WWF Champion (1992–1996)
Hart with his WWF World Heavyweight Championship belt underneath his jacket
Hart won the WWF World Heavyweight Championship from Ric Flair at a Superstars taping at Saskatchewan Place in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on October 12 of that year, in a match not originally broadcast on WWF television – the match was instead made available on a series of Coliseum/WWE Home Video releases. Hart dislocated one of the fingers on his left hand during the match and popped it back in himself so it would not affect the rest of the match. He made his first successful title defense against Papa Shango on Saturday Night’s Main Event XXXI. He would headline his first pay-per-view as champion with a successful title defense against Shawn Michaels at the 1992 Survivor Series, and defeated Razor Ramon at the 1993 Royal Rumble. He would also defend the title against contenders such as Papa Shango and former champion Ric Flair before losing the title to Yokozuna in his first WrestleMania main event at WrestleMania IX, after interference from Mr. Fuji. Fuji then challenged Hulk Hogan, who had come out to help Hart, to compete for the title; Hogan then won his fifth WWF World Heavyweight Title from Yokozuna. In June, Hart won the first pay-per-view King of the Ring tournament, defeating Razor Ramon, Mr. Perfect, and Bam Bam Bigelow, thus becoming the only two-time King of the Ring. According to Hart, he was scheduled to regain the WWF World Heavyweight Championship from Hulk Hogan at SummerSlam, but Hogan chose to drop the title to Yokozuna instead at King of the Ring. Hart instead entered a feud with Jerry “The King” Lawler, who interrupted Hart’s coronation, claimed he was the only king, attacked Hart and began a barrage against Hart and his family. The two met at SummerSlam in 1993, to determine the “Undisputed King of the World Wrestling Federation”. Hart originally won the match by submission, via the Sharpshooter, but as he would not let go of the hold, the decision was reversed to a Lawler victory by disqualification. Hart and his younger brother, Owen Hart, would also feud with Lawler during 1993 in the United States Wrestling Association (USWA), with Lawler notably defeating Owen for Owen’s USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship. Hart’s feud with Lawler was named “Feud of the Year” by Wrestling Observer Newsletter, and voted “Feud of the Year” by readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
After months of dealing with Lawler, Hart received a WrestleMania IX rematch with WWF World Heavyweight Champion Yokozuna on the November 20 episode of WWF Superstars. When Bret appeared to have the match won, with Yokozuna locked in the sharpshooter, Owen came to ringside to congratulate his brother. The referee began questioning Owen’s motives, which allowed Fuji to assault Bret. Owen then involved himself in the match, resulting in a victory for Yokozuna via disqualification. On the non-televised but now-canon November 22 episode of Monday Night Raw, Hart again challenged Yokozuna for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship, and again failed to regain the championship due to similar involvement from Owen. The brothers’ disagreements set the wheels in motion for a family feud that would span the entirety of 1994. At Survivor Series, the Harts (Bret, Owen, Bruce, and Keith) took on Shawn Michaels (a substitution for Lawler, who was facing legal troubles) and his knights. The Harts won the match, with all of the brothers surviving except for Owen, the only Hart family member eliminated when he was rolled up by Michaels after inadvertently knocking Bret off the apron. Bitter about his elimination, Owen blamed Bret for this and in the weeks ahead, blamed Bret for holding him back. Owen demanded a one-on-one match with Bret, which Bret refused to accept. In the storyline, Bret, along with his parents, worked over the Christmas holidays to reunite the family and to settle their rivalry. Bret was voted “WWF Superstar of the Year” 1993 by fans, as well as the greatest wrestler of the year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers.
Bret’s rivalry with his brother Owen won them Pro Wrestling Illustrated‘s Feud of the Year award and featured a highly rated steel cage match at SummerSlam
At the Royal Rumble in January, Bret and Owen took on The Quebecers (Jacques and Pierre) for the WWF Tag Team Championship. Referee Tim White stopped the match after he considered Bret unable to continue after he sustained a kayfabe knee injury during the match. After the match, Owen berated his brother for costing him a title opportunity and attacked the injured knee, setting the feud between the two. Later on, Hart managed to participate and win the 1994 Royal Rumble match amid controversy. Hart and Lex Luger were the final two participants and the two were eliminated over the top rope at the same time. Therefore, both men were named co-winners of the 1994 Royal Rumble match and received title shots at WrestleMania X. Luger won the chance to face Yokozuna first, with Hart having to wrestle his brother Owen, before receiving his title shot. Hart lost his match against Owen but went on to defeat Yokozuna for his second WWF World Heavyweight Championship.
