Lee Maughan: Also released as Bret Hitman Hart 2 in the UK. Hosted from the WWF All American Wrestling studios by Gorilla Monsoon and Johnny Polo.
Bret Hart vs. Jerry Lawler
This is only about three months into to the Hart-Lawler feud, precipitated by Lawler attacking Bret during Bret’s coronation ceremony after he’d wrestled three matches to become King of the Ring. In real life, Bret felt Lawler had stiffed him when dumping a throne arms-first across Bret’s back, and Bret had dished out some traditional wrestler’s payback by slapping on the sharpshooter and legitimately cranking back on it at the conclusion of their red-hot SummerSlam ’93 bout. This however, is just a dark match from a long taping of television squash matches, so the crowd aren’t particularly hot. What’s interesting to see though is Lawler running through his bag of Memphis tricks, namely stalling, hurling insults at ringsiders, going into the tights for a foreign object, and grabbing the microphone mid-match to admonish the fans for chanting “Burger King!” at him. It’s good old “Southern ‘rasslin”, the kind you don’t see in the WWF all that often. In reference to the Burger King remarks, former tag team great Stan Lane on play-by-play calls Lawler a “double whopper with cheese, if you know what I mean!” which is proof positive that a great promo guy doesn’t always make a great commentator. See also: Anderson, Arn. Lawler then stuffs Bret with a piledriver, which according to Monsoon on colour duty, gives Bret “Excedrin headache 35.” From the sounds of it, it’s just going to be one of those tapes. Lawler stalls on the cover, allowing Bret to make his big comeback and he pounds away on Lawler in the corner, but referee Tim White gets in too close and eats an elbow. Bret goes to check on him and that allows Lawler to nail Bret in the face with his crown for the rather surprising pin. Bet you weren’t expecting that finish! Then again, if you’re any kind of Coliseum Video aficionado, you’ll recognise that, as a dark match, a screwjob is imminent. Indeed, a second referee belts out to restart the match, giving Lawler until the count of ten to get back in the ring or face a suspension, which seems a bit sudden. I think that spot works so much better when the antagonist refuses to get back in the ring first, here they just rushed right into the announcement instead of milking it for all it was worth. Once restarted, Bret goes into his Five Moves of Doom™, which in this instance are: 1. Inverted atomic drop. 2. Side Russian legsweep 3. Suplex. 4. Middle rope flying elbow. 5. Backdrop. Err…6. Legdrop. Wait…7. Elbow. What?…8. Small package > pin. Huh? The Eight Moves of Doom™, minus the Sharpshooter. How strange. Bret rings Lawler’s bell after the match and actually does go for the sharpshooter, but ‘the King’ escapes. Nothing wrong with the match on the whole, but they never got out of second gear with it and the crowd weren’t into it as much you might have expected them to be at this point in the feud.
Final Rating: **½
Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
This was during the period after Michaels had been stripped of the Intercontinental title, but was still carrying around a bogus title belt as part of the build to his legendary ladder match with Razor Ramon at WrestleMania X. It’s also the second match in a row with Stan Lane on commentary and already I’m sick of hearing him; the tone of his voice is just absolutely intolerable. It’s pitched at around the sort of level you’d expect from a game show host, which, given how he looked, is a role I think he’d have been much better suited to once his in-ring career had come to an end. In fact, he went on to work for ESPN 2 on a show called Speed World, and became a commentator for the Key West World Championships Super Boat Grand Prix in compliment to his second career as an off-shore jet boat racer. “I hope the ‘Hitman’ will keep a close eye on Diesel, because if he comes in the ring, huh, no telling what’s gonna happen.” I wonder if he provides that kind of expert analysis in his sail boat coverage? Anyway, this is a pretty standard (re: good) Bret-Shawn bout until Diesel flings Bret into the ring post on the outside. Back inside, Michaels goes for a piledriver, and that brings in Bret’s brother Owen for a retribution-seeking disqualification, a truly horrible ending to a match that was every bit as good as you’d expect for a ten minute TV taping dark bout, even if it did feel like it was only about halfway through. I also have to ask the purpose of booking it since they clearly felt like they couldn’t deliver a clean finish, and it’s not like there weren’t already a bunch of Hart vs. Michaels matches on tape from years gone by. Honestly, given the small window of opportunity they had to run tag matches with Bret and Owen as a team before Owen’s upcoming heel turn, I just wish they’d used this taping to do Bret & Owen vs. Marty Jannetty & 1-2-3 Kid instead, something that looked to be on the cards in early 1994 when Jannetty & the Kid won the Tag Team titles from the Quebecers on RAW after a Hart Brothers vs. Quebecers title match had already been announced for that year’s Royal Rumble. In actuality, with the Quebecers due to win the titles back at Madison Square Garden a short time later, the WWF never stopped advertising the original bout, leaving Bret & Owen vs. Jannetty & Kid one of wrestling’s most tantalising “lost” bouts.
