A book by Bret Hart< read all 1 reviews
Bret Hart’s account of his career in professional wrestling is not only an outstanding autobiography of an icon in the sport, but also of the history of pro wrestling period.
Bret Hart grew up in a wrestling family. His father, Stu Hart, was a pioneer in the sport, promoting wrestling matches in Canada through the late 1940’s through most of the rest of his life. Up to the 1990’s wrestling was largely controlled by regional promoters who respected each other’s territories and shared wrestling talent for main events. As Bret tells of his growing up and early years in the sport wrestling for his father, you learn it really was a complete carnival like atmosphere. From regular size true tough men and wrestling pioneers like Lou Thesz, to behemoths like Andre the Giant, to midgets and women wrestling, it was all quite a circus.
He tells of those early days in Canada and his friendships with Davey Boy Smith, Tom Billington known as the Dynamite Kid, and Jim the Anvil Neidhart, while traveling around in cars or vans full of wrestlers from one small town to another performing matches. As will be detailed throughout the book, drugs and steroids destroyed the lives of Billington and Davey Boy Smith, and nearly did the same for Neidhart.
The regional system, by many accounts, worked out well for both wrestlers and promoters in an industry where many could make money. But then came Vince McMahon, Jr. and his drive to monopolize the sport and destroy the regional system built up over the years by the sport’s icons. McMahon was basically successful in his effort.
Hart went on to star in McMahon’s World Wresting Federation (WWF), now called World Wresting Entertainment (WWE) and held its championship belt on multiple occasions.
What is utterly fascinating about the entire industry is the rampant personalities and politics that go on behind the scenes to determine how matches will be promoted and how they will end, which is critical to build up a clash and audience, and to build up a career. And it is that desire to stay strong and be a viable superstar that leads to be biggest challenge in determining how matches are going end. No star wants to be beaten and pinned unless it’s to build up for a big clash. And that desire not to be placed on the losing end of matches causes the most conflict in the sport.
Hart is brutally honest about the rampant use of steroids and illicit drugs in the sport. Most attribute the early deaths of many wrestlers like the tragic Von Erich brothers, Chris Benoit, and Davey Boy Smith, to name only a few, to abuse of steroids and drugs. Further, while the matches might be decided ahead of time, the physical toll constantly wresting takes on the body is also evident in the debilitating injuries or deterioration many wrestler’s suffer late in their career or after they retire. It is clear from Hart’s account of the wresting business that promoter’s like McMahon see their wrestlers as disposable commodities and treat them as such. There’s always another young buck to come along and replace today’s stars. The life of a wrestler is both glamorous but physically and mentally debilitating.
Vince McMahon comes off looking like a total cretin in Hart’s account of all the lies and false promises and dirty machinations behind the scenes. Late in Hart’s career when he decided to leave the WWF for a rival promotion he was set to fight Shawn Michaels for Hart’s championship belt. He and McMahon agreed that in a match with Shawn Michaels in Montreal that the fight would end in interference from outside the ring and huge brawl with no real outcome to the match and then Hart would lose later to Michaels for the championship belt before he left. Instead, a secret plot concocted by McMahon lead to chaos and the infamous Montreal Screwjob. Hart let Michaels put him in a submission hold during the match, which he was supposed to reverse, but McMahon came out and had the bell rung to end the match and declared Michaels the winner, even though Hart did not submit. Hart did not want to lose in front of his fans in Montreal and McMahon betrayed him. Leading up to all this was what can only be described as hatred and even jealously between Shawn Michaels and Hart. Their animosity toward each other stirred the cauldron even more.
Bret Hart went on to Ted Turner’s promotion the World Championship Wresting but was not very successful there. Other accounts, including Hart’s, talks about what a disjointed soap opera the promotion was with internal politics among legends of the sport like Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan calling most of the shots.
Along the way in Hart’s journey through life we meet many personalities of the wresting world and what it was like to be star wrestler traveling the world. Part of this memoir also includes memories of Bret Hart’s younger brother, Owen Hart, who died in a tragic ring accident in May 1999.
In 2002, Hart suffered a stroke that kept him out of action and rehabilitating for quite some time. Sadly, Hart, at nearly 53, is even wrestling again. As he said in his book, it’s hard to give up the sport.
Overall this is a surprisingly well-written and organized autobiography and history of the sport and highly recommended.
What did you think of this review?