Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Where Are You Hitman, Why Cant I Find You: Bret The Hitman Hart in 1995

Hey yo Stud Muffins & Foxy Ladies,

Bret "The Hitman" Hart began the year in the main event challenging for the World Championship against Big Daddy Cool Diesel at Royal Rumble and ended the year in the main event winning the World Championship at Survivor Series, but in between he was shunted into the midcard as the Kliq reigned supreme in the year 1995. Bret instead faced heels such as Mr. Bob Backlund, Hakushi, Jerry "The King" Lawler, Dr. Isaac Yankem and the Pirate Jean-Pierre Lafitte. True to form, Bret made the most out of a mediocre situation getting good to great matches out of these midcarders. Then when the time came he delivered a true masterpiece at Survivor Series 1995 against Diesel that is criminally underrated.

Below is a resume of Bret Hart's work in 1995. In addition to the aforementioned Diesel match, a tag team match with British Bulldog vs Owen Hart & Bob Backlund is a hidden gem not discussed enough.

Bret is the King of the Babyface vs Bayface Match

WWF World Heavyweight Champion Diesel vs Bret Hart - WWF Royal Rumble 1995

All hail Bret Hart, king of the babyface vs babyface match. Bret would have been an excellent understated travelling NWA World Champion. Bret is the challenger so he is ultra-aggressive but he runs into the Mack Truck that is Diesel. I really enjoy Big Sexy as a character and a shoot interview, but in the ring he underwhelms 95% of the time due to his inability to bump, stiffness (in like an awkward not flexible way), his lack of aggression. Nash is a pretty big dude, but more often than not he does not feel big. Bret made him feel big. Bret prompts a shoving war by taking him into the ropes. Then loses a battle of fists. He goes for a crossbody and gets caught thrown to the mat. Nash feels like a force. From the outset, Bret has the subtle heel touches not to heel Diesel. The first really overt one is picking the leg and dragging him to the post and wrapping it around the steel. Really solid leg work and loved the figure-4 repeatedly. It just makes sense. Nash's selling leaves a lot to be desired. LOVED Bret's dive through the ropes tackling Diesel. Awesome spot that added some spontaneity to the match. Diesel reverses a whip into the steps. Nash runs his usual corner offense, sidewalk slam. Teases jackknife and goes with Argentine Backbreaker nice hope spot from Bret, but eats Big Boot. Bret catches Diesel charging, but I love this little touch that Bret needs to go to the middle rope to get a clothesline to knock Diesel off his feet because earlier in the match the clothesline was ineffective. Here is the wrist tape spot, which would be done better at Survivor Series with the cord. This sets up the Five Moves of Doom section of the match. Love that Bret goes for another dive to the outside, but gets caught and rammed hard into the post. Bret was really good at setting up repeat spots in this match. Diesel hits the jackknife. Then I remember I have seen this match before because all of sudden it occurred to me Shawn Michaels was going to interfere, but they were not going to call DQ. Weird. Michaels attacks the bad wheel of Diesel, Bret reapplies the figure-4 and Bret goes back to work even slamming a chair over it. Still no DQ? Alright this ref is being consistent. Bret finally goes for the Sharpshooter, but now Owen interferes. Ref is adamant that there must be a winner. Owen exposes the turnbuckle pad and rams Bret into it. I watched this match last night and am doing this all on memory. At some point, in Bret's third heat segment (second on the leg), he takes a really unique Bret Bump where he charges in and Diesel moves slightly and Bret hits the pads hard and really sells well. So the exposed turnbuckle shot to the chest by Owen is an escalation based on that. Now the match turns into a knock down drag out affair with fists flying. I thought Diesel's selling was a lot better here really milking it before he finally left his feet. We get the Bret playing possum spot getting inside cradle. The O'Connor Roll takes out ref and here comes the heel locker room, HBK, Double J, Backlund and Owen to finally draw a the No Contest.

