was me. My recovery from my stroke so amazed him that he kept slapping his leg and remembering the kind words of encouragement that he gave me I told him that I no doubt owe a great deal of my recuperation to him.

Standing behind Walter was none other than the legendary Bobby Orr, my childhood hero! Walter kept saying, “Can you believe this guy? Look at ‘em! He’s back!”

Bobby Orr smiled big and Walter asked him, “You know Bret Hart?” And I can’t tell you how proud and humbled I was to hear Bobby Orr say, “Of course. Everybody’s heard of Bret The Hitman Hart!” This was a very special moment to me that I’ll never forget.

Two days later I boarded a plane with my pal and former tag team partner, Jim The Anvil Neidhart, to do a wrestling legends autograph session in Fremont, California. Among others, on hand were Bobby The Brain Heenan and Cowb oy Bob Orton, neither one of whom I’d seen in quite some time.

Bobby Heenan was probably the greatest wrestling manager of all time. His sardonic wit came through as a color commentator for years in the WWF and he managed the likes of Andre The Giant, Mr. Perfect, Ravishing Rick Rude, and, of course, Ric Flair - just to name a few. We talked about how Bobby started in the business at seventeen years of age selling programs, much the same as I had done, except I was working at the ripe old age of four. Bobby has recently successfully battled tongue cancer and his spirits were good and it came across in his hilarious stories about Andre The Giant. He told me a tale about early one morning when Andre lumbered into a hotel lobby in Japan drunk as a tranquilized elephant! Andre went down for the count in front of the hapless desk clerk and nobody had a clue what to do. Twenty or thirty people from the frenzied hotel staff - bellmen, waiters and even the maids - pushed and tugged with all their might but they could not budge the snoaring giant! So ... in utter desperation sheets were summoned and they ran around covering Andre up. And there he lay, an unexplained mound, with tourists and businessmen hurrying past him - a do not disturb sign planted on the lump that was his head!

Andre awoke about noon sending everyone running like the return of Godzilla!

Cowboy Bob Orton was one of my mentors when I first got to the WWF in 1984 and I hadn’t seen or spoken with him since he left in 1988. Bob was one of the all time greats in wrestling and he had me and Anvil laughing so hard that we were in tears when he told us about the time that Roddy Piper called him early one morning to come help him and Don Muraco out of a little jam with the Fresno police! Bob got up and stepped into the hallway outside his hotel room, which was set up like a balcony overlooking an atrium, and as he strained to peek down into the lobby he used his leg to hold the door to his room open. Like a bad dream he heard the click of his door closing and realized that he’d locked himself out! I can imagine what a sight for sore eyes it was when Bob marched down to the lobby to vouch for Piper and Muraco wearing nothing but his birthday suit! The amazing thing is that Bob somehow managed to talk his way out of it and rescue Piper and Muraco too!

Bob was one of the few wrestlers that prided himself on his wrestling ability along with his safety record and throughout his long and illustrious career he never injured one wrestler.

With so many legends of wrestling disappearing faster than Siberian tigers I was thrilled to see that my old friends hadn’t changed ... still crazy after all these years ..... but I would not be convicted by a jury of my peers ...still crazy after all these years.

Death of Road Warrior Hawk

Soldier of fortune
He's a man of war
Just can't remember
What he's fighting for ...

Can't predict the future
Can't forget the past
Feels like any moment
Could be the last
  - Robbie Robertson

I was writing a eulogy for my father when the call came. Yet another member of the wrestling brotherhood was gone. I couldn’t help but think, now they’re dying faster than we can bury them.

Even the most casual wrestling fans are familiar with Hawk and Animal, the infamous Road Warriors, also known as The Legion of Doom. They were the most impressive looking tag team in the history of wrestling and certainly the most imitated.

Hawk was the one whose trademark growl was Oh What A Rush. He’s gone.

His born name was Mike Hegstrand and he was the sort of guy who made it fun to be in the locker room. He always seemed to be in a good mood and only had positive things to say. In a business full of tough guys nobody pulled his tail much. And he didn’t take himself too seriously. On October 18th Mike and his wife were packing up their belongings at their Florida condo to move into a new house the next day. At 8:30 pm Mike said he was feeling tired and went upstairs to lie down, asking his wife to wake him later. When she went to bed at 1:30 a.m. she realized that he was never going to wake up again.

Here’s a guy who toured the world day after day, year after year - countless planes, rental cars speeding in the most treacherous weather to make so many shows that they’re all a blur, injuries and all the attempted remedies for the pain, not to mention a hundred thousand bumps. That he finally made it home, only to die in his own bed, at forty-six - the suddenness of it has given me pause.

The Road Warriors are the only tag team in the history of wrestling to hold the WWF, NWA, AWA and All Japan tag team titles. As groundbreaking a phenomenon as they were in their WWF hey day, their stardom was unsurpassed in Japan where Hawk’s death made front page headlines.

I was always a big fan of the Road Warriors even though they appeared, to me, to be stiff in the ring, but when The Hart Foundation worked with them we found them to be nothing but total pros. In the 80’s and early 90’s, when tag teams reigned supreme, they were known mostly for their size and their promos and they were among those who set the standard for mic work. Three years ago Hawk suffered a heart attack as a result of cardiomyopathy, a disease that enlarges and inflames the heart that has been linked to steroids, even when they are taken by medical patients in much smaller amounts. After that he found religion and by all accounts had changed his wild and reckless roadlife ways and had been clean for some time, possibly even a couple of years, and was carrying a bible with him wherever he traveled. It looks like his decision came too late.

There are three hotbeds that have spawned the biggest stars of professional wrestling over the past three generations - Calgary, Texas and Minnesota. The years and the business have been hard.

Texas lost the four Von Erich boys, Bruiser Brody and Gino Hernandez, all before their time - to name a few.

Meanwhile, back home in Calgary, we said good-bye too soon to Larry Cameron, Brian Pillman, Davey Boy, and Owen.

The Minnesota boys of this generation all grew up in Hawk’s neighborhood, Robinsdale. They were wrestling fans as kids, watched it on TV together, and dreamed of lacing up boots.

While I was sixteen and making my way down the halls of Earnest Manning to 4 o’clock wrestling practice only to hear my classmates imitating the latest episode of Stampede Wrestling that they’d seen on TV ... No chan-see Mr. Whalen ....a ring a ding dong dandy ... Half a world away, in Robinsdale, a similar bunch of young scrappy teens were guffawing and jostling each other about their latest girlfriends or whose party was going to be the best that weekend. Much like me, a young curly blonde kid named Curt whose dad was a wrestler, took his fair share of wrestling study hour. His pals, Scott, Mike,, Joe , Brady, Barry, Tom, Wayne, Terry and Rick , among others, would be excitedly talking about the latest rantings of their local TV wrestling heroes like Mad Dog Vachon or even that tall lanky bald headed Baron Von Rashke. Curt would argue that if they knew anything about wrestling they’d know that The Baron was a former NCAA champion and that he was tough as hell. They’d marvel at the huge arms on Jesse “The Body” Ventura or strong man, Ken Patera. They all took to the local gym, pumping weights and competing with each other to see who was strongest, and they’d wrestle on the mats. Rick was a skinny but tough kid and could beat down nearly anybody in arm wrestling. Curt became a top amateur with a scholarship to Arizona State. But most of them wound up bouncing at the local bars, doing the same things I was doing up here in Calgary in the bottom of the 70’s.

When Mike and Joe started to take on the appearance of two life forms from a Frazetta poster, with thick muscles everywhere, they went to see the movie, The Road Warriors and it would change their lives and forever change the face of professional wrestling.

Barry Darsow became Smash of Demolition, Terry Szopinski was the humungus Warlord and Rick was reborn as Ravishing Rick Rude. Brady Boone, Tom Zenk, and Wayne Bloom all wrestled under their own names and various gimmicks throughout the years.

Of that band of brothers from Robinsdale, Ravishing Rick Rude and Curt “Mr Perfect” Hennig died of heart problems most likely caused by prolonged use of steroids and pain killers. Hawk also seems to have died of heart related problems but final word from the medical examiner will take a few months. And Brady Boone died in a carr accident while on the road as a referee for WCW. Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart told me that Hawk was uncharacteristically upset upon hearing the news of Stu’s passing on Wednesday afternoon, October 13th. I intended to call Hawk that Sunday afternoon to see how he was doing. ...

