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WWE Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart (Part One)

by Scrooge McSuck

I think it's safe to say that the Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels rivalry from the late 90's is one of the most controversial ang argued debates among wrestling fans. Whether you were a Bret Hart fan and thought he was never shown proper respect and was betrayed by people he trusted, or a Shawn Michaels fan who felt he owed Bret nothing and that Bret's been nothing but a crybaby about everything, it's been a long, storied scenario that's been talked about over and over for the last 17 years (14 years at the time of this DVD was produced).

During my early years as a "smart" fan, I would safely admit that I was pro-Bret, anti-anything to do with Shawn Michaels. My disliking of Michaels went beyond reasonable argument. I went out of my way to disliking things he was involved with just for the sake that he was there. It's a petty attitude that I'm not proud of, and can't reasonable justify now that I'm some years older and hopefully a bit wiser. When I heard about this DVD, I thought "that's a pretty cool concept", something I don't recall ever being done. To be fair, there's not a whole lot of situations where an on-screen and backstage rivalry could be milked, with all parties involved on decent enough terms to work together like this.

- Jim Ross is our host, locked in a studio with Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Thank goodness they didn't assign this to Michael Cole or some other mediocre broadcaster. Even in his advanced age, Jim Ross still knows how to make something seem important.

- Brief summaries of their early years (and I mean BRIEF): Shawn Michaels grew up in Texas, and at the age of 12 years old, the boyhood dream was born. Fast-forward to breaking into the business, finding a successful partnership with Marty Jannetty, and eventually finding their way into the WWF in 1988. Bret Hart was born in Calgary, ALBERTA, Canada, to local legend and promoter Stu Hart, and one of about 34 children. Bret joined the WWF in 1984, along with a handful of other guys worth salvaging from Stampede Wrestling.

Bret Hart on the Rockers: Didn't really care about their reputations. Thought they were good workers and saw them as a fresh team to work with. Shawn Michaels glosses over this as "two young guys having a good time." That's about as PG as you can get without the details of some of the shit they were doing. The Rockers brought a new style to the table, compared to teams like Demolition and the Powers of Pain, who were more about power displays, while the Rockers were good to take a beating and make you look good in the process.

Shawn Michaels brings up the "you aren't big enough" atmopshere in the WWF and how some workers didn't care to work for people of his size. Bret considered himself small, despite being in the neighborhood of 235 pounds, and puts over Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat for showing that smaller workers could be the stars of the show (complete with gratuitous shots from WrestleMania III). Says people started respecting the hard work of the smaller guys on the undercard, even if the main event featured Hulk Hogan or another popular star with limited abilities. We talk about the Phantom Title Switch from a Saturday Night's Main Event taping in the Fall of 1990 where the Rockers were supposed to have the tag team torch passed to them. We see the clip of Neidhart hitting the buckle, breaking the ropes in the process. What followed was a lengthy series of rest holds to buy time for the ring to be fixed, and you can clearly see frustration from everyone involved. The Rockers win would be nulled because of the disaster. I personally thought they salvaged a bit of the match, but can understand that the ugliness of everything overshadowed the whole thing. Anti-climatic comes to Shawn's mind regarding the whole fiasco.

- Time for the singles pushes from the early 90's! Bret Hart won the Intercontinental Title at SummerSlam '91 from Mr. Perfect. He won the King of the Ring Tournament twice (one that aired on PPV), and the WWF Championship from Ric Flair in Saskatoon, Saskachewan. Shawn Michaels, on the other hand, turned to singles by first turning his back on Jannetty and throwing him through the Barber Shop Window. "The Heartbreak Kid" was born and by the end of 1992, won his first Intercontinental Title on the last (real) episode of Saturday Night's Main Event from the British Bulldog. They openly acknowledge their Ladder Match as being the first in WWF History, but the road has only begun...

Bret Hart talks about his lack of promo skills. He admits he wasn't anywhere near the best, but he improved enough to where he thinks he could carry himself enough to make fans believe in him. Bret says winning the IC Title was his way of hoping that everyone else could believe in the smaller wrestlers having a shot at making it. If he could do it, then anyone can do it. Shawn says the IC Title was the "workhorse title." Shawn says it would be more important to him seeing Bret win the WWF Title, not the IC Title. He always felt the IC Title went to the good workers, but people that there wasn't much confidence in carrying the company.

