Bret Hart

Bret Hart

By Mike Mooneyham

June 29, 2002

Former WWF and WCW world champion Bret Hart is recovering in a Calgary hospital after suffering a stroke that has left him with limited mobility on his left side. Hart, 45, reportedly was stricken while riding his bicycle on Monday.

According to reports, Hart claims he fell off the bike after hitting a pothole in the road. Doctors now believe a mild stroke caused the fall. Hart, who retired from wrestling nearly two years ago due to a severe concussion, was not wearing a helmet when he landed on his head, but he was able to call for help on his cell phone despite experiencing partial paralysis.

Hart reportedly has limited control on the left side of his body and will require extensive rehabilitation to relearn how to use his left arm and leg.

Hart has suffered a series of concussions in the past, the most notable one as a result of an errant kick in a December 1999 match with Bill Goldberg that led to Hart’s eventual retirement from wrestling the following October. The Canadian has suffered from headaches and dizzy spells since that time and has turned down a number of requests to get back into the ring. Preliminary reports indicate that the stroke Hart suffered on Monday was not related to his wrestling-related concussions.

Hart will continue to undergo a series of tests to determine the extent of damage done to his body.

[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]“This is a very serious situation and we’re all deeply concerned, but we’re all hopeful for a full recovery and we’re encouraged by his continued progress,” Bret’s sister-in-law, Martha Hart, told the Calgary Sun.

- “Stone Cold” Steve Austin may be gone, but he’s certainly not forgotten. Some of his former colleagues, in fact, have been more than candid concerning their views of the man who helped turn their company around nearly five years ago.

Forget the scathing commentary from owner Vince McMahon and talent chief Jim Ross on the heels of Austin’s ouster. Their remarks no doubt stemmed from disappointment and frustration over Austin’s impetuous actions, but their verbal attack also served as a pre-emptive strike against anything Austin might claim in the future. Bottom line, as their victim would say, the public burial of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was an effort to spark a temporary ratings spike, which it failed to do since most fans thought it was just another angle.

What has come as somewhat of a surprise is the anti-Stone Cold stance taken by some of the company’s top stars – men who have made tremendous amounts of money and have become millionaires with Austin.

Triple H, whose elevation occurred as Austin had helped transform the WWF into the top wrestling company in the world, last week told the WWE Web site that nobody was bigger than the business. (It should be noted that less than three months ago Triple H put over Hulk Hogan, who has stated more than once in shoot interviews that he was “bigger than the business.”)

“The business will not stop because one person leaves,” said Triple H, who has become one of McMahon’s closest confidants as well as the boss’s daughter’s love interest, but has failed to be an effective draw since his return early this year. “Business will continue on no matter who leaves, no matter what happens. It’ll continue to be what it is, whether that’s good or bad …. The one thing is, I think most of our guys realize we’re fairly privileged. We get to do something most people would kill to do everyday of our lives. That’s pretty much an honor. It’s like Rock said in that promo – and that was pretty much the truth – the guys in our locker room are there because they want to be there; because that’s what they want to do. If somebody doesn’t want to be there, that’s fine. Move on.”

It was The Rock who had so eloquently expressed those sentiments on a recent edition of Raw when he implored those who weren’t team players to hit the bricks. It should also be noted, however, that The Rock hasn’t been a full-time player since his movie career took off, and that he is almost certain to be less of a presence in the near future as film pursuits take precedence over any commitment to the wrestling business. There is little chance that The Rock will even be around beyond Summer Slam, since his next movie, “Helldorado,” is set to begin filming in early September.

More unexpected, however, was the reaction of longtime locker-room leader The Undertaker, who told the WWE Web site that his relationship with Austin never extended beyond a “working” one and that Austin had “squashed” any respect he might have had for him.

“I’m very disappointed in his decision. He let a lot of people down. You know, when you have the position of a Stone Cold Steve Austin or a Rock or an Undertaker or a Triple H, your decisions aren’t based solely on your personal interests. You have other families that you have to worry about, because you’re helping to feed other people’s families. And those people that helped you get to the point that you are, it’s your obligation to do the right thing for these people’s families. I don’t think that he was concerned about anybody other than Steve Austin. And that’s a shame because it took a lot of people to create Stone Cold Steve Austin. It wasn’t just him. It was the creative staff. It was all the wrestlers in the dressing room. And I think somewhere in the process he forgot that, and he put himself above everything else.”

