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

by Scrooge McSuck


- Is everyone ready for about 4 hours of matches featuring Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels? From 1989 through 1997, most of their televised (or commercially released) matches are offered as bonus features, with a short list of matches left out. The Montreal Screwjob is only available on the Blu-Ray version, the infamous 2 out of 3 Falls Match isn't here, but is available on Shawn Michaels' "Heartbreak and Triumph" set, there's a random match from Coliseum Video excluded, and I'm sure a Rockers/Foundation tag match or two from MSG and Coliseum Video. Still, what's presented is more than enough... let's get this over with.

The Hart Foundation vs. The Rockers:

From the November 25th, 1989 card held at Madison Square Garden, just days after the 3rd Annual Survivor Series. Weird time for the Hart Foundation, as they were working together on occasion, but were mostly working singles matches. If you look at the Survivor Series, they're not even involved in the same match. The Rockers were being transitioned into a program with the Powers of Pain, after spending most of the Fall just floundering in limbo. You would think this would be a great match, but you'd be wrong. It's not a BAD match, or anywhere near that. The action is crisp and both teams are allowed to showcase their offense. I'm a bit disappointed that the Hart Foundation work it mostly as a babyface, instead of turning it up as heels, especially considering their opponents are the perfect team for sympathy heat. While they do take control of the role of the heel, with Shawn and Marty taking turns as faces in peril, they don't do anything to draw heat. The pacing also points in the direction of a Time Limit Draw, which always bugs me. If I can telegraph a finish like that, I have a hard time being invested (plus I've seen this match handfuls of times, and wasn't very impressed with my original viewing, either). It's a good match with a hot closing act, and works in the context of the content being featured. Time Limit Draw at an alleged 20-minutes. ***

Bret "Hitman" Hart (w/ Jim Neidhart) vs. Shawn Michaels (w/ Marty Jannetty):

From the February 11th, 1990 episode of Wrestling Challenge, taped at the Lee Civic Center in Ft. Myers, FL, with Tony Schiavone and Gorilla Monsoon calling the action. Interesting choice for a feature match, simply because neither team has anything to do with each other at this point. Since we're not far removed from the previous Tag Team Match at MSG, the Rockers were still touring the House Show circuit with the Powers of Pain, while the Foundation was finding another revived push heading towards WrestleMania VI. I guess it's a better option than Michaels vs. Warlord or some other awful solo combination featuring the PoP. I'm pretty sure this match was a featured article in WWF Magazine around the time of original broadcast. Yeah, I'm a fountain of useless information. If you're unfamiliar with feature matches from this era, it's an incredibly rushed match, but they try to showcase some of their flash in the brief time they have. The babyface vs. babyface match escalates into both partners running in for a cheap Double Disqualification at 4:23. *1/2 Fine for what it was, a short break between the never-ending parade of squash matches with two people actively giving a shit.

The Hart Foundation vs. The Rockers:

From the March 30th, 1991 SuperCard featuring the WWF and SWS in Tokyo, Japan. Commentary is the original Japanese play-by-play, sorry if I can't identify who's calling the action. The Foundation were actually in split-mode at this point, gearing Bret up for his long-waited singles push he had been promised for three years. The Rockers were probably at the peak of their WWF run, which also happend to be around the time they were having issues behind the stages and would implode by years end. After sitting through it already, it's easy to see them working THE SAME MATCH as at MSG, except without the stalling. From Bret and Jannetty starting, to the double hip toss and double clothesline spot, and Neidhart and Shawn doing their power vs. cunning and speed segment. I understand the "through the years" aspect of match selection, but it's been move for move (in shorter form) the same match. Seem to be working lightly, too. Bret changes that up, thankfully. There's a goofy spot where Hebner allows both Rockers to keep going for pin attempts on Neidhart. Bret cheap shots Shawn from the apron to make him our Rocker-in-Peril, and lays into him with some vicious uppercuts. Good to see the Foundation embracing the heel side of things a bit more this time around. Michaels takes a beating that would make Ricky Morton proud. Jannetty cleans house with the hot tag and gets a series of near falls on Hart. Jannetty misses a dive, landing on the floor, as the VQ of the match deteriorates. Stealing a Youtube upload, WWE production team? Neidhart kills Michaels with a mid-air collision, but Shawn resurrects at two. Michaels comes off the top with a body press, but Hart rolls through and gets the three count at 14:39. ***1/2 More enjoyable for me than their MSG match, thanks to an actual finish and trimming out the excessive resting and stalling. I'm a tad disappointed seeing basically the same match worked move for move, solely because this is a DVD release where they can control the quality of everything used.

