The Hart Foundation, Vince McMahon, alcohol and a strip club. Sounds like a recipe for a riot. But to legendary "Hitman" Bret Hart, this combination led to one of the craziest off-camera moments in what Hart calls the "cartoon world" of professional wrestling.
"I was celebrating because my brother Owen had come into town," Hart says as he breaks down the story. "It was his first day back and at the time, I was the Intercontinental champion. And being the Intercontinental champion, back then it gave you some security that you wouldn't get fired the next day. They needed you. They couldn't afford to fire the champion for whatever.
"I remember The Road Warriors were talking to [Hulk] Hogan, and Hogan was really gearing them up because they swore up and down that they were going to do their finishing move on Vince as soon as they saw him that night. I was listening to them, and I really thought they were going to do it. They were joking around that if Vince walked into the bar, they were going to do it. But it was rare for Vince to ever go into a bar and everyone knew it.
But that night, the strip bar was just packed with people, and what do you know, in walks Vince. I don't know why he showed up. I think it's because they were going to start drug testing. We had a big meeting that day on how they were going to start real drug testing and it was going to be for steroids, so there was a lot of concern with the wrestlers about life without steroids. I remember, it wasn't a big deal to me. I thought if everyone else was off steroids, it might be better for me. I wasn't afraid to go clean. But as you could tell, six months later, a lot of the other wrestlers, they were all gone. I'm not sure if that's why Vince came to the bar or not, but I think that had something to do with it. One last night before the testing.
"I just remember, Vince was really drunk when he got in there, which was a rarity, too. But he was drunk and some of the guys he was with were actually trying to stop him from going in. They were trying to pull him out of there. But he came in and right away Hogan's eyebrows went up. He already had The Road Warriors talked in to doing their finish. I remember talking to Jim [Neidhart], and we both wanted to see it. Everyone gathered around to see if they would have the balls to do it. Next thing you know, they came right in behind Vince and scooped him up piggyback style, then Hawk jumped up on one of the poles. Everyone in the whole bar thought they were going to take Vince's head off. We were all watching, then Hawk came down with this little powder puff clothesline and Beefcake and Hogan caught Vince. There was a little golf clap and everyone was laughing. I remember right away looking at Jim and saying 'so much for the finish.' He looked back at me and was like: 'The Hart Foundation would've done it.' And I agreed. I said something about how we would've had the balls to do it, then I turned to Owen and told him that we had to get out of there right now before Jim picks Vince up.
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"As soon as I turned around, there was a clear runway as all the wrestlers stepped back, and Jim had already picked up Vince in a Bear Hug. He wanted me to do our finish, we called it the Hart Attack. Everybody was looking at me like maybe you have the balls to do it. And I remember thinking, well, here it goes. I ran as fast as I could and completely took Vince's head off with that clothesline. The only way to do that move, you have to go full blast, otherwise you could never get your legs up, so I pretty much hit him as hard as I could. He was lying there looking at me and he said: 'Hitman, you owe me a drink.' Dewar's on ice. I never forgot it.
"The funny thing is, two or three years later when I was champion, Vince had to have surgery on his neck and I said to him: 'Maybe it was because of that clothesline I gave you in that bar.' He stopped and he looked at me, and he didn't have a friendly look on his face, and he said: 'Maybe.' And I thought, maybe."
Hart had me in stitches throughout our conversation as he detailed story after story about life on the road, a lot of
which he wrote about in his incredible autobiography "Hitman", a book I consider to be the best ever written about the sport.
"There are a lot of sweet and sour memories, but in the end it's more good than bad," says Hart. "There were some dark times near the end, but I feel lucky to have lived the life I did."
Here's what else The Hitman had to say as our arranged 15-minute interview turned into almost an hour long conversation about his career, the state of professional wrestling, and his feud with Shawn Michaels.
ESPN: Was it fun to look back and remember all of those road stories when you were writing your book?
Bret Hart: It was. When I was on the road, I brought a little Dictaphone with me, and every other night, I would talk into it for like three or four minutes and detail what was happening. Little things, little places, names of clubs. I had them all transcribed just before my brother Owen's accident. I was planning on writing a book before any of that happened, and I remember reading it all and thinking that I had some really good stuff for a book. I had over 100 tapes in the end. And I was hoping nobody else would write my book before me. I wanted to be introspective about what life as a wrestler really is, and it's something nobody ever touches on. My book is really candid and really honest, but for me, it was necessary in a cleansing kind of way to spill it all out for my sake and for everyone's sake. I think young wrestlers and old wrestlers love my book for the honesty because it's all the stuff they couldn't tell themselves in their own books. I think I'm one of the few guys who can be as honest as I was and not be punished for it or judged by it.
I'd like people to remember me as the best there is, the best there was ... I don't think anyone was better than me ... I think I was really good in how I brought realism and athleticism to my wrestling style. I think I really made wrestling fun to watch with all the twists and turns.
