The same can be said for Bret Hart. His 2013 "Dungeon Collection" DVD filled in the gaps for completist collectors one year before WWE Network could do so on an incredible scale. Certainly, when one thinks of Bret Hart's greatest matches, the usual suspects come to mind: vs. Austin at WrestleMania 13, vs. Owen at WrestleMania X, vs. Bulldog at SummerSlam 1992, and so on. Those would be among the five-star tier for 'The Hitman', but a Bret Hart match does not have to necessarily be a 'Match of the Year candidate' to be enjoyable.
In honor of Bret's birthday, I've decided to look at some of his more underappreciated matches, ones that don't always get the glory that they deserve. If you're looking to enjoy some of Hart's best matches that you *haven't* seen a million times already, here are some solid picks.
10. Vs. The Rockers (WrestleFest 90)
WrestleFest 90 refers to a June 1990 Coliseum Video release, although the match itself took place in August 1989, shortly after SummerSlam. The Hart Foundation and The Rockers have had their notable battles, from the infamous "broken rope" Tag Team title switch that ended up being stricken from the books, to their fast-paced battle on Saturday Night's Main Event match earlier in 1990.
This particular match has much in common with that latter example, classic tag team wrestling with a rather frenetic pace. The Harts play it heelish with some overt underhandedness earlier on, and Shawn Michaels takes the beating during the heat segment. By the time both Marty Jannetty and Jim Neidhart get separate hot tags minutes apart late in the match, the crowd is thoroughly hooked by the competitive fire and the unrelenting pace. It ends in a bit of a schmazz when the Rougeaus get involved, but before then, it was a very enjoyable bout.
9. Vs. Ted DiBiase (Saturday Night's Main Event, 27 April 1991)
Hart was fresh into his true singles run after a handful of false starts, and his first opponent of note was Ted DiBiase, who at the time had an issue with Roddy Piper and Virgil. The two had themselves a gem of a bout two years earlier at a TV taping, and this was safely on that level, albeit a tad shorter.
It also lacks an ending, much like their 1989 bout, as Hart and DiBiase ended up going to a double countout when both Sensational Sherri (DiBiase's valet for nearly a year) and Piper ended up getting involved. But for late-era SNME, it's a high-quality technical battle, and you could tell that greater days beckoned Hart. He wouldn't have to wait too much longer to experience them, either.
8. Vs. Demolition (SummerSlam 1990)
When the earlier days of SummerSlam (particularly the first seven 'Monday night' editions) are recalled, this Tag Team title match is often sadly overlooked. Demolition was by then primarily Smash and young Crush, with veteran Ax relegated to just running interference, and the unfair advantage created by that dynamic made for quite an interesting obstacle.
The match at SummerSlam was 2-Out-Of-3-Falls, and words can't describe the level of heat inside the Philadelphia Spectrum when the Harts took the second fall on a DQ. When Ax illegally inserted himself into the third fall, the Legion of Doom stormed the ring to even more ungodly reaction, and helped facilitate the Harts' victory. It's enough to make you miss the days of kayfabe and technicolor-tinted pro wrestling.
7. Vs. Terry Funk (Terry Funk's WrestleFest)
It's quite surreal to hear a match featuring WWF Champion Bret Hart being called by Joey Styles. The ECW-themed production of what was about Terry Funk's 12th or 13th retirement bout saw Funk do battle with Hart, who claimed to have been battling a terrible flu at the time of the match. Not that it showed in the work any.
The match is quite different from the match you'd expect out of Hart, as he worked more like a classic Nick Bockwinkel type of villainous technician across the 25-minute struggle with The Funker. The match veers between classic NWA-style scientific clash and latter-day ECW-like brawl, with liberal bending of the rules. But the two old pros with a combined age of 93 delivered a match that could suck in even the most jaded fan. And if you watched the documentary Beyond the Mat, you know that the referee booked for the match was the one and only Dennis Stamp.
6. Vs. Macho Man Randy Savage (Saturday Night's Main Event, 28 November 1987)
It had to be quite a feather in the cap of Hart to have Vince McMahon give him specific match instructions for the match with Savage that would compromise Macho's mobility, telling Hart: "You're the great worker, figure it out." It was Hart's big chance to show he could excel on national television alongside the man who would be carrying the company in 1988.