... but now I know he’s doing fine, in the company of an army of fallen comrades.

Fallen Angel
Casts a shadow up against the sun
If my eyes could see
The spirit of the chosen one
In my dream the pipes were playing
In my dream I lost a friend
Come down Gabriel and blow your horn
'Cause some day we will meet again
  - Robbie Robertson

Hooky on Halloween with Dean

I hear a lot of talk around town about haunted houses.

Lemme tell ya that the most legendary and infamous house of horrors was most certainly Hart House.

From my earliest recollections I remember waking up and going down to the dark and dingy dungeon where numerous humungus brutes waited for their turn to have a romp with my dad. Stu would eventually come down wearing his baby blue wool tights, licking his lips with his eyes ablaze looking very much like a crafty old daddy long legs spider. My dad made a point of never chasing any of the boys out of the dungeon because he considered this to be highly educational.

Most of the big brutes tried to make out to me that they would take it easy on my dad. So easy, in fact, that before long Stu would have them tied up in knots with screams so loud and blood curdling that my mom would call down from upstairs for him to quiet down. Sometimes when it got crazy enough they’d seize the moment and jump up to make their escape! The only trace that they’d been there at all were footprints in the snow.

For a little kid watching his dad pull some bull neck brute’s head off his shoulders was always interesting but at Hart House there was always something else.

Like under the porch, where Terrible Ted, the wrestling bear, lived for a time . He was in a little cage and he seemed to love my dad’s home made beer that was usually slipped through the bars by sweaty brutes when my dad got done with them. For me, I found it more enjoyable to grab myself a Revel out of the fridge on the porch and hang my feet down and drip ice cream on my toes and let Terrible Ted lick it off. I still have all my toes so I guess Ted wasn’t really all that terrible after all.

Generally on Halloween night most die hard trick or treaters wisely chose to drive past Hart House. When I was a kid my dad’s house was at the very edge of town but every once in a while some unknowing ghouls and goblins would rap on the kitchen door hoping for a treat. Candy was never an available commodity and I can remember some kids waiting at the door while my dad went digging around through the kitchen drawers and cupboards and came back with a fist full of chestnuts that’d probably been left there since WWI!

I remember one Halloween, when I was nine, when my older brother Dean concocted a crazy scheme to play hooky from school so we could prepare for a night of trick or treating. My brother Bruce typed out a note for the teacher and forged my mom’s name on it perfectly and it all should have gone smoothly.... but as you may have figured out Calgary weather can change pretty quick and our plans of drinking cream sodas and gorging on popcorn twists didn’t quite pan out when a foot of snow greeted us that morning!

When my dad dropped us off at lunch time we made like we were walking in just long enough to see my dad drive off. We made our getaway! We walked through Edworthy Park and climbed up a tall spruce tree that was just close enough to be a look out post. The cream sodas had frozen and the bottles exploded and our little holiday was turning into a nightmare.

My feet were frozen and I talked Dean into sneaking around the back way behind my dad’s house where we had hopes of scurrying to safety in of all places - the dungeon!

After hiking through knee high snow we got to a telephone pole on which there was posted a sign, WATCH OUT FOR CHILDREN. Well, that’s exactly what my dad must have been doing ...

We only had to run a short jaunt of about twenty feet and we figured that the chance my dad would be looking out the kitchen window at that very moment was close to impossible.

We made our move and tore across the driveway.

Dean cautioned me to wait while he checked to see if the coast was clear for us to dash to the steps that lead down to the dungeon.

Shivering from the cold I glanced behind me only to see my dad coming towards me looking a lot like J.R. Chicken Hawk. I frantically tugged at Dean’s coat. I was so scared I couldn’t talk and Dean, who hadn’t turned around, was getting mad at me for all that tugging. He turned just in time for Stu to collar us both!

“What are you two doing home from school so early?” my dad asked in a booming voice.

Well, Dean usually had an answer for everything - but not this time. Confined to our bedroom that Halloween night we could only listen to the few brave little souls who came out in the cold hoping for candy - but got only chestnuts.

But they still had a better day than us.

The Day After Stu's Funeral

It’s been a hectic week.

And now to wake up on Friday morning, the day after my dad’s memorial service, the only thing I can really write about this week is m y father because that’s all that’s on my mind.

There’s been so much that’s been said about my dad but I thought , it won’t hurt to write a little bit more.

Here’re two stories that got left on the cutting room floor, so to speak, when I did my eulogy.

It was one of those nights that my mom and dad went out and left my two older sisters, Ellie (12) and Georgia (11) in charge. They had instructions to make sure the “little ones” got to bed on time - and I was annoyed, as usual, that my sisters thought of me as one of the “little ones”. I was about ten at the time and as far as I was concerned I didn’t take orders from either of them.

Well, on this night I beat Ross handily in a table hockey game and one thing about my brother Ross was he didn’t take losing very well. I soon got into it with Ross and Ellie and Georgia came in to break up the tussle and ended up becoming part of a ring a ding dong dandy Hart kid style. Well, I wasn’t having any of it. I quickly showed them who was boss and soon left them all crying.

I went down to the kitchen and took a seat to watch Hockey Night In Canada. Something told me it was too quiet upstairs. It became apparent to me that they were getting ready for another charge.

I braced myself.

But by the end of the second period, despite the fact that my spidey senses told me things were only just heating up, I couldn’t stop thinking that one of those ice cream bars that my dad kept out in the freezer on the back porch would go down real nice in the third period.

I was only ten or fifteen feet away but it was freezing cold outside and if I wasn’t careful I could find myself getting locked out. It seemed like the whole clan upstairs was pretty riled up - but how long could it take just to grab a Revel ?

I made my big move, slipped out onto the porch and slid over to the freezer in my socks and grabbed an ice-cream bar and turned to go back inside - just in time to see Ellie, Georgia and Ross dead bolt the kitchen door. The girls laughed with glee, while Ross threw a triumphant fist in the air.

There were lots of doors to the house and I sprinted over to the closest one. They scrambled there before me and -- click -- it was locked. Another victory celebration inside!

I ran as fast as I could to the next door ... and the next ... and the next ... until finally there were no more doors to try. To them, it was sweet revenge but what they weren't fully getting is it was 30 below and I was wearing only socks, jeans and a T-shirt.

I looked up at the house, studying all the windows for a way in when I noticed the door up on the top floor balcony, outside my mother's office. I scaled a rickety scaffold and some splitting fascia, teeth chattering with my frozen socks sliding all over the place. It didn't even occur to me how dangerous it was because I was so satisfied at having found a way to outsmart Ellie, Georgia and Ross.

I snuck inside and hid under the desk in my mother's office for about 20 minutes, rubbing my numb feet. My sisters were feeling pretty proud of themselves but, after a while, their laughter turned to concern. They opened the doors and called out to me -- but, of course, I didn't answer. I was plotting my come back!

I did something that makes sense only to a 10-year-old boy: I made a running charge and jumped up onto a huge crystal chandelier, swinging down on Ellie, Georgia and Ross like Tarzan. I left them like a weasel fleeing a hen house, all of them crying and Ellie wagging her finger, "Just you wait until mom and dad get home and we tell them how bad you've been! You're in big trouble, Bret!"

I tried not to sell it. But when I finally did go to bed that night I knew I was in big trouble.

It turned out my parents got back very late and, buried under the blankets, I cringed as I heard my sisters rat me out. I can still hear my mom say: "Stu, what are you going to do?"

I heard my dad's heavy footsteps creak up the stairs. I made believe I was asleep but peeked through squinted eyes. His big silhouette hovered as he pointed his finger at me - but he simply said, "Buster, don't let it happen again."

He turned and walked out. I could hear the girls protesting about why that's all I got, as he shuffled them off to bed.

This was routine for me.

At around the same time, I’m not sure what I did but I know that my dad was plenty mad enough this one time that he chased me up the stairs. My dad was surprisingly fast - when you got him mad enough! As I recall I’m sure he had steam coming out of both ears as his big hands just missed my pant cuff as I raced up to the top of the stairs on the second floor and tore up another flight to the attic - with Stu in hot pursuit!

In the attic there was a huge antique pool table and we raced around ...and around ... and around .... first one way... then the other... But Stu guarded the entrance to the stairway, cutting off my escape! This went on for several minutes until finally he got so flustered ... It started to dawn on him how this might look! I gave him a hang-dog look and waited. Slowly a big grin broke over his face. I saw my opening and darted down two flights, taking the steps five at a time, right out the front door! I hid in the back seat of one of my dad’s old Cadillacs and held my socks with my hands doing my best to keep warm knowing that my dad would be leaving in a few minutes for his regular Saturday night show in Edmonton.

I’ll never forget the look on his face when he came out on the porch, looked around, got into a Caddy that was still alive. He was shaking his head smiling, wondering just where the hell I went! I never heard another thing about it!

For hours on end my dad would tell one amusing story after another - sometimes for so long that my mom would finally intervene and drag him off. My son Blade is calling me and I can’t help but feel history repeating itself ....

See ya next week.

Wrestling Indians

My heart goes out to Dany Heatley, his family and the family of Dan Synder.

With a sad shroud over the hockey world this week there was a good note.

One of my favorite players from junior hockey is Jordin Too Too. No, not Jacob Two Two, who I’ve written a lot about lately.

I met Jordin last season and he impressed me as a kind and genuine kid. I can only imagine what incredible obstacles he overcame to become the first Iniut to make it to the NHL Nashville Predators. In watching the highlights it was nice to see the feisty little Eskimo spark plug hangin’ and bangin’ with the best of ‘em. I can only hope that this will light the way and inspire more young native kids desperately in need of a hero.

I’d always hoped that former Calgary Hitmen stand out Brendt Dodginghourse would have made it to the NHL but, like me, severe concussions cut his career short. Being the good role model that he is you can still find him lending his good name to worthy native charities.

The world of wrestling was an open door for many native North Americans. My very first favorite wrestler as a kid was Chief Big Heart, a lumbering tree of a man who wrestled for my dad in the early 60’s.

There were a lot of wrestling Indians who weren’t really Indians at all. The famous midget, Little Beaver, was French. And WWF legend, Chief Jay Strongbow, whose stardom was second only to Bruno Sammartino and Pedro Morales in the 70’s, was actually an Italian from New Jersey.

The only Indian wrestling star of the 90’s was Tatanka, played by Chris Chavez, a full blooded native from the Lumbee tribe of North Carolina. Jack Briscoe, one time Oklahoma state wrestling champion and eventually NWA World Champion was probably the most skilled technical genuine Indian wrestler of all time. He, like the late great Wahoo McDaniel, was a full blooded Cherokee. Wahoo was feared and respected on the football field as a NY Jet every bit as much as he was in the ring.

Of all the stories that I told my mom, one of her all time favorites was the one about how Vince McMahon was desperately in search of a real native American wrestler but in the mid 80’s there were none to be had. Unless, of course, you dressed up some Japanese or Mexican wrestlers. It’s not like it hadn’t been done before. Out of Colorado came Steve Gatorwolf, a three hundred pounder who, unfortunately, was lacking in experience and ability. But when they told him they had huge plans for him on the marketing side - action figures complete with headdress and lance, T- shirts, headdresses, foam tomahawks - Gatorwolf had little choice but to go for it and hope for the best! At his first TV taping I remember Chief Jay Strongbow carefully going over - and over - how absolutely critical it was for him to make sure that after his victory not to forget to do a war dance. Chief told Gatorwolf over and over, “Vince wants to see the war dance.” As all the wrestlers and Chief Jay watched on the TV monitors in the back we saw poor Gatorwolf trip and stumble through an absolutely horrible match, delivering a vicious tomahawk chop to his opponent’s head that wouldn’t have cracked an egg. After the ref counted the pin fall all the wrestlers, along with Chief Jay, waited to see Gatorwolf dance. But he didn’t!

When he came back through the curtain Chief exclaimed, “What happened to the war dance? Vince wanted to see the dance!”

Poor ole’ Gator turned pale and nearly broke into tears. “Oh no. I forgot.”

No one ever heard of Steve Gatorwolf after that.

My mom used to say, “Wrestling’s not for everyone, dahling.” She always got a chuckle because the only thing he needed to remember going in was to make sure he did the dance and they’d have made him a household name! I hope the fickle finger of fate will be much kinder to Jordin Too Too. I look forward to watching him become part of the next generation of Canadian hero.

Good luck Jordin.

On Wrestling And Boxing

The game is location, situation and memory and a need to win. The psychology is in the player, not the game. He must enjoy the company of danger. He must have a killer instinct. He must be prideful , arrogant, aggressive, contemptuous, and dominating, willful in the extreme. All the sins of the non carnal type. - Don DeLillo

A couple of weeks ago I sat in my living room and watched Oscar De La Hoya vs. Shane Mosley. It’s been a little while since I’ve seen a really good toe to toe knock down drag out boxing match.

I’ve always been deeply fascinated with boxing, especially the build up to a show down between two adversaries with varying styles. Classic matches that come to mind - Louis/ Marciano, Ali/ Frasier, Dempsey/ Tunney ... the list goes on.

Vince McMahon told me recently that I was without a doubt his all time favorite storyteller in the wrestling business. Since then I’ve been thinking about how it is that I came to have the ability to tell great stories in the ring. I think it goes back to how I saw my favorite boxers, the story behind the fight and the analysis of what it was going to take to win.

A hundred years ago pro wrestling and pro boxing were promoted much the same. Wrestling evolved into more of a spectacle when the tough shooters of the 1920’s, who were much like the Ultimate Fighters you see today, realized that spectacle was safer, easier and more profitable when they didn't purposely hurt each other. Instead of one big match they could work across the country.

So, on Thursday I had an enjoyable phone conversation with Kurt Angle. We had a lot of good things to say about each other’s wrestling styles. If I was going to have one more great match it would likely be with Angle, but he was disappointed to hear me say that it’s impossible for me to ever wrestle again.

Angle told me that he’s made a point of watching as many of my matches as possible and that his favorite pro wrestling match ever is the Wrestlemania XII sixty minute iron man match between me and Shawn Michaels. It’s one of my favorites too.

It was while Kurt and I were talking about that match that I realized that one of the things I don’t see in wrestling any more is believable drama such as what me and Shawn had going into that match.

Shawn was being groomed for the world championship but I was carrying the largest portion of the serious fans. Shawn, despite the fact that he had talent, appealed mostly to the younger audience, at that time, because of his boy toy looks and persona. Looking back on it, I believe that most fans expected Shawn to take the title - it was, after all, his turn. But the way my character approached the fight it was clear that I would never let that happen, which, in turn, made for great drama.

Kurt Angle and The Best Wrestlers of the 20th Century

In times of greatness, every man becomes a king, which is the price paid by kings when they cannot stay the energies that keep them on their thrones. - Mark Helprin

Recently Kurt Angle challenged me to a match at Wrestlemania XX.

This challenge wasn't part of some wrestling storyline. Angle told ABC news that many people in the business consider me to be the greatest wrestler of the 20th century - and they're telling him that, so far, he may well be the greatest wrestler of the 21st century. He said his dream match would be to wrestle me. I am genuinely flattered by Kurt Angle's challenge. And to me, just to be thought of in the same league as the great workers who I would consider to be the greatest wrestlers of the 20th century is the ultimate complement.

Asking exactly who the greatest wrestlers of the 20th century are is one of those subjective list making things that leads to sometimes heated, but hopefully  fun, controversy.  The opinion of someone who never stepped foot in the ring will be different from that of a matt veteran.

Here are some of the first names that come to my mind, in no particular order:

  •  Dory Funk Jr.  Dory established the work rate that everyone else patterned themselves after - including me and every other great wrestler of the time.  He was the Gordie Howe of wrestling.
  • Nelson Royal.  A smaller version of Dory Funk.
  • Buddy Rogers.  He invented high spots and long routines and started wrestling in the direction that it went.   He was sometimes criticized by his peers for being "a routine man"  but turned out to be ahead of his time, Pat O'Conner.  A long time ago Leo Burke described him to me as the king of smooth.  O'Conner's realistic approach gave wrestling legitimacy.
  • Leo Burke.    He was privileged to wrestle so many of the greats and his special talent was his knack for gleaning the best from each of them and adapting it to his own style.
  • Archie The Stomper Gouldie.  The total package.  A guy that had everything - the look, the size, the physique, the persona   He was a lot like Bill Goldberg  except  that Archie was a wrestler's wrestler. And Archie cut the most believable one chilling promos I have ever heard, then or since!
  • Harley Race.  A legit tough guy and one of the hardest working bump men in the history of the  business.
  • Cowboy Bob Orton.  A wrestler's wrestler.  Credible.  The only guy I know of who has a comparable safety record to me.
  • Perdro Morales.  Often overlooked for being as good as he was.  Realistic.  Consistent.   He was one of the few great performers from his time that was also a great worker.  Morales could wrestle a broom stick.  Besides that, he was  exceptionally kind hearted and always had his ego in check.
  • Antonio Inoki.  Plain and simply a phenomenal technical wrestler.
  • Dynamite Kid.   Always an innovator.  Pound for pound the best there ever was.
  • Undertaker.  Despite his Frankenstein gimmick, Mark Callaway is a solid, convincing, steady, reliable wrestler.

I wonder how others in the business would sum up my contribution.  Vince McMahon recently said to me that he's seen them all and in his opinion I am the greatest storyteller in the history of wrestling.  If that is how I am remembered I have done well.
   
 As for Kurt Angle,  I think he is simply the best there is ...today. He reminds me a lot of Chris Benoit - and that's a compliment.  If I worked with Kurt Angle I imagine our match would be similar to the ones I had with Benoit, which many people tell me they consider to be classics.

Many fans have written to me saying that  Hitman vs. Angle is a dream match they'd love to see - and I agree!   In fact, not long ago I  actually awoke from a dream in which I had Angle clamped in a side head lock.  Never in all my years in the WWF did I ever dream of a wrestling match in my sleep, It made me realize that if I was going to come back for just one more great match I'd want Kurt Angle to be the guy.
 
It'd be a match of high caliber in the spirit of when I worked with Curt Hennig.  Roddy Piper.  Steve Austin.  Davey Boy.  And even Shawn Michaels.
   
I look forward to meeting Kurt Angle. Edge told me that Kurt wasn't a wrestling fan as a kid but that when he started in pro wrestling he watched every tape he could get his hands on and  decided he liked me best.  I'm flattered.
    
Thing is, I truly believe that Kurt Angle is the guy that can save wrestling - from itself.  In my opinion, the problem with wrestling today, the reason why the ratings are down,   is that very few guys know how to wrestle any more.  I mean wrestling as an art form.  To me they all look like a bunch of Mexican jumping beans and after a while that gets boring. It's like a movie full of car wrecks and explosions without any story.  I believe that one of the reasons I got the World Heavyweight Title,  the first time,  was because in the midst of a steroid scandal the WWF needed a champion who could really wrestle as one way of showing that the business isn't all about muscle . I believe that's what the WWE needs today and the guy that can pull it off and carry the torch is Kurt Angle.

If I ever could have a last match it would be with him.
 
I  still get letters every single  day asking...

Hey Hitman . when are you comin' back ....

In memory of Antonio the Great

Antonio the Great

This past week one of wrestling’s legendary friendly giants, French Canadian strongman Antonio The Great, passed away. He was in his late seventies.

Despite being penniless at the end of his life he was still loved by those who knew him for being a friendly giant.

My recent involvement with Mordecai Richler’s Jacob Two Two Meets The The Hooded Fang brought to mind my earliest childhood memories of wrestling. The first time I was rounded up and loaded into the car with my brothers and taken to a wrestling match I was four and a half years old. I was instantly hooked.

At the ripe old age of four my very favorite wrestlers were, of course, the ones who wore masks, but I was terrified of but one man. Antonio The Great. His publicity photos were enough to make me shake with fear. He was a huge mountain of a man with a long, scruffy beard and only three teeth. He looked like a four hundred pound cave man wearing jeans and a rope belt.

Any time my mom wanted to put me to bed early I can remember she’d say, “I hope I don’t have to call Antonio The Great”. I’d be under the covers pretty quick! But sometimes I’d even have nightmares about him staring at me with red eyes from the closet - and I was positive he was really in there! I vaguely remember one Stampede week posing for a photo with all my brothers and sisters and Rocky Marciano. A few feet away, somewhere not far from the Big 4 Building, Stu had Antonio the Great in one of his tests of strength pulling six busses!

I’d never seen him wrestle, just pull a bunch of busses, but that gave me goose bumps. The hair on the back of my neck stood up when he lumbered past me - dragging his chains with him.! I wasn’t sure what smelled worse, the stinky cows and horses or him. He reminded me of a woolly mammoth.

Back in those days my dad drove an old black airport transport limo that had four rows of seats and four doors on each side. After the matches Rocky Marciano climbed into the front seat with my dad so I was somehow demoted to sit in the last row in back. Stu started to pull away, or so I thought, but he pulled to a stop. The back door swung open and into the back seat right next to me climbed Antonio the Great! I held my breath in terror and shimmied to the other end of the seat. The monster casually grunted something in French and when I didn’t understand he leaned over and offered me some sunflower seeds in a bag.

My brothers were making a big fuss over Rocky Marciano while I was thinking, who the heck did he ever beat?

By the time we pulled up at the hotel to drop them off I finally got the courage to look him in the eye. As he stepped out of the car I bravely called out to him, “Good night, Antonio.”

He grinned and tossed me the rest of the bag of sunflower seeds. I couldn’t figure out why the little guy with the big nose wasn’t afraid of Antonio The Great, the scariest wrestler of ‘em all.

Ted Annis aka Teddy Hart

In the days when I first started out I used to think that it would be impossible to ever fill my legendary father's shoes. And that being a second generation wrestler was often twice as hard.

These days there are a handful of third generation wrestlers which is probably three times as hard. My twenty three year old nephew Ted Annis has never given up on his lifelong dream of making a name for himself in the wrestling business. I remember him at only eight years old wrestling in a ring outside my father's house with his younger brother Mathew and their boyhood pal T.J. Wilson until it was too dark to see. I was stunned to see all three of them, even then, doing standing back flips off the top turnbuckle and breathtaking moves that many of the top pros never dreamt of doing. The first of many tragedies befell the Hart family when Mathew Annis died from flesh eating disease when he was twelve. For young Ted to lose his brother and lifelong tag team partner was hard enough but over the years he was also faced with the loss of two wrestling uncles who he idolized - Owen and Davey Boy. But still Ted has never given up on his dream of someday making it to the big time.

His father, B.J., a retired and much respected Calgary firefighter, broke all the city records when he joined and many of them still stand. At one point B.J. was somehow coerced into pulling on a pair of wrestling tights but pretty much gave up on it after he got into a heated brawl with the legendary Makah Singh at the Sweetwater U.S./ Canada border crossing - right in front of the immigration agents! B.J. didn't lose that match! I think it's safe to say it was a malfunction at the junction.

The few third generation wrestlers that come to mind all walk in mighty big boots. The Rock was the first - and I've always been very proud of the job he's done, both in and out of the ring. It's my understanding that The Rock is still the class act he always was, just like his father, Rocky Johnson, and grandfather, Peter Maivia.

Another third generation wrestler is Randy Orton, who I don't recall ever meeting but I'm sure I have. His father, Cowboy Bob Orton, and his grandfather, Bob Sr., must be equally as proud. In my opinion Cowboy Bob is easily one of the top ten greatest wrestlers of all time.

A few weeks back I decided to give the upstart promotion NWA/TNA, based out of Memphis, a call to see if they might be interested in my nephew, Ted. They invited him down to compete in the Ring of Honor Tournament and much to their amazement he did the Hart name proud and stole the show! Placing second was no small achievement and phones in wrestling offices across North America haven't stopped ringing. It seems that Ted is finally on his way. There are some who might argue that second and third generation wrestlers have all the doors opened for them. It's just not true. When I first started in the WWF I had to overcome being thought of as just another promoter's son and I can only imagine the pressure Ted is under to walk in Owen's, Davey's, Stu's and my shoes! But if anybody can do it Teddy Hart can.

To see Ted work is to appreciate him. He does some of the most innovative and spectacular high risk moves in a business where everyone is constantly pushing it to new, more dangerous, levels. Today Ted carries the Hart banner into the next era of wrestling and marching along right beside him is T.J. Wilson, my nephew Harry Smith (Davey Boy's son) and even my niece Natalie Neidhart (Anvil's daughter). Your Uncle Bret wants you to remember these words that played in my head while I was riding that highway in the sky......

Don't give up until you drink from the silver cup
And never take you down or never give you up
You never know until you try

Memories of wrestling in Toronto

I’m writing from a plane on the way to Toronto for the media launch of Jacob Two Two and the Hooded Fang. The animated series debuts Sunday at 11:30 on YTV and in celebration there’s a new release of the classic children’s book.

By the way, I’m The Hooded Fang.

I often wondered what my life after wrestling would bring but never did I think it would include a moniker as dastardly as the scariest villains of the squared circle.

Going back to Toronto brings back a lot of memories for me. Like the first time I walked up to the back door of the old Maple Leaf Gardens to wrestle for the NWA. The security guards wouldn’t let me into the building. One of them had never heard of Bret Hart and the other one had but was sure I wasn’t him.

That’s because some guy stole my name and was wrestling all over as The Bret Hart - and always losing too!

And so that’s how I came to be called Buddy The Hearthrob. I went on to have an excellent match that night with a Japanese wrestler who, luckily for me, had great respect for me only because we’d both learned wrestling from the same teacher, Mr. Hito.

I was sidelined by a bad knee injury for a while and by the time I resurfaced in Toronto I was working for the WWF and tagged up with Jim The Anvil Neidhart as The Hart Foundation. I wasn’t a babyface any more and one of the most enjoyable memories I have about wrestling in Toronto is of riling up the fans who had now come to despise everything about me - mostly because I’m from out west!

Anvil and I cheated so ruthlessly that some of the best matches at the old MLG were between the security guards and the irate fans that climbed the fence that was around the ring!

I remember one night when the Killer Bees took us on and after The Hart Foundation broke every rule in the book The Bees were about to pull off a stunning upset by donning yellow masks and switching places when an enraged fan climbed into the ring and was heading straight for me. He was tackled by security guards and hauled him out of there.

After the match Anvil and I came back through the dressing room curtain victorious only to find this same fan in hand cuffs tearfully pleading to the cops that he wasn’t after me at all - he wanted to get his hands on Bee Brian Blair because those Killer Bees were trying to cheat to win! Then there was Wrestlemania VI when The Hart Foundation defeated The Bolsheviks in seventeen seconds in the packed to the rafters Sky Dome! Wrestling in Toronto wasn’t always great memories.

In a match with Dino Bravo he catapulted me backwards into a solid steel fence and I broke my sternum and cracked four ribs. I could hardly breath and as I writhed around on the floor outside the ring struggling for air the fans - and everybody else - thought it was part of the show. I thought I could very well die there on a sticky floor full of popcorn and beer.

This was one of the few times that I seriously injured myself but for the rest of my career every bear hug that I was ever put in hurt. Probably my most memorable moment wresting in Toronto came in 1999 when I was working for the hapless WCW. I don’t have very many good memories of WCW except possibly this one, maybe because it was the only time they ever listened to me.

It was the first time WCW came to Canada and I knew there were a lot of great fans who’d been waiting two years since my departure from the WWF for me to return. For several weeks leading up to the WCW show in Toronto I’d been mouthing off to Bill Goldberg as part of a storyline. They’d built Goldberg with a series of undefeated matches and I kept taunting him to try me on. There were fans outside the Canada Center chanting my name all day long before the match and by the time I walked out in front of the sold out crowd the response was deafening. Not to mention, I was wearing a Calgary Hitmen Jersey. I took the mic and went on to bash Goldberg, pulling off my Hitmen jersey to reveal a Maple Leafs jersey underneath - and declared to the big tough ex-football player that this is hockey country! And if Bill Goldberg had any guts he’d come out and face me right then and there!

Little did I know at the time that the WCW bosses were running around backstage fearful that for once an angle made too much sense. They quickly tried to ruin it by pushing Goldberg out through the curtain out of fear that the response I was getting from the fans was going to turn Goldberg heel! Goldberg stomped out and took the bait and tackled me full force like a practice dummy, leaving us both sprawled out on the mat. The Toronto fans were going crazy as they waited for one of us to get up. The cheering only got louder when I pulled myself up from the rubble and Goldberg didn’t budge at all.

I peeled off my Maple Leafs jersey to reveal that I was wearing a solid steel chest plate!

I rolled over that big gorilla Goldberg and the fans counted along with me as I became the first guy to ever pin him.

This, of course, eventually lead to other matches with Bill.

Unfortunately his skill was nil and six months later he ended my career with a mule kick to the side of my skull that nearly ripped my head off and sent my brain rocking like jello.

Now about to land in Toronto as The Hooded Fang, I wonder what strange new storylines are yet to come!

Jacob Two Two

In June 20, 2002 I shared a stage with the likes of Richard Dreyfuss for a tribute to the late Mordecai Richer in Montreal.

I’d been invited to recite a passage from his much loved children’s book Jacob Two Two Meets The Hooded Fang - as the Hooded Fang himself! When I arrived backstage that day I got a strong sense that everybody looked at me as the one guy who was going to trip up in what was a one- take, live- to- tape performance.

Despite my microphone breaking just before I walked through the curtain wearing a mask to hide my face I went on to deliver what I thought would probably be my best and only performance of that kind.

I enjoyed playing this bit part as The Hooded Fang because as a kid growing up I always wanted to be a masked wrestler! Some of my favorites were The Zebra Kid, Mil Mascaras and The Destroyer, to name a few.

As strange as it may sound even though my wrestling career was over I was happy to at last have the chance to walk out and face a crowd under a mask.So I figured that I’d be The Hooded Fang for five minutes and in the long and short of it, it wouldn’t stand out as any kind of a memorable performance to anyone but me.

I returned home triumphant that I hadn’t fallen into the orchestra pit! I felt like I was on top of the world because Richard Dreyfuss had patted me on the back for a job well done - and even Jean Belliveau had congratulated me. This was still vividly playing in my mind when I wheeled my bike out for a ride the day after I got home from Montreal, on June 24th Little did I know how much my life would change that day.

On June 26th I’d been laying in a hospital bed for two days, barely able to move at all and too weak to swallow let alone speak after having suffered a major stroke on the bike path.

I watched the CBC tribute to Mordecai on the TV in my hospital room, broken hearted beyond imagination that it was likely my last public performance of any kind.

In with thousands of get well wishes I received all addressed to The Hitman I found one hand made card addressed to The Hooded Fang. It came from “the fourth grade class at St. Joseph’s school & Miss. Savoia & Mrs. Meldrum (2002)”. It’s a piece of folded up purple construction paper that has names carefully sprawled all over it in crayon - Danielle, Stefan, Brittani, Michael, Hailey, Taylor, Shaylene, Michaela, Ryan, Jenna, Jason, Tylor, Amber, Kayla, Madyson, Matthew, Matthew N., Sean, Benjamin, Alison, Sophia and Mambembe - with a message on the back that reads may you be happy, may you be loved, may you be blessed by the stars above. This simple card never left my bedside the whole time I was in the hospital.I’m not sure why it means so much to me.

Maybe because I thought my career was over and yet here were a bunch of kids too young to even know me as a wrestler at all - to them I am The Hooded Fang. I’ve always kept their card within view - along with a giant card that Jerry Forbes put together for me that all sorts of people took the time to come out and sign. On the day that I did the reading in Montreal the director, Michael Levine, said they would keep me in mind to be the voice of The Hooded Fang in an animated series. It was after my stroke that they gave me the part! I surely thought they’d get someone else - but they were even more sure that I would recover than I was! With this kind of faith from well wishers around the world who was I to disappoint everybody?

Now that I’m doing so much better I just wanted to take the time to thank each and every one of those kids at St. Joseph’s school for thinking of me during those dark days. I want you all to know that every time you watch the new cartoon series Jacob Two Two, The Hooded Fang is thinking of you too. Jacob Two Two debuts on YTV, Sept. 7th @ 11:30 a.m.

They'll have a cow man!

Dan Kroffat was one of the great wrestlers from Stampede wrestling in the 70’s and, by the way, was the original creator of the ladder match concept. These days he’s tagged up in the car biz with community crusader, Alex Baum, captain of Cochrane Dodge, whose latest effort to help Alberta’s beef industry is The Great Alberta Beef Eating Contest. It’s a genuine sanctioned contest in an attempt to claim the Guinness world record for downing hamburgers!

Dan called me the other day to tell me he’d see me there and asked me who I’d rounded up for the competition so far as serious eaters go. I immediately thought of the late great Haystacks Calhoun, who made no bones about how much he enjoyed a good eight pound steak!

I told Dan there was a good chance that Jim The Anvil Neidhart would drop in and stay a while as I’ve never known him to turn down a free meal.

I’m also working on someone who I consider a shooter in an event like this, top Canadian strongman, Grant McReynolds, who just happens to be my personal trainer. Grant has confided in me that he is going to fast for the three days before the event and told me that he wants to shake the hand of the man who beats ‘em.

I reasoned to Dan that size isn’t necessarily a factor when it comes to these things and I reminded him of the famous midget wrestler Sky Low Low , who is known to have routinely polished off a three pound prime rib in one sitting.

I should have known what I was getting into by bringing up his wrestling past to Dan. Dan went on ... and on ... to recall numerous wrestlers from his era who emptied many a roadside kitchen and never saw a buffet table they didn’t conquer! The infamous Tor Kamata, Dan’s old nemesis from his ladder match days, opened a fast food chicken teriyaki place here in Calgary a while back and is rumored to have eaten himself out of business!

A little known fact, and maybe better left that way, is that Andre the Giant loved to watch The Flintstones. He could recite from memory the dialogue from any episode and his favorite past time was to put his size twenty two feet up and annihilate three barrels of KFC before Fred dropped the cat out the back door!

When I asked my father who he thought might fare well in an eating contest, without hesitation he quipped, “Eh ... the world famous McQuire twins, they had a healthy appetite .... !” He had a point. At five hundred pounds - each! - it wasn’t unusual for a crew of wrestlers to see the McQuires down five hundred, twenty five cent McDonald’s burgers between them! And then the twins would argue about which one had eaten more and end up not talking for days!

I recall once that Yokozuna, while taking in a Baltimore Oriole baseball game, inhaled fifty hot dogs. It wasn’t surprising when everyone in the dressing room at the Cap Centre that evening heard a big kaboom and we all went running to see what it was only to find Yoko had collapsed our lady of porcelain and sat there on the floor of the toilet stall with a stunned, mortified look on his face.

According to the IFCE - that’s the International Federation of Competitive Eating - (and you thought wrestling was strange?) the world record for hamburger eating is currently held by Donald Lerman who gulped down eleven quarter pound burgers and buns in ten minutes.
The Great Alberta Beef Eating Contest at Cochrane Dodge will kick off at 12:30 on Monday, September 1st with the eat off at 1:00. A lot of familiar faces will be there to join in the fun and I look forward to seeing you all there to help raise awareness for such a worthwhile cause.

Best there is, best there was, best there ever will be.

Tag Team: Jim Neidhart and Bret Hart

Just the other day I ran into Jim on the Bow River bike path. You know, Jim The Anvil Neidhart.

We stopped to drink a couple of ...”soda pops”. Jim was beaming - like a little kid with a big devilish grin as he pulled a magazine out of his backpack.

It was the Pro Wrestling Illustrated 40th Anniversary of the WWE special edition. He flopped it open and pointed to an classic Hart Foundation photo, “Greatest tag team in the history of the WWF! Not bad, huh? ” he chuckled pulling his goatee.

To tell the truth I took it as a huge compliment because I know how hard both of us worked at trying to earn that claim when we ruled the world of tag team wrestling as two time WWF Champions. Jim and I were a unique team for a lot of reasons as we combined Jim’s speed and strength with my skill and ring psychology. We were like a Porsche and a tank. Another thing that was unique to our relationship was of course the fact that Jim was married to my sister Ellie and ranked right up there as one of Stu’s favorite sons in law. Even to this very day I’ve never had one argument with Jim and we’ve remained close friends through some bizarre and trying times.

As I flipped through the mag I couldn’t help but notice that I was rated the greatest Intercontinental champion of all time. Another huge compliment. I smiled at the fond memory of some of my greatest IC matches - against the late great British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith and Mr Perfect Curt Hennig, and then there was Wrestlemania VIII with Roddy Piper.

A few months ago the WWE asked wrestling fans around the world to vote on who was the greatest world champion of all time and I was touched and delighted when I heard that I won. When I think of the great WWF Champions - Bruno Sammartino, Buddy Rogers, Superstar Billy Graham, Bob Backlund and Hulk Hogan, I feel genuinely honored to even be considered in their company.

Any great wrestler will tell you that he wouldn’t have gotten very far without the loyalty and support of his fans. But really, I stood on some pretty tall shoulders. Because I grew up inside the business I was able to watch and appreciate how Buddy Rogers put the psychology into wrestling, changing it forever into what it is. Bruno and Backlund were two of the classiest champions I ever watched and I tried to emulate them throughout my career by carrying myself with dignity and respect like they did. Superstar Graham and Hulk Hogan were the consummate showmen who kicked the doors wide open. Like Jim, I wore a beaming smile when just a couple of weeks ago Edge told me that Kurt Angle’s favorite wrestler is me! Kurt Angle, who I’ve yet to meet, along with Stone Cold, Undertaker and The Rock are all great wrestlers in their own right.

When I look back over my career one of my biggest fans and closest friends who buoyed my confidence in those dark early days when I needed it the most was my tag partner Jim Neidhart. He rarely gets the credit he deserves but I’ve always known that I wouldn’t have become a great champion without him. We clinked our soda pops together and toasted the old Hart Foundation days.

Best there is ...best there was ..best there ever will be.

A trip down memory lane [Saskatoon & Regina]

Last Saturday night I spent some time hanging out with several WWE wrestlers talking old times and swapping stories. They lived their life as I did, bag in hand, off to another show and another town. I enjoyed meeting so many of the WWE boys who got there after I left and was grateful when they told me that it was watching me work that made them want to become wrestlers in the first place. I hope they’ll find the same rewards that a wrestlers’ life gave me - the places, the faces and a lifetime of memories. I do sometimes miss the world of wrestling, especially my early days with Stampede Wrestling.

I had a couple of appearances scheduled in Saskatoon and Regina and opted to drive instead of flying, remembering back to the days of zooming down the highway in one of my dad’s beat up passenger vans with no heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer. There’d be numerous huge feet jutting out the windows, unless of course the midgets were on board.

Driving through Drumheller brought back memories of how, for years, on the drive down we’d get the rookie wrestlers all hopped up telling them a tall tale that Stu was born there and the people of Drumheller had erected a huge statue in his honor. Many times the rookies would wait excitedly with camera in hand to snap a photo of this rare monument to a wrestling promoter, perhaps even envisioning there might be a statue of them in their own home town one day. Then we’d come around a corner and come upon that huge T-Rex - which bears an oddly striking resemblance to my dad, especially when he’s angry! Well, we’d all crack up laughing and it would all come full circle when the rookies waited for new recruits and would play the same prank on them!

As I drove on I realized that even though it’s been a while since I made the drive from Calgary to Saskatoon every Monday for six years, I still know every turn in the road.

Passing Hanna brought back memories of Dave Ruhl., an honest to goodness farmer turned wrestler who really was from Hanna. I couldn’t help but smile at the days that wrestling was simple and fun and farmers drove many a mile for the highlight of their week, to come and see one of their own put true to life villains in their place. Like Archie the Stomper, who, interestingly enough, hailed from Carbon, Alberta and Abdullah The Butcher, who was billed as being from the jungles of the Khartoum but resided in Windsor, Ontario.

Those were the days of real villains like Adi Amin, who is now only clinging to life in Libya somewhere. I was fourteen and it made perfect sense to me and wrestling fans at that time to see the Hanna pig farmer slapping his bandy arms around Abdullah’s huge back,, with Abby, who was usually a bloody mess, fighting to escape. I loved it! When I think about those days, it’s no wonder the fans would get so into it. Even announcer Ed Whalen would fly off the handle. Once he even cracked Abdullah in the head with the mic so hard that Abby needed a dozen stitches!

When I got to Saskatoon I found that the old arena had been torn down. I had my first match there twenty five years ago, tagged up with Paddy Ryan against my mentors, Mr. Hito and Mr. Sakurada. i was white as a ghost, skinny at two hundred pounds and a nervous wreck. I figured my teachers would take it easy on me but I figured wrong. They slapped, chopped, kicked and slammed me enough that I thought I’d done something so bad that I’d angered them something fierce. But after the match they commended me explaining that it was the only way they could work with me since I was a complete rookie. In those days it wasn’t about making someone look good, it was about making people think maybe it’s real.

Fourteen years later, on October 12, 1992, I walked into the newly built Sask Place unaware that I’d be walking out as WWF World Heavyweight Champion that day!

At my appearance in Saskatoon last Wednesday so many of my long time fans who have supported me since long before I achieved any success in wrestling came out to reminisce about how they were there that night when I defeated Ric Flair for the title and I could see that it still means as much to them as it does to me.

I’ve seen a lot of highways since those humble beginnings but I will never forget the good old days of Stampede Wrestling when the fans, as well as the wrestlers, were real - or at least we acted like it.

I wish I could load my kids into the car on a hot Friday night and drive down to the pavilion to watch someone who looks like Chad Kroeger, the lead singer of Nickelback, beating the daylights out of Saddam Hussein!

Appreciation for Rugby

Ever since I was a kid I’ve had an appreciation for rugby. It probably came from my older brother Keith, who often took me to watch him play with the Saracens After years of eagerly watching from the sidelines when I was about fifteen Keith and his team mates offered me a chance to participate in an exhibition game. Being as I was so young and skinny back then I didn’t pose any real threat. But I do remember the opposing team racing down the field and finding myself the lone man back to stop them from scoring a try. Coming right at me with nostrils flared and teeth clenched was a brute twice my age and practically twice my size. I dove and snagged ‘em by the ankle with a shoestring tackle and sent him crashing to the ground.

It was my first real taste of rugby.

I’ll never forget Keith and the rest of the Saracens smiling and slapping me on the back after we won the game. Since then I’ve been sort of a serious casual rugby fan. I think anyone who loves hockey would love rugby and while I was in New Zealand a few months ago I wasn’t surprised to find that there were numerous rugby fans that love hockey. They follow it closely on the internet.

The Dynamite Kid was considered a highly touted prospect in rugby long before he achieved stardom as a wrestler. I’ve always felt that he sometimes wished he’d stuck with rugby instead. Knowing Dynamite he would have ended up in a wheel chair either way. When we were wrestling in England in the 80’s he took me to a rugby game in Wigan not far from his home to cheer on the local team against their long time arch rivals from Leigh. Dynamite jerked and twisted in his seat and only then did I realize how much he wished he was in there. He reminded me of how an excited wrestling fan acts when watching a great match. I could not get over how physical it got . I’ll never forget one injured player writhing face down at the far end of the field and an opposing Wigan player jogged over to help him, or so I thought, but instead he kicked him as hard as he could in the face. It’s no wonder Dynamite loved it!

Another wrestler that had a passion for rugby was Crazy Nick Carter of the Kiwis - later known as Butch of the Bushwhackers. Butch was a standout player with the New Zealand Junior All Blacks once upon a time. I remember being in the WWF dressing room staring at him while he taped up his ankles. It was obvious they’d both been injured and I asked him how it happened. He want on to tell me that while in a rugby scrum the weight of the opposing team collapsed on top of him snapping both his ankles. They almost had to amputate both his feet and it had taken him years to recover. Luckily, like a lot of injured athletes from other sports, Butch ended up in wrestling where he became a star. Butch suffered without complaint but I think what really hurt him the most was that he couldn’t play rugby any more. Bushwhacker Bush is one of the toughest wrestlers I ever knew.

While I was in New Zealand I caught a championship rugby game and found it to be one of the most exciting sports events I’ve watched all year. That’s why I’m excited about going to the Canada/New Zealand match tomorrow at Calgary Rugby Park (9025 Shepard Rd. SE). According to my brother Keith, who oughtta know, the game to watch is the Rugby Canada Super League Final, a fierce rivalry that starts at 1 p.m.

If you love hockey you might really want to consider checking this out. See you there!

Pet Pouri

Sometimes I feel a bit like my dad, which is a good thing when it comes to my love for animals. Stu is a legendary animal lover and there were always countless dogs and cats running all over his house.

My oldest daughter, Jade, recently bought for me a black siamese fighting fish and for some odd reason she insisted I name it Gord. Maybe she thought a siamese fighting fish would fit in well with my pug, Coombs, a descendent from a long line of ancient chinese fighting dogs. Coombs’ cute girlfriend, who happens to be Jade’s dog, is a black and tan long haired Chihuahua with a fiery latin temper that keeps him virile. Luckily it’s impossible for them to have puppies because I have no doubt they’d be pretty strange looking.

The attraction surely has nothing to do with the fact that he’s a wrestler’s dog or that he’s actually starred on Celebrity Pets! Not to mention an appearance with Jan Arden and Joe Clark where Coombs held his own drinking beer and swapping old war stories with the one time PM.

I also have a disheveled and scrappy country cat named Smokey who’s been widowed several times on account of the coyotes. My youngest daughter, Beans, rectified the situation for him and now I have a cute calico kitten named Sophie.

The other day I went for a stroll near my house, which I do often since walking is important for my rehabilitation. This time I was amused to find that not only were the dogs following me but so was Smokey and the little kitten too. It was on my return home that I was stopped by one of my neighbors who was shocked to find that I walk not just my dogs but my cats too!

I’ve come to think of them as the Clawed Squad.

People don’t know this and it’s the first time I’m telling anyone but I’m not completely out of wrestling.

I’ve been secretly teaching my dogs pro wrestling. No, I don’t condo ne dog fighting, what I teach is a more catch as catch can style with flips, rolls, working the body parts and the occasional flying head butt.

Heated negotiations are in the works for them to possibly debut on the undercard at The Bowness Sportsplex much like in the old Stampede days when my dad brought in a wrestling bear as a novelty. But Coombs has his sights set on appearing at next year’s Wrestlemania because he has no doubt that Vince wouldn’t hesitate to air his take on Survivor Series ‘97 too.

There’s always the possibility that Coombs and his valet, Chi-Chi, could take a run down to Mexico where professional dog wrestling has been going on for years. Possibly under a mask as the Golden Amigo.

I’m sure there are people who are more than skeptical that my dog Coombs can actually wrestle but I assure you that he can deliver drop kicks that are chest high and all you have to do is check with numerous FedEx delivery people who have found themselves upside-down in the hedge with Coombs teeth gently pressing on their jugulars waiting for those magic words of mine, “Let ‘em up, Combs!”. Or even last week when a wide-eyed and somewhat terrified Tie Domi tore up my street with a shredded pant cuff after casually joking that dog wrestling was mostly all fake.

And it doesn’t surprise me to learn from my neighbors that the coyotes are afraid to roam the neighborhood any more, not to mention the fact that my Clawed Squad has run off one stubborn porcupine and a pot bellied pig with an attitude.

Although Coombs is more of a show dog and is considered to be more of a worker than a shooter, in a loser leaves the neighborhood match with the pit bull from across the street Coombs sent him packing by beating him via count out.

Coombs is hitting the bag pretty hard and if you drive by my house you may see him hanging from a contraption in the front yard doing upside-down sit ups because there’s a good chance he’ll be strutting his stuff preparing for a pose down at the upcoming Calgary Pugfest on August 11th, where he’ll be happy to give you a paw print as his autograph and a lick on the face.

And never forget the ancient Chinese proverb that warns, even a rhinoceros retreats but never a pug!

Have a good weekend.

Montreal screw job reviewed...again

Oh no, not that again.

That was my reaction when I heard they were playing clips of the Montreal screw job on Raw last Monday.
 

Stampede week has always been special to me

I’m wrapping up touring Europe with my thirteen year old son, Blade.

I’ve seen a lot

Being from a family of twelve kids, I didn’t get a lot of one on one time with my dad, except for the wrestling. I don’t know how my parents did it.

I try to spend as much individual time with my four kids as possible. I’ve been privileged to travel the world but all too often saw the sights through the window of a speeding vehicle racing me to some arena or airport. I’ve wanted to go back and really take in so many landmarks, recently with a new determination. Gaining back my mobility after my stroke has made me live the old adage, don’t put off for tomorrow what you can do today. So, a few days ago I flew off to see the battlefields of France with my youngest son.

I remember my first car

I was driving past Ernest Manning high school. yesterday and I remembered my first car.

It was a gold ‘66 Cadillac Brougham de elegance.

I got it in ‘74 - after it had been raped and pillaged by my dad’s wrestlers.

It idled with a bad case of the shakes making me feel instantly sorry for it.

I can remember the first day I saw it parked in the back yard at Hart house, all shiny and new. I’d play in it, pretending to drive , until my dad needed it to go off to parts unknown on yet another adventure.

Eight years and hundreds of thousands of miles later Stu handed me the keys and said, “Go ahead and take that gold Caddy that you like ... but don’t drive it like your brother Smitty!”

Story about Goldberg & Jericho

According to the poll on my web site some of your favorite columns that I’ve written have to do with behind the scenes stories about wrestlers. Here’s one that I heard just last week that kind of reminds me of David and Goliath.

Making his way back into wrestling circles is Bill Goldberg, who is most famous for his incredible undefeated string of victories in WCW. Not to mention that he’s the guy that accidentally kicked me in the head in December ‘99 causing my career ending concussion. He kicked me much like a wild bucking horse and literally nearly knocked my head off my shoulders. I still , even now, have a tear in my neck muscle the size of a quarter that will never heal, to prove it.

I was told by a former head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, who coached Bill Goldberg, that if he had a whole team of Goldbergs he’d win the superbowl every year.

Death of Miss Elizabeth (friend & wrestling manager/valet)

Miss Elizabeth was a flower among the weeds. She died Thursday morning in Hobb County, Georgia, of causes yet to be determined. She was forty two.

To wrestling fans Liz is best remembered as the prim and proper manager/valet of her real life husband, Randy Macho Man Savage. Not to take anything away from Randy, but I’m sure he’d agree that Elizabeth’s classy appeal had no small part in his rise to the top. Away from the spotlight the real Liz was very much like the character she played. She was shy and quiet and her elegant grace was easy on the eyes. She and Randy were great together and had already been married for years before their live on pay per view wedding at Summerslam ‘91. Even though it was part of the storyline it was obvious to anyone back stage that the ceremony was very real to Liz, who looked at it as renewing their vows and was emotional and beaming.

Bret's 88th Birthday Tribute to Stu

An article by Bret about his dad as part of a special 8-page pull out in the Calgary Sun, Wednesday, April 30, 2003 in celebration of Stu's 88th birthday (May 2nd) and the 50th anniversary of Stampede Wrestling. (Note: There was no column on Saturday, April 26, 2003)

I read a folk tale about a father pursuing a son who’s run far away from one world to the next. The father called to him, “please come back!”, but his son looked across the great gulf between them and shouted to him, “I can’t get that far!”. So his father yelled to his son, “Then just come back half way!” But his boy replied, “I can’t go back half way!” And finally his father shouted, “Walk back as far as you can - and I will go the rest of the way!” (Ron Hansen)

Easter with Owen in Israel

It seems like every year at Easter I was on the road somewhere instead of being home with my kids hunting down Easter eggs.

When I was a kid Easter was a shoot. I remember my mom and dad went to great lengths hiding little Easter baskets throughout Hart house before the younger kids woke up. And then there were times when my older brothers “helped out” with hiding them and they were hidden so well that they were sometimes never found! All I know is that the Hart kids would go foraging like an army of ants. Sitting through hours of Easter specials on TV each year depressed me and it seemed to defeat the fun of finding one little chocolate bunny anyway.

Hockey Night in Hart House

Like most young boys in Canada, I wanted to be a hockey player. But in the house where I grew up, with seven brothers and four sisters, wrestling boots were easier to come by than hockey skates.

I can't remember a time when I wasn't surrounded by wrestling.

I'd wake up and think nothing of giants and midgets wandering through the house.

It was one of those nights when my mom and dad went out and left my sisters, Ellie, 12, and Georgia, 11, in charge. They had instructions to make sure the "little ones" got to bed on time -- and I was annoyed, as usual, my sisters thought of me as one of the little ones. I was 10. As far as I was concerned, I didn't take orders from either one of them.

I was glued to the chair in front of the TV in the kitchen intently watching Hockey Night In Canada. At the end of the first period, I went upstairs for a game of table hockey with my younger brother, Ross, 7.

The death of Curt Hennig (comrade)

With Curt Hennig I was able to do slick moves that I wouldn’t think of doing with most other guys ... We adjusted to each other’s timing in anepic back and forth battle where we constantly gave back to each other. I had Curt beat after I came off the second rope, spiking his chest with the point of my elbow, hooking his leg for a 1...2... when the bell clanged signaling the end of our twenty minute match. Curt made his escape while I retrieved the house mic and pleaded for five more minutes. Curt turned to leave, signaling me to turn my back on him. In a flash he was back in the ring viciously beating me to the mat. Kneeling over top of me and shaking me by the hair he slapped me across the face until the referee managed to break us apart. Angrily Curt climbed to the top turnbuckle while I popped up to my feet and greeted him with a fist to the gut causing him to lose his balance and crotch himself hard on the corner strut.

Written at the invitation of The Calgary Hitmen Hockey Team

As you may already know, I suffered a major stroke back in June. I’ve always seen myself as somewhat indestructible and to be humbled beyond anything I could ever imagine left me with little to do but cling to hope and believe that I would come out of it.

Bret's first public statement after suffering stroke on 6/24/02

This is the hardest column I’ve ever written.

I’m doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances.

I made the stupid mistake of riding my bike without a helmet. My chin strap broke and I’d put off getting it fixed.

Bike riding has long been one of my passions, especially here in Calgary on the bike paths along the Bow river.

I hit a pot hole in the grass and crash landed on my head. As best as can be determined I suffered a stroke on impact.

Unable to move the left side of my body I used my cell phone to call for help. I thought I wasn’t hurt too badly but boy was I wrong.

I very much want to thank the anonymous roller blader who rushed off to show the ambulance where to find me. His effort will never be forgotten.

Tribute To Hulk Hogan

Hulk Hogan.

He hasn’t changed a whole heck of a lot from the way he was the first time I met him back in ‘79. The first time I met Terry Bollea we were both working for Georgia Championship Wrestling, which eventually evolved into the WCW.

Back then he was known as Sterling Golden. He was very green . And very impressive. On the day I left Atlanta to come home I knocked on his door to say good bye and told him if he ever wanted to learn to wrestle he was welcome to come up and work for my dad any time. He thanked me, and meant it, saying he’d keep it in mind.

The next time I saw him was in Japan. He’d just shot his cameo for the Rocky III movie and was on the verge of mega - stardom that nobody could have even begun to imagine. Still the same guy.

When I started with the WWF, in August of ‘84, he was on his way to being , without question, the biggest name in the history of wrestling.

The death of Davey Boy Smith (brother-in-law & wrestler)

The tragedy of life is not that we die, but what dies inside a man while he lives.

Davey Boy had his share of demons and There are so many things that need to be said about how ...and why he died. But now is not the time. Another dead brother.

I’m so angry.
Yet I’m more sad than anything else.

I took Davey in to live with me when he first arrived here from England. I doted over him like a son, as did my girlfriend, Julie, who I later married.

Back then Davey was just a skinny seventeen year old kid with sparkling eyes and a dimpled smile. He was always naively innocent but that was more of a good quality, one that he’d never lost.

He had a gentle side and yet there was an unstoppable determination about him. He was a fierce fighter - and I know - from the countless times, when we were younger, and we had to fight back to back. I can tell you how great it was to have him on my side.

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