Lee Maughan: Hosted by ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund in one of, if not his last, Coliseum Video appearances, and the tape opens with a musical montage of Bret at SummerSlam ‘92 in arguably the greatest of all of his matches, certainly at that point, despite not actually being featured on this tape that allegedly contains “His Greatest Hits!” Obviously that’s all a political thing, as his Wembley opponent, Davey Boy Smith, had been fired by the WWF in October 1992 during the promotion’s ongoing steroid scandal.
Bret Hart (c) vs. Bam Bam Bigelow
“This is the final match of the evening” declares ring announcer Mike McGuirk, which is a curious thing to hear when you’re about to watch the very first match on a two hour tape. It’s not the only odd-sounding thing to be spoken thanks to the trio of Jim Ross, Bobby Heenan and Randy Savage, who provide commentary for the majority of the matches on offer here, with Savage informing ‘the Brain’ that he defended the WWF title “twice.” In fairness, that could just be down to Savage mishearing Heenan’s initial question, but it doesn’t excuse the lines “Bam Bam is not only big big but he’s fast fast!” and “Bam Bam realised he’s a little more stout with girth and he knew he could reverse his body emotion going the other way!” What in Thesz’s name is “body emotion”?
As far as the in-ring action goes, it’s all very tight, as the majority of Bret-Bigelow matches were. In fact, it’s a lot more action-packed than you’d think, given the WWF’s usual standard of quickie TV taping dark match main events, although even in this case they don’t bother to dither about and head almost immediately into the heat. Not that Bret Hart really needs to worry about getting a shine in or anything. My only real gripes with the match are that Bigelow’s heat segment on Bret is rather protracted, with Bret putting up very little resistance before his big comeback, and the finish is the victory roll spot they used in the finals of the first King of the Ring pay-per-view. I suppose it stands to reason from a kayfabe perspective that if it beat him once, it can beat him again, but there’s also the point of view that it looks somewhat business-exposing to those who’ve seen both matches. Really, with the cameras rolling, they should have mixed things up a little. Good match though, and Savage hints at wanting a crack at Bret’s title which is actually a shoot on his part. He and Bret for a long time were lobbying to have a big match or a run together while Bret was still champion, during which Savage would have worked heel. Alas, the closest they came was a house show match during a tour of Japan in 1994 that was reduced to 15-minutes, after the pair had been promised a significant chunk of time for the bout. On the bright side, that match did get bootlegged by a fan, so it’s at least out there amongst the footage-trading community for those who wish to see it.
Final Rating: ***¼
Bret Hart vs. Skinner
This is from the 1992 SummerSlam Spectacular, and Bret is still the Intercontinental Champion, although I’m not sure if the title is actually on the line, owing to Skinner’s lowly status as a non-contender, and the fact Bret is already known to be defending the title against Davey Boy Smith at SummerSlam itself. The original announcing from Heenan and Vince McMahon has been redubbed by the Heenan/Ross/Savage trio to remove shills for the PPV and make the match a little more “timeless.” It’s really noticeable though, as Ross didn’t join the WWF until after Hart had already dropped the Intercontinental Title and won the WWF Title. Nerdy hardcore fans like me used to notice things like that back in those days, and it really bugged the hell out of me for its lack of accuracy. Not that the WWF ever gave a damn about its history. And speaking of the WWF’s ignorance of their own history, this is a rematch from This Tuesday in Texas, but there’s absolutely no reference made to that. It’s a better match than that one though, with fewer rest holds, more energy, a tighter running time and a slightly more focused Skinner, although he does retreat to his hilariously out-of-place Fabulous Ones-style dance. There’s yet more fun with the commentary too, Heenan suggesting a new game-show called Name That Stain, Savage calling Skinner’s early leapfrog attempt “very mediocre” and a discussion between Heenan and Savage over Wilbur Snyder, the inventor of the abdominal stretch. Hart wins with a completely out-of-nowhere Sharpshooter.
