After watching the season finale of Dark Side Of The Ring a couple of weeks back, there isn’t a whole lot more that needs to be said. However, I would like to briefly discuss one troubling fact about Owen Hart before I delve into this celebratory list. That fact is that I believe his legacy is complicated. It should not be this way but unfortunately that is how it has come to pass. Every single one of us hate reliving that horrible night in 1999 but once in a while it is a necessity in order to remember the greatness that was lost. We all wished that it ended differently and are still suffering from the fact that we have no control to go back and change what happened.
One of the complications of Owen’s legacy is how people want him to be remembered. To fans, peers and some members of the Hart family that legacy would be forever cemented in the WWE Hall of Fame beside Bret, Jim and patriarch Stu. Owen’s widow Martha and her children will never allow this to happen as they can’t justify having the company who took their father and husband away from them being glorified in their HOF. Despite the heart-wrenching plea from Mark Henry’s HOF speech and Bret Hart accusing Martha ‘erasing’ Owen’s career from an interview in 2015 (it can be seen at this link here:
As for many others who want to see the enshrinement happen, don’t hold your breath.
After the Dark Side finale it has become far easier from a fan’s perspective to understand Martha’s side of the story. Wherever you stand on this issue one thing that is indisputable is that you can feel the pain on both the side of the family and the side of his former peers. It just plain sucks all around, however with access to streaming platforms like Youtube and the WWE Network we can all choose to memorialize the irreplaceable talent and character that was the man we knew as Owen Hart however and whenever we may please. Every self-respecting wrestling fan knows the truly great Owen Hart mat classics but shortly I will present to you a Top Five list of Owen matches that deserve a second look because they are really good and for one reason or another have been forgotten in the sands of time.
However before we can see the light there is a little bit more darkness to be absorbed. In order to understand the further complication of Owen’s legacy I must briefly address what didn’t happen in the aftermath of his death. Owen was an employee being a good soldier and doing what he was told. He died on the job in a reprehensible act of negligence from a number of different parties. In this country in late April of every year there is a national day of mourning for people who have been killed in workplace accidents. In several jobs I have held over the years the health and safety training always pinpoints examples of previous accidents and why certain precautions and even laws are put into place. These are sad situations where employers and governments learned their lessons after someone lost their life.
But in the pro wrestling world nothing immediately changed or even attempted to slow down the safety of present and future workers. 1999 was a time of television ratings war and the height of an era where there seemed to be a one-upmanship of more and more dangerous bumps and stunts. This style continued relentlessly until the aftermath of the Chris Benoit tragedy nearly a decade later when it was studied that maybe wrestling in this reckless style can cause neuronal damage of the utmost severity. The stunt that caused Owen’s death had been done on Sunday Night Heat before the 1998 Survivor Series a few months prior. Until I saw this footage on Dark Side I forgot this even happened and back in 2000 was sickened when I saw Sting repel down from the ceiling almost a year after Owen’s death. So if the stunt failed to get over in any degree once why was it signed off on to do multiple things after the fact???
My point is this. What happened to Owen should have sparked outrage and revolutionary changes to how the wrestlers could be covered and protected in and out of the ring. It should have put an end to outlandish stunts that in all reality had nothing to do with generating revenue or ‘eyeballs on the product’ that put the performers safety at risk. None of that happened….wrestling just seemed to go on business as usual. Just with a void and a lot more sadness. Within a couple of years WWE would be the only major promotion in North America to make a living in wrestling….but in the present day as that is no longer the case hopefully the collective consciousness can shift towards an overall safer working environment for everyone involved…I just don’t think Owen’s death accomplished that shift like it more than likely should have. The silver lining of Benoit’s death may be the neuroscience that followed and potentially saved many lives. With Owen, the changes in the wrestling profession didn’t come as swiftly and quickly as one would hope but things are improving and the only silver lining I can think of is that his wife and children set up an amazing foundation in his name and are setting out to accomplish amazing goals outside of the squared circle to make our world a better place. That is all any of us could ask for at this particular point. Now I will allow the light to fully shine in as I would like to celebrate five matches from Owen’s career that get overlooked…presented in chronological order.
