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This Day in Wrestling History (July 2): Happy Birthday Bret Hart!

Today's TDIPWH is presented in two parts. The first part focuses on the events of the day, including a WCW bout on WWF programming, Hulk Hogan's one and only tag title win, and Emma getting fired and rehired on the same day. This part will focus on the career and life of Bret "Hitman" Hart, who has his 59th birthday today.

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It's a happy 59th birthday for legendary wrestler Bret Sergeant Hart.

Born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Bret was the eighth from wrestling patriarch Stu Hart. He is considered a dual citizen of Canada and the United States, as his mother Helen Hart was born in New York. In his younger years, Bret was closest to Dean, who was nearest in age to Bret. The two would often fight with two of Bret's older sisters, Ellie and Georgia.

As with other members of the family, Bret's introduction into professional wrestling came in the family household, specifically the Dungeon, which was their basement converted into a training room. Bret generally described his father as having a pleasant demeanor...unless they were wrestling. Stu was tough on Bret, breaking him both physically with his submission holds that left broken blood vessels in his eyes, and psychologically as father Stu spoke morbidly while applying said holds.

Outside of broken blood vessels and excruciating pain, Hart's early years in the wrestling business included handing out flyers, selling programs (something that all seven of the Hart brothers would do), and pulling out lucky numbers out of a metal box.

Long before Bret became an outstanding pro wrestler, he was an outstanding amateur wrestler, winning several championships for Ernest Manning High School in Calgary, including the 1974 city championships. Three years later, he was a collegiate champion wrestler for Mount Royal College. Coaches believed in his ability enough that he could compete in the Commonwealth Games in 1978. But with his interest in amateur wrestling and filmmaking (which Hart was studying while in college) waning and his college grades sliding, Bret turned to professional wrestling and began training in his father's promotion, Stampede Wrestling.

After spending two years as a referee, Hart began wrestling for Stampede in 1978 as a last minute replacement for a wrestler who could not compete on the show. Over the next six years, Hart would have high-profile bouts with Mr. Hito, Mr. Sakurada, and the Dynamite Kid. He often fought alongside his family (he was a four-time NWA International Tag Team Champion-Calgary version with his brother Keith), but he also didn't want to take advantage of the family name, so to speak. He jobbed as requested; in the 2005 WWE DVD release on Bret Hart, he himself said that "no one could take a shit kicking like [him]". While competing for Stampede, Hart traveled to Japan for New Japan Pro Wrestling and wrestled Satoru Sayama, aka the legendary Tiger Mask.

By the time the WWF bought out Stampede Wrestling in August 1984, Bret had become one of the most successful performers in their history, winning two British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Championships, five NWA International tag titles, and six North American Heavyweight Championships.

Following the Stampede Wrestling buyout, Bret debuted in the WWF in August 1984. Initially set to debut as a cowboy, Hart turned it down, basically saying where he came from, you had better be a cowboy if you called yourself one. He would join Jimmy Hart (no relation)'s Hart Foundation, which included his brother-in-law Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart. His television debut came in a tag team match with the Dynamite Kid; his singles debut came about two weeks later.

By 1985, the Hart Foundation would simply be Bret, Jim, and manager Jimmy, basically they all had the same last name. Bret would be nicknamed "Hit Man" and was dubbed the "Excellence of Execution" by commentator Gorilla Monsoon for his agile, technical style, a stark contrast to Neidhart's brawling and strength. Hart also began wearing mirrored sunglasses, initially as a way to conceal his nervousness during promos (going back to his Stampede Wrestling days, Hart dreaded doing promos in front of crowds). Hart himself conceded that his promos were a weakness in his repertoire, instead relying on his in-ring skills to get over with fans.

In 1986, Hart briefly feuded with Ricky Steamboat. The bout was originally planned for Wrestlemania 2, but was done a month before the event at Boston Garden, which was won by Steamboat. The two would have a notable television bout in July on Prime Time Wrestling; Steamboat also won that match. Hart's role in Wrestlemania 2 was as a part of a 20-man battle royal, which Andre the Giant went on to win.

On February 7, 1987, the Hart Foundation defeated the British Bulldogs to win the WWF Tag Team Championship. The two would team with Danny Davis, the referee for the title bout, against the Bulldogs and Tito Santana at Wrestlemania III. Davis would pin Davey Boy Smith after using Jimmy Hart's megaphone to knock Smith out. The Hart Foundation, who would adopt the name "The Pink and Black Attack" for their pink and black attire, would lose the tag titles on October 27 episode of Superstars. A month later, he was defeated by Randy Savage in his biggest singles match to date.

In 1988, Bret was the first ever Royal Rumble entrant, lasting 25 minutes (longer than anyone in the match) before being eliminated by Don Muraco. In July, he challenged for a singles title for the first time in his WWF career, going to a double countout with then-WWF Intercontinental Champion The Honky Tonk Man.