Final Rating: ***¼
A trip back in time sees Bret win his first Intercontinental title from Mr. Perfect in an all-time classic match from SummerSlam ’91, successfully defend the title in the WWF’s first ever ladder match against Shawn Michaels, and win his first WWF Championship from Ric Flair in October, 1992.
Bret Hart vs. IRS
“I look for fireworks in this match.” More pearls of wisdom from Stan Lane there. Pal, it’s an IRS match; I look for abject tedium. Shockingly, it’s Bret who brings the dull, working in an arm bar AND a headlock early on, before another old-fashioned Memphis-style routine finds IRS hiding a fake foreign object in his boot as the referee checks his pocket, before moving it to his pocket when the referee goes to check his boot. It’s a pretty classic routine that especially gets the younger fans who’ve never seen it before absolutely infuriated, and one that Bobby Heenan used to use a lot for easy heat during his in-ring days. Besides that though, this is only really a great match if you’re the kind of fan who loves to watch wrestlers sit around in holds for the duration, with IRS being the greatest proponent of the Five Rest-Holds of External Torture™. Following his traditional chinlock, he finally spices things up with a leg grapevine, then wraps Bret’s knee around the ring post, playing off Owen Hart’s heel turn at the Royal Rumble where he kicked Bret’s leg out of his leg. Bret’s selling of the injury is just tremendous, and there’s some really great psychology thrown in when he goes for the middle rope elbow drop, but intentionally lands in the most awkward looking manner possible, all but missing the move. Then out comes Owen to cheerlead for IRS, which is really dumb to see when he came out to Bret’s aid in the last match. Instead of that last batch of clips, they should have inserted a clip of Owen’s turn instead. I mean, I know all that stuff was still fairly fresh when this tape was originally released, and the kind of long-time fan who’d still be watching a tape like this years after the fact is probably already familiar with the story anyway, but it’s just a really jarring juxtaposition to see back-to-back with no sense of cohesion between the two pieces. You’d also think this would be the perfect opportunity to have Owen cost Bret the match, but it’s not to be since IRS is all but worthless at this point, despite still having another year-and-a-half left in his WWF run! Bret collides with Owen on the apron Survivor Series ’93 style, and rolls through IRS’ roll-up for the pin. Bret dragged the action kicking and screaming all the way to the dizzying heights of completely average here, despite the best efforts of IRS.
Final Rating: **
Bret Hart vs. Adam Bomb
This is a pretty fair trip back in time, coming as it does from the night after SummerSlam ’93. It’s also a repeat match that you can find on the Inside the WWF Coliseum release. It still amazes me that Vince McMahon did absolutely nothing with Adam Bomb, particularly during this lean era of monster-sized guys being scarce and Bomb being naturally huge, in pretty good shape, and a decent worker to boot. Then again, given the anti-chemical nature of the WWF’s drug testing policy of the day, perhaps there was a stipulation that said you couldn’t be pushed higher than the midcard if your genetic make up was enhanced due to the results of radiation from a nuclear power plant disaster. Bomb did later claim in a shoot interview that he’d been promised a run with the Intercontinental Title in return for putting Mabel over in the King of the Ring tournament as a way to build Mabel up for Diesel, but quit the promotion some months later when he found himself continually mired in working low level spot shows with nary a sniff of the title. Oddly, he’d go on to have a much more successful run in WCW as Wrath, odd in that WCW usually wasn’t capable of taking an ex-WWF guy and getting him more over than the WWF had been able to do. Of course, that all came to an abrupt conclusion in 1998 when his mega-push was derailed courtesy of a clean job to Kevin Nash (Diesel) on Nitro, all stemming from Nash’s allegedly feeling threatened by the similarly-proportioned Wrath’s growing popularity. In fact, with Diesel as WWF champion and McMahon’s golden boy for a large part of 1994-1995, perhaps there’s your answer as to Bomb’s inability to break through the WWF’s glass ceiling. All speculation of course.