WWF Intercontinental Championship; Ladder Match:
Bret "Hitman" Hart © vs. Shawn Michaels (w/ Sensational Sherri):

From the Coliseum Video "Smack 'em, Whack 'em", originally taped on July 21st, 1992 from Portland, ME. For years, the machine called Razor vs. Shawn the "first" Ladder Match in WWF History, and now the DVD is going back on that to include this match on the playlist. I remember back in the old tape trading days this being one of those matches everyone wanted and talked about. There's always been strong rumors of doing Bret/Shawn at SummerSlam had they not gone to England, but it's hard to buy the story that this was a "practice" for such an event when SummerSlam was only a month away. With the ladder stationed way up in the aisle, both men do their best to put the other in a compromised position to buy time and retrieve it. Shawn gets to it first, but Bret interrupts. Shawn uses the Ladder as a weapon for the majority of the match, looking more comfortable as the match progresses. There seems to be a bit of awkwardness throughout, possibly due to little practice in a match where one of the participants has zero history working. They do salvage it for the most part, with most of the action involving brawling, ladder spots, or climb spots. We get out first ever "double climb" spot, with both men falling into the ropes. Sherri hooks the ankle of Hart, allowing Shawn to connect with a Superkick, followed by his signature back suplex. He climbs, but Bret dropkicks the Ladder over, crotching Shawn across the top rope, and knocking him to the floor. Bret climbs, and he retains his Championship at 13:45. ***1/4 It's definitely not a classic, but a nice rarity from a time when the only way to see this match was tracking down an over-priced tape released by Coliseum Video. Sorry, not spending $49.95 on a 90-minute tape, even if it did have a Ladder Match and Bret winning the WWF Title from Ric Flair.

WWF Intercontinental Championship Match:
Bret "Hitman" Hart © vs. Shawn Michaels (w/ Sensational Sherri):

From a Coliseum Video, possibly "Invasion of the Bodyslammers" or maybe "Rampage '92". I don't know or care enough to figure out which tape featured which match between the two. Why put matches out of order, or why include two matches so close together? Commentary by Jim Ross and Gorilla Monsoon puts this release somewhere in the Summer of '93, and from neither of the previous tapes referenced. Lockup, and Shawn with an arm-drag. They take turns working an arm, with Shawn using illegal tactics to gain control. Shawn stalls on the floor, so Bret drags him back in by the arm and continues to work on it. Bret comes out of the corner with a clothesline and goes back to the armbar. Michaels takes over and sends Bret into the corner, with authority. Whip, and Shawn with the Harley Race running knee for two. Jesus, when did he EVER use that move? It only gets a two count. Bret fights his way out of a chinlock, but runs right into Unsweetened Chin Music. Shawn goes for the suplex, but Bret blocks and lands an elbow to escape. Whip to the corner, and Shawn meets a boot on a charge. Bret with a second-rope clothesline and inverted atomic drop. Clothesline to the back of the head gets two. Back breaker and second rope elbow drop gets two. Bret hooks a sleeper, but Shawn uses his momentum to take them both through the ropes, to the floor. Shawn launches Bret off the apron, into the security rail, and it's good enough for the Count-Out at 8:52. Shawn celebrates with the belt, like it's a big surprise, then lays out referee Joey Marella in one of many examples of being a poor sport. Bret Hart, poor sport himself, lays out Shawn with a belt shot, and beats on him around the ring. *** Not good enough to make anyone's "matches to remember" list, but this had it's moments and even though it's from a Marathon taping, you can see some effort from both men.