Bret considers the top players of the 80's "Dinosaurs", guys who did little in the ring with technical ability, were overly muscular, and didn't bring much variety (noting Hogan and Warrior as examples). Shawn talks about the "look out for yourself" mentality in the locker rooms, and again goes back to the size factor. "If you can go, what does it matter how big I am?" Shawn seems a bit more forgiving on the subject of the "dinosaurs" as Bret put it, but was more focused on not getting a shot because he wasn't a giant.

- MORE NARRATIVES! The Mid 90's! Shawn Michaels was gaining momentum, but his personal demons cost him his Intercontinental Title in the Fall of 1993, but he came back for the epic Ladder Match at WrestleMania X, which arguably stole the spotlight of Bret Hart's two-match performance, ending the night with him regaining the WWF Title. Bret Hart accepted the role as the leader of the company, while Shawn started isolating himself with his Kliq buddies. The Syracuse attack is brought up (and thankfully no reference to any Marines is made), and hey, Shawn loses ANOTHER Title without actually laying down. Their paths would cross at WrestleMania XII in a 60-Minute Iron Man Match.

Bret refers to their relationship as "direct competition" at this point. He talks about WrestleMania XI, where Shawn Michaels walked out of the show a bigger babyface than Diesel, despite playing the heel of the match, and says Diesel's reign as WWF Champion was finished at that moment (and unfortunately lasted another 7 MONTHS!). Now that Shawn was gearing towards a face turn, it meant they were now more competition than before with Shawn as a heel. Bret won the title back at Survivor Series, and had a handful of great matches on PPV, but felt it was all meaningless since it was already set Shawn was winning the title at WrestleMania. Bret's choice of words make him seem bitter, but it feels like he means to say the story-telling and build up was weak, because while everyone knew and wanted Shawn winning, there was no effort to build much drama in Bret possibly retaining. His lame DQ loss at the Royal Rumble and cheap-finish in the Cage at definitely make his argument look stronger.

There's a story brought up leading in to WrestleMania where Shawn told Bret about their match, and then gloating about how much money he would make working with Nash, Hall, Hunter, and even the 1-2-3 Kid. Shawn's response? I don't remember, but it sounds like something I would go around saying at the time. Shawn makes a glancing comment about having so much stroke, but in the end it's those in charge that make the decision who works with who (especially in high profile positions on the card). Bret was more "whatever" about it because he wanted time off to start acting (including a short run on an even shorter-lived series called Lonesome Dove), and he could come back whenever he wanted to in a strong position.

Shawn talks about the company being stalled creatively, and pushing for more edgy content (which later would be called "Attitude"). He saw Bret as someone wanted to stay the course of the traditional path and refers to him as a Dinosaur, much as how Bret was refering the Hulk's in the era before the New Generation.

Talking about the Iron Man Match, it was the first time (in the WWF) where two guys were trusted with going out there for an hour on the biggest stage, and they took great pride in what they produced. Bret mentions how they had the match mapped out in segments, and felt they went along with their plans perfectly. Both men shoot down theories that the match wasn't supposed to go into Sudden Death. Bret's moody exit was all storyline, but was believed to have been real-life animosity towards the finish, notably because of Shawn yelling for Bret to "get the fuck out of the ring." Bret doesn't confirm that was part of the storyline, but didn't look into it as anything more than passing a message long and using choice language by mistake. The whole plan was to leave pissed off, so maybe Shawn improvised the line to get a reaction. Who knows, who cares. Bret thought the finish left the door open for an eventual rematch. When Bret came back from his sabatical, he was still going to play a babyface, but take shots at Shawn for beating him for the belt and never getting over it.

- The Bret and Shawn rivalary seemed to carry over from the storylines into real life. Classic clip of a Bret promo saying he hopes he doesn't have to run over Shawn with his car, he bothers him that much. Their in-ring promos started to dip into personal shots at each other (including Shawn making reference to an affair between Bret and Sunny). There's the clip from Raw with Shawn superkicking Bret out of his wheelchair, notable because the live Raw WENT OFF THE AIR because they ran too long taunting each other, and the superkick had to be broadcasted in a replay the next week. In short, most of the video is the recycled hype package building up to Survivor Series '97.

