By Liam Byrne @tvtimelimit
Diesel © vs Bret Hart 11/19/95
WWF World Heavyweight Championship Match
Survivor Series 1995 officially signaled the end of the Diesel project. Having held the WWF World Title for over a year since defeating Bob Backlund in nine seconds at Madison Square Garden, the time was right for Diesel to lose the belt. Poor company direction, awful booking and some interminable title defenses meant that this title reign often gets looked back at as one of the worst WWF title reigns of all time – fairly or unfairly, depending on who you choose to hold to account.
It isn’t surprising that in a time where the WWF was at a creative standstill that Diesel’s best opponent across his yearlong reign was Bret Hart. Though Hart would be mired in midcard feuds, almost as if to take the focus off of him to allow Diesel every chance to shine, when he was called upon to be across the ring from the champion, the result was usually watchable. The two men met twice before the Survivor Series, with Diesel defeating Bret Hart by disqualification in 1994 when Hart was still champion, whilst the two men then went to a draw (due to significant outside interference on both men) at the Royal Rumble when Diesel had the gold around his waist. As each match had ended with no clean winner, Gorilla Monsoon would add a No Disqualification stipulation to the contest to ensure the fans a proper finish.
Hart was the right opponent to work around Diesel’s limitations: a consummate storyteller who could also garner sympathy with spot on bumping and selling. As if to draw attention to the stipulation, first Diesel and then Hart would pull off a top turnbuckle to expose the steel before either man had even locked up. When they did begin to exchange, Diesel pounded Hart into the corner, using his size and power advantage to stop Hart from escaping until the challenger fell through the ropes. Stalking his prey, Diesel attacked Hart from behind as Vince McMahon on commentary reminded everyone that there is no countout either. Flaunting the lack of rules, Diesel dropped Hart throat first on the guard rail before pitching his opponent back into the ring.
Hart’s best chance was always going to be to work the legs of the champion, but an attempt to strike out at them only earnt him some punches to the face for his trouble. An Irish whip into the steel steps was followed by Diesel lifting Hart up and ramming him into the ringpost back first. In a callback to their contest at the Rumble, Diesel would return the favour of Hart using a chair by whacking the Hitman hard on the back with a chairshot of his own.
A blocked Jacknife attempt finally allowed Hart to gain some traction in the contest, using a bite to the face and an eye rake before going back to the knees. Hart’s assault was relentless as he used the ropes in an assisted vertical splash that had the big man screaming in agony, a situation made worse by the resulting figure four leglock. Diesel was able to fight his way out of the submission, using an eye poke to fight off the subsequent attempt at a Sharpshooter. He wasn’t able to avoid a trip that allowed Hart to smash the injured leg into the ringpost though, nor Hart using a cable to tie his left leg to the ringpost. Incapacitated, Diesel’s leg took another beating, this time from a steel chair.
Throwing Hart off of the top turnbuckle allowed Diesel to finally untie himself, though it appeared as if the damage had already been done as the champion limped around the ring. It didn’t take any of the impact out of the next big move as Diesel sent Hart off of the apron and through the announce table in a spot that was ahead of its time in the promotion. It also inadvertently led to Diesel’s defeat; a moment of compassion when looking to hit the Jacknife powerbomb allowed Hart to execute a small package for the three count. Several expletives and referees later, Diesel had officially turned heel once again.
Hart would defeat Diesel once more at In Your House 6, but time was not on either man’s side. Hart ended up losing the belt to Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania XII, Diesel wouldn’t even see out the year before jumping to WCW. There is a certain sense of irony that Diesel’s best title match was the one in which he lost the belt, though it also went some way to show that the title reign’s general poor showing wasn’t really his fault.