(DISCLAIMER: Kayfables are stories we write a few times a year that connects pro wrestling incidents or storylines according to what the kayfabe of the occurrences could mean if the world of professional wrestling’s stories were true. These are similar to how many wrestling magazines from the 1970’s through the 1990’s ran, such as Pro Wrestling Illustrated and the Apter mags. The subject matter of this particular kayfable contains two tragic elements of accidents in the ring that resulted in two men being seriously hurt. This article is not written with any intent to belittle or minimize the dangers in the ring or make light of the severe injuries that the two men in question received. It is merely a kayfabe approach of how the two incidents could have been used in connecting to each other as part of a bigger angle)
WWF SUMMERSLAM 1997
August 3, 1997. SummerSlam in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Months before the Montreal Screwjob would result in his brother Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart departing from the company amid controversy and igniting the Attitude Era. Intercontinental Champion Owen Hart faced off against the challenger, the emerging Superstar “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who himself was on the verge of becoming a bonafide main eventer and World Champion. As the match concluded, the champion went for a tombstone piledriver on Austin and broke the Texas Rattlesnake’s neck. A weakened Austin tricked a gloating Hart with a schoolboy roll-up and won the title, but the damage was done. Austin was put on the shelf for months to heal up, and the athletic technical prowess he showed in WCW as “Stunning” Steve Austin as part of the Hollywood Blondes, was forever gone, replaced by a more ground-and-pound brawler style. Many claimed it was an accident. But was it? Or was it the the final payback from an incident only five years previous.
NJPW BATTLE HOLD ARENA, 1992
On September 23, 1992 in Yokohama, Japan, NJPW held an event called Battle Hold Arena that featured a Supercard of NJPW stars facing off against WCW stars, such as The Steiner Brothers faced Hiroshi Hase & Kensuke Sasaki for the IWGP Tag Team titles. But the main event was a clash between one of WCW’s rising stars, “Stunning” Steve Austin facing off against one of the men expected to be the new face of New Japan, Masahiro Chono, for Chono’s NWA World Heavyweight Champion. Near the end of the match, Austin went for a Tombstone piledriver and broke Chono’s neck. Chono, similarly to how Austin won five years later, would survive the match and retain, but would result in a couple months off to recuperate. Also like Austin, Chono’s athletic technical style was heavily altered upon his return, returning with a more brawling strong style than before.
THE HART – NEW JAPAN CONNECTION
Before he made a splash in the WWF, Owen Hart – the youngest brother of former WWF World Champion Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart – continued a longstanding tradition of the Hart family to continue their craft early with a stint in Japan. From 1988 to 1991, Owen Hart regularly wrestled for NJPW, where he was a highly respected Junior Heavyweight wrestler. One of his friends in New Japan during that time was Masahiro Chono – in 1984, when Chono was starting in the business, he worked and trained for Owen Hart’s father, Stu Hart. The Harts had close familial loyalty to New Japan and a close working agreement. Bret Hart and his older brothers, Smith, Keith and Bruce, had stints in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, and Bret’s brothers-in-law, The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith & The Dynamite Kid) also frequented Japan. Even their students got early runs in Japan, such as Chris Jericho, Lance Storm and Chris Benoit (as The Pegasus Kid). What if the Harts systematically took out Steve Austin as a debt to New Japan for what he did to their rising star?
THE HUNT AND THE TAKEDOWN
In November of 1996, Austin’s former tag team partner, Brian Pillman, from the 2x WCW/NWA World Tag Team Champions The Hollywood Blondes, joined the WWF and realigned with his old partner. But soon, it became apparent Pillman’s loyalty remained with the family that trained him prior to WCW, the Harts and he allied with Austin’s current nemesis, Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart. Coincidentally, Pillman also had a run in NJPW in the early 1990’s. Pillman, the “Loose Cannon” of the group, was fired at Austin first – Pillman even pulled a gun on his former partner. And while Austin survived the first ordeal, the vicious turn from his former partner had rattled the Rattle Snake.
By March of 1997, it was Bret’s turn to wear down Austin, resulting in a feud that lead to WrestleMania 13, putting the Hitman vs. Stone Cold in a submission match. A gruesome double turn, that saw the world’s hero resort to sheer brutality, and a battered Stone Cold – reduced to an unconscious wreck in a pool of his own blood – showed a bravery and conviction that won over an entire WWF Universe. Bret soon brought his snidely brother Owen Hart, his beast-in-law Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, and his greatest rival and brother-in-law “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith into the fold and began the new Hart Foundation. All with New Japan allegiances from their earliest days, targeting a man who nearly derailed the career of one of New Japan’s rising stars.
SEND IN THE TRUE HITMAN
With Austin physically broken from Bret Hart and emotionally ravaged by Brian Pillman, the Hart Foundation sent in their striker to finish the job and payback the honor to New Japan and Masa Chono. They sent in the current and reigning WWF Intercontinental Champion, Owen Hart, who took it to the Rattlesnake and in the closing moments, exacted the same fate to Austin that he had done to Chono nearly five years earlier. While he may have lost his title in the process, he won back the honor of New Japan. So remember, that in wrestling, like in life, the story is never just sitting safely on the surface. There are codes and ethos at play that would make the normal fan tremble.