On May 7, 2003, NZPWI’s James Cardno had the privilege of interviewing one of the true legends and icons of wrestling, Bret “Hitman” Hart. A much-loved veteran of the sport, Hart has been entertaining audiences for over two decades.
Bret, who was set to perform in Auckland as part of WWA The Reckoning, took time out of his busy schedule to discuss a number of topics, including the role he will be playing at the WWA event – special guest referee in a match between NWA World Heavyweight Champion Jeff Jarrett and WWA World Champion Sting.
He also talked about his long and illustrious career in wrestling, his thoughts on the business, and his attitude towards important events from his past such as the Montreal Incident, his stroke and his former employer, Vince McMahon.
Many thanks to Sandra Roberts and the New Zealand Listener for clearing these portions of the interview for use by NZPWI.
James Cardno: You’re coming to New Zealand with the WWA tour. Is it your first time in New Zealand?
Bret Hart: Not officially, no, I was actually in New Zealand back in 1981 for a short time, for a wrestling outfit with Steve Rickard.
Who in WWA impresses you?
I’ve always been a big fan of Jeff Jarrett, somebody who I’ve got a lot of regard for both as a friend and as a professional. I think the one thing about the WWA is that they’ve got a lot of really young, spirited guys who want to show everybody what they can do. A lot of the young guys are looking for a platform or stage to expose them so that they do eventually possibly wind up in the WWE. I think everyone will be really working hard
What’s it like planning spots and matches with the talent located in different areas of the country?
Sometimes it can work to an advantage. When you’re working with someone you haven’t worked with before, it can be better. Sometimes, it can be a disaster. You don’t really know til you get to it. Some guys can rise above it and work with it really well.
What do you think it would take for an organisation to compete with the WWE?
I suppose the best thing is a fairly reliable bank account. I think you’ve got to set some short-range goals, don’t overextend yourself. Just establish a relationship with a core audience, just establish your stars. It doesn’t have to be on the level that the WWE has with the lights and the staging. A lot of times the wrestling matches are the entertainment. It takes some good hard working wrestlers and a good crowd.
The “Hitman” character that you came to the WWF with has huge international appeal. Why do you think that character really stood out?
I don’t know, I think I was one of the few characters that was kinda lot like he really was. In the ring, I was a lot like that character outside. I was the same guy in the ring that I was at home, and I think people respected that about me. Even Vince McMahon said that, that I was the only guy that was really playing himself.
Who from the late 80s WWF do you think should have made it but never did? Shawn Michaels is the only one from that era…
… who survived?
Well, who is still really successful, I guess? Apart from Hogan, of course.
There were a lot of guys. There was a big guy called the Warlord – 6’5”, built like a brick wall. I don’t know what happened to him, but he’s somebody who, if they’d had the right push from the promotion, would have gone a long way. I think “Mr Perfect” Curt Hennig could have gone a lot further than he did. I also think my brother Owen was held back for a long time with lame gimmicks and tagged up with Koko B. Ware.
Sometimes you’ve got to slog it for a while until the right thing comes along. I know that when I started, I was set to become “Cowboy” Bret Hart – rope, a cowboy hat, chaps.
I think I had a lot to do with even Shawn’s success, to bring him to the front of the format of wrestling. My brother Owen is another one I helped to launch, in a way. I think even Steve Austin became Steve Austin while he was wrestling me and defined who he would become later. I don’t deny that any of them had the talent to make it on their own, but I think I had a lot to do with helping them to where they were.
Moving on, you formed a new Hart Foundation after a singles run, featuring wrestlers like Pillman, like Neidhart…
That was my favourite time in the business – I loved that period. I think the Hart Foundation with Pillman and Owen and Davey and Neidhart was such a fun group because we really WERE a gang of guys who did get along… well, at that time, we sure did… and it was a fun period for us.
I think that whole Canada/US thing I imagine that would be kinda like NZ and Australia, even though you guys are close enough, there’s always that rivalry. There really isn’t that much animosity between Canadians and the Americans, but we sure got it going real good
It’s quite funny, because internationally, Kiwis all supported the Canadian team.
Yeah, I think everyone else did. That was the whole thing – the only place that supported the American guys was America. You’d go to Europe, or wherever, and they’d all boo the American guys.
Why is Canada such a strong territory with wrestling?
I think it’s something that was very regional, wrestling was always very regional up here and in North America. Even like in the southern, in like Mexico and California there was a lot of Mexican wrestlers, more flips and rolls…
…the lucha style?