Hart continued to feud with his brother Owen while he also started feuding with Diesel. Hart’s friend and former tag team partner Jim Neidhart returned to the WWF and reunited with Hart. At King of the Ring, Hart defended the WWF World Heavyweight Championship against Diesel. When Hart was winning the match, Shawn Michaels interfered on Diesel’s behalf; Diesel appeared close to victory after he delivered a Jackknife Powerbomb yet before he could pin Hart, Neidhart interfered, therefore Diesel won by disqualification, but Hart retained his title. Neidhart left when Diesel and Michaels attacked Hart following the match. Neidhart’s motivation was made clear when he helped Owen win the tournament that night, so that he could receive a title shot against his brother. At SummerSlam, Hart successfully retained the WWF World Heavyweight Championship against Owen in a steel cage match. This match received a five-star rating from Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Newsletter, and the brothers’ feud was voted “Feud of the Year” by readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
Hart eventually lost his WWF World Heavyweight Championship at Survivor Series in a submission match against Bob Backlund where the manager of either competitor (Davey Boy Smith for Hart, Owen for Backlund) would have to “throw in the towel” for the wrestler they were representing. When Hart was in Backlund’s crossface chickenwing and Davey Boy was kayfabe knocked out, Owen persuaded his mother Helen to throw in the towel for Hart, giving Backlund the championship victory. Bret’s feud with Backlund would continue into the following year. He was voted the greatest wrestler of 1994 by Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers, winning the vote for the second straight year.
Hart in 1995
Three days after Hart’s title loss, Diesel defeated Backland in eight seconds with a jackknife powerbomb to become the new WWF World Heavyweight Champion. By 1995, Hart was focusing on projects outwith the business, such as acting, and shifted to the number two face in the company, behind Diesel. Hart challenged for Diesel’s WWF World Heavyweight Championship at the 1995 Royal Rumble, in a match that was continually marred by outside interference and ruled a draw. Both men embraced in a display of sportsmanship after the match. In a rematch from Survivor Series, Hart defeated Bob Backlund in an “I Quit” match at WrestleMania XI. Hart was critical with the match against Backlund, claiming it was “probably my worst pay-per-view match I ever had”. Hart would be the focal point of the first event in the In Your House pay-per-view series, competing in two matches at In Your House 1. He defeated Hakushi in the very first match of the in Your House series. Hart’s acclaimed feud with Jerry Lawler was reignited at the event when Lawler defeated Hart due to Hakushi’s (now Lawler’s protégé) interference. Hart beat Lawler in a “Kiss My Foot” match at King of the Ring, and defeated Lawler’s kayfabe dentist, Isaac Yankem, by disqualification at SummerSlam 1995. Their King of the Ring match ended with Hart shoving his foot into Lawler’s mouth, then forcing Lawler to kiss his own foot. Although Hart was victorious in their in-ring feud, Lawler remained strongly opposed to Hart as a commentator, and would routinely encourage Hart’s opponents during matches; it would not be until Over the Limit, sixteen years later, that both men would finally bury the hatchet. After disposing of Lawler, Hart engaged in a three-month feud with Jean-Pierre Lafitte, who would be stealing the mirrored sunglasses from fans at ringside and his trademark leather jacket. At In Your House 3, Hart defeated Lafitte, to end the feud. Hart shifted his focus back to the WWF World Heavyweight Championship, defeating Diesel in a no disqualification match at Survivor Series to commence his third reign.
In a rematch from their SummerSlam 1992 encounter, Hart successfully defended his title against the now heel Davey Boy Smith at In Your House 5: Seasons Beatings. He lost to The Undertaker by disqualification at the 1996 Royal Rumble when Diesel interfered, ultimately retaining the WWF World Heavyweight Championship, and defeated The Undertaker by disqualification in a rematch on the February 5 episode of Raw, again due to Diesel’s interference. Hart retained his title once again against Diesel in a steel cage match at In Your House 6, and defeated Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who was undefeated on Raw, on the March 4 episode of the show. WWF Commissioner Rowdy Roddy Piper ruled that Hart would face Shawn Michaels, who had earned a WWF World Heavyweight Championship match at WrestleMania XII by winning the Royal Rumble, in a 60-minute Iron Man match at the event. The wrestler with the most decisions during the 60 minutes would win the match and the WWF World Heavyweight Championship.
