In the class of steady tag teams that complemented each other as much as they contrasted their partner, The Hart Foundation would be A-number-one on that list. Sure, both Bret "The Hitman" Hart and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart donned the pink and black singlets and tights, and each wore a different type of sunglasses on the way to the ring, but the two could not have been more different.
In Hart's case, he was always calm, cool, and collected, the epitome of a stoic mechanic whose application of practical physics would cancel out any apprehension he might have of an opponent. Neidhart was the opposite, the metaphorical bull in the China shop that was as powerful as he was rambunctious. Where Hart was subtle, Neidhart was explicit.
Appearance wise, the Harts were also diametric opposites. Whereas Bret's flowing locks, relaxed eyes, and lean musculature made him a teen idol for adoring fans the world over, Neidhart's tank-like frame, devilish goatee, and tightly-wound grin lent him a more profoundly carnivorous quality.
To somebody not used to seeing The Hart Foundation in action, it would've been like watching Jim Morrison rule the tag team world alongside Blanka from the Street Fighter game.
But that was where Neidhart, who passed away Monday at the age of 63, was apt to shine the most. In an era where brawnier bodies and manic personalities dominated the WWE landscape, "The Anvil" could have been another hot air-filled heavyweight to stand up to the challenge of World Champion Hulk Hogan, only to get turned away by the requisite right hands and big leg drop of doom. It was a role many talented men would assume over the years, and Neidhart ticked every necessary box to be a money-making menace when plugged onto the Hulkamania machine.
Instead, Neidhart was paired with a man 50 pounds lighter, an individual gasping for air in WWE's crowded landscape. Upon Neidhart's arrival to the company in January 1985, Hart noted that he was relieved to see his old friend (and by now brother-in-law) from Stampede Wrestling joining him on WWE's untamed terrain, adding that while his own future was unclear, it seemed that WWE had discernible ideas for his barrel-chested ally. After all, Neidhart more than looked (and acted) the part.
When Hart suggested to booker George Scott that he and Neidhart tag up together, Bret said he was relieved that Neidhart was enthusiastic about the idea. The Hart Foundation was born, and it allowed Bret Hart to be more than just a generic lightweight babyface that struggled to climb to the top of the heavyweight heap.
Alongside The British Bulldogs and Demolition, the Harts would rule the WWE tag team scene throughout the mid-to-late eighties, and they did it through the aforementioned formula of complementing, while simultaneously contrasting. Hart was zippier, his strikes and suplexes hummingbird-quick, with a pronounced snap that was sleek and cat-like. While Hart's wrestling had a feline-ish quality to it, Neidhart was more apt to use his burliness to his advantage. A shot putter in his youth, as well as an NFL prospect, Neidhart was athletic enough to shadow Hart's grace (on a pound-for-pound basis), but was more prone to contrasting Hart's technique with brute strength.
There was always something funny about the way Neidhart would vault an opponent off of a charging shoulder block, only to then assume a fighting stance in their vicinity and, when their eyes met, laugh at the poor sucker with his demented cackle. Meanwhile, on the apron, Bret would remain optimistically stoic, the focus to Neidhart's frenzy.
But Neidhart was just as capable of ambitious athletics as well. In the earlier days of the Hart Foundation, when Neidhart would throw a form-perfect dropkick at an opponent, there would be audible gasps from the audience, as in, "I didn't know a near-300 pound guy could do that." And in those cases, Neidhart would laugh loudly as well, one-upping the doubters in the gallery that incorrectly saw him as nothing more than a plodding glacier with a goatee.
Where Hart and Neidhart shined most was in their creative double teams. If you thought Neidhart's dropkick was something wild, check out the way "The Anvil" would stand on the apron holding the top rope, so that Hart (in the ring) could briskly jerk the strand, in order to slingshot Neidhart into the ring as a slinglet-wearing cannonball, onto or into some hapless foe.
One of my personal favorites was seeing Hart stand on the middle rope facing the crowd, with Neidhart standing behind him. "The Hitman" would fall back into Neidhart's arms, and the powerful "Anvil" would walk Hart over to a downed opponent, powerslamming him onto the guy, 500-something pounds crashing down onto him. "The Hart Attack" was a nice move, but this double-stacker made for an awing visual.
Along the way, Neidhart and his brother-in-law captured two sets of Tag Team titles (one as heels, one as faces), and each reign lasted seven months or more. When the second reign ended, Bret went on to singles greatness, while Neidhart would remain little more than a peripheral character in various stays with WWE through the late-nineties.
It's fair to say that with Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart at his side, Bret Hart, with all of his world-class talent and capabilities, may not have had the chance to shine the way that he ultimately would. It took teaming with Neidhart for Bret to earn a look as something other than a generic white-meat good guy that, because of his diminutiveness in heavyweight-dominated times, remained tucked deep in the undercard with other brilliant workers facing the same fate. Maybe Bret does climb the ranks some day, some other way, but by no means was it guaranteed.
Jim Neidhart aided Bret Hart in turning the necessary heads.
When we think of "The Anvil", we think of him, Bret, and the greatness of The Hart Foundation. Conversely, when we think of Bret, there are many wonderful matches and moments that come to mind, something that the Foundation has to share space with.
Yet it's fair to say that without the Hart Foundation, the Bret Hart that we know today doesn't exist the same way.
We wouldn't have appreciated Hart's casual poise and luminous wrestling skill if it weren't mashed up with the raw power and charmingly-zany demeanor of Jim Neidhart.
As far as his legacy goes, Jim Neidhart, like many wonderful wrestlers that have graced our TV screens, got the absolute best out of many of the men that he worked with. His tag team partner was one of them.