(Everyone please give a warm round of applause to blog contributor Dave Newman!)
Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Sessions: Bret Hart
Figured I’d give this a shot after reviewing the Hulk Hogan appearance on Austin’s podcast last year. Coronavirus means my workload has suddenly diminished, plus it was getting mentioned, so I thought it deserved a look.
First of all, I’ll confirm my bias – Bret Hart, to me, is the greatest wrestler ever. I started watching wrestling in March of 1991, so pretty much when he started his major singles ascent. Lost the love after Montreal; could enjoy wrestling, but never as much as I could with the greatest stuff he did that year.
Also, like most, I went from liking to loving Stone Cold after THAT promo. So, when it comes to these two having a mutual appreciation meeting, I’m there!
To the review!
Bret recalls their first meeting. Bret recommended signing Steve when he went to ECW. The next week, Steve was in the WWF.
Steve talks about how hands on Bret was with his career and the booking, then jumps straight into talking about Montreal. Steve was blown away by what happened and called Bret to see what was what two nights later. Bret puts it down to a lot of dishonesty going on and the contract situation. Vince offered to negotiate Bret’s WCW contract, but Bret’s lawyer was reticent for that to happen.
Bret found out that he was wrestling against Shawn at Survivor Series in San Jose, California, and talked to Shawn and told him that he had no problem putting him over or dropping the title and would be wholly professional. Shawn said he wasn’t willing to promise the same, hence Bret’s meeting the next day with Vince in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at a Raw show. Bret had creative control in his contract for the last two months, to mitigate getting jobbed out and devalued on the way out, so said he wasn’t willing to drop the belt to Shawn at Montreal out of honour.
Vince couldn’t believe Bret was refusing and asked for him to repeat that in front of Shawn. Vince started off the conversation by telling Shawn that Bret WOULD drop the belt to him, which led to Bret standing up and leaving, saying he wouldn’t.
Bret didn’t want to go to WCW and was happy with his contract, so he called Vince and asked what the plans would be for him if he stayed. Turned out it was a series of jobs for Shawn over the next year, so Bret signed with WCW. Vince then called Bret up, buttering him up.
Steve asks if Vince was trying to trade down to a younger horse, which Bret confirms was the case. All Bret wanted to do was prove he could deliver, and claims he’d never refused to do a job for anyone, but had to make a stand. Vince persisted, with Bret turning it down and saying he’d even drop the belt to Shawn in Ottawa at Raw, but it was a no-go at Survivor Series.
The night of, Bret could see a schmozz coming, and Shawn was overly nice. Bret had seen Earl Hebner the night before when they were in the shower and asked him if he was going to be involved in screwing him (yep, I know how I’m writing it). Earl, WITH TEARS IN HIS EYES, swore on his kids that he would never do that.
Pat Patterson, who Bret believes WASN’T involved in the screwjob, suggested the reversed Sharpshooter spot, which Bret himself thought was the knife going in (I think it’s been confirmed since that Jim Cornette was the guy who came up with that sequence). That was the case, followed by Gerald Brisco marching Shawn and friends out of the firing line while Vince took phlegm in his face. Bret thought he was a piece of shit for it.
Vince wouldn’t answer the door to Bret and it wasn’t until the Undertaker called him out that he did. Shawn was in Bret’s dressing room coincidentally and swore he had nothing to do with it. After Bret came out of the shower, Rick Rude told him Vince was outside and wanted to talk to him. Bret told Rude that he didn’t want to talk to him.
Vince came in anyway, with Sgt. Slaughter and Shane and the like flanking him. Rude and Davey Boy had Bret’s back while Shawn was crying in the corner. In a funny moment, Bret talks about how he was naked and thought about rushing him as-is, but didn’t think it would be a good thing for the Wrestling With Shadows to capture.
Vince claimed he’d never lied to Bret before. Bret told him to get out of there before he was dressed otherwise he’d knock him out. Bret left his shirt off so Vince couldn’t grab it and they headed for one another. Bret talks through his strategy of how he’d hit him, which was with an uppercut that gave Vince a shiner and broke Bret’s hand, following 14 years of 300 days a year working for him, including at Christmas. Bret promised to finish the job with his knee brace, but Shane asked for mercy and they walked him out.