At WrestleMania, with less than a minute left on the clock and the score still 0–0, Michaels jumped from the middle rope; his legs were caught by Hart, and Hart locked in his Sharpshooter. However, Michaels did not submit in the last 30 seconds so the match ended in a tie. WWF President Gorilla Monsoon ruled that the match would continue in sudden death overtime. Michaels hit a superkick to win the championship. Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers voted it the “Match of the Year”; in 2004, WWE fans voted the match as the greatest in the history of WrestleMania. After WrestleMania, Hart went on a European tour over the next two weeks, coming out victorious against Stone Cold Steve Austin and Hunter Hearst Helmsley. The tour ended on April 22, and after this he took his hiatus from television. His final televised appearance was an interview taped while on the European tour in which he described his passion for wrestling was diminished, and stated that although there were offers from competing companies he might be finished with wrestling.
That fall, Hart would indeed receive competing offers of employment from both WWF and World Championship Wrestling (WCW). WCW presented a 3-year, $9M contract offer to Hart, while the World Wrestling Federation responded with an unprecedented 20-year contract. Finishing up his original WWF deal, Hart returned to action on a tour of South Africa on September 8, 1996, defeating Davey Boy Smith in Durban. On October 21, Hart elected to re-sign with the World Wrestling Federation. He was inducted into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame Class of 1996.
Feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin (1996–1997)
Main article: Hart Foundation reunion
Hart posing for the crowd with his arms open
Over the summer, Stone Cold Steve Austin, who was fresh from winning the 1996 King of the Ring, continually taunted Hart and challenged him to come back and have a match. After an eight-month hiatus from television, Hart returned and defeated Austin at Survivor Series in a match for the number one contender spot to the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. Hart challenged champion Sycho Sid at the following month’s In Your House 12: It’s Time; Shawn Michaels, who was serving as a guest commentator at ringside, accidentally cost Hart the victory when he attempted to become involved in the match after being assaulted by Sid. The building tension between Hart and Michaels climaxed after the match when Hart assaulted Michaels. Hart’s feud with Austin escalated at the Royal Rumble (1997), when Hart tossed Austin out of the ring, only for Austin (unbeknownst to the referees) to climb back into the ring and win the Rumble, while the referees were distracted by Mankind. Hart quit the WWF the next night on Raw in protest. In order to deal with this controversy, a Fatal Four-Way between Austin and the participants he eliminated after re-entering the ring (Vader, The Undertaker, and Hart) was set up for In Your House 13: Final Four, with the winner becoming the number one contender. After then-champion Shawn Michaels relinquished the belt, though, the match officially became for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. Hart defeated Austin, Vader, and The Undertaker in the Fatal Four-Way. However, Austin made sure Hart’s fourth reign was short-lived, costing him a title match against Sid the next night on Raw. Hart challenged for Sid’s WWF World Heavyweight Championship in a steel cage match shortly before WrestleMania 13, which saw Austin actually attempt to help Hart win, in order to make their scheduled match at WrestleMania 13 a title match. Concurrently, The Undertaker, who had a scheduled title match with Sid at WrestleMania, attempted to help Sid win. Sid ultimately retained, leading to a pure grudge match for Hart and Austin. Following his loss to Sid, Hart shoved “announcer” Vince McMahon to the ground when he attempted to conduct a post-match interview, and engaged in a worked shoot, expletive-laden rant against McMahon and WWF management. This incident has been cited as one which helped lay the foundations of the WWF’s Attitude Era, as well as the starting point of McMahon’s on-air character, the tyrannical WWF owner “Mr. McMahon”.
At WrestleMania 13, Hart and Austin had their rematch in a submission match that would later get a 5-star rating from Dave Meltzer. In the end, Hart locked the Sharpshooter on a bloody Austin, who refused to give up. In fact, Austin never quit, but passed out from the blood loss and pain. Ken Shamrock, the special guest referee, awarded Hart the match, after which he continued to assault Austin, thus turning heel for the first time since 1988. It was named “Match of the Year” by Wrestling Observer Newsletter and voted “Match of the Year” by Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers. Later that night, Hart confronted Sycho Sid and The Undertaker prior to their match for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship; Hart insulted Undertaker and told Shawn Michaels (who was a guest commentator for the match) not to interfere. Undertaker won the match, which ended with Hart hot shotting Sid on the ropes, therefore costing him the title.
