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Chair Shots: Q-and-A with WWE Hall of Famer Bret "Hitman" Hart

Bret "Hitman" Hart was a childhood idol to many professional wrestling fans in the early and mid-1990s.

Hart has made sporadic appearances in the WWE since early 2010, when he returned to the company after unceremoniously being let go in November 1997 during the now infamous Montreal Screwjob.

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The Hitman recently began a tour of several minor league baseball stadiums, which will include a stop at Prince George's Stadium for a Bowie Baysox game on July 13, for a meet-and-greet and autograph session with his fans.

On Thursday, Hart spoke with the

Carroll County Times

about his relationship with formerly bitter rival Shawn Michaels, the match that inspired him to return to WWE, some of his favorite opponents and what he would change about the current wrestling product.

It's been a little while since we've seen you on WWE TV, what's the Hitman been up to the last year or so?

I've mostly just been taking life easy. I've got a home in Hawaii I spend a lot of time down there. I still expect, eventually down the road, I'll be doing some stuff with WWE again. But for right now, i think I left things there intact where I can go back anytime. I think just about everything I could have possibly done. I had a good run with them two years ago, I had a lot of fun with them. I always look forward to doing some more wrestling again down the road, but I don't think I'll be a regular on the show anytime soon.

Was looking at your schedule and looks like you're on a pretty hectic tour of minor league ballparks every day. Have you been doing these trips to ball parks for very long? What do you like about doing those?

This is sort of a first time thing. I've thrown out a few opening pitches for the Blue Jays and different baseball teams, but I love the idea of helping a minor league team. I know I have a lot of fans in that area that probably have never seen and met me, who never had a chance to get up close and get an autograph. I find, for me, it's a fun experience to go back and do appearances and meet your fans and there's a connection that you make -- you were like Batman or Spider-man or something to them growing up. I have that same connection with them where I relate back to my wrestling days. I think about my fans and the guys that cheered me on and made my career what it is. I'm always happy to be around any of my fans, and tying it in with baseball and minor league and helping the teams is a fun experience for me, that's for sure.

Have they reached out to you to appear on the 1000th episode of Raw next month?

I haven't heard from them yet, but I don't doubt that I will. At the same time, I don't know for sure. But it'd be fun to go. I'd love to go back and be on the 1000th episode and the fact ... I was a big part of Raw getting off the ground in the first place. Raw was on my watch, it wasn't on Hulk Hogan's watch or anyone else. It was the Bret Hart era. We made Raw what it is over the years. Steve Austin and certain guys like Shawn Michaels, and you could go on, I'm sure Raw is a sentimental thing sort of thing for all us in that we helped build that show and being part of the 1000th episode would be fun for me. But I don't know, who knows?

I got a chance to watch the rivalries documentary you did with Shawn Michaels and Jim Ross a few weeks ago, and thought it was incredibly well done. Were you happy with how the finish product of that turned out?

Yeah, I was. I really was. I was surprised at how honest everyone was and that there was no meddling. I remember after we did the show I thought 'well this was pretty open, pretty honest,' I said but I bet when they edit this whole thing down, it'll never come out like I would want it to. But I can't say that. I was really surprised by the effort by everybody to keep it really honest. I think Shawn was very insistent that he wanted to break the chains and get it all off his back, and I think he did that. I certainly related to a lot of the torment he went through all those years. It was sort of a, you know, I think Shawn, ultimately, was the guy accountable for all of it too. We all, I think over the years, we all kind of regretted how ... once upon a time, we were all pretty good friends. Vince was like a father to me and Shawn was a very close friend of mine over the years and I had a lot to do, I think, with helping him get to where he was. Wrestling is filled with dissension, politics and backstabbing and unfortunately, we allowed ourselves to get worked into a shoot sort of thing where we caused each other a lot of grief. And I know I thumbed him in the eye a lot of times on promos and stuff like that. I think we're all kind of guilty. That whole thing was a train wreck at the end, and I know I probably got the worst of it, but at the same time, I'm grateful. I had a 14-year career in WWE and I'm not going to let one year be the only stink I have on my career. I love the days of the Hart Foundation, the early WrestleManias, being the Intercontinental Champion, the whole run I had with Steve Austin and my brother Owen, so many experiences and memories that I had -- I'm grateful for all of them. I always tell people I wouldn't be talking to you now if not for what Vince McMahon had done for me. I feel really good about how I handled everything through my career; that whole meltdown at the end and the "Wrestling with Shadows" documentary, I think sort of tells a story; it's probably the only wrestling documentary, including movies that I've seen, that paints wrestlers and wrestling in a positive light where still we care and have a passion, and it's an art form and we aren't all just a bunch of bums with drug problems.