Shawn remained in the corner, scared for his life, face in his hands. Bret instead shook his hand and thanked him for the match instead of kicking him in the face. Shawn said he wouldn’t bury Bret and would be respectful. The next night, he was claiming he’d made him quit and run him out of town to WCW with the other dinosaurs.
Steve, who admits he’s a dab hand at holding a grudge, asks what the relationship is like with Vince now. Bret says they’re good, mainly because he appreciates the opportunity Vince gave him to have the career he had.
Steve brings up that Bret had the first chance to really get into it with Vince, following the cage match with Sid before WrestleMania where he uttered the “Frustrated isn’t the Goddamn word for it!”. Bret didn’t realise at the time that a year later you would have Mr. McMahon. Patterson said he was free to swear as much as he liked because they’d bleep it, but when he got back they said it was live, but put no heat on him because they’d given him the permission.
Steve talks about Bret’s trip to WCW. Bret reminds Steve that he was the one that told him that WCW wouldn’t have a clue what to do with him. Guys like Kevin Nash had given him the same opinion too. Bret feels like he should’ve been going straight in and beaten Hulk and been bringing guys like Booker T up. Eric Bischoff “didn’t know shit”.
Bret would be flown in first class, have an expensive rental car and hotel room, then be told a few hours before the show that they didn’t have anything for him to do. Bret got into the mode of being really sour on the business, which was contrary to how Dustin Rhodes was feeling at the same time after coming back to WCW after his initial Goldust run ended.
Steve asks who Bret Hart, the Hitman, was. Bret says he was the Hitman from the age of four being around wrestlers via his father and family and became a true student very early on.
Steve asks what made people hate or love Bret. Bret puts it down to being so different from Hogan, with the versatile repertoire and being able to tell the realistic stories he told. Adrian Street saw a ladder match he had with Dynamite Kid and told him, without any tears in his eyes, that it was the best match he’d ever seen. Bret puts it down to the beautiful endings he crafted. Steve puts it down to his grit and determination, being able to look tired and in a real battle when he was still fully fueled.
Bret feels the best wrestlers were fans and he could see his matches as a guy or kid in the front row, performing for himself. He talks about how people talking about having “classic matches” that really aren’t, because they’re forgotten so quickly, whereas he still has people talking about the matches he had with Piper, Owen, Austin, Undertaker, etc. He wanted to give Vince a library of true classic matches.
Steve relates a match that he had with Shawn at the Summit in Houston and said he wanted to work with him straight after (believe that match is up now on the Network as a Hidden Gem and is really good). This led to the Survivor Series ‘96 match. Austin commentates the match and reveals he was just calling his first spot when it looks like he was talking shit. Bret adds that his rare elbow off the top wasn’t the best idea after knee surgery.
Steve slingshot Bret onto the Spanish announce table and brawled with him in the wreckage, sneaking a drink in under the table. He pulled the Million Dollar Dream out of mothballs so that they could do a version of the Piper finish. Steve laughs about how gassed he had Bret after six months off. Bret gives the match four stars.
To Royal Rumble ‘97, with Steve doing the classic take when Bret comes out, then to the submission match at WrestleMania 13. The idea was to turn Bret heel in America but nowhere else, so that Bret didn’t take a big hit on merchandise and royalties. Steve compares Bret’s popularity in Germany to David Hasselhoff. Vince sold Bret on turning heel based on wrestling Austin, Undertaker, Shawn. This was preferable to getting mauled as a good guy by Vader accidentally.
Steve was coming into the match with a bad knee and no real submission holds in his arsenal, so thought it could be disastrous. The original plan was for Bret to wrestle Shawn, but Shawn’s own knee “injury” cancelled that. Bret felt it was too soon to wrestle Steve again, but they talked it out and came up with it being like a school fight. Bret said they needed Steve to pass out from blood loss in the Sharpshooter, despite the no-blood policy at the time.
Bret and Steve pieced the match together logically, with Ken Shamrock acting as the bodyguard to stop anyone getting involved when they went out brawling in the crowd. Bret talks about how you can’t have near falls in a submission match and recalls how bad his submission match was with Bob Backlund, no offence to Bob. Bret compares the realism of his match with Steve to any UFC match, even down to the terrific kick in the balls.
Bret was happy with the great reception he had going out, but was fearful it wouldn’t be a good match. Steve kick-started it with a great tackle. A security guard got in the way of a failed suplex/crotch drop and Steve almost broke Bret’s arm on a clothesline that followed. Things started picking up with a trip to the stairs and a reversed piledriver on the concrete stairs (Steve: “I just NEVER could get to piledriving anyone on the cement(!)!”).
