After the infamous Montreal Screwjob, Bret Hart ended a more than two decade relationship with Vince McMahon’s WWE and headed for World Championship Wrestling. However, he failed to reach the same heights as he had in WWE. In this post we look at his WCW run and the reasons why it didn’t work out for the ‘Excellence of Execution’.
When Bret Hart signed with World Championship Wrestling after his departure at WWE Survivor Series 1997, it means that Ted Turner’s company had one of the most talked about men in wrestling at the time.
You won’t have to trawl this blog for long to see that I am a huge Bret Hart fan but even a neutral could see that on the back of his WWE departure Hart was red hot but WCW failed to capitalise on that, both with his debut and subsequently.
The coincided with a time when one of the longest story arcs in the history of WCW was coming to a conclusion. For 18 months, fans had been waiting for a pay-off to the Hulk Hogan and Sting programme.
Sting had gone from the blonde haired surfer character to mimicking the mannerisms of the late Brandon Lee in his final film: The Crow.
Instead of appearing regularly in-ring, Sting would be shown sitting in the rafters of arenas looking on as the nWo continued to run roughshod across every WCW competitor put in their way.
All was set for the pay-off of the Hogan and Sting angle at Starrcade 1997.
Bret Hart’s announced role in the show? Refereeing a bout between Larry Zbyszko and Eric Bischoff with the former battling to get a shot at Scott Hall at Souled Out while if Bischoff won he would get complete control over WCW Nitro.
Hardly the most auspicious of ways to debut Hart, is it but a broken hand after legit knocking out Vince McMahon and a 60 day non-compete clause didn’t leave the promotion much option? In what was the penultimate match of the night, Hart would call for the DQ and award Zbyszko the match after Bischoff had used a steel plate.
In the next match, Nick Patrick was supposed to fast count when Sting was down meaning Hogan would retain his match. This would force Hart down to the ring and order a restart and then Sting would win the title.
The problem, and Brian covers this whole thing in much better detail here, was that Patrick’s count wasn’t in fact fast.
Even still, he attacked Patrick, accusing him of making a fast count and shouting he would not let “it happen again” and declaring Sting the winner and the new WCW champion.
On the back of the Montreal Screwjob, Hart was pushed as a babyface in the WCW. In January 1998, his no-compete clause expired and he commenced a feud with Ric Flair and ‘The Hitman’ defeated ‘the nature boy’ at Souled Out in his first WCW match.
Hart would go on to be the face of WCW and defend the company’s honour against nWo members including Brian Adams, who left WWE as a result of Montreal, and his old WWF rivals Curt Hennig at Uncensored.
A heel turn was always around the corner and in April of that year it duly happened when Hart interfered in a Nitro main event between Hogan and Randy Savage, helping Hogan recapture the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. He would go on to become an associate of the nWo but not officially joining the group.
This led to a singles match against Savage at Slamboree that Hart won due to interference from Hogan. However, the decision was reversed the following night by the match’s special referee Roddy Piper which led to a match pitting Hogan and Hart against Savage and Piper at the Great American Bash which Hart and Hogan triumphed in.
In July of that year, on Nitro, Hart would defeat Diamond Dallas Page to win his first WCW title: The US Championship and would go on to hold the belt four times in WCW. His status helped elevate the title and his defences would headline a number of shows.
He would then feud with another former WWF talent, Lex Luger, and the pair would trade title wins before a brief feud with Sting.
In early 1999 he dropped the US title to Roddy Piper. The following month he appeared in street clothes and called out Goldberg who speared Hart but it was revealed that he was wearing a metal breastplate under his Toronto Maple Leafs sweater, which resulted in Goldberg being knocked out. Hart then counted his own pinfall before announcing: “Hey Bischoff, and the WCW, I quit.”
After the death of Owen Hart, Bret took several months off to be with his family. He returned in September teaming with Hulk Hogan against Sting and Luger. He would go on to beat Goldberg for the US title, dropped that belt to Scott Hall before winning the WCW title tournament defeating Perry Saturn Billy Kidman, Sting and Chris Benoit at Mayhem.
After winning the tag titles with Goldberg, he faced him at Starrcade with the WCW World Heavyweight Championship on the line. It was during the match that Hart suffered a sever concussion that would lead to his retirement from the ring.
In his final match in WCW, he defended the WCW World Heavyweight Championship against Kevin Nash on the January 10 edition of Nitro, which also ended in a no-contest. Hart vacated the title in late January 2000 when he was forced to withdraw from the main event of WCW’s Souled Out due to his injuries. The company terminated his contract via FedEx on October 20, 2000 and Hart announced his retirement from professional wrestling soon afterward.
Whilst Hart’s run with the WCW didn’t reach the heights many expected he was, at times, utilised as a big star by the promotion. He had several high profile feuds and faced the likes of Hogan, Savage and Flair on PPV.
Unfortunately the turning point happened before Bret even got in a match. Had the WCW not royally messed up the ending of Starrcade 97 there could’ve been a top of the card Sting vs Bret feud while they were both red hot while slowly transitioning the NWO out of the main event picture.
After 1997 Starrcade, WCW was never that hot creatively again and had a slow decline from there on out after that screw up of a finish.
The fundament problem was that by the time Bret Hart arrived in WCW, the company had started to make a number of stupid decisions. It didn’t matter that, in Hart, the company had someone that they could cash in on following his departure from WWE because of the problems that were going on internally.
The story will differ depending on who you ask – whether it was other superstars’ creative control that stopped Hart becoming a huge star, his bitterness, his poor time keeping or the fact that he was broken – but it’s difficult to suggest that the WCW did anything other than miss a beat with Hart.
Starcade 97 should have ended with Sting ending the NWO and build towards 1998 and the first match between Sting and Bret Hart but for whatever reason it didn’t happen and the rest is, as they say, history.