Saturday, 7 April 2012

Six of the Best; Top of the Mountain

So what is the greatest moment in British Pro Wrestling history? Most people would find it hard to argue with this particular moment; Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith for the WWF Intercontinental Title. For Davey it was the culmination of a long cmid card career, finally cracking the main event window. For Vince McMahon it cemented his control of the British market something he had being trying to crack since 1988. For Bret it was his Intercontinental swan song before moving up to the main event full time. For British wrestling one of its own had a major card Main event for a major foreign company at Heavyweight. Something that only Billy Robinson had done before in All Japan.

Summerslam Bret Hart vs British Bulldog (RIP) by BHH

 Looking at this match for the first time in 20 years I am reminded how great the WWF(E) can make a title match, and to make it matter. I am also reminded of Bret’s cooler than cool pre match ritual. 80,000 on hand, as they say for this match; easily the biggest drawing card in the UK ever and the scope of the whole project was a risk for Vince. He had taken bigger risks before and as Jim Ross has stated this card is unlikely to ever happen again. The intensity of this match also shows in the way Bret and Davey work each other. The other striking issue is that of the three people in the ring two are no longer with us. Referee Joey Morella passed in a car accident and Davey Boy has also passed, but if you are looking back at a mans body of work, you can say that they both performed at the highest level and here is the proof. Bret’s excellence is a throw back as well to the matches that made his name in New Japan alongside Davey ten years earlier. That training ground stood them both well. The issue for Davey was coming over as a technical wrestler again after a year of chasing power houses like the Warlord round the block in matches that could not be that good because of the limitations of his opponent. Bret had of course a plethora of scientific opponents since taking the title from Curt Hennig two years earlier. There is also a throwback to Davey’s days as a British middleweight; the pop for the straight arm lift is straight out of the Johnny Saint playbook. For Bret, who got over as a face by being showing heavy work rate and heart, playing the subtle heel was as easy as falling off a log and a precursor to his days as American heel/Canadian face. On this night though that was a long way off. Bret’s comeback starts with a not illegal but not really very nice low knee, telling the story of his willingness to keep his title.

 Both Davey and Bret had wrestled in front of more people; Wrestlemania 3 was 93,000, and probably had better matches. The Hart Foundation vs Bulldogs title matches when both happened to be five years younger and much more active between the ropes. The WWF style though takes time to develop, and this is perhaps one of the best examples of why a tag team division is important. This match certainly changed the main event picture in WWE. This kind of match, and these kind of wrestlers where to become the norm really until the Attitude era pushed things more towards brawling than technical wrestling. The next round of main eventers Davey, Shawn Michaels, Curt Henning where all sound technical performers who had gone under appreciated in the prior era of muscled freak-dom. There was of course The Undertaker, but looking back will anyone miss Lex Luger, Ludvig Borga and The Beserker? This match includes Davey’s first trip to the top rope since about 1988. Vince’s misleading whiley veteran line, Bret was as experienced as Davey at this point, but the excellence of execution was being pushed as the best wrestler in the business, which arguably he was.

The shot of Diana Hart-Smith looking like she needs a good curry does get annoying after a while, but it is part of that whole big fight experience. What was amazing is the classic Hart Foundation big hair pull which he Bret hadn’t used on television since wrestling the Rockers in New York two years earlier. Davey’s power based attack that had been his calling card against the Warlord is mixed in with elements of technical work from back in the day. The Crucifix pin attempt being seen back in the middle weight title eliminator we looked at with Dave Finlay back in the late seventies. The belly to back suplex from Bret, not seen regularly in his arsenal since the early eighties, makes a come back here as Bret is desperate to cling on to the title. The match ends with the most British of all pin attempts, a folding press, and a nod from Davey to times past no doubt. However the match goes beyond historical viewing points. You would have to say that Davey was the most successful of the British wrestlers from that era in terms of drawing money, the only thing that really counts. His development to a main event wrestler was cultivated through luck and judgement after leaving the Bulldogs tag team and unceremoniously dumping The Dynamite Kid in a real life heel turn that is quite shocking to believe. Due to head out got the Real World Tag League in the late eighties Dynamite was never sent a ticket as Davey had told All Japan he had been in a car accident. Davey’s return to the WWF started a slow drag to the main event where he found a niche in the market as a big guy who could wrestle, as the size of main eventers dropped in the mid nineties this became an asset as a heel and as Camp Cornette and the Hart Foundation Davey had a flourishing end to his career. That about wraps it up for this time grapple fans. When we come back as we have reached the top then we have to stop and start all over again. Have a good time, till the next time.

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