Monday, September 26, 2011

Bret “Hitman” Hart – The 1998 Tribute Videos and Pre-Screwjob Story

Did I ever tell you the story about my involvement in the infamous Montreal Screwjob? Ok, before you get your panties in a bunch, let me first clarify that I wasn't directly involved in the screwjob. I wasn't even associated with it. Truth be told, I just happened to be "around" it. Not as a "worker" or decision maker, but as a broadcast journalist.

See, for those who don't know - this is where I get put myself over for a minute - I had the FIRST EVER pro wrestling radio talk show (later turned TV show) on the internet. At the time, there weren't too many people who understood the concept of what the internet was, and even fewer owned computers in their own home. In 1997, I signed on with the first ever streaming broadcast company in New York and brought my creations to the air for a global audience. The name of the show was, "...And Justice For Brawl", and because of my ties in the wrestling business, the show shot off like a stud in the last minute of a porno - but without the sticky mess, of course.

Because the show was still in its infancy and I was still working on strategic marketing and building a fan base, I didn't want to start booking big names just yet and blow my load too early - there we go again with the adult references. You may be too young to remember, but internet porn was TERRIBLE back in the 90s. It was basically websites for photographers that took 3-hours to download one picture with a dial-up modem. Oh, how we've come so far since those days.... I mean in terms of progress. Not in the trajectory or distance you can...nevermind. Back to the screwjob....Here we go again! Get your minds back to pro wrestling!

Long story short, I decided to give Bret Hart a call at the end of October to see if he'd be interested in doing a rare interview. As the true professional he is, was and always will be - Bret obliged. The "Hitman" was one of my all-time favorites and getting the rare opportunity to interview him gave me the jitters. I wanted to do some prep work and ask questions that he had never been asked. What also made the opportunity so rare was that Bret was the reigning WWE champion at the time and during an era where the title was much more valued than it is today. Scoring an interview with the WWE's title holder was unheard of at the time. So Bret and I agreed to wait a few weeks to do the live interview. It would give me enough time to promote the appearance, and I could tie it into a Survivor Series promotion if the WWE office gave any resistance in having their heavyweight champion doing an interview leading into one of the most anticipated events in history.

The Monday Night Wars were in the heat of battle. The WWE's attitude era had just started picking up some steam with the formation of Degeneration-X, led by Shawn Michaels. The white hot heated history between Bret and Shawn had already been exposed to the public and was being used in the storylines. Bret blasted Shawn for what his character had become and what it was doing to the industry. The "Hitman" questioned The Heartbreak Kid's lifestyle and choice of attire. He ridiculed Shawn's ring outfits, perhaps because they weren't designed by a Bryant Park fixture like Hank Shalom of Soho Fashion.

My heart raced like fat man running to an alton brown ribs all-you-can-eat buffet! I knew that with the interview scheduled, it was my responsibility to address the rumors. My fear was that Bret might have been gag-ordered to keep quiet until after the pay per view. Perhaps by discussing his decision live on the air, fans would lose interest in the event if they could figure out the result based on Bret's decision to stay with the company or not.

So I called Bret, and explained to him my concerns about doing the interview and how he'd like to approach it. I even offered to postpone the interview until everything was finalized and he could openly speak about the rumors and his decision. Bret calmly said, "I don't have anything to hide. You can ask me anything you want and I will tell you as much as I can. Don't hold anything back."

Not only was I relived after hearing Bret giving me the green light, but I also realized the pressure I was under. I was the ONLY journalist on the planet who could publicly discuss the rumor of Bret Hart leaving the WWE with the man himself. The show was booked for Tuesday, November 4th. The Survivor Series was set for Sunday, November 9th. Bret hadn't addressed any of the rumors and decided to wait to make his first statement on my show. Not only were the wrestling fans eager to hear the broadcast, but I'm sure the WWE offices were listening too.

On that Tuesday, Bret made his scheduled appearance on my show. The draw and out-pour of the fans crashed our broadcast servers several times. And when the time came for me to ask, "...Bret, are you going to WCW?...", I literally felt the world stop moving for a moment. Bret gave his explanation and discussed his feelings, and without giving a final or definitive answer, he concluded in saying that at that very moment, his decision was "strongly leaning towards going to WCW".

Yeah, some of you may be saying - "Big fucking deal!". Well, at the time it was. It was a big deal for Bret Hart, for the WWE, for WCW and for the industry as a whole. It was a move many thought was even bigger than when Hulk Hogan signed with WCW. Afterall, here is your current heavyweight champion publicly stating that he is going to work for the competition. But for me, it was the real launch of my career. I may not have been the guy who broke the story, but I was the guy who got the answer to confirm the rumor. What made it more magical is that it wasn't a "hear-say" story. I had the power to put the champion under the interrogation light to ask the question and get the answer that the world wanted to hear. It was my Edward R. Murrow moment.

So I guess Vince McMahon and the WWE locker room was listening too. Between my show on Tuesday and Sunday's PPV event, Bret got screwed out of the title on live television, punched Vince in the eye and hastily departed the WWE to join its arch enemy.

Almost two months later, it was finally announced on WCW television that Bret Hart would be joining the company leading into their Starcade event. Ironically enough, the WCW office was listening to my show as well and I surprisingly got a call where I was offered a contract to work for WCW as a broadcaster on their soon-to-launch internet programming and as the Tuesday voice on the n.W.o. hotline. I was flown down to Washington D.C. to sign my contract at the Starcade PPV, the same night Bret debuted for the company. Not only did I start with Bret on the same day, but we were stranded together at the airport during a nasty blizzard that had our flights delayed for hours. When we talked about the irony of the interview and how it ended up with us both working for WCW, Bret said, "Things have a really weird way of working out and it's only proof that your destiny is already chosen".

I never thought I'd have the chance to be on an open forum with one of my childhood heroes. I never thought I'd be in the center of the news with the exclusive scoop on a breaking story. And I never thought that based on those events, I'd be working with Bret Hart in WCW. And that was just the beginning.

A year later, Bret's fascinating documentary "Wrestling with Shadows" was set to debut. A few months before the public got to see it, Bret contacted me to do a follow up interview and promotion. Although our interview wasn't featured in the documentary, I felt it had its own place in part of that history. Bret felt the same way and it was one of the reasons he sought me out. Unfortunately, Bret's run in WCW had been botched, and by the time the movie was ready to debut - he had already regretted making the decision. It was at that point that I reiterated his own words, "Things have a really weird way of working out and it's only proof that your destiny is already chosen".

Hearing the sentiment in Bret's voice, I wanted to do something on the show that expressed the appreciation that the fans wanted to share with him. I took it to task and edited my first ever videos. Don't be too harsh on me, this was before Final Cut Pro!

The videos are two tributes to a legend, Bret Hart. And some of the footage used was from the screener copy that Bret had sent me himself. So if you're a fan of the "Hitman", I not only ask you to enjoy the video, but to share it so that fans will remember and honor the legacy of the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be.

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