It was an August night in 1992. The event was SummerSlam. The World Wrestling Federation took the annual summer pay per view overseas to Wembley Stadium in what has been hailed ever since as the greatest SummerSlam show ever. One match in particular stands out on that show hands and shoulders above the rest when Bret Hart squared off against Davey Boy Smith for the Intercontinental Championship. That night in front of 80,000 fans, Davey Boy Smith took home the gold. While Bulldog had his big moment, he would not stay with company for too long, and Hart went onto the main event. Bret would go onto have a great run at the top of the World Wrestling Federation, but it is impossible to talk about his main even run without talking about SummerSlam in 1992.
Looking back, the match wasn’t perfect. In fact, it was pretty one-sided. If you have not watched the match in recent years I encourage you to go back and watch it again. Davey Boy was a good talent, but this match showed how great Hart was in the ring, even before his main event years. He is steps ahead of Bulldog during this match. Part of that was his quickness was the story they were trying to tell, but you can tell that Bret is just leading Davey Boy through every step. Part of that is can be attributed to rumors of Smith’s state of mind during this match, but what stands above all else was Hart’s professionalism. For every move in that match, Bret is ready and waiting for Davey, yet he is able to transition between moves smoothly so that the story continues.
The end of that match was all about the hometown hero winning the gold, but the lasting story was the ascension of Bret Hart. It was at SummerSlam in 1992 that Hart proved he can handle a pay per view main event. There was no doubt leading up to that point that he was a great talent, but SummerSlam was the night he got to prove it to the world. Bret went into that ring and made Davey Boy look like a superstar and convinced the wrestling world he had just had one of the greatest matches of the decade.
The following months showed just who really won at SummerSlam. Within weeks, Smith was gone from the World Wrestling Federation while Bret Hart was World Champion. Hart was never the draw that Hulk Hogan or Steve Austin was. There is no denying that. However, Hart was the WWF’s top guy for five years. He was the face of the company’s New Generation. No longer were Warrior, Hogan, and Savage in the spotlight. It was new faces with Hart, Yokozuna, Shawn Michaels, and so many others. During this time, Hulk Hogan briefly resurfaced, but left within weeks. The company tried with other guys by turning Lex Luger into a patriotic superhero, and skyrocketing Diesel to the main event scene overnight. As much as they tried, Luger just wasn’t that guy. In a messed up way, WCW were the ones who knew how to push Luger, not WWF. Diesel was pushed pretty hard for a long time. He had one of the longest championship reigns in years. Still, when it came time to drop the title, it was Bret Hart that was there to relieve Diesel of his duties. Diesel was a good character for the company, but he was not the cornerstone that Bret was.
In 1997, Hart’s character was on fire after turning heel for the first time in nearly a decade. When the 1997 SummerSlam rolled around, there was almost unavoidable putting the title on him. The Undertaker had a good run that year, but it was time for Hart to reclaim the title one more time. In one of the most underrated SummerSlam main events in history, Hart and Undertaker had a fantastic bout that featured Shawn Michaels as the guest referee. The story was that if Michaels did not call the match down the middle, he would move to Canada, while if Hart lost the match, he could no longer wrestle in the United States. The climactic finish came when the Heartbreak Kid inadvertently hit Undertaker with a steel chair. He was then forced to count the pin and give Hart his fifth world title. That spectacular night would be Hart’s last SummerSlam until 2010. Like in 1992, the real winner of the match was not the guy standing with the gold. Bret had come full circle. Instead of a great title run, Bret worked in a semi-main event capacity, while Michaels rejuvenated his career with a heel turn, a feud with Undertaker, and the creation of DX. There was also the little incident that happened in Montreal a couple months later. Just like in 1992, the champion would be gone for the company a few months later. In ’92, Bret won the championship and headlined the following year’s WrestleMania. In ’97, Michaels won the gold and headlined WrestleMania the following year. It is tough to say what could have happened with Davey Boy Smith if he had stayed with the company after that huge title win. It is also tough to say what would have happened with Bret had he stayed with the company in 1997. Who knows, he may have been the guy to pass the torch to Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV.
An August night. That is where it everything leads back. Bret Hart had some great SummerSlam matches in his day. The 1991 match with Mr. Perfect, 1994 in the cage with his brother Owen, and the 1997 match with Undertaker all come to mind. As good as those matches were it is his fight with the Bulldog that gets the most attention. It may not be the best of his outings, but he certainly deserves the greatest recognition for it. Had it not been for that night, the success he had the following several years may never have happened.