The Hitman was born July 2, 1957 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, making him 60 years old today. His bloodline is considered royalty in wrestling consisting of the various Hart brothers and in-laws including the late “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart and extended family Tyson Kidd and Natalyia Neidhart.
In his high school years, Hart became a standout amateur wrestler. He won significant local competitions in Canada and was awarded a medal for being Outstanding Wrestler of the Year 1980-81.
In 1976, Hart made his professional debut on his father Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling promotion. Initially acting as a referee, Hart became a stand-in for a wrestler that no-showed and eventually worked his way into becoming a regular competitor thereafter.
He and his brother Keith would go on to win the Stampede International Tag Team titles 4 times. In addition, during his Stampede tenure, Hart would have many memorable matches against the likes of Dynamite Kid (Tom Billington) and the late Bad News Brown and would chock up no less than 6 North American Heavyweight Title runs to name but a few.
Stampede Wrestling was eventually bought by Vince McMahon Jr. and Bret went along with the purchase to the WWF.
In 1985, he debuted on WWF television as a heel engaging in some solo bouts, most notably against Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Hart would gain more notoriety in the tag team circuit as a member of the heel tag team “The Hart Foundation” along with partner Neidhart and manager Jimmy “Mouth of the South” Hart.
Clad in signature pink and black outfits and black sunglasses, the two started to make a name for themselves owing to Neidhart’s brute strength and Hart’s technical in-ring abilities.
Earning the moniker “The Excellence of Execution” from the late Gorilla Monsoon, The Hart Foundation won the WWF Tag Team titles from The British Bulldogs in 1987. The Foundation would eventually drop the titles to Strike Force (Tito Santana and Rick Martel in his pre-“Model” days) on the WWF’s “Superstars” television program.
While still partnering with Neidhart, Hart did have some singles encounters including a challenge to the Honky Tonk Man (Wayne Ferris) for the WWF Intercontinental Championship and Randy “Macho Man” Savage.
In 1989, The Hart Foundation turned face after being betrayed by manager Jimmy Hart. They teamed with the popular “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan to defeat the Fabulous Rougeau Brothers, Jimmy Hart’s recent protégés.
Also in 1989, the Foundation challenged WWF Tag Team Champions “The Brain Busters” (Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson) to a loss. Hart also became involved in a series of memorable encounters against the late Curt “Mr. Perfect” Hennig with whom he would feud later on as WWF Intercontinental Champion.
At the 1990 SummerSlam Pay-Per-View event, The Hart Foundation captured the WWF Tag Team championships for the second time from Demolition (Crush and Smash) in a 2-out-3-fall encounter.
By WrestleMania VII 7 months later, The Harts dropped the belts to the Jimmy Hart-managed Nasty Boys (Brian Knobbs and Jerry Sags) and effectively broke up thereafter.
As a solo act, Hart would become the 1991 King of the Ring winner and would also capture the WWF Intercontinental title from Hennig that same year.
In 1992, Hart would drop the strap in an upset to The Mountie (Jacques Rougeau) after being electrocuted (kayfabe) by a cattle prod. The Mountie would drop the title to the late “Rowdy” Roddy Piper shortly thereafter which would give Hart a second chance at the gold. This led to an encounter between the rowdy Scot and “the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be” at WrestleMania VIII which led to a victory and second IC title run for Hart.
Four months of successful defenses later, Hart would drop the strap to his brother-in-law the late British Bulldog (Davey Boy Smith) before a sell-out crowd in London at Wembley Stadium at SummerSlam 1992.
Later that same year, Hart would defeat “Nature Boy” Ric Flair to capture the WWF Heavyweight Championship. Oddly enough, this match was at a house show in Canada and was not part of a televised bout or Pay-Per-View event. The WWF did make it available on their Coliseum home video tapes they produced at the time.
