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    Thursday, February 4, 2016

    Thursday Night Tanders (2/4/16): The Ultimate Family Feud—Bret vs Owen Hart

    Originally, this week’s article was supposed to focus on Triple H’s pre-WWF years, in commemoration of his becoming a 14-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion at this year’s Royal Rumble. But in the light of recent events, the Throwback Tito has decided to focus on a man whom he’s admired since childhood, one who admitted earlier in the week that he’s fighting the most difficult battle he’s ever fought in his life—a battle with prostate cancer. That man is none other than the Excellence of Execution, and the Best There Is, the Best There Was, and the Best There Ever Will Be, Bret “The Hitman” Hart.

    My first wrestling heroes were musclebound, larger-than-life characters like Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior. And it was only in the early ‘90s that I had become a Bret Hart fan, thanks to my late father, who always favored skilled technicians and didn’t want to ruin my childhood by crapping on Hulk and Warrior’s technical skills, or lack thereof. As I said in previous columns, I was fully behind Bret not only because he was arguably the WWF’s best technical wrestler of the 1990s, but also because he came about as a humble, hardworking type who loved his family, an underdog despite the fact he came from wrestling royalty in real life. And when he turned heel in early 1997, I still rooted for The Hart Foundation, partly because of my loyalty to the Hitman and his wrestling family and friends.

    That actually brings us to this week’s column—see, Bret Hart wasn’t always seeing eye-to-eye with family members in storyline. In fact, he was estranged from his brother Owen for a good three years, and this brother vs. brother feud was so realistic that I believed they really had beef with each other, even if I generally knew around that time that wrestling was a work. Up to now, this remains my favorite Hitman storyline of all time, and as we all pray for Bret and send him our best wishes, this week’s Thursday Night Tanders serves as my shout-out to the man. Bret vs. Owen was wrestling writing at its finest, and for me, no brother vs. brother feud has come close in the 22 years since then.



    Ah, I remember the 1993 Survivor Series. The events in the 4-vs.-4 tag team match pitting the Hart brothers against Shawn Michaels and his masked “Knights” had worked up the then-15-year-old Throwback Tito so much that when he tried explaining things to one of his best friends in school, the other guy (only a casual wrestling fan) couldn’t understand what the hell he was so worked up about. But that’s the point of my mentioning this—even if this was merely a case of Owen Hart teasing a heel turn, it was done so realistically and so well that it struck a chord with young fans like myself in those pre-Internet days.

    So what happened at the Survivor Series? This was supposed to be the Hart brothers (Bret, Owen, Bruce, and Keith) against Jerry “The King” Lawler and his Knights, but with Lawler in legal trouble for allegedly having sex with an underage girl, Shawn Michaels took his place as team captain. As for the Knights, they all had their faces hidden under different-colored masks, because two of those three were recognizable to WWF fans—an aging Greg Valentine played the Blue Knight, while jobber extraordinaire Barry Horowitz was the Red Knight. USWA midcarder Jeff Gaylord guested as the Black Knight.

    Looking at the heel team’s lineup, it stood to reason that the Knights would be fodder, with the Heartbreak Kid serving as the last man standing for the team. And that was indeed the case, as Bret and Owen made quick work of the three Knights, leaving four Harts versus one HBK. Alas, it wouldn’t be a clean sweep, as Bret was selling a kayfabe injury—one of a few examples in this article of how well the Hitman could sell. A distracted Owen then bumped into Bret, allowing Michaels to pin Owen. And as an overmatched Michaels allowed himself to be counted out of the match, poor sport that his character was, the Harts won quite convincingly, but one person wasn’t happy about the outcome of the match—Owen “The Rocket” Hart, the baby boy of the Hart family.

    Even cooler heads Bruce (right) and Keith Hart (partly hidden, beside Bret) couldn't calm their little brother Owen down.
    Although Owen had angrily blamed Bret for causing him to get eliminated and for “holding him back” in his WWF career and also challenged him to a one-on-one match, to which Bret would refuse, the two had patched things up over the Christmas holidays of 1993. By Royal Rumble 1994, the brothers were tight once again, primed to defeat The Quebecers in a WWF Tag Team Championship match. Easy win for the Hitman and the Rocket, all’s well that ends well in the Hart family? Not quite.


    The stage was set—Bret and Owen patched up their differences over the Christmas holidays, and with a match against the Quebecers at Royal Rumble 1994, the Harts were out for tag team gold. But as the saying goes, the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

    After what seemed like a strong start for the Harts, Bret suffered a storyline knee injury in the tag match, allowing Quebecers Jacques and Pierre to work that knee and effectively prevent him from tagging brother Owen into the match. Though I wasn’t able to find any YouTube or Dailymotion clips of that match, I still remember it clearly—it was a kayfabe injury, but Bret was selling it very well. The desire in his eyes to get Owen into the match was very evident, and Owen, for his part, was getting more and more frustrated by the second.