And so the match unfolded with Hart working over Savage's leg (several years before adopting The Sharpshooter into his arsenal). According to Bret, both men ironically suffered actual foot injuries in the match, but they pressed onward. The match does feel like it's truly ahead of its time, a little slicker and more dramatically-sound than most WWE fare of the time. There was more value in Hart than just being a tag team wrestler, and it was apparent here.
5. Vs. Hakushi (Monday Night Raw, 24 July 1995)
Four words: Space Flying Tiger Drop. Imagine Bret Hart standing on the arena floor while Hakushi bounds off the ropes, cartwheels, and immediately follows that up with a backflip over the ropes and onto a waiting 'Hitman' outside. It was the first time the move was ever seen on American TV, to boot.
If you've seen the Hart/Hakushi match from the first In Your House, know that this match is even better, with a more frenzied pace and more breathtaking action. I mean, hello, there was a Space Flying Tiger Drop involved - you're reaching for the stars when you bust that bad boy out. Next to Hart's match with 123 Kid the year before, and Mr Perfect vs. Ric Flair from January 1993, this easily belonged in the tier of best Raw matches of all time to that point.
4. Vs. Ricky Steamboat (Boston Garden, 8 March 1986)
If you can believe it, the world was robbed of Steamboat vs. Hart at WrestleMania 2. The Dragon vs. The Hitman had the potential to be the show-stealer of the tri-multicast 'Mania, but plans were changed a month before the show - Steamboat would instead work with Hercules Hernandez, and Hart would be in the Chicago Battle Royal. Steamboat urged a bitter Hart on that night in Boston, wanting to help Bret show WWE what they were passing up on.
Steamboat sold his tail off for Hart, taking the erstwhile tag team wrestler and acting as though it were Savage or Piper or some other upper-card villain pounding him into dust. After a masterfully-built struggle, Steamboat allowed Hart a visual pinfall following a referee bump, essentially allowing Hart to occupy his tier. Steamboat would've been selfless with any opponent, but with Bret, he was working with a true equal, and it showed.
3. Vs. Jean-Pierre Lafitte (In Your House 3)
Something tells me that this match will be getting more love in the near future, due to the resurrection of Carl Ouelett into the T-1000-like PCO. In his former life as burgling pirate Lafitte, Ouelett feuded for a couple of months with Hart in what some saw as an unnecessary step down into the midcard for 'The Hitman'. Their issue did produce this match, which offers the counter-argument: Lafitte should've been more than just a midcarder with a cartoonish gimmick (Bret vs. PCO? Now *there's* a thought).
If you wanna see effing-crazy, check out Lafitte trying a running flip dive over the ropes (at close to 300 pounds, mind you), only for Hart to move away, sending the swashbuckler down hard, landing with a thud. The creative counters and general even-matching make this one of the greatest matches to feature a WrestleCrap-bound character, which is no knock on PCO at all. Because he could rip me in half.
2. Vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin (Survivor Series 1996)
This match is pretty well known and isn't some hidden gem like some of the other entries on this list, but it bears mention for one simple reason: next to their match at WrestleMania 13, it's easily the forgotten sibling. Very few matches could have equalled or topped that Submission Match, but this battle resides on the same street.
Functionally, it was Hart's return match from an eight-month hiatus (international dates aside), and he was answering the obdurate beckoning of the increasingly-cool Austin. They'd faced off before in Kuwait and South Africa, but their chess match inside Madison Square Garden was near-perfection. The story of the younger buck pushing Hart to his absolute limits, only for Hart to deftly counter a sleeper to eke out the win, established Austin as a major player and reaffirmed Hart's wily brilliance.
1. Vs. The Steiner Brothers (WrestleFest 94)
Shortly before Owen officially turned on Bret at the 1994 Royal Rumble, this doozy was taped for Coliseum Video, and the world was a better place for its existence. It's the Harts' resourceful and pure science matched up with the Steiners' unvarnished recklessness, and it's all so glorious. What else can you say about a match in which Owen Hart subjects himself to the dreaded Steiner Screwdriver?
If you enjoy matches like the Harts-Rockers battles in which two babyface teams ratchet up the aggression against one another, tempers flaring until the powderkeg finally blows, then this match is your bag. And compared to those Harts-Rockers matches, this was practically Thunderdome-esque, given the severity of the strikes and throws. With a better ending, it may well have been a true five-star match, but still makes the Mount Rushmore of best tag team bouts in WWE history.