It is a real testament to Bret's vision on laying out a match that I was able to wake up this morning and write this review with no notes. But when you tell a coherent story that goes from A->B-> C. It is not that hard to remember! I really want to highlight that this was very well done in regards to momentum shifts. Bret establishes he cant win a battles of fistcuffs and power with Diesel. He must take him off his feet. He has a challenger's mentality so he is very aggressive with the pescado. But on the outside he loses the advantage. He then takes to the air to get him off his feet, but he needs to use a trick to really cement his advantage. That ultra-aggressive mentality almost costs him the match when Diesel catches him rams him into the post and then hits the Powerbomb. Michaels saves re-setting up the leg work. Bret takes that really cool Bret Bump, but is able to recover to try to apply Sharpshooter and now Owen comes in. They have a heat finish, a fun Bret possum spot and schmozz. It highlights Bret Hart as a master of Realpolitik and Diesel as a force. I think Nash just adds almost zero to this match like this is a really obvious carry job. The Survivor Series match is way better, but I think this should be commended for Bret's ability to string a bunch of memorable spots along in a really logical fashion. This may sound weird, but I think I found the match I would show non-wrestling fans because the story is clear and there is no misstep to the narrative and the spots are memorable, but also not super great so they wont get false expectations and/or not a appreciate a master piece. Great entry level wrestling match and I guess when you are working with Nash that's what happens. ****

Bret Hart & Davey Boy Smith vs Owen Hart & Bob Backlund - WWF Action Zone 2/26/95

Can the Harts (along with Backlund) outdo the Kliq? Thought the shine was great because it really established the babyfaces as dominant and Bret as pissed off. As a big Backlund fan, it was so weird to watch Backlund lose a suplex struggle to Davey Boy. Bret was hitting anything that moved. I loved how liberally Backlund was interfering. Bret was basically taking them two on one and kicking ass because he was so pissed about Survivor Series '94, the original screwjob. So it makes sense Backlund has to resort to tripping him from outside and wrenching his knee. Awesome heat segment working the leg. Thought Backlund was not great, but Bret/Owen killed it. I thought they could have used some more hope spots and more moments for Bret to sell. Like there was almost too much knee work there could have been some more of the other stuff to build drama. Still textbook leg work by Owen, really great. Heel miscommunication and the way Bret stumbled and crawled to make the tag was great. Davey Boy is such a great hot tag, Backlund repeatedly interferes, Bulldog stays concentrated and then sees him coming and double noggin knocker and then sends them into each other. Great finish with Bret applying the Sharpshooter outside the ring to Backlund and Bulldog hitting the running powerslam for the win. Awesome little tag team match. Falls shy of the Kliq match which I thought had the better heat segment with more drama and a crazier finish run. Loved the leg work and simple, elegant finish. ****1/4


Bret Hart vs Owen Hart - RAW 3/27/95 No Holds Barred Match

What a hidden gem! I didn't even know this existed until yesterday. For some reason, it never smacked me as weird that there was no blowoff to Bret/Owen. I figured since Bret won the Summerslam Cage match that was it and that Owen was just to be a constant thorn in his side. Turns out this is the blowoff the feud. As Owen would link up with Yokozuna for a tag title run and Bret was destined for midcard hell until November. This is on a weird RAW. The majority of RAW is Vince and Todd running down Mania XI card in a studio. This match is the only match on the RAW and it is called by JR and Gorilla Monsoon.
I really dug this match. This about the greatest street fight you can have without blood and weapons. It was all punches, violence and hatred. Owen jumps Bret as he is going through the ropes. Bret earns his shine and fights back. He tees off on Owen. Pulling hair, raking the face across the ropes, railing. All nasty stuff. DDT. A big blow to the head. This is NOT Mania X where it is two brothers seeing who the best is. This is a fight. Bret takes him up for a backbreaker and Owen rakes the eyes. Owen is all over the eyes, back rakes. Nice enziguiri gets Owen a two count. Owen slams Bret into the railings. He puts his foot on Bret's chest and calls himself the real King of Harts. This is great Brother vs Brother action. Owen puts Bret in the Tree of Woe and while the ref is tending to Bret. Owen takes off the turnbuckle pad.
Owen wants to send Bret headfirst into the exposed turnbuckle, but Bret blocks and sends him in. Bret gets a clothesline. Bret just hitting all his moves with great ferocity. That backbreaker looked awesome. Sharpshooter time, but Owen pokes him in the eye! I love it. He whips Bret hard into the exposed turnbuckles, which Bret takes in classic Bret fashion front first. Wow! Bret's sell was amazing. I audibly gasped. Owen misses a missile dropkick and Bret catapults him into the exposed turnbuckle and then Sharpshooter and he wins.
There was a ceiling on this match because blood and a bit more violence would have taken this next level, but this also felt rushed. I think it was only 8 minutes. Bret takes that nasty, nasty front first bump into the exposed turnbuckle and he wins like a minute later. If they had 5 more minutes to flesh things out this could have been a real classic. Still a really great match that people should watch! ****
Bret Hart vs Hakushi - In Your House I

