An article by Mike Mooneyham
Published Jan. 18, 1998
Bret Hart left the World Wrestling Federation in a blaze of fury and controversy two months ago, with his departure rocking the entire organization and generating speculation that others might follow.
Hart had wanted to relinquish his WWF world title on television and thank the organization for 14 great years before leaving for WCW. But things didn’t turn out the way he had planned, and Hart ended up being the victim of one of the most infamous double-crosses in pro wrestling history.
“It breaks my heart that it didn’t go that way,” Hart said in a recent Prodigy chat session. “I can only shake my head and wonder at the absurdity and the flat-out horrible judgment that altered the ending.”
In his wake Hart left behind WWF owner Vince McMahon, whom he slugged on his way out, and Shawn Michaels, the man to whom he unwillingly dropped the WWF title and his longtime out-of-ring arch-nemesis.
“I don’t doubt for a second he was in on the whole thing,” Hart said of Michaels. “His emotional temper tantrum at the end of the match was merely as close as he can come to good acting. His crying and weeping like a baby in the dressing room while he was in the corner biting his nails were much the same. He’s a dirty, lying cheat. What goes around comes around. I don’t have to worry about getting even. The wrestling business is filled with Bret Harts and somebody will dismantle his ego sooner or later.”
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]Bret’s younger brother, Owen, doesn’t plan on being one of them. Owen, who for the past decade has been regarded as one of the top workers in the business despite lack of a major push, sees Bret’s departure as an opportunity to prove his worth as a top-tier performer.
“Shawn Michaels is a tremendous wrestler,” Owen said. “We can have terrific matches. Despite all the adversity with other people in my family, I really don’t have a problem with him at all.”
That’s not to say Owen is indifferent to Bret’s hard feelings with certain individuals in the WWF.
“Bret was in the WWF for 14 years and was rooted in the company,” says Owen, youngest son of legendary wrestler-promoter-trainer Stu Hart. “He wasn’t like an Ultimate Warrior that walked in and took whatever he could get and then left. When Warrior left, he left for his own selfish reasons. He didn’t train or help the younger guys, and Bret Hart was a guy who’d do that. His absence is noticeable, by me especially.”
Owen, despite the well-documented split between Bret and McMahon, says he trusts the WWF boss because there simply is no other choice if the two are to work together. “Our agreement has got to be based on trust now. For me, I’ve been smart all my life, with my money and everything else. I never blew it or did anything stupid. I’m working on trust, but my life isn’t depending on it if I had a problem. It won’t be my loss.
“There are some people in this business who live from day to day and can’t exist without this business because it’s their livelihood. Fortunately for me, I enjoy it and plan to stay in it for a few more years, but if something came up where I got burnt, my life wouldn’t be over. There’s no gun to my head. But by the same token, I’ve made an agreement with Vince. This thing isn’t going to work if we’re suspicious of one another. If I walk around thinking I can’t trust him, it isn’t going to work. I have trust and I have good feelings.” Owen admits that his family played a part in his brothers-in-law (Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith) leaving the WWF.
“I don’t think anyone realizes the magnitude of my family. When they start laying the hammer down … you’ve got Anvil and his wife, and Bret and his family, and then Davey and his wife. When everybody left, it was like a clean sweep. I think Davey just followed what everybody else was doing.”
Owen, a participant in tonight’s Royal Rumble pay-per-view in San Jose, Calif., says that the new, more hard-core approach by the WWF also played a part in Smith’s decision to leave the company.
Owen, himself, has had differences over the company’s new “contemporary” direction.
“I’ve had disagreements – not with bookers or anything like that – but with production guys who say the hard-core stuff is what sells. I’ve always been a big advocate that wrestling sells. When production guys came up to me after I wrestled Shawn at the Nassau Coliseum, they said we need more of that. To me, I can let my son watch something like that.
“I guess people who are checking the ratings points will make the final decisions. If somebody else was in an outhouse getting beat up and the ratings were high, I suppose they’ll stick with that stuff since the fans are the ones watching. Our people are making decisions based on the ratings. To me, it’s a travesty. What we’re called is wrestling, and that’s what sells.”
Owen’s value to the company was displayed when McMahon made a big pitch to keep him in the WWF. Apparently headed for a major push and a possible world title reign, Hart feels he has more than paid his dues. “Hopefully I was on my way to that (push) anyway. I was just very apprehensive about the situation because of conflicts of interest. When your brother gets in a fight with the boss, it puts you, as a brother, in an awkward spot. I just wanted to make sure that I wasn’t a victim of somebody else’s circumstances. I just needed reassurances that I would be treated fairly. I don’t need to be given any big push, just use me as I’ve been used.”