A chorus of boos and chants of "nugget" filled arenas across the country yet, despite the unfavorable reaction, Owen Hart remained one of the most respected Superstars in the industry.
With unmatched athleticism and skills that, arguably, eclipsed those of his more famous brother Bret, Owen was one of the finest in-ring performers of his generation. Meshing styles he learned while training in the Hart family "Dungeon" with those perfected in rings across the globe, Owen was a consummate performer capable of having a great match with a variety of opponents.
He was also a wildly entertaining individual who was never afraid to ham it up for the camera. He could be the butt of the joke or he could be overwhelmingly hilarious on his own. Whatever the case may be, he routinely made the absolute most of the television time he was afforded.
A bright spot for World Wrestling Entertainment at a time when business was down, Owen was one of the world's best professional wrestlers during the 1990s.
It is for that reason, and a myriad of others, that his unfortunate and untimely death shook the industry to its core.
This past May 23, the wrestling world celebrated the life of Owen Hart on the 15th anniversary of his passing.
In memory of one of the finest, most beloved Superstars to ever grace a ring, here are some of Owen's greatest moments and matches.
In the Beginning...
Owen's first real exposure came in the dying days of father Stu's Stampede Wrestling promotion. There, he won the International Tag Team Championships with Ben Bassarab, then feuded with Dynamite Kid.
While Kid may not have been the same revolutionary worker he once was, his matches with Hart were still considered dream matches among fans who appreciated work rate.
Hart became one of the most buzzed-about young stars in the business during his first year between the ropes, eventually being named Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Rookie of the Year in 1987.
With his work in his family's promotion and several others across the globe, including Japan and the United Kingdom, it was only a matter of time before Vince McMahon's WWE came calling.
The Blue Blazer
In the late-1980s, World Wrestling Entertainment was very much tailored towards families. With a very child-friendly product made up of well-defined heroes and villains and an owner who valued marketable gimmicks, he stuck the newcomer Hart under a mask and called him the Blue Blazer.
WWE's answer to a masked superhero, the Blazer was an undercard competitor who dispatched of enhancement talent with relative ease but regularly struggled against established stars. Barry Horowitz would be an easy win, but The Warlord would prove troublesome.
At WrestleMania V in 1989, Hart wrestled his biggest match to date under the mask as he took on Mr. Perfect. The match was more of a showcase of Perfect, who McMahon saw as a bigger potential star, and the Blazer was soundly defeated.
Hart, frustrated with his place in the company, would leave World Wrestling Entertainment that same year and return to competing around the world.
While in Mexico, he competed against El Canek in a Mask vs. Mask match. Hart's loss in that match and his subsequent unmasking brought to an end the Blue Blazer chapter of his career.
At least for the next eight years.
A Family Feud
Hart returned to WWE at the turn of the decade, first competing in the New Foundation with partner Jim Neidhart, then forming High Energy with fellow '80s jobber Koko B. Ware.
By November 1993, Owen's brother Bret was established as the top babyface in the company and a former WWE champion. At his suggestion, the groundwork was laid for a rivalry between him and brother Owen that would dominate the next year of programming.
At Survivor Series '93, Owen teamed with brothers Keith, Bruce and Bret to take on Shawn Michaels and the Knights. During the match, Owen collided with Bret and became the only member of his team to be eliminated. After the match, he returned to the ring and confronted his brother.
Owen shoved Bret as his family watched from ringside. With the holiday season ongoing, much was made of the dissension between the once-close family.
The brothers reunited in time for a Tag Team Championship match against the Quebecers at Royal Rumble in January '94. In that match, Bret suffered a knee injury but still refused to tag Owen into the match.
Injured and unable to continue, the referee called the match and awarded it to the villainous champions. The decision caused Owen to snap. He kicked Bret's leg out from underneath him and left the ring to jeers from the crowd.
Despite Bret's attempts to avoid a match against his brother, a match that would tear the Hart family apart, he had no choice but to take the bout against Owen at WrestleMania X. That match, one of the most anticipated on the card, would be a legitimate five-star classic won by Owen in what was considered a major upset at the time.
Riding a wave of momentum coming out of the biggest win of his career, Owen would enter the King of the Ring tournament and win. To do so, he defeated Tatanka, the 1-2-3 Kid and Razor Ramon, with the aid of former partner and real-life brother-in-law Jim Neidhart.
Capping off one of the greatest year-long stories WWE has ever produced, Owen would lose an all-time great steel cage match to WWE champion Bret in the co-main event of SummerSlam.
Owen and Bret would continue to battle against one another in both singles and tag matches over the course of the next two years. With Neidhart and the returning "British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith involved, the story was kept fresh and interesting despite its length.
Tag Champion, Camp Cornette and Feuding With HBK
At WrestleMania XI, Hart won his first championship in WWE when he teamed with Yokozuna to win the tag team titles from the Smoking Gunns. The team, managed by Jim Cornette, would reign over the tag division until September, when they dropped the titles back to the Gunns.
As a member of "Camp Cornette," Hart became one of the top villains in the company, routinely feuding with marquee main eventers such as Diesel and Shawn Michaels.
