One of professional wrestling’s most shocking returns came in January 2010, when Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart returned to WWE twelve and a bit years after the infamous Montreal Screwjob.
Swearing in books and shoot interviews that he would never step foot on WWE soil again after the events of the 1997 Survivor Series, Bret had a sudden change of heart following his stroke and several other health issues. He chose to bury the hatchet of those he’d slandered over the years and carry on with his life.
It couldn’t have been easy for ‘The Excellence of Execution’ to extend his hand to Vince McMahon, Shawn Michaels and Triple H after the things he had said about them. But if the measure of a man is to forgive and forget the greatest wrongs done against him, then Bret Hart is among the greatest to have ever lived.
Now, ‘The Best There Is, The Best There Was, And The Best There Ever Will Be’ has opened up about his decision to return to the company a decade ago, his decision to put the past behind him and his infamously poor WrestleMania 26 bout with Vince McMahon on episode thirty one of Confessions Of The Hitman.
First up was the most pressing issue. His decision to come back home in order to finish his career properly. When questioned about the inspiration behind the return after so long away, Hart cited Donald Trump’s involvement as something that forced him back into the family:
“It’s kind of funny because I watched Vince wrestle Donald Trump – I’m pretty sure it was Vince – and I remember going, ‘s**t, I could do that! I could wrestle Vince. I could do something, at least as much as Trump’s pulling off here.’ I remember, I thought about it, and I had my knee replaced, and I remember running up the stairs in the house in Hawaii, and the phone was ringing, and I remember when I ran up the stairs, I thought, ‘I just ran up the stairs!’ Like, that’s amazing. That’s a miracle all by itself.
I remember somewhere in that, I watched WrestleMania that week or that day, and I ended up calling WWE. And I ended up talking to a guy named Kevin Dunn, who’s like one of Vince’s right hand guys. And I said, ‘I’d like to come back. I’d like to come back and do a storyline with Vince. I’d like to bury the hatchet.'”
Following the death of his brother Owen and his numerous health issues, Hart cited being tired and being ready to move on as the reason he was ready to bury the hatchet. After a life filled with drama, ‘The Pink and Black Attack’ wanted to hold a grudge no longer:
“I said, ‘I’m tired. Everywhere I go, all I hear about is The Screwjob, what happened with my brother, Owen. All of that starts to weigh you down. I mean, it really starts to weigh you down. Like, it was really starting to wear on me all the time. It’s like, it’s all I ever hear about: Vince McMahon, and The Screwjob, and ‘what are you going to do now?’ Anyway, it just got to the point where it’s like– I think it was the solution to all my problems at the time. It was like, the best way for me to get over this, get it out of my way so it’s not in my way anymore is to go back and make peace with it, make real peace with it. And I pretty much laid it out on the table to Kevin Dunn that I’d like to go back and do a storyline.”
Vince McMahon wasn’t the only person Bret Hart wanted to make amends with. Shawn Michaels was joint first on his list and the former WWF Champion spoke about his conversation about meeting Shawn man-to-man in the middle of the ring:
“I said, ‘it would be fine with me if I could bury the hatchet with Shawn.’ I had watched Shawn wrestle a match. He might have wrestled The Undertaker. I don’t know if it was on that WrestleMania with Trump or not, but it was a match that I had watched with Shawn and The Undertaker. I was so proud of them. I really loved the match; I thought it was a fantastic, five-star match, and I was proud of Shawn. And I remember thinking, ‘Shawn and me used to be such good friends’, and I felt bad that whatever happened between us. And Shawn had his drug problems, and I had my– I certainly poked him in the eye enough times to know that I wasn’t totally innocent of all [matters]. I brought on some of that myself. I don’t know that I was the biggest instigator, but I can reason that we can be friends. I mean, I’d like to make friends, if Shawn would be up for it.”
It would be several months before the legend heard back from the company. As he recalled, the ball was put in WWE’s court to give arguably their greatest talent one last hurrah. The call he was waiting for finally came in August 2009.
Talking about the first meeting with the man who orchestrated his screwjob, Bret recalled laying everything he wanted and was physically and legally able to do on the table and Vince’s reaction to squaring off against the man who had knocked him out the last time the pair met:
“They called me in August. Vince called me and he wanted to meet me in San Jose, [California]. Like, I was flying through San Francisco and he had Monday Night RAW in San Jose that week, sometime in August, as I remember. And we met, and he was very upfront, and we had a very positive meeting. We talked, and I’ll be honest – I laid out every conceivable possible storyline or, ‘here’s an idea, maybe I can tag up with somebody and we win the tag belts, or how about we do this? Or I can manage Natalya, or manage Tyson Kidd and Harry Smith.’ They were wrestling there. How about I do something with them? Maybe I’m just their mouthpiece, or their manager, or whatever.
I could tag up with somebody, five on a side, at Survivor Series or SummerSlam.’ And we talked about me coming back and wrestling Vince. I remember saying, ‘I can’t because of my concussion issues and my lawsuit that I won with Lloyd’s Of London. The way my contract was worded, it said I could do wrestling skits and wrestling sketches, but no full contact wrestling. That was the way it was worded, and I said, ‘I can hype it up. I can do stuff, but I can’t take any falls. I can’t get knocked down, I can’t have someone hit me across the back with a chair. I can’t be bodyslammed. I can’t even do a move to you that jeopardizes my– like, a blow to the head or my neck.’ I said, ‘I would come with my sort of limitations because I have limits as to what I can do, but if you want to come up with a storyline, I mean, I can do as much as Donald Trump did, or more, and we could figure out something.'”
Finally, Bret Hart spoke on his pride for the match against Vince McMahon. Even though it wasn’t technical masterpiece it would have been a decade and a half prior, the man of the hour felt at peace and was able to move on with his life:
“I’ve always been really proud of that. I know it wasn’t my greatest wrestling match, and I didn’t look that great, but I was a much older man, and I had at least one knee replacement, and I was on my way to having another one. And for me, it was all a way to make peace and say ‘goodbye’ to all the bad feelings and all that. I could be part of the WWE family again, and I’m so glad I did it. It was the best thing I could do. It set me free from all the issues that we had sort of gone through and wore me down.
And I think for anybody in life, I think I could say and give a message – it’s important to forgive. And it sets yourself free in a lot of the time by showing forgiveness. And I’ve forgiven and moved on, and I’m a much happier man for it.”
Though Bret Hart continued to compete sporadically for the company through 2010, winning the WWE United States Championship and competing at SummerSlam, the match that meant most to him and fans was WrestleMania.
It wasn’t only a chance for Bret Hart to let go of over a decade of hurt and drama, but for fans to see the man wronged all those years ago gain a measure of sweet revenge.
Credit for the interview: Confession Of The Hitman
h/t for transcription: Wrestling Inc.