Week in Wrestling: Bret Hart on turning 60; Seth Rollins shines in promo with Dean Ambrose
SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Bret Hart Turns 60
The Hitman is 60.
WWE legend Bret Hart celebrated the occasion surrounded by family and friends on July 2, yet a somber mood permeated the day as Bret’s oldest brother, Smith Hart, passed away at the age of 68 that same day.
“I had a good birthday with close friends and family,” said Hart. “We just found out the news about Smith, so it was a little solemn, but everyone there knew how much Smith suffered. The party was almost a release for me, and everyone got in party mode almost on purpose just to think about something positive.”
And yes, Hart confirmed, there was birthday cake.
“Every year, I think you earn the right to eat cake on your birthday,” said Hart. “I kept it simple, but I wanted it to be relaxing and I asked everyone to bring their kids. People were swimming and we had a barbecue with hamburgers and milkshakes.”
Hart is still regarded for a long and distinguished list of five-star matches throughout his career, yet it is possible that his best work occurred in the heat of summer. He teamed with Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart to capture the World Wrestling Federation tag team titles at the 1990 SummerSlam in a memorable best-of-three falls match with Demolition, then followed up that victory a year later with his first signature singles win at the ’91 SummerSlam when he defeated “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig at Madison Square Garden in New York. The crown jewel of Hart’s career then took place a year later at Wembley Stadium in London, England against “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith at the ’92 SummerSlam.
“I’ll always be partial to Wembley,” admitted Hart. “It’s one of my greatest matches, and it was special to have an outdoor show at Wembley. Everyone was scared it was going to rain and ruin the show, and it was supposed to rain, but everyone crossed their fingers and it never rained. There were 82,000 people and something that made the match so special was that nobody knew who was going to win. I was able to do that with Bulldog at Wembley; right to the very last pin, no one knew who was going to win.”
The finish to the match still resonates with Hart, and he explained that it was a moment of pride to be pinned by Smith in such exhilarating fashion.
“It’s hard to explain, but it’s a beautiful thing to watch in wrestling when someone loses in the exact perfect way,” said Hart. “That’s why the pin was so dramatic. There was no escape, there was no shame, but I made a mistake and Davey capitalized. It was a beautiful story, and I believe that was the match that launched me into a world champion.”
Hart now moonlights as the Commissioner of Sharpshooter Funding, which is a Canadian company known for its willingness to lend money to small businesses and entrepreneurs. Hart works with his sons, Dallas and Blade, in projects throughout Canada and the United States.
“I’ve enjoyed every job I have ever worked, but this one is different,” said Dallas Hart. “Being able to work with my dad is amazing. He likes helping promote the brand, and we’ve seen a lot of success with SharpShooter with him on board. We wouldn’t have had the same success without him. It’s a huge benefit to have him with us.”
Dallas Hart was only eight years old during his father’s classic match against his uncle Davey Boy Smith in 1992, yet he recalls the match with clarity.
“That was so special because of all the family in the ring,” said Dallas, referring to Bret, Davey Boy, and aunt Diana Hart Smith. “The ending was very dramatic, and there was such passion and there was a feeling at the end of the match that felt so real.”
Bret added that he relishes the opportunity to work with his sons.
“I have a very good relationship with SharpShooter Funding, and I’m very proud of Dallas and Blade,” said Bret Hart. “Blade is Dallas’ right-hand man, and Dallas stepped up and took a big swat with the bat. He’s showed a lot of heart and I’m glad Dal and Blade are doing as well as they are for Sharpshooter Funding.”
Hart also reflected on the constantly intertwining story of his life and career, and shared that he has a lifetime of memories from his lifelong passion of professional wrestling.
“I’m very grateful for every fan I’ve ever had, and it means a lot to get out and reconnect with people,” said Hart. “I just came back from Odessa, Texas, and we were reminiscing about a big match I had with the ‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase in 1990 that really helped me show my talent as a wrestler. It’s really nice to get back to cities that supported me so many years ago. I love going back to cities where I had a strong fan base, like San Antonio, Minneapolis, those were really good fan bases, like Iowa and Chicago. Some places, like Fort Wayne, Indiana and Pennsylvania, are places I haven’t been for years.”
