This month (ending at AEW Double or Nothing) will see AEW honor the legendary Owen Hart with men’s and women’s tournaments bearing his name.
Owen Hart has a legacy that deserves to be remembered, a legacy that tragically ended on May 23, 1999. While the tragedy is one of the darkest and most horrific moments in pro wrestling history, it should not be allowed to darken one of the brightest, most talented, beloved men to ever grace the squared circle. The following words below are not a definite biography of the man, because I am not qualified to write such a thing, as much as it is a love letter to the memory of one of my favorites of all time.
It’s funny to say favorite because when I was growing up I loathed Owen Hart. The jealous brother of Bret Hart. Mouthy, arrogant, cocky, with a bad attitude and prone to bad behavior and outbursts. Oh how I loathed him, but even in my loathing, I could not deny the man had talent. Owen Hart might have been the most talented member of the Hart family ever to incorporate several different styles into the package he would make up for himself. He was graceful in the ring, strategic, and always had a reason and a why for how he did things. He was agile, technical, quick, and crisp. Owen Hart was more than a good hand in the ring, he was the hand that could lead you to a great match if you allowed him, and those who were smart enough made sure to allow him.
He was also an incredible prankster, and many a wrestler has a story of witnessing, or falling victim, to his pranks. There were even moments when people would be careful not to make him a part of their ribs knowing he would get them back if they did so. While most ribs in pro wrestling are cruel, sinister, and at times filled with malice, the majority of Owen’s ribs were fun, legit entertaining, and can be looked back on in a positive light. At the very least in comparison to what counted as a rib by many a wrestler, Owen Hart’s ribs were mostly something worth laughing over with little harm or damage caused in the end.
He was a family man, whose number one priority was always his family. While this article will mainly be about his pro wrestling side, how much his family meant to him (especially his wife and children) should not be understated. He always did what he could to spend what time with them he could. By all accounts, he was an excellent and loving father and someone who probably meant when he made it clear he was ready to get out of wrestling and be with his family. I like to think he was the one wrestler who actually meant it. I feel it’s important to state and made it clear exactly how much of a family man he was because it was an important part of his being, and no doubt, from what I’ve read and listened to, the thing he was most proud of.
Owen Hart cut his teeth in the brutal land of Stampede, and I’m not talking just about the wrestling. The travel, the weather conditions, the constant grind to try to draw a house for a territory that was doomed to die. A lot of great talent came out of Stampede and many believe it was through the harshness of the territory they were able to develop. Owen though was naturally gifted from the start. Athletic and energetic from the very beginning. Likely if he didn’t go through the stampede he would’ve still developed into the wrestler he became. As it is, it was just a part of his building legacy that he would create. Teaming with Ben Basserb he would be part of a successful tag team and would have legendary and well-touted matches against the team of the Vietcong Express. It was only a matter of time before he would begin to branch elsewhere.
Hart would become the first foreigner to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship in NJPW. While it was a short reign, it was a significant and important highlight of how high he was regarded as a talent. A personal favorite of mine when it comes to his NJPW work was his matches with Jushin Liger (my absolute favorite wrestler of all time). Watching these two greats work together was worth the risk of Limewire downloads back in the day. It gave me another scope of Owen Hart’s work that at the time I was not privy to, and made me appreciate what the man was capable of even more.
It is his time in WWF though that most people will forever remember, for both great and tragic reasons.
Even in his beginning days when he tagged with Neidhart (and later Koko B. Ware in an ill-conceived tag team), his talent was demonstrated and his potential was there. All he needed was a chance to break out. It would take some time, but eventually, he would turn heel kicking Bret Hart’s leg out from under his leg (as stated in a now light-heartedly remembered promo). His heel turn against Bret Hart and his matches with him—especially their match at WrestleMania X—was a highlight of his career and still to this day one of the best matches ever held in the WWE. It is by far the best opener for Wrestlemania ever held. Both brothers went all out to put on a masterpiece, and they without question did it. Owen Hart shocked everyone by defeating his brother was the icing on the cake, but it was the end of the night I thought Owen Hart did his best work.
