SummerSlam Memories: Bret Hart vs Jerry Lawler by Liam Byrne

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SummerSlam_1993

When you are young, what wrestling you can or can’t see is often out of your hands. Since the purchasing power you have as a seven or eight year old is practically non-existent, you end up watching whatever you are given and potentially valuing it differently in the years to come as you forever see the event through child-like eyes. It is why I will always have a soft spot for Wrestlemania IV, even though it is a boring, boring excuse for a show, just because I watched it many times when I was young.

The four main VHS tapes I remember being bought for me were Wrestlemania IV and VI, as well as Summerslam 92 and 93. Whether my Dad knew it at the time, it would seem churlish as a British wrestling fan not to have seen the only significant PPV that took place in the UK, and it was by far the better show. By 1993, the wheels had started to come off of the promotion. An attempt to turn Lex Luger into the next Hulk Hogan was sputtering along, the Lex Express the perfect candidate in Vince’s eyes to take out the evil foreigner, Yokozuna. That he chose to put Luger over via countout in the second biggest show of the year, in a vain hope to ride the programme to a big win at Wrestlemania, shows a level of naivety that wasn’t often seen in Vince’s long term booking.

The faltering product can be seen as you look up and down the card. Not only were Luger and Yokozuna not quite setting the world alight in the main event, you had the Undertaker in the midst of his ‘big or fat’ feuds which were never conducive to anything of quality in the ring. This time, it would be one of the worst examples as Giant Gonzalez would stand across the ring from the Undertaker. The only sweet mercy was that this was a ‘Rest in Peace’ match, seemingly finishing off Gonzalez for good. Other matches also saw IRS defeating the 1-2-3 Kid and a lacklustre Shawn Michaels versus Mr Perfect match end in a countout victory for Michaels.

That is not to say there weren’t highlights. The first Summerslam memory I have, or at least that which stuck most in my mind when watching this event, was the match between Bret Hart and Jerry Lawler. In recent weeks, I’ve discussed Hart’s run during this time as being one that, whilst enjoyable, was all the better for living through it as it was the Hitman who often provided the spark of brilliance amongst a sea of mediocrity. As the rest of the card floundered, Hart could always be relied upon to create something engaging in the middle of the ring.

He had the perfect foil in Jerry Lawler. With Hart still very much the pure babyface character that he would ride until the Hart Foundation in the Attitude Era, Lawler was the very epitome of a heat magnet. Having targeted Hart’s family like the bully that he was, including Stu and Helen in a memorable segment on Raw, Lawler was hated by the crowd – they wanted to see Hart rip his head off. This match at Summerslam was to decide who the true King of the WWF was.

This resentment towards a man who thought he was better than everyone only escalated as he came down to the ring on crutches. Three referees stood between Hart and the King as Lawler gave a story about being blindsided in his car by a little old lady, causing injuries that would stop him, by doctor’s orders, from getting into the ring tonight. Appointing his ‘court jester’ to do his dirty work for him, Doink would be the replacement for the injured Lawler. A bucket of water thrown over Bruce Hart at ringside (sitting with Owen in the front row) stoked the fire, with Bret coming to his brother’s aid by attacking Doink to officially start the match.

This was the Matt Bourne-era for Doink, back when he was an effective heel and a man who could wrestle was under the face paint. Hart’s righteous indignation at the lack of Lawler was taken out on Doink in the early going, with the clown getting clotheslined out of the ring and rammed into the ring post. Lawler’s presence at ringside was a distraction, but even whilst jawing with the King, Hart continued to punish Doink. It was only after Hart chose to go after the King that the clown was able to take advantage, kneeing Hart in the back and slamming him head first into the ring steps.

Doink’s attempts to defeat Hart or make him submit would all come to nothing; a misguided Whoopee Cushion met nothing but Hart’s knees and Doink would shortly thereafter be locked in the Sharpshooter. Before Doink could submit, Lawler’s dastardly plan was revealed as he cracked Hart hard around the back of the neck with one of his crutches. Lawler had been lying all along and whilst Bruce and Owen tried to fight their way into the ring, Lawler continued to batter Hart with the remains of his crutch.

As Lawler attempted to leave, Jack Tunney would cut him off at the top of the aisle, demanding that he head back to the ring. The visual of Lawler trying to refuse whilst Hart fought his way through several referees to try and get to the King just highlighted the polarising nature of both characters. With Tunney declaring that Lawler would be banned for life if he didn’t return to the ring, Hart took the decision out of his hands by punching him square in the face all the way back to ringside.

Hart would brutalise Lawler, including using a crutch in a move that should have forced the disqualification. However, the referee ignored that, as he would also ignore Lawler using the crutch to regain control. In shades of his many years in Memphis, Lawler would rely on distracting the referee and hiding the weapon to stay one step ahead of Hart.

Ironically, it would be Hart channelling Lawler that would eventually see the tide of the match turn. A Hart low blow, the dropping of the straps and a piledriver on the King were all nods to Lawler, all leading to the Sharpshooter. The crowd went nuts when Lawler submitted, whilst continuing to cheer as referee after referee tried to force Hart to let go. In some ways, the booking of the reversed decision didn’t matter – the fans had got what they paid to see in Hart beating up Lawler. Giving Lawler the victory due to Hart refusing to let go of the hold just allowed them to take a heated angle further.

The most iconic image that I remember of this match though, and it sums up Lawler’s excellent heel work. As he is wheeled out on a stretcher, with various members of the Hart family still trying to get at him, he raises his fist in victory. Only Lawler, pulling out the narrowest of victories and after getting brutally beaten down for a prolonged period of time, would celebrate even in such a minor way. I hated him at that moment.

The feud never really regained this level of heat or momentum. Real life legal troubles for Lawler saw Shawn Michaels substituted in for Lawler at Survivor Series, whilst the heel turn of Owen Hart usurped everything else for Bret in the near future. They would return to the feud in 1995, but by the time you have ‘Kiss My Foot’ matches and an evil dentist, things aren’t quite what they once were. Still, this match, this moment, this angle is one of the best, most memorable and underrated moments in Summerslam history.

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