I think this another great candidate for a match to show to a non-fan as their first match. I think you want something that showcases the fundamentals of pro wrestling without being great. Because a non-fan wont appreciate the greatness of a truly great match. You want something they can digest. This has a good basic structure: shine->heat->comeback->finish. The shine is roughest part. Their timing seemed off. It was not too interesting. The heat segment was good. Bret is a great seller. There is plenty of cheating. Hakushi does a Vaderbomb, BroncoBuster and a back handspring elbow so there's enough high end offense to keep a new fan engaged. They build to a good mini-climax with the diving headbutt being his big nearfall. Hakushi misses the springboard headbutt huge in 1995 America. Bret has his typical comeback but to a new fan it would look great because Bret is awesome at offense. You have more cheating from Shinja. Two crazy highspots at the end, the vertical suplex over the top rope to the floor which is still insane and then the Asai Moonsault. Then a solid victory roll win for Bret. Bret wins definitively without hurting Hakushi too much. Long time wrestling fans might call it predictable or formulaic and I wouldn't disagree, but sometimes those things are still good. ***1/2


Bonus Match: Owen Hart vs Davey Boy Smith
WWF RAW 06/05/95 KOTR Qualifying Match

Love their 1997 RAW match, never seen this before. Just a great pro wrestling match. Love the ups and downs of the shine. They move in and out of armbar so well. Davey Boy uses that as a base, but they have a lot of motion like monkey flips, press slam and hitting the post. Owen bumps so well so add excitement to the match. Builds perfectly to the Bulldog's delayed vertical. Great climax to the shine. Before you know Owen moves to his heat with a keelift, great sense of timing. Go to ad break and come to find there is a 15 minute time limit so that telegraphs the finish. Owen's spinwheel kick and then raising his arms with a Woooo is how I remember Owen. Bulldog makes his comeback outta chinlock. Nice catapult, Fisherman suplex, upside down surdboard, cool set up into Bulldogs powerslam. Owen get his foot on ropes. Great series of nearfalls adds to the drama as Gorilla counts down the time limit. Real time time calls to audience would have helped. Nice, tight wrestling match that built well to time limit draw, both wrestlers came out looking good. ***1/2


Bret Hart vs Hakushi - RAW 7/24/95

FLYING SPACE TIGER DROP~! So that's why this match is famous. :)

I thought this was an improvement on their IYH match. I had never seen this match before. I liked Shinja distracted Bret before the bell to give Hakushi the advantage, but Hakushi squanders that when he eats knees on his Vaderbomb. Bret is so good working on top and grinding his opponent. Hakushi Irish Whips and Bret falls and slides hard into the post back first. Great spot! Similar Hakushi heat segment. I love Bret feeds himself hope spots and Hakushi cutoffs. The ending of the match is red hot. FLYING SPACE TIGER DROP! You don't see those even today. Bret does the double noggin knocker. Bret hits an Asai Vaderbomb! I marked out for that. Hakushi gets one more hope spot before Bret polishes him off definitively with the superplex/Sharpshooter combo. Really dug this TV match. ***1/2


Bret Hart vs Jean-Pierre Lafitte - In Your House III 9/24/95

I have watched this match three times and everytime I watch it my thoughts initially are always "why did I like this match so much again?". Oh yeah because the finish stretch is so badass. I have no idea what got into Bret, but he was out to prove something in this match. It was probably all the months since Royal Rumble 95 being condemned to midcard hell. This is my favorite Bret Hart match of that period between Rumble '95 and Survivor Series '95. He was throwing himself into bumps and he was keeping everything moving. I liked his constant attempts for victory. Basically he was pissed off at the beginning of the match, he got his jacket back and then he just wanted to get the victory. This was not Bret's greatest long term selling performance and the match was more structured around Bret trying to win the match with veteran tactics and Jean Pierre's bumps.

