Monday, January 3, 2011

Review: Bret Hart "Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling"

(resolution: more reviews)

Bret Hart is one of the legends of pro-wrestling. A second generation wrestler from a wrestling family who started in the territory days(when small promotions ran particular cities/areas without competition) and became a star for the WWF(now WWE) which changed the face of pro-wrestling worldwide.

The book is huge and starts by documenting his life as the 8th of 12 siblings of pro-wrestler/promoter Stu Hart, a one time amateur and real life shooter, and Helen Hart. He tells stories about sibling rivalries, especially the girls against the boys with their dad usually siding his his daughters. Bret also talks about how all the boys were in some way invovled with Stu's Stampede wrestling early on by handing out programs and other small jobs.

Bret talks a bit about school, defending the family name, girls, amateur wrestling and eventually becoming a wrestler. Despite being the son of Stu Hart, and haven been stretched by his dad in the infamous Hart Family Dungeon, Bret contributes a lot of his training to two Stampede wrestlers Kazuo Sakurada and Katsuji Adachi.

From here we read as Hart develops as a wrestler in his earliest days as well as stories about what went on backstage, the camaraderie of the wrestlers and more. One particular story includes his trip to Puerto Rico with Smith(oldest of the siblings) and the dangers wrestling in front of their crowd. Relating a story about how one wrestler they faced in a tag match died only moments afterwards.

Bret discuss' his time working with Dynamite Kid, one of the legendary junior-heavyweights(Dynamite would eventually marry Brets wife's sister). Also talks of future brother-in-laws Davey Boy Smith and Jim Neidhart. Bret documents time in Europe and Japan and even working a little in the states.

The book moves into Vince McMahon Jr., son of another wrestling promoter, deciding to use video and cable to create a wrestling empire and how it started killing the wrestling territories. Stu Hart got Bret signed with the company. Eventually Neidhart, Smith and Dynamite all started working there. They engaged in a number of matches as the Hart Foundation vs. the British Bulldogs. This is the real start of his WWE career and he went on to be one of the biggest wrestling stars worldwide.

Leading up to the Montreal Screwjob, where he lost the WWF World Heavyweight title in spite being promised he could drop it in New York the following day. This was because Vince decided he couldn't afford him anymore and Bret was about to leave to WCW. Originally Bret was promised control over his character in his last 30 days of employment. The whole thing was documented in Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows, a documentary that was to follow Hitman for a year.

Of course theres stuff about WCW but the book gets very tragic with the death of his youngest brother Owen in a accident at a wrestling show and how it further split his family apart. Than of course the serious concussion and eventually stroke.

The book tells stories of death, drug use, infidelity, steroids, back stabbing, big egos, and sibling rivalry. It also does tell the stories of genuine tough guys and friends. Roddy Piper is a good example of someone who is shown to be a man of true character having helped Bret in is career with both guidance, kind words, and even visiting Bret in the hospital after his stroke.

It's really hard for me to put into words this book. It is what you think it is and so much more. As a long time Bret Hart fan(my second favorite wrestler behind his brother Owen) I knew I had to read this book but for the longest stayed away because I know he became bitter towards what has happened to him and his family. Now that I've read it, I wish I'd have picked it up earlier.

I don't know how much of what he said is the 100% truth(a lot of this based on a audio journal he kept for decades) but it feels like this is how it went. A book that speaks about a one-time fraternity of a niche sport that evolved into a larger than life spectacle.

A great book.

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