Dave: Hey, buddy!
Nick: What’s good, blood?
Dave: Not much! And yourself?
Nick: Watching old episodes of Raw on the Network. Mean (By God) Gene is doing a preview of WrestleMania IX. Sponsored by Ico-Pro.
Dave: Very nice. Ico-Pro was to the New Generation what Stacker 2 (The World’s Strongest Fat Burner) was to the late Attitude Era.
Nick: Less baseball/football player deaths attached to it, though.
Dave: I wonder if Gary Strydom ever actually used Ico-Pro.
Nick: Actually, Bret Hart was in an Ico-Pro commercial. Which is kind of funny. Because, and here’s the thing, you realize EXACTLY what’s involved — and always has been involved — with being The Man in the company.
Dave: Part of being a long-term top guy is shilling the flavor-of-the-week stuff. …Be it Ico-Pro or the XFL or Fruity Pebbles.
Nick: Exactly, and you kind of get why they were always sort of pushing him out of the spot.
Dave: Because he wasn’t a good enough actor to be an enthusiastic shill?
Nick: He’s a GREAT wrestler and performer, but he’s not necessarily the face of the franchise.
Dave: Definitely true, but the same was also true of Michaels, who was the other potential top guy for much of Hart’s era on top. Bret was the top guy at a time where wrestling was experiencing a charisma vacuum.
Nick: Yeah, though Shawn’s style was significantly more traditionally exciting than Bret’s. To me, looking back, it’s both totally logical and kind of crazy that he was champion five times. He’s the “default” champion, much like John Cena, but in a completely different way.
Dave: Bret’s the ultimate example of a wrestling company finding the best option at a time when they really needed to search, and then riding it until it was no longer the best option. He didn’t break out like Austin, and he was never “chosen” to the degree of a Randy Orton, but Bret was a great champion in the sense that he could reasonably hold the belt for a long stretch and anchor the product around good wrestling when there wasn’t much else.
Nick: Do you think the Screwjob was warranted? I mean, given that he CLEARLY wasn’t the best option anymore and he was on his way out the door. Going beyond “doing the right thing”, was it something that had to happen for the company?
Dave: Well, on one hand, I see it as totally avoidable. I think you drop the belt when they tell you to drop the belt… but Bret wouldn’t be the first (or hundredth) guy to disagree. But given that they DID come to that impasse, I think there were plenty of things they could have done. And the Screwjob was one of several equally bad options. So, while I love Bret, I think he brought it on himself insomuch as it was an option the second he wouldn’t play ball the way they wanted him to.
Nick: Do you think it does anything to tarnish Bret’s legacy, though? Not to us, necessarily, but to more casual fans. And is that fair, especially if it was his own doing?
Dave: No way. I think, if anything, it enhances his legacy. It gives him that CM Punk rebel cred. The Screwjob is as much a part of Bret’s mystique as his five years on top.
Nick: What about for people like us? I mean, I HAD TO spend three days on his Essential Viewing but, the most important part was how much everything that happened afterwards was his fault.
Dave: Well, I think that the last decade, including his very good book, has proven that Bret has a selective memory and a heck of an ego.
Nick: Does that turn him into less of a hero or less of a great though? And I’m not challenging you, it’s something I struggle with.
Dave: I think that to those who read wrestling books and listen to wrestling interviews, the “Aw, poor Bret. He was just being a decent guy and they screwed him” sentiment has dried up. But with that said, I think a lot of people still respect anybody who stood up legitimately to McMahon.
Nick: Do you see any parallels to someone like Daniel Bryan for him? Because, while I can, I think the circumstances from which they emerged are completely different.
Dave: Yeah, definitely. Especially the whole Lex Luger odyssey.
Nick: It feels like Daniel Bryan was inevitable, though, and that Bret Hart was necessary.
Dave: Both were consistent performers who fans had gotten to know over several years, who had gradually been featured more and more until suddenly the fans were behind them like crazy. With that said, though, you are right: Daniel Bryan is awesome, and great for the WWE and great for fans, but they don’t need him like they needed Bret. The alternative to Bret was possibly going out of business. The alternative to Bryan is… uhh… smarks being pissed off.
