Bret "Hitman" Hart likes to waltz, not beat brains out
Montreal’s answer to the UFC, TKO, presents it latest, greatest mixed martial arts battle at the Bell Centre on Friday, Dec. 14. While always a good time, TKO bouts can have a tendency to feel brutish for those who know the sport best through watching international pay-per-view matches. The international bouts tend to be more polished. If you’re an international-calibre fighter, chances are you have the experience to avoid injuries better, and the physical fitness to withstand them when they do occur. In the TKO octagon, I’ve seen fighters, so green they shouldn’t even have been there, get bloody from the first punch in the fight.
But that’s in the past, and every edition gets better. Since their move into the Bell Centre over a year ago, TKO have upped the bar and consistently presented the best from around the country in well-arbitrated matches. Their newest superstar – after Georges St-Pierre – is ex-hockey defenceman Steve Bossé, who this time will confront other star-powered heavyweight Icho Larenas. With each opponent weighing in at over 200 pounds, this will be a fight of the behemoths, and something to see.
But not according to Bret "Hitman" Hart. I sat down with the retired pro wrestling world champ while he toured his recently released biography, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, and it was a highlight of my life. The Hart family changed the face of wrestling not only here in their native Canada (they’re from Calgary), but in the entire world, while Hitman was definitely considered the best of his generation. His career in pro wrestling spanned two decades (300 days a year), and was so filled with drama, you couldn’t find a better read. Hitman keeps readers on the edge of their toes, jam-packed as it is with locker-room scandals and ringside betrayals. Other than the famous Montreal Screwjob, there are stories of drug addiction and stunt deaths as well as great camaraderie between the bunch of pumped-up men who lived through these trials and tribulations together in their weird make-believe world.
"I do like ultimate fighting," Hitman told me. "I enjoy watching it, but whenever I watch it I cringe when I see them really hurt each other. You know that they’re going to really hurt each other, and I have a lot of respect for the seriousness of it. A lot of the audience we used to have in pro wresting has moved over to ultimate fighting now, because they get that real fix of violence and blood that they used to get from wrestling. But when I watch what I used to do, let’s say my match with Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 13, where he’s bleeding – to me there’s something more beautiful about that match. The people who used to watch us, they watched that fight and they were happy. They got that violent fix, and we had a real battle. That was the entertainment that they needed to let their aggressions out for when they go to work the next day. Now they get that fix from ultimate fighting, but the difference is that what I did with Steve Austen was a beautiful waltz of two wrestlers pretending to hurt each other. Despite the blood and everything, it was a beautiful match – and ‘nobody was hurt in the making of that movie’ sort of thing [laughs].
"In ultimate fighting, when you see these guys really punching faces, and drilling guys until the ref usually stops it, I think, always a couple seconds too late, that’s an incredible amount of brain damage being done. And at what cost? Do you really want to pay money for this? It’s like dog fighting. Do you really feel good about yourself supporting someone getting their brains punched out? I mean, I’m guilty, I love watching it, I’m riveted and I have deep regard for it. But when I watch it I always have a pang. I wish wrestling was like it used to be so we wouldn’t need to have this kind of entertainment."
Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling
By Bret "Hitman" Hart (Random House Canada), 573 pp
At the Bell Centre, Dec. 14, 7:30 p.m.