I can’t actually remember becoming a fan of pro wrestling. It just seems to have been with me all my life. Vince McMahon bought his father’s wrestling promotion the same year of my birth, and soon, the popularity of his World Wrestling Federation would skyrocket nationwide.
That Christmas when I was two months old, Terry Gordy slammed a cage door on Kerry Von Erich in a world title match in Dallas against Ric Flair. That would ignite a boom in my native state that would propel World Class Championship Wrestling to new heights in Texas and beyond.
The closest major city to me was Houston where Paul Boesch had cultivated a thriving market for wrestling. Just across the border in Louisiana, Bill Watts taped his Mid-South Wrestling television show in Shreveport.
While I was geographically surrounded by wrestling, my small town had little or nothing to offer in live wrestling. The one local television station didn’t even carry a wrestling show, and having cable was a luxury for townspeople, not a country boy like myself growing up on a ranch down a rural stretch of road. Yet somehow, my cousins and I found wrestling.
We watched every wrestling video cassette we could get our hands on and when we went to visit relatives in town, we were sure to scan their cable TV channels for wrestling. We also had toys and magazines to spark our imaginations. By then the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection had made Hulk Hogan into a household name which was no small feat in a world that for the most part was still analog.
We were Hulkamaniacs, and then we became Little Stingers and Warriors. Eventually, the popularity in wrestling would fade. It just was not as cool anymore, but then Bret Hart became the world champion — and I thought he was the coolest dude in the world.
It was his wrestling matches that made me a fan for life. By that time I knew pro wrestling was not real in the sense of it being a legitimate sporting contest. Bret Hart still made me believe.
Having seen some real fights and been in a few scrapes myself, matches with Bret looked far more believable than any of Hulk’s theatrics. Hart would shape my fandom in that way, giving me an appreciation for technical wrestling.
A Bret Hart match almost always delivered and when you saw his name listed in the lineup on a VHS tape, you were guaranteed at least one good match. We live in a digital world with endless content at our fingertips that may not seem like that big of a deal, but back then when all you had was a limited selection of wrestling tapes at the video store, you had to be more selective. No matter which tape was chosen, one with a Bret Hart match was good enough and you could watch it over and over again.
When my family got a huge satellite dish in the yard, pay-per-view finally became an option. We still didn’t have the extra money to buy PPVs except for very rare occasions. Asking to purchase an event meant even more careful consideration than choosing a video tape at the store. I had to be sure it was going to be worth spending whatever money I had scraped together.
If Bret Hart was wrestling in a big match on the card, you could usually count on him delivering something worth paying to see. Win or lose, Bret would deliver with quality matches time and again. His intensity never seemed to waiver. Unless it was an enhancement match, he seemingly always looked like he was in for the fight of his life. Even when he wrestled jobbers, he was all business. While a lot of stars looked like they were playing around in squash matches, Bret always looked like he was having an actual wrestling match.
Some critics have knocked his move set for being repetitious, but most wrestlers were that way during that era. Some today are that way too. Bret seemed to work his signature spots into the match in a way where it made sense in the moment instead of him just getting his shit in.
There was an artistry to a Bret Hart match. His matches had craftsmanship and his storytelling made his bouts seem like epic struggles between him and his opponent. Other wrestlers won with brute force or power moves, but Bret made it look like his winning came from skill. He outwrestled his opponents which is supposed to be the name of the game.
He taught me an appreciation for good pro wrestling matches instead of just larger-than-life personas. Appreciating Bret for his ability led me to looking for that same quality in my other favorite wrestlers over the years. After becoming a fan of Bret, I became a fan of great workers.
Bret was never the biggest or strongest, but in many ways he was the most crafty. He was an artist in the ring and watching him made me a fan of the art of wrestling.
Eddie Guerrero would eventually become my favorite wrestler of all-time. He and Bret never had a match together that I am aware of, but they were both great artists. The same can be said for other favorites of mine like Bryan Danielson or Shinsuke Nakamura.
Bret’s niece Natalya became one of my favorite women’s wrestlers because she was so damn good in the ring. Of course, her carrying on the Hart legacy also helped in making me a fan of Nattie, as she is a link to a person in my past that made me a fan for life. She is still much more than a family name. She is an artist in the ring much like her uncle.
As much as we might like to think of it was art, wrestling is a business. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an art to it. Bret Hart, through his body of work, gave me an appreciation for that art that I will carry for the rest of my life. For that, I will probably always be a wrestling fan.
Throughout the years of my fandom I have met many great friends that would never have entered my life without wrestling. We are all drawn together over a love for the art form of pro wrestling. For me, I owe a large part of that to the artist Bret Hart.