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My Hero in Pink: Part 2

Bret Hart with Intercontinental Title

(c) WWE

The phrase “Never meet your heroes” has been around for a long time. It implies that meeting them might be a letdown when you realize that they’re just a normal person. I understand the logic behind that concept, but I don’t agree with it. I met one of my childhood heroes, if only for a brief second, and it only made me admire him more. I got to take a picture with Bret Hart, shake his hand, look him right in the eye, and say, “thank you.” I know that’s hardly a meeting, but sometimes that small exchange is enough to make a person lose the admiration they once had for someone. Not me though. On that day, Bret “The Hitman” Hart met and surpassed all my expectations. It was a surreal moment for sure. While standing there,  I realized how much I respected this man, and how strong he had to have been to endure through the ordeals the end of his career came with. Bret Hart doesn’t know who I am. He probably doesn’t even remember being in my small town, but for me, it’s a moment I’ll always remember. The day I met my hero.

I’ve always believed that a true hero is someone who manages to stay strong in the face adversity. The end of Bret Hart’s career was filled with both adversity and tragedy. The fact that he managed to keep it together, and tried to pick up the pieces, is admirable. Part 1 of my story ended right before the main event of Survivor Series 1997. Unbeknownst to Bret, the fans, and most of his employees, Vince McMahon had orchestrated a plan to ensure that Hart, who had just signed a deal with WCW, would not leave the ring as WWF Champion. There have been two schools of thinking ever since the incident took place. On one side, you have the people who say McMahon had no choice but to protect his company and all his employees. That Vince would’ve done that to anyone. On the other side, you have people who say that Vince McMahon is an evil individual. An individual who stabbed his most loyal employee in the back, after he was the one who asked him to sign with WCW to relieve some of the “financial stress” the WWF was under. Obviously, I fall into the latter category. Regardless of which side you’re on, we can all agree that the Montreal Screw Job was the turning point for both the WWF and Bret Hart.

Before the match started, Bret was on top of the world. He was defending the WWF Championship one last time, in his home country, and he wasn’t scheduled to lose it. In a sense, Bret was going to have the perfect ending to his WWF career. Then, he’d move on to WCW and start collecting a huge pay day. Sadly, not everything went according to plan. We’ll never know how the match was supposed to end, but what transpired is an incident that still gets talked about today, 20 years later. We all know the story. If you don’t, long story short, Shawn Michaels locks Bret Hart in the Sharpshooter submission, Vince McMahon comes down to ringside and calls for the bell. Your new WWF Champion, Shawn Michaels. The live audience couldn’t believe it, the fans at home couldn’t believe it, and most of all, Bret Hart couldn’t believe it. A man, and a company, that he had shed blood, sweat, and tears for had double crossed him. There would be no fairy tale ending. In fact, Bret Hart’s life and career would begin to spiral downward after this match.

Bret Hart tapping to Shawn Michaels

(c) WWE

Not only had Bret basically been exiled to WCW, but it seemed as though his departure sparked a shift in momentum between the two promotions. Before the Screw Job, WCW was positioned atop the wrestling world. They had the hottest entity in all of pro wrestling, the NWO, and after the way, Bret’s WWF run ended many believed his arrival in WCW would mean big business for the company. Unfortunately, it didn’t play out that way. Almost immediately after Bret walks out of the WWF, the pendulum begins swinging the other way. Seemingly over night, the NWO gets too big and too stale, Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Mr. McMahon becomes the hottest rivalry in all of pro wrestling, and oh yeah, we find out that “Bret screwed Bret.” When you take everything into consideration, Bret Hart gets a raw deal here (no pun intended). When WCW was beating WWF in the ratings, it was viewed as Bret’s fault because he was WWF’s top star. When Bret decides to leave for WCW (as a favor to McMahon) he’s looked at as a traitor. Ultimately, he’s the one who gets betrayed. The betrayal somehow does nothing for him, but leads to the creation of the Mr. McMahon character, which in turn leads to the full blown start of the “Attitude Era.” I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the Attitude Era wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Bret Hart. Whether it was making Steve Austin a star, or inadvertently creating the evil Mr. McMahon, Bret was crucial. If only he could’ve had the same effect on WCW.