In all fairness, however, Taker’s act has become increasingly tired, and his “no-sell” approach and reluctance to do jobs to younger talent is no different than Austin turning down programs with those he felt had little potential of making money or with whom he had legitimate problems. In the most recent case, it was his adamant refusal to job to Brock Lesnar. In Austin’s defense, it made absolutely no sense to have him wrestle, much less lose to, Lesnar, who has great long-term potential but remains a very green pro, at this stage in the Minnesotan’s push. Austin in recent months also has expressed objections to storylines with the NWO (most notably Scott Hall) and Hulk Hogan, both of which were fraught with potential problems that have since come to pass.

Some have applauded Vince McMahon’s resolve to stand up to one of his two biggest stars. Others, while not necessarily agreeing with Austin’s unprofessional conduct of walking out on a show and disappointing his fans, sympathize with his plight, contending that other members of the old guard also embrace Austin’s long-held “DTA” (don’t trust anybody) philosophy.

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Austin’s frustration with the company dates back to early last year when McMahon, understandably preoccupied with a fledgling outlaw football league and absorbing a rival wrestling company, left the bulk of the creative decisions to a crew that now appears to have been not up to the task. Austin privately questioned McMahon’s commitment to the company, arguing that his time away from the business was hurting the product.

Since that time Austin and the creative staff have constantly been at odds over the direction of his character.

- Linda McMahon publicly acknowledged last week that Brock Lesnar will be taking the spot formerly occupied by Steve Austin. The WWE Chief Executive Officer, comparing her company to a football team putting in a new quarterback, reassured investors that “Stone Cold had a short-term impact, not a long-term impact,” and that ratings had not been affected by his absence.

She claimed ratings had fallen due to increased competition on television, citing shows such as “The Osbournes,” “Survivor” and “Spongebob Squarepants,” and alternatives like video games, which she said took a piece of the WWE’s demographic.

An article last week in Variey noted that teen-age viewership of Smackdown was down 35 percent over the first five months of 2001 and that overall ratings were down 10 percent. Raw is down 19 percent in teen-age viewers from last year and six percent overall.

- Last week’s rating for Raw, 3.7, tied the company’s low mark for a live edition over the past four years. Smackdown, the better offering of the week that featured impressive in-ring debuts of Deacon Bautista and John “Prototype” Cena, came in at a 3.3, up slightly from the previous week’s 3.1, which was the second lowest mark in the history of the show.

- The Jarretts have drawn mostly favorable response for their first two NWA-TNA shows on pay-per-view. Without a doubt the highlight has been the NWA X title division that has featured the likes of A.J. Styles, Jerry Lynn and Lo-Ki. With the recent signing of “Fallen Angel” Christopher Daniels, the division looks to get even better.

On the other hand, the Florida-based XWF’s announcement last week that the company plans to run only overseas is yet another sober reminder of the difficulty upstart promotions face in this new era of sports entertainment. Not much stock should be put into the group’s European plans, either, in light of WWA promoter Andrew McManus’s recent announcement that his outfit was canceling a scheduled July tour of Europe and a pay-per-view in Dublin.

- Kevin Nash is expected to return to the ring in the next week after recovering from bicep surgery.

- Shawn Michaels is to be commended for his new and improved backstage demeanor.

Michaels said several years ago that he regretted not having one more match with Ric Flair, as their last meeting was more than a decade ago and before Michaels’ ascension to main-event status. Perhaps WWE writers should put on their thinking caps and book an angle involving these two instead of coming up with a throwaway match like Raven vs. Tommy Dreamer last week on Raw. Flair, by the way, was conspicuously absent on last week’s Raw because the writers simply don’t know what to do with him after burying him for seven straight weeks until finally giving him a victory over Eddie Guerrero at the last pay-per-view.

“The Ric Flair-Eddie Guerrero match was a challenge because it was put together at the last minute due to Stone Cold Steve Austin’s untimely departure,” wrote Jim Ross in last week’s Ross Report. “Flair will not be wrestling as much in the future, but when he does we all know that we will be entertained and that the 53-year-old Nature Boy will deliver the goods. Guerrero is on the verge of his best run in his career from a creative standpoint and seems to always have good-to-spectacular outings.”

Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at [email protected] He is the co-author of “Sex, Lies & Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation,” to be published by Crown next month.