Bret likes the pace to the match and how they teased stuff like Steve plastering him with the stairs, reversed. Bret brought the bell along for a later spot and eschewed a padded chair purposely for a plain steel chair to try and Pillmanise Austin. Stuff like this was to show Bret’s killer instinct, setting him up for the heel turn. Austin was getting nothing but cheers by this point in the match.
Austin was able to get bladed after a trip to the railing. The blood flew off Austin’s head and onto Jerry Lawler’s hand and notes, which he still keeps. Bret shows this match as THE match to show people EXACTLY what he used to do for a living.
Bret’s rubber mallets looked like they killed you but didn’t hurt at all. Steve gave Bret a kick from “down around Saskatoon” to a lot of oohs! Steve loves how bloodstained the canvas was by this point. He apologises for any stiff kicks in the corner before telling him “FUCK YOU!”. Bret talks about Steve doing his superplex from the second rope rather than the top before they get to the end of the match, with the shot with the bell that didn’t even graze Steve.
To the finish, with Bret really locking the Sharpshooter in tight. There was no talk of how long it would be in the Sharpshooter. Steve didn’t want to disrespect the hold, but got that final near-escape in with the iconic face full of blood before passing out. Steve was tremendously satisfied as he lay in the puddle of blood. Bret kept at it with kicks to the legs before getting hauled off by Shamrock, then slinked off as a heel. Austin, on the other hand, was the biggest good guy ever, even while keeping true to his character by dropping a ref with a Stunner when he tried to help him off. Steve realises he grew more in losing than winning. Bret compares it to losing to Davey Boy at Summerslam, where really he was gilded by that more.
Bret’s advice on the final push-up from Steve before passing out was to copy the scene with the guy trying to lug the sink in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Almost get out, but not. Bret to heel and Austin to babyface was a fantastic transition, neither would do anything differently, and it was easy and fun to do, with no injuries. They worked to make each other. Both guys trusted and respected one another.
Steve never got a win back over Bret, but isn’t unhappy about that at all. This leads to a slightly uncomfortable detour to the Summerslam ‘97 match with Owen where Austin got the neck injury and had to improvise the ending. Austin called a rollup, which Earl passed to Owen, although it looked awful. Austin had to go from technician to brawler as a result. It helped propel him working that style. Bret compliments Owen for creating distance when the injury happened. No rushing, no physical contact.
Steve talks about how loved Owen was and that he probably had another ten years in him if he hadn’t died. Bret says Owen would want to be in the Hall of Fame, but it cuts to a discussion of the Calgary Stampede before he probably blames Martha for it.
Austin loved the ten man tag. Austin happily did the job for Owen to set up their match. The Harts all came in for the end of the match. Pillman even broke character to help Stu in. Bret says that he can’t ever get mad at Vince when he gave him that moment and being the champ for the first time and second time, so the screwjob wasn’t going to spoil that. Bret says the nineties gave wrestling the best matches ever (absolutely agree).
What does Bret want to be remembered for? For being the best there is, the best there was… He thinks he was awesome at telling stories, never hurt a wrestler even if he was stiff, unlike Honky who hit like a girl and Goldberg who kicked like a horse. He credits his trainers, including the late Kazuo Sakurada, for training him so well to do moves, execute, and bump. He thinks Goldberg being in the Hall of Fame is a joke because he hurt everyone he wrestled and was incredibly dangerous. Curt Hennig would be in pieces after wrestling him. Bret begged Goldberg not to go nuts, but he did. This cuts to a shot of the famous kick in one of WCW’s diddy little ring.
Steve recognises that sometimes bad things do happen, but at least they both had awesome careers, and he thanks Bret for making him a star (again, no tears!). He finishes with recalling his match in Kuwait where he did a chicken impression to rib Bret in the ring. They then give each other cheers with a can of beer each.
Thoughts: Incredible level of depth and detail, but actually not one of their best conversations! I always think the podcast appearance Bret did where, amongst other things, he championed Earthquake as the guy that Stu thought was the toughest wrestler that ever lived was probably better. Still, absolutely worth giving a look. The hour flies by and it’s two absolute masters giving insight into their process.
Hope you enjoyed reading.