Bret Hart is widely acknowledged as one the greatest in-ring performers in WWE history. The Hitman won the WWE Championship on five occasions during his storied career and is regarded as one of the best technical wrestlers of the modern era.
However, in the crazy world of professional wrestling, a performers ability inside the ropes is only one measure of success. A performers promos, character work and believability can also have an impact on a champion’s perceived success.
While his work in-ring is beyond reproach, there have been debates for decades over Hart’s effectiveness as world champion, as it has been suggested that his time in possession of the belt coincided with a downturn in WWE’s popularity.
Speaking on a recent episode of his 83 Weeks podcast, former WCW President Eric Bischoff offered this thoughts on the two-time WWE Hall of Famer.
Bischoff explained that while he respected Hart for his ability in the ring, he was also “the least successful World Heavyweight Champion or at least one of in WWE history.”
“He wanted to kill Vince McMahon when I started working with him. He hated Shawn Michaels, he hated Ric Flair, he hated everybody in WWE – probably not everybody but a lot of people. He was miserable; Vince McMahon was the anti-Christ – until he got to go into the Hall of Fame. Then it’s time to kiss and make up. Then Eric [Bischoff] was the anti-Christ then Hogan was the anti-Christ. He’s so obvious and look to this day I do respect Bret, many aspects of Bret Hart as a performer. I still think in the ring today, and I’ve said this before, I’m not going to change my opinion. Nothing will change my opinion; no-one will change my opinion. Bret Hart in my opinion is one of the best technical performers in his generation – not the biggest star. His drawing power in the WWE was well documented by anyone who wants to do the research in an objective way. He was not a main-event draw in WWE. That’s it, that’s a fact, it’s not my fault, I wasn’t there, I didn’t book him – it just didn’t work. He was the champion, he was the face of the company, and he was the least successful World Heavyweight Champion or at least one of in WWE history – which is a long freakin’ history. It is what it is. Bret Hart is that kind of guy who has to have somebody to hate in order to have something to talk about.”
One of Hart’s most famous rivalries was with ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, a rivalry that would result in one of the most well known and highly praised matches in WrestleMania history at WrestleMania 13.
Appearing on WWE’s The Bump, Steve Austin reflected on the match and the now legendary ‘double turn’ which would see Austin become one of the biggest crowd favourites in history while Hart would become one of the WWE’s most hated villains. Austin recalled:
“When I got out there, there was a mixed reaction… You always want your dance partner to be as over as possible. Bret was red hot. He was kind of at that pivotal area because, on one hand, he was that beloved babyface, and on the other hand, he kind of started piss and moaning to a degree, which all set out that play for the double turn. So, [there was] electricity that night in front of that wonderful crowd.”
Bret Hart would famously depart the then WWF in 1997 heading to rivals WCW where he would be forced to retire through injury in 2000. He would eventually return to WWE in 2006 which would coincide with his induction into the Hall of Fame.
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