As we talked about yesterday, after defeating Yokozuna at WrestleMania X, Bret should have been the coronated — no, not like the 1993 King of the Ring confrontation with Jerry Lawler that would lead to his “Kiss My Feet” match just a year or so after the biggest victory of Hart’s career:
But the kind of coronation that Hulk Hogan and … well … nobody else in the modern history of the WWF would get. After eight months, he’d lose the title to Bob Backlund after his brother, Owen (with whom he had been feuding for almost a year) tricked their mother into throwing in the towel.
While the match isn’t available on YouTube — and you aren’t missing anything by not seeing it — Bob Backlund’s insane promo after the match is truly a sight to see.
Helen literally throwing in the towel cost her son the title, but more importantly, it was the foot in the door that the Kliq — the backstage name for the group Shawn Michaels, Diesel (Kevin Nash), Razor Ramon (Scott Hall), the 123 Kid (Sean Waltman) and Triple H who had a considerable amount of sway with the company in terms of “creative control” and storyline direction — used to bust through. And they did, in about eight seconds.
Aside from legally changing his name to Transition Champion Bob Backlund, this ridiculous “match” would lead to a nearly year-long title reign which saw Diesel plod his way through the beginning of the In Your House era, become tag team champions with Shawn Michaels and even put on the worst PPV main event of all time against Mabel at SummerSlam 95. Realizing that the Diesel reign wasn’t the money making juggernaut they hoped it would be, the WWF made a choice to have Hart defeat Diesel at Survivor Series
As had become a recurring theme, it was easily the best match of Diesel’s career and would have likely done considerably more for Nash than what Big Daddy Cool got out of his WrestleMania XI opponent in terms of establishing him as a viable long-term champion. But Bret would instead be facing Diesel’s opponent from that show, who after winning his second consecutive Royal Rumble, challenged the Hitman to a 60-minute Iron Man Match. It, not surprisingly, is not available on YouTube either, though much like the towel match, was less about what happened than what it meant for the people involved.
For Bret, it was the writing on the wall that said loudly “he’s next”, while for Shawn the stature he reached by virtue of his talent was a blank check that his crippling drug addiction would prevent him from being able to cash. From there, Bret’s status in the company would fluctuate, as he’d swing back and forth through the next few years, picking up another title reign that last just one day — as part of the Final Four In Your House PPV — before having the blowoff match for his feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin, which had begun around a year earlier (and is something we’ll be getting to in more deal when we do #StoneColdWeek).
Bret, both in real life and on camera, began resenting Michaels and the influence he had, and not surprisingly for anyone who watched #PillmanWeek did a perfect job of playing the avatar of t New Generation just as it was becoming the Attitude Era.
He was genuinely unhappy with the direction the company — and professional wrestling as a whole — was going with racy style of the Michaels/HHH-led D-X, and blamed fans for the change. In kayfabe, Bret Hart made it about being a Canadian hero stuck in a land of disrespectful louts, while in real life, it appears he was largely bothered by the influence that Michaels/HHH had than anything he felt about the fans, though he was promos on everyone involved. This, rather obviously, made him a dastardly heel in the U.S., but much significantly, it made him an even more massive fan favorite to Canadians where’s he was already genuinely considered a national hero just below the Gretzkys of the world.
With the momentum from this persona, he very quickly grabbed the title for a then-unprecedented 5th time, defeating the Undertaker at SummerSlam in a match refereed by — you guessed it — Shawn Michaels.
The ending of this match — which, if you’ve read Bret’s book, Hitman, resulted in the most high school game of he said-he said in the history of adult professionals — set the stage for what would go down as the single most famous match in wrestling history, The Montreal Screwjob.
And, that, for today, is where we will end our story. We’ll be back tomorrow to discuss the aftermath of the Screwjob, what it meant for the business and even more importantly (okay, we’re obviously kidding) Bret Hart’s much maligned WCW career.