Were you nervous heading into that project? I can't imagine it was comfortable for either you or Shawn to sit there and talk about all the stuff you guys went through.

Well, I think we finally got past that. There were a lot of questions, concerns and doubts about our true sentiments. I expected when I offered my hand to Shawn that he would shake it, but about two or three weeks after I got there and started having fun with the company again that things would go south and we'd have problems again. In reality, once I shook Shawn's hand, it was a very emotional weight off his back and I think he really opened up and I could see Shawn almost like blossom like a flower after that. He really shook it all off and he was so grateful and said so in so many ways and so many times. He was so glad that he didn't have to carry it around anymore. And I realized in that process it was sort of the same for me. I got to drop a big weight off my back. Both of us had been carrying it around for so long, and I'm sure Vince McMahon -- even though he benefited greatly from the whole screwjob, and sort of how it vilified him and turned him into the evil promoter and how he turned that into a million-dollar storyline with Steve Austin; it all worked out for Vince -- but at the same time I'm sure he has some regrets about all the problems it caused for Shawn and me, and ultimately my brother Owen passing a few years later. It was a lot of bad blood that could've been avoided with a little more integrity.

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Looking back, who was your favorite opponent to work with -- not necessarily a single match -- but just a guy who you enjoyed being in the ring with? And why?

I get asked that a lot and I have about three guys I really liked working with. I loved working with Mr. Perfect [Curt Hennig]. If someone woke you up at 4 in the morning and told you gotta go out and wrestle somebody for an hour, Mr. Perfect would've been the perfect guy because he was just such a pro. He was so safe and skilled, he was Mr. Perfect -- he was a perfect wrestler. Then there was my brother Owen who was just a delight to work with every night. I miss the days of locking up with my brother Owen. We had so much fun wrestling each other and carrying on and pretending we had this brother feud with each other, when we were so close. At the same time, me working with Owen helped elevate him to get him in a better position. It took his career up a big notch and I think he was always grateful for that. It was a turning point for him. We just loved working with each other, and I miss that.

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Another guy that comes to mind when you ask me that question is Steve Austin. We always came across on TV as two guys that absolutely hated each other, which is the beauty of how we played our parts. But we were always good friends and always had a lot of respect for each other and always would go out there and have the greatest matches.

You've worked with a ton of guys over the years -- is there anyone that you never got to face, or maybe didn't wrestle until down the road in WCW or something, that you wish you would've been able to get in the ring with sooner?

There's a couple guys that it makes me feel sad I never got to work with 'em. I never got to wrestle Jake Roberts, ever, in any situation. Jake "The Snake," you know, he had all kinds of problems over the years. He's was a questionable character for a long time. Truth is, he was a phenomenal wrestler, a great, great worker, and I never got to work with him one time and I miss that.

Another guy I really wish I could've worked with more regular, or at least, I worked with him three times was Macho Man. The two or three times we did lock up with each other, we had magic. We'd always come back after and plead with Vince McMahon, please let us wrestle each other. We had magic when we worked together, it was always a great experience. We worked only three times which is so sad.

I know, as a fan, I was disappointed that we never got to see you and Hogan go one-on-one after WrestleMania 9. Can you talk about that?

Well, I think that was all ... it basically amounted to Hulk Hogan basically shutting my career down. He just didn't want to work with me. As much as [WCW] paid me to come in, they paid me a fortune to come in and sit on the sidelines, basically it was a case of Hulk Hogan decided that he didn't want them to do anything with me. i was told years after i was there that they would have these meetings, and whenever my name would come up Hulk Hogan would make sure that nobody did anything with me; that they always kept me benched on the sidelines for another week and come up with something for next week. That lasted two years and by the time ... I ended up getting hurt. I think about all the great matches I should've had back in those days. There was a lot of great wrestlers in WCW that I could've had great matches with that I never got to work with that much.

What's your favorite match of all time that you were part of, and one that you weren't part of and just enjoyed as a fan?

My favorite match that I ever had was, on one hand, it would be the Shawn Michaels Iron Man match just because of how hard it was. The other one, just for the sheer drama, fun and thrill of it and the memory of how people remember it would be the Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13 match. Both great matches, both two matches I can watch over and over sometimes. And I know it was Steve Austin's favorite match.

A match that was my favorite match that I wasn't in. I loved the Shawn Michaels-Undertaker match from a couple years ago [at WrestleMania 25]. It was actually the inspiration behind trying to making peace with everybody. Because I had to shake my head and at least admit that Shawn was a hell of a wrestler. And he's always has been a hell of a wrestler. I admired him in that match.