Final Rating: **¾
WWF Intercontinental Championship
Bret Hart (c) vs. Shawn Michaels
I think anybody reading this book already knows the story, but to reiterate: the ladder match had been a late 1970s invention of the Stampede Wrestling promotion operated by Stu Hart, whose son Bret had competed in several of them, most notably against Bad News Allen. Years later, with Bret as the WWF Intercontinental Champion, he pitched the concept of the ladder match to Vince McMahon, offering to lose the title to Shawn Michaels at the upcoming SummerSlam ’92 in Washington, D.C. According to his book Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, Hart, recognising Europe as the WWF’s strongest marketplace at that time, also pitched the idea of taking SummerSlam to Wembley Stadium in London, England, with the idea of dropping the title to his brother-in-law, ‘British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith, in front of Smith’s home country support. History shows that Wembley got the nod, but intrigued by the concept of a ladder match, McMahon asked Hart for a demonstration. The result of that was this match, the first ladder match in WWF history, albeit one the promotion for a long time tried to pretend didn’t exist, which seems rather strange when you consider it got a VHS outing as part of the Smack ‘Em Whack ‘Em release from 1993. That strangeness dissipates when you consider the promotional value in talking up the WrestleMania X ladder match between Michaels and Razor Ramon some 18-months later as a first time ever happening, which led to some considerable resentment from Hart who thought of the gimmick as being “his” and instead saw Michaels taking all the plaudits for its introduction. The irony amidst all that is the fact the WrestleMania scrap wasn’t even the first ladder match Michaels and Ramon had together, having spent the better part of a month ironing out the kinks of it on the house show circuit.
What I really love about this match is how unlike it the ladder matches that came after it were. Those bouts tended to be based around increasingly risky highspots, and delivering on the wow factor, but somewhere along the way, the psychological aspect got lost. Ladder matches came to be car crash stunt shows, where each smash and bash was set up specifically for just that reason, and that’s the kind of thing that most fans eventually start to see through. They’ll ask why a wrestler is stood in a particular position, particularly if it looks awkward and unnatural. Why are they climbing so slowly up the ladder? Why did they perch the ladder so precariously across the ropes, adjusting it to a very specific position? It’s almost as if they were setting up their own downfall two moves later on purpose! Gasp!
At no point is that ever the case here. Everything is completely natural, everything flows, and everything makes sense. It’s all consequential, just like it should be, and that’s part of the art-form that most pro wrestlers seem to have forgotten somewhere along the way. By all means, take a good six years off your career with a reckless backwards bump off a 20 foot ladder to the floor for my entertainment, but for heaven’s sake, if you’re going to do something so stupid, just please don’t let it look contrived! I want to sit up and scream “Holy shit!” not “That looked ridiculous.” I don’t want to be taken out of the moment. I want to believe in what I’m watching. When ‘Sensational’ Sherri grabs Bret’s foot, I really believe she’s trying to prevent him from winning the match. When Shawn clambers up the ladder and Bret has to dive across the ring, I really believe he’s trying to save his belt. When I watch Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels chase the Intercontinental title, I really believe.
Final Rating: ****¼
Bret Hart vs. Blake Beverly
This has always felt like an odd little match to me, given that Blake was a low-ranked tag team wrestler with no prior ties to Bret, and for whatever the match is, be it good, bad or indifferent, the majority of the entertainment is brought by Heenan who stumbles over a few words before finding himself on an amusing ramble about the science of tag team competition, which he sticks to unrepentantly until it stops being funny and just becomes annoying. And then he KEEPS GOING with it, until it suddenly becomes completely hilarious again. Heenan was such a brilliant comedian, and if he hadn’t been so darn great at professional wrestling, I’d be tempted to say he missed his true vocation in life. The commentary certainly adds a sprinkle of interest to a match that otherwise mightn’t have garnered much attention, because it feels like it has very little suspension attached to it, owing to the disparate status of the two grapplers. Even in the predetermined world of pro wrestling, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Bret will dispatch of Blake in short order because he’s clearly on a different level to him, which is why it’s so surprising that Blake scores the pin with an axe handle from behind after Beau Beverly arrives at ringside to distract ‘the Hitman’. That in turn transpires to be an excuse to have Sgt. Slaughter run-in, doing his short-lived “troubleshooting official” gimmick, and reverse the decision. Bret being visually pinned by a Beverly Brother seems to suggest that there were very few plans for him following his dropping of the Intercontinental Title to Davey Boy Smith, and that his winning the WWF Title from Ric Flair (who himself had won the title back just weeks earlier from Randy Savage) was a very last-minute call from Vince McMahon, because one cannot possibly fathom why he wouldn’t be booked to dispose of both Beverlys clean-as-a-sheet if he was known to be about to win the title. Further to that is the fact the result here never led to anything else; no Hart/Slaughter team, no run-in from Owen to set up a tag match, no return for Jim Neidhart, just a seemingly directionless, thrown-together collision, with a dull heat segment and Bret’s usual good comeback for an overall fair yet puzzling outing.
