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‘BRET HART FROM CALGARY’: ‘Hitman’ honoured by Walk of Fame induction

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As a youngster, Bret Hart dreamed of being a film director.

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“I never saw myself as an actor. I always wanted to be a movie director,” said Hart. “I had bigger plans.”

Those Hollywood dreams took a back seat as following in his father Stu Hart’s footsteps as a professional wrestler would ultimately become his calling. Nicknamed “Hitman,” Hart would make his name in the then World Wrestling Federation (now WWE) where he became a five-time world heavyweight champion and had a hall of fame career.

For Hart, being a wrestler kind of encompassed everything found on a film set.

“In a lot of ways, I ended up being a guy making little 15 to 20 minute movies each night as a wrestler,” Hart told the Sun. “I was a stunt coordinator, director and producer of an epic wrestling match. Wrestling turned into that career I never had as a movie maker. I got to tell these great stories as a wrestler.”

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Hart’s pro wrestling career spanned 23 years, starting in Calgary with his father’s Stampede Wrestling before becoming a superstar in WWE and later World Championship Wrestling. At the height of his stardom, Hart shared the ring and had five-star showcases with the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels and Rowdy Roddy Piper.

While he was an international wrestling superstar, to the Hitman, he was always “Bret Hart from Canada.” He took pride in representing Canada on a worldwide stage.

“When I got to WWE, nobody even knew where Calgary was,” said Hart. “The only thing you can say about Calgary was that you knew about the Calgary Stampede, the Calgary Flames and you knew about Bret Hart. I worked really hard to be a representative of Canada and a representative of my father and my family.”

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For his in-ring accomplishments, Hart is being recognized in the Sports and Athletics category as an inductee in the 2021 Canada’s Walk of Fame . On Dec. 17, Hart will be inducted by All Elite Wrestling star and Canadian wrestling legend Chris Jericho.

Ahead of the ceremony, Hart spoke with the Sun about the induction, what his career meant to him and the legacy he paved for today’s generation of mat grapplers.

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So what does the Canada’s Walk of Fame induction mean to you?

“It will always mean a lot when you’re celebrated and honoured amongst your peers and fellow wrestlers. The WWE Hall of Fame always meant a lot to me. This is even higher to me in a sense. You’re being lumped in with Canadians – great Canadians and the contributions they’ve made in their fields. It means a lot to me to be honoured by Canadians across the country for my wrestling career.

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“When I got into wrestling, I never had any idea that I would be in this kind of situation where people are celebrating my impact as a pro wrestler. When I got into wrestling, it was considered just a step up above topless dancing. I remember being kind of embarrassed in those days. I remember I had been wrestling for my dad for about three weeks. I met a girl I knew at a shopping mall. She asked, ‘So what are you doing these days?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m working for my dad nowadays. I’m a wrestler.’ I remember she looked at me and said, ‘I’m so disappointed. You had so much more potential to be something much bigger than that.’  I’m a pro wrestler now whether you like it or not.”

You prided yourself in being a storyteller inside the squared circle. What’s the secret behind being able to captivate the audience through a wrestling match?

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“I went into a lot of detail to make my wrestling style and wrestling matches believable. I got to tell these great stories as a wrestler. When I went to WWF in 1984, nobody saw any potential in me. I was destined to be a guy that went nowhere. I wasn’t big enough. I wasn’t charismatic enough. I was a guy in reality who was going to change the course of wrestling back to when wrestling was about wrestling and not about how big your arms were or how many muscles you had.

“I was a guy who looked very human and normal. And I was about wrestling and what stories I could tell. I think in my own way I told the greatest wrestling stories that have ever been done. I still stand by my body of work. Even the wrestlers today, as good as they are, I don’t think there are good as I was. The historical making matches I had with Steve Austin , Undertaker , Shawn Michaels and my brother Owen. You can go through my career and just find some beautiful stories.

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“There are people out there who have watched wrestling matches who don’t know who Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart is. They’ll say, ‘show me.’ Then you put on WrestleMania 13 with Steve Austin. It’s better than a UFC fight. It’s real, violent and brutal as any kind of MMA match. There’s one thing you have to know is, nobody gets hurt in this match. They go back to the dressing room, hug each other, smile and shake hands and say ‘that was a great match.’ That’s what I did and I think I did it better than anyone better on the planet.”