It was a match against Michaels in November of 1995 that saw Hart begin his biggest non-family feud to date.
In that contest, Hart leveled Michaels with an enzuigiri kick. Moments later, WWE's resident Sexy Boy passed out and was tended to by medical personnel. He would be sidelined for months, during which Hart continuously reminded fans that he was the man to sideline the Heartbreak Kid.
At In Your House IV in February of 1996, they met in singles competition, with Michaels' guaranteed title opportunity at WrestleMania at stake. Despite another dangerous enzuigiri from Hart, HBK proved resilient and scored the win.
The loss ended Hart's rivalry with Michaels and sent him down a path that would see him team with British Bulldog to capture the tag team titles. As champions, they would dominate the competition, holding the titles from September '96 until May of '97, when they dropped the gold to Steve Austin and his partner, Michaels.
Rebirth of the Hart Foundation
In February of 1997, Bulldog defeated Owen in the finals of a tournament to crown the first European champion. The match, an instant classic, created jealousy on Owen's part. After all, Bulldog had a second title to go with their tag championships.
Refusing to be in the shadow of yet another family member, Owen resorted to stealing Slammy Awards that were not his and bragging about his successes. Dissension began rearing its ugly head and it appeared as though the tag champions would be ripped apart by ego.
Enter Bret, who brought his brother and brother-in-law together in one of the best Raw segments in show history. From there, Brian Pillman and Jim Neidhart would join the gang, reuniting the Hart Foundation.
Touting the greatness of Canada and drawing the ire of the American fans, the faction became the most hated act on any WWE show taking place in the United States. Their war with the top babyfaces in WWE was instrumental in enhancing Raw and making it a far superior product to WCW Nitro, even if the Ted Turner-owned program was dominating the ratings war.
Owen, in particular, feuded with Steve Austin over the Intercontinental title. Their match at SummerSlam in August was a marquee match. It was to be a major step in the continued elevation of Austin, not to mention the end of Owen's title reign.
During the match, Owen delivered a sit-out tombstone piledriver that broke Austin's neck and nearly affected the future of professional wrestling as a result.
He would continue feuding with Austin all the way through November's Survivor Series, where he lost a second match to the Texas Rattlesnake and dropped the Intercontinental title for the final time.
At the same show, the storied Montreal Screwjob took place, bringing an end to the Hart Foundation's dominance over WWE.
DX, The Nation and Teaming With Jarrett
Hart returned to WWE television in December of 1997, attacking Shawn Michaels and beginning a feud with his D-Generation X teammate Triple H.
With the European title at stake, Hart and Triple H competed at both WrestleMania XIV and Unforgiven: In Your House. On both occasions, interference from Chyna cost Hart the match.
Tired of being outnumbered and seeking justice for the mistreatment of his family by DX, Hart joined the Nation and a gang warfare-like scenario played out. At Over the Edge: In Your House in May 1998, Hart pinned Triple H after using his own Pedigree finisher against him.
A feud with Ken Shamrock, whom Hart had turned on when he joined the Rock-led faction, brought his battles with DX to a premature finish. Their Lion's Den match at SummerSlam 1998 helped make that show the best of the year for WWE.
In January of 1999, Hart teamed with Jeff Jarrett to capture the WWE Tag Team Championships. For the first time during the Attitude Era, Hart appeared to be enjoying himself and having fun teaming with a very close friend. With Debra managing them, they were classic heel champions.
They would become one of the top teams in wrestling all the way into April.
Unfortunately, it was around this time that the Blue Blazer began making regular appearances.
A callback to a different time, the character stuck out like a sore thumb. As he did with everything he was given, Hart made the best of the gimmick. He mocked Hulk Hogan's credo of taking vitamins and saying prayers, often to unintended cheers.
While many hated the idea of bringing the Blazer out of mothballs, there was certainly potential for it to catch on with audiences thanks to the dedication of the man behind the mask.
On May 23, 1999, Owen Hart—under the guise of the Blue Blazer—was to be lowered from the rafters of the Kemper Arena in Kansas City prior to his Intercontinental Championship match against The Godfather. It was part of a grand entrance that had been rehearsed earlier in the day.
When it came to showtime, however, a key part of Hart's harness failed, sending the Superstar falling to his death.
He was only 34.
The wrestling world was left in shock. Hart, one of the business' very few good guys, was beloved by fans and co-workers alike. His family was royalty in the industry. It did not make sense that such a terrible thing would happen to such a great guy.
Hart's career was celebrated the night after his passing on Monday Night Raw, and the company released a special edition magazine that paid tribute to the all-time great.
Some 15 years later, Hart's passing weighs heavy on the hearts of those lucky enough to have known him. On the anniversary of his death, brother Bret, niece Natalya and friend Mark Henry remembered Owen.
There is an entire generation of fans who missed out on the greatness of Owen Hart.
One of the few performers able to combine sport and entertainment to near perfection, he was one of the most valued parts of the WWE roster for nearly a decade. A hard worker, who by all accounts was a better family man than he was a wrestler, Owen's legacy lives on in those Superstars (such as Chris Jericho) who were influenced by the "King of Harts."
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