Every great tag team, the ones that persevere for years, works because each partner has strengths that complement his partner’s weaknesses. On Monday, we lost Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, one of the most charismatic wrestlers ever and someone that embodied that spirit of tag team wrestling.
Clad in the unlikely and seemingly-unthreatening colours of pink and black, The Hart Foundation was one of the first great tag teams that I remember watching in the 1980’s. The duo of Bret “The Hitman” Hart and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart were, in many ways, the perfect team; Bret’s smaller frame and outstanding technical ring ability matched up with Neidhart’s huge physique and equally-huge personality. It was clear from the beginning that Bret was able to do the heavy lifting (so to speak) in the ring, while Neidhart was the one to take the lead in interviews and promos.
As Bret broke out as a singles wrestler, thus dissolving the Hart Foundation, and reached the main event level, Neidhart wasn’t as successful. He was put into an ill-fated team with Bret’s brother, the late Owen Hart, but that fizzled pretty quickly. Neidhart left the WWF in 1992 and had an unremarkable run in New Japan Pro Wrestling, before showing up in WCW in 1993. That, too, was a forgettable run as he only lasted five months.
On his return to WWE, Neidhart seemed poised for a big push as part of the red-hot Bret vs Owen angle, but that fizzled out as Neidhart began to no-show events at the end of 1995 and was fired as a result.
In July of 1996, Neidhart was given one of the wildest wrestling gimmicks ever (which is really saying something for an industry that has produced a wrestling dentist, a team of sentient penises, and Naked Mideon). Clad in an unremarkable mask, he was little more than an excuse for the commentary team to do “Who’s On First” riffs and rarely won any matches. The gimmick didn’t last long, but I can honestly say I’ll never forget it.
From there, Neidhart rejoined Bret and Owen in the renewed Hart Foundation angle, feuding with Stone Cold Steve Austin through 1997. This was to be his last good run in WWE, and in wrestling in general. It seems clear, now, that Neidhart should have stuck with tag team wrestling. Even though they never approached the successes of the original Hart Foundation, his teams with Owen and Davey Boy Smith allowed Neidhart to lean on someone else for great matches, while allowing his unhinged personality to bring people in on promos. Wrestling is really about finding one’s strengths and playing to them, and Neidhart was a talker, through and through.
The Anvil was a pretty self-destructive guy in the later stages of his life, between drug problems and a number of arrests, but the redemption of his legacy in wrestling came with his daughter Natalya, who’s currently on the roster in WWE. Natalya is a seasoned veteran, in many ways more capable in the ring than her father was, and is poised for a top spot in a company that is finally starting to take women’s wrestling seriously.
Though Jim Neidhart never really reached the very top of any company he worked in, he’s easily one of the most memorable and recognizable figures in WWF/E history, and the Hart Foundation is still one of my favourite tag teams. He wasn’t Canadian, but being associated so closely with the Hart family, I think he’s an honorary citizen. Rest in peace, Anvil, and thanks for everything you contributed to wrestling.
Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart passed away on Monday, August 13. He was 63 years old.
WWE is saddened to learn that Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart has passed away. https://t.co/Isxv3ElA3Y
— WWE (@WWE) August 13, 2018
Stunned and saddened. I just don’t have the words right now. pic.twitter.com/fcO8Skuuhz
— Bret Hart (@BretHart) August 13, 2018
— Nattie (@NatbyNature) August 13, 2018