In the early 1990s, Stunning Steve Austin was on the rise in World Championship Wrestling competing for both the WCW Television and WCW United States Championships. He’d have great matches with Barry Windham, Dustin Rhodes and Ricky Steamboat during that era. By 1995, Austin fell out of favor with WCW and eventually signed with the WWF by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, Bret Hart was the new face of the World Wrestling Federation having won the Intercontinental Championship and WWF World Championship during the same time frame. Bret was considered the best in-ring wrestler in the world and often times having the match of the night every time he was on a WWF show.
By early 1996, Steve Austin was aligned with Ted DiBiase and involved in a lengthy feud with Savio Vega on the undercard. Bret Hart was the WWF World Champion and in the main event of WrestleMania XII, losing to Shawn Michaels in an Iron Man match. Hart would take a leave from the WWF to focus on some acting opportunities.
After not getting much steam with DiBiase by his side, they split in the spring of 1996 after Austin purposely lost a match to Savio Vega. At the 1996 King of the Ring, Austin won the tournament and gave his famous Austin 3:16 speech to give him the biggest momentum of his WWF career. Unlike previous years, Austin didn’t get a WWF World Championship match at SummerSlam and instead competed on the Free For All defeating Yokozuna.
Likely frustrated with this direction, Austin took things into his own hands at the In Your House: Mind Games pay per view on September 22nd, 1996. Austin was interviewed by Brian Pillman and made it clear that he wanted a match with Bret Hart. The promo is known for Austin calling Bret the “Shitman” and sparked the interest in an eventual showdown between the two men.
Bret Hart would make his first in-ring appearance since WrestleMania XII on the October 21st RAW episode. Bret talked with Jim Ross and discussed whether or not he should have returned to the company or gone elsewhere. It was during the segment that Bret accepted the challenge made by Steve Austin for a match at Survivor Series.
On the October 27th edition of Superstars, Austin brutally attacked Brian Pillman during another interview segment after Pillman expressed praised towards Bret Hart. The attack saw Austin crush Pillman’s ankle between a chair and took Pillman out of action until the summer of 1997. On the October 28th edition of RAW, they had a split screen promo confrontation to discuss their match. It was noted that Bret wouldn’t stop his career if he lost and Austin would be all over Bret whether he won or loss at the event. A week later on the November 4th edition of RAW, Austin broke into Pillman’s house leading to the infamous gun incident.
Austin’s new fearless attitude isn’t going unnoticed and would lead to his first encounter with Bret Hart at the 1996 Survivor Series in Madison Square Garden on November 17th. After nearly a half hour of action, Bret was able to win his return match after countering a sleeper hold by pushing off the turnbuckles and pinned Austin. Despite the loss, there’s no question that the match was a breakthrough performance for Austin and a career making encounter. The rivalry was far from being over with.
Austin attacked Bret during his match with Owen Hart on the November 25th RAW by hitting Bret with a chair to prevent the Sharpshooter on Owen. Austin tried to smash Bret’s ankle with the chair, but British Bulldog prevented that from happening. On the December 16th edition of RAW, Bret attacked Steve Austin with a Sharpshooter during his match with Vader.
On the December 30th edition of RAW, Bret teamed with Savio Vega to defeat Steve Austin and Faarooq by disqualification. The following week on RAW, Austin would hit a stunner on Bret to cost him a match against Vader.
Steve Austin would win the 1997 Royal Rumble after last eliminating Bret Hart. However, Bret had eliminated Austin earlier in the match, but it went undetected by referees. Thus, Austin was able to return to the match and eliminate Bret from behind to win the match. The next night on RAW, Bret complained about the injustice he’s encountered over the last year and threatened to quit the company. Austin would comment later on saying that Bret has done nothing but cry. The end of the program saw Austin and Hart brawling throughout the crowd while Undertaker fought with Vader.
On the February 3rd edition of RAW, Bret wasted no time attacking Austin prior to a match with Vader. Bret continued the attacking trend when he attacked Austin on the February 13th RAW. At the In Your House: Final Four pay per view on February 16th, Bret Hart would regain the WWF World Championship by defeating Austin, Vader and the Undertaker. Hart eliminated Austin during the match and would last eliminate Undertaker to win the title.
The next night on RAW, Austin attacked both Sid and Bret to delay their title match. The match happened in the main event and Austin whacked Hart with a chair shot to allow Sid to hit the powerbomb to win the championship. It’s announced by the March 10th RAW that Ken Shamrock would be the referee for the submission match between Austin and Hart at WrestleMania XIII.
Six days before WrestleMania XIII, Bret Hart got a chance to win the WWF World Championship from Sid inside a steel cage. The Undertaker and Steve Austin got involved in the match leading to Sid retaining the title. This would lead to Bret shoving Vince McMahon down and turning heel in many peoples eyes.
At WrestleMania XIII, Austin and Hart competed in an intense and bloody submission match brawling into the crowd and using anything not nailed down. After twenty-two minutes of grueling action, a bloodied Austin was trapped in the Sharpshooter and after a valiant battle passed out from the pain and lost the second match of the rivalry. Hart refused to let go and his new heel persona was in full force as the fans cheered Austin throughout the encounter.
The following night on RAW, Bret cut a long winded promo fully turning his back on the America fanbase and the other top faces in the company. It eventually led to Bret putting the figure four on Shawn Michaels around the ring post. On the March 31st edition of RAW, Austin shared his thoughts saying that he passed out from blood loss and will not walk away with his tail between his legs. Austin would attack Bret after Bret wouldn’t let go of the Sharpshooter on Rocky Maivia.
They would meet for a third time at the In Your House: Revenge of the ‘Taker pay per view on April 20th. They battled for another twenty-minutes with Austin winning the match, but doing so by disqualification. Davey Boy Smith and Owen Hart getting involved prevented Austin from getting the Sharpshooter locked in.
Austin would have to wait just one night before getting his hands on Bret, for what would be the last time in a singles match on TV. They competed in a street fight where they beat the crap out of each other and Austin destroyed Bret’s knee with a chair before putting the Sharpshooter on and Bret was loaded into an ambulance due to the attack.
However, when Bret is loaded into the ambulance it’s revealed that Austin was driving it and continued to attack Bret. Austin took credit for taking Bret out of the federation with his attack, which is what he wanted to do.
With Bret out of action for a few months, Austin would feud with Shawn Michaels for a bit and failed to win the WWF World Championship from the Undertaker. Bret would return to the company in the summer of 1997 and it led to an incredible ten man tag match at In Your House: Canadian Stampede on July 6th.
The atmosphere was incredible and the intensity was at a level that’s not often seen in a professional wrestling match. Steve Austin’s team of men consisting of Goldust, Animal, Hawk and Ken Shamrock were seen as the bad guys since the show was taking place in Canada. Bret led the Hart Foundation consisting of Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, Brian Pillman and Jim Neidhart. After twenty-four minutes, Owen was able to pin Austin with a rollup.
Their final in-ring confrontation would be on the July 21st edition of RAW when they competed in a six man tag flag match. Bret teamed with Bulldog and Owen to defeat Austin, Dude Love and Undertaker. Two weeks later at SummerSlam, Austin won the WWF Intercontinental Championship from Owen Hart despite breaking his neck. Bret Hart won the WWF World Championship from the Undertaker after Shawn Michaels hit Taker with a chair on accident.
Bret Hart would be screwed out of the WWF World Championship at the 1997 Survivor Series and we’d never get another match between Bret and Austin.
What are your memories and thoughts on the feud between Bret Hart and Steve Austin?
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