    The straps are off, and so are the kid gloves. Owen Hart beats down on his older brother Bret because he's sick of the Hitman holding him down.
    Meanwhile, Bret was in a world of pain, and as he was presumably too hurt to think clearly, he surprisingly decided not to tag Owen in, going instead for a Sharpshooter. And as Bret was unable to stand up, Tim White stopped the match on account of his injury. That's where Owen Hart jumped into the ring, attacking Bret’s injured knee and sparking a feud that would last till early 1995. I also remember the heartbreak in Bret’s eyes—his own flesh and blood angrily laying into his knee, blaming him for costing them the title match. Man, the guy was so upset with his "selfish" brother Bret, though unintentionally hilarious as you can see in this promo soon after the match.

    What would follow were several more bitter promos from Owen, again challenging Bret to a grudge match and still talking about his big brother holding him down. Bret, on the other hand, wanted to be the better man in the feud, adamantly refusing to accept the challenge in the name of family, stressing how much he loved his brother and how he felt disturbed by the whole incident. For example, there’s this promo he cut shortly after the Rumble fiasco, which actually focuses on IRS but includes a few tidbits about how he felt post-Royal Rumble 1994. This wasn’t 10/10 promo work, but it wasn’t 4/10 either—very convincing, very heartfelt despite the lack of conventional volume. Ultimately, Bret agreed to the challenge, as he had no choice but to fight Owen, win or lose, in order to retain his right (as Royal Rumble match co-winner) to face Yokozuna for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania X.

    Did beating Bret at WrestleMania X make Owen any less jealous or petty? Hell no, it didn’t! In fact, he was still glowering with rage and jealousy as the Hitman beat Yokozuna for his second WWF World Heavyweight Championship. He wasn’t going to be happy until he became world champion like his big brother, and to that end, he devised a scheme at King of the Ring 1994 to make sure it would be Bret vs. Owen for the WWF World Heavyweight title at SummerSlam. This scheme involved the returning Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart—Bret and Owen’s brother-in-law—interfering against Diesel in his WWF World Heavyweight title match against Bret. With Bret winning by DQ, he still had the belt around his waist, and an ostensible face interfering against a heel didn’t make anyone suspicious just yet. But when Neidhart interfered on behalf of Owen in his King of the Ring finals match against Razor Ramon, the intentions became clear—the Anvil, now showing his true colors as a heel, wanted to set up a Bret vs. Owen showdown at SummerSlam 1994, given that KOTR winners got automatic World title shots back in the day. It was brilliant storytelling, and it gave Owen an ally in a family feud where everyone was favoring Bret.

    At SummerSlam 1994, Bret retained his WWF title in a steel cage match against Owen, who was now calling himself the “King of Harts.” It bears mentioning that many still consider this the best steel cage match in WWF/E history, and the Hitman emerged triumphant in this classic. But Owen soon have his revenge at Survivor Series, one year after his heel turn was first teased. With Bret facing Bob Backlund in a WWF World Heavyweight title match where the only way you could win was if your opponent’s corner person literally threw in the towel, Owen begged, cajoled, and pleaded to his mother, out of what seemed to be the goodness of his heart. He tried to convince Helen Hart to throw in the towel for Bret, pointing out how much Bret was suffering at the hands of crazy old man Backlund, who had the Hitman in the Crossface Chickenwing submission for seven long minutes. With Helen convinced that her youngest son was genuinely concerned about big brother Bret’s welfare, she did as asked and threw in the towel. Owen, delighted that his plan worked perfectly, laughed hysterically at Bret, who’d just lost the title to a 45-year-old nutjob.

    The blow-off match between Bret and Owen came with little fanfare in early 1995, not long after the Royal Rumble. That was where Owen cost Bret a chance to win a WWF World Heavyweight title rematch against Diesel, who, as explained a couple columns ago, became World Champion just days after Backlund won it from Bret. It would be the Hitman winning the blow-off, and in the two years or so that followed, Bret focused largely on main event pursuits, with great feuds, like the one versus Shawn Michaels, and not-so-great feuds, like the one versus Jerry Lawler. Owen would team up with Yokozuna, then with Davey Boy Smith—another Hart brother-in-law—as he focused on the tag team scene, settling in as quite an entertaining heel in the upper midcard.


