By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Ric Flair © vs Bret Hart 10/12/92
WWF World Heavyweight Championship Match
Whilst Bret Hart could be considered the poster boy for doing promotional progression the right way (Tag, IC, World title), I struggled even after the fact to get the Hart title win in 1992. Whether I’d have been aware of it at the age of six or not, over a quarter of a century later the switch still feels a little out of nowhere. The blame largely can be placed at the feet of the booking team and the WWF corporation as a whole; when you are programmed into believing that larger than life megastars such as Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Ric Flair hold world titles, Hart feels like a significant departure.
As mentioned however, Hart had worked his way up the card. After several false dawns as a singles wrestler that would inevitably see him back with Jim Neidhart before too long, two runs with the Intercontinental Title and some amazing matches in the ring left him as viable a contender as the promotion had at this time. That the WWF didn’t have him win a significant feud (outside of the one with Mr Perfect) and seemed to rely on his ability between the ropes as a means of escalating him up the card didn’t help matters; neither did their refusal to show the title switch anywhere other than on Coliseum Home Video. Hart and Flair hadn’t even been feuding before the match, with Flair’s decision to head back to WCW four months later the only conceivable reason for the belt to change hands.
What the decision to make the change in Saskatoon did guarantee was a hero’s welcome for Hart as they were fully behind his tilt at the WWF gold. An early hammerlock on the champion received a more raucous reception than many over the course of time, as did a reversal on a suplex as Hart spent the opening moments showing that he was more than capable of taking the match to the wily veteran. With Monsoon claiming ten minutes gone when barely five minutes had passed, the methodical pace had clearly began to bamboozle the commentary team. Still, neither man was in a rush as Hart continued to work Flair’s arm as the action was punctuated with Flair’s screams for mercy.
A kick out of the corner and a punch to block a sunset flip had Flair use the more nefarious skills in his moveset to attempt to fight back, but a second sunset flip would display the full moon of Flair as Hart fired back and caused two Flair flops. It would take a poke to the eye to stop Hart this time, with two classic Hart Irish whip bumps into the corner putting him down on the mat and vulnerable to Flair’s targeting of the leg. Returning the favour, Hart would take his chance to fight back by attacking Flair’s knee, slapping on a figure four leglock of his own that gained him several near falls.
A back suplex out of a sleeperhold gave Flair some respite and the first concerted attack on the challenger. Hart was relegated to pure hope spots – a schoolboy rollup getting him a two count – and would also have to fight off a Flair figure four that almost saw him pinned to the canvas. Hart managed to roll his way to the ropes eventually, but the damage had been done as the referee spent some times checking on the Hitman to see if he was still able to fight on. Not that Flair could relax for a moment; a second figure four attempt was reversed into a small package for a very close fall.
The usual Flair foible, a decision to go to the top rope, would cost him big as Hart threw him off and began to unleash his finishing salvo of moves. Flair fired back with some punches, but a superplex led to the Sharpshooter. In an odd move, Mr Perfect, who had been at ringside as Flair’s second, made a tokenistic gesture as if to get in the ring, only to jump down as the referee turned to check on a nodding Flair who was clearly giving up. Bret Hart had won his first WWF World Heavyweight Title.
There is something about the bright lights and bright colours that feel like they detract from Flair’s title matches in WWF when compared to the NWA. Whilst this wasn’t a classic, he had put the new guy over shortly before heading out of the door. The Flair and Hart relationship, as it was, would sour in 1993 when Hart would speak out about Flair and WCW, though they have apparently patched up in later years. More importantly, Hart’s victory definitely felt like a transitional point in WWF history, as they moved away from the big characters and focused on someone whose very modus operandi was how good of a wrestler he was.