”-- Bret Hart
ESPN: You mentioned Owen. I actually spent a day playing video games against him and Davey Boy Smith a long time ago. It was right as the nWo was getting hot, and I remember them actually sitting there whispering to each other about who was next to jump to WCW. Here they are, great friends, and they didn't even know if the other was about to jump. I found the secretive nature of it all so fascinating.
Bret Hart: Sounds like a fun day. And that's just how it was back then. There was a time right after WWE screwed me that both Owen and Davey Boy were looking for my help to get them in WCW. In a way, it was too bad that I didn't get Owen hired on, but he would've been miserable in WCW too. I remember they offered Owen less than what he was making, but Davey for some reason, they offered him quite a bit more. Eric Bischoff didn't think my brother Owen was good enough, which shows you how much Eric Bischoff knows about wrestling. He picked up Davey Boy and Jim Neidhart like that, but passed on Owen.
ESPN: Wrestlemania is coming up in April, what was your favorite Wrestlemania moment when you look back? Is it your match against Owen?
Bret Hart: Yeah, my match with Owen was my most heartwarming one where you're really proud of yourself, wrestling your brother at Wrestlemania. And that was a really special match we put together that day. Too many people today don't realize how hard it is to put together a match like that, and even though we were brothers, we never wrestled each other before. It was the first time we ever wrestled each other in a singles match, and to go out there and wrestle that kind of match says a lot about the skill and the wrestling psychology that we both had. I had some great moments with Austin at Wrestlemania, but those were just little gems. The one with Owen, that was more special because of everything we'd been through growing up as kids.
There were a lot of funny ironies that came out during that brother versus brother shoot that we had, because we talked about how I used to save him at school, well, I did save him at school lots of times. We had these moments in our interviews where the things we said to each other were kind of true. I always looked after him and protected him and I remember beating up a bunch of guys at school who were picking on him.
He started telling one story that I didn't even remember about how I saved him from a teacher. You see, we used to have to walk to another school to catch the school bus, and he was waiting at this other school for his ride. This teacher from the other school came up and started chewing Owen out for some reason and the teacher grabbed him like he was going to send him into the office. I got into the face of the teacher and saved Owen. This all came out when we were trying to put together all our memories and stories when we were doing our interviews and we tried to insert them into the reality of the wrestling story. It was a lot of fun wrestling Owen, and when I look back on it now, Wrestlemania, Madison Square Garden, winning the World Title and wrestling Owen that day, that's as big of a highlight as I can have as far as Wrestlemania goes.
ESPN: There's even a new Legends of Wrestlemania video game coming out. What do you think of your legacy living on in these games?
Bret Hart: It's funny because little kids come up to me who are like five years old and they want to talk to me about wrestling. And these kids, they've never even seen me wrestle. It's all from the video games and action figures. They tell me on the video games that I'm pretty hard to beat. That's good. Whenever I play against my girlfriend, I lose every time. I'm a jobber when I play against her. [laughs]
ESPN: Speaking of Wrestlemania, are you still upset that Hulk Hogan never gave you a main event match at the big show?
Bret Hart: I just thought that somebody preempted my run. For somebody like Hulk Hogan, when he was on his run, nobody preempted it. Everyone was happy to make him. But when I needed some of the bigger guys to make me, especially some of the bigger names like Jake Roberts or Ultimate Warrior or Hogan, when it came to passing the torch down and doing me a favor…I had always been loyal, working my ass off on their undercards and I was always respectful of those guys and paid my dues, but I always felt short changed by some of those guys who didn't do anything to help me. And that was a critical time in the business. The wrestling business back then was kind of like the stock market right now. There were some tough times business-wise, and everyone was fearful of the future, especially after they implemented the drug testing. But they handed me the ball, and back then I was only six feet tall, I wasn't a giant, I didn't have 24-inch arms, and I wasn't a good interview. Then all of a sudden I found myself carrying the torch at a tough time and trying my hardest.
If you look at wrestling when I started to get my big break back in 1992, I changed wrestling from the cartoons of Hulk Hogan and Iron Sheik and the matches with the leg drop and the hand behind the ear and the playing to the crowd. They were just cartoon characters if you ask me. Hogan had the same match every night for years and so did Warrior. They didn't tell great stories, to be honest. I went out there and had those matches with Piper and Perfect and the match with Davey at Wembley. I went out there and tried to have great matches all the time, and it wasn't about Bret Hart, it was about these matches. I think I changed the style of wrestling, and even today, there's not another Hulk Hogan out there, it's guys like Edge, and it's all about work rate. When you see Bret Hart versus Steve Austin, it just seemed so much more real than Hulk Hogan versus Sgt. Slaughter. All of the storylines started to be more realistic and the belt started to mean more. I made the belt seem like the world to me and to my fans. I kind of pat myself on the back today and think that I did more good for professional wrestling than people realize.