With Bret Hart holding the title up in the air, surrounded by his colleagues, a sneering and jealous Owen Hart comes out and just glares at his brother, angry, upset, jealous that despite defeating him he was still in his shadow. Storytelling at its finest. Owen would go on to win King of the Ring that year and this would ultimately lead to a cage match where both brothers did their best to have the best cage match they could without blood or using the cage excessively. While this match is often debated on whether or not it deserved its five-star rating, I personally still think it’s a great match. These were great times for Owen Hart to showcase his talent. 1994 to me was perhaps Owen Hart’s best year in the WWE for his ring work, his storytelling, and how he was able to find himself in the main event along with his beloved brother Bret Hart.
These were good times.
My personal favorite match of his though came in 1997, when he would face Davey Boy Smtih for the inaugural WWF European Championship. While television audiences would prove not to care, and cause Vince to consider and ultimately change the direction of his product, fifteen-year-old me was dazzled by the wrestling that she saw before her. An amazing display of athleticism between two tag team partners who knew each other well. While Owen Hart would end up losing, it was this match where I would completely forget that I was supposed to hate Owen Hart and end up respecting the man’s abilities once and for all. While I wouldn’t pretend to be a fangirl, I definitely appreciated Owen Hart in this moment.
Owen Hart would become a member of the successful Hart Foundation in 1997 where in front of a sold-out audience at the Saddledome he would successfully pin Steve Austin in one of the best crowds WWF ever had. Loud, rambunctious, cheering for their Canadian Heros and booing the evil Americans, this was easily my favorite In Your House main event of all time, and going back to rewatching and seeing Owen Hart get this moment always brings a smile to my face. Seeing the ring fill up with family and friends of the Hart family always brings a tear to my eye, as unfortunately, hard days were ahead.
After injuring Stone Cold at SummerSlam 97 and the screwjob of his Brother at Survivor Series that same year, Owen Hart never seemed to have a major place in WWE afterward. He was put into the Nation of Domination which felt half hazard and misplaced. He would have an underrated match with Ken Shamrock at SummerSlam 98 that year when they would be put in the Lion’s Den match for the very first time. He would eventually be saddled back into his old Blue Blazer gimmick, and it was while portraying this gimmick his tragic end would commence.
There is no need to detail that tragic day, it has been written about over and over again, broken down, discussed, argued, debated. It is of this author’s opinion WWF and Vince McMahon are forever stained and forever guilty for the part they played in Owen Hart’s death. I do remember when I heard about it the day after. How numbed and stunned I was, to the point it took up until the Owen Heart memorial episode for me to truly believe what had happened. I wasn’t privy or understanding of the time of the ugly legalities, lawsuits, and family fighting that would happen afterward at the time. All I knew was Owen Hart was dead, and wrestling felt darker because of it. It was a sad day, a day spent doing one’s best to remember the bright moments of his career and the time with him we had.
But in the darkness there breaks through light. Once a heel I loathed as a child, he has become a man I respect, appreciate, and remember as an adult. I am constantly going back to find his classic matches and moments, reading and laughing at the stories and memories told about him. Owen Hart may have never been the top draw, the highest-rated wrestler, or the biggest attraction in pro wrestling, but he was definitely a success. His matches these days were often rewatched and talked about by not just older fans, but newer fans discovering his work for the first time. He still lives through our hearts and our minds as we treasure those moments we were blessed to have him give us. He was and still is well respected, highly touted, and someone who influenced and is revered by countless wrestlers who would come after him. Many a wrestler would study Owen Hart, copy Owen Hart, and find their desire to become a pro-wrestler from their time spent watching him. Owen Hart rightfully deserves his place in pro wrestling lore and history, and his work and career should be watched, appreciated, and studied by anyone who wishes to get into the wrestler side of the business.
However, what one should study and learn is perhaps how much his family meant to him. How so much he did was for them, and how he treasured them, loved them, and did all he could to support and be there for them. Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from him, is there is more to life than pro wrestling, and we should appreciate, enjoy, and most importantly love it. The family was his first and true love, and that above all else I think is what we should be respecting, remembering, and loving him for the most.
Owen Hart is being rightfully remembered respectfully and with Marta Hart’s blessing.
AEW’s talent will no doubt do its best to honor his memory, his legacy. His legacy not just as a wrestler, but as a father, a friend, a man who touched so many both through the television and behind the scenes. He wasn’t without faults, he wasn’t perfect, he made his missteps, but in a cold, dark, uncaring landscape that pro wrestling can be (and sometimes still is) he was as close to an angel as we could get.
May he never be forgotten, and may his memory be honored as it truly deserves. Sincerely, with love, and with the support and backing of his wife and his children.
May he be one Hart who forever lives in ours.