I liked Jean Pierre's look. I just don't think you should have called him a pirate. On the RAW before this PPV, Bret Hart basically undercut the entire gimmick when he said he did not know pirates still existed. It is a cool look, but no reason to say he is out and out a pirate. As for being underpushed, I am not buying it. Besides Pierre's bumps, this was the Bret Hart show. Pierre looked lost when he was working a control segment and Bret was carrying it via selling and feeding smart cutoffs. The initial arm posting by Bret and then the consequent quick succession of whips was so well-done to cement Pierre, but Pierre then ran out of things to do.  Underutilized, I would buy as I loved the Quebecers and I think Pierre in a tag team where he can be the big bumper and hide his weaknesses in a heel tag team would be perfect.

Pierre gets up top and hits a legdrop instead of the Cannonball well that was not too bright. CANNONBALLLLLL!!! MISSES!!! Bret goes for the Sharpshooter because he is angling for a quick victory. The spot of the match is Pierre doing a somersault plancha to the outside floor with no protection because Bret moved. Bret takes over and looks great mixing his Five Moves and his pinnning combinations. Pierre catches him on a crucifix and plants him with a somersault. Folks, I think we have established that Pierre can indeed do a somersault. Pierre looks pretty strong, but whiffs on a top rope splash should have went CANNONBALLLLLL!!! and Bret gets the Sharpshooter from on the mat.

This is an incredible finish stretch especially in 1995. There is not a ton of really classic selling, but it is not mindless either because there is a real sense of struggle to win the match. Bret is going for pinning combinations and his Sharpshooter. Pierre is going for his big knockout blow. It just that Bret is getting countered and Pierre is whiffing. It comes down to if Pierre hits a big move he will win, but what toll are these misses taking on him and eventually if he keeps missing Bret will take advantage with a pinning combination or Sharpshooter. I would not call this a spotfest even though the match is totally structured around spots and bumps and not selling, but there is still a psychology of winning behind it where each man has his own strategy and the other wrestler is responding to that strategy, which is lacking in today's product. ****


WWF World Heavyweight Champion Diesel vs Bret Hart - WWF Survivor Series 1995 No DQ

What is missing from pro wrestling today is enthusiastic grandmas in the front row!

I think this most underrated WWF match of all time. I truly think this is incredible and one of the best Bret Hart performances of all time. I say this all the time but he is the king of face vs face matches and this is his best ever. As each wrestler takes turns playing babyface throughout the match in really logical fashion that never undercuts the drama or the characters in the ring. The video package before this is awesome with each man discussing their strategy. I thought Nash was especially excellent saying he was going to use power and size, this is not collegiate wrestling he is going for the early knockout. It really set the table for the actual match where these two just wove in a compelling story over the course of 25 minutes.

Each other taking off a turnbuckle pad right at the outset set the tone of the match and established that each man had come for a dirty, nasty fight. Loved Bret going for the leg early and driving Big Daddy Cool into the corner. Nash does a great job hitting heavy, heavy blows to stymie The Hitman. I love how Nash keeps Hart in that corner. He is suffocating him. Hart can find no quarter. Nash stalking Bret as he escapes to the outside is such a great visual especially how Nash always climbs over the top rope. There is such a looming sense of dread with each blow that Hart has to take from the big man. If I had one complaint, it is not the speed as this had a great horror movie like feel to it, but like in most Bret Hart matches there was not much in the way of struggles, he just took his licks. His matches can be too neat sometimes.