We talk about the Monday Night Wars (very briefly), and Bret turning down WCW's offer to return to the WWF in September of 1996 (including a ridiculous 20-year contract). Bret brings up Shawn's retirement over his knee injury (the lost his smile speech), and calls him a liar and a quitter. You can kind of see it's here in the interview where things really were personal, as Shawn defends the whole situation, talking about doing stuff just to stick the knife into Bret for calling him out like that. Shawn mentions going to a specialist who told him his knee was shot and he needed to retire. He went to another doctor for a second-opinion, who told him that, yes, his knee was in severely deteriorated condition, but it's part of his job. There's nothing to fix, unless you want joint replacement surgery. Bret talks about having his own knee problems later that year, and working through it to put Steve Austin over, and again calls Shawn someone who should've sucked it up and done what's best for the company.

Shawn cuts off Bret's story telling about being thrown-together into another program with Austin by bringing up a promo where Bret brought up Shawn's parents. He was so bothered by that, he didn't want to work with Bret again. Shawn then mentions all he wanted at that point was Bret to give him the pat on the back and his respect, and all he got was Bret calling him a poor role model and someone who's parents should be embarassed having as their child. Bret's professional beliefs being his fuel to infurriating Shawn on a personal level is definitely something that makes Bret look like the petty child he's been calling Shawn the whole time during this time period. Bret admits, as things progressed, it definitely came to a point where the stuff being said was too real, and got to a point where their ability to work with each other was always in question.

Jim Ross: What's the difference between Shawn bringing a kid in the ring to dance and you putting sunglasses on a kid at ringside? Bret's answer is pretty obvious and strong: Kids dancing with Shawn when he would be doing a striptease was questionable antics. No, kids never did it, but Shawn pulling his tights down to his pubic line was definitely real and we even get a clip of it, so Bret has a point about encouraging that behavior in young children. Even as a young child (10-11 at the time of the era), I thought Shawn doing that was a bit... not right.

We bring up the promo that featured Shawn Michaels giving Bret Hart a Superkick, knocking him over a wheel-chair in the process. There was frustration over Bret stalling time, meaning Shawn's kick didn't make it to the air, so the last image for fans watching on television was Bret Hart running down Michaels. Bret says it was the next week that Shawn responded with the Sunny days comment, but I can't confirm or deny that one myself. The point was that it was something that shouldn't have been said, and made for an uncomfortable situation conerning his family life when he went home.

We bring up the potential for a WrestleMania ReMatch. Bret says he told Shawn he had no problem putting him over, but Shawn responded by saying he couldn't say the same for Bret, and never would. Some time later, it was brought to Bret that he would be dropping the title to Shawn at the Survivor Series in Montreal. Bret refused, citing Shawn's conversation about refusing to put him over. Bret sugar-coats things without outright calling Shawn a liar in regards to the meeting he had with Vince McMahon. Bret talks about being pushed into signing with WCW, calling it his darkest day, and at that point, refused to drop the title to Shawn, especially in Montreal. He was willing to drop it to anyone else, or anywhere else, but not in Montreal.

Shawn brings up the conversation he had with Triple H that lead to the plan for a double-cross at Survivor Series, fearing a double-cross on Bret's part in regards to the WWF Title. Bret offered to drop the title on Raw in Ottawa, because he wanted Shawn to put him over first, out of respect for what they had put each other through for the last year. If that wasn't good enough, then he offered to drop it to Austin (there's other stories going around how he even declared his willingness to drop it to ANYONE, just not Shawn). Bret admits his confidence in Earl Hebner was his downfall. Bret actually uses the "with tears in his eyes" phrase when re-telling the story of Earl swearing on the lives of his children that nothing funny would happen.

And, of course, we all know what happened in Montreal. Even 14 years later (as of the date this was produced), you can see the sadness in Bret's face over what happened. He was obviously more bothered by Vince's betrayal than Shawn's, and quickly forgave Hebner because of the situation and position he was in as an employee. He tries to claim he wouldn't have gone along with it had he been in Shawn's position, but it's easy to say things when you're not in their position. He says fans on Canada probably hate Shawn more for what he did to their flag on multiple occasions than being in on the Screwjob (eh... no Bret, people hazed him because of you, not the flag humping, although that was classless actions).

