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Monday, 25 May 2009

King of Harts: The Owen Hart Collection - DVD Review

Following on from my review of WWF Over The Edge 1999, the event that sadly took away one of the world’s greatest wrestling talents in Owen Hart, I’m going to look at the positive side of his wrestling career with a review of a compilation that has been doing the tape trading rounds. Entitled King of Harts: The Owen Hart Collection, and put together by J&M Productions of Pro Wrestling Torrents fame, this compilation contains matches from Stampede, New Japan, WCW, and, of course, the WWF.

The first two matches come from Stampede Wrestling in Calgary. The first features Owen against “Lethal” Larry Cameron. The match is joined in progress, and the fist thing I notice was Mr. Cameron’s rather strange haircut. It’s a good way of starting the collection, with Owen putting in a good showing. Cameron looked pretty good as well, although his cockiness came back to haunt him. After pulling Owen up when he had him pinned, Owen got the win with a small package.

The second Stampede match is against the Dynamite Kid in a street fight. Again, the match is joined in progress. This match took place in 1989, after Dynamite’s WWF run, mainly because he looks a lot smaller, a lot less muscular than he did in his original Stampede and WWF tenure. He was still capable of putting in a great performance though, even if he did need a bit of help from his British Bruisers partner Johnny Smith while the referee took an inadvertent snooze. A second appearance from Smith saw him accidentally clobber his partner, with Owen getting the win with another small package.

On to his first WWF run, under the mask of the Blue Blazer, with an outing against hated heel referee turned wrestler Danny Davis. Davis looks good playing the cowardly heel, always trying to head for the hills whenever the Blazer got the upper hand, while the Blazer combines solid wrestling with high-flying and acrobatic skills. The Blazer dominated for the most part, with Davis’ two minutes of offence ending when he was punched in the gut while coming own from the top rope. A missed shoulder barge in the corner didn’t stop the Blazer from getting the pin, taking Davis out with a belly-to-belly suplex, and finishing him off with a top rope splash. Good stuff.

Next up is a match against “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase, accompanied by Virgil, on Saturday Night’s Main Event. This one is somewhat significant to yours truly, because it comes from the first WWF show I watched on satellite television twenty years ago. (I had watched a couple on ITV a couple of years before.) Dibiase attacked the Blazer as he made his ring entrance, and took the masked man apart for a couple of minutes, until the Blazer’s aerial skills brought him back into the match, landing on his feet as Dibiase attempted a backdrop. However, the money man’s cunning saw him come out on top, pinning the Blazer after a powerslam. Boy, did this one bring back memories.

Owen takes off the mask for the next match, against Jushin “Thunder” Liger in New Japan in 1991. The only match from Japan is the first match of the collection to last more than ten minutes, and it’s a great match between two evenly matched athletes. Of course, being the Liger mark that I am, this is also a dream match for me. These two literally tie each other in knots, as well as getting in a few frequent flyer miles, and plenty of false finishes, with Liger getting the win with an awesome looking top rope DDT. The best match of the collection so far.

On to WCW, as Owen teams with Ricky Morton to take on Joey Maggs and Greg Sawyer in 1991. It’s your basic television squash match here, with the commentators, including Diamond Dallas Page, spending more time hyping other things than putting over what’s happening in the ring. Owen got the pin for his team here after taking Sawyer out with a cross body block off the ropes.

The rest of Owen’s matches here are from his return to the WWF, beginning with The New Foundation team with Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart as they take on the Orient Express team of Kato and Tanaka at the 1992 Royal Rumble. The Express are accompanied here by their manager Mr. Fuji. Of course, this Rumble is best remembered for Ric Flair’s dramatic victory in the main event, but it featured some pretty good undercard matches as well, this being one of them. Although they weren’t as successful as the original Hart Foundation, the New Foundation were a good team in their own right, which showed in this match. Owen’s exchanges with both Kato and Tanaka are a joy to watch, and his team work with Neidhart is pretty damn good as well. The Express looked great in this match as well, with Fuji getting his licks in as well, clobbering Owen with his trusty cane. Owen took a ton of punishment in this one. A hot tag to the Anvil saw the big man clear house, before the Foundation doubled up, with Neidhart launching Owen from the top rope into a big splash on Tanaka to get the pin. A great example of tag-team wrestling.

Then it’s on to the match that really launched his singles career in the WWF, taking on his brother Bret “Hitman” Hart at Wrestlemania X. To say that this was a classic Wrestlemania match would be an understatement. From bell to bell, it’s one of those matches that keeps you transfixed, even after fifteen years, because this isn’t a match between two mortal enemies, it’s a match between brothers, a family feud taken to the extreme. It’s a back and forth encounter between two men with great chemistry, with Owen scoring what was then considered an upset by reversing Bret’s victory roll attempt to get the pin. This is one of those matches you could watch over and over again, and you still wouldn’t get tired of it.

Forward a few months to the final of the 1994 King of the Ring tournament, with Owen facing Razor Ramon. A bit of background before I go any further. Earlier in the show Jim Neidhart made his return to the WWF, backing up Bret Hart in his title match with Diesel, who had Shawn Michaels in his corner. It’s important to remember this. As for the match, Owen has fleeting moments of offence, Razor dominates for the most part, and is about to take Owen out with the razor’s edge when Owen backdrops him out of the ring. This brings the Anvil down to the ring, and while the referee is admonishing Owen, the Anvil attacks Razor before throwing him back in the ring, with Owen putting the finishing touches to it with a splash from the top rope. Owen and the Anvil then proceed to beat down Razor, including taking him out with the old Hart attack clothesline, giving this family feud an interesting twist.

