Hitman by Bret Hart

(Another book review from my old blog, originally published 3/28/08. I’ll have some additional comments below.)

One of the most anticipated pro wrestling books ever finally came out this past November. Bret Hart’s autobiography, “Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling” was published in Canada. Unable to wait until it became available in the US, I bought this right away, and if you are a wrestling fan, you need to buy this book immediately.

It’s starts off kind of slow, as Bret recounts his childhood and growing up in the famous Hart wrestling family. The book picks up steam when he starts talking about his days working for his father’s Stampede Wrestling promotion. You get some early glimpses of not only Bret, but the Dynamite Kid (arguably the best worker of the 1980s), Davey Boy Smith, Jim Neidhart, and even Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, among others. Once Bret makes it to the WWF is when this book really takes off, and becomes more than just an autobiography. It is the definitive WWF book published so far, chronicling the company’s surge in the 1980s under Hulkamania, the fall from grace during the scandal-plagued early 1990s, and the infancy of the Attitude era, cutting off abruptly with the Montreal Screwjob. Likewise, you get a pretty good idea why WCW collapsed as Bret had a first-hand account of all the politics and backstabbing going on between the top stars.

Of course, it was politics and backstabbing that led to Bret’s unceremonious exit at Montreal. According to Bret, he was, with agreement from Shawn Michaels, bad-mouthing Shawn in the dirtsheets, to build up heat for their rematch at Wrestlemania 13. This is when things start to break down. Bret claims he was only ragging on the HBK ‘character’ and not Shawn himself, although Bret clearly developed a real-life dislike for Shawn by this time, as the book shows. Shawn, as he wrote in his autobiography, felt Bret WAS making it personal in the dirtsheets, with Bret going so far as to badmouth Shawn’s parents (Bret does not address that allegation in the book). Therefore Shawn, by his own admission, tells Vince McMahon he won’t work the ‘Mania rematch with Bret, and suddenly a doctor tells Shawn he needs career-ending knee surgery. Bret doesn’t buy the career-ending baloney and sees it as Shawn faking a knee-injury so Shawn did not have to return the job Bret did at Wrestlemania 12. Shawn has claimed he WOULD’VE done the job for Bret if Vince would’ve made him, but it was all moot because of the doctor’s diagnosis. Of course, Shawn (by his own admission) got a second opinion and it turns out he didn’t need surgery after all. From there, things completely explode into personal attacks, a backstage fight, and Vince finally telling Bret basically go to WCW or he’d breach Bret’s contract, in essence declaring Shawn victorious in their power struggle. Which leads to Montreal, and all that went down on that fateful evening.

That’s just a small part of the book, however. Bret tells what it was like to work with the biggest names in wrestling, including Savage, Andre, Flair, and Austin, just to name a few. You get breakdowns of his biggest matches (in particular the epic with Davey Boy from Summerslam ’92). Lots of stories from the road, and of course you get to hear about the tragic death of his brother Owen, and the fallout that ensued.

Bret constantly talks about being a hero in the book. Clearly from the behavior he describes on the road, hero is about the last title I’d give Bret. But his honesty about this behavior doesn’t detract one iota from the story. You get a pretty exclusive glimpse of what it’s like to be a star at that time in the WWF.

Bret has his share of detractors who think he’s full of it, particularly as it relates to Shawn and Montreal. This book probably won’t do anything to silence Bret’s critics, but considering Shawn lied for years regarding his involvement in planning the Screwjob, I take Bret’s word over Shawn’s.

Bottom line, “Hitman” is the best book on pro wrestling you’ll find. This book is a more befitting end to Bret’s career than his send-offs from the WWF and WCW.

Highest recommendation. Get it now.

(Shortly after writing this review, I got to witness Bret Hart during induction weekend for the 2008 class of the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall Of Fame. He came off as bitter and selfish throughout the whole weekend. The cherry on top was Bret’s ridiculous tirade while he was supposed to be honoring his father. His detractors were definitely validated that weekend. I still recommend the book for its meticulous detail, but in light of the “Shawn vs. Bret” DVD that came out a few years ago, some of those details are not above reproach.)

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