Retro reviews return to WrestlingDVDNetwork.com! Which classic WWE DVD should we cover next? Let us know your choice by leaving a comment.
It’s been almost 12 years since the release of a landmark WWE DVD. The format was familiar: an extensive documentary spanning the first disc with bonus stories and segments, followed by a collection of matches stretching across discs two and three. What made this DVD special was that it essentially marked the return of Bret Hart to WWE via his involvement in the project.
It has been suggested, incidentally, that the tone of this DVD was originally set to be completely different. The rumored “Screwed” project would be based solely on the Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series 1997, and with comments from certain ex-stars such as Hulk Hogan having already been recorded, serving as a format on which to bash Bret and diminish his contributions to wrestling, as well as his abilities. Vince McMahon’s mind was changed by Bret himself, who was contacted about participating in “Screwed” (why would any wrestler willingly contribute to a DVD which trashed them?), but with the Hitman managing to persuade Vince to do the right thing and present a proper, fitting tribute to a company legend, rather than a hatchet job akin to “The Self Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior” (which I will review in the future, because it’s fascinating to look back at nowadays).
So, what we got was “Bret Hart: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be”. This serves as a true Bret Hart retrospective covering his highs and lows up to that point. Though the DVD has a narrator who pops up on occasion, Bret himself does the job of moving the main feature along with his first-hand perspective on key events, along with comments from personalities who worked for the WWF in the 1980s and 1990s, as well as those who were on the WWE roster in 2005 that passed their own comments on the Hitman.
The first thing we see is Vince, thanking Bret for being able to put aside their differences in order for this DVD to happen. After that and the usual intro, we get into the documentary proper. Bret begins by discussing his upbringing, detailing how he became a wrestler and why he chose to follow the family legacy, in particular that of his father, the legendary Stu Hart. The most notable aspect of Bret’s pre-WWF career is his time in Stampede Wrestling, and we see clips of Bret’s classic battles with The Dynamite Kid, who Bret once described as being the guy who he genuinely would call “The Best There Is, Was and Ever Will Be”.
Moving on, we hear about how Stu sold Stampede to Vince McMahon’s WWF. Well, Vince “persuaded” Stu to sell Stampede, given that McMahon was about to unleash a stampede of his own in the form of his planned national expansion of the WWF. As Bret noted in his autobiography Hitman, though, promoting Stampede had been taking its toll on Stu, so the bold decision to sell up and retire was greeted with a sense of relief as well as trepidation. Of course, the biggest impact from the sale was that Bret, Jim Neidhart and The British Bulldogs (Dynamite and Davey Boy Smith) would wind up in the WWF.
Bret tells us about how he nearly became “Cowboy” Bret Hart and was preparing to leave, only to be told that he would be paired with Jim Neidhart in a new tag team called The Hart Foundation. And so we were treated to one of the greatest tag teams in WWF/WWE history: fantastic teamwork, topnotch strategy and psychology, and the perfect mix of strength and technical ability. Having Jimmy Hart as their manager, who discusses this chapter of his own career here, didn’t hurt either.
The Hart Foundation won two World Tag Team Championships, with their runs lasting from January-October 1987 and August 1990-April 1991. We’re shown plenty of clips from classic doubles bouts against The Bulldogs, Demolition and others. They would ultimately lose their titles to The Nasty Boys at WrestleMania VII, which is when Bret would break away and become a singles competitor.
In his book, Bret describes how Vince almost reunited The Foundation before Bret captured the Intercontinental Championship from Mr. Perfect at SummerSlam 1991. Here, the DVD jumps straight to that classic SummerSlam 1991 bout, with Bret’s performance and victory providing the first signs that he could potentially one day be a main eventer. Still, it seemed a long shot at that point, given Bret’s size and the fact that Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior were still on top (though, to be fair, Warrior was fired for the first time after that very PPV due to a pay dispute).
Over the next year, Bret established himself as a singles force in the mid-card ranks, and won his second IC title from Roddy Piper in Hot Rod’s best ever WWF match. He also proved that he understood business when he convinced McMahon to let him and Davey Boy Smith main event SummerSlam 1992 at Wembley Stadium in another unbelievable match. By then, Hogan was gone, business was down and, within months, Warrior would be gone again. Sensing the need for a new direction, Vince turned to Bret. Hence why Bret says that SummerSlam was really “his night” rather than Davey’s (especially if you know the back-story to this match, and how much Bret contributed to making it a classic).
