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“Long Live The King of Harts” The Career and Life of Owen Hart

Arguably one of the best in-ring performers in the history of the WWF/E, Owen Hart is someone that left this world far too soon. We just recently passed what would have been his 55th birthday this year, and who knows what could have been of his career and life had the circumstances and events of that fateful day of the Over The Edge pay-per-view on May 23rd, 1999 at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri never occurred. And as we approach the 21st anniversary of his untimely death, the critically acclaimed Dark Side of the Ring series is set to answer perhaps lingering unanswered questions with an exposé of sorts into that day with their season 2 finale. So rather than focus on that fateful day, let’s celebrate the career and life of one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time.

Owen Hart was born on May 7th, 1965 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The youngest son of the legendary Stu Hart, one of the most influential and important figures in professional wrestling history particularly as a promoter and trainer, amongst seven older brothers, Smith, Bruce, Keith, Wayne, Dean, Bret, and Ross who all became professional wrestlers themselves and four older sisters, Ellie, Georgia, Alison, and Diana who all married professional wrestlers themselves, it was inevitable that Owen would continue the “family tradition” himself. Owen would first gain amateur wresting experience in high school, where he would also meet his future wife and perhaps his biggest supporter, Martha. However, interestingly enough, professional wrestling was not always his first career choice. Martha explains in her book Broken Hearts that Owen tried numerous times to find a profitable living outside of wrestling. He would attend the University of Calgary on an amateur wrestling scholarship, and it was during his time in university that he would first wrestle professionally under a mask as the original British Bulldog. After graduating university, he wrestled professionally as “Bronco” Owen Hart at Royal Albert Hall in London, England. He would eventually begin to train formally under his father in the infamous Hart Family Dungeon and start his career in the Calgary territory and Stampede Wrestling.

Debuting in 1983, he would remain with Stampede Wrestling throughout the next few years, while honing his skills. In 1986, he would team with his brother-in-law Ben Bassarab to win the Stampede Wrestling International Tag Team Championship. After he and Bassarab lost the titles, he feuded with Dynamite Kid and Johnny Smith. In 1987, he would earn Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Rookie of the Year Award, ahead of the likes of Big Bubba Rogers, Shane Douglas, and Doug Furnas. It was also in 1987 when Owen would first branch outside of Calgary and Stampede Wrestling and begin wrestling for New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) on tours. It was during this time that he would first wrestle Keiichi Yamada, who he would also wrestle years later as Jushin Thunder Liger. On May 27th, 1988 he would defeat Hiroshi Hase for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, becoming the first non-Japanese wrestler to win the title.  His reign would end nearly a month later, as he lost the title to Shiro Koshinaka on June 24th, 1988. During this time, he would also be awarded Best Flying Wrestler in 1987 and 1988 by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. His successes in NJPW combined with Stampede Wrestling having a working relationship with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) would eventually lead to Owen signing with the WWF in the summer of 1988.

He would debut in the WWF not as Owen Hart, but rather at first initially as The Blue Angel before becoming the Blue Blazer, a masked “superhero” like character designed to play to his high-flying moves and style. In his early appearances he would defeat the perennial enhancement talent of the time – the likes of Barry Horowitz and Steve Lombardi. He would make his pay-per-view debut at Survivor Series 1988. He would continue to wrestle in the midcard defeating enhancement talent but continually losing to bigger name talent. He would lose to Ted DiBiase on the March 11th, 1989 Saturday Night’s Main Event and to Mr. Perfect at WrestleMania V. Shortly thereafter WrestleMania V, Owen would leave the WWF and once again begin to tour the wrestling world both as Owen Hart as well as The Blue Blazer. He returned to Stampede Wrestling, until it shut down in December 1989. He would bid adieu to The Blue Blazer character for the first time after losing a Mask Vs. Mask match against Mexican wrestler El Canek in 1991. He returned to NJPW, having his final match ever for the company on April 28th, 1991 against an opponent he first met years earlier but now under a different character, Jushin Thunder Liger. During this time, he began to appear for World Championship Wrestling (WCW) on their self-titled television show as Owen Hart and contract negotiations between the two sides would begin but would fall through due to Owen not willing to move himself and his soon-to-be family to the company’s headquarters in Atlanta. He would ultimately sign with the WWF for a second time in late 1991.

In the WWF The Hart Foundation, comprised of his brother Bret and brother-in-law Jim Neidhart, had recently split up. Bret set out on a singles career while Neidhart was used sparingly. When Neidhart returned from a storyline injury, he joined Owen to form a team known as The New Foundation debuting on December 1st, 1991. They would first feud with the Beverly Brothers and would have their only pay-per-view match as a team at Royal Rumble 1992 defeating The Orient Express. Shortly thereafter, Neidhart would leave the company, and so Owen would begin a short run as a singles wrestler, including a win in a short match against Skinner at WrestleMania VIII. After WrestleMania VIII, he would be paired with Koko B. Ware to form the tag team of High Energy. They would have their only pay-per-view match as a team at Survivor Series 1992 losing to The Headshrinkers. The team was quietly dropped at the beginning of 1993, and so Owen would once again begin a short run as a singles wrestler, before suffering a knee injury on March 9th, 1993 that kept him out of action for nearly two months. In the middle of 1993, Owen would become involved as a part of his brother Bret’s feud with Jerry Lawler in the United States Wrestling Association (USWA), and would actually win the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship from Papa Shango. His participation in the USWA feud would be cut short however, as he suffered another knee injury in the summer of 1993 that would keep him sidelined until the fall.