WWF Championship Match:
Bret "Hitman" Hart © vs. Shawn Michaels:

From the 1992 Survivor Series. Michaels is the reigning Intercontinental Champion, having won the title only two weeks earlier (in TV time) from Davey Boy Smith. No Sherri, due to being used as a shield to counter an attack from a returning Marty Jannetty. Despite going on last, this was FAR from the Main Event. The Tag Match featuring Savage, Flair, Razor and Hennig was far more promoted. Heck, even the Casket Match between Undertaker and Kamala was featured more prominently in the build-up leading to the PPV. Considering I didn't see this match until well into the 90's, I don't have fond memories of something like watching half of the Rockers and half of the Hart Foundation fighting for the WWF Title, and thus no nostalgic memories. Bret works the arm for a good while to start things off. Shawn turns the tide avoiding a bum-rush charge to the corner, but spends a lot of time working a chinlock. Slowly but surely, things pick up, as the action intensifies and both men start trading near falls. Michaels hits his Superkick, setting up for his back suplex, but Bret counters like only Bret can... by raking the eyes. Shawn ends up hitting it anyway, but only gets two. Bret hooks Shawn in the ropes, but misses a dive, landing crotch first in the ropes in the process. Shawn climbs the ropes and comes off for what looks to be a missile dropkick, but Bret hooks the legs and turns him over with the Sharpshooter to retain at 26:40. That's quite a bit of time coming off an era where title matches usually landed in the neighborhood of 15-minutes. ***1/2 Started off slow, with more resting than I would've like to see, but damn if both men know how to turn up the dial when necessary, and made the last 5-minutes some exciting action that would become a template for future WWF Main Events (when not featuring talentless slugs).

Steel Cage Match:
Bret "Hitman" Hart vs. Shawn Michaels:

From a random Coliseum Video, taped on December 1st, 1993 from Utica, NY. This is probably the only match of theirs from the mid 90's Coliseum Video era I haven't seen, so I'll be paying extra attention to it here: Gorilla Monsoon and Johnny Polo are on commentary. Shawn attacks Bret as soon as he starts coming through the door. He sends Bret from corner to corner and chokes away. Hard whip to the buckle, complete with rattling cage sound effect. Shawn goes for the door, but Bret hooks the leg. Shawn does the whip again, but a dropkick is countered with a slingshot, but this is 1993, so No Blading Allowed™. Bret with a back breaker, but a climb attempt is interrupted. Shawn sandwiches Bret between the ropes and cage and has some fun ramming his head into the bars. They slug it out until Bret gets another taste of the cage. They take turns going for the door, in a spot that was definitely lifted for Bret and Owen's match at SummerSlam '94. I'm sure it's been done elsewhere, but that's the match it's easily associated with. Shawn takes his sweet time climbing and gets pulled back in by the hair. Bret climbs and gets crotched along the top rope. Bret returns the favor as Shawn goes for the door. Michaels with Sweet Chin Music, around the time where it WAS becoming his finishing move. They take turns climbing, unsuccessfully. They both make it over, Shawn gets his leg caught in the bars (another spot used at Slam '94), and Bret makes it out first at 11:35. *1/2 It's hard to make a Cage match worth a damn when it's a random match during a random television taping, and this match proves it. Little action, other than the countless climbing spots. Cool finish, rest of the match is a waste of time.