In April 1989 at the request of Andre the Giant, he took on Bret Hart in Milan, Italy. Andre went on to the win the match, but Hart considered Andre's praise and encouragement as a key moment in his career (the bout is on the 2013 DVD release, The Dungeon Collection). His first PPV singles bout came in October 1989 for Sky Television in the London Arena. It was a countout loss to Dino Bravo (he was originally supposed to win, but Hart got a broken sternum in the bout). The bout came just over a month after the Hart Foundation were defeated by the Brain Busters.

The Hart Foundation would find their way back into the WWF Tag Team Championship picture with a 19-second win over the Bolsheviks at Wrestlemania VI. At Summerslam that August, the Hart Foundation defeated Crush and Smash of Demolition in a two-out-of-three falls match for the tag titles. They would lose the titles to The Rockers on October 30, but the decision was reversed by WWF President Jack Tunney due to a rope breaking during the match; the win was never acknowledged on television. Their title reign would end at Wrestlemania VII at the hands of The Nasty Boys. Following the loss, the Hart Foundation split.

Singles success came quickly for the Hitman; at Summerslam in August 1991, Hart defeated Mr. Perfect for the WWF Intercontinental Championship. Two weeks later, Bret won the King of the Ring tournament. In early December at This Tuesday in Texas, Hart put the first loss in the ledger of Skinner.

Hart feuded with The Mountie in January 1992; the feud spawned from Jimmy Hart splashing water on Bret, then the Mountie shocking him with a cattle prod. Shockingly (no pun intended), Hart would be defeated by the Mountie just before the Royal Rumble event for the Intercontinental Championship (Bret worked that match with a 104-degree fever). Two days later at the Rumble, Roddy Piper would defeat Mountie for the Intercontinental title; just over two months later, Hart would win the title back at Wrestlemania VIII, giving Piper his first television pinfall defeat.

In a historic summer, Hart successfully defended the Intercontinental title following a Wrestling Challenge taping in July against Shawn Michaels in a ladder match, but would lose it at Summerslam in August at Wembley Stadium in London to Davey Boy Smith. The bout was voted by Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers as the Match of the Year for 1992, and in 2007, WWE named the bout the greatest in Summerslam history. Bret himself said in his 2005 WWE Hall of Fame speech that his Summerslam bout was his favorite match ever.

On October 12, 1992 at a Superstars taping in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, Bret defeated Ric Flair for his first WWF Championship. The bout was never broadcast on WWF television, instead relegated to Coliseum Home Video (later WWF/E Home Video) releases. In an interesting side nugget, Hart dislocated one of his fingers and popped it back in place himself. Hart would go on to hold the WWF Championship for the next six months, including wins over Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon on PPV, and on television against Papa Shango and former champion Ric Flair. He would lose the title to Yokozuna at Wrestlemania IX, who would then lose the title to Hulk Hogan just a few minutes later. According to Hart, this was to set up a bout between Hogan and Hart for Summerslam that August, but Hogan balked at the idea, instead deciding to drop the title back to Yokozuna at King of the Ring.

Hart, who would go on to win his second straight King of the Ring tournament that evening, would be interrupted by Jerry "The King" Lawler. Lawler claimed to be the one true king of wrestling, thus setting off the feud. The feud would get personal, with Lawler not only physically attacking Hart, but verbally attacking his family. The two met at Summerslam, with the winner to have bragging rights as the "undisputed king of the World Wrestling Federation". Hart would win the bout when he submitted Lawler with his Sharpshooter, but his emotions got the better of him. He didn't let go of the hold, and the decision was reversed to a disqualification win for Lawler. The feud would carry over to the United States Wrestling Association, where Bret's younger brother Owen was defeated by Lawler for the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship. The Hart-Lawler feud would be named Feud of the Year by both Pro Wrestling Illustrated and Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

Bret would eventually turn his attention to Yokozuna and regaining the WWF Championship. He had two opportunities in late November 1993; at a Superstars taping airing November 20, Owen appeared to congratulate Bret, though the match hadn't been in the bag yet. The opening allowed for Mr. Fuji to attack Bret, then Owen going after Fuji, resulting on a disqualification win for Yokozuna. Two days later on Monday Night Raw, Hart again challenged for the WWF Championship, with the same result. Two days after that at Survivor Series, the Hart family (Bret, Owen, Bruce, and Keith) would take on Shawn Michaels (substituting for Jerry Lawler) and his knights in an elimination tag team match. The Harts would win the bout, with only Owen being eliminated on the winning side. That elimination would cause quite the contention with the Hart clan. Owen accidentally knocked Bret to the floor, and Bruce and Keith tended to Bret to see if he was okay. It was then Owen was rolled up by Michaels and eliminated. Owen would confront the rest of his teammates about it, then storm off to the back alone. The brothers would reconcile during the holiday season, and would go after the tag team titles.

