By Mike Mooneyham

Jan. 8, 2006

Rarely does Wrestlemania, pro wrestling’s biggest event of the year, fail to deliver its share of interesting and anticipated matchups. If Vince McMahon has his way, this year’s show April 2 at Allstate Arena in Chicago may provide one of the most intriguing scenarios in quite some time.

McMahon, whose obsession with the double-cross of Bret Hart at the 1997 Survivor Series in Montreal has taken on a life of its own, is attempting to recapture some of the mystique that surrounded that infamous event. McMahon’s rocky relationship with Hart has somewhat stabilized over the past year, and he is hoping to lure the Hitman back for one more appearance. This time, however, not as the victim of a swerve, but as special referee for a match between the 60-year-old WWE owner and Hart’s arch-nemesis, Shawn Michaels.

There remains much to be worked out, according to sources, and it’s still only an outside chance that Hart will finally agree to make his first official WWE appearance in more than eight years.

There’s also no love lost between Hart and Michaels. Both take shots at one another in their recently released DVD and book, respectively, and have made little progress in mending fences since Montreal. Hart has remained adamant in his claim that Michaels has never truly apologized for his part in the incident, and Michaels has continued to insist that Hart should just get over it and move on with his life.

Bret Hart

Bret Hart

Life for Hart, however, took an even crueler turn after Montreal.

A promising run in now-defunct WCW backfired due to company politics, turmoil and mismanagement. Younger brother Owen died in May 1999 after plunging 80 feet to his death as part of a wrestling stunt gone terribly wrong during a WWF pay-per-view in Kansas City. A divorce, the death of parents Stu and Helen Hart, and the untimely passing of brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith (The British Bulldog) marked a tumultuous period and a virtual unraveling of the Hart family fabric.

“This is not a close-knit family and I’m not part of it anymore – we carry the same last name but that’s as far as it goes,” said Martha Hart, Owen’s widow, who took part in a messy legal battle that divided the family after Owen’s death.

Both Martha and Diana Hart Smith, Bret’s sister and Davey Boy Smith’s ex-wife, penned books that literally shook the foundation of the once rock-solid family and exposed a closet full of skeletons. Smith’s scandalous tome in particular, “Under the Mat,” made shocking allegations regarding a number of members of the dysfunctional wrestling family, with Bret Hart calling the book “pornographic and absolute trash.”

Hart’s ring career effectively ended after he was struck with a stiff kick to the head during a world title match with Bill Goldberg at the 1999 Starcade pay-per-view. Hart, who suffered a severe concussion, later speculated that he may have suffered up to three additional concussions within a short period of time. He later was forced to vacate the WCW title after retiring from the business.

Hart suffered a stroke after a bicycle accident in June 2002. Hart, who suffered partial paralysis after the stroke which required months of physical therapy, has since recovered his mobility, but has publicly stated he would never be able to wrestle again.

Hart, who is remarried and living in Italy with his new wife, has stated on numerous occasions that he’s not interested in going back on camera for WWE, saying that revisiting issues that are as painful as Montreal would only serve to tarnish his legacy.

That, however, hasn’t stopped the most powerful man in the industry from taking his best shot.

The bitterly cold relations began to thaw slightly last year when Hart and McMahon called a temporary truce to do mutually advantageous business – Hart would gain access to part of a vast archive of his WWE footage and photos, while McMahon, at least publicly, would a much-coveted access to Hart. The two sides joined forces on Hart’s three-disc career retrospective DVD, with Hart being granted some editing control.

The 1997 Survivor Series, in which McMahon, Michaels and referee Earl Hebner took part in a plan to take the WWE title from Hart for real, has become a battle cry for the WWE owner. It also represents a period in which the company turned a financial and creative corner and became the hottest product in sports entertainment. While it’s unlikely that McMahon and his juggernaut will ever be able to reach that level again, the megalomaniacal mat impresario didn’t reach the top of the hill by giving up.


For Hart, the ’97 Survivor Series represented an ignominious ending to an otherwise brilliant WWE career and legacy, one which McMahon is hoping the Canadian star wants to set straight. According to those closest to Hart, however, he had to be convinced to even agree to allow the Survivor Series footage be included in the DVD on his career. Without Hart’s cooperation on the project, McMahon undoubtedly would have used Montreal as the centerpiece of the DVD, and most likely would have painted Hart in a much more unfavorable light.

– According to the New York Post, WWE diva Stacy Keibler is the odds-on favorite to win the latest edtion of “Dancing with the Stars,” which began its new season Thursday night.

The 26-year-old Keibler, WWE’s 2004 “Babe of the Year,” leads the pack with 2-1 odds, according to Internet bookmaker, which is taking bets on the competition.

Among the show’s other competitors, B-movie star Tia Carrere is in second with 7-1 odds, followed by soap star Lisa Rinna (15-2). Actor George Hamilton is tied with Jessica Simpson’s soon-to-be former brother-in-law, Drew Lachey, with 9-1 odds. The 5-11 Keibler, who began taking dance lessons when she was 4 and has studied ballet, tap and jazz, won several competitions when she was younger, including one in 1999 to join the Nitro Girls dance troupe that appeared regularly on the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling’s televised broadcasts. She told the Baltimore Sun last week that she wasn’t sure if her prior dancing experience really gave her a leg up in the competition.

“I think my dance background helps as far as being flexible and graceful, but I’ve never done any kind of ballroom dancing, and I’ve never danced with a partner,” she said.

“I’ve definitely put 150 percent into this,” she added. “In addition to all the rehearsing, I’ve actually gone to Las Vegas to watch ballroom-dance competitions. My whole life has been consumed by it.”

– James Laurinaitis, son of mat star Joe Laurinaitis (Road Warrior Hawk), got the start for the Ohio Buckeyes in their Fiesta Bowl victory last week against Notre Dame.

The freshman linebacker started in heralded Bobby Carpenter’s spot. It was a role he didn’t take lightly.

“But when you have guys like A.J. Hawk and Anthony Schlegel next to you, you don’t have to worry about screwing up, because they’ll cover for you,” Laurinaitis said after the game.

Laurinaitis has credited papa Joe for his brawn and his mother, Julie, for his speed. Julie was a swimmer and state prep champion hurdler who later won the state power lifting championship – “300-pound dead lift at 123 pounds,” according to Joe.

Laurinaitis, whose uncle John Laurinaitis (Johnny Ace) is the head of talent relations at WWE, recently told the Akron Beacon Journal that his dad “was a fan of tough guys. He was a big fan of (Chris) Spielman and (Andy) Katzenmoyer. He always thought Woody Hayes was awesome, that he shouldn’t have gotten in trouble for hitting that Clemson player. He doesn’t think Woody did anything wrong. He said Woody should have just said he slipped or something.”