Hart still embraces the unbreakable bond he built with wrestling fans across the world, which is forever a part of his wrestling legacy.
“I’ve always taken a lot of pride that people believed in me as a hero,” said Hart. “I tried not to fail them in my life. I tried to live a good life, I have three grandchildren now, and I’m very content right now. I’m still mending in a lot of ways from the latest tragedy in my family, losing my brother. I’m living every day that it could be my last, and I’m grateful for every day. Another good thing I have in my life are fans all across the world. I appreciate every one of them, and I will always do the best I can to show the respect for them that they’ve shown for me.”
News of the Week
I’ll admit it: From the moment Kurt Angle’s return to the WWE was announced, I hoped he would work with American Alpha’s Jason Jordan and Chad Gable.
I did not hope Angle would ever be announced as Jordan’s illegitimate father.
This is the start of an unrealistic storyline rife with holes. Yet I’m willing to give it a chance. Will there be any pay-off for Jordan? Does this allow Angle to return to the ring to tag with his “son”, and then perhaps a storyline where they split?
Angle has the chops to make this work. As poorly as the announcement was received by the Raw audience in Nashville, all signs point to the company being fully behind Jordan as a singles star.
If this ultimately leads to a prime spot on the WrestleMania 34 card for Jordan, then I’m all for it.
The SummerSlam main event should be a four-way between WWE Universal champion Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, and Samoa Joe.
At this stage in his career, it is rare to see Lesnar ever work longer than a seven-minute match. Strowman has transformed over the past year from Wyatt Family member to legit main eventer, but his bigger spots will be more pronounced in a four-way when he is not asked to carry the load. Plus, Strowman and Reigns can cost each other the match, opening the door to create a memorable SummerSlam finish by anointing Samoa Joe as champion.
Joe can restore credibility to the world title on Raw, as there is a significant need for a fighting champion every Monday night. Lesnar is an attraction and has no need for the world title, but Joe would greatly benefit from his chance to be the face of the company.
In other news…
• Alberto Del Rio–known as Alberto El Patron–remains suspended indefinitely by Global Force Wrestling. Patron is the most high-profile star in GFW, so his suspension casts an ominous shadow on the company. Regarding whether GFW is still paying Patron during his suspension, Sports Illustrated learned that Patron is paid by appearance. Therefore, his suspension is neither paid nor unpaid, since he was already compensated for his work during the most recent GFW television tapings. If Patron returns to the GFW live show on Aug. 6 in Connecticut, then the suspension will have been meaningless, as he will have never missed a paycheck or an appearance.
• Conrad Thompson will discuss Fully Loaded ‘98 on Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard in this week’s podcast, which breaks at noon this Friday.
“Our show is not just going to be about the Fully Loaded pay per view, but more about the entire summer of 1998,” said Thompson. “That’s where we saw the crazy Oddity stuff, the discussions to start Sunday Night Heat, the ‘Brawl for All’, drunken Hawk, and The Godfather becoming a pimp.
“This is the time with Val Venis and choppy-choppy pee-pee, and this is when the WWF started to really surpass WCW. Nitro panicked and eventually did Hogan-Goldberg on Nitro that summer at the Georgia Dome, and they did that against a taped Raw, which is when DX did their imitation of the Nation of Domination. Our show will cover the entire summer of ‘98.”
Thompson and Prichard return to the road this weekend with a live show before Battleground on Sunday in Philadelphia.
“We’ll be in the home of ECW, which I loved and always will, but Bruce has a different opinion and I’m sure we’ll have lots of back and forth about that,” said Thompson. “We’ve got an extreme guest who’ll be joining us, and I am working on a surprise that, if we manage to pull off, will get everyone talking. I know Philadelphia is disappointed that they’re getting a Punjabi Prison match in the Battleground main event, but you will not be disappointed if you start with us. It’s going to be a fun day and tickets are on sale now at livenation.com.”