Final Rating: **½
Bret Hart vs. Lex Luger
Back to 1993 for this one, a dream match of sorts at the time as Luger was still viewed as something of an NWA/WCW guy despite having been repackaged with the ‘Narcissist’ gimmick, and this was a grudge match from the pre-WrestleMania IX brunch/press conference where Luger belted Bret from behind with his steel-plated forearm in an angle that wasn’t actually filmed by the WWF but did get bootlegged by a fan in attendance at the hotel lobby that day. For a grudge match there is not as much intensity on display as you might hope for, and while it remains interesting when Bret delivers the offence, it becomes terribly boring once Luger takes over and spends most of his time slowly walking around and shouting at ringsiders to eat up time. Luger really wasn’t the guy to carry the workload in a 20-minute match at all, the action only brightening back up after the pair start brawling on the floor, and Bret fires up for his big comeback. Sadly, having invested so much time into the match, they break out a lame disqualification finish when Bret has Luger trapped in the Sharpshooter. Razor Ramon comes in from the blindside and decks Bret as part of an ongoing micro-angle in which ‘the Hitman’ had encouraged fans to chant “1-2-3!” at Ramon following his infamous loss to the Kid on Monday Night RAW. Luger and Ramon double team Bret for a while, but heel miscommunication leads to Luger knocking Razor out cold with his Six Million Dollar Man arm, and Bret retreats to the safety of a lukewarm arena shower, leaving a revived Ramon to get into it with Luger to an overwhelmingly positive response from the audience. I figure that must have been some sort of test run to see what kind of reaction a Ramon babyface turn would garner, but it sure felt out of place on a tape devoted to Bret Hart. He wasn’t even involved in the last five minutes of that!
Final Rating: **½
Ric Flair (c) vs. Bret Hart
Sadly, this is joined in progress about halfway through, but that still leaves fifteen pretty great minutes of a thirty minute bout that is way better than either Hart or Flair give it credit for, owing to their personal dislike of one another. Not that it isn’t without some visibly awkward spots, such as Bret twisting his knee then dislocating his fingers after Flair kicks him away in a spot that hadn’t been called, which was one of Bret’s principal complaints against Flair’s lauding as a great worker. Another of his major criticisms was that Flair only knew how to have “the Ric Flair match”, the same one he had every time, and indeed, Flair gets lost at one point in setting up for the figure four and actually repeats a spot from earlier in the bout, twice dishing out a shinbreaker off of Bret’s side headlock. But even with those problems in terms of their personal dynamics, this is a stellar match-up. It’s actually pretty amazing that two guys who had so little personal chemistry and so little personal taste for the stylings of one another, could produce such continually great offerings, but they did on multiple occasions, be it a WWF television taping, a house show iron man match (as they did at the Boston Garden in January 1993) or on WCW pay-per-view (WCW/nWo Souled Out in January 1998). One can only imagine the heights they may have scaled if they’d just been able to click in the personality department, but sometimes it’s the cultural clash that creates the most intriguing dichotomy. Without going into detail on the play-by-play, this is a fantastic technical bout although it does lack the truly epic feel it may have had had Bret been positioned as a genuine contender at the time, or had the bout taken place on pay-per-view. As it was, to the live audience who couldn’t have known any better, this was just another routine television taping dark match title defence with a bona fide main eventer up against a home country hero, and nothing more. Nobody was expecting Hart to leave with the title that night, but full credit to both guys as they did draw the crowd in by the end of the match regardless, as good workers should, and the reaction when Flair submits to the Sharpshooter is gigantic. Definitely an overlooked classic.
