It’s been almost twenty years since the tragic death of Owen Hart at WWF Over the Edge 1999 in Kansas City, Missouri and it still feels raw to many fans.
It’s not the only tragedy that has happened during a wrestling show, but unlike the untimely deaths of Mitsuharu Misawa and Perro Aguayo Jr. which happened during routine ringwork, Hart’s passing felt avoidable. There was no single antagonist that killed him, but to call it an accident would be to avoid placing blame. We know that instead of the industry-standard backup cable, it was requested by the company that the rigger only attach a single release mechanism, allegedly to save time, and when this failed, there was no backup to save Hart. According to Hart family lawyers, the rig used that night was intended for sailboats and could only withstand six pounds of pressure.
Hart’s name comes up around this time each year, always surrounding WWE’s Hall of Fame inductions.
A significant minority of fans insist, often quite loudly, that Hart be induced into the hall of fame. Their volume only increases when, ever year, they’re reminded how unlikely that is due to the insistence of his widow, Martha, that the family have nothing to do with WWE.
These people call Martha Hart all manner of disgusting names, call her “a sad bitter woman” or worse. They call her “petty” and “childish”. All because she doesn’t want to figuratively shake hands with the company in which negligence killed her husband. These people have the nerve to pretend that she is depriving them of something, when it was the wrestling business that deprived her of her husband.
What exactly is it that these fans believe they are being deprived of? Owen sadly is no longer with us, and so would not be able to appreciate what I’m sure would be a touching tribute. WWE did a touching tribute the night after Owen died, dedicating an episode of RAW entirely to him.
Does the need to see current WWE mid-carders film vignettes talking about how Owen inspired them outweigh the wishes of a family who grew up without a father?
We may debate and argue over who “deserves” to be in the WWE Hall of Fame, but at the end of the day, who is and isn’t in there comes down to who Vince McMahon thinks serves the public image of WWE. When a DVD, “Hart of Gold” was released a few years ago, Martha Hart released a statement making it clear that she had nothing to do with it and did “not support it in any way.” Fans may have enjoyed the DVD, which collected Owen’s matches together along with tributes from wrestlers, but essentially WWE was making money from the name of a wrestler who died on their watch. Hart was an amazing wrestler who had some classic matches in his short career, but had he lived to retire in 1999, it’s hard to argue that WWE would be releasing career retrospectives today. WWE could, if they wanted to, put Owen Hart in their Hall of Fame without the blessing of his family, but it would feel exploitative to say the least.
I don’t doubt there are sincere fans who genuinely want to see their favourite wrestlers honoured. It’s a sign of the times that the WWE Hall of Fame seems like pretty much the only place that matters in the wrestling world.
In the eyes of some fans, your career was merely second-best if you don’t make it there. It’s perhaps why Paul “Triple H” Levesque’s comments about Chyna never going into the Hall evoked so much bitterness.
Watching the recent supercard show from Tommy Dreamer’s House of Hardcore promotion, it was interesting to see fans chant “you deserve it” to Bully Ray on account of his WWE Hall of Fame entry. That sure wouldn’t have happened in ECW, whose crowd were fiercely proud that their favorite promotion was most certainly not the then-WWF and didn’t need Titan Towers to give their stars any legitimacy.
Hart’s death was and is a stain on WWE’s record and to a certain group of fans, a Hall of Fame ceremony is the only way he can be remembered and to bring closure to the issue. I agree he was one of the greats, but I’m not sure I buy that going in the WWE Hall of Fame is a necessity for fans to recognize Owen’s career. If you want him to be remembered, then write about him, watch and share his matches. Fans may argue that Owen deserves to be in the WWE Hall of Fame. I’d argue that a wrestling Hall of Fame based on making money for a company that still hasn’t apologized for its negligence, doesn’t deserve Owen Hart.