Owen Hart Promo (Royal Rumble 1994) by zep81videos

At the 1994 Royal Rumble event, Bret and Owen challenged The Quebecers for the WWF Tag Team Championship. Bret suffered a knee injury (kayfabe), an injury that got bad enough to force a referee stoppage by Tim White. Owen was not happy, as he felt his older brother cost him the titles. Owen would kick at the injured leg, igniting a feud between the two. Bret would recover; he would go on to win the show's Royal Rumble match alongside Lex Luger when it was ruled both men went out at the same time at the end of the match. The win enabled both men to challenge for the WWF Championship at Wrestlemania X. Luger got the first shot against champion Yokozuna, but he was disqualified. Bret recovered from a show-opening loss to Owen Hart, but would defeat Yokozuna for the WWF Championship in the main event—much to the chagrin of his younger brother.

Later that spring, Bret's old tag team partner Jim Neidhart returned to the WWF. Around the same time, Hart began feuding with Diesel. The two fought for the WWF Championship at King of the Ring. Shawn Michaels interfered on Diesel's behalf when Hart had the match won. Neidhart would return the favor and interfere on Bret's behalf after Diesel hit Bret with the Jacknife Powerbomb. Diesel would win the match, but not the title. But when both Diesel and Michaels went after Bret, Neidhart left Bret behind. It became even more clear why when Jim helped Owen win the King of the Ring tournament later that evening; Neidhart wanted Owen to win the WWF Championship from Bret.

That title shot came at Summerslam in a classic steel cage match, with Bret retaining the title. The bout, rated five stars by Wrestling Observer Newsletter's Dave Meltzer, was the high point of Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Feud of the Year for 1994.

Hart held the title until Survivor Series when he was defeated in a submission match by Bob Backlund. That match could only end when their cornerman threw in the towel on their behalf (Davey Boy Smith for Bret, Owen Hart for Bob Backlund). While Bret was in Backlund's Crossface Chickenwing, Owen knocked out Smith, then convinced his mother Helen to throw in the towel on Bret's behalf. Just three days later, Diesel would defeat Backlund in just eight seconds to win the WWF Championship (a record that stands to this day, though it is now shared).

Bret challenged Diesel for the WWF title at the 1995 Royal Rumble; the match went to a draw after in a match marred by interference. Unlike their bout at King of the Ring the previous year, the two displayed mutual respect for one another post-match. Hart would end his feud with Backlund at Wrestlemania XI when he defeated him in an I Quit match. The next month, Bret would compete twice on the very first In Your House PPV event. He defeated Hakushi in the show's opening match, but after Jerry Lawler interfered in the bout, Hart challenged Lawler, but Lawler would get the better of him.

Bret and Jerry met again in a "Kiss My Foot" match at King of the Ring, which was won by Bret. Following the match, Bret shoved his foot in Jerry's mouth, then forced him to kiss his own foot. The feud sort of continued when Lawler brought in his dentist (kayfabe) Issac Yankem, DDS. Hart would defeat him by disqualification. Lawler's on-air vendetta with Bret would continue on commentary long after their battles had ended, cheering on anyone opposing Bret. The two finally buried the hatchet at Over the Limit in May 2011.

With Jerry Lawler in the rear view mirror, Bret refocused on the WWF Championship. At Survivor Series in November, Bret ended Diesel's year-long reign as champion in a no disqualification match. Bret then defeated the heel Davey Boy Smith at In Your House 5: Season's Beatings, but would be defeated by The Undertaker via disqualification at the 1996 Royal Rumble when Diesel interfered. The two rematched on Raw in February, with again Diesel interfering. Hart defeated Diesel in a steel cage match at In Your House 6. The next month, Bret put the first loss on Raw on Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Later that month, then-WWF President Rowdy Roddy Piper made the upcoming WWF Championship match between Hart and Royal Rumble winner Shawn Michaels a 60-minute Iron Man match, with the wrestler scoring the most decisions at the end of the hour winning the WWF Championship.

In the closing moments of the match, Michaels leaped from the middle rope, but was caught by Hart, who would hook in his Sharpshooter. Michaels did not submit, ending the match at a 0-0 tie. WWF President Gorilla Monsoon (he took over the position when Piper feuded with Goldust) ruled that there must be a winner, and that there would be a sudden death overtime to determine the winner. Two minutes later, Michaels hits his superkick to win the WWF Championship. The bout was voted match of the year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated readers, and voted by fans in 2004 as the greatest match in Wrestlemania history. Following a European tour after Wrestlemania, Hart contemplated retirement, citing his diminishing interest in wrestling.

A few months later, Hart would receive historic offers from both WWF and WCW. WCW presented Hart a three-year, $9 million contract (making him the highest salaried wrestler in this industry), while WWF countered with a 20-year contract, the longest ever offered for a wrestler in company history. In October 1996, Hart re-signed with the WWF.

