Viewing Bret Hart through modern eyes

Bret Hart often referred to himself as “the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be.” But is there any truth to that?

To best assess this, I think it’s best to first consider the perception of him at the time and then compare him to those who are considered to be at the top of the industry today.

I don’t think there is any professional wrestling fan of sound mind who would say he wasn’t one of the best of his time. Hart’s notable years came during the 1990s when he was with the WWE, then the WWF.

During these years, he would win the WWE World Championship five times, WWE Intercontinental Championship twice and WWE Tag Team Championships twice.

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In addition to all of the accolades, Hart also had an impact on the entirety of professional wrestling that can still be seen across pro wrestling today.

Being billed at 6 feet tall and around 230 pounds, Hart was nowhere near the size of the likes of Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior and other stars who dominated eras prior.

Additionally, stars of the previous era were essentially real-life cartoon characters with larger-than-life personas, whereas Hart was just a guy who believed he was the best athlete competing in a sport.

People who are built like Hart and carry themselves like him much more closely mirror the modern pro wrestling star than ones from previous decades, so in this sense, he was ahead of his time.

OK, so he was great during his day and changed the industry. Do his performances hold up well against the best of today? Does his style stand up despite 20 years of evolution in wrestling?

Yes. The answer is absolutely yes.

Hart was always able to capture the simplest idea behind professional wrestling, simulating a fight. I feel this is something often lost in many modern-day matches, where you see amazing athleticism, but sometimes, it can end up feeling more like a choreographed show of a sort than a fight.

Obviously, I am not trying to paint with a large brush here. Performers like Hiroshi Tanahashi, Minoru Suzuki and WALTER are some of the best currently performing when it comes to competing in realistic matches; however, the most impressive thing about Hart to me is you could place him up against any of these guys and he would fit right in.

If Hart got punched, he reacted like someone who was actually punched. This sounds incredibly basic and obvious; however, it is very difficult to successfully pull off on a consistent basis.

In many ways, the rise of UFC and mixed martial arts as a whole changed professional wrestling. Now that people have been exposed to what a fight with both grappling and striking looks like, instead of just boxing or amateur wrestling, much of pro wrestling seemed hokey.

Once you’ve seen a man legitimately get slammed by someone, you begin to notice the coordination between performers in pro wrestling. The thing I love so much about Hart is this coordination was masked really well during his matches. Everything appeared like a legitimate struggle. It is very easy to suspend your disbelief and get lost in the story being told when everything feels real.

Because of how real Hart was able to make his matches feel and how well he captured the basic essence of pro wrestling, I personally believe Hart is a timeless performer. There’s a reason why me, a 22-year-old fan who was 3 years old when Hart retired, thinks so highly of him and reveres him to this day.

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I have included some of my favorite Bret Hart performances and matches from his career.

Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin: Wrestlemania 13, 1997.

This is not only my favorite from Bret Hart’s catalog, but also my favorite match in the history of the WWE. These two had excellent chemistry and the story of this match was incredibly told by both wrestlers.The end of this match saw each man flip his character with Hart becoming the villain and Austin becoming the hero. This change propelled Austin into becoming the biggest star in the business at the time. Truly an all-time classic.

Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin: Survivor Series, 1996.

Similar to the previous match, but not quite as good. Another example of the excellent chemistry between these two.

Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect: King of the Ring, 1993.

Hart was the best at making everything seem like a legitimate struggle, while Perfect lived up to his name with every bit of his performance appearing effortless. A wonderful blend of styles.

Bret Hart vs. Chris Benoit: WCW Monday Night Nitro, 1999.

This match is widely known as the Owen Hart tribute match, taking place shortly after Owen’s death, who was Bret’s brother and a fellow pro wrestler. If you’re able to enjoy Benoit’s work despite the crimes he committed later in life, this is certainly one to watch and a match I believe is underrated. 

Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart: Summerslam, 1994.

Speaking of Owen, I had to include one of Bret’s legendary bouts with him. This was an excellent steel cage match. The rivalry between the two is enhanced by their family ties, and you truly feel like this one was personal. I am not a fan of the rule allowing someone to win a cage match by escaping. However, I must admit it played very well in this match.

— Noah Dalton