Immediately after the Screw Job, I felt confused. The next day, confusion turned into hope. Hope that somehow Bret would show up on Monday Night Raw and confront both Shawn Michales and Vince McMahon. I couldn’t wait for 9 o’clock to roll around. When it finally did, I was disappointed. Not only would Bret not be there, but Shawn Michaels and DX would proceed to make a mockery of the whole situation. By the end of the show, it became quite apparent, even to an 8-year-old me, that Bret Hart would not be returning to the WWF. I honestly can’t recall how I found out the details of the Screw Job, or that Bret was headed to WCW. That kind of information wasn’t as available back then, and especially to a kid. When I learned that Bret would be arriving in WCW though, I was ecstatic. I felt like Bret would pick up right where he’d left off in WWF. Unfortunately for everyone, that wasn’t the case. Whether it was WCW’s fault or Bret’s fault, the whole ordeal seemed doomed from the start.

Before his WCW run was abruptly ended by injury, Bret had managed to win the U.S. Title and World Heavyweight Title, but his character was struggling. His love for pro wrestling was gone, and it showed on screen. I tried to stay loyal to my favorite of all time. I bought a WCW Bret Hart action figure, I started watching Nitro and WCW pay-per-views, but it wasn’t the same anymore. WCW clearly didn’t know what they had on their hands. They never knew what to do with Bret Hart. As bad as his professional life had become, the real blow to Bret and the rest of the Hart Family came on May 23rd, 1999, when Owen Hart tragically fell to his death during his entrance at the WWF pay-per-view, Over The Edge. I remember not believing it when Jim Ross broke the news. It seemed impossible to fathom. Just a couple of years ago, the Hart Foundation was on top of the WWF world. Now Bret, Jim Neidhart, and The British Bulldog were all gone. While Brian Pillman, and Owen Hart, were both dead. A horrible day for all wrestling fans, especially any fans of the Hart Family.

After Owen’s death, things just got worse for Bret. He was forced to retire from wrestling in late 2000, after suffering a severe concussion, caused by a reckless kick to the head by Bill Goldberg. I remember not understanding why Bret wasn’t wrestling. I remember being frustrated with him and WCW for that. When the news finally came that he wouldn’t wrestle again, I was heart broken, but I was just a fan. Bret had to deal with the abrupt retirement head on. One minute you’re a star athlete, the next you’re not allowed to compete anymore. What an unceremonious end to one of the greatest careers ever. In 2002, Bret began taking losses in his personal life. He and first wife Julie, officially divorced that year. He lost his brother-in-law, and one of his closest friends, the “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, to a heart attack. He also suffered a stroke in 2002.

Then, in early 2003, Bret lost another close friend suddenly, when “Mr. Perfect” Kurt Henning, died of a drug overdose. I can’t imagine dealing with just one of those situations, let alone dealing with them occurring that close proximity. That’s where my current respect for Bret Hart comes from. Sure, when I was a child, I admired Bret Hart the wrestler, but as an adult, I admire Bret Hart the man. I admire the ability to keep picking yourself up after every blow life throws at you. I admire the courage it took to stand alone against WWE for so many years. I understood when he finally buried the hatchet with Vince McMahon, Shawn Michaels, and WWE. He couldn’t let them, or that one incident dictate the way he lived the rest of his life. Bret gets a little older every year and resembles my childhood hero a bit less every year too. None of that matters though. The memories will never fade. Every time I see the color pink, I can’t help but think of “The best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be,” Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Forever my hero, my hero in pink.

Wesley shaking Bret Hart's hand

My Hero in Pink

 

 

 

My Hero in Pink: Part 1

(c) WWE.com

What do you see when you picture your childhood hero? A lot of kids idolize their favorite superheroes, like Batman or Superman. Others look up to their favorite sports athletes, like Michael Jordan or LeBron James. Not me though. My childhood hero was a combination of both, a superstar athlete, and as close as you can get to a real-life superhero, Bret “The Hitman” Hart. Some people might laugh at the notion of having a professional wrestler be your hero, but others will get exactly where I’m coming from. As a child, I still hadn’t been let in on the secret that professional wrestling was “fake,” so Bret was the end all be all for me. He didn’t wear a cape or a sports jersey. He dressed in tights, wore shiny shades, and a leather jacket. He wasn’t the most charismatic performer ever. He was always more substance than flair, but he was my hero. My hero in pink.