The action moves forward to an edition of Monday Night Raw from November 1995, as Owen tackles Shawn Michaels. By this time Owen had Jim Cornette’s and Mr. Fuji’s stable. This match was a part of a huge and on-going angle for Michaels. A short time before this match took place he’d been attacked outside a nightclub, and the injuries he’d suffered were played upon the night before at the Survivor Series. The action itself is flawless, as was expected of these two, but it will be remembered for what happened at the end of the match, with Michaels collapsing in the ring after he’d clotheslined Owen over the top rope. These events were played out as if they were real, with the announcers going silent. It was, of course, part of the angle, and a few months later Michaels would go on to win his first WWF title, something I actually predicted before he even won the following year’s Royal Rumble.

The second match with Razor Ramon follows, this time at the Stu Hart tribute show in 1996, with Owen challenging Ramon for the Intercontinental title. Although it’s a good match in it’s own right, it’s not on the same level as their King of the Ring encounter. There’s a slight mis-hap halfway through when the top rope breaks, but it’s quickly repaired when the action spills out to ringside. Ramon has to overcome the odds a little when the 1-2-3 Kid tries to interfere, and while the referee is trying to usher the Kid out of the way, Owen clobbered Ramon with the ring microphone. The referee made a three count, but then re-started the match, with Ramon retaining the title by countering a suplex attempt with a small package.

It’s back to tag-team action, with Owen and the British Bulldog, accompanied by manager Clarence Mason, defending the WWF Tag-Team titles against Shawn Michaels and Sycho Sid in November ‘96. Michaels is accompanied here by his buddy Jose Lothario. Before the match begins we get a video re-cap of the problems Michaels and Sid went through in the run-up to this match. Well, it was just a few weeks before their match for the title at the Survivor Series. Anyway, back to the match. This is a great example of what a great team Owen and Davey Boy were. Michaels takes a pounding for his team, until Owen inadvertently dropkicks Davey Boy, allowing Michaels to get the hot tag to Sid. But Davey Boy gets the pin for his team after Michaels accidentally super kicked Sid. Very nice match here, very nice.

Owen and Davey Boy then do battle against each other in the next match in the final of the WWF European title tournament in Berlin. The German crowd are clearly behind their fellow European in this one. I was totally enthralled by this match when I first saw it and it’s the same all these years later. In short, it’s a classic between two men who are at the top of their game and who know each other inside out. It’s a back an forth encounter with a ton of false finishes, and both men getting out of their partner’s finisher, with Davey Boy getting the pin after reversing Owen’s victory roll attempt, becoming the first European Champion.

Owen goes for another title in the next match, challenging Rocky Maivia for the Intercontinental title in 1997, while Owen was a member of the second Hart Foundation. Of course, this is way before Rocky developed an attitude and started referring to himself in the third person. Given the response Rocky was getting at this stage in his career, it wasn’t surprising that a section of the crowd were cheering for Owen here. The match is a good one, with Owen getting the pin with a roll-up an winning the title.

The next segment features the angle in which Owen joined the Nation, turning on his partner Ken Shamrock in a tag-team match against The Rock and Mark Henry. The rest of the Nation then joins in the attack on Shamrock as Owen tries to break his ankle by putting it in a chair and coming down off the top rope. Steve Blackman and Farooq try to make the save, but the numbers are too much for them as Owen locks Shamrock in the sharpshooter.

The rivalry with Shamrock continues with the match in Stu Hart’s dungeon, fought under submission rules, at Fully Loaded ‘98, with Dan Severn as special referee. It’s part brawl, part wrestling and part MMA-style match, with both men beating the hell out of each other. Shamrock ends up accidentally kicking Severn in the head, and while the Beast is down, Owen knocks Shamrock out with a dumb bell, locking in a crossface as Severn comes to, and using his free hand to make it look as if Shamrock is tapping out. Hey, it was different, but damn good entertainment.

Owen’s last match on this collection is a tag-team match with Jeff Jarrett against the New Age Outlaws. Of course, Jarrett and Owen are accompanied to the ring by the lovely Debra, while the Outlaws are accompanied by Chyna. It’s a short but fast-paced match, and the action is good, but it’s not the best match on this collection, with Owen pinning the Road Dogg while Billy Gunn tried to stop an altercation between Debra and Chyna.

The final match of the collection doesn’t involve Owen. It’s the tribute match between Bret Hart and Chris Benoit at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City on WCW Monday Nitro, just a few months after Owen’s death. This is actually the first Benoit match I’ve watched since his death, and although he will always be known for what he did during his final few hours, if you try to put those things aside, which I know is difficult to do, then what you’ve got here is a tremendous match between two of the best wrestlers ever produced, both of whom were trained by Stu Hart, paying tribute to their fallen comrade. It’s a great technical battle from start to finish, with the end seeing Bret power out of Benoit’s crossface attempt to lock in the sharpshooter for the submission win.

In conclusion - this collection is a great tribute to the memory of Owen Hart. There’s not one bad match here, and when I come to think of it, I don’t think I ever saw a bad Owen Hart match in all the years I watched him. The inclusion of the Bret/Benoit tribute match was a fine touch, and made this a little more special. So if you can somehow get your hands on this, then do so.

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