This is bound to anger a few folks, but I'd like to toss out the following question: With his sour, often childish attitude, has Bret Hart, often referred to as "The best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be", actually done more to hurt professional wrestling that he ever did to help it?
I grew up a Bret Hart fan. Even when I was rooting for the likes of Hulk Hogan and Billy Jack Haynes, I always thought the Hart Foundation were very, very cool. I liked "Hitman's" sunglasses he wore to the ring, his arrogant demeanor, the way he and Jim Neidhart worked so well together as a tag team. When Bret went off on his own into the realm of singles wrestling, I went along for the same ride, following his ups and down, all the way to the very top, when he finally claimed the ultimate prize, winning the WWF World Title in late 1992. From October 1992 to August 1997, Hart would hold the World Title 5 times, for a total of 654 days, and be involved in some of the best wrestling feuds the business has seen. Whether he was working as a babyface against Yokozuna, Jerry Lawler, or his brother, Owen, or heel against Shawn Michaels, and ultimately, Steve Austin, Hart always seemed to bring out the very best in his opponents. So, why is it that after so many accomplishments, after a two decade career which saw him win every last title you could possibly win, after being paid so much money and perhaps even more compliments, Bret Hart still feels so mistreated by so many?
In the past, Bret has pointed to the errant Bill Goldberg kick to the side of his head as the moment that ended his wrestling career. Personally, I think Bret ended it himself the night he refused to lose the WWF Title to Shawn Michaels in Montreal, forcing Vince McMahon to protect his business and "screw" Bret out of the title. Certainly, all parties involved were guilty of a measure of wrongdoing, but when it gets right down to it, Bret's boss asked him to do a job and Bret refused. If I'm your boss and I'm paying you a salary, regardless of your feelings or opinion, you should do what I ask. If you're not willing to uphold your end of the deal, how can I be expected to do any different? From Bret's perspective, he was "screwed", forever tarnishing a legacy he'd spent years building. From my perspective, by simply opening his mouth and saying so many awful things about many of his contemporaries, Bret's done more to tarnish his image than anything Shawn Michaels, Vince McMahon, Hulk Hogan, Eric Bischoff, or Triple H could ever manage.
Most recently, "The best there is..." has jumped at the opportunity to bury both Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff, saying they're only capable of thinking of themselves and have no chance of helping TNA in the least. To hear Bret tell it, Hogan is only good at getting himself over, and isn't interested in helping anyone else. I seem to recall Hogan putting Ultimate Warrior over in Toronto, but I guess that was a dream I once had. I must have been dreaming that time Hogan put Bill Goldberg over pretty huge in the Georgia Dome as well, because like Bret says, Hogan only thinks of himself. Hart's bitterness extends far back to Hogan's WWF days, when he was the top dog and Bret was coming up the ranks. According to Hitman, Hogan did everything he could to keep him down, even refusing to do a job for him. Hulk's side of it is he was just doing what Vince McMahon told him to do. Where's the truth in all this? Who knows, especially with Hogan's somewhat tenuous grasp of honesty, but regardless of whether Bret's right or not, it's been 20 years. You're one of the all-time greats. Get over it already, Hitman.
It's been over 15 years since the Montreal Screwjob, but despite everything he's said, Bret appears to be the only one still not ready to move on from it. Since he's made his peace with Shawn Michaels, and since Vince is now releasing Bret Hart box set collections and action figures, Hitman has decided to direct his negativity towards Shawn's cohort during that point of the much-heralded Attitude Era of WWF, Paul Levesque, aka Triple H. Hunter, now mostly a backstage presence and the heir apparent to Vince McMahon, certainly has his share of critics, but one thing just about everyone can agree on with regards to Triple H is his in-ring work. Everyone, it seems, except for Bret Hart, of course. In Bret's view, Hunter has never, "had a great match", despite his many years on top of the WWE. Whether it's jealousy or just outright sorriness on the part of the Hitman, it's an ugly side to his character that fans have seen far too often. I don't think he's a bad guy, but he sure seems to go out of way to prove many of us wrong. If he doesn't think Hunter is one of the all-time greats, that's perfectly fine, opinions vary, but why harp on it, even going so far as to say that even the legendary Undertaker couldn't pull a great match out of 'The Game'? To me, this does little more than show fans just how bitter and sad Bret Hart has allowed himself to become.
Perhaps seeing so many of the people he despises do well in today's pro wrestling eats at Bret. Hunter is basically running the show in WWE, Hogan and Bischoff are in charge of a great number of things with TNA, Vince is still the almighty Vince, and pro wrestling in general just went on ahead and carried on just fine without the Hitman. Maybe it's just plain old jealousy. If that's the case, he need only look in the mirror to realize he's on the outside looking in because of himself, not because of anything anyone has ever done to him. Bret Hart is a wealth of wrestling knowledge, someone capable of putting together a match better than just about anyone in the history of the industry. Having him working for a company on a developmental level would be an amazing tool to have at the ready for up-and-coming wrestlers in need of ring psychology. I just can't help but wonder if his own sour negativity isn't the very thing that keeps WWE from trying to create this type of position for Hart. Say what you will about guys like Hogan and Bischoff, but they're not stuck in the past. They may use the past to keep things moving for them in the present and future, but they're hardly sitting around complaining about things that happened 20 years ago.
There is no doubt Bret "Hitman" Hart has suffered a great deal of loss through professional wrestling. He watched his parents struggle mightily to keep their Stampede Wrestling promotion afloat during some extremely trying financial times, saw many of his closest friends go down dark and lonely paths of abuse and violence, some of whom lost their lives far too early, and lost his brother Owen to a freak accident, when he fell from the rafters of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri in 1999, while performing a pre-match entrance. Certainly, Bret and his family have endured their share of tragedy, but the way in which he's chosen to cope has manifested itself into something altogether pathetic. Bret is an absolute legend. His career path took him around the world countless times while he entertained millions upon millions of fans, all of whom lined his pockets with millions and millions of dollars, enabling him to live a life most only dream about. As "the best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be", Bret Hart should be a beacon of hope for all aspiring pro wrestlers, not someone they look at as what not to become. If Bret could only take a step back and listen to some of the things he says before he says them, I'd think he'd realize he's not all that different from the many of the same people he's so hard on. Instead, it appears Hart is doomed to remain buried under a darkness and negativity that all the praise and accolades in the world couldn't dig him out from under.