Final Rating: ****¼
Bret Hart (c) vs. Fatu
The first WWF Title defence in Monday Night RAW history, this was part of the build to WrestleMania IX with the idea being that Bret was stepping into the ring with a larger, stockier, Yokozuna-like opponent, which is mildly nonsensical owing to the fact that Fatu is at least 250 pounds too light. Someone should have told Vince McMahon that just because he wrestled barefoot and was genuinely related to Yokozuna, that Fatu didn’t really give off that sumo monster vibe. In fact at this point, he was still just a mid-card tag team wrestler, which makes the 15-minute duration a mite tiresome. To Bret’s credit though, he does eventually make Fatu look like a worthy contender, particularly when Bret’s nose gets bust open hardway, not that that particular happening was part of his grand plan. What it really underscores is how underutilised the Headshrinkers were because Fatu totally hangs with Bret and never looks out his depth, but it’s hard to get entirely invested in things when the outcome seems so predictable. Oh yes, here’s Afa’s involvement. Oh yes, here comes Samu. Oh yes, Fatu and Samu trade places for a hot near fall before Bret wraps things up with the Sharpshooter. That might sound like a knock against the match but it’s really more a knock against the WWF for not having made the Headshrinkers into more of a threat. It’s a bit like the Blake Beverly match from earlier, there’s good stuff going on but it’s tough to invest yourself as a fan when guys are very clearly inserted into their slot on the card with little in the way of upward mobility. Full credit to Bret for being able to bring those guys up to his level, and shame on the WWF for not following up on that kind of thing and dragging everybody back to where they were before instead of allowing talent to grow.
Final Rating: ***
Bret Hart (c) vs. Yokozuna
This is from the period where Bret was still WWF champion and Yokozuna had yet to win the 1993 Royal Rumble match, and we kick things off with another winning quote from Savage – “Sitting on the dock of the bay, wasting time, not really.” As with the rest of this tape where Savage’s commentary is concerned, your guess is as good as mine. The match itself is the usual TV taping dark match quickie, this shine consisting of Yokozuna missing the lock-up twice, then getting heat for all of two minutes before missing a charge, allowing Bret to make his big comeback with a bulldog and a middle rope elbow, all before Mr. Fuji whacks him with his Japanese flagpole for the disqualification. I presume it’s a Japanese flagpole anyway, after all, it houses a Japanese flag. Aside from a few post-bout shenanigans in which Yokozuna misses a Banzai Drop and Hart knocks him out of the ring, that’s it. Savage remarks: “He gained a lot of credibility with fans all over the world for getting past Yokozuna!” What, winning a match on a disqualification because you got illegally assaulted amounts to credibility? Blimey. Still, for as brief as it was, the action here was pretty good, primarily due to Bret’s terrific sense of timing and some truly exemplary selling on his part. In fact, I’d say it was something akin to the perfect little match when you account for the truncated nature of things, given that Yokozuna likely couldn’t manage a longer match without blowing up. I mean, if you ignore the cop-out ending, it’s the perfect little match. That and one missed headbutt during Yokozuna’s heat segment. Perfect I tells ya. As far as the rotten finish goes, it’s not entirely unlikely that this was held under the lights and cameras of a television taping as a test run for their eventual meeting at WrestleMania IX, recoded to review how the pair meshed together as opponents, meaning a clean finish wasn’t in the best interests of either guy at this point.
Final Rating: **
Summary: A good look here at Bret Hart’s work from late ‘92-early ‘93, though one of the two best matches is sadly joined in progress, which hurts things a little. Two hours of Bret might be a little dry for some, particularly when a significant chunk of the tape is made up of his shining up relative scrubs like Skinner, Blake Beverly and Fatu or getting worked over by ring stiffs Lex Luger and Yokozuna, but there’s interest overall in seeing how Bret’s enthusiasm swings in fun outings with skilled, credible opposition like Bam Bam Bigelow, Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair, and contrasting that with the rest of the bouts. Fortunately, Bret’s reputation for laziness when facing lesser foes in meaningless matches appears to have been unfounded, at least on this collection, although there is a clear difference between when he kicks things into high gear and when he just plain kicks back.