Most of us associate the color pink with compassion, nurturing, and love. Whether it’s right or not, most of us also associate the color pink with women and girls. As kids, many boys are conditioned to reject the color pink and lean more towards red or blue. I was just like every other boy. I was always partial more towards blue, and I honestly thought pink was a girl’s color. I saw it as soft and weak. I thought any boy that wore pink was trying to be “girly.” Then, in 1993, I got my first glimpse at “The Hitman.” He didn’t subscribe to the narrative of pink being a “soft” or “feminine” color. As a matter of fact, Bret preached that “Real men wore Pink.” The “Excellence of Execution” blew my mind as a kid. He was hands down the best wrestler on the planet, he was intelligent, and most of all, he was tough as nails. Nothing about Bret Hart implied any sort of softness or weakness, and he wore an abundance of pink gear. He had pink on his tights, pink on his boots, and even his shades were pink! Yet he was the coolest thing a young me had ever seen.

The first time I saw Bret Hart was at WrestleMania IX, where he defended the WWF Championship against Yokozuna. Hart would come up short on that day, and lose the title, but that didn’t really matter to me. I knew the moment I saw him wrestle that he was gonna be my favorite. What I didn’t know just how long I’d have to wait to see him perform again. Considering that I was only 4 years old at the time of WrestleMania IX, I wasn’t really in control of what I watched on t.v.. For the next 4 years or so, I barely caught a glimpse of my new idol. Then finally, in 1997, someone turned on a TV at a family gathering and sent me down a road that I’ve never really strayed from since. Without knowing it, I began watching WrestleMania 13, and the rest is history. Every wrestling fan has their favorite WrestleMania. For me, that will always be WrestleMania 13. WrestleMania IX will always be special to me too since it was the first one I ever watched, but 13 is the one that made me into the huge wrestling nerd I am today. I sat there in awe as some of the most iconic names in wrestling history clashed against each other on pro wrestling’s biggest stage. Owen Hart and The British Bulldog vs. Mankind and Vader for the Tag Team Championships, L.O.D., and Ahmed Johnson vs. The Nation of Domination in a Chicago Street Fight, and Psycho Sid vs. The Undertaker for the WWF Championship. Every single match had me glued to the screen, but one match blew them all out of the water. One match left an impression on me that still hasn’t faded. That match, in my humble opinion, is the best match to ever take place at a WrestleMania. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Bret “The Hitman” Hart, in a Submission Match. Understand that I was only 7 years old at the time, and yet, I still knew I was watching something special. Something that I knew I’d remember for the rest of my life. Bret Hart won the match, and on top of that, he and Stone Cold executed to most famous double turn in wrestling history. Bret walked into WrestleMania as the top babyface in wrestling and walked out as a hated heel. Even though I didn’t fully understand what I had just seen, in hindsight, I’m glad I got to watch it as it aired live. It’s one of my favorite moments in wrestling history.

From WrestleMania 13 forward I became obsessed with both pro wrestling and Bret Hart. On my 8th birthday, my parents took Me to ToysRUs and told me I was allowed to get a few toys, I ran straight for the wrestling section. I had been given wrestling toys before, but this would be the first time I would get to pick my very own action figures and take them out of the box myself. I looked through all the figures and picked out a few guys. Mankind, Psycho Sid, Vader, and then finally, sitting right there waiting for me to find him was my very first Bret Hart action figure. I went home a happy camper and started putting on my own WWF events at home with my new toys. I liked them all, but Bret was obviously my favorite. I liked that action figure so much, that when I would do poorly in school, or get in trouble at home, my parents would take him away as a punishment. It was cruel and unusual, but it always got the message across and straightened me out. Sadly, the real Bret Hart was about to be taken away from millions of WWF fans all across the world, including me.

November 9, 1997, the day one of the greatest wrestlers ever got “screwed” in his home country by a company he helped keep alive. I remember the build up the match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels at the 1997 Survivor Series vividly. It was a huge part of my childhood. I remember knowing Bret and Shawn were bitter rivals, it had been more than implied on WWF programming. I remember not liking Shawn because he was Bret’s competition. What I remember most though, was watching Shawn Michaels deliver a SuperKick to an injured Bret Hart and knocking back into his wheelchair. It made me want to see Bret get his revenge. The two men really did hate each other, and it showed on screen. After months of build up, the big match finally arrived. What a lot of fans, including myself, didn’t know was that we were about to witness Bret “The Hitman” Hart’s final WWF match ever. Hall of Fame announcer Jim Ross us all a small clue right before the match when he said, “This match was a long journey in itself. Took 18 months to get it done, and the smart money is that you will never, ever, see it again.” As an adult, I love the entire spectrum of pro wrestling, but as a kid, I was a die-hard WWF fan. What happened next would test my loyalty to both Bret Hart and the WWF. By the end of the match, my hero would be gone…

 

Wesly Avendano.

BaselineTimes