While Hart was gone, Stone Cold Steve Austin would win the 1996 King of the Ring tournament. Over the next few months, Austin taunted Hart and challenged him to a match upon his return. Hart ultimately answered, and at Survivor Series (Bret's first match on television since Wrestlemania XII), Bret would defeat Austin in a #1 contender's match for the WWF Championship. Bret would challenge Sycho Sid for the title at In Your House 12: It's Time. Shawn, a guest commentator on the bout, accidentally cost Hart the title with his involvement. Hart and Michaels would get into a post-match brawl.

Meanwhile, Bret resumed his feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin. At the 1997 Royal Rumble, Bret eliminated Steve from the match; however, none of the referees saw it. Austin came back in and tossed Hart along with Undertaker and Vader to win the Royal Rumble match. Hart would quit the WWF the next night in protest, but was talked off the ledge, so to speak. The four met at In Your House 13: Final Four. The match, originally to determine who would challenge for the WWF Championship at Wrestlemania 13, was for the title itself when Shawn Michaels forfeited the title prior to the event. Hart would win the bout and the title, but barely had time to enjoy it.

The next night, he was defeated by Sycho Sid with help from Austin. The Monday before Wrestlemania, Undertaker helped Sid retain the WWF Championship when he defeated Hart in a steel cage match. Austin tried to help Hart win, seeing that a Hart victory would put Austin within reach of the WWF title. Post-match, Hart shoved Vince McMahon and went on an expletive-ridden tirade against the company and its management. The worked shoot promo is often cited as a building block for the WWF's Attitude Era and the development of one its archvillains, Mr. McMahon.

Bret Hart took on Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 13 in a submission match. The five-star classic (as rated by Wrestling Observer Newsletter) climaxed with Hart hooking Austin in the Sharpshooter. Blood poured from the face of Austin, but Stone Cold refused to submit. In the end, the excessive blood loss and pain was too much of a toll for Austin's body to take. Special referee Ken Shamrock stopped the match, awarding it to Hart. Post-match, Hart would continue to assault the unconscious Austin until he was physically restrained by Shamrock. The bout was voted Match of the Year by both Pro Wrestling Illustrated and Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Later in the evening, he interjected himself into the WWF Championship match, confronting Undertaker, Sid, and guest commentator Shawn Michaels, then hotshotting Sid on the ropes, costing Sid the WWF title.

After Hart lost via disqualification to Rocky Maivia on the March 31 RAW is WAR (Hart refused to release a figure-four leglock around a ringpost), Bret turned his attention again to Austin. They fought in a #1 contender's match for the WWF Championship at In Your House 14: Revenge of the ‘Taker with the winner to face the WWF Champion at In Your House 15: A Cold Day in Hell. Austin had Hart locked in the Sharpshooter, but the British Bulldog interfered on Bret's behalf, giving the win and the title shot to Austin. The two met again the next night on RAW in a street fight, going to a no contest after Austin injured Hart's ankle, then continued to beat on a stretchered Hart in the back of an ambulance.

Soon after, Hart began to berate American audiences with their attitude towards him. He would reconcile with his brother Owen and brothers-in-law Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith. Along with Brian Pillman, the group formed a new version of the Hart Foundation, an anti-American group that was still popular elsewhere in the world. Hart became so despised in the States that fans threw debris at him during interviews, matches, and his ring entrances. The border war picked up at In Your Hosue 16: Canadian Stampede when in Bret's hometown of Calgary, his Hart Foundation defeated The Legion of Doom, Goldust, Ken Shamrock, and Stone Cold Steve Austin, representing the United States. Bret, Owen, and Davey Boy Smith defeated The Undertaker, Austin, and Dude Love in a flag match two weeks later on RAW is WAR in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Hart had such a disdain for America, he vowed that if he could not win the WWF Championship from the Undertaker at Summerslam, he would never wrestle on its soil again. With Shawn Michaels as the special referee, Hart would defeat Undertaker for his fifth WWF Championship, joining Hulk Hogan as the only men to win the WWF's top prize five times. Michaels had a hand in the win, hitting Undertaker with a steel chair meant for Bret (Bret spat in the face of Shawn). Michaels, who had to be an impartial official lest he be banned from wrestling in the United States, had no choice but to count the fall.

Michaels for his actions would become the WWF's top heel virtually overnight, leading American fans to somewhat soften their hate for Hart, especially after he declared himself to be "not so much anti-American as I am just very, very pro-Canadian". In reality, Hart had a disdain for the changing direction of the WWF (i.e. the shift towards the Attitude Era). Hart, a hardline traditionalist, continued to disdain American fans for their part in the tone change. Bret defeated The Patriot on a pair of In Your House events (Ground Zero and Badd Blood). In between the two bouts, The Undertaker challenged for the WWF Championship at the UK exclusive 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. Hart's neck was caught in the ropes as a result, resulting in a disqualification loss for Undertaker. Hart in his 2005 DVD called this his favorite of all of his matches with The Undertaker.