Johnny Polo at ringside calls Bret a “personal friend of Ronald McDonald”, and Lane has no idea what that’s supposed to mean, I guess since it was clearly established earlier during the Lawler match that Lane’s a Burger King man, or something. And of course, here comes the Coliseum-standard chinlock. And to think I interrupted my viewing of Jesse Ventura as Captain Freedom in The Running Man to watch this tape! What was I thinking? And there’s a Kwang match after this! Kwang! If you keep saying the word “Kwang” over and over and over, it soon starts to lose what little meaning it ever had. And isn’t it silly how Kwang, that glorified jobber of 1994 made it into the SEGA 32X edition of the WWF RAW video game, but Adam Bomb never did. Of course, that’s assuming the urban legend about his inclusion in an early draft version of WrestleMania: The Arcade Game is to be believed, though nobody has ever cracked the code to verify the authenticity of that. Still, the rumour had to start somewhere, and programmer Sal Divita is notorious for including insanely difficult unlockable secrets in his games. Oh, the match? Bomb dominates most of it but gets caught going up top (why was he even going up top? When did he ever go up top for anything?) and Bret finishes immediately with the Sharpshooter. Another predictably average match in a series of them for this tape so far.
Final Rating: **
Bret Hart vs. Kwang
This comes from the night after the earlier match with IRS. What a double shot for Bret that must have been. Lane calls Bret a two-time WWF champion, but he hadn’t actually won the second one at the time this match was taped. Kwang, for those who don’t remember his rather brief stint, is Savio Vega under a generic mask doing a ninja gimmick, which he accentuates by blowing green mist, a’la the Great Kabuki or the Great Muta. “Look at that!” barks Monsoon. “Must have been something he ate. Sputum. It was red, wasn’t it?” The fact it dribbles down his chin as green as grass suggests otherwise. Monsoon is actually on fire here, and also manages to come out with this belter: “[My] wrestling coach used to say to me, Stan, ‘The opponent puts on his tights the same way you do, one leg at a time.’” What the hell does that even mean? As I mentioned earlier, Kwang didn’t last long, nor could anyone reasonably have expected him to. Let’s face it, you know you’re in trouble when you have to rely on Harvey Wippleman to get your heat for you. It’s interesting though, while the mask, the plain black ring gear and the lack of talking left Kwang bereft of charisma, I actually found him to be a much more exciting worker than he ever was as ‘the Caribbean Legend.’ Of course, as I write that as he slaps on a pulsating chinlock. Fortunately it’s not on for too long, and he misses a jumping, spinning heel kick, allowing Bret to wrap things up with the Six Moves of Doom™ before finishing a decent little match with the Sharpshooter.
Final Rating: **¼
Bret opens up about his feelings on being WWF Champion for a second time, noting that when he lost the title the first time, he began to lose hope and felt it was slipping further and further away from him, like his time was passing. If you’ve seen the WWE’s Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart DVD or Blu-ray, you’ll know this pretty much a shoot on Bret’s part. He also dubs himself “the People’s Champion.” I wonder if the Rock can smell that?
King of the Ring 1993
In a poor production snafu, the on-screen graphic notes this as “King of the Ring 1994.” In highlights from the show, Bret beats Razor Ramon in a very good quarter final, reverses a small package to pin Mr. Perfect in a superb semi-final, and drops Bam Bam Bigelow in an excellent final using a victory roll. In a lot of ways, you could call this the best night in Bret’s entire career, wrestling three quality matches against three very different opponents within the course of three hours. It’s tough to think of too many other wrestlers who can make that kind of boast. Not even Randy Savage managed that, and he had two chances at it; The Wrestling Classic, and WrestleMania IV.
Gorilla says Razor was an Intercontinental Champion when Bret beat him, which isn’t true. Polo goes off on a series of absurd nicknames for Bam Bam, such as “the Bigelonian” and “the Flame Head”, then starts doing impressions of Ramon and Howard Cosell as Uncle Gorilla tells him to go lay dead for a while. I laughed.