Though it isn’t shown in full, we do see clips of Bret submitting Ric Flair in Saskatoon to win his first WWF Championship, becoming a main event player. Bret’s international appeal, especially in Canada (obviously) and Germany, is discussed here as we realize just how much Bret was regarded as a role model and a hero to the fans. Always treating his followers with respect and conducting himself with dignity in a public setting, as well as portraying a positive character in the ring, Bret was the perfect face of the company during a rocky period of scandal and declining numbers.
He wasn’t always booked that way, though. The infamous WrestleMania IX incident which saw Hulk Hogan sneak in and win the WWF Title from Yokozuna after Yoko had beat Bret clearly left a sour taste in Hart’s mouth, particularly when Hogan allegedly refused to drop the title to Hart at SummerSlam that year. He was kept busy while Yoko was champion, though, firstly in a memorable feud with Jerry Lawler, and later in an unforgettable family feud with his younger brother Owen.
Plenty of time is given to his rivalry, which was storytelling at its best as Owen slowly became more resentful of Bret, and desperate to escape his pink and black shadow. He managed that by defeating him at WrestleMania X in another classic, only for Bret to win his second WWF Title that night. Their feud continued, with their SummerSlam Steel Cage match finally giving Bret a big win over The Rocket. Bret is emotional as he discussed how much this match, and protecting his brother in an environment like a cage, meant to him and to the family as a whole.
The next major section is the Iron Man match at WrestleMania XII. Bret uses humor to point out how he was made to look weaker than Shawn Michaels beforehand in the promotion of the match and in video packages, but credits Michaels for his talent and athleticism. Hart considers it to be the toughest match of his entire career, and remains proud of how both men performed. If only their saga had ended there, Bret and Shawn might have been buddies for many years after that match (okay, probably not).
After a well-earned break which included an attempt to break into acting, Hart returned to a feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin. This included a belting match at Survivor Series 1996 and their all-time epic war at WrestleMania 13 which saw Hart turn heel and Austin go babyface. It’s clear that Austin regards Bret as one of his very best opponents, and Bret is very proud of this match and the story that it told, which played a massive part in Austin eventually becoming a smash-hit babyface. In the meantime, we’re shown clips of Hart’s anti-American persona, which included a full Hart Foundation reunion (Bret, Jim, Owen, Davey and Brian Pillman). The novel concept of wrestlers being cheered and booed based on where a particular show was taking place is covered, in particular the unforgettable Calgary crowd for the 10-man tag team main event of Canadian Stampede 1997. With a fifth WWF Title win shortly afterwards, Bret seemed on top of the world – but everything was about to change.
Everyone reading this will know about the Montreal Screwjob, so I won’t retell it here. I will point out that the way it is handled here, with Bret discussing his side of the story while alternative opinions are provided without burying Hart, was the biggest obstacle in making this DVD happen. It doesn’t go into a great level of depth, but it does pull off the job of covering Montreal and Bret’s WWF exit in a way that is acceptable to all parties.
From there, the documentary takes a different tone, as the Hart family would suffer terrible luck in the years that followed. Bret’s WCW stint was unremarkable, and ended on a major low point as Hart suffered a career-ending concussion from a Goldberg kick at Starrcade 1999 (though he wrestled for a few more weeks before his concussion was diagnosed). But it was the deaths which really tore apart the family. Brian Pillman’s death mere weeks before Survivor Series 1997 was followed by Owen Hart’s tragic death during the live Over The Edge PPV in 1999. Over the next few years, Bret’s mother Helen (2001), Bulldog (2002) and his father Stu (2003) would all pass away. In the midst of all that, Bret suffered a stroke in June 2002.
Bret is understandably very emotional when discussing the various tragedies which happened from 1997-2002. It was when Bret was recovering from his stroke when Vince reached out to him (they had met prior to Owen’s funeral, but hostilities remained in the years that followed), which Hart admits meant a lot to him. At the time when this DVD was produced, Bret had made a great recovery from his stroke and, whilst deeply affected emotionally by that and the events of the preceding years, he was developing a more positive approach to his future and his life.
As for his career, the documentary (which runs for over two hours) concludes with various talking head comments ranking Bret as one of the greatest wrestlers in the history of the company. Though Bret’s Hall of Fame induction in 2006 and his proper return to WWE television in 2010 were still to come, it’s clear as this DVD finishes that all involved were happy to see Bret healthy and back on good terms with the company, with WWE ready to embrace his legacy as one of the best ever.