Yeah. And that would never have worked up here in Canada, because Canada was more like… I think, a little bit like New Zealand’s wrestlers, a lot of the same guys worked back and forth… but it was more about wrestling and ex-shooters and stuff going in there. And it had much more of a history up here. Even in the 30s and the 40s there was pro wrestling up here in Calgary, so there was a history of smoky little halls full of cowboys and farmers, y’know, sorta chewing their tobacco and stuff, watching wrestlin’.
There’s always been a strong history of Canadian wrestlers, maybe because they were Canadian, I think they’re always trying to break that ‘sphere’ and are trying to get into the States. I remember with myself, and I think I can speak for almost all of the Canadian guys – you always worked harder to get that extra edge.
The Montreal Incident. What were you thinking? When you went to reverse the Sharpshooter and you heard the bell, what went through your mind?
I just couldn’t believe that McMahon would do that to me after being his “star”. I really went above and beyond the call of duty for him for years. I worked so hard for him, and I was such a loyal team guy that always went the extra mile for him. And it was like… If the thought crossed my mind, which it did, that he might try to do something like, but then I reasoned that he would never do that to me after everything I’d done, and when he did it I was more hurt that he would do something like that to me… and so… urmm… I let him know what I thought…
When he “ran into your fist”, I believe the quote was from Wrestling With Shadows.
So how much of the match was planned to go on after that? Was the spot reversal sequence the last spot in the match?
Nah, it wasn’t even… there was still another whole half of the match left. It would’ve been a great match if they’d left it the way it was supposed to go.
What did you think of Shawn Michaels admitting on Confidential that he knew the ending beforehand. Did you know that?
I had the Undertaker, who’s always been a good friend of mine, tell me the day after it happened that Shawn was in on the whole thing. So I always knew he was, but it used to drive me crazy when he’d deny it all the time.
So if he was honest, you would’ve taken it better?
Even in the documentary that they filmed they had Shawn swearing to God that he was innocent. And now I hear that Shawn Michaels is a born again Christian…
You haven’t spoken to him at all?
Nah, I’m not really convinced that Shawn has seen the light. I think that sometimes that’s a convenient out for some people.
Obviously you had the stroke, [and] it was really bad. Are you fully recovered, would you say?
Nah, I’m not fully recovered. I think optimistically speaking, maybe 85-90 per cent back. I’m very happy to be where I am in contrast to where I was. The thought of even this trip to be part of the WWA actually was something that when I think back to when I was in my wheelchair for most of the summer, and I couldn’t even lift my hand and stuff like that, I remember… The idea of doing something like this and going down to New Zealand to see all the fans and to try to play some role as a commissioner and just to be out there again is something I found unimaginable a year ago… Not quite a year ago…
Would you ever bump again in the ring?
Would you ever take up training duties at the Dungeon? Are you at the level where you could do that? Would you want to do that?
No, I think I could maybe teach guys to wrestle. In time, we’ll open up a wrestling school maybe, I’ve always wanted to do it, and I think I could do it again now. I think when I had my stroke it was something that I saw myself never doing, but I think my opportunities are starting to brighten a little bit that way. I think I still have the opportunity to teach guys and I think that I have things I could fall back on that would help wrestling.
Sometimes I wish I was on better terms with someone like the WWE so that some of the guys I teach may, in fact, work for them someday if they’re good enough. But I think the way things are for me right now, if I opened up a wrestling school they might all get hired by WWA, but not by the WWE.
Goldberg’s in the WWE, what do you think of that after the rather messy match you had, with all the concussions?
I think Bill did it as an accident, and I don’t harbour any bad feelings towards him, but I think he does need to wake up to the fact that he’s injured a lot of guys and I’m just one of them. I think Bill’s one of those kind of guys who’s kinda read too much of his own publicity. He’s kinda always thought more about himself than his opponents, he didn’t really care about what it took to have a wrestling match.
I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, so I’ll just read it out. At last night’s SmackDown tapings… have you read about this?
No, I haven’t read about it yet.
To read from a major wrestling reporting site… The show opened with Vince cutting a promo to huge “you screwed Bret” chants, to which Vince smiled and replied that he did, and he’d do it to each and every one of us too.
That was a while back wasn’t it?
Nah, this is the spoilers for last night’s taping that will screen on… Thursday your time?
I know they’ve done that a few times
Does it bother you?
Nah, I’m glad that the fans don’t let him forget. I know the Canadian fans chanted every time they’re up here, and they don’t even let Earl Hebner referee any more because they boo him out of the place too. He has more boos than the wrestlers.