Steel Cage Match
Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
A cage match between these two isn’t actually as unusual as it might initially seem. If you’ll recall, back at the 1993 Survivor Series, Michaels actually fled from the ring to avoid taking a solo pasting from three of the Hart brothers, so now Bret gets a chance to kick his ass in a match from which Shawn can’t escape. Except, it’s a WWF cage match, so the whole point is to escape. WWF cage match protocol has been covered in these pages enough times, but it still seems ludicrous that with the whole point of a cage being to keep the combatants IN the ring, the WWF would instead turn it into a footrace to get out. They might as well have just set up a Krypton Factor-style obstacle course or had a game of Atlaspheres and had a climbing challenge, which is what this essentially is. It’s a shame really, because within these parameters, Bret and Shawn had a chance to cobble together an entirely different type of match to the one you usually saw from them, but they instead just do the bog standard WWF stuff, diving for the door, getting crotched on the top rope, hanging onto each other’s legs, etc. It’s a bit like their 1992 ladder match together where the whole thing is built around the chase rather than the highspots or the violence it could so easily have wielded. And of course, Shawn gets his leg caught in the one of the bars so Bret leaves him there to dangle before jumping to the safety of the floor in an extremely underwhelming ten minutes. Best part of the match? Polo clackering on about how going through the door is a weenie’s way out. He’s got a point.
Final Rating: **¼
Yokozuna (c) vs. Bret Hart
And we round things out at WrestleMania X by ignoring Bret’s stellar ***** battle with baby brother Owen from the opener of this very same show and instead are presented with the joined-in-progress main event in which ‘the Hitman’ regains the WWF Title in mediocre fashion against gargantuan foe Yokozuna. Not to discredit the historical significance of a title change, nor the fact that Bret works the bout like someone who’s already had a twenty minute barn-burner some two hours hence and would have cooled off significantly, allowing the aches and pains to kick in, but this was also Yokozuna’s second match of the night and at his weight, he really shouldn’t have been in the ring more than once. The upshot is a match that makes total sense within the context of its own show, but is decidedly average when viewed in isolation. Not only that, but the finish sees Yokozuna lose his balance, fall off the ropes and get pinned, which in essence is just Yokozuna beating himself, rather than actually being beaten, and yet that was still enough to be considered Vince McMahon’s apology to Hart after taking the title off him one year prior and going with Hulk Hogan as champion, who flaked out, and Lex Luger as the promotion’s top star before his push completely bombed. “A brand new era, the blast off of the next decade in the World Wrestling Federation” declares McMahon, of Bret’s re-ascension. So there’s your starting point for the dreaded New Generation movement, eventually to be supplanted by the Attitude Era.
Final Rating: **
To conclude, Bret talks about not disappointing anyone at SummerSlam ’92 in his greatest ever match, because even though he lost that match, his fans knew he gave 100%, going to great pains in trying not to mention the departed Davey Boy Smith by name.
Summary: Just to pour some fuel onto the raging fire that makes up one of wrestling fandom’s longest-running debates: the reason why Bret Hart was better than Ric Flair simply comes down to variety, as Bret could mix it up with anyone from technical wrestlers to bruisers to monsters and have great matches with them, whilst Ric Flair was, with just a couple of exceptions, only really capable of ever having the “Ric Flair match.” That being said, the reason why Ric Flair was better than Bret Hart is due to Flair’s enthusiasm, night after night after night. From his major pay-per-view matches on down to throwaway house shows in front of dismal crowds, few wrestlers were ever as consistently “on” as Ric Flair was. Bret is unquestionably one of the greatest workers of his era, and in my opinion, deserves to be called one of the greatest workers of all time, but good grief, when he dogged it, he really dogged it. And that’s what this tape amounts to; a collection of uninspired bouts featuring an uninspired Bret going through the motions against what started to feel like one stiff after another. Bret could be great – but only when he felt motivated by his prospects, or his opposition. You only need to make note of the fact that the only match here that breaks the *** barrier is the one with Shawn Michaels, for proof of that. The cage match between the two you can pick up as part of the Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart DVD and Blu-ray set, which comes highly recommended, the other singles match between the two on this tape is worth tracking down if you’re a Bret or Shawn completist, while the rest is just painfully mediocre stuff. For a more encompassing look at how awesome ‘the Hitman’ could be when he actually cared about his work, check out Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart: The Best There Is, the Best There Was, the Best There Ever Will Be on DVD, or check out the 1993 King of the Ring tournament for a great overview of the variety he was so very capable of.