A Part of the Family: A Look Back at the Original Hart Foundation

Hayley-L GrahamSenior Analyst ISeptember 20, 2009

Every so often, the masses of wrestling fans are occasionally treated to a small slice of history. It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes we are lucky enough to bear witness to a moment which truly changes the face of the industry.

Anything can be the focus of our attention, from one single match to a whole decade, from one wrestler to a whole group of performers.

They all have the same effect on us.

They become measuring sticks for our image of the business, focal points for years to come, and moments which remind us of the reason we spend part of our lives dedicated to the noble art of wrestling.

Cast your mind back to the 1980s, arguably the greatest decade for professional wrestling in sporting history.

We had introduced to the first installment of what is now the biggest wrestling PPV in history, Wrestlemania.

Hulkamania was running wild, Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat had given us one of the greatest matches of the 20th century, and all was good in the land of WWF.

Sure, you might say, everything was all hunky-dory and fine the way it was. Nothing was going to rain on VKM's parade.

However, towards the end of the 1980s, WWF was losing its grip on the world wrestling monopoly. The emergence of WCW and NWA as top competitors had threatened to run the McMahon promotion into the ground.

Something needed to be done to bring back the fans, to re-establish WWF as the top of the food chain in the wrestling world.

This led to the creation of brand new stars, modern performers who the fans would want to aspire to emulate.

In the construction period came the birth of arguably the best faction of all time, the greatest collection of superstars ever to lace up a set of boots.

This was the appearance of a true family, both of wrestling and blood. Possibly the most famous dynasty in the history of professional wrestling.

The Hart Foundation.


From humble beginnings...

The Hart family all began training under the expert eye of Stu Hart, owner of the legendary Hart dungeon, which helped start the careers of not only the Hart Foundation, but also the current Hart Dynasty.

Employing an ethos of tough love, every graduate was efficiently trained in the art of technical wrestling.

It was here that the Hart Foundation's roots can be traced, competing in Stu Hart's Stampede Wrestling promotion.

Being related to Stu in various ways, each member of the Hart family was not only responsible for working the matches featured on each card but also for dealing with behind-the-scenes aspects of the promotion.

The Hart family began to gain a reputation beyond Canada as some of the finest wrestlers in the world, a fact that Vince McMahon picked up on when he bought Stampede Wrestling in 1985.

It was from here he signed all of the Hart family members (excluding Owen at that point, as he needed more training) to WWF contracts.

This would be the start of the development of the original Hart Foundation.


Tag Team Specialists...

The original Hart Foundation was formed in 1985 under the tutelage of Jimmy "Mouth of the South" Hart. It had been a long-running theme that wrestlers he managed were members of his "foundation," the name being a play of his own surname.

One of the first members of the Hart Foundation was Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, known for being a very strong powerhouse and a brawler. Under Hart's guidance, he became a feared singles wrestler, but this wasn't enough.

He needed a partner. That partner, and the missing piece of the puzzle, was Bret "Hitman" Hart.

In direct contrast to Neidhart's strong authoritarian style, Hart was an agile ring technician, famed for his calculating mind and repertoire of lethal submission manoeuvres, earning him the moniker of "The Excellence of Execution."

Many believed that such a unique pairing would prevent success being had, but they were wrong.

With the Hart Foundation formed by these three men, they went on a mission to claim the gold and bring it "back to the family."

However, for the first couple of years, The Hart Foundation were unable to string together any momentum, constantly jobbing to many more established teams, such as the British Bulldogs, the Killer Bees, and the Rougeau Brothers.

It wasn't until early 1987 that the team began to be recognised as legitimate contenders for the Tag Team titles.

The Hart Foundation entered a feud with the current Tag Team champions, the British Bulldogs. This culminated in February 1987, when the referee for the match "Dangerous" Danny Davis interfered on behalf of the Hart Foundation and gained them the win.

With both the gold and Danny Davis at their side, the Hart Foundation embarked on a 10-month wrecking spree, defending the titles against such teams as Can-Am Connection, the Young Stallions, and the Fabulous Rougeaus.