In the leadup to Survivor Series, the Nation of Domination's locker room would be vandalized with racist motifs (the Nation of Domination was an African-American stable). D-Generation X pinned the defacing on the Hart Foundation. In retaliation, Hart called DX members Triple H and Shawn Michaels "homos". Hart would later apologize for using the slur, saying he was pressured into using it and that he's not a racist or would not use those slurs normally. After Hart successfully defended the WWF title twice on RAW in late October (a win over Nation of Domination leader Faarooq and a no contest against Ken Shamrock), Hart turned his attention to Shawn Michaels.

It was around this time Hart's on-air issues with Vince McMahon exploded as McMahon was being more frequently referred to as the WWF's owner. Though Hart signed a 20-year deal the previous October with most of the money deferred to the back end of the contract, the WWF was worse off financially than when Hart signed the deal. Combined with Hart's character trending downward with WWF's changing direction, McMahon encouraged Hart to explore other options, including WCW. Hart didn't want to leave and was willing to renegotiate his deal, but in the end Bret took a three-year deal to leave for WCW. Hart was to face Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series for the WWF Championship in Montreal in what was to be his final match. Hart and Michaels had a rivalry that extended to behind the curtain; with the event in Montreal, Bret was not up for ending his WWF career in his home country with a loss to Michaels. He offered to lose in another way (disqualification, countout, forfeit, other), any way other than what McMahon offered, even suggesting he would forfeit the championship outright.

Though Hart swore he would not take the WWF Championship with him to WCW (despite the insistence of then-WCW president Eric Bischoff to do so; Hart wanted to come into WCW with a clean slate), McMahon was still concerned with the possibility (after all, it happened to him two years prior when Madusa took the WWF Womens Championship belt with her to WCW). Vince went back on his word to let Hart leave the event with the WWF Championship. In the match, Michaels put Hart in the Sharpshooter. Though Bret never submitted, referee Earl Hebner called for the bell on orders of McMahon, awarding the match and the WWF Championship to Michaels. Post-match, an irate Hart spat in McMahon's face, destroyed television equipment, and punched McMahon backstage. Hart confronted Michaels about what had happened and Shawn acknowledged he had nothing to do with it. The events of that evening would be known in wrestling lore as "The Montreal Screwjob", an event called by WWE themselves in 2007 as "arguably the most controversial, most jarring moment in the annals of sports entertainment". The events of that evening (and most of Bret's last year in the WWF) were chronicled for the documentary Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows, released the next year.

Bret would sign with WCW in November 1997, paying him $3 million annually (a $1 million/year increase from his WWF deal), plus he got to work a lighter schedule and have some creative control over his character. The day after Survivor Series, Eric Bischoff announced on Nitro that Bret was coming to WCW and he would join the nWo. Hart made his WCW debut on December 15, 1997. His PPV debut came two weeks later at Starrcade. Due to his no-compete clause from the WWF (60 days at the time), Hart couldn't wrestle, yet he was still heavily involved. In one of the featured bouts, he was the special referee between Eric Bischoff and Larry Zbyszko. That refereeing came in handy in the show's main event where Hart stepped in as the impromptu referee for the Hulk Hogan-Sting match for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship.

With his no-compete clause expired, Hart feuded with Ric Flair over who exactly was the greatest pro wrestler of all time. Hart would defeat Flair in his WCW in-ring debut at Souled Out. Hart would declare his allegiance to WCW against the nWo, but that allegiance didn't last long: on an episode of Nitro in April, Hart helped Hollywood Hogan defeat Randy Savage for the WCW world title. Though Hart was never an nWo member, he associated with the group, even trying to recruit Chris Benoit into the fold in June. Benoit refused.

Bret began his championship pursuits in July 1998. At Bash at the Beach, he challenged Booker T for the WCW World Television Championship. Hart was disqualified after hitting Booker with a steel chair. Two weeks later on Nitro, Bret Hart defeated Diamond Dallas Page in a tournament final for the vacant WCW United States Championship with help from The Giant. He would lose the title to Lex Luger three weeks later on Nitro, but would win it back the following night at a Thunder taping.

After being defeated in the annual WarGames match at Fall Brawl for a shot at the WCW World Heavyweight Championship, Hart asked the fans for forgiveness and ended his allegiance to Hogan and the nWo. Hart and Hogan would face off on Nitro two weeks later. The bout went to a no contest when Bret suffered a knee injury. Sting came to Hart's aid and challenged Hogan. Hart would turn on Sting, igniting what would be a volatile feud. The feud ended at Halloween Havoc when Hart injured Sting (kayfabe) and defeated him to retain the WCW United States Championship. Hart would lose the title the next night to Diamond Dallas Page, and would be defeated in the rematch at World War 3. Eight days later, Hart would win the United States title for a second time when he defeated Page in a no disqualification match on Nitro. He held the title until February 8, 1999 when he was defeated by Roddy Piper.

