For those who remember the period of time known colloquially as “The Golden Years”, the spate of revelations and wholesale grandstanding that has accompanied them will have been a pleasant echo from a bygone era. Not since the halcyon days of the Monday Night Wars has such promise been invested in a single day. January 4th 2010 is the day TNA Wrestling and Hulk Hogan attempt on one night to unseat the time-tested juggernaut that is WWE Raw and, in the process, find out the length, depth and width of the challenge still to come. WWE for their part have tabled a special edition of Raw to coincide with the TNA assault. The rumour mill has been rampant with speculation as to whom the WWE will call upon to spearhead their response, with the most tantalising name of all belonging to Calgary and Bret “Hitman” Hart. It is believed Bret has finally agreed to lay down the last ghost of Montreal and, in the process, create the wrestling event of the decade. As responses go, it would safely qualify as nuclear.
All things being equal, excitement would seem to be the order of the day. However, this is professional wrestling we’re discussing and the wrestling industry seldom champions equality. There is just over a fortnight between the moment and the possible stardust on the 4th and plenty of time for the ground to shift. The overriding feeling with regards to Hogan and TNA seems to be genuine intrigue tempered by unease. The cannier observers seems to have concluded Hogan is simply using TNA to boost his battered profile in the one industry where his name will always be relevant. It is simplifying things to focus on Hulk’s apparent mercenary tendencies.
It has been demonstrated time and time again that Hulk Hogan is a masterful politician who has always prioritised number one. He will ride TNA as hard as he can for Hulk Hogan first, just as he did with the WWF and more obviously with WCW. The simple truth is TNA are taking a massive gamble on a man as selfish as he is a whore for publicity. The Carter family are hoping that a side-effect of allowing egomania to run wild might very well be a TNA equivalent of the New World Order sensation. If something like that were to happen then Hogan will be indulged his every whim. The real damage will be in coping with immediate or eventual failure. A bastard about the house is quite often fine as long as he’s your bastard. Whatever happens, positive or negative, TNA Wrestling will never be the same again after January 4th.
Quite a number of wrestling fans would have taken a look at Impact on Monday with Hulk Hogan in town. It is but an historical footnote these days but the very first WCW Monday Night Nitro beat WWF Raw in 1995, owing largely to simple curiosity. History has a very limited chance of repeating itself however; especially if Bret Hart does indeed return on the January 4th Raw. In 1999 during the immediate aftermath of the Owen Hart tragedy, the likelihood of Bret ever again appearing on WWE TV seemed even more incredible than climate change. I quite honestly believed I’d be nestled in a pine box long before peace and love broke out between the Hart and McMahon families. Things changed after the end of WCW and Bret’s stroke. The Hart family was broken forever by the deaths of Stu and Helen, patriarch and matriarch, and Hart House was sold into posterity.
What most people probably don’t know is Vince McMahon came to love Bret Hart as a surrogate son, who never failed him when he needed someone he could trust. Nevertheless, business will always be the priority for Vince. This truth was underlined and enforced by events in Montreal. Vince sacrificed Bret to ram a very specific point home to the boys: Don’t cross the boss. If I can do this to Bret Hart I can do much worse to any of you. Whilst it was never a moral or honourable action, the decision to dispense with Bret was vindicated by the successes (and excesses) of the Attitude era. Throughout all this though, Vince McMahon retained the belief that Bret Hart was arguably the finest performer he ever had because he was made, from top to bottom, in the WWF mould. A peerless worker and storyteller who was smooth and utterly professional, Bret was the archetypal WWF wrestler. If you asked Vince to define his ideal superstar, the succinct answer would be Bret ?Hitman? Hart.
There are many possible means at the disposal of WWE to counter a challenge that, in total truth, holds no real viable threat to its continued dominance of mainstream wrestling. The sad thing for TNA is if there’s any truth to the Hart rumour, and he really does arrive on Raw in living colour, then even the novelty value of Hogan’s Monday night crusade is dead in the water. The sight and sound of Bret Hart on Raw is the single biggest dream moment left unrealised; the possible achievement of a genuine and tangible conclusion to twelve long years of emotional toil. In his heart Bret wants to return and soak up an ovation that will shake the foundations of the arena all the way up to the Gates of Heaven. It is something every wrestling fan wants to see, hear, touch and experience.
If Bret Hart strides out on Raw on January 4th nothing short of the Second Coming will keep those fans away. Hulk Hogan and Bret Hart are very far from friends and the irony of their sudden, peculiar situations is irresistible. It is entirely possible Bret will arrive on WWE TV but not necessarily on January 4th, giving genuine hope to those associated with TNA Wrestling and Hulk Hogan. This writer genuinely hopes they rise to the occasion because wrestling desperately needs a new war. In order to ensure the future of the business new motivation and inspiration is required. TNA might one day provide the spark that ignites the future. For now though, the spectre of Bret Hart looms large. If the speculation proves true and Bret Hart arrives on Raw on January 4th 2010 only one legend will have cause to fear the other. That’s the truth, brother.
Daniel R. Browne.