He would defend the title successfully against all comers including Flair, HBK Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon (Scott Hall). Bret would ultimately lose the belt at WrestleMania IX in controversial fashion. His opponent Yokozuna’s manager, the late Mr. Fuji blew salt into Hart’s eyes, leading to the 3 count. Hulk Hogan came in to protest the decision. The referee allowed the match to continue… but with Hogan as the challenger. Within seconds Yokozuna was pinned and now the belt was Hogan’s yet again. Fans were outraged at the cheap swerve.
Hart won the “King of the Ring” tournament in 1993 for a second time and then began a heated rivalry with WWF newcomer Jerry “The King” Lawler. Lawler generated real heat with his stabs at Hart’s family and the feud would eventually include younger brother, the late Owen Hart.
Bret would get other opportunities to wrest the title away from Yokozuna, often with brother Owen at ringside for support. Despite the fact that he was trying to help, Owen’s involvement in the matches often led to Yokozuna’s victory in the contests, upsetting Bret.
These events would set the wheels in motion for a long feud between the two Harts, often becoming mat classics. At the 1993 Survivor Series, Hart and his brothers including Owen faced heated rival HBK and his “knights” (masked men one of whom was Greg “The Hammer” Valentine and another jobber Barry Horowitz). While the Harts won, Owen was the only brother eliminated which created more friction between he and Bret.
At the Royal Rumble event, Bret and Owen faced the Quebecers (Jacques Rougeau and Carl Ouellet) for the WWF Tag team titles. Bret (kayfabe) injured his knee and could not continue with the match which caused Owen to blame him for the title shot loss.
Come WrestleMania X, the two brothers would face one another in the ring with Owen emerging the victor. Later on in the same event, Bret would defeat the late Yokozuna for a second title run as WWE Heavyweight Champion.
While feuding with Owen, Bret also had another big challenge: Kevin “Diesel” Nash. When Bret and Diesel squared off for the title, a returning Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart appeared in Bret’s corner with HBK Shawn Michaels in Diesel’s. When it appeared as if Diesel had the victory, Neidhart interfered, saving Bret the belt. Michaels and Diesel would attack a fallen Bret, but Neidhart would abandon him, revealing a conspiracy between Neidhart and Owen all along. Bret would defeat Owen in a steel cage match at Summer Slam which was considered to be one of the greatest matches of that year.
Hart would lose his title to a returning Bob Backlund playing a lunatic heel role and the two had many classic encounters in 1994. Backlund would face Diesel for the WWF Heavyweight Championship and lose in an embarrassing 8 seconds. Hart would later challenge Diesel for the belt at the Royal Rumble to a draw.
He re-ignited his feud with Jerry Lawler, defeating him in a “Kiss My Foot” match at King of the Ring, forcing Lawler’s foot into his own mouth after the victory. Later in 1995, Hart would defeat Diesel in a no disqualification match to have his third run as WWF Champion.
Hart would defend against the likes of the Undertaker, Triple H and Davey Boy Smith which led commissioner Roddy Piper to sanction a match at WrestleMania XII pitting Michaels against Hart in a 60-minute iron man match.
In what many consider to be the greatest match of his career, Michaels defeated Hart to win the WWF Heavyweight title for the first time when the match went into overtime after the 60 minutes had expired.
Bret then took some time away from WWF television but continued to compete overseas and in South Africa.
Come 1996, Bret returned to action and feuded with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Psycho Sid. Owing to a controversial finish to that year’s Royal Rumble event, a four way match was arranged pitting Hart against the three remaining men from the Rumble: Austin, Vader and the Undertaker.
HBK had relinquished the WWF title at the time, hence the 4-way had the title on the line. While Hart won the match to become WWF Champion for a fourth time, he was defeated by Sid the next night on Raw courtesy of interference from Austin.
Hart challenged Sid just before WrestleMania XIII for the belt in a steel cage match to a loss.
Come WrestleMania XIII, Hart had a classic encounter against Austin in a submission match. While Hart had Austin in his Sharpshooter submission hold, Austin technically never submitted but passed out from blood loss, hence guest referee Ken Shamrock declared Hart the victor. Hart would attack Austin after the decision, signifying a heel turn for Hart.