During this time, they earned victories in both a six-man tag match at Wrestlemania III, and a two-out-of-three falls match against The British Bulldogs.

The Hart Foundation's incredible run as champions eventually came to an end on Oct. 27, when they lost the belts to the team of Rick Martel and Tito Santana, collectively known as Strike Force.

This led to a feud against the team, which lasted several months. This included the teams' meeting in a Survivor Series elimination match against each other, and both Bret and Santana being the first two men into the inaugural Royal Rumble.

The rivalry culminated in February 1988, when Strike Force successfully defended the titles.

Bye Bye Jimmy Hart, Hello Tag Titles...

In late 1988, Jimmy Hart turned his back on the Hart Foundation, siding with rivals The Rougeau Brothers and taking 25 percent of the Foundation's payments.

This led to the start of a face turn for the team, further pushed when longtime friend Bad News Brown betrayed Bret during the Wrestlemania IV Battle Royal, eliminating him from contention.

As freshly developed fan favorites, the Hart Foundation began to engage in multiple feuds against various other partnerships throughout the length of 1989.

These rivalries, despite mainly being relatively short in duration, helped to firmly seed the Hart Foundation as one of the top tag teams in WWF.

It was also during this time that the team became regularly featured performers on major PPV's, including SummerSlam and Wrestlemania VI, where they defeated The Bolsheviks in a record 17 seconds.

In early 1990, The Hart Foundation competed against fellow babyfaces the Rockers. This match ended in a double disqualification when the tag team champions Demolition interfered.

This led to a three-way feud over the belts, which culminated at SummerSlam of that year when the Hart Foundation defeated both teams in a two-out-of-three falls match to gain the tag team titles for a second time.

It was later in the year when the Hart Foundation was defending the title against the Rockers when one of the most controversial moments in wrestling occurred.

In the course of the match, Bret hit a top rope Hart Attack on Shawn Michaels, which caused the rope to snap. Despite The Rockers winning the bout, they didn't win the gold as WWF officials announced the result null and void over the rope snapping. This led to the Hart Foundation retaining the titles.

Hart and Neidhart kept a grip on the gold for almost a year, before losing them at Wrestlemania VII to the Nasty Boys after illegal interference from Jimmy Hart.

Soon after Wrestlemania, The Hart Foundation amicably split up to allow each other to focus on singles competition. Bret was the bigger success on this occasion, winning WWF and Intercontinental gold, as well as two KOTR tournaments (1991 and 1993) and the 1994 Royal Rumble.


Bringing in the family...

Despite the large level of success that Bret was having, Neidhart was suffering as a singles competitor, being forced to job to many superstars.

During a match against Ric Flair, Neidhart was placed in a ring-post Figure Four, resulting in a knee injury. At the end of the bout, he was attacked by the Beverly Brothers, causing him to spend a month off.

When he returned, he brought backup with him. Who was his backup?

None other than the debuting Owen Hart, Bret's younger brother and aerialist extraordinaire.

Dubbed as the "New Foundation," Owen and Neidhart attempted to eclipse the success of the original Foundation, but failed.

Engaging in feuds with the likes of the Nasty Boys, the Beverly Brothers, and Natural Disasters, Owen and Neidhart had very little success, usually losing to the more experienced tag teams.

It was soon after their only PPV match together (a win at Royal Rumble 1992 against the Orient Express) that the team disbanded due to Neidhart leaving the company.

Sibling Rivalries...

In 1994, Neidhart and Owen reunited, but under a new regime. Out went the fun-loving duo in place of a serious, driven team.

It was in early 1994 that Owen turned his back on Bret, starting off one of the greatest feuds in wrestling history.

During the KOTR tournament the same year, Neidhart made a return at the side of Bret, cheering him on in his qualifying match against Diesel. However, Neidhart returned at the end of the evening to help Owen cheat and win the crown.

This was the start of a bitter family rivalry involving the New Foundation against Bret and Davey Boy Smith.

At SummerSlam, Neidhart attacked Bret at the culmination of his championship cage match against Owen, causing Smith to run down and save Bret. This was a futile attempt, as Neidhart and Owen beat down both men, solidifying themselves as heels.

