This week’s post for Model Year Wrestler will look at 1992 Bret Hart. It was a roller coaster year for the Hitman that did not get off to a very good start. After a 4+ month reign as Intercontinental champion, Hart lost his title to the Mountie in Springfield, MA two days before their scheduled Royal Rumble match. The question is often asked as to why this title switch occurred with a guy he had been beating at house shows all month. The story is quite complicated with some inter-promotional intrigue.
Bret was told he would be losing the IC title and became concerned that his push was coming to an end, and that he should explore his options. In speaking to his friend and future Hart Foundation member Brian Pillman, Hart realized he could potentially make more money by jumping to WCW. He was definitely wanted by WCW, partly as a revenge play for Ric Flair taking their belt onto WWF TV, and if the Hitman still had the IC title all the better. There were discussions and even possibly an agreement for him to start in WCW at Clash of the Champions 18 two days after the ’92 Royal Rumble. This did not happen for a rather humorous reason: Bret didn’t give proper notice for an out in his WWF contract so it rolled over automatically locking him into the WWF. In any case, he was also told by Jim Barnett that he would be able to be paid the same amount as the top guys in WCW and that he would be better off staying up north. This was very sound advice. Vince McMahon also promised that he would be pushed and would get the IC title back at Wrestlemania 8, but such promises are broken routinely in wrestling.
After losing the IC title, the Hitman had a match at MSG against the Undertaker in their first one on one match. Hart lost after some Paul Bearer interference. He was being built as the challenger to the winner of the Piper-Mountie IC title match on the Feb. 8th episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event. The Hitman tagged with the Bushwhackers several times, even doing the Bushwhacker walk around the ring at MSG. On TV, the Piper-Hart match was being built up as a clash between friends who were pretty wary of each other, with each acting as neither a true face nor a true heel.
As he was promised, Bret won the IC title from Roddy Piper at Wrestlemania 8. During the match, Bret bladed which was verboten under WWF policy at the time. Unlike Ric Flair on the same show, he was able to pass it off as an accident. After teasing a heel turn in threatening to use the ring bell on Hart, Piper threw it away and went for a sleeper hold. Bret countered by walking the turnbuckle and trapping Piper for the pin, a similar finish as would be used in another Hitman classic: 1996 Survivor Series against Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Two days after Mania, Bret Hart faced Shawn Michaels one on one for the first time in a dark match at the Wrestling Challenge taping, losing by countout. One of the most consequential feuds in wrestling history had begun. They would work house shows together underneath an Ultimate Warrior-Papa Shango main event in most cases. The usual finish was that Michaels would crash into Sherri and Hart would take advantage to score a rollup pin. Hart ridiculed Michaels in an interview on the May 31st episode of Wrestling Challenge, saying “I don’t have to pay women to go out with me.”
In early June on an episode of the UK edition of Superstars, the match was set for Summerslam at Wembley Stadium between Bret and the British Bulldog in a meeting of brothers-in-law. They would actually have a match in late June which was won by Hart, with Bulldog suffering a legitimate broken nose during the bout. In the build, the story was that this match was tearing the Hart family apart. If we’ve learned anything in the last 15+ years, no much help is needed in actual reality to do that. Diana Hart-Smith expressed this concern and even Helen Hart had a few words on the toll it was taking on her family.
Bret had a very interesting July with some notable matches. There were a couple of tag matches with Hitman and Macho Man Randy Savage teaming against Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels, hall of famers all. Their match at the Worcester Centrum is on several Coliseum Video tapes and ended with Savage pinning Michaels. The next night in Portland, Maine saw Bret and Shawn face off in the first ladder match in WWF history, won by Bret. Strangely, Bret would never compete in a ladder match again.
At Summerslam in London, the Hitman lost the IC title to the British Bulldog in one of the greatest matches in WWF history to that point. The reality was that it was one of the great carry jobs by a wrestler as Bulldog was suffering from a staph infection in his knee and other ailments, but Hart notes in his book that Bulldog hit all his spots in the match to make it work.
Bret was set to feud with Papa Shango in September, but fate intervened and gave the Excellence of Execution his greatest break. Ric Flair was on the outs with WWF for various reasons: dropping attendance, his ultimate desire to return to WCW, and clashes between the Nature Boy and Vince McMahon over in-ring style. After Flair had regained the WWF title on Sept. 1, it was clear it would not be a long reign. Hart and Flair would face off on the European tour with Bret usually losing via countout. In Los Angeles on October 10, Hart beat Flair by DQ though it was not announced as such in the arena. This may have been a final test for Bret’s popularity, though it was already proven by the fact that he was receiving far more fan mail than any other wrestler in part due to his popularity outside the United States.
Bret Hart won his first WWF World title on October 12 in Saskatoon in a match not aired on TV, though a post match interview was shown. In fact, the match wasn’t even advertised locally, originally Flair was to face Ultimate Warrior and Hart would be in a tag match.
The WWF traditionally had babyface champions who would face a variety of challengers. Hart would take on guys spread all over the card: a Prime Time match with the Berzerker, a Superstars match with Virgil, and house show matches against Nailz, Papa Shango, Rick Martel, and the Mountie, the latter until his late October departure. On the weekly shows, they started airing a hilarious tribute video of Bret set to the Tom Petty song “Makin’ Some Noise”.
As always, Hart’s main rival would be Shawn Michaels, the new IC champion after beating the British Bulldog on Saturday Night’s Main Event on Nov. 14. Their Survivor Series match is excellent, in fact I prefer it to their Ironman match. The finish is Bret catching a dropkick attempt off the ropes into the Sharpshooter. Hart would cement his status as champion by beating Ric Flair around the horn for the final 4-5 weeks of 1992, and would start the build to the 1993 Royal Rumble title defense against Razor Ramon.
Summary: The lesson of Bret Hart in 1992 is the same as 1997/98. The grass isn’t always greener on the WCW side and sometimes it is best to stay the course. He really lucked out because all the management changes in WCW may not have been to his benefit, although Bill Watts was an avowed fan of Hart. He was blazing a new trail as a different kind of champion than WWF would usually see. He was also a very strong draw in international markets which is where the action was after a steep decline in the US wrestling business in late 1991. Unfortunately, the year 1993 would not be quite as fruitful for the Hitman.