Hart challenged Rocky Maivia for the Intercontinental Championship in the main event of the March 31 episode of Raw. Rocky Maivia won by disqualification when Hart refused to release a figure-four leglock applied around the ring post. He faced Austin again in the main event of In Your House 14: Revenge of the ‘Taker, to determine who would challenge the WWF World Heavyweight Champion in a title match at the following month’s In Your House 15: A Cold Day in Hell. Austin had Hart locked in his own finishing move, the Sharpshooter, in the middle of the ring when The British Bulldog interfered on Hart’s behalf, resulting in disqualification and giving Austin the victory and title match. They met once again in a street fight on the April 21 episode of Raw Is War, in which Austin injured Hart’s ankle with a steel chair. The match was ruled a no-contest and Austin afterward continued to beat Hart while on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance.
In 1997, Hart became a tweener: generally cheered for by Canadian and international fans, and booed by American fans, while remaining largely consistent in character
In the ensuing weeks, Hart denounced American fans, because of their negative reaction to him in the recent weeks in contrast to his continued popularity through the rest of the world, and reunited with brother Owen and brothers-in-law Davey Boy Smith and Jim Neidhart. The family members formed a new Hart Foundation with Brian Pillman; this incarnation was an anti-American stable which was popular within Canada and Europe. As the leader of this stable, Hart routinely carried a Canadian flag to the ring and engaged in promos where he declared the superiority of his home nation; he became so despised by U.S. audiences that they would often throw debris during his ring entrances, interviews, and matches. He was voted by Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers as the “Most Hated Wrestler of the Year” 1997. At In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede, in Hart’s home town of Calgary, the Hart Foundation defeated the team of Stone Cold Steve Austin, Ken Shamrock, Goldust, and The Legion of Doom, representing the United States, in a ten-man tag team match main event. The Canada vs. U.S. rivalry escalated on the July 21 episode of Raw Is War in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where Bret, Owen, and Davey Boy Smith, representing Canada and the Hart Foundation, defeated the team of Dude Love, Austin, and The Undertaker, representing the U.S., in a Flag match. The Hart Foundation’s feud with Austin was named “Feud of the Year” by Wrestling Observer Newsletter and voted “Feud of the Year” by readers of Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Hart vowed that if he could not defeat The Undertaker for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam, he would never wrestle in the United States again. The Undertaker agreed to the match, and Hart won his fifth and last WWF World Heavyweight Championship after spitting in guest referee Shawn Michaels’ face; Michaels swung a steel chair in retaliation, which accidentally struck the Undertaker. Michaels, who, as part of another pre-match stipulation, would be banned from wrestling in the United States if he did not remain impartial as referee, had no option but to count the pinfall, giving his rival Hart the victory.
After SummerSlam, Michaels was pushed as the top heel in the company and negative fan reactions towards Hart in the United States softened somewhat, as he declared, “I’m not so much anti-American as I am just very, very pro-Canadian”. In real life, Hart did not like the new Attitude Era, instead preferring traditional values. This was used as part of his character, as Hart would insult the U.S. fans because of the success of the Attitude Era. Hart successfully defended his title against The Patriot, with whom Hart had become involved in a feud as part of the Canada vs. U.S. storyline, at Ground Zero: In Your House, avenging a loss to him on the July 28 Raw. The Canada vs. U.S. feud would conclude at Badd Blood: In Your House, where Hart and Davey Boy Smith, representing Canada and The Hart Foundation, defeated The Patriot and Vader, representing the U.S., in a Flag match. Erstwhile, in a rematch from SummerSlam, The Undertaker challenged Hart for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship at One Night Only; after reversing a Tombstone Piledriver attempt from Hart, The Undertaker dumped Hart on the apron when he would not let go of the ropes. As a result, Hart’s neck was caught in the ropes, and The Undertaker was disqualified. Hart later cited this as his favorite of all his matches with The Undertaker, and his last great match in the WWF.
During the Hart Foundation’s feud with the Shawn Michaels-led D-Generation X (DX), DX framed the Hart Foundation in vandalizing the locker room of the African American stable, Nation of Domination with racist motifs. In retaliation, during a promo with D-Generation X, Hart called members Triple H (previously billed as “Hunter Hearst Helmsley”) and Shawn Michaels “homos“. Hart later apologized for his participation in the storyline and said that he had been pressured into it, saying, “I am not in any shape or form a racist. And I don’t believe it is anything to kid around about. I also want to apologize for any remarks I made about gay people. It was a stupid mistake on my part”. Hart successfully defended his title against Nation of Domination leader, Faarooq, on the October 20 episode of Raw. In his penultimate title defense, Hart wrestled Ken Shamrock to a no-contest on the October 27 episode of Raw Is War; while the referee was knocked out, Shamrock put Hart in an ankle lock; members of the Hart Foundation then attacked Shamrock until Shawn Michaels made the save for Shamrock and attacked Hart.