 

Owen Hart would return to the WWF in the fall of 1993 in what would be the beginning of perhaps the best run of his entire career. With the Bret Hart Vs. Jerry Lawler feud sidetracked with Lawler unable to be a part of Survivor Series 1993 after being fired, Bret would team with brothers Bruce, Keith, and Owen to take on the team of Shawn Michaels and His Knights at the pay-per-view. The Harts would win the match; however, Owen would be the only one of the brothers eliminated after Bret inadvertently crashed into him leading to his elimination, leading to a confrontation between the two after the match. Owen would begin to don the pink and black gear and the “Bret Hart sunglasses” and use the Sharpshooter in an attempt to send a message to his older brother. Owen initially challenged Bret to a match, which Bret declined vehemently, before the two seemingly made amends leading to a WWF Tag Team Championship match against The Quebecers at Royal Rumble 1994. This brotherly reunion was short-lived; however, as Owen would kick out Bret’s already damaged and injured knee and leg, turning heel in the process. The subsequent feud between the brothers would be go on to win Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Feud of the Year for 1994. Their match at WrestleMania X is arguably the best opener in WrestleMania history and one of the greatest WrestleMania matches of all time – a classic, technical masterpiece. Their match at SummerSlam 1994 is a certified five-star classic. During this time Owen would also win the 1994 King of the Ring tournament and begin referring to himself as “The King of Harts.” The feud would continue until early 1995 when Bret would finally and soundly defeat Owen.

After the feud with Bret, Owen would begin to focus more so on tag team wrestling. He would win the tag titles at WrestleMania XI with Yokozuna, and the two would continue to team on and off for the rest of the year, losing and then regaining the titles a second time. Throughout 1996 he would team with brother-in-law The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith, winning the tag titles together. In 1997, following the events of WrestleMania 13 between Bret Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin, Bret would reform The Hart Foundation as an anti-American and essentially pro-Canadian, British, and everyone else stable, consisting of Bret, Brian Pillman, Jim Neidhart, Davey Boy, and of course Owen. After the reforming of the stable, Owen would quickly claim his first singles championship in the WWF, defeating Rocky Maivia for the Intercontinental Championship. The Hart Foundation would continue to feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin throughout most of 1997, including at the In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede pay-per-view in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. This event is widely regarded as one of the best shows the company has ever put on and was awarded Best Major Show of 1997 by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. In the main event, The Hart Foundation would defeat Stone Cold Steve Austin’s team in a match where The Hart Foundation received one of the greatest crowd reactions of all time, and where Owen would be the one to pick up the win for his team by rolling up Stone Cold Steve Austin. This would lead to a more focused feud between Owen and Stone Cold Steve Austin over Owen’s Intercontinental Championship, including the SummerSlam 1997 match between the two where Owen would infamously botch a piledriver on Stone Cold Steve Austin, essentially breaking his neck. Stone Cold Steve Austin would eventually defeat Owen for the Intercontinental Championship at Survivor Series 1997 – a night that would forever change the business and the landscape of the WWF.

Following the events of the Montreal Screwjob, Owen Hart was the only remaining member of the Hart Family left in the company, and although he was always entertaining (see anything Slammy Award related) and still one of the best wrestlers in the entire company, it just felt as if something was missing and just off. He would briefly feud with Shawn Michaels over the WWF Championship and avenging his brother Bret, and then would actually defeat Michaels’ Degeneration-X stablemate Triple H for the European Championship. He would lose the title to Triple H at WrestleMania XIV and then really for the rest of 1998 into 1999 would primarily be in the midcard and tag team scene. He joined the Nation of Domination in a somewhat ironic humour kind of way, and then began to team up with Jeff Jarrett, with whom he would win the tag titles with. He would bring back The Blue Blazer character for an angle in 1999, until that fateful day of the Over The Edge pay-per-view on May 23rd, 1999 at Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri, truly a day that professional wrestling, professional wrestlers across the industry, and professional wrestling fans around the world will never forget.

Owen Hart is without a doubt one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. He was awarded the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Editor’s Award for lifetime achievement in professional wrestling in 1999. He was posthumously inducted into the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling and Canadian Wrestling Hall of Fame. Although he may have left us far too soon, the legacy of Owen Hart on professional wrestling, professional wrestlers the industry, and professional wrestling fans around the world continues to live on. “Long Live the King of Harts”.

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