The transition to Bret Hart on offense is awesome. He holds onto Nash's leg for dear life to avoid being splatter on the canvas via the Jacknife. He eventually makes it to the ropes and then starts biting the arm of Diesel. You know how I know this because Diesel just starts hollering. Great verbal selling by Nash. Hart kicks at the knee and we all know what is coming up next. Just textbook dissection of the knee with excellent execution.  Figure-4 always a nice touch. I liked how Diesel going for Jacknife was a transition and we see Bret going for the Sharpshooter leads to Bret being kicked off and his head hits the exposed turnbuckle.

Bret, being wary of losing his lead, trips up Diesel and wraps his knee around the post and then in the most famous spot of the match ties him up with the mic cable. Diesel is now helpless. It is funny to see Grandma Hitman fan cheering on Bret even though he is clearly heeling on Diesel now. I love this segment so much. Diesel trying to stand but getting knocked over, but the cord stopping him from falling properly. Diesel knocking the chair out of Bret's hand with his free foot, but only for Bret to step on his hand when he was trying to get the chair. That's some next level heel shit right there. Bret hitting the backbreaker and just mercilessly attacking the knee. Bret goes up top again, but this time Diesel crotches him. A really effective heat segment.

Diesel's selling of the leg is top notch. Like really fucking good. Love him gingerly walking over to drop all his weight on Bret's neck. Or the Snake Eyes and how he does it. Bret slams Diesel's face into the exposed steel on the second attempt this allows him to go for the Five Moves of Doom, bulldog off the middle rope was cool. Bret misses the pescado in epic crash and burn fashion. In a bump I absolutely love, Bret gets slingshotted from the apron through table still makes me say holy shit.

Here is my big grievance is the possum finish. It is just the bump right before it was so badass. I just feel like the finish undercuts that bump. I did like Bret dropping like a dead fish when Diesel first tried to pick him up. Cradle and the Granmda Bret Hart goes crazy and Diesel famously says "Muthafuckin Shit" and then destroys Bret two of the most badass Jacknife powerbombs ever.

Love, love this match. I am genuinely curious why people do not rate this higher. The David vs Goliath beginning with a  great transition to the leg work then the awesome tie Diesel's foot to the post segment followed by really friggin awesome Diesel selling during the finish stretch with two huge Bret Hart bumps before the possum finish. Easy Top 10 WWF match of the 90s and really should be discussed more as an interesting case study on how to work face vs face. ****1/2


WWF World Heavyweight Champion Bret Hart vs British Bulldog - In Your House V

Between September 1995-June 1996, there were ten PPVs, Bulldog main evented half of them. Pretty crazy stat that often goes over looked, This match has a pretty huge reputation, not quite as big as Summerslam in WWF lore, but in terms of match ratings. This is either my third or fourth time watching it, I come away with the same thoughts each time. This first half is boring and the second half is badass. First half is Bret formula to a tee with an unmotivated Davey Boy. Bret's bulldog and piledriver look nice, but Bulldog was chinlock city. On top of that no struggle, just moving spot to spot. Just too neat. Once Davey Boy crotched Bret Hart on the top rope when Hitman was trying to do a superplex the match picked up in a big way. Bret slams his head into the edge of the steel steps in order to blade, but make seem like it was hardway (I think that was his intent) as I imagine Vince was not thrilled about this. Bullodg kicked some ass here. Piledriver and delayed vertical suplex all great blood rushing to the head spots. Loved the press slam. I think he jammed his knee pretty good on the diving headbutt. Bret sprinkling in some hope spots helped give some struggle. I liked Bret diving out onto Bulldog. Then trying the Vaderomb on the outside to be caught with the POWERSLAM on the floor. That was big. Bulldog really wants to hurt him and exposes the concrete, but Bret crotches him on the railing (receipt), clothesline city. Great clothesline really! He finally gets to hit his superplex that is how this all started! I really think that should have been the finish. They do some rollups to try to recreate the Wembley magic, but it is off and La Magistral feels abrupt.

Tale of two halves, first half is formulaic and second half is bloody and dramatic. Finish is too abrupt also. No way is this better than Summerslam 92. ***3/4

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