Saturday, 15 September 2007

Bret "Hitman" Hart - The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The There Ever Will Be - DVD Review

Bret “Hitman” Hart - The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will be. This was a DVD I just had to have, a retrospective look at one of my all time favourites.

For every Hitman fan out there, you’ll be pleased to know that this has everything - from the beginning of his professional career in his father’s Stampede Wrestling promotion, to his decade-plus tenure in the WWF, the Montreal Screw job, and his less than stellar career in WCW, everything is here, and it makes for compelling viewing.

Bret comes across as someone extremely confident in his wrestling abilities, and proud of what he achieved during his career. Previous reviews have stated that this was a show of arrogance on Bret’s part, but that is far from the case here.

Perhaps the most emotional part of the interview centred on the tragic death of his brother Owen. Bret truly believes that if he was still with the WWF in 1999, Owen might be alive today. He then talks about the Owen Hart tribute match between himself and Chris Benoit at a WCW show at the Kemper Arena, the arena Owen died in.

There are also many glowing tributes about the Hitman’s career from many of his contemporaries and others, people such as Chris Benoit, Christian, Gene Okerlund, and Vince McMahon. Indeed, at the beginning of the documentary, Vince thanks Bret for his participation.

While it’s unlikely that Bret and WWE will ever have the sort of relationship they had prior to November 1997, it’s good to see that they co-operated on this project, which of course led to Bret’s induction into the Hall of Fame. But of course, there’s quite a bit more to this collection, as we take a look at the matches;

On disc one, the Hart Foundation v The British Bulldogs, July 1985, in Madison Square Garden. An early confrontation between two teams who were made for each other, long before they feuded over the tag-team titles. Some great action here, in particular the exchanges between Bret and the Dynamite Kid, with the match ending in a draw.

Then it’s back to MSG in February 1986, as the Harts face the Killer Bees. A great example of tag-team wrestling here, great action throughout with the Harts beating down on Jim Brunzell until he got the hot tag to B. Brian Blair, who cleaned house, and it looked like the Bees were going to win until the time limit expired.

Disc two begins with the first singles match of the collection as Bret takes on Ricky Steamboat in Boston in March 1986. A very good match between two of wrestling’s greatest technicians sees the Dragon getting the win over the Hitman after reversing a cross body block, although Bret would have had the win after a Hart Attack clothesline had the referee not been taking a snooze.

Forward three years to Texas, and March 1989, as Bret Faces Ted Dibiase. Watching this bout makes you realise just what a great wrestler Dibiase was, as the Million Dollar Man controls the majority of the bout before the Hitman makes his comeback, with the bout ending with a double count-out as both men brawled outside the ring.

On to Saturday Night’s Main Event from April 1990, as the Harts face the Rockers, unusual at the time as both teams were fan favourites. This was around the time that the Harts began to feud with Demolition, and the presence of the tag champions at ringside saw both teams disqualified after a fast-paced match-up, when Ax and Smash got sucked into the action, although this did show that the Harts were more than ready for a second run as champions.

We move on a year to Wrestlemania VII, as the Harts defend their tag titles against the Nasty Boys. Not my favourite Hart Foundation bout here, possibly because I was never really a fan of the Nasties, saw Saggs and Knobs work over Bret’s back, before they eventually won the match and the titles after Clobbering Neidhart with Jimmy Hart’s crash helmet.

Classic time next from Summer slam ‘91, as Bret challenges Mr. Perfect for the Intercontinental title. Although this match will go down as a classic, what is truly remarkable about this one is that fact that Curt Hennig went into this match with a career threatening back injury, but despite this he still put in a hell of a performance, as did the Hitman, as the Perfect one gave in to the sharpshooter as Bret won his first singles title in the WWF.

Forward a year to Summer slam ‘92 at Wembley Stadium in London, as Bret defends the Intercontinental title against Davey Boy Smith in front of 80,000 fans. In what was the Bulldog’s career defining moment, he put on the match of his life with the Hitman, wrestling for over twenty minutes, as both men pulled out all the stops in a tremendous bout, with Smith reversing a sunset flip attempt to win the title as Bret prepared to move up to the next level, as within two months he was WWF champion.

We then travel to Barcelona in Spain, in April 1993, as Bret faces Bam Bam Bigelow. The Beast from the East was an awesome worker, as is evident in this match, and although it isn’t as good as their King of the Ring bout, it’s still great, as the Hitman gets the win with a victory roll.

