18th May2020

Owen Hart: A Tribute

by Chris Cummings

I grew up as a wrestling fan, having started watching at the sunrise of the 90s, in 1992, with the cartoon-era of WWF lighting up our screens with megastars like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Bret Hart and Roddy Piper. Even back then though, in the midst of the mid-card, I was intrigued by the high-flyer in the baggy blue MC Hammer-style pants named Owen Hart. When you go and look back on early Owen Hart matches from the 80s and early 90s, you realise just how ahead of the time he was with his ring work. His high flying and acrobatic energy mixed with his nuanced technical ability made for an exciting and entertaining superstar who I was immediately a fan of. Sure, back in those days he wasn’t being given a real shot, working in nothing-matches with Skinner, but I, and many others, could see just how talented he was. It was just a matter of time before he rocketed to the top of the card. Pun intended.

In 1994 we finally saw Owen given a chance to truly shine on WWF television when he turned on his brother Bret in January and went on to have a legendary feud with him that lasted a good portion of the year, and continued further into other years, on and off. Their WrestleMania 10 opening clash remains one of my favourite matches in WWF history. A technically wondrous bout between two of the greatest to ever lace up a pair of boots, it saw Owen pick up a huge victory on the same show in which his brother would win the WWF Title.

The heel version of Owen Hart, whether he was “The Rocket”, “The King of Hearts” or “The Slammy Award Winner”, was incredible. Seeing that playful and mischievous side to Owen, a side that, by all accounts, existed in real-life, was a joy. I loved the serious nature in which Owen wore the crown as King, or the straight-faced manner in which he accepted two Slammy Awards that didn’t actually belong to him. I was a huge fan of it, and while it’s rarely discussed in conversations of the best tag-teams ever, I place Owen’s tandem with The British Bulldog, Davey Boy Smith, as one of my absolute favourite teams in wrestling’s storied past. Their bond and chemistry, their charisma and their incredible in-ring skills made them one of the shining parts of that era, and I wish more people spoke of the team now. It doesn’t get enough due.

By the end the 90s, into 1997, we saw the reformation of The Hart Foundation, with Bret Hart becoming a bad guy in the United States, along with his teammates, Davey Boy, Jim Neidhart, Brian Pillman and, of course, Owen. This was a unique time in WWF. The group were all-out bad-guys in America, but when they went to Canada or the United Kingdom or other countries, they were welcomed as the heroes, the babyfaces. It was awesome to witness, and the whole group were amazing to watch during this period. I remember 1997, or much of it, fondly as a fan. Canadian Stampede, an In Your House show that occurred during the year, was one of the best WWF shows ever at that time, and featured the Hart Foundation, in their home-country, taking a big old win to an adoring crowd of rabid fans. It was fantastic.

Once Bret, Davey and Jim left WWF after the events of Survivor Series 1997, Owen was left alone on the WWF roster. This, in my view, was the right time to take the shot and push Owen into the main event full-time. Competing as “The Black Hart”, Owen returned as an angry bad-ass who was out for revenge for what happened to his family. This was the right direction, but it didn’t last. I would have loved to have seen Owen defeat Shawn Michaels and go on to have a long career at the top of the WWF card. He was good enough, the fans loved him when he was a face and hated him when he was a heel, and he was one of the best ever between the ropes. It was one of the most obscenely missed opportunities in WWF history. It still irks me today in so many ways. Still, we got to see Owen have some great moments and matches with a new breed or wrestlers, such as Edge, and some fun moments with Owen as a member of The Nation of Domination and an underrated tag-team with Jeff Jarrett. It was during his run with Jarrett, in early May of 1999, that I got a chance personally to see Owen wrestle. The two of them worked a match with Edge and Christian at a house-show in Sheffield, England. This would turn out to be the last international tour of Owen’s life. I’m happy that I had a chance to see one of my all-time favourites live. It’s a memory I hold close, as a wrestling fan.

On May 23rd, 1999, during the Over the Edge PPV, Owen Hart tragically passed away after a stunt involving a harness lowering him from the rafters went wrong. I remember it vividly. It was the day before I was to sit my English GCSE exam. It was surreal, heartbreaking and shocking. At only 34 years of age, one of the greatest wrestlers of all time passed away. He left behind a loving family, hundreds of friends and thousands of fans, who think back fondly on his career and life. Sure, as fans we didn’t begin to see or know Owen Hart like those close to him, but we got to see him every week for a long time, and he gave us many memories that we hold onto all these years later. It was only yesterday I was watching Owen Hart against 123 Kid from King of the Ring 1994.

On May 7th of 2020 Owen would have been 55 years old. It was nice to see social media explode with birthday wishes and memories of Owen from friends, family and fans all over the world. From a career that began in 1983 at Stampede Wrestling in Calgary to tours of Japan and Europe, and a memorable career in WWF, Owen is a wrestler I think of when I recall the reasons I became a fan of pro-wrestling in the first place. As a fan, I’m thankful for what Owen brought to the ring and to the microphone. Whether we ever see Owen induced into the WWE Hall of Fame or not, the fact is that he gave wrestling fans more than a thousand matches, interviews and moments to enjoy, and I’m thankful for that. Thank you, Owen. We still remember.

The Dark Side of the Ring: The Final Days of Owen Hart screens on Vice TV tomorrow, Tuesday May 19th 2020.


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