• Raw’s opening scene served as the most compelling moment of Seth Rollins’ career since his transformation to a babyface. Unlike an illegitimate son angle, the story between Rollins and Dean Ambrose, based on betrayal, feels very real.
Rollins’ apology to Ambrose was an integral step for the reformation of the Shield. Trust is a critical factor in professional wrestling, both on and off camera. Tapping into that with a potential return of the Shield will add even more drama to the story.
• Last week, D’Lo Brown checked in with Sports Illustrated to discuss the 19th anniversary of DX mocking the Nation of Domination in the “Do you smell what The Crock is cookin’?” parody. This week, DX stalwart Billy Gunn shared his memories from the infamous promo that took place on July 6, 1998:
“How can you forget it?” asked Gunn. “It’s the funniest thing we ever did. DX did a lot of crazy stuff, and a lot of stuff off-script, but that was awesome. Most people remember me and Brian [Road Dogg] doing the dumpster match, as well as the parody against Nation of Domination. We were having some fun, everyone took it like that, and it was one of the funniest things we ever did.”
Gunn recently wrestled Hiroshi Tanahashi during the second night of the G1 Special on AXS TV on July 2, and was grateful for the opportunity to be highlighted in such a featured match on the company’s maiden voyage into the United States.
“It was a huge honor to work for New Japan in that match,” said Gunn. “We went out there and did our thing, and Tanahashi is just awesome. That was the greatest experience I’ve had in a long time. Tanahashi asked for me, which was very flattering, and I thought I wouldn’t have those opportunities to be in a high-profile match like that at this point in my career. It was so good to see Jim Ross broadcasting the match, and I love it when he calls my stuff.”
Even at the age of 53, Gunn looked in phenomenal shape and was able to work an entertaining match with New Japan “Ace” Tanahashi. Gunn noted that he is on call to return.
“New Japan calls me whenever they want,” said Gunn. “I’m happy to do anything where I can contribute. I stay in shape just in case someone calls. I can still go at a pretty high level, maybe not what I could 19 years ago, but I can still go. This is a desire to do what I have a passion to do. I’m still able to do this, and it’s just about adjusting my training and listening to what my body can and can’t do. I train smarter, and Matt Wichlinski, who used to be the strength and conditioning coach at the WWE Performance Center, is my strength and conditioning partner, and has helped me out tremendously the past five years to stay in the shape I’m in. If you’d told me ten years ago that I’d be training with a sled and bands and chains, I’d have said you were crazy.
“New Japan is a force to be reckoned with. I still love working with New Japan, and working indies. At this stage, I’m just having fun wrestling and coaching. I’m co-trainer with the Dudleys, and I love coaching.”
• Flip Gordon, who chose to sign with Ring of Honor instead of GFW, connected with SI.com on the indignities he suffers in the Being the Elite series from the Young Bucks and Cody Rhodes:
“They love to beat me up, and I’m just waiting to get them back,” said Gordon. “It’s been really cool to see how a YouTube channel can get someone’s name out there. People walk up to me now and say, ‘F--- the Revival.’ The Young Bucks and Bullet Club are changing the game. They have t-shirts in Hot Topic stores across the country, they’re changing the way people look at this business, and I think what they’re doing is awesome. But in terms of the ribs, I’m going to get them back eventually.”
Gordon just finished a busy weekend, which is par for the course in the life of a wrestler looking to elevate himself. The 25-year-old worked WrestlePro in New Jersey on Thursday, then Northeast Wrestling shows on both Friday in Connecticut and Saturday in New York, including a high-profile match against Ricochet, before finishing his weekend in Providence, Rhode Island at the XWA's Wrestlution '17 in a six-way ladder match. He just signed a deal with Ring of Honor, and already has a lofty goal in mind.
“I’m definitely interested in the Ring of Honor TV title,” said Gordon, who has a very unique background. Gordon is trained in mixed martial arts, has a gymnastics background and even worked as his college mascot Cecil the Cardinal at North Idaho College. Gordon also was an active member in the U.S. military. He was just offered his E5, which is a promotion to Sergeant, yet he chose to instead pursue professional wrestling.
