WWE in History: Bret Hart Vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin — the Art of Blood
There are matches in WWE history that change the very nature of wrestling itself. Matches that bring about change, in either the programming or the style of wrestling. Sometimes it can be the competitors involved who can bring a new excitement or sometimes its simply the rivalry.
When Bret Hart met Stone Cold at Wrestlemania 13, it was billed as the meeting of the top face and top heel at that time in the WWE.
In reality, Hart was facing difficulties in his role. With Austin's victory at the King of the Ring a few months previous, and with DX running amuck, Hart was losing his identity.
Austin was winning fans with his brand of Raise Hell wrestling, whilst DX plummeted the depths of decency to become the top heels.
Hart's eventual departure in November, was in part due to the new phenomenon that was taking shape in wrestling; whereby the black booted, black trunked heel was now the people's champion. The match that took place at Wrestlemania, helped sell this new form of wrestler.
Almost in an instant, wrestling fans seemed to gain independence, gone where the days of supporting the franchise face who insisted on prayers and vitamins.
No one could have predicted that night of what was about to unfold but it was a WWE swerve of epic proportion. It was also a calculated risk, and threatened both the careers of Hart and an emerging Austin.
When Should Blood be Used?
But it was one that paid off.
The match itself is remembered for two things; the blood and the beat down.
But what made this match a truly historic match, is the way that the entire feud was executed in just a few minutes of wrestling. It is an example of just how bold wrestling can be, and that when risks are taken, they can provide huge rewards.
The use of blood in wrestling is a hot topic and we all have our views on it. The use in TNA in particular is borderline disgusting and I have no desire to see anyone blade for the sake of ratings on Impact!
But what happened in the ring that night with Austin was almost a case of art. The use of blood was graphic but it illustrated a point. It required no explanation to see Austin fading in the middle of the ring under the merciless Hart's sharpshooter.
All around the arena, and amongst fans watching on television, we were witnessing a man taken to the very brink. Hart may have been the face but Austin was gaining respect. This was not a typical heel.
The very fact that Hart did win by forfeit brought on by blood loss, helped sell the change that was about to occur. The beat down after only convinced fans further.
Many watching that match, will surely have looked on in disbelief, as Austin bled all over the ring. At the time, it was an uncommon sight, and for many including myself and my slightly green brother, who could barely watch, it made the match all the more real.
We knew that wrestling was not real, but somehow it was in this case.
When Austin eventually lost when referee Ken Shamrock called for the bell, even the most ardent Hart fan looked on in admiration. When Hart planted the first boot after the bell, he changed the course of history.
As the jeers began to ring out, Hart had begun a transformation that would lead to both his departure and the phenomenon that was Stone Cold. To hit a beaten man, is the act of a heel, and while some will have felt Austin deserved it, Hart the face was now for turning.
One thing about Bret Hart is that he knows wrestling. He knew of the risks involved in the storyline and he was even initially opposed to the change. But what this match should teach us today is that wrestling is all about strong characters and rivalries.
The sharpshooter with a bleeding Austin on the canvas pleading tells more than a million promos.
Too often in wrestling today, rivalries depend on run-ins, promos, squash matches and controversy. In the case of Hart-Austin, it was all good story-telling.
What followed next for wrestling was the Attitude Era, and here marks a problem. When you employ new tactics like blood use, it becomes almost powerless to control it. The use of blood in particular came in almost every match at a main event PPV thereafter, with every superstar from Undertaker to Shawn from Flair to Mick Foley, wearing the wounds of war.
The excess of the Attitude Era will not be missed, but sometimes wrestling needs a little reality. I am not supportive of the TNA-blood policy. There is no need for such excess, simply to be different. But what wrestling needs to get back to, especially in TNA, is the art of storytelling.
Rivalries that are sustained and rich, will win over fans every time. If blood is necessary to enrich the story, then it should be used. But as Wrestlemania 25 showed, it is not needed for an epic match to occur.
The image of Austin bloodied in the middle of the ring helped define his character, it was iconic. But when more and more matches ended with a bloodfest, it began to neutralise the effect. Wrestling was now about how much blood could be spilt. It ceased to be about wrestling.
The Undertaker versus Mankind match in the Hell in a Cell was a chaotic example of how a feud can be taken to the extremes, but that too should have been a one-off, a representation of the closing of a feud, rather than the norm.
Wrestling needs more iconic moments; the slamming of Andre, the wedding of Savage, the HBK title win, Austin 3:16 birth, the rise of the Rock, the WCW invasion, the retirement of Flair. Just because wrestling is PG and outlaws blood use does not mean we cannot create history.
Wrestlemania 25 is the modern day equivalent of truly great storytelling. Years in the making, it required no blood, cages or cells. No run ins, no referee injuries, no eye gouges or low blows. It was a story told by two of the very best.
Twelve years earlier, Hart and Austin told a similar story and while it did use blood, it was simply to make a point.
The art of storytelling in wrestling is a difficult thing to perfect, and whether it requires the use of blood is debatable, but with the right ingredients, we can have more moments like those at Wrestlemania's 13 and 25.
As we look to Wrestlemania 27 in Atlanta, we wonder what will be the iconic image this year. A generic image of Cena with a belt will not do, nor will a similar result for Orton. We need an Eddie moment, a little piece of history never to be forgotten.
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