Monday, January 5, 2009

Hitman: My Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling Book Review

So a while back I finished reading the very thorough Bret Hart autobiography, and I haven’t gotten around to reviewing it yet. Let me first say that I absolutely love wrestling biographies and, as one might expect, this one easily holds its own against some of my other favorites (including the first two Mick Foley books, Chris Jericho’s bio, and Edge’s book, to name a few). What makes Bret’s book unique is the fact that I found the childhood section of his book very engaging. Typically, I find that portion of the bio the weakest. In many cases, it can make or break the book (I was able to put down Steve Austin’s book and not return to it for over a year because his childhood stories bored me so much). Perhaps it’s because Bret’s young life revolved around wrestling and he was surrounding by characters we’re all so familiar with. I also commend the way you, as the reader, sorta dislike Stu during the childhood years, but come to truly appreciate and respect him during Bret’s adult years. Whatever it was, I can easily see why Bret didn’t want to cut anything out for the sake of making it shorter.

For that matter, the book didn’t feel nearly as long as it actually is. I was able to breeze through it, despite clocking in at nearly 600 pages. There were many nights where I was absolutely exhausted and had to wake up early, yet still couldn’t put it down. That, in itself, warrants a recommendation from me.

Click the "Read More" link for the complete book review.

That being said, I didn’t exactly see eye to eye with Bret on many issues. I’ll admit that I became very turned off by Bret Hart following the Montreal Incident, and maybe because of that, I’m a tad biased against him. Actually, Bret himself made a very interesting comment in his book. When it was suggested that his sister Diana turn against him for a wrestling storyline, Bret remarked that with Owen, Jim Neidhart, the British Bulldog, and his brother Bruce all already against him, people are going to start to believe that he’s a hard person to like. With that in mind, I find it interesting that virtually every single person who was at the top while Bret Hart was has personal issues with him. Isn’t it odd that Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, and Shawn Michaels ALL have issues with him? And based on what Bret said about him in his book, it doesn’t seem as if Kevin Nash is all too fond of him either. One might argue that it’s simply lonely at top, and that those names I just mentioned have a lot of issues with their peers as well (a fair point). It just strikes me that Bret has very deep rooted, personal issues with virtually every top name.

Along with that, I also found it odd that Bret Hart receives so much credit for paving the way for smaller wrestlers to become champion. People seem to completely disregard the fact that Bret is no smaller than Randy Savage or Ric Flair, who both held the World Championship numerous times before Bret was even considered a contender. You can throw Bob Backlund (who held the title some 15 years before Bret) on that list too, come to think of it. And you can’t even make the argument that Bret was fighting in a different, more muscle-bound era, because he won the title from Flair, who in turn had won it from Savage.

And while I know its human nature, Bret is awfully biased towards himself. First off, he’s very quick to bring up the fact that guys like Diesel, Shawn Michaels, and even Hulk Hogan (following WrestleMania IX) couldn’t draw as champions. Yet he completely ignores the fact that he didn’t draw money either. In fact, the only times he does bring up the lack of money being made while he was on top (in passing, of course) he blames it on the steroid trial or Vince’s outlandish, cartoonish storylines. With guys like Diesel and Shawn, the money sucked because they weren’t cutting it as champions. During his various reigns, it was because of outside factors.

Bret also goes on and on about how Dave Meltzer has no credibility whatsoever and that, unless you’ve actually set foot in the ring, you have no right to judge and rate matches (a statement Triple H and Lance Storm often make as well, which is perhaps the most idiotic logic ever), yet throughout the entire book he repeatedly quotes Meltzer’s praise of his work.

Along with that, Bret takes credit for virtually every major angle he’s participated in. While he hasn’t refused to job to people, he has had match results changed to ones that he believes makes “more sense” (which always seemed to benefit his character). He’s even changed match participants altogether. Yet when Shawn Michaels and Triple H sat in on booking committee meetings, they were dastardly evil-doers only looking out for their best interests.

I can also guarantee you that if Shawn Michaels and Triple H did what Bret did for the SummerSlam at Wembley Stadium, Bret would still be crying about it. Basically, Bret Hart was asked to drop the Intercontinental title to Shawn Michaels. Instead, Bret comes up with an idea that would see him dropping the belt to his brother-in-law instead (who would, in turn, lose it to Michaels) in the main event of the second biggest event of the year. For some reason, I don’t see Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels for the Intercontinental Championship closing SummerSlam. And by the way, what was supposed to be the lasting image of that match? Bret Hart shaking Davey Boy’s hand. And for that matter, what was supposed to be the lasting image of Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship at WrestleMania XXII? Bret Hart NOT shaking Shawn Michaels’ hand. Bret talks about how Michaels told the ref to tell him to get the hell out of the ring, yet I have to wonder what he was still doing there in the first place. Bret openly acknowledges that he was going to leave without shaking his hand, so the only reason he would still be in there was to make the moment about him, and not Shawn. But – for better or worse – the moment was Shawn’s. Bret likes to play the role of the martyr, but he’s in it for himself just as much as anybody else.

Then there’s the turmoil that occurred following Owen’s tragic death. He openly criticizes his sisters and Davey Boy Smith for not cooperating with Owen’s widow as it relates to her probable lawsuit with WWE because of the fact that they (or their husbands) work for the company. Yet at the beginning of the book, he is very critical of Bruce’s actions when it could put Bret’s job in danger.

Finally, people – mostly fans of Bret – like to claim that you KNOW this book has to be true, because Bret kept such copious notes of what happened to him on the road (completely ignoring the fact that, while dates may be accurate and the cast of characters may be true, this is still Bret’s perspective of what happened). Yet, there were more than a few factual errors that I found. First, Bret notes that the British Bulldog has a buzz cut before he had turned heel, and that – at the time – they considered pairing him with Lex Luger. He also claims that Bulldog turned heel by betraying Luger. This is all wrong. First and foremost, Bulldog turned on Diesel, not Luger. And he cut his hair AFTER Luger had left the company. I know this sounds minor, and I suppose it is, but it just shows that not all of the information he spews out is accurate.

I’m also a bit disappointed with how the book ended. As one might expect, things turned much darker following Owen’s death (and understandably so), but near the end of the story, I started to feel as if Bret had found peace in his life. While I have been critical of Bret, he’s undoubtedly experienced more pain and misery than anybody deserves. He’s a human being and deserves happiness, and I really started to think that he had found it. But what were the last words in his bio? A rant on how he could never, ever forgive Shawn Michaels and Triple H for what they had done to him. I find his unforgiving nature surprising. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’d feel tremendously betrayed if somebody had done that to me. At the same time, he had been cheating on his wife (and the mother of his four children) throughout their entire marriage. And they weren’t just one night stands, he had mistresses that he cared deeply for. Let me ask you this: Which betrayal is worse? Cheating on your wife and the mother of your four children, or screwing over a co-worker who you didn’t even like to begin with?

Over a decade has passed since this incident. In that amount of time, two of Bret’s marriages have ended. He’s lost a brother and a brother-in-law. He suffered a career ending injury. I would think that, in the grand scheme of things, what Shawn Michaels and Triple H did to him one November night wouldn’t rest on his shoulders so much. He’s forgiven Earl Hebner (the referee who called for the bell) and essentially buried the hatchet with Vince (the man who ultimately made the decision to go through with the screw job), yet his hatred towards these two men persevere. I just wish the book ended on a more hopeful note.

No comments: