Watch this match. Seriously, along with Benoit - Angle at Royal Rumble, it is truly on another level. It is the perfect example of how wrestling should be booked; it was the only match worth watching on a terrible pay-per-view, which is ironically the only PPV that I ever purchased. I was like fourteen and still thinking it sucked. Time does always bring appreciation. But as lousy as that Psycho Sid period was, it produced a wonderful feud between Steve Austin and Bret Hart. It was a blowoff moment and a grudge match between two guys who seemed to absolutely hate each other. To settle the score, they booked an I Quit match on the under card and stole the show. Ken Shamrock was the referee; this was when he was new and seemed like a legit tough guy, other than a bad actor and a jackass. This pre-sold the fact that the match would be so wild, they would need a ref who could actually stop these guys from beating the shit out of each other. So the fans knew it would be totally brutal to begin with. And these guys delivered. First, both guys were hugely over with the crowd with Hart as a Face and Austin as the heel. They both popped huge, and when you pop at Wrestlemania, it's like a thousand times bigger than when you pop Smackdown. Or ECW.
Side note. Christian Cage. Former Champ. History with Edge, Champ. History with Matt Hardy, former Champ. Heel brother of Jeff Harvey, former champ, who also has history with Edge and Christion. Christian returns to WWE. Their return plan? Put him on the fucking SCI FI NETWORK (!!!) and give him a feud with Jack Swagger, a rookie champ. It's a title picture, but way, way the wrong title picture. Think about it. Christian and Jeff team up against Edge and Matt? Reversing the roles of one of the biggest series of matches in modern Dub history? Not only that, but it would provide an actual reason to have a tag team division anymore. John Morrison and the Miz have improved greatly, both in the ring and on the mic, and the Colons' name is fun to say aloud. Push four teams together. Then unify the titles. Let's face it, there aren't many teams anymore. Two belts is one too many. Make it competitive and it will give you a reason to book it. Unlike now. It's like a dead shark. It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And what we have on our hands here is a dead shark.
Austin attacked Hart right at the opening bell, which set the tone for the rest of the match. Austin got the first move, but Hart was able to fight back, which turned the early minutes of the match into a fight that spilled into the audience as the two just beat the living hell out of each other.
First lesson, psychology. Both guys worked a very different style: Austin a brawler, Hart a technician (which explains his pink safety glasses). But they were able to go toe to toe on sheer toughness. But the fact that it was an I Quit match meant they had to push each other to the absolute limit.
Second lesson: respect. Look at Michaels-Hogan as an extreme example of the standard face Hogan match. You can tell when the guys who are working don't respect each other, and I think all the fans can tell. These guys both sold like champions and came out looking like Iron Men. At least, way more than the lame as hell Iron Man match between Michaels and Hart was. Joe-Punk it ain't. The crowd dug it as a result, and turned what could have been a typical mid-card feud into main event material. Name one really good feud in WWE lately. None really seem to same have that same kind of potential. The booking seems very steadfast lately, and it's more about doing what Vince wants than what the fans want.
Hart then took control of the brawl and was able to start working the mat, going after Austin's knee brace to set up the Sharpshooter. Yet Austin wouldn't give up. And like Luke Skywalker wearing black, our hero Bret brought a chair and a ring bell in the ring and used them on Austin. This was a subtle hint at a heel turn, with the fan favorite suddenly fighting dirty, even though out of necessity. And because Bret was getting heat, Austin was getting equally over as the good guy, simply because he still wouldn't submit. Bret was getting desperate; makes sense, unlike most heel turns these days. I remember seeing Wrestlemania 25 in a movie theatre with my roommate.
Side note: Go see a pay per view in a theatre at least once. It's like being in a satellite crowd, and equally ridiculous. We were the only people over twelve and under forty. And it was awesome, seeing guys mark out and scream "Thank you God...Thank you John...Thank you John Cena." He sounded like he was about to cry. You can't make this kind of stuff up.
And we made a joke about Chavo congratulating Rey for winning the belt then hitting him with a chair, then spinning around confused why nobody even cares enough to boo him. And surely it happened a few months later. I forget if it was a chair. But it got the same reaction and the same result. Bret started working more and more as a heel in a gradual build, fighting more and more brutal to make Austin quit. Austin suddenly became the hero, refusing to give up despite getting busted open and his legs crippled. Finally, the match ended when Austin passed out in a tenacious Sharpshooter and Shamrock rang the bell. Hart refused to break the hold though, forcing Shamrock to suplex him off. It was the perfect finish, not just because it justified having a special referee (and getting Shamrock as the only guy who could stop Hart), but because the way that they had teased Bret's heel turn, they had to go all the way on it. And because Austin was so valiant as an opponent of Bret's, he became a face for withstanding it for almost a half hour.
Another lesson. Time. What's the deal with match lengths these days? I don't watch Raw because I don't give a goddamn about the stories. I want to see matches, and I don't think I'm the only fan of the product who thinks so. Is the "shocking" revelation that Stephanie and Triple H are married that important if it means giving Regal and Punk four minutes, sometimes less?
Side note. Vince, listen up. You know that Shane-Stephanie relationship you once considered pushing? Better: have Steph and H be married onscreen awhile and then have an angry Vince that H is actually Vince's son, one of those great mysteries, right up there with GTV.
Seriously. Will Regal is forty. He has dumb hair, dumb outfits, and he is one of the ten best workers on the planet when given the time to shine. Punk is younger, but you can say many of the same things. But to shine and reach their potential they need more than five minutes between segments. What is this, Nitro?
So looking it over, Hart-Austin was not only perfectly booked, but perfectly executed. It's less of a match and more like a four act story, the tragedy of the Hitman's fall from grace. Why don't moments like this happen anymore?
Watch the match, you'll know what I mean.
Drew Kannegiesser lives in Toronto. He can quote Simpsons episodes verbatim, can kick your ass at trivia and cured his Aides of smallpox. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
THE TWF "MENTAL WELLNESS TEST!"
With Christmas just around the corner, what better way to spend your few remaining dollars (left over after the seemingly infinite line-up of fucking pay-per-views ) then on the following "quality WWE merchandise!" After all, if they don't move this stuff, and fast, stockholders just might get time to figure out what "plummeting domestic buyrates" means!... and well, I don't think they need to tell you what that means! (Seriously. They're not telling you. Everything is fine! Ahem.).