by : Fritz Capp
October 5, 1999
There was no glitz or glamour. There were no pyrotechnics hailing the upcoming combatants. No large lead in. No long dragged out speeches in the ring. It wasn't saved for pay-per-view and it certainly wasn't done to boost any ratings. On October 4, 1999 in Kansas City, Mo. at the Kemper Arena in front of a capacity crowd and being shown nationwide on television two men entered a wrestling ring not to battle for a title, not to boost themselves in the rankings, nor for any glory. They entered this particular ring on this particular night with only one purpose in mind, to pay loving respect to the memory of a fallen comrade, a fallen friend and in one man's blood lineage, a fallen brother. On this night Bret Hart, surviving brother to the late Owen Hart, entered into what could only be called one of the purist wrestling matches that we have had the pleasure to see in years against one of Owen's dearest and closest friends Chris Benoit.
From watching these two enter the ring to the early moments of the match you could see that this was not just an ordinary match. It didn't start out fast and furious as so many matches do these days considering the short time limits that most matches are allotted, this match started with basic wrestling holds and started to build as time went on. This match had what so many matches do not anymore, ring psychology. But there was more than psychology at work here as these two men put on a wrestling exhibition that came from the heart for this match was a one in a million match and hopefully the only each will have to wrestle in their lifetime.
The legacy of Bret Hart and his travels through the wrestling world are legendary to say the least. It is also known throughout the business today that Bret has been out of sorts for the past couple of years as far as the "business" was concerned. Long before Bret lost the WWF title to Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series in 1997 and the whole "Bret screwed Bret vs. Vince Screwed Bret" discussion came into play Bret was growing increasingly annoyed at the direction that professional wrestling was taking, at least in the WWF. So Bret headed south to Atlanta hoping to reclaim the "smile" in his heart that he used to hold dear when he thought of his chosen profession. But as we all know, Bret never really took hold in WCW thus aggravating the deepening chasm of questions that he then asked himself on a more regular basis. You could see it in his workrate and in his interviews, Bret's heart just did not seem to be into it anymore, and with the heart goes the mind and soul. With the passing of his brother Bret did not know what direction his life was heading.
On July 5, 1999 Bret returned to the ring to talk to his fans, but with the buildup that WCW gave to this return along with the show leading up to the actual in-ring appearance of Bret adding to that the timing of this appearance I took this as a total blow to the memory of Owen Hart, not only by WCW but also by Bret himself as it appeared to be for no other reason then as a ratings ploy. While I still hold that contention as far as Eric Bischoff and WCW are concerned, after seeing Bret's eyes before and during this match I may have been too over critical of the man I watched for the past 10 years who calls himself "Hitman". In fact it could be safe to say I was downright WRONG!
As the story grew in this match through each man's moves you could feel that this was more than just a match being put on for the wrestling fans. This match was needed, probably demanded from deep within both men's souls as they looked for a way to find closure on this tragic event that touched them both so deeply. Back and forth both traded moves and counter moves, hold after hold building up to a finish and a match that they could not only be proud of but also a match that equaled the meaning of dedication, something that is not taken lightly by friends or family members.
I have to say I was surprised at the way the actual show built up for the match. I expected another trashing of Owen's memory for the sake of ratings. I expected to be able to say today that WCW and Bret Hart had once again dropped the ball. All I can say is I am sorry for having such an opinion because I was very wrong in my assumption. The buildup was so tastefully done it reminded me that there are sometimes human beings at the helms of these promotions. Wrestling is not known as being able to be so touching, so real. This time WCW climbed and surpassed all expectations. My sincerest thanks to everyone who was involved in this part of the production as it was done first class.
When I saw Bret coming to the ring Tony Schiavone said that Bret had his "game face" on. No he didn't, not at all. What I saw in Bret's face was determination. I also saw pain and hurt and loss. I saw the determination to have the match of his life. I saw the hurt of losing someone close and also the pain of knowing that it was in that very building that the tragedy struck. I also saw the realization that this was the only way that Bret could say good-bye, because Bret and Owen worked in different promotions at the time of Owen's passing so their schedules kept them apart probably more at this time then at any other time in their lives.
Bret wrestled this match like he had wrestled matches years ago when he was coming up through the ranks. There was a fire in him that for awhile had appeared to be extinguished but was now rekindled. He knew what he was going to do before he did it. He looked to be focused for the first time in a long time. No backstage politics playing on his mind, no pandering to the crowd, the only thing Bret knew was he was in a ring and this match was dedicated to the memory of his brother and he wrestled exactly as he wanted to and that way.
But this match could not have gone down like it did with any other opponent. Chris Benoit is like a brother and son within the Hart family. He was trained with the Hart's, wrestled with the Hart's, in fact basically grew up within the business with the Hart's and it showed as you could see the true dedication that Chris also put into this match.
The jaded wrestling columnist in me looked for a mistake. I looked for the flaws but yet I found none. In fact, I never even saw anyone calling this match as is so often to happen and been seen in today's matches. This is the caliber of mat technicians that were in the ring together. Take note people, they are becoming a rare breed.
When the match was over Bret stood and saluted towards the top of the arena. A gentle nod to Owen saying "Thanks for everything, I miss and love you and this one was for you bro". If you looked hard enough you could see a small almost hidden smile quickly come across the lips of Bret. He knew the match was good, he knew that it was worthy of his brother. I also think it laid to rest some of the questions that have been burdening Bret these last few years for on this night I believe that Bret Hart returned to wrestling.
Thank you Chris and thank you Bret for this match. It was a true testament to your love for Owen.
Welcome back Bret, your fans missed you.
Fritz Capp is the editor of Pro Wrestling's Between The Sheets - for comments or opposing viewpoints please e-mail to Fritz Capp