While a life in wrestling always seems to end in tragedy, the story of Bret Hart’s return to a PG-WWE after such an irreconcilable parting of ways so many years ago might be the happiest ending of all.
It’s been a long and winding road in the 2010 return of the Hitman. On his first night back, guest-hosting the January 4th RAW, the wrestling world was abuzz. Hart’s return was matched head-to-head with Hogan’s Monday night TNA debut.
The image of Hart and Shawn Michaels face to face was surreal, though somewhat unsatisfying. The “kick to the gut” was awkward. While it was the most compelling wrestling programming I have watched in a decade, it all seemed to fall short of whatever lofty expectations any of us could’ve fantasized about over the twelve years…
We could focus on the negatives… Hart obviously lost a bit of his swagger on the mic after his stroke. The younger generation of fans didn’t seem to react in a manner befitting the most talked-about return possibly ever… The atrocious execution of the car crash storyline… The match with McMahon at WrestleMania, which was hardly a match.
But something else seemed to happen, slowly, but surely. In his last RAW appearance before WM26, Hart seemed to conjure up the old Hitman. While the match was nothing special, Hart’s presence over the entire WrestleMania weekend was emotional, capped off by Bret’s tribute to HBK’s retirement and Michael’s heartfelt apology and thank you to Bret on RAW.
But, it didn’t stop there. Bret stuck around a little bit longer and used his stature to successfully elevate the Hart Dynasty. Then came the US Title win, which was less an exciting match, and more a hearty treat to see Hart back in front of a HUGE Canadian crowd. And now, every time his music hits, the crowd pops, and out comes the Commish…
This is where the true beauty of Bret’s comeback comes into play…
While some consider him a hypocrite or a sell out for returning to the company that he spoke so harshly against all these years, Hart’s return in 2010 directly coincides with WWE’s move to TV-PG, and Bret is the perfect catalyst for this move.
So much of the conflict between Bret and the WWE in 1997 stemmed from the move away from wrestling and family entertainment to adult, sexually themed, profanity-laced television.
We saw middle fingers, cursing, dirty-looking divas, a weird necrophilia angle, and an R-Rated superstar over those twelve years… Now we see a lot of wrestling and a program that actual makes sense in having John Cena as its top star. In a sense, Cena got to be what Hart never was allowed to become: The long-running headliner who’s character is based on honor and integrity… Too bad Cena isn’t half the wrestler Hart was.
Now, despite the aged appearance, the obsession with the backwards hat and sunglasses that always seem to fall off, and the kind-of-corny mic work, the true beauty of Bret Hart’s return is in getting to see him lead a program that resembles everything he always dreamed it should become again. All of this despite everyone’s doubts that the WWE could produce a relatively wholesome and positive product again.
While many fans are torn over the turn to PG programming, Bret Hart, a lifelong fan, is not one of them. He got to return on his own terms, not just to defeat his own demons, but also to help resurrect a world of pro wrestling many thought was long gone.