“Honestly, I’m living the dream,” said Gordon. “I’m not fully exclusive with Ring of Honor, so I’m still allowed to do indie shows. I am still working internationally, and I’m doing shows in Germany and Ireland this September. I’ll also be wrestling in Mexico. I’m very blessed. I’ve only been wrestling for two years, and I feel like I’m just getting started.”
• New Japan Pro Wrestling’s 2017 G1 Climax began yesterday, with Kenny Omega looking to become the first-ever North American to capture back-to-back victories in the most grueling tournament in professional wrestling.
Longtime New Japan standout Rocky Romero shared his excitement for the G1, as well as insight on the potential winner of the 20-man tournament.
“If you want to get introduced to New Japan Pro Wrestling, start with the G1,” said Romero. “This is 30 days of a round robin tournament, and the quality that people are expecting, match-wise, is tough on the body and mentally draining. The traveling is also grueling. Every day, from the moment they start the G1 in Sapporo, they’re either on a bus, plane, or on a train. It’s a bad ass tournament with the greatest heavyweights in the world.”
The G1 Climax parallels the madness of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, as nether tourney ends the way experts predict.
“This year is so interesting because Kota Ibushi is back, Kenny Omega is a mad man on a streak after having the best year-and-a-half in the history of wrestling, and Kazuchika Okada, the most consistent performer in wrestling for the past two years,” said Romero. “Michael Elgin is another guy to watch. This is a really tough one to predict, but I think that Ibushi is going to find himself in the finals. We could also finally see Ibushi-Kenny, or the third match between Kenny and Okada.”
Romero will either be commentating or wrestling during the final three days of the tournament on August 11, 12, and 13.
“There is no way in hell I’m going to miss it,” said Romero. “The energy that lives inside the Ryogoku Sumo Hall during the G1 is insane. People are on the edge of their seats the entire time, and the electricity that runs through that building blows my mind. It’s the best building in the world at that moment.”
Romero and Roppongi Vice partner Trent Barreta just ended their partnership in a rare amicable split. The next step, Romero explained, is to prepare for a singles run in 2018 with goals that include the IWGP junior heavyweight championship and the NEVER Openweight title.
“It’s now time for a new challenge,” said Romero. “I am interested in a singles career, but I do have one pet project that I want to start in the next couple months. It’s going to be big, it’s going to be cool, and it’s going to be in New Japan. That’s all I can say, but I have to do this before my singles run.
“I’m going to make a singles run in 2018. I’m planning it out, and it’s going to be a big year for Rocky Romero. I want 2018 to be my breakout year.”
Romero’s contract expires at the end of January in 2018. Although WWE heavily courted Romero in 2016, he expects to return to NJPW.
“New Japan is my home, and it would be hard to walk away during this time of crazy growth,” said Romero, who is also working on a wrestling web series and negotiating with a Japanese rap group to elevate his music career. “It would be very hard to abandon New Japan, and I really want to stay and be a part of it. Trent put out a really cool tweet during the G1 Special weekend comparing New Japan to WWE in the late 90’s, and that WWE now is like WCW. A lot of guys are making money in WWE but they’re not happy, that’s just the truth. I’m happy creatively with New Japan. I wouldn’t mind ending my career with New Japan Pro Wrestling.”
• Interesting to note that New Japan Pro Wrestling now makes wrestlers sign contracts that extend through the end of the month of January. For years, the customary practice for NJPW was to end their yearly contracts on July 1. This changed, of course, in 2016 when AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson, and Luke Gallows all gave their notice before the annual January 4 Wrestle Kingdom event, shell-shocking the NJPW brass. Omega is reportedly signed through 2019, which would not allow him to appear at either the 2018 or ’19 Royal Rumble pay per view.
