“The Hitman”, “The Excellence Of Execution”, “The Pink And Black Attack”, “The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be”, “The Cowboy”, “Mr. Burns’s new homeowner”, “Miranda Hart’s brother”, “Mooky Bret” – no matter what you call him (and some of those *may* not be real), Bret Hart is one of wrestling’s all-time greats. With technical prowess for days, the Canadian worked his way up from his father’s wrestling promotion to a tag expert to a solo star to one of professional wrestling’s biggest names. Hart also would lay foundations for the next generation of talents, accumulating some unique fundamentals across his career.
So, in the first in a series of 5 Wrestler Firsts, here are the initial achievements that belong to Bret “The Hitman” Hart.
1. First Royal Rumble Participant
Although the Royal Rumble PPV would not debut until 1989, the first televised Royal Rumble match took place in 1988 as a part of a USA Network special.
For the debut of the match stipulation – besides a 1987 house show bout won by One Man Gang – the WWF decided to start with reliable talent. Alongside manager Jimmy Hart, Bret Hart was the number one entrant making him the first-ever participant in an official Royal Rumble; the number two entrant was Tito Santana.
Bret Hart would also, in the same match, become the first-ever iron man of the match, lasting 25 minutes. He was eliminated by Don Muraco later into the match. This would only last a year until Mr. Perfect broke it next year but he did have the advantage of a longer match with 30, not 20, entrants.
2. First Wrestler To Fight The Undertaker
Whilst Mark Calaway had wrestled elsewhere before including in WCW as “Mean” Mark Callous, his time as The Undertaker did not come until the WWF in 1990.
At Survivor Series, DiBiase announced the arrival of The Undertaker to join his Million Dollar Team. The first to tangle with the menacing ‘Taker was Bret Hart. Their interaction at this point was brief – Hart received a kick to the gut and was taken down with a rebound chokehold; he subsequently tagged out to Jim Neidhart. Nobody would have had any idea of the battles these two would continue to have over the years.
Although ‘Taker would eliminate “The Excellence Of Execution”, he would eliminate half of The Dream Team (no, not that one) by pinning both Koko B. Ware and Dusty Rhodes. This dominance would not stop for nearly three decades, with his assertive power over Hart helping immediately legitimize “The Dead Man”.
3. First Wrestler To Compete At 10(+) WrestleManias
Bret was a WWF fixture for many years, during which time, he competed at 12 WrestleManias, the first person to surpass 10.
This achievement was earned at WrestleMania XI, ironically in his worst match at the event, in which he beat Bob Backlund in an “I Quit” match refereed by Roddy Piper. Bret himself would state:
The match that I really hated the most was at WrestleMania XI. That was in Hartford where I fought Bob Backlund in the ‘I Quit’ match. Roddy Piper was the guest referee and he kept asking on the live microphone, ‘What do you say!?’ while Bob and I were wrestling. It turned into a real farce of a match. And I knew it would be a terrible match because they took the pinfalls out of the match – it was all submissions, so it made it even harder to have a good match…It was terrible”.
Hart’s ‘Mania matchography reads like a who’s who of wrestling:
- II: vs NFL/WWF talent in a battle royal
- III: vs The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith & Dynamite Kid) & Tito Santana
- IV: vs WWF talent in a battle royal
- V: vs Greg Valentine & Honky Tonk Man
- VI: vs The Bolsheviks (Nikolai Volkoff & Boris Zhukov)
- VII: vs The Nasty Boys (Brian Knobbs & Jerry Sags)
- VIII: vs Roddy Piper
- IX: vs Yokozuna
- X: vs Owen Hart, vs Yokozuna
- XI: vs Bob Backlund
After his 10th ‘Mania match with Backlund, Hart wrestled two iconic and historic bouts for the next two events: Shawn Michaels in an iron man match at XII and Steve Austin at XIII.
4. First Wrestler To Go Through A Table In WWF/E
The history of table bumps is one shrouded in debate but the WWF’s first table break spot came as late as 1995.
Generally, Randy Savage and Ricky Morton are seen as having the first table break moment. This took place in 1984 in Memphis’s Continental Wrestling Association, in which “Macho Man” piledrove Morton through a table after a match between The Poffos and The Rock’n’Roll Express.
By 1995, the WWF’s product was largely seen as stale. With the growing influence of Philadelphia’s Extreme Championship Wrestling looming over the WWF like a dagger. Seeing this, WWF embraced the most hardcore aspects of the promotion, starting and including a table spot. Whilst Sabu was lighting up with table bumps in ECW, then-WWF champion Diesel hit the first table bump in the WWF. Taking place at Survivor Series, Nash projectiled Hart off the apron back-first onto the Spanish announce table. Treated as deadly serious, almost accidental, its devastating impacts were reflected in the selling of “The Hitman”.
Of course, in the years that followed and specifically the post-Attitude Era, table spots have become a common sight on WWF/E programming and true to tradition, they often take place on the Spanish announcer’s desk.
5. First Non-American WCW World Heavyweight Champion
To avoid pedantic corrections, I should specify Hart is the first non-US-born champion as Canada is part of North America.
In 1999 at the Mayhem PPV, Bret Hart won his first WCW World Heavyweight title, winning a 32-man tournament. No matter the result of the final, the winner would have been the first non-USA-born WCW champion as Chris Benoit was the other finalist.
Hart would beat Goldberg, Perry Saturn, Billy Kidman, Sting, and Chris Benoit en route to a win after nearly two years of misguided booking after WCW had stamped out the fires of a post-Montreal Screwjob Bret. In typical WCW fashion, Bret was stripped of the belt after a controversial finish in a Starrcade match with Goldberg. He won it back the same night he was stripped of it before another vacation, this time due to a career-ending injury. He held it two times for a combined 56 days.
The only other wrestler born outside the United States to win the belt was Chris Benoit, with “The Crippler” winning it after Bret’s second vacation, holding it for only a day before leaving WCW for the WWF.
Bret Hart’s firsts in wrestling have forever helped influence those after him, shaping the mold of wrestling today. Hart is one of the most influential stars of all time as reflected in the precedents he established. Simply put, Bret was a pioneer and revolutionary inside the ring, whose mind for the business will forever impact the wrestling industry as we see it.