Ringside Shadows #150: The Best There Was...
I'd planned on a separate topic for this week, but I just can't escape the shadow of what's, in my opinion, the most noteworthy story of the year. While some might have you believe the WWF's supposedly imminent buyout of WCW or the big move to TNN deserves that spot, I've got no illusions. For me, at least, 2000 will be the year we lost Bret Hart.
Sure, he may have been far from the man we'd grown to love in the mid '90s. The Montreal incident took from him a great toll from which I don't think he ever really started to recover. His early misuse in WCW gave him even more reason for bitterness toward the business, and he didn't belong in the "Attitude Era" to begin with. While we saw glimmers of the true Bret Hart once in a while during his tenure in Atlanta, nothing can really come close to the superb, well rounded athlete we saw on the top of his game in the WWF. The Rocky Maivias or the Kevin Nashes may come and go, but each generation only has one Bret Hart.
In the ring, Hart was butter on a warm skillet. Everything he did had a certain smoothness to it... he was always "thinking five moves ahead," to quote Gorilla Monsoon. Little about him was spontaneous and you always had the feeling that Bret was totally in control, even when he was suffering chairshot after chairshot on the cold surface of the concrete floors. Many might argue that his moveset was too limited, repeating the same formula match after match and if you'd like to get technical, sure. Bret's was far from the most expansive collection. Thing is, he could take that limited pallette and create a masterwork, threading in schoolboys and combos almost effortlessly. While you might be seeing the same individual moves time after time, you never.. ever saw the same match.
Add Bret's tremendous pacing and psychology to that, and you've got a more complete package than almost anyone in the history of the sport. With one glaring exception, (that being the Wrestlemania XII showdown with Shawn Michaels) Bret's matches were consistantly exciting and realistic... never a dull moment to be found. After a long match working on his opponent's knee, Bret had entire audiences wincing in pain when he finally locked in the Sharpshooter or figure four around the ringpost. Whether his opponent was Yokozuna or brother Owen, Bret found a way to make things interesting and keep them there. He was in it for the fans, and for the glorifiation of the industry.
While I spoke of the great strides taken by Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho and the Dynamite Kid towards building the lightweight as a viable main event worker, I failed to mention the Hitman more than fleetingly. As the first "small" World Champion, (barely breaking six foot) Bret delivered the killing blow to the tired heavyweight title picture. He proved the naysayers wrong by building a highly successful reign around himself, putting forward exciting matches with men of all shapes and sizes. In essence, he took the greatest step of all, marking the arrival of the small man in grand fashion.
The World lost a legend when Bret Hart finally said "it's over." It's a shame so few others have stepped forward for the ovation he deserves.
I'll be back with a regular column this same time next week.
until next time, i remain