Hart’s battles with Austin continued, main-eventing Raw and various Pay-Per-View events, with Austin injuring Hart’s ankle with a steel chair and later attacking him in the ambulance.
Hart reunited with brother Owen, Neidhart, Davey Boy Smith and WWF newcomer the late “Flyin’” Brian Pillman as the “new Hart Foundation”. They were anti-American heels despite being over as faces in Europe and Canada. The new Foundation feuded with Austin and The Undertaker which led to Bret challenging ‘Taker for the WWF Heavyweight title at Summer Slam with the stipulation being that if he lost, he would never fight in the US again. Hart defeated ‘Taker for a fifth run as WWF Champion.
HBK’s heel status was rising and Hart made a slow turn back to a face. Michaels had just started the legendary Degeneration X (DX) faction while Hart remained with the new Hart Foundation. In another controversial moment, the new Hart Foundation was accused of making racist slurs against the all-black faction “The Nation of Domination”. In retaliation to the allegations, Hart called DX “homos” which Hart later publicly apologized for doing.
Come 1997, WWF head honcho Vince McMahon was establishing himself as the heel “Mr. McMahon” as the WWF’s “Attitude Era” rushed in. Hart’s rivalry with McMahon intensified on-screen while backstage issues were developing as well. McMahon had signed Hart on for an unprecedented 20-year contract which the WWF could no longer afford. McMahon encouraged Hart to join the rival WCW (World Championship Wrestling) promotion led by Eric Bischoff. Hart signed on with WCW and made an agreement with McMahon to drop the belt to Michaels, with the stipulation being it would not be in Canada.
Michaels and Hart squared off for the belt in Montreal, Quebec at Survivor Series where Michaels captured the belt even though Hart did not submit to the Michaels-applied Sharpshooter. Hart was enraged at the betrayal and spat in McMahon’s face on camera as captured on WWE DVD releases and in the documentary “Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows”. Hart would destroy television equipment and physically strike McMahon backstage, leaving him with a shiner. The “Montreal Screwjob” became one of the most controversial and talked about angles in WWE history. To this day, no one is entirely sure if it was a work or a shoot, however the general consensus is that it was, in fact, a shoot.
In late 1997, Hart debuted on the Ted Turner-owned WCW. Although his working contract was only 3 years, it was more money and less demanding than his WWF agreements had ever been. Owing to a non-competition close for a period, Hart only appeared as referee in WCW matches.
Come January 1998, Hart was actively wrestling as a face, having a debut victory against “Nature Boy” Ric Flair in a highly anticipated bout. Initially Hart was outspoken about his war against the popular heel faction the nWo, however he later interfered in match pitting “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan against the late “Macho Man” Randy Savage, allowing Hogan to win and establishing an alliance with the nWo.
Hart would lose a shot at the WCW Heavyweight belt against Booker T but would win the United States Heavyweight Championship by besting Diamond Dallas Page. Less than one month later, Hart would drop the title to Lex Luger, only to re-claim it the next night on Thunder.
Hart would then denounce the nWo and turn face. This led to a match between Hart and Hogan which ended in a no contest when Hart’s knee was (kayfabe) injured and he could not continue in the bout. Popular face Sting came in to help the fallen Bret. As was typical in WCW at the time, a non-sensical event occurred: Hart would attack Sting, becoming a heel again for no apparent reason!
This would lead to a series of matches pitting the heel-again Hart against Sting in which Hart would defend the US title. Hart would eventually drop the belt to Diamond Dallas Page on Nitro, but end up reclaiming it less than one month later for a third run as WCW US Champion.
Hart would drop the title to Roddy Piper in early 1999 and would defeat Goldberg in a controversial match in this writer’s hometown of Toronto, Ontario. Hart wore a steel breastplate under his Toronto Maple Leafs jersey which Goldberg slammed into when he attempted his spear. Hart stated that he quit WCW at that point, but in reality, he needed time off to tend to inquiries. His time off was extended when shortly thereafter, brother Owen tragically died in an in-ring accident in the WWF.