- After leaving the WWF, he began a mediocre and mostly forgetable run in WCW, lost his brother Owen to a horrible in-ring accident, had his career ended at the hands of Goldberg, lost brother-in-law Davey Boy, and was in a horrible motorcycle accident that lead to a stroke. No mention of losing his parents? Shawn, meanwhile, suffered what was meant to be a career-ending back injury. We kind of ignore his substance abuse problems that to him finding religion and a new lease on life, and talk about his remarkable comeback in 2002. Back to Bret, the bridge was being repaired between him and Vince, and he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006. 5 Years later, Shawn Michaels would also be inducted. In 2010, Bret and Shawn were in the ring together for the first time in over a decade, and hopefully their on-screen reconciliation wasn't just for show.

Bret on working with WCW: Painful and disappointing. "There was no heart." Bret confessed to not watching the WWF at the time and holding a lot of anger towards Vince and Shawn over the years. He talks about how depressing it was how many wrestlers were passing away, and it was around this time where he had his accident and suffered a stroke. He said when he looked in the mirror, he literally lost his smile. When he was in the hospital, he recieved a phone call from Vince and says that was the turning point for when it was time to look at everything and maybe put everything behind him. Fast forward quite a while, Bret's making his return and still had fears that things would go back to the way they were during their most bitter days. Bret compares the situation to carrying a "bag of rocks" over your shoulder, and finally letting the weight off (I use the term weight of the world, or dragging a boulder, but whatever). Shawn talks about confessing to his involvement in the Montreal Incident as the stage of his life when it was time to start making things right.

Everything comes down to regret. Both men could've changed the course of history had they not behaved in their own selfish ways. It's easy to say this was just to sell DVD's, but the sincerity is too real to be anything but that. Bret's close to tears several times, notably when discussing Montreal and the years that followed, and Shawn's constant harping over always wanting Bret's respect and never feeling like he ever got it. Will they be best of friends? No, of course not, but being able to make peace and put everything behind them, and just move forward, it's what's best for everyone.

Final Thoughts: As time has passed, I've found myself shifting. Bret Hart remains one of my favorite wrestlers of all time, and I respect the hell out of his professional attitude, but he definitely comes across as someone who takes himself too seriously. He's ready to jump up and defend something he did out of bad taste, but then responds by talking about how something Shawn did was too personal or crossed the line. He also seemed to be most bothered by everything that happened, which is understandable. Shawn, on the other hand seems a bit more sympathetic. Yes, he was an arrogrant, selfish bastard. Yes, he positioned himself at times to get ahead of others through backstage manipulation, but at the same time, he's a human being just like Bret. He bleeds like everyone else, and has feelings like everyone else, and you can tell how bothered he was, even so many years later, about Bret saying, in character or not, how his parents should be disappointed for having him.

The short documentary portions try their best to hide some of Shawn's past, but I think everyone knew going into this that he's not the second-coming of Jesus. The best thing to ever happen to Shawn was probably finding religion. I, and I'm sure many others, were skeptical about his return in 2002, but as the months turned into years, we were introduced to a new Shawn Michaels. He wasn't hogging main events with his best friends (too much... Triple H says Hi), he wasn't going over everyone, winning titles and never dropping them in a reasonably professional manner. He was putting on great matches up until his final appearance, putting over young talent, and being a role model to all the young wrestlers in the locker room. You could argue he became what Bret Hart wanted: a leader everyone could look up to and ask for advice, who was out there for the better of the business and never looking at everything as a way to just look out for himself. At times, things drag a little bit. Nobody really needed to know "what did you think of so-and-so back in 1988" as anything more then a glancing mention, but once we hit the hour mark (of the 2 hour run time), it really starts to pick up and the casual conversation turns into a "yeah, this still bothers me" scenario and helps shed light on what really was going on between the two. If you're a fan of either man, it's worth checking out, and definitely if you're interested in what each has to say about their roles in the company during the Mid 90's and their reasoning behind their actions. Coming up next, the DVD Extras (or as I call it, a marathon of matches pitting Bret Hart against Shawn Michaels).

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