Spoiler alert: there are tons of five-star battles included here, spanning Hart’s entire WWF tenure, as well as a WCW clash from 1999. It stands to reason that Bret Hart, one of the greatest wrestlers in history, would have one of the greatest match collections ever found on a WWE DVD.
WWF – July 13, 1985
The Hart Foundation vs. The British Bulldogs
The first match on this DVD sees two of the best WWF/WWE tag teams ever colliding inside Madison Square Garden, as The Hart Foundation battle The British Bulldogs. Matches such as this helped to establish The Bulldogs as future Tag Team Champions, as well as spotlighting Bret and Jim as being more than just another heel combo.
WWF – February 17, 1986
The Hart Foundation vs. The Killer Bees
Another example of The Hart Foundation proving that they were extremely effective at getting their babyface opponents over, this bout showcases The Killer Bees, a team which are rarely mentioned these days when the golden age of WWF tag team wrestling from the mid-to-late 1980s is discussed.
WWF – March 8, 1986
Bret Hart vs. Ricky Steamboat
In his autobiography, Bret notes that this match was supposed to happen at WrestleMania 2 before plans changed, leading both men to go all-out to steal the show in this particular match. After watching it, it’s hard to disagree that this encounter should have taken place at Mania 2 as planned.
WWF – March 8, 1989
Bret Hart vs. Ted DiBiase
For some reason, this match lacks any commentary whatsoever, which was a rarity on WWE DVDs released around this time. It doesn’t take anything away from the action, as this is still a very enjoyable match; however, chances are that these two could have contested a classic once Bret truly became a singles performer in 1991.
Saturday Night’s Main Event – April 28, 1990
The Hart Foundation vs. The Rockers
Even though both were babyface teams from 1988 onwards, it’s still strange that there was never a major rivalry on-screen at any point between The Hart Foundation and The Rockers. They did clash on multiple occasions, though, and this one from Saturday Night’s Main Event is a real treat.
WWF WrestleMania VII – March 24, 1991
WWF World Tag Team Championship Match
The Hart Foundation (C) vs. The Nasty Boys
This represented The Hart Foundation’s last stand as a two-man unit, as they battled The Nasty Boys with the tag team gold at stake. The result was a surprise, even if it came through shenanigans, and Knobbs and Sags would go on to feud with The Legion of Doom for the titles. As for Bret and Jim, this marked the end of an era, and the end of one of the greatest tag teams in WWF/WWE history.
WWF SummerSlam 1991 – August 26, 1991
Intercontinental Championship Match
Mr. Perfect (C) vs. Bret Hart
Despite spending years as part of a legendary tag team, it didn’t take long for Bret to establish himself as a singles force. This classic match with Mr. Perfect (who believed this would be his last match due to a serious back injury) played a massive role in “making” Hart, and Bret becoming Intercontinental Champion in the process was the icing on the cake.
WWF SummerSlam 1992 – August 29, 1992
Intercontinental Championship Match
Bret Hart (C) vs. British Bulldog
Bret has gone on record to say that this is his favorite match. It’s an absolutely outstanding bout, it’s still one of the greatest matches in SummerSlam history, and it provided the ultimate finale to a memorable SummerSlam at the old Wembley Stadium in London, England. This match, and the show as a whole, is why fans in the UK hope that a major WWE event will be held in England again someday.
WWF – April 24 1993
Bret Hart vs. Bam Bam Bigelow
This is a rare clash from Barcelona, Spain. Bret’s battles with Bigelow largely followed the same formula, but they kept fans engaged throughout and always led to a huge reaction when the Hitman finally overcame the much larger Beast From The East. Their clash at King of the Ring two months later is better, but this is still worth watching.
WWF King of the Ring 1993 – June 13. 1993
King of the Ring Semi-Final Match
Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect
It’s odd to see natural heel Mr. Perfect working as a babyface, even if he shows occasional heel traits against top babyface Bret. Nevertheless, it does nothing to harm the quality of the match, which is the best WWF match on Pay-Per-View in 1993, and a worthy successor to their previous stunner at SummerSlam.