- Owen Hart vs. Keichi Yamada: Sept. 14, 1987: New Japan Pro Wrestling
Owen is cutting his teeth bouncing back and forth between Stampede and other promotions throughout the world. Yamada is the man who would eventually transform himself to the future Hall Of Fame talent known as Jushin “Thunder” Liger. Owen would work Liger down the road but pre horns, mask and cape Yamada is just a young kid with great athleticism. It is a short match but shows the raw potential of both men…several matches are available on Youtube of these two but I believe it is the first and was definitely the first Japanese Owen match I ever saw…therefore it has a special place in my heart.
2) Owen & Bret Hart vs. The Quebecers: Royal Rumble: January 22, 1994
This was the one that kicked off the storyline to their immortal showdown at WM X. While this ended up being a tremendous vehicle to move the story along and would be Owen’s full heel turn, people tend to forget that this was one hell of a match. Four Canadian work horses plus that pesky Johnny Polo make an intriguing matchup here. The story being Bret’s knee going out on him and making it nearly impossible to tag a fresh Owen into the match. Owen gets mad after the loss and kicks Bret’s bad knee. His promo after is classic even when Owen messes up his line and knows it right away….some underrated storytelling that made me wonder what could have been had they tagged together longer
3) Owen Hart vs. Shawn Michaels: In Your House 6: Feb. 18, 1996
I just had to put an Owen/HBK match on here. This would be a #1 contenders match to face Bret at WMXII. These two would square off on RAW quite a bit over the years (including the infamous Shawn ‘passing out’ finish in ‘95) however their matches were usually short and had run-in DQ finishes. I believe this is one of the few (if not only) one-on-one PPV Matches they ever had together. Gets a good fifteen minutes and is about what you’d expect from these two stallions. Injuries and locker room politics would unfortunately negate these two ever investing into a serious long term program ever again. Seemed like a no brainer to have these two headline say a Summerslam or even a Wrestlemania….but hey what do I know?
4) Owen Hart vs. “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith: RAW: Feb. 26, 1997
If one says Owen gave Bret the match of his life at WMX then I feel Owen does the same for Davey here. This goes down as one of my favourite Owen Hart matches of all time but it is largely forgotten. Outside of the finals of the European Title tournament between these two the TV tapings that took place in Berlin, Germany were quite disastrous. I think this match gets lost in that shuffle even though it absolutely does not deserve it. Two veterans on the roster show that they are still relevant and belong. Davey was given this title as they couldn’t trust him with the World Title given his health and addictive state at that point in time. These two were a fantastic tag team but lit it up even more in singles action. More of these matches between these two should have taken place.
5) Owen Hart vs. Edge: Breakdown-In Your House: September 27, 1998
Couldn’t have picked a better match to kick off a PPV in Hamilton, Ontario during the hysteria of the attitude era. One Canadian legend against a young blue-chip rookie in front of a crowd who would appreciate it. I would consider this the last great singles match of Owen’s career. Giving his all against a future Hall of Famer, the Rated-R superstar. Funny moment as Owen playing the heel wears a Toronto Argonauts jersey to the ring. This will get you heat in the home of the Tigercats and Jerry Lawler being oblivious to this Canadian Football League rivalry calls Owen a brown-noser for sucking up to the fans as to him Hamilton and Toronto are the same city. I don’t believe he corrects himself….also this match is cool because of the debut run in of Christian. Before they would join The Brood E&C would cut their first promo as a tag-team at an indy show in Hamilton a couple of years prior. Then they are on WWE PPV together in the ring against Owen Hart. This match is also a harrowing reminder that if Owen was still with us the level of talent he could have worked with to finish out his career. We couldn’t get him against Angle, Guerrero, Benoit, Jericho, Lesnar, etc. But we got this one gem between him and Edge!
Have a Magnificent Week everybody!!!
RIP Owen Hart…thank you for the memories!!
RIP Shad Gaspard…
…your heroics will never be forgotten…especially in these times!!!