In March, Hart called out both Ric Flair and Hollywood Hogan for ducking a bout with him (despite the fact that in the previous year he fought them both). Then he called out Bill Goldberg, claiming he could take him in five minutes and dared Goldberg to tackle him. Goldberg obliged, but it was a trap: under Hart's Toronto Maple Leafs sweater was a metal plate, and the plate knocked Goldberg out. Hart counted his own fall, then announced over the mic to Eric Bischoff that he was quitting WCW. It was a write-off in reality; Bret had to get surgery to repair a groin injury. Hart was set to hype his imminent WCW return on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, but the night before his appearance, Bret's younger brother Owen died in an accident during the Over the Edge PPV. Hart would take another four months off to be with family.

Bret returned to WCW in September 1999 in a tag team match where he teamed with Hulk Hogan against Sting and Lex Luger. The next month, Hart challenged Sting for the WCW world title, but was defeated with help from Lex Luger. Following the controversy surrounding the WCW world title at Halloween Havoc, the title was vacated, with a new champion to be crowned at Mayhem. The tournament would take place over several episodes on Nitro. In a first round bout, Bret faced Goldberg, with the WCW United States Championship at stake. Again thanks to outside interference, Hart would defeat Goldberg for his fourth WCW United States Championship. He would lose the title two weeks later in a ladder match to Scott Hall that also involved Sid Vicious and Goldberg. Despite the setback, Hart would go on to defeat Sting and Chris Benoit at Mayhem to win his first WCW World Heavyweight Championship. In a bit of trivia, a portion of that match is featured in the opening sequence of Malcolm in the Middle.

Hart would add the WCW World Tag Team Championship on December 7 when he and Goldberg defeated Creative Control. Hart's time as double champion would be brief; they would lose the title to the Outsiders less than a week later. At Starrcade later in the month, Hart defended the WCW world title against Goldberg; during the match, Hart was hit with a thrust kick that gave him a severe concussion. The bout went to a Montreal Screwjob-esque finish when Piper quickly rang the bell when Hart had Goldberg in the Sharpshooter. Bret later speculated that he may have had as many as three additional concussions following Starrcade; Hart would suffer from post-concussion syndrome; the ailment ultimately led to his retirement.

Bret vacated the WCW world title on Nitro the next night and decided that he and Goldberg face off again to determine who the true world champion was. During the bout, the Outsiders (Scott Hall and Kevin Nash) came down with baseball bats to attack Goldberg. Hart convinced them to stop, then took one of the bats and used it on him as well. They would be joined by Jeff Jarrett as a reunited nWo (nWo 2000 as they were loosely called). Though Piper tried to protect Goldberg from further damage, Bret would win the match and the WCW world title for a second time.

After defending the world title against Kevin Nash on the January 10, 2000 Nitro, Hart vacated the WCW world title at Souled Out due to mounting injuries. The bout against Nash would turn out to be his last for WCW. He continued to make appearances for WCW, last appearing on Thunder in September. Hart was fired via FedEx in October due to his ongoing incapacity; just a week after his firing, Hart retired from wrestling.

Many critics have since come out on Hart's time in WCW, including Eric Bischoff, Chris Jericho, who called his WCW tenure lackluster due to backstage politics, and even Vince McMahon, saying it was "fortunate for me, in terms of my company" that Hart wasn't used to his full potential.

On June 24, 2002, Bret suffered a stroke after hitting his head in a bicycle accident. According to The Calgary Herald, Hart hit a pothole, flew over the handlebars of the bike, and landed on the back of his head. Hart would suffer total paralysis on the left side of his body, but would eventually recover much of his mobility. As Hart was confined to a wheelchair for a time, that precluded him from participating as the on-screen commissioner of World Wrestling All-Stars, the role he took on the previous year. His first major appearance following the stroke was for WWA in 2003. In his autobiography, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, Hart claimed that Roddy Piper, a cousin of Hart, was the only wrestler to visit him in the hospital following his stroke.

Bret returned to the renamed World Wrestling Entertainment in 2005 to contribute to his DVD release, Bret "Hit Man" Hart: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be. The next year, Hart was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by one of his biggest rivals, Stone Cold Steve Austin. He did not appear alongside his fellow inductees at Wrestlemania 22 the next night. Hart made a cameo appearance on the June 11, 2007 episode of RAW during a pre-taped segment for "Mr. McMahon Appreciation Night". It was his first appearance on RAW in any capacity in nearly 10 years.