I’m glad that people remember it, and I’m glad that people still remember me. I’m not on TV any more, so it’s… There’s an old saying in wrestling “out of sight, out of mind”. I’ve always assumed that whatever openings in wrestling that were available to me, they’re closing all the time. But the more I think that, the more I find that it’s not the case. That probably, I could walk back tomorrow and pick up right back where I left off.
Where do you and Vince stand now? Do you reckon you could come back to WWE? And if you could, would you want to?
My feeling, and the way I left things off, is that I didn’t want it to be the real serious animosities between us, I would rather just put away… I got tired of carrying it around. I think that Vince can be a bad enemy that way, where he never lets it die. He’ll always poke you in the eye at every turn, and I didn’t really want that. I have members of my family that maybe have aspirations of getting into the business and, maybe someday, could end up working for him, and I didn’t want to be an obstacle in that. So, we’re on sorta relatively good speaking terms, we’re cool with each other. But, as far as working on a show, I’ve always made a promise to myself that I’d never work for him again.
And you think you… You’re gonna stand by that one, Bret?
I think so, yeah, I don’t see any change. There’s nothing I really… I don’t really know if going back and walking out on a WWF show, what is it gonna do for me? For all I know, I’d get booed out of the building, I don’t know.
You appeared on Contact: Talking with the Dead with a psychic who claimed to talk to Owen. How did you take it? Did you think there was something to it?
I always think it’s nothing ventured, nothing gained. I didn’t have a problem with it, I thought that it was interesting and a lot of things he said were feasible enough. At the same time, I thought he was quite credible. I don’t take too much of that kinda stuff very seriously. I kinda had an open mind about it when I did it, and had an open mind when I walked out and I thought it was interesting. I don’t know, those kinda things you never know if someone’s trying to pull the wool over your eyes or not. If they are, he did a pretty damn good job.
Of course, your life’s such public domain that it’s quite easy to research.
But I don’t think he did, he did say a couple of things that didn’t air on other stuff that I don’t think is public knowledge.
You’ve been working on a biography. Any plans?
I may… In fact, I’m looking at maybe writing three books on my career. At this point, I’ve done one, and I’m just about finished the second one, then I’ll start working on the third one, but I don’t know if I’ll release any of them til I finish all three, so I’m getting close to the end. But there’s a possibility, cos I’m almost finished the second one, maybe in the next day or so, that I may let an editor tell me whether he thinks I should release the first one. I may try to get something out in the fall.
The first one’s about the early years?
The first one’s about the early part of my life, my early years in the wrestling business before the WWF.
Also, a DVD… I read on a transcript of Off The Record that you met with Vince and discussed a lot of things, including doing a DVD of your best matches.
I did, and everything’s thumbs up, and I’m not sure where that is right now any more. We were waiting to get back in touch and see… there’s a guy that was working on a coffee table book that was supposed to come out this fall that was gonna have all my WWF pictures and all that. That was kind of the olive branch that Vince passed back that he was going to let me have access to some of my pictures from through my career and all that. So we kinda buried the hatchet on a positive note with that, and then I talked to him about a DVD and he was very interested in it, and that’s something that I’d like to see him do. I always told Vince McMahon that I wanted to be remembered and respected for what I contributed. He understood that, I think we have an understanding and something’s going to be in the works there, but I’ve learned that sometimes what people say, unless you have it written down, people have a way of forgetting what they promised.
What WWF wrestlers really impress you?
I’m a huge fan of Kurt Angle. I really enjoy his wrestling, I think he’s a great performer. I’m also a big fan of Brock Lesnar. I thought their match at WrestleMania was excellent.
And what do you think of the other Canadian wrestlers? Lance Storm?
I like all the Canadian guys, I find the Canadians always go balls to the wall. They always go hard to give a good match. I think someone needs to show Rock and maybe Steve Austin how to put a Sharpshooter on. The Rock’s is horrible. He should really do his homework.
Do you feel like Raw is Nitro all over again with Nash and Goldberg?
I don’t have an answer to that because I don’t watch it that much. I haven’t seen Kevin Nash, I haven’t seen what he looks like for at least two years.
Seen Roddy Piper?
No, but I can imagine…
In a dream world, you mentioned on Off The Record that Curt Hennig would be your dream match. You never really had a farewell match. Practically, if you could bump, what would your dream farewell match be?
Right now, if I could pick one guy in a fantasy in my head, I’d probably pick Kurt Angle, because I enjoy him. I think I’d like to wrestle that just for the fun.