Another match that always impressed me so much was and I admired both combatants was that Brock Lesnar-Kurt Angle match [from WrestleMania 19]. I just thought it was a such a great match and Brock Lesnar did some death-defying somersault bump off the top rope that he just about broke his neck on. When I watched it and watched how hard they worked, just two great amateur wrestlers performing in a professional wrestling ring giving 100 percent, I've always tipped my hat to both of them. Probably, aside from any match I've ever had that's one of the greatest matches I've ever watched.

I know that, personally, I really enjoyed your work as a heel in WWE in the late 90s, but you've said in your book and other media that you didn't think it was the right move. How do you view that time in your career now?

You know, I was a little reluctant at the beginning, but I always felt was the most fun I've ever had. It was a beautiful rollercoaster ride going 100 mph, and it was a lot of fun. Most of what I said about Americans was probably, you know, intelligent enough. You've gotta trend lightly when you're in America trying to bash Americans. Those days I can remember riding down the highway, not just once, but it'd seem like every night for a while, I'd be riding down the highway and some guy would be driving in a pickup with a shotgun out the window chasing right behind me, me driving down the highway with Owen and a bunch of us trying to get away because they'd be so mad. Fans would throw stuff at our cars and getting back and forth to the arena every night, and being in the ring talking on the microphone I'd have quarters bouncing off my head. People would get so outraged by what you would say. I guess there is a certain adrenaline that comes with danger and excitement and pushing a lot of buttons. You know, I didn't know it was going to turn into what it did, but after sort of blinding stepping forward, I put my heart into trying to say something intelligent, if I was going to be anti-American try to say things that might get people thinking a little bit. I always think back those promos I did that we don't shoot each other and kill each other on every street corner, kind of hit home with people, and they triggered a lot of emotion on both sides of the border and I think it was the first times in pro wrestling had something intelligent. You don't see that much in pro wrestling, a lot of the story lines and dramas that unfold are cartoony. They aren't really serious drama or storylines. I remember Sgt. Slaughter had Saddam Hussein's boots or something. It's funny that you can get people so worked up about something as crazy as pro wrestling.

Do you still watch WWE pretty regularly? Are there any guys you think have potential to be the next Bret Hart or who you enjoy watching in the ring?

I think there's a lot of great wrestlers out there. I really do. I admire a lot of the wrestlers today. Sheamus is a great athlete, great wrestler. Daniel Bryan he's a great wrestler. CM Punk. They are all innovators. A lot of wrestlers today aren't the big giant monster wrestlers like [King Kong] Bundy or [Big] John Studd. There are much smaller guys today in the business but they are doing a heck of a lot out there. There's a lot of innovators. There are wrestlers today creating moves and coming up with stuff that -- I know when I was wrestling, I kind of like to think there was nothing left to do. If I would've come up with one more move, I would've thought about it. I did everything I could ever think of in the ring. And when I watch wrestling today I see all kinds of moves that I would've never have thought of, Lots of really complicated routines that these wrestlers are doing and death-defying moves. I know the rings are a little better today then they were back in my day, and that's probably made it a lot easier for them, they're a little smaller than they were back in my time. And the schedule's not nearly as killer as it was when I was working. We were doing 300 days a year and I don't think they are doing ... they might be doing 200 days a year now. So there are a lot of benefits to how it's being done today, it's just a better environment.

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My only qualms with wrestling today would be with the guys who are calling the shots and directing things in wrestling. I've been disappointed with the wrestling drama or the storylines the last six months or so. To me they've pushed the wrong guys and killed off the wrong guys. My guess is the wrestling right now is run more by guys who don't know anything about the business, that never really followed it that weren't wrestling fans as kids, never worked in the business, they're not wrestlers, they don't have any real experience in the business but they're back writing up stuff that 'OK, this is what you're going to do.' And it doesn't play out so well. And I find that they don't understand that wrestling is an art form and that wrestlers do have abilities and skills that set them apart from one another. There's great wrestlers and not-so-great wrestlers and you have to understand who should get pushed and who shouldn't. I think the wrestling today is run by guys who don't know what they are doing. Even guys that are sort of the foremen in wrestling are more, guys that were mid-card guys that never drew a dime in wrestling that are telling everyone how to wrestle, when in fact, they should have guys like, the top guys that were really experienced and were superstars in wrestling should be telling everyone what to do. Not the bottom guys that never drew any money. That's a tendency that I see happening more and more. They need to restore what real wrestling is, at least what real wrestling is all about. Back to the dressing room, back to the fans. It's not all about guys like Zack Ryder and guys that don't have wrestling experience being the top guy.

