Comic books and pro wrestling have a lot in common. Grandiose characters who are larger than life; storylines that, when done right, can capture the imagination of the fans and when done wrong can bore us to tears and leave us wondering why we bothered reading/watching in the first place. As any comic book fan knows, there’s no such thing as death if there’s a good story to be told. As any wrestling fan knows, there’s no such thing as “never” when it comes to the return of a character, especially if there’s a good story to be told or money to be made. The closest I’ve seen to never in comics is the continuing deaths of Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben and girlfriend Gwen Stacey in the world of Spider-Man (clones and dream sequences don’t count). The closest thing I thought I’d see to never in pro wrestling was the 2000 retirement of Bret ‘The Hitman” Hart due to a concussion and the subsequent stroke he suffered in 2002. Fans could be forgiven for thinking we’d never see Hart in the wrestling ring again for any sort of match.
I guess we were wrong.
This Sunday at Wrestlemania 26, Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart will work his first match in nearly a decade, taking on Mr. McMahon (the on-screen villainous persona of World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon) in a No Holds Barred match. That means straight wrestling will be eschewed in favour of beatdowns, interference, weapons, and so on. By all accounts this stipulation will play to Bret Hart’s current strengths. Ten years older than when he had his last matches, Hart is limited by what he can do in the ring, limitations imposed by both his health and the requirements of his own insurance policy. But Bret Hart didn’t become a legend in the world of professional wrestling simply for being “the excellence of execution”, a moniker bestowed upon him for his impeccable technical brilliance in the ring. It’s the storyteller in ‘The Hitman’ that’s helped keep his legacy intact. His ability to bring out the best in his opponents and tell a compelling tale in a wrestling ring produced matches than fans young and old continue to watch and appreciate to this day. What Hart, 52, may not be able to accomplish physically in the ring this Sunday will no doubt be made up for by his innate grasp of wrestling psychology and his understanding that every story needs a great beginning, middle, and end to succeed.
But there’s more to this story than simply the return of Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart to the wrestling ring. It’s the fact that the man who could be Hart’s last opponent is the same one that he carried such hard feelings towards for so many years (for those reading that don’t know the whole sordid story, the short recap is that Hart left World Wrestling Entertainment back in 1997 following a scripted match in Montreal that had an unscripted ending leaving Bret betrayed by McMahon. For a better summary simply buy Hart’s book Hitman, one of the best bios you’ll ever read.) On Sunday Bret Hart’s opponent will be Mr. McMahon, the 64 year old WWE CEO who has managed to pull out some great No Holds Barred/Street Fight matches of his own at wrestling’s Super Bowl, Wrestlmania. But what’s more important than the fact that this match is actually happening is the willingness that Bret Hart has in trusting his health and safety to someone who he felt wronged him for so many years.
Even if you don’t follow wrestling at all, you no doubt understand that so much of what happens in a wrestling ring revolves around trust. The trust that one athlete has to have in the other. To catch them when they’re falling or flying. To pull that punch at the exact right moment so as to connect but not connect. More than any other wrestler, because of his physical limitations, Bret Hart needs to trust that McMahon will take care of him the ring the same way that Hart will ensure Vince’s safety. Clearly he does, even after all that transpired between the two of them, events that kept Bret off WWE television for 12 years. And that ability to trust is something so much larger than just a wrestling match. It’s a lesson that we can all learn from.
On the outside, for the masses who watch wresting week in and week out and simply love the surface, Hart Vs McMahon is about a former employee who got screwed by his boss coming back to get his final revenge. It’s kind of like a big comic book battle that readers have been waiting for. But, just like the best comic books tales, look beneath the surface of Bret Hart’s return to the wrestling ring and you see that there’s much more to it. It’s about real life trust, forgiveness, and the ability to move on.
Welcome back to the ring, Hitman. I’d say watch your back when you’re out there, but this time I trust that you won’t have to.