Nick: The biggest parallel for me is how hilariously simple their work is. Both do the same ten moves every match, in essentially the same order. But because they do it with pace, the crowd eats it up. Looking back at Bret’s old stuff, it’s remarkable how both exactly the same and completely different most of his matches are.
Dave: Both men have a finely honed routine, which people love. Which, essentially, is what makes someone a top star. How many top stars did a ton of moves? Flair? No. Austin? No. Rock ? No. Cena? No. Triple H? No. It’s about having a tight collection of moves that are over and telling a story through selling to set them up. It’s better for fans to know and anticipate your five moves than for them to not have a clue what you’re going to do next.
Nick: Do you think that’s something people realize when they evaluate someone like Bret?
Dave: No, I don’t think people do. Bret’s (deserved) reputation as a great wrestler who could work anybody leads people to believe that he did a lot, which is the opposite of the truth.Because somehow we see him as an anti-Cena, when really he was just a inversely-proportioned Cena. Cena is 70% personality and 30% in-ring work. Bret was 30% personality and 70% in-ring work.
Nick: Where, then, does that put him in terms of legacy? Do you, personally, put him over someone like Cena?
Dave: I think he and Cena are pretty neck-and-neck, honestly. I see their runs as very analogous. In the “modern” era of wrestling (post-Turner buyout of JCP, let’s say), I think Hart is on Mount Rushmore. But I don’t put him on the all-time Mount Rushmore.
Nick: That’s very interesting. And it’s weird, because after watching this week — as well as watching the FANTASTIC sit-down with him, Shawn and JR — I think I’m inclined to agree. Bret, while great, was never transcendent. He was important in the history of wrestling, but only as a wrestler. While I think Ric Flair is kind of a turd as a person, I found myself agreeing with his assessment that he was never a great star.
Dave: Well, I think Flair has an axe to grind with Bret, but yeah, I mean, he’s not nearly on Flair’s level. Ric Flair looks like an old fool woo-ing and strutting now, but Bret just looks… sad. He doesn’t even have that seedy, sickly legend Keith Richards thing going.
Nick: There’s a real unhappiness Bret has, and it’s clear in his book. Bret is a wrestler because he was the best and most talented member of a family of wrestlers. He’s a wrestler because that was what he was supposed to be.
Dave: Yeah, definitely. I think he feels like he “did his duty” in life. As opposed to thinking he chased his dreams and accomplished them.
Nick: Exactly! It’s not that he hated wrestling, but wrestling came to him.
Dave: Yeah. I think he was a natural at it, too. Like, I think the wrestling part was easy to him.
Nick: Of all the great athletes, Bret reminds me the most of Lew Alcindor/Kareem-Abdul Jabbar There’s a bitterness not because of how he was treated, per se, but the distance between how he was treated and how he felt he should have been/be treated. As he becomes more and more involved in the WWE Universe, you can see his smile come back, but I honestly think that WCW broke him. His heart, his mind and his body were ruined there.
Dave: Yeah, between the Screwjob and the WCW run, I think Bret’s heart was broken, not to be too punny and sentimental and awful. He had a healthy ego and I think there was a five year span in his life that really “put him in his place” in a big way. Screwjob, Owen’s death, getting kicked in the head and losing your career, having a stroke… It’s a truly awful progression of occurrences.
Nick: But, thankfully for us, unlike the rest of this past month’s performers — all of whom Bret was either related to or had been closer personal friends with — he’s still alive.
Dave: Yes! Seriously. If Bret had gone the way Bulldog and Pillman went, a whole era of WWE history might be largely redacted. It’s funny, though, because I think most wrestling fans would admit that Bret Hart is awesome, at least on some level, but it’s possible to have all these conversations about his legacy. You can talk about Bret so much that you almost forget how awesome Bret really is when you watch his matches.
Nick: He’s, more so than any person before or after him, a professional wrestler. The entirety of his charm, his career and his legacy is build off of that very specific idea.
Dave: Absolutely. He’s almost a relic of the pre-Hulkamania era in that way. Even though he was younger than Hogan, his style and manner was very pre-Hogan.
Nick: Like Lou Thesz dressed in bubblegum pink.