Both teams continued to feud with each other until November 1994, when Hart and Smith were able to beat Owen and Neidhart on Raw, leading to the split of the Foundation for the second time.


A set of Harts in a pack of cards...

For three years, all members of The Hart Foundation worked on their own projects, some with more success than others.

Bret had the most success, being involved in many high-profile feuds and championship hunts, whereas Owen and Neidhart only had a moderate amount of success as singles competitors.

All thoughts of The Hart Foundation had long been assigned to memories, all hopes of reunions dashed.

That is, until, Wrestlemania XIII.

It was one of the classic matches in Wrestlemania's history, with the fan-favorite Bret Hart going against the hated Stone Cold Steve Austin in a submission match.

During proceedings, Bret and Austin both turned in regards to alignment, due to Bret winning the match in an underhanded fashion because of Steve Austin's passing out to the Sharpshooter.

This made Hart a marked man in the eyes of the American fans. In order to combat this, the Hart Foundation reformed as a pro-Canadian unit.

This time, it was bigger than ever, with both Brian Pillman and Davey Boy Smith joining the fold.

The stable labeled themselves as a strong anti-American group, regularly degrading the U.S. and its values, whilst hyping up both Canada and Britain, where the members came from.

With the slurs and the actions of The Hart Foundation came the crowd's reaction. Despite being looked upon as hated villains in America, the team was highly popular in Canada and Europe, gaining huge fan support on their stance towards the American public.

The Hart Foundation earned its biggest victory on Canadian soil, at Calgary Stampede 1997, when they defeated Stone Cold, Legion of Doom, Ken Shamrock, and Goldust in a ten-man tag match.

At the culmination of the bout, Owen scored the pin on Austin, causing huge celebrations from the fans in attendance and a standing ovation when ringside members of the Hart family, including Stu and Helen Hart, joined the stable in the ring to celebrate.

Throughout all of 1997, the Hart Foundation established itself as the most dominant force in WWF, with a string of high-profile wins and a clean sweep of all the titles available at the time (WWF, Intercontinental, European, and Tag Team Championships.)

It seemed like nothing would stop this dominant family, but unfortunately, fate intervened.

The Downfall of the Hart Foundation...

During great success came great tragedy for the Hart Foundation.

The first blow was the unexpected death of Brian Pillman on Oct. 5, 1997, from an undiagnosed heart condition. This was the morning of the In your House: Badd Blood PPV, which Pillman was due to take part.

This led to a tribute episode of Raw the next night, with the Hart Foundation coming out and paying their respects to their fallen stable member.

This seemed like the end of the Foundation's troubles, but it was only the start of the free fall.

The following month, at Survivor Series, Bret Hart left the WWF after the "Montreal Screwjob," taking his sights to WCW instead.

After the departure of Bret, both Neidhart and Smith left in a show of support, leaving Owen by himself with the WWF after he couldn't get out of his contract.

It was two years later at Over the Edge 1999 that Owen lost his life in a horrific accident involving his ring entrance. The next night, both WWF and WCW mourned his loss.

Since the turn of the millennium, Davey Boy Smith passed away from a heart attack, and Bret's career was ended after a concussion at the hands of Goldberg.

This means that only the first generation of The Hart Foundation is still alive today, such a sad realisation when fans look back over the career of the much-loved team.

The Impact of The Hart Foundation

From their start in the late 1980s to their reincarnation in the late 1990s, The Hart Foundation has always been viewed as one of the greatest stables to have competed within professional wrestling.

From the original tag team to the final family, The Hart Foundation had been at the forefront of some of the most memorable moments to ever occur within a WWF ring.

The unique blend of speed, power, charisma, brains, and looks have made the stable stand out from others who have performed against them.

They may have been loved and hated in equal measures, but there is no denying the success that followed the Hart Foundation wherever they went.

From tag team gold to KOTR honors, the Hart Foundation have done almost everything there is to achieve within the professional wrestling business, and it was all done as a family.

There maybe great wrestling dynasties throughout history, but only one can lay claim to being, "The best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever shall be."

The Hart Foundation: The true heart and soul of wrestling.


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