Bret Hart makes an appearance on ‘Bret Hart Appreciation Night’ during the WWE Raw live event at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary,, May 27, 2013. (Stuart Gradon/Calgary Herald)
Bret Hart makes an appearance on ‘Bret Hart Appreciation Night’ during the WWE Raw live event at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary,, May 27, 2013. (Stuart Gradon/Calgary Herald) Photo by Stuart Gradon Stuart Gradon /Calgary Herald

You beat Ric Flair for your first WWF Championship in Saskatoon in 1992. It’s among many of your career highlights. Are there any moments from wrestling in Canada that you’re proud of?

“I think one that stands out is a flag match I had in Halifax at the height of the U.S. and Canada bashing (storyline in 1997). It was me, Jim Neidhart , Owen, (Brian) Pillman and Davey Boy (Smith) . It was all five of us on one side. I remember we ended up winning and it just pissed off the American wrestling fans so much.

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“We cheated all the way through the match and we celebrated like the good guys and the (Halifax) fans cheered. It was very warped in a sense because the American fans were like, ‘that ain’t right.’ The next week we’d be in San Antonio where they wanted to kill us. Then we’d be back in Calgary the next week and back in the States. It was great that the fans from Canada loved us for beating the Americans, and the Americans were frustrated by us. It was such a magical time.

“Canadian wrestling fans got to be the bad guys with me. We’re going to overlook that he’s cheating, but we’re going to celebrate Bret Hart like a hero. They beat five Americans in a flag match. We did the Canadian Stampede (pay-per-view) in Calgary. It was a chance for wrestling fans to get behind me and celebrate Canadian wrestlers. There’s something beautiful about supporting all these wrestlers that started out there (in Calgary) and watching us on a world stage.”

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It’s clear that you’ve influenced the current generation of wrestlers. (WWE Superstar) Drew McIntyre has patterned his suplex after yours. Your niece, Natalya, has adopted your finisher The Sharpshooter as her own. How does it feel to be so influential?

“I think it all goes back to when (WWE commentator) Gorilla Monsoon called me the ‘Excellence of Execution.’ I was just a guy who did everything right. I remember when I started wrestling, I knew how everything worked. I knew how to take turnbuckle (hits to the chest), I knew how to body slam. When you want to watch how to do something in wrestling, you watch my matches back. You’ll learn how to do a Sharpshooter. That’s how you do it. Want to learn how to do a standing suplex? That’s how you do it. I was always that guy.

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“I was really well taught the art of wrestling by two Japanese guys (Mr. Hito and Mr. Sakurada). I was taught how to protect myself and my opponent so he doesn’t get hurt. More important than that, it was all about what I represented. I have an incredible body of work with so many different wrestlers. I was so proud of those matches.

“And all the Canadian wrestlers like Natalya or Edge were influenced by me. I think if you look back at wrestling when it was the Hulk Hogan show. He was six-foot-eight and a one-out-of-three wrestler. He didn’t know a headlock from a headlamp. He didn’t know very much. He knew how to do a clothesline and maybe a body slam. He was very limited. (WWE owner) Vince McMahon took a chance with me and made me that champion. It meant so much to me that I think I tried to live up to be that champion. It was about being the best wrestler. I gave so much as that wrestler. I was a good role model in the dressing room. All that means a lot.”

We apologize, but this video has failed to load.

2021 Canada’s Walk of Fame Inductees:

– Banting, Best, Macleod and Collip (Science, Technology and Innovation)
– Salome Bey (Legend)
– Jully Black (Arts & Entertainment)
– Bruce Cockburn (Arts & Entertainment)
– Romeo Dallaire (Humanitarianism)
– Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (National Hero Honour)
– Graham Greene (Arts & Entertainment)
– Bret Hart (Sports & Athletics)
– Keanu Reeves (Arts & Entertainment, Film)
– Serena Ryder (Allan Slaight Music Impact Honour, Music)
– Dr. Ajay Virmani (Entrepreneurship & Philanthropy)
– Damian Warner (Sports & Athletics)

echau@postmedia.com

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