If you were in charge of WWE, what are some things you'd change about the current product? Specifically, are they guys you think they should be pushing?

There's so many guys I think that they've misused. Drew McIntyre is a guy I wonder why they haven't done more with him. He's a really good wrestler, good-looking guy, he seems to have lots of qualities, and they do nothing with him. Harry Smith, the Bulldog's kid, was such a great wrestler, so talented, and they never once gave him a chance. The always said, 'Oh he couldn't talk on the mic, or he had no charisma,' but they never gave him anything to talk about. How would he ever show anybody he's got any charisma with such poor storylines? Even Tyson Kidd, my niece Natalya Neidhart, to me they're exceptional wrestlers. I know they have a lot of heart and give it everything they can, but they've never really gotten a real chance down there. When I look at the people who have got chances -- I'm not going to go critique a lot of guys and say negative things -- it seems to me a lot of the real talent has been wasted and they wonder why the ratings are what they are. Wrestling fans come up to me all the time and tell me they miss the way it used to be. To me, they have all the talent they had back in my day, maybe more so, they just need to take a good look at their staff and people who are calling the shots and maybe replace all of them and get some guys who have some experience.

I think Roddy Piper is an example of someone who has a great mind for wrestling, the drama and some of the things that are exactly they're looking for. They'd never call him to help run they dressing room but they'll have a bunch of guys who bottom guys who, maybe they're great guys, but they don't really know how to draw money. They don't know the things that a guy like Roddy Piper might.

Is it exciting for you, someone who wasn't always the biggest guy but was known for being a technician in the ring, to see guys like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan feuding for the WWE title right now?

Yeah, it does. This whole era reminds me a lot of my era. Even John Cena's predicament where he's a good guy but the fans don't like him takes me back to when I was going through the same thing. I had been the champion, basically the top guy, for quite a while, from about '91, '92 to '97. And you could feel, when they did turn me heel, it was a necessary move. I, like Cena, felt my audience changing and it was tough to go out there every night when you were getting booed. And they weren't just booing me, the trend back then was to start booing the good guys and cheering the bad guys. And it just threw a monkey wrench into the whole drama. That's not how it works, that's now how it's written up or planned out so you had to go out there and kind of improvise. You had the good guys wrestling like bad guys and, that's kind of what happened through that Attitude Era in the 90s, and it turned into a great time in wrestling, but the good guys were bad guys and the bad guys were, I don't know, worse, maybe.

But wrestling fans often dictate ... the wrestling. It's what they love. But I really think WWE needs to go back to their roots. They've got the talent. I admire a lot of the talent they've have there. Especially the girl division. So many great lady wrestlers, girl wrestlers, in the industry today and WWE is responsible for that. They really worked hard to build a great bunch of girls who are really attractive, athletic, spirited girls who do great matches and I feel like in the last year, they've really lost momentum. It didn't matter to them what the girls did.

I don't think Vince McMahon in particular is a women wrestling fan much. You know, I've seen whenever they talk about something the girl wrestlers are going to do and usually rolls his eyes and doesn't want to do it. And I think it's the same for tag team wrestling. Vince McMahon was not particularly a tag team wrestling fan, he didn't like. He never liked it as a kid that much. So now today they've killed off tag team wrestling. And I don't think that's fair. I love tag team wrestling and I don't know why Vince McMahon or someone else in the company would kill off a really interesting and completely different part of wrestling from the single wrestling. I hope they revive the tag wrestling, I hope they revive the girl wrestling division.

Really, what I hope for -- the best wrestling is always a little more real. Punk did some beautiful wrestling storyline stuff last year where they had people thinking that maybe everything that was happening with him was a real storyline. It reminded me of my old days with the Canada-U.S. thing where there was such an overwhelming tide of sort of momentum because they thought he had stood up to the company and all that stuff. But they just seemed to drop the ball after that. All the storylines got sort of worse. I think they failed. They had a really good thing going, they had a real storyline in wrestling, which is hard to do, that was playing out and drawing interest with the fans and somehow they took a real storyline and turned it into a cartoon storyline and they lot all their momentum. And I think they've lost a lot of momentum with everything in the past year. If I were Vince McMahon I'd sack his whole writing staff and I'd come up with some real wrestlers to come up with some real storylines.

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Last question for me, what would you say your greatest accomplishment as a professional wrestler?

My greatest accomplishment as a pro wrestler was doing it for 23 years and never hurting anybody. And I think aside from that, my book. I really feel like my book was, personally, my greatest accomplishment, more so than my wrestling career. It was harder to write that book about it than to actually do it.

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