Across the years there have been countless heel turns in professional wrestling. Some are a momentous point in history. Others simply fall by the wayside, forgotten to all who witnessed them. Arguably the most heartbreaking and scandalous was that of Bret Hart.
Maybe the most alarming act treachery occurred on March 27, 1997, at WrestleMania XIII when Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin underwent a double-switch during their Submission Match and for the first time in seven years ‘The Excellence of Execution’ turned his back on the fans.
With Ken Shamrock serving as the special guest referee, Hart and Austin worked their way to arguably the most dramatic and memorable finale of all time when the Canadian locked his bloodied foe in the Sharpshooter and eventually claimed victory when ‘The Texas Rattlesnake’ passed out.
The torture didn’t end there. After Shamrock has awarded the match to Hart, ‘The Pink and Black Attack’ proceeded to wail away on his unconscious foe to the jeers of the audience.
What followed in the weeks and months after was a storyline the likes of which had never been seen before. Bret Hart and his Hart Foundation were heels to the American audience, but heroes and idols to Canadians everywhere.
This was never more apparent than at WWF In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede on July 6, 1997, when The Hart Foundation were treated like superheroes by their hometown fans while Steve Austin, Goldust, Ken Shamrock and the usually beloved Legion of Doom were jeered out of the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Speaking to Sean Ross Sapp and Fightful, Bret Hart recalled the storyline which polarised fans from different countries. Speaking on his 1997 heel turn, Bret told the story of coming up with his promos himself and how much fun he had playing that character:
“I remember in the beginning they would have me say stuff. I remember I’m walking this line between being a babyface and a heel, and I remember a lot of times saying, ‘I’ve got to say something smarter than that. I can’t just go out there and say stupid stuff. I’m kind of still a babyface. It has to be done in a very intelligent way. I think there was an effort to keep it pretty smart in the beginning. That was where it kind of petered out was when they cut the power on me. Vince mysteriously ran out of ideas about the end of August. They didn’t really push the US / Canada promos for me. Vince was the one that came up with the idea of the storyline about giving Pittsburgh an enema. I remember I was like, ‘Geez, that’s a bit strong.’ ‘Cause I always liked Pittsburgh as a city. It’s like, ‘Yeah, you gotta say that.’ It was always one of the things, I’m not sure I’ve ever been forgiven in Pittsburgh for saying that.”
Between the historic heel turn on Steve Austin and the equally extraordinary events of Survivor Series 1997, Hart captured the WWF Championship from The Undertaker at SummerSlam before his momentum took a major dip in feuds with The Patriot and Vader.
Bret talked about losing the momentum of WrestleMania XIII and how Vince McMahon was completely hands on in guiding him through his newest character:
“But, Vince was hands-on telling me how to do the whole US / Canada thing. One of the things that happened after SummerSlam, after I worked with the Patriot and the Undertaker. But, that time period they just cut the power. If you watched my promos for the next two months, I’m walking out there and it’s the same thing as I had in WCW where I don’t know what I’m talking about. I don’t have anything to say other than I’m saying what I said the week before. It’s just ranting about Canadians being better than Americans. It lost a lot of its power because ultimately Vince McMahon, he’s the idea guy. He was a big part of the success of that US / Canada thing working ‘cause he was giving me a lot of ideas. I think it was part of my intentional grounding was to go, ‘Okay, now we’ll cut the power on him. Let him go out there and he doesn’t know what to go out there and say.’”
Finally, Bret Hart touched on maybe his most famous promo about the differences in health care in America and Canada, while riling fans by opining his belief that American citizens shot each other on every street corner:
“It’s too bad. I’ve always thought that was one of the smarter storylines. I always loved the line I had about ‘they don’t shoot each other and kill each other on every street corner’ and all that stuff. Turned out to be pretty fitting stuff for the times. Even in those days, when I think of the United States today and how much problems with the political tensions that they have right now, if I go back to remember those days, I can remember in some of those places like Montgomery, Alabama, and places like that, getting in my car to drive off after the show and I would have hillbilly guys in trucks follow me for miles, shaking their fists at me and trying to drive me off the road. It was dangerous stuff.”
Bret Hart’s brief run as a heel in 1997 was not only some of his finest work on the microphone, but was also an aid in boosting WWF into the Attitude Era.
It may not have lasted long before he departed the company following Montreal, but we’ll always have eight months where ‘The Best There Is, The Best There Was, And The Best There Ever Will Be’ was the most despised man in the entire world.
Credit for the interview: Sean Ross Sapp and Fightful
h/t for the transcription: Fightful