Thursday, February 23, 2012

Book Review: "Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling"

by Bret Hart
WWE Hall of Famer Bret "Hitman" Hart always proclaimed himself as the "Best There Is, Best There Was and Best There Ever Will Be" and rightfully so. When pro wrestling was in its darkest creative and financial era back in the early to mid-90's, Hart was the company's top guy. As the world champ, he carried the company on his back amidst the WWF's steroid scandal and also after money draw Hulk Hogan left the organization. He barely ever missed a date due to family conflicts or injuries and sold the merchandise that helped keep Vince McMahon's empire afloat until he left for WCW in 1997. His book "Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling" tells his story.

Hart begins from the very beginning of his life as he grew up with a mass amount of siblings in a family whose bread and butter was his father's, legendary Stu Hart, Stampede Wrestling promotion in Calgary (Alberta, Canada, right Lance Storm?). The first quarter of the book deals with his slow incorporation into wrestling, dwelling in minor promotions, until he finally cracked the shell of entering the big time of the WWF. 

Once his story reaches his time in the major leagues of pro wrestling, Hart confesses that even though he had strong morals and incomparable work ethic, he was certainly not without sin. Being on the road 90% of the time is a cause to the lifestyle of wrestlers taking on  detrimental vices. For some, it was alcohol and substance abuse, but Hart's was women. He openly details his many trysts due to having beautiful women at his beckon call coinciding with his countless struggles in the relationship with his wife at home, who was essentially raising their children on her own - albeit with his financial support. 

Some of the most intriguing parts of his book include the antics of Jim Hellwig, AKA The Ultimate Warrior, and his despicable mistreatment of a dying Make-A-Wish child, his constant love/hate relationship with Vince McMahon and his oil and water relationship with brother-in-law Jim Neidhart on the road. A lot of wrestling fans will appreciate his account of the slowly burning turmoil that built between him and Michael Hickenbottom (Shawn Michaels), which eventually led to his departure from the WWF, and the many wonderful stories of his youngest brother Owen Hart, who died in a freak accident on a wrestling PPV. You can tell that Bret and Owen were always the closest and that Owen was actually one of the good guys in the business. Add to the fact that he was only planning on wrestling a little while longer so that he could spend more time with his wife and kids, whom he cherished more than anything, and it makes his 1999 death even more tragic, if that is possible.

Many people will want to learn as much as possible about the 1997 Montreal Screwjob, and you will certainly get a whole two chapters based on that event and what transpired leading up to that night. This book was authored before Hart's 2010 reconciliation with McMahon and Hickenbottom, so he definitely grinds his axe when it comes to those two individuals. You will discover what happened between McMahon and Hart after that Survivor Series mess as well as the circus between the Harts and McMahon stemming from Owen's unfortunate passing. 

Even more interesting are his stories concerning Tom Billington, otherwise known as one half of the British Bulldogs, Dynamite Kid. Any fan of Kid will have a totally different opinion of him after Hart's recollection of him going back as far as early days in Stampede. For as much as Billington and Hart mirror each other in style and skill, they are polar opposites when it comes to personality and handling relationships with others. You know what they say about what goes around comes around? Wait until you hear how karma handles Billington after all of the horrible things he did to other wrestlers throughout his career.

The bad issues with this book is that it is simply too long, with many of the young childhood stories that could have been edited out. Another issue is that Hart is almost a "mark" for himself, taking the business and his Hitman persona way too seriously at times. Maybe it is his passion for the business, but it seems like he has a bit of an ego...that he simply refers to as needing respect. Add to the fact that every match he discusses ends with someone like Hogan or Terry Funk coming up to him just to say that his match was "the best they have ever seen" starts to get a little old after a while. Even though he was always fun to watch in the ring, it makes you wonder if those comments are Hart executing his creative license. Did people really say that to him all of the time? All of the time?

Bret in his Sgt. Pepper's jacket (couldn't resist)
But no matter how you gauge it, Hart tells it like it is and does not hold back. In a business where top guys get their own private dressing rooms or travel in tour buses, he has always been "one of the boys" and treats every wrestler with class, even going as far as being a father figure to a lot of the up and coming grapplers. He might not have been an angel, but he was always a saint when it came to colleagues in his profession. His battle back from a stroke is also a testament to him as a human being who is very strong willed and faces a challenge against the odds head on.

Originally entering the wrestling profession as a way to make some cash until he decided what he really wanted to do in life, Hart's natural talent at the game made him fall in love with the business. He always believed in hard work paying off and maintained a solid moral fiber when everything else in the crazy world of pro wrestling was spinning wildly around him. That is the message of his book.

Whether you are a fan of Bret Hart or a fan of wrestling in general, his book is worth checking out. It may be a little long and the early years might be a little boring, but his experiences in the business are quite interesting and give you a new perspective on this zany world we call sports entertainment.

4 out of 5 Overacting Cenas


Maurice Mitchell said...

I'm not a huge wrestling fan, but I do like the Rock and a couple of others. It's nice to know he dealt with his brothers death. That was a really sad day.

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