WWF Championship; 60-Minute Iron Man Match:
Bret "Hitman" Hart © vs. Shawn Michaels:

From WrestleMania XII, held on March 31st, 1996 at the Arrowhead Pond in Anahiem, CA. This match will be one of the most argued matches for it's quality in the history of WrestleMania Main Events. I, personally, have wavered back and forth on it over the years, depending on the position of the moon and time of day. The build up was all about Bret's conditioning and Shawn's high risk, high impact offense and how both men could adapt to each other. Well, the first 20-minutes was mostly restholds and chain wrestling. Was it hard to get through? Yes, but it shows Shawn could keep up with Bret's style. Then they started cranking it up a notch, with Shawn starting to pull off some of his signature moves and style, and Bret keeping up, and more often than not, coming out on top of the exchange. At the half-hour mark, it picks up and becomes a must-see classic, with near falls, hope spots, and a crowd, known for being a funeral atmosphere, coming to life and buying into every moment where a fall could've possibly come from. Should the match have any falls? No, I don't think it did. Hindsight and blah blah blah dictates it, but if you look at it, and how it builds up: Shawn can't lose the first fall, because it shows Bret is superior to him, and you want Shawn coming out looking like the star of the Next Generation, and Bret can't lose, 'cause then it's "well, Shawn just beat the Champion, why do we need another 30/40 minutes"? Don't even bother throwing in Count-Out and DQ suggestions, doesn't work on babyfaces. Going the limit without a fall was the best option, and sudden death made things all the more exciting. Shawn hitting a desperation superkick for a near fall, before hitting it perfectly on attempt number two, is one of those match finishes you'll always remember. ****1/2 Is it one of the greatest matches of all time? No, I don't think so, but it's an excellent example of story-telling. Had Bret Hart not no-sold all of the arm-work in the first half of the match, I might've gone higher. Other than that and being a hard first quarter to sit through, one of the best WrestleMania Main Event's of all time.

- "Stone Cold" Steve Austin inducts Bret Hart into the WWE Hall of Fame on April 1st, 2006. The televised version cuts Bret down to about 11-minutes, while the full speech tallies in around half an hour. It's part speech, part telling stories (his Owen stories are always the best, and you can tell he enjoys telling them), and just having a lot to say. He could've gone for another half hour and I don't think anyone would've minded. His story about his father and Owen instigating him over the telephone still brings a big chuckle out of me, especially because of Bret's impression of his father.

- Bret Hart makes his first appearance in a WWE ring for the first time in over 12 years, on the January 4th, 2010 episode of Monday Night Raw. I can't tell you anything that happened that night other than Bret's return. I heard about it, saw it kicked off the broadcast, and turned it off right after it went to the next segment. Yes, I hated WWE and wrestling in general THAT much that I heard of Bret's appearanced, watched it, and turned it off before I had to suffer through a product I had lost complete faith in. Looking back, yes I missed a few big moments (Shawn vs. Taker at WM 25 and 26, notably), but I don't regret it. I was no longer a fan, and felt it was a waste of time watching something I had little enjoyment out of.

- And of course, Shawn Michaels' Hall of Fame induction from 2011. Shawn's story, coming back from what was assumed to be a career-ending injury, to not only be able to bring it in the ring, but to steal the show the way he was doing it during the peak of his career in the Mid 90's, is something you don't see every day, and probably won't see for a long time to come. As an admitted Shawn hater in my youth, I can't believe how much my opinion of him has changed since the early years of the 21st century, and going out on the highest of notes on the biggest show of the year is greatest ending to an in-ring career. Will Shawn wrestle again? Who cares, it's wrestling, where retirement is usually not forever, but it was one of the great, most conclusive endings to a career that there could be.

Final Thoughts: While I wouldn't recommend sitting through every match in succession, there's a lot of variety, and shows how through the years how each man evolved as a performer. With rare exceptions, no two matches are alike (minus the tag matches), one is a match that defined an era, and there's a handful of rarities featured like the original Ladder Match and a pretty good tag match from the Tokyo Super-Show. With only one match stinking up the joint, the bonus features definitely hold up, and the Hall of Fame inductions round out the third disc perfectly. Add this to a pretty good documentary, and you're left with a solid 6 and a half hours of entertainment. Worth checking out the documentary on the WWE Network, and worth picking up the DVD for all the bonus features.

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