In a shock to many, Hart re-signed with WWE in late 2009. The signing was confirmed on the December 28, 2009 RAW when Vince McMahon announced that Bret would be the guest host for the next week's RAW. In Bret's return to RAW, he thanked the fans, joked about his long-running feud with Jerry Lawler, and confronted Shawn Michaels and McMahon about the infamous Montreal Screwjob. Perhaps more shocking than Hart returning to the WWE was Hart and Michaels calling a truce, agreeing to leave the events of that night behind for good. While many have doubted the sincerity of their truce, both Hart and Michaels have confirmed that the hatchet has indeed been buried. The two shook hands and hugged it out. Vince McMahon... not so much. They didn't quite reconcile, with McMahon kicking Bret in the groin (this was storyline; Hart and McMahon have been on speaking terms since 2005).

Bret wouldn't stick around long; after coming to terms that he would never get a match with Mr. McMahon, Bret gave his farewell address to WWE six weeks later. As Hart got into his limousine, another car backed into the door of the limo, injuring his left leg. McMahon reversed course, challenging Hart to a match at Wrestlemania XXVI, one in which Hart accepted. Why would an injured Hart accept? Two weeks later, when Stone Cold Steve Austin (the RAW guest host that evening) made the bout a No Holds Barred match, it was revealed that Hart's injury was faked. The night before Wrestlemania XXVI, Bret and his family inducted their patriarch, Stu Hart into the WWE Hall of Fame. The next night, his family was at ringside when Hart submitted McMahon.

Following Wrestlemania, the Hart family would collect some championship gold. On April 26, the Hart Dynasty (David Hart Smith, the son of the late Davey Boy Smith, and Tyson Kidd, the last graduate of the Hart Dungeon) would defeat ShoMiz (Big Show and The Miz) for the WWE Tag Team Championship. Three weeks later, The Miz was forced into a match to a Hart family member of his choosing. He chose Bret, thinking it would be an easy bout. But with help from the Dynasty, Bret submitted Miz and won his fifth United States Championship in Toronto.

The next week, he was named the General Manager of RAW and vacated the United States title. He also set up qualifying matches for the Fatal 4-Way PPV. Unexpectedly, an injured Batista passed on his qualifying match and quit the company altogether. On the June 14 RAW, the NXT Season 1 rookies were all fired by Hart after their actions the previous week. That decision would come back to haunt him, as the rookies went after Bret later that evening. The next week, Bret was fired for failing to control the rookies.

Bret returned a month later at Summerslam as a member of Team WWE against the NXT rookies, now known as the Nexus. Hart was disqualified when he used a chair on Skip Sheffield; despite that, Cena's team went on to win the match. The next night, Hart introduced the new WWE Tag Team Championship belts and handed them to the Hart Dynasty. Hart's last WWE bout under contract came during a tribute event to him in Madison Square Garden on September 25, where he and the Hart Dynasty defeated Heath Slater, Justin Gabriel, and Michael Tarver. Two months later, Hart's contract expired and was not renewed.

Bret sporadically has made appearances for WWE in recent years, including acting as moral support for Jerry Lawler at Over the Limit in May 2011, teaming with John Cena against Alberto Del Rio and Ricardo Rodriguez (the bout on September 12, 2011 is his final match), serving as guest ring announcer for a couple of episodes of RAW (including RAW 1000 in July 2012), participating in backstage segments at the 2013 Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania 31, and served as a member of their expert panel (notably on the RAW before Wrestlemania 29 and the NXT Arrival preshow). Bret was honored on the post-show on the May 27, 2013 RAW in what was billed as "Bret Hart Appreciation Night" in his hometown of Calgary. Hart's most recent appearance came at Payback in May 2016 as the cornerman for Natalya when she unsuccessfully challenged for the WWE Women's Championship. Post-match, both Hart and Natalya locked Ric Flair and Charlotte in Sharpshooters.

To say that Bret Hart's wrestling legacy is secure is an understatement. His peers including Michael Hayes, CM Punk, Booker T, Harley Race, Dory Funk, Jr., and Stone Cold Steve Austin, consider him among the greatest, if not the greatest wrestler ever. Kurt Angle in a 2008 interview stated that he studied tapes of Bret Hart to learn the art of pro wrestling. In the Hart DVD release, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon praised Hart's "basically unparallel" technical wrestling and storytelling abilities, calling him "an extraordinary star who you know is going to give you the best match of the night every time he goes out there".

Many of his peers cite Bret Hart as their favorite opponent or match, including The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels, Curt Hennig, Roddy Piper, Lance Storm, and Arn Anderson. Hart's been cited as inspiration or influence for many including Storm, Roman Reigns, Sami Zayn, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Chris Benoit, and Wade Barrett.

