I am by no means a wrestling historian, so please be aware of my bias while reading this. My wrestling knowledge only dates back as far as from when I was born, and while I’m sure there were many great pro wrestlers from before my lifetime, I have not been able to track down their careers or legacies yet in my spare time. However, I do know the pro wrestling scene over the past few decades very well. And I also know that Bret Hart was the best pro wrestler during that era and perhaps the best of all-time.
What makes a wrestler the best of all-time is a debatable matter in itself. For the purposes of this article, I will break pro wrestling down to its fundamental concept; pro wrestling is about suspending disbelief; about making something fake look real. To me this automatically eliminates all wrestlers who ever wrestled with any form of wrestling style other than technical from my list of all-time best. Yes, yes, I can already hear the angry messages being typed on keyboards around the world as I write this, but hear me out. While certain cultures, especially Mexican, pride themselves on their lucha-libre style, to me it is just too unrealistic of a fighting style to be taken as completely legit. I can watch TNA’s X Division and be highly impressed with the athleticism, even to the point where an X Division match can make or break a card for me, but when it comes right down to it that style is just not believable. Nobody is ever going to win a real street fight by moonsaulting their attacker. Likewise, I can’t ultimately take lethargic heavyweight matches seriously either, because as strong as some wrestlers like Mark Henry, Andre the Giant, or The Great Khali are, in a real fight their opponent would probably just run away. Even if such monsters were to engage in serious combat, the amount of skill required by them to seriously harm another human being would be minimal. In fact, probably just one punch would suffice. To me brawling also fits into this category, because brawling is not very skillful. And then there is the one wrestling style that looks real because it actually IS real – “extreme” or hardcore wrestling. But does it really take a lot of skill to hit another man with a frying pan? And is it really an art to make real hits look real? No! Mick Foley really DID lose part of his ear! Abyss really DID bleed from getting hit by a barbed wire baseball bat! This is not an art form, it is barbaric and perhaps the only attributable accolade I can bestow upon hardcore wrestlers is that it’s amazing that they can take such a beating willingly, which brings me to why I admire technical wrestling. Technical wrestling is crafty. It’s intelligent. It’s fake but most importantly of all, it’s still believable! Debate with me all you like, but there are few things in pro wrestling that are as ‘genuine’ as a technical match between two wrestlers with a knowledge of amateur wrestling. And of all such wrestlers, Bret Hart was the best.
Bret Hart had the total package. He was great on the mat, he was good on the stick, and he was a good actor. But what truly separates Bret from the rest was the way in which he was able to accentuate his strengths and minimize his weaknesses. Bret was never the best talker yet he became arguably the most hated heel in wrestling history, largely from what he was able to get across over the microphone. Many wrestlers have tried before him and since to get that kind of heel heat, even using the same anti-US tactics, but with far less success. Some people say Bret’s voice was monotone, yet he was still able to use what natural charisma and acting ability he had to drive his points home in his interviews. And then on the canvas he was like poetry in motion. Bret Hart never wasted a move. Every suplex, every Russian leg-sweep, every arm-bar had a purpose. His matches were calculated and enthralling. No other wrestler comes close to matching Bret Hart’s technical ring psychology other than perhaps Curt Hennig and Kurt Angle, two very deserving close seconds in my list of all-time greats. But what puts Bret Hart over the top was his ability to story-tell. Hart had a great mind for the business and was able to translate his thoughts into live matches in the ring, perfectly told for the audience to witness first-hand. And that is what makes Bret Hart the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be!!