In September of 1999, Hart returned to WCW competition and partook in a tournament to decide the new WCW Heavyweight Champion as the title had become vacated. Hart as a heel defeated Bill Goldberg for a 4th run as champion. About two moths later, Hart would drop the belt to Scott “Razor Ramon” Hall in a 4-way ladder match on Nitro.
Hart would go on to win the WCW Heavyweight tile again, besting Billy Kidman, Sting and Chris Benoit in a tournament. Whilst Heavyweight Champion, he became a co-champion by winning the WCW Tag Team titles with old rival Goldberg.
Hart and Goldberg would lose the tag belts to Nash and Hall (The Outsiders) and Hart would continue to defend the Heavyweight title including an infamous match at Starrcade against Goldberg where he was accidentally struck in the head, sustaining a concussion and making him vulnerable to the stroke he would later experience. The particular match ended in no-decision when referee Roddy Piper called for the bell in the absence of any pinfall or submission. Many surmised he did so out of concern for Hart’s skull injury.
Hart vacated the WCW title and suggested that he face Goldberg again to determine the new champion. Later on that same night during the bout, Hart, Nash and Hall attacked Goldberg with baseball bats. Hart gained the tile back when referee Piper made the 3 count.
Hart would vacate the title in January of 2000 owing to his injuries. Later that same year, the WCW released Hart via fax and then Hart announced his official retirement from wrestling. He had appeared on WCW television prior to this period, but only in a promotional capacity.
From 2001 – 2007, Hart appeared on some independent circuits, mostly as a speaker and doing proportions. He also started to work again with the WWE, helping them with their DVD anthologies of his career.
In 2007, he was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by Austin. He would later sign a contract with the WWE in 2009 and made some noteworthy appearances such as when he had an on-screen reconciliation with Michaels on Raw.
At WrestleMania XXVI, Vince McMahon challenged Bret to a “No Holds Barred” match. Bret did return to the ring for the match accompanied by his family members to defeat the evil Mr. McMahon.
Hart then promoted the new team “The Hart Dynasty” consisting of Hart nephews Tyson Kidd and David Hart-Smith when they won the WWE Tag Team Championship belts from ShoMiz (The Big Show and The Miz). Miz was also WWE US Champion at the time and he chose Hart to face for the title.
Bret, with the help of the Hart Dynasty, defeated The Miz to become WWE US Champion despite the fact that he was disabled and retired. Hart was also deemed the new Raw General manager and in so doing, he vacated the US title and began to chose suitable candidates for the title.
Hart was eventually fired from his role as GM after he was attacked by NXT rookies collectively known as “The Nexus”. The Nexus were defeated in a 14-man tag match at Summer Slam by Hart’s team even though Hart himself was disqualified for using a chair in the bout.
Hart would also appear in tag matches with the Hart Dynasty to victories against Nexus members as well as teaming with John Cena to defeat Ricardo Rodriguez and Alberto Del Rio.
Bret would continue to appear sporadically as a referee, ring announcer, panel expert and guest General Manager. His last televised appearance in the WWE was when he appeared in the corner of his niece Natalya Neidhart when she faced Diva’s Champion Charlotte Flair with her father Ric Flair in her corner. On conclusion of the match, Hart and Neidhart each had Charlotte and Naitch in simultaneous Sharpshooter holds.
Bret is a legend that is well respected by his peers and by the WWE Universe. He has battled prostate cancer and a stroke from which he has emerged a survivor. In addition to being an in-ring veteran, Hart has appeared in movies and television shows and has authored a best-selling autobiography: Hit Man: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling. He is truly the best there was, the best there is and the best there ever will be.
Special thanks to Dr. Stephen Balsky for contributing the above wrestler profile.
Dr. Stephen Balsky is a chiropractor currently in practice in his native Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He has been a wrestling fan since age 13 and is very passionate about the product, especially the “old-school” 80’s – 90’s era. He completed his Masters of Business Administration (MBA) degree in 2015 and currently is also working part-time as a professor in both business and healthcare.