It's not everyday that you get the chance to speak to one of your childhood heroes, but that happened to me - today - as I got the chance to interview the one and only Bret 'The Hitman' Hart. We spoke about wrestling history, dream matches, and how WWE stars can learn from video games.
Generally, I sleep well. I hit the hay at around 11.30 and I’m snoozing within seconds. Last night was a different story – I literally tossed and turned all night - because I knew, at 9am the next morning, I would be interviewing one of my childhood heroes, Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart.
“I have a phone interview with Bret Hart lined up exclusively for you,” read the text message. My reply was adorned with numerous expletives, followed by the word ‘YES’. In caps. I had interviewed plenty of wrestlers before - The Big Show, Bobby Lashley, Mr Kennedy – but none really bore the weight of wrestling history in quite the same way Bret Hart does. The best there is, the best there was... the best there ever will be.
For the first time ever in an interview, I was nervous. A little overwhelmed. I was also conflicted. Bret Hart has been involved in so many of the major wrestling events of the last 20 years, yet Kotaku’s focus is video games. Could I somehow conduct an interview that combined my love of wrestling with my love of wrestling video games?
I gave it my best shot.
“I think for the most part the WWE do a great job of paying attention to the history of wrestling,” claimed Hart, after I asked if he thought the WWE paid enough attention to wrestling’s past - in the way WWE All Stars does. “They regularly bring back the older guys like myself, or Jerry Lawler, for storylines. And I think that’s great. I think that’s a good way of getting younger audiences to remember the history. And the great thing is these things usually get a reaction from the audience.”
Bret Hart himself recently made a comeback, timed around last year’s Wrestlemania, but regardless of whether or not he is involved in wrestling on a week to week basis, he still maintains relationships with plenty of wrestlers on the road, as an advisor and – sometimes – critic.
“I stay in contact with a lot of the younger guys,” claims Bret. “They’ll sometimes give me a call to get feedback on their matches, and I’m always really happy to go through the things I thought they did well, and a few of the things I think they can improve upon. Especially with the resurgence of Harts in wrestling at the moment, we’ve had a lot of great success recently and I’m really proud to see that.”
The great thing about WWE All Stars is its brazen commitment to nostalgia. Wrestling is built on dream matches – Hogan vs The Rock, Ric Flair vs Shawn Michaels. In the game Bret Hart could potentially face off against half the present WWE roster, but are there any dream matches he himself would like to participate it?
“I would really like to see maybe a heel version of myself, like from 1997, go up against the John Cena of today,” says Hart. “I really like Cena, I have a lot of respect for him and what he does. And just once I would’ve also loved to wrestle Rey Mysterio. I think the things he does in the ring are incredible, reminds me of the stuff the Dynamite Kid used to do, or Tiger Mask.”
We reminded Bret that Kurt Angle has, time and time again, claimed that Bret Hart would be his dream opponent.
“Kurt Angle is obviously another one,” begins Hart, “I’d love to have a proper 'catch as catch can' wrestling match against Angle, a really competitive match. I’m also a big fan of Randy Orton – I think he’s as good as I ever was in my prime.”
What about wrestlers from his era? Guys he never got the chance to tangle with.
“One of my regrets is that I never got to have a feud with Macho Man Randy Savage,” claims Hart. “I think he’s probably one of the best wrestlers I ever saw – I know a lot of guys have claimed that Randy was quite methodical about his matches, but he always seemed really relaxed and calm to me. He was a great professional. And Jake Roberts – he’s another one. I never wrestled him believe it or not.”
We wonder if he had any dream matches he would like to see - matches that didn’t involve him.
“I’m the same as you guys,” claims Bret, “when I was younger I used to sit and try and imagine all these dream matches and how they would play out.
“You know, I really think Austin versus Hogan is one that I would like to have seen,” he continues, “one that I think all wrestling fans would like to see. The great thing about WWE All Stars is that you can put these matches together and kind of play them out. I’m not sure if these guys are in the game from the top of my head, but I’d really love to have seen Davey Boy Smith [The British Bulldog]wrestle against his son.”
Bret Hart hasn’t had the chance to play All-Stars yet, but he has a level of respect for the way in which games integrate the performance aspect of wrestling. We ask him if he thinks the outlandish nature of games has affected wrestling as performance – do fans used to constant spots, and high flying antics in games expect increasingly dangerous matches from wrestlers?
Surprisingly, Hart flips the question on its head.
Yeah maybe,” he reflects, “but I also think that video games are influencing wrestling in more positive ways. The last time I had the chance to play games, I was really impressed with just how accurately they represent wrestling matches – I remember playing and thinking, ‘yeah, that’s how I would lead into certain moves’ and stuff like that.
“In a lot of ways wrestling is more like figure skating, and I think that, in a way, wrestlers can actually practice and learn how to plan and block a match. I think that has the potential to help new wrestlers learn how to tell a story in a match and get the psychology right.”
After over two decades of playing games that thought had never once occurred to me, the fact that it’s possible for prospective wrestlers to play games and get a feel for how drama works in a wrestling environment.
But then I suddenly remembered, playing No Mercy with my younger brother, I would refuse to go for the pin until after I had hit my special move cleanly. Even at a young age video games were teaching me how a match should function, how it should work. Surely among the wrestlers in the WWE today there will be performers who were influenced in the same way?
Bret then mentions how he’d love to visit Australia some day. Almost desperately I volunteer my services as an impromptu tour guide. “I’ll keep it mind,” he says, laughing. We say our goodbyes, and for a second I think about pinching myself. Bret Hart... my mum used to fancy you.
For a second I was reminded of that scene from Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, where Mickey Rourke’s character – a broken man - is stuck in a trailer playing the old NES game he starred in decades ago, with a kid who’d much rather be playing Call of Duty – the archetypal wrestler clutching desperately to an imagined past.
It strikes me that, despite preferring to play an aging video game over its modern equivalent, Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart is nothing like Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson – not even in the slightest. In many ways he’s the polar opposite – an entertainer comfortable with his legacy, confident enough to help and encourage the newest generation of wrestlers.
Bret – I’m not a wrestler. I write things. And because of that I now get the chance to say the words I was too embarrassed to say on the phone: I’m a huge fan of your work; it was an honour and pleasure to speak to you.
And I still have a pair of your shiny pink sunglasses.