WWF WrestleMania X – March 20, 1994
Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart
This is perhaps the greatest opening match ever to a WWF/WWE supershow, and a perfect way to kick off the tenth anniversary WrestleMania. The action is tremendous, and the outcome was a major shocker. Note how Owen picked up the clean win over a headline babyface, and yet he remained a detestable heel, which is something that would be very difficult to achieve in today’s WWE.
WWF Action Zone – September 29, 1994
WWF Championship Match
Bret Hart (C) vs. Owen Hart
It’s surprising that we get this match rather than their incredible Steel Cage showdown at SummerSlam a month earlier. But this is still a lot of fun, as were almost all of the Bret vs. Owen matches. Simply put, you can’t go watch when you watch the Hart brothers collide.
WWF In Your House – May 14, 1995
Bret Hart vs. Hakushi
There were times when Bret and his opponent would aim to steal the show as a way of proving Vince McMahon wrong. This match, which received minimal build-up (and wasn’t even Bret’s biggest feud at that time, as he faced Jerry Lawler later that night), is an example of that, as the two men kick off the very first In Your House with a bang.
WWF Survivor Series 1995 – November 19, 1995
WWF Championship No Disqualification Match
Diesel (C) vs. Bret Hart
This tells a simple but logical story, providing as much violence as the WWF of 1995 would allow. This match is most famous for marking the first use of the Spanish announcer’s table as part of a major spot. But it also stands out for the way in which Diesel uses heelish tactics, shows compassion which leads to his downfall, and then assaults Hart post-match, marking the beginning of an underrated run as a tweener for Big Daddy Cool.
WWF In Your House 5 – December 17, 1995
WWF Championship Match
Bret Hart (C) vs. British Bulldog
Though a shade inferior to their SummerSlam battle, this is still a terrific match. Notable aspects include Jerry Lawler commenting that Bulldog was wearing the same attire that he had in Wembley Stadium, which actually wasn’t true, and Vince McMahon’s “What’s this?” reaction, akin to an angry school teacher, when the camera shows that Bret was bleeding (a violation of company policy, though Bret managed to convince WWF staff that it was accidental).
WWF WrestleMania 13 – March 23, 1997
Submission Match (Special Guest Referee: Ken Shamrock)
Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin
What more can be said about this one? It’s one of the best WrestleMania matches ever, highlighted by the famous double-turn (enhanced by Austin refusing to submit while covered in blood), and which unknowingly led to the biggest boom period in wrestling history. This really is as good as it gets, and is considered the best match of both men’s careers.
WWF One Night Only 1997 – September 20, 1997
WWF Championship Match
Bret Hart (C) vs. The Undertaker
Overshadowed by the memorable and controversial main event between British Bulldog and Shawn Michaels, this is the very definition of a hidden gem. It’s a superb battle, one on par with their previous bout at SummerSlam. In his book, Bret describes this as being his last truly great match in the WWF.
WCW Monday Nitro – October 4, 1999
Bret Hart vs. Chris Benoit
A worthy tribute to the memory of his brother Owen just months after his tragic death in the very same arena (Kemper Arena in Kansas City), this is one of the greatest and most emotional wrestling matches in Monday Nitro history. Though Bret would go on to capture the WCW Championship, again by beating Benoit, many consider this Bret’s last hurrah as an in-ring performer.
The documentary is as insightful as one could expect, given that Bret at that time still held (understandable) resentment towards Shawn Michaels due to their history, which isn’t really covered here at all, and that Bret had yet to properly return to the company in an active role. If you want the full story on Bret’s life, then Bret’s book Hitman is a perfect accompaniment to this DVD set as it goes into much more detail, particularly on the gnarlier details of WWF life during Bret’s 1984-1997 tenure which the company would never allow to be mentioned on a documentary such as this.
Overall, though, it’s a really enjoyable look back at the career of a WWF icon, and whilst the later chapters are very sad to watch, as we realize the toll that the tragedies and the negative events within the squared circle took on Hart, it ends on a positive note with WWE properly embracing him for the legend that he is, rather than portraying him as the villain in a double-cross as per the original plan for “Screwed”.
Match wise, it’s a phenomenal collection. Combine this with an insightful and revealing documentary that lasts over two hours, bonus segments, and the historic nature of this DVD marking Bret Hart’s return to the WWE “family”, and you have one of the most memorable and gripping Home Videos ever released by WWE! If you can get hold of a copy, it’s a must-own; if you bought it at the time of its release, it’s definitely worth watching again. A fitting tribute to one of the all-time greats.