Speaking of King of the Ring, it’s re-match time as Bret faces Mr. Perfect in the semi-finals of the 1993 tournament. With both wrestlers acting as fan favourites, this was a different style of match from their first encounter, with Hennig showing that he was back to his best after his back injury. A great technical bout with Bret reversing Perfect’s small package to advance to the final of the tournament.

The final match on disc two sees a battle of the brothers, as Bret faces Owen in the opening match of Wrestlemania X. They definitely saved the best for last on this disc. Great storytelling combined with incomparable psychology and intensity made for a tremendous bout, with Owen scoring the upset victory, countering Bret’s victory roll attempt to pick up the win.

Disc three begins with a second battle of the brothers, as Bret defends the title against Owen in White Plains, new York, in September 1994. Billed as Owen’s final title opportunity, the presence of Jim Neidhart in Owen’s corner and Davey Boy Smith in Bret’s added to the tension and drama as the siblings put on another great bout. After the Anvil stopped a Hitman superplex attempt, the Bulldog then pushed Owen off the top rope, with Bret picking up the win with a small package.

On to the first In Your House show in May 1995, as Bret faces Japanese star Hakushi. The first time I’ve ever seen this match, and the first match for the Hitman on this particular show. Bret was competing against two men in this one, with Hakushi’s manager Shinja interjecting himself on several occasions. I had forgotten how impressive Hakushi was, and his Asai moonsault to the outside of the ring was just spectacular. It wasn’t enough to get the win though, as Bret ended Hakushi’s undefeated streak with a victory roll.

Six months later, and Bret challenges Diesel for the title at the 1995 Survivor Series. This was the rubber match between the two, and fought under no disqualification rules because of the interference in their two previous encounters. Although this isn’t Kevin Nash’s finest moment in wrestling, this is definitely his best match, as the Hitman centres his attack on Diesel’s knee. But the big man comes back strongly, putting Bret through the Spanish announcer’s table, but then showing a degree of sympathy for his fallen opponent, which proved to be his undoing as Bret scored with a small package to regain the title. Enraged, Diesel then connected with two power bombs on the Hitman, as well as attacking several referees, marking the start of his heel turn as he entered the last six months of his first run with the WWF, before leaving to join WCW.

Then it’s forward one month, as Bret once again faces Davey Boy Smith, this time under the management of Jim Cornette, at In Your House in December 1995. A different style of bout from their Summer slam ‘92 encounter, with Cornette getting involved on a couple of occasions, and Bret getting busted open, which was unheard of in the WWF at the time. But despite everything that went against him, Bret finally broke his hoodoo and got the win over the Bulldog, retaining his title.

We then move forward two years to Wrestlemania 13, as Bret faced Steve Austin in a submission match, with UFC legend Ken Shamrock as the special referee. These two had a hell of a rivalry in ‘96-’97, and this was the best match they had together, more of a fight than a wrestling match, and a damn good one at that, perhaps the bout that ushered in the Attitude era. After over twenty minutes of frantic action, Austin passed out as Bret synched in the sharpshooter, with Shamrock having no choice but to stop the match and award the victory to the Hitman. The double turn was complete when Bret attacked Austin after the bell, with Shamrock stopping him from causing more damage. A hell of a bout that had everything, a great rivalry, great drama, and an excellent storyline.

Six months later, Bret defends the WWF title against the Undertaker at the UK’s One Night Only pay-per-view, right when the second incarnation of the Hart Foundation was running roughshod over the WWF. The re-match from Summer slam ‘97 saw almost thirty minutes of great action, with Bret focusing his attack on the Undertaker’s knee as the dead man fought back time and time again. But in the end the Undertaker earned a disqualification when Bret’s head and neck got caught between the top two ropes, with the Undertaker refusing to cease his attack.

The final bout of the collection is the only WCW bout here, as Bret takes on Chris Benoit in the Owen Hart tribute match on an edition of Monday Nitro in October 1999. A truly emotional match here, and a technical classic as two of the greatest wrestlers to ever have come out of Canada put on a tremendous match, proof that a bout doesn’t need a long-standing feud or any sort of rivalry to make it a classic. All it needs is two great mat technicians, with Bret getting the win with the sharpshooter. Sadly, it was just two months late when Bret’s wrestling career came to an end.

In conclusion - this is a great collection, a perfect tribute to one of the greatest wrestlers ever. The documentary was a great way to look back at Bret’s career, and although I’m a little disappointed that certain matches never made the final cut (no matches with Backlund, Lawler, or Flair), the matches here more than made up for any disappointment I felt. After over nine hours of viewing, I can safely say that if you buy this DVD collection, you will not be disappointed.