The Trilogy: Hart vs. Michaels - Bloodlines // Birth
Updated: Feb 4, 2019
From '92 to '97, follow along and see how this perfect rivalry took shape.
Bret Hart was almost on his way out of the World Wrestling Federation in the early parts of 1992. A contract negotiation with the Fed's rival, World Championship Wrestling, was almost a done deal. Friends Rick Rude and Brian Pillman (who were employed by WCW at the time) had lured Vince McMahon's Intercontinental Champion into an easier schedule and a better pay day, or so it seemed.
"As has become pretty common knowledge as the week went on, Hart had negotiated and at one point agreed to a deal where he would debut on Tuesday (1/21/92) at the Clash of the Champions for WCW in Topeka where he'd come out with the Intercontinental title as something of a payback for the WWF bringing in Ric Flair and having him wear what WCW considered their world title belt (of course the situations are completely different in that Flair was fired by WCW after the company attempted to cut an existing contract almost in half, which somehow six months later WCW feels is the WWF's fault for, to the extent they went to court over getting the belt off WWF television shows."
(quote from January 27th, 1992 Wrestling Observer Newsletter)
It was for this reason that "The Hitman" would have to drop his I.C. belt to The Mountie at a house show on 1/17/92, citing a 104º fever as the "real" culprit for his loss. His would-be departure was quickly halted however, as Hart made a hasty judgement concerning his WWF deal. It seemed as though he fudged the numbers and was actually contractually obligated to be with the Federation for several more months.
Vince McMahon would capitalize on the ill-fated exit by rewarding Bret instead of punishing him for his possible defection. Hart would receive an even larger push into the spotlight than he had previously been given. The owner of the WWF saw this as an opportunity to instill more trust in "The Hitman" and give him the confidence necessary to keep him around for awhile longer.
With a Wrestlemania VIII win over Roddy Piper (a man Hulk Hogan never beat) to once again become Intercontinental Champion in April, a Summerslam headlining match against his brother-in-law "The British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith in August, and his very first WWF World Championship victory over Ric Flair in Canada in October, it seemed that McMahon had firmly placed the keys in the hands of "the best there is." He even got to celebrate with Santa Claus by the year's end.
Mounting pressure from a steroid scandal had forced the company to "down-size" in terms of talent. The days of muscle bound freaks looked to be winding down, and the arrival of a new youth movement had finally set in. A more "scientific" type of wrestling was in queue. More athletic, fast-paced and aerial; a new endeavor was approaching.
Enter "The Heartbreak Kid."
Like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels had been toiling on the WWF's undercard for several years in the build up to 1992. Once part of a successful tag team, The Rockers (who never donned championship gold), '92 would finally be HBK's breakout year. In a controversial televised airing on 1/12/92, Michaels would superkick his tag team partner Marty Jannetty, and subsequently hurl him through a plate glass window during the now infamous "Barbershop Window" segment. Shawn was definitively going solo.
Michaels was not far behind "The Hitman" in the skill category. Both men were seen as tremendous workers and had earned their respective reputation as show-stealers. Interestingly enough, had Bret Hart split from WWF in this year, his spot would've undoubtedly gone to "The Heartbreak Kid." This would've made Shawn's 1992 a very different year. As fate would have it, Hart was forced to stick around, and in turn, reaped the rewards, planting the seeds of resentment.
Hunkering down in the WWF for the time being, Bret worked house shows with Michaels during the spring and summer of '92. The two had worked previously against each other in the tag team division, but not in a one-on-one scenario. Michaels would endure house show pinfalls and losses to "The Hitman" in an effort to bolster the star champion's repertoire.
On 7/21/92, as part of their summer stint, Michaels and Hart would see themselves squaring off in a unique match type. A ladder match - the first of it's kind in the WWF. A match that Hart would introduce to Vince McMahon by way of his family's Calgary Stampede promotion. Bret laid out the match type to McMahon verbally, who was reluctant of the concept. Inevitably Vince allowed Hart to show him how it worked via an impromptu dry run, which resulted in a cult classic. Bret would choose Shawn as his opponent and defeat Michaels to retain his belt.
Supposedly, this bout got enough steam behind it that a rematch was considered for Summerslam of that year. Hart (c) vs. Michaels in a Ladder Match for the I.C. championship on 8/29/92 in Washington, D.C. Rumor and innuendo has dictated that Shawn Michaels would've ended up winning the championship, so Bret could move up to the World title scene.
Fate would once again intervene however, as the WWF would choose to hold the Summer event in London, England instead of the United States. This move called for Vince McMahon to use a home-town star in what turned out to be Hart (c) vs. "The British Bulldog" headlining the show. Michaels was once again given the backseat treatment.
Bret Hart would only be elevated after Summerslam. On 10/12/92, he would walk out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan with the World Heavyweight Championship in a match that would not originally make air, but rather be released on VHS, Coliseum Home Video. His opponent, Ric Flair, was on his way out of the company, and McMahon needed a new champion who wasn't embroiled in controversy. "The Hitman" had finally made it.
In a surprising twist, just a few months after winning the Intercontinental Championship in his homeland, "The British Bulldog" would suffer a loss to, none other than, Shawn Michaels at a 11/14/92 episode of Saturday Night's Main Event. It would later be revealed that Davey Boy Smith was supplied with Human Growth Hormones from overseas, which lead to his termination from the company. Another top star, The Ultimate Warrior, would get swept up in the same fashion, leaving the WWF thin on star talent.
By late November, both Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels had gold around their waist and their potential star power was evident. During the build up to Survivor Series, Bret Hart was taking on all challengers. The lackluster list of title defenses included names like Berzerker, Nailz, Papa Shango, Rick Martel, The Mountie and Virgil. Shawn Michaels was the next in line. 11/25/92 would pit champion vs. champion, but only one title would be defended. Bret Hart would again put his belt on the line in the show's main event against the 2-week old I.C. champion, "The Heartbreak Kid."
"Tonight here at the "Survivor Series" you face a man many believe is the "greatest scientific wrestler of all-time," Bret "The Hitman" Hart - and he is indeed a fighting champion. During his short tenure he has defended the title more than any man in World Wrestling Federation history."
– Sean Mooney interviewing Shawn Michaels, 11/25/92
Perhaps no better heel was suited to put over the champ on Pay-Per-View, Hart's first big title defense, than Shawn Michaels. "The Heartbreak Kid" would help Bret look the part of World champion by going 26 minutes with the "scientific" expert, and would be forced to submit to his patented Sharpshooter. The aftermath would see Hart celebrate with Santa Claus while snow fell from the rafters. A holiday coronation for the clear leader of the next gen.
Even with a loss, it was a promising spot for Michaels, and a confidence booster in the way of his future, but the constant subliminal admission that Hart was a better talent and more deserving of the top spot would be cause for justified animosity. Was Bret Hart an all-around better talent than Shawn Michaels?
In 1992, Vince McMahon believed so.
Stay tuned for parts II & III of The Trilogy.