On July 15, 2006, Hart was inducted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in Newton, Iowa (no relation to the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in Wichita Falls, Texas). The honor is reserved for those who had made contributions to both amateur and professional wrestling. At 49, Hart was one of the youngest inductees ever. Comparing his induction to his place in the WWE Hall of Fame, Hart called the Tragos/Thesz Hall of Fame induction "a much bigger honor for [him]". He returned to Iowa to posthumously induct his father Stu Hart into their Hall of Fame.

Hart wrote a weekly column for the Calgary Sun from June 1991 to October 2004. Bret also released an autobiography, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling in October 2007 (released in the United States about a year later). Hart actually began working on the book shortly after Owen Hart's death in July 1999 with Marcy Engelstein, his longtime friend and business associate. Hart suffering a stroke in 2002 contributed to the book's delay. His autobiography is based on the audio diary he kept while on the road throughout his career.

Bret has got into acting in his career, first playing a prison inmate in a deleted scene in Natural Born Killers in 1994. He made frequent appearances on Lonesome Dove in 1994 and 1995 as Luther Root. Perhaps his most famous guest spot came in 1997 as himself on an episode of The Simpsons ("The Old Man and the Lisa"). Bret made appearances on the Fox sketch comedy MADtv in 1997 as the WWF Champion, and in 1999 and 2000; his latter appearances resulted in him getting into a feud with actor Will Sasso. Hart ultimately defeated Sasso in a bout on Monday Nitro. In 2004, Bret played a wrestling genie, pink and black singlet and all, in a stage production of Aladdin in 2004 and 2006.

Bret's appeared in a few documentaries post-retirement, including the aforementioned Bret "Hit Man" Hart: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be, the 2010 WWE release Hart & Soul: The Hart Family Anthology, The Fight Network documentary Bret Hart-Survival of the Hitman, chronicling the rise and fall of Hart and his road back to WWE in 2010, and the WWE release Bret Hart: WWE's Greatest Rivalries in 2011. This year, Bret appeared in Nine Legends, a documentary film chronicling nine combat sports legends. Earlier this year, Hart has also gotten into podcasting, hosting the aptly named Sharpshooter Podcast.

Bret was married first to Julie Smadu. They have four children: Jade Michelle, age 33, Dallas Jeffrey, age 29, Alexandra Sabrina, age 26, and Blade Colton, age 24. The four dots on the right thigh of his tights represent Bret's four children. The couple separated in May 1998 and divorced on June 24, 2002 just hours before his stroke. Hart married again in 2004 to Cinzia Rota, but they divorced just three years later. In 2010, Bret married for a third time, this time to Stephanie Washington. Bret also has a granddaughter and a grandson through his daughters Jade and Alexandra, Kyra Beans, age 6, and Grayson Knight Cassidy, who just turned one year old last month.

Bret is a member of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (1996), WWE (2006), George Tragos/Lou Thesz Wrestling (2006), and Professional Wrestling (2008) Halls of Fame.

A short list of Bret's professional accomplishments:

  • 5-time WWF Champion
  • 2-time WWF Tag Team Champion
  • 2-time WWF Intercontinental Champion.
  • WWE United States Champion
  • 2-time King of the Ring tournament winner (1991 and 1993)
  • 1994 Royal Rumble winner (with Lex Luger)
  • 1993 WWF Superstar of the Year
  • 5-time Slammy Award winner
  • 2-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion
  • 4-time WCW United States Champion
  • WCW World Tag Team Champion
  • 5-time NWA International Tag Team Champion (Calgary version)
  • 6-time Stampede North American Heavyweight Champion
  • 3-time Stampede British Commonwealth Mid-Heavyweight Champion

From Pro Wrestling Illustrated:

  • 3-time Match of the Year winner (1992 vs. British Bulldog, Summerslam, 1996 vs. Shawn Michaels, Wrestlemania XII, 1997 vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin, Wrestlemania 13)
  • 2-time Feud of the Year winner (1993 vs. Jerry Lawler, 1994 vs. Owen Hart)
  • Most Inspirational Wrestler of 1994
  • #1 singles wrestler in the world in 1993 and 1994 in the PWI 500
  • Most Hated Wrestler of 1997
  • Comeback of the Year for 1997
  • 2003 Stanley Weston Award winner
  • #4 singles wrestler of the PWI Years in 2003
  • #37 tag team (with Jim Neidhart) of the PWI Years in 2003

From Wrestling Observer Newsletter:

  • 2-time Feud of the Year winner (1993 vs. Jerry Lawler, 1997 as part of the Hart Foundation vs. Steve Austin)
  • 2 5-star rated matches (1994 vs. Owen Hart, Summerslam, 1997 vs. Steve Austin, Wrestlemania 13)
  • 2-time Best Pro Wrestling DVD (2006, Bret "Hit Man" Hart: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be; 2011, Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart)
  • Best Pro Wrestling Book of 2007

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