• In The Writer’s Corner: Before focusing on this week’s episode, Lucha Underground head writer Chris “DJ” DeJoseph touched on last week’s finish where Marty the Moth destroyed Fenix and maniacally licked blood off a fork as the show went off the air:
“We knew we wanted an ending where Marty lost his head,” said DeJoseph. “On the day of the taping, we were playing around with ideas and I thought it would be great if Marty had a whole lunchbox with a sandwich, apple, and potato chips. He just looked like a crazy guy with a lunchbox, then the fork came out later and he ended up using it. We wanted to create a horror movie scene in front of the live audience as opposed to a vignette. We wanted that to happen in the ring, and they executed. Martin’s performance was great, and Melissa Santos really enhanced it, too.
“Marty is one of the best heels out there. He actually is a heel, instead of just playing one. People really hate him. There is a big difference between playing a bad guy and actually being someone who is scary. Marty has really run with the character, and he even spent time with Vampiro studying serial killers and psychopaths. I think Martin could be a top heel anywhere.”
The Cueto Cup continues on tonight’s episode, which airs tonight on El Rey at 8pm ET, and includes a must-see match between PJ Black and Prince Puma, who also wrestles outside of LU as Ricochet:
“I know that Johnny Mundo will reveal he has a new agent, but PJ Black versus Prince Puma is just an awesome, awesome match,” said DeJoseph. “PJ and Puma were especially awesome.”
• On the subject of contracts, the newest series of GFW contracts require talent to give 10 percent of their independent bookings back to the company, as well as 100 percent of their merchandise sold through the company.
• After last week’s overwhelmingly positive response, Eric Bischoff’s Nitro Files will continue to be available in audio form. The rare Tuesday Nitro from July 22, 1997 was dissected by Bischoff. Discussion included Hulk Hogan’s prep before a Nitro, as well a breakdown of The Giant vs. Great Muta and the brilliance of The Outsiders. Also, I was on the WrestleZone Daily podcast with Bischoff’s IRW partner, Nick Hausman, yesterday, which can be heard at this link.
• Per Cagematch.net, there have only been 46 matches for the WWE Universal championship since its inaugural title match last SummerSlam on Aug. 21, 2016. Out of those 46 matches, Kevin Owens has competed in 43 of them.
• In the weekly SI.com advice section, Inside Al's Head, Al Snow asked wrestling fans to give the Kurt Angle/Jason Jordan storyline a chance before completely dismissing it.
“We don’t know where it’s going to go, and there could be a turn that makes us appreciate Jason Jordan’s character and ability, turning him into a huge star,” said Snow. “Give it an opportunity. The whole purpose of attaching Kurt Angle to this kid is to give him the rub and elevate him. That’s why Kurt agreed to it. Don’t take this story at face value. Maybe, just maybe, the reaction you’re having is the intended reaction they want you to have. That will help to tell and play out a story that will allow you to be entertained and really enjoy a character you never would have connected with, never would have known about it, and never would have been able to take you along for a great ride.”
Snow explained that an integral piece to the beauty of professional wrestling is the role of the fans, who somehow simultaneously endear themselves and infuriate the talent.
“The greatest and most frustrating fans in all of sports and entertainment are wrestling fans, and I could never truly express my gratitude for all of you,” said Snow. “The sport of professional wrestling offers a very synergistic relationship between the performer and the fan. The fans are the most loyal and staunchest defenders of professional wrestling, but at the same time, they can be the most frustrating with their pseudo-expertise. They have access, and this is the key, to what they believe is accurate, but a lot of the information that is disseminated to the fan has a spin on it from whomever let it out. They’re so driven to dictate the performances based on their likes and dislikes, and not what is best for the overall audience.
“How can you not love wrestling fans? In my 35 years of professional wrestling, any time someone has told me they were a wrestling fan or a fan of mine, I immediately say thank you. Because of these fans, I have been able to do what I love to do for as long as I’ve done it. I can never express my true gratitude. I want to help the fans, and sometimes they refuse to follow my advice, but I still love them dearly.”
Tweet of the Week
Not everyone was upset over the cancelation of Talking Smack…
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