    When someone asks me if any storyline or angle in wrestling ever made me cry, then I always say it’s this next one—Bret and Owen Hart ending their kayfabe estrangement in March 1997. While the brothers mostly focused on their respective storylines after their intense family feud while maintaining their face-heel alignment, it was inevitable that Bret and Owen would bury the hatchet with each other someday. And it happened shortly after Bret had just turned heel in an historic double-turn at WrestleMania XIII that also involved the fast-rising Stone Cold Steve Austin. (That was one helluva match, though definitely a story for another time.)

    Proof that the Throwback Tito is a huge Hitman fan—he quoted a couple lines from Bret Hart's notorious "FRUSTRATED ISN'T THE GODDAMN WORD FOR IT!" heel turn-teasing promo in one of his band's songs.
    As Bret was becoming more and more bitter about the state of the WWF and its fans in real and reel-life, Owen and tag team partner Davey Boy Smith, a.k.a. The British Bulldog, were going through a rough patch of their own. They were currently the WWF World Tag Team Champions at that time, but Bulldog was pissed off that Owen eliminated him from the 1997 Royal Rumble match, while Owen was miffed that Bulldog beat him in the tournament finale for the first-ever WWF European Championship. Despite holding the Tag Team belts, Owen and Davey Boy couldn’t stand each other, and on March 31, 1997, the two fought it out in singles action, with the European title on the line.

    Much to the feuding partners’ chagrin, Bret Hart would make his way to the ring in the middle of their match, with one purpose—he wanted to re-form The Hart Foundation and start with his two family members currently in the WWF. Although Owen and Bulldog were annoyed at first by Bret’s arrival, his words eventually got to them. None of the Hitman’s words had ever been truer.

    In a passionate promo, Bret turned to his brother and brother-in-law after scolding the American fans for turning the Hart family against each other, and for liking American talk shows that promoted “families who hate each other.” Speaking to Bulldog, Bret reminded him of their classic Intercontinental Title match at SummerSlam 1992, which Davey Boy won in his home country of England, and how they hugged it out after the match like brothers. And turning to Owen, Bret reminded him that he was the one who got him into the WWF, the one who dressed him for school, protected him against a bullying teacher, and was always there for him no matter what. Soon, all three men were either crying or close to tears, hugging each other as the cold-hearted American fans booed this newly-formed heel faction.

    It was seemingly all about reuniting The Hart Foundation as a heel stable. But in the context of previous storylines, and for a young fan like myself who still saw Bret as a good guy despite his official heel status in the U.S., it choked me up. Of course, I didn’t believe that all Americans were ga-ga over family feuds thanks to Jerry Springer, Geraldo Rivera, Jenny Jones, and other sensationalist talk show hosts, but Bret’s words hit very close to home. And being kuya to a brother eight years younger than I am—same age gap as Bret and Owen—I couldn’t help but think of my little brother as well, even if we never have, and hopefully never will have such a feud.

    The best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be. Here's hoping he makes cancer tap out.
    In a recent video statement, legendary wrestling writer Bill Apter asked fans to share their favorite Hitman moments, before correcting himself and asking fans to share their most inspirational, but not necessarily favorite moments. So with that in mind, the Bret vs. Owen feud as a whole is my favorite Hitman moment because of the stellar writing and wrestling. Their reconciliation in 1997 that belatedly ended the feud for good was my most inspirational Hitman moment, because it had convinced me that Bret Hart, at least while in character, was a man who cared about family and family values, both of which matter a lot to the average Filipino. Two birds with one stone, Mr. Apter.

    You can do it, Hitman. Again, our prayers are with you as you bravely battle the Big C.


    Got any inspirational moments from Bret Hart’s long wrestling career to share with us? Were you around during the Bret vs. Owen feud, and what are your memories of it? Want to offer your best wishes to the Excellence of Execution ahead of his prostate cancer surgery? Let us know in the comments section!

    The Throwback Tito is Enzo Tanos, a freelance writer and the drummer/manager for garage rock band The Myopics, where he hopes to debut his masked lucha drummer persona “Sin Verguenza” in future gigs. A wrestling fan since childhood, he’s old enough to remember watching Outback Jack’s pointless vignettes, and One Man Gang’s transformation to Akeem.

    PHOTO CREDITS - Owen upset over SS 1993 elimination c/o Wrestling20Years.com, Owen attacks Bret at RR 1994 c/o Voices Of Wrestling, Bret Hart "frustrated" c/o SportsKeeda, recent Bret Hart c/o IBTimes UK.
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    Item Reviewed: Thursday Night Tanders (2/4/16): The Ultimate Family Feud—Bret vs Owen Hart Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Enzo Tanos
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