Back in the Ring


Hart seeks closure in comeback

Wrestler Bret Hart at his home in Calgary, Alberta Saturday, January 9, 2010.

Wrestler Bret Hart at his home in Calgary, Alberta Saturday, January 9, 2010.

Photograph by: Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald

Even in a game so weird and tumultuous as the pro wrestling business, most fans would have bet they'd never see Bret (The Hitman) Hart perform in a WWE ring again.

For that matter, The Hitman himself never thought he'd consider it.

There was just too much bad blood between him and the company from which he departed amid fisticuffs, betrayal and acrimony in 1997.

Furthermore, the seven-time world heavyweight champion was physically incapable of wrestling, due to a career-ending concussion in 2000, followed by a serious stroke in 2002.

But last Monday on World Wrestling Entertainment's flagship TV program WWE Raw, Calgary's world-famous son appeared on the show for the first time in more than 12 years.

"It was a bizarre night. It was surreal," said the 52-year-old Hart when contacted by the Herald. "I kept asking myself if I was really there."

Serving as guest host, Hart was met with a tidal wave of cheers from fans at Dayton, Ohio's Nutter Center as he settled old scores with The Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels and WWE chairman Vince McMahon, central figures in his bitter split.

In a surprise twist, Hart and Michaels agreed to bury the hatchet, even embracing in the middle of the ring.

Later in the show, Hart and McMahon also came to a gentlemanly truce. That is, until McMahon -- in the time-honoured tradition of pro wrestling heels -- delivered the cheap shot, a boot to the groin that left Hart on his knees.

In the ongoing soap opera that drives the wrestling world, this was the spilling of first blood, setting a new storyline in motion. It's a feud that will tentatively come to a head at this year's WrestleMania at the end of March, if all goes according to plan.

"I hate to tell you what's going to happen," says Hart. "I don't want to ruin it for anybody."

Nor would the Hitman comment when asked whether he is physically capable of wrestling in the ring, given his medical history -- although he did interject: "I don't mind throwing a few punches (at McMahon)."

In reality, Hart and his former boss mended fences back in 2006, when Hart was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. But Hart repeatedly stated over the years that he'd never forgive his long-standing rival Michaels.

That resentment goes back to the infamous "Montreal Screwjob," a November 1997 pay-per-view match between Hart and Michaels in which Bret was promised victory. In the most notorious double-cross in wrestling history, McMahon switched that predetermined result and Michaels was declared the winner, taking home the heavyweight title.

Following the debacle, Bret knocked McMahon unconscious in the dressing room before making his way to the WWE's competitor, WCW.

Tensions grew to what seemed insurmountable proportions two years later, after Hart's brother Owen Hart died in a WWE ring when a dangerous stunt went awry.

Bret supported his family members in a lawsuit against the WWE, for which the Harts later received a settlement.

It's no wonder many wrestling commentators were skeptical when Hart and Michaels made nice on Monday night's Raw. But Hart insists the moment was "pretty real."

"We had a rough idea of what we were going to do . . . but we didn't really speak to each other (before)," Bret says. "My impression was that (he) was actually pretty sincere. He apologized for a lot of what happened. . . . I think it was like a million pounds off of his back. . . . There was a couple of times when it looked like he was going to start crying.

"There was a lot of real emotion in that little segment. . . . I think it was a surprise to him as much as to me."

Of course, the million-dollar question fans have for the Hitman is "Why now?" If Hart was going to return to the WWE, why didn't he do so three years ago, when his war with Mc-Mahon was first laid to rest?

There's much speculation the WWE brought in the Hitman to boost ratings as it goes head to head with Total Non-Stop Action Wrestling, a competitor that recently recruited former WWE star Hulk Hogan. Hogan made his debut on TNA Impact Monday night, the same time as Hart was returning to the WWE fold.

But Hart claims Hogan's arrival at TNA has nothing to do with his return.

"(TNA is) playing it up like that," he says. "Like WWE was scared of whatever Hulk Hogan was going to do, so they went and got Bret Hart to compete."

That's not the case, says Hart, who adds that plans were underway for his comeback long before Hogan's was announced.

Hart also insists that his decision to come back to the ring wasn't financially motivated. "Like a lot of people, I got a little worried about my finances last year when the stock market crashed. But it's kind of rebounded and I was in a position where I could either walk away from this deal or I could do it. . . . I'm not opposed to making a little money . . . but I still don't need to do it."

Instead, in returning to the company that made him famous, Hart says he's looking for "a little closure." He's also interested in preserving the Hart family legacy.

It's no coincidence that Bret's late father Stu Hart, promoter of the famous Calgarybased Stampede Wrestling, will be inducted into the

WWE Hall of Fame this year. As well, a DVD is in the works that will celebrate Stampede Wrestling and the Hart family.

In addition, Hart hopes that his work with the company will help create opportunities for his niece, Natalya Neidhart, and his nephew, Harry Smith (now dubbed David Hart Smith), young WWE grapplers who many feel haven't been given the push that their considerable talents warrant.

Hart says he hopes to "clear the path for a better attitude" which might help Smith and Neidhart "get a little higher up the ladder."

But the final reason the Hitman gives for his return to the squared circle is plain old boredom.

He's got a lot of time on his hands these days with a new girlfriend in the picture, a 27-year-old from San Francisco who's busy studying criminal justice at Mount Royal University.

"I'd just be sitting at home for the next two years waiting for her to finish her program," he says. "What else am I going to do? Garden?"

Besides, life just isn't as thrilling outside of the spotlight.

"I felt more like myself Monday than I have in the last few years," says the Hitman.



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Wrestler Bret Hart at his home in Calgary, Alberta Saturday, January 9, 2010.

Wrestler Bret Hart at his home in Calgary, Alberta Saturday, January 9, 2010.

Photograph by: Stuart Gradon, Calgary Herald

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