With today’s announcement from Major League Wrestling (MLW) that a new incarnation of The Hart Foundation was arriving in MLW for the MLW FUSION tapings in July in New York City, it marked over 30 years (33 years to be exact) that the storied stable has remained a part of wrestling lore, spanning multiple promotions and countries. With that in mind, here’s a brief history of the family stable’s legacy in pro wrestling, from it’s humble beginnings out of the purchase of Stampede Wrestling, to the multi-generational faction members that are keeping the faction’s spirit alive today.
THE HART FOUNDATION, 1985-1991
In 1985, Hillbilly Jim convinced Vince McMahon Jr., the new owner of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) to give his buddy a shot in the WWF. That friend was manager Jimmy Hart, nicknamed “The Mouth of the South”, who had been one of the best heel managers of the 1970s in the territories, most notably in the Continental Wrestling Association (CWA) in Memphis (the territory owned by Jerry Jarrett and Jerry “The King” Lawler). Hart had run a huge stable called The First Family, that featured a who’s who of future stars, like Rick Rude, Randy Savage, King Kong Bundy, The Iron Sheik and even comedian Andy Kaufman. When he arrived in the WWF in 1985, he quickly began to build a new stable of stars, starting with WWF Intercontinental Champion Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, as well as CWA holdovers King Kong Bundy and Jim Neidhart (although he later traded Bundy to Bobby Heenan for Adrian Adonis and The Missing Link, changing the street tough Adonis into “The Adorable One”). Around that time, Vince McMahon purchased Stampede Wrestling in Calgary from promoter Stu Hart, acquiring several stars, including The British Bulldogs (Davey Boy Smith & The Dynamite Kid) and Stu’s son, Bret Hart. Bret Hart, strong in technique but still not comfortable on the mic, was taken under Jimmy Hart’s wing and paired with Jim Neidhart, who also happened to be Bret’s brother in law (married to Bret’s sister Ellie). The pair became known as The Hart Foundation, and in a six year run throughout the WWF’s Rock N’ Wrestling Era, they captured the WWF World Tag Team Championships twice, alongside some epic feuds with the Bulldogs, Demolition, Rhythm & Blues (Greg Valentine & Honky Tonk Man), Strikeforce (Rick Martel & Tito Santana) and The Rougeaus (Jacques & Raymond Rougeau). By the early 1990s, Bret was emerging as a strong star and was split from the team and pushed as a singles competitor, winning the WWF Intercontinental Championship before going en route to becoming a 5x WWF World Heavyweight Champion.
THE NEW FOUNDATION, 1991
With Bret moving on to singles competition, Jim Neidhart was suddenly without direction. But he was quickly paired with Bret’s younger brother, Owen Hart, who was returning to the WWF after an excursion with NJPW that saw him become the first foreigner (or gaijin) to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. The pair were dubbed The New Foundation and had a lengthy feud with The Beverly Brothers throughout 1992 (Beau & Blake Beverly were previously The Destruction Crew/Minnesota Wrecking Crew II in the AWA and NWA in the late 80s, as Mike Enos & Wayne Bloom). By the end of 1992, Neidhart left the WWF and headed to WCW, and Owen was repackaged with Koko B. Ware as High Energy.
THE NEW HART FOUNDATION, 1997
At the dawn of the Attitude Era in early 1997, the wrestling landscape was changing, especially in the audience. The cartoonish gimmicks of the 1980s were becoming passé, and fans no longer cheered “the good guys” or booed “the bad guys”. With brawling bad asses like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin being cheered and juvenile bullying from Shawn Michaels applauded, Bret Hart turned on the WWE Universe as he felt they’d turned on him as their undisputed hero. In doing so, he reformed the Hart Foundation, bringing back his former Champion partner Neidhart and brother Owen, as well as brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith (now known simply as British Bulldog) and close family friend Brian Pillman (Pillman was trained by the Hart Family in Calgary and was considered family). The Hart Foundation became an anomaly in wrestling – in the US, WWF’s primary home, they were the biggest heel faction in the company. But in Canada, and most of the rest of the world, they were the company’s biggest faces. Their anti-US rhetoric struck a nerve with other countries upset with the US’ bravado, and made them marked men on US soil. But as hot as the faction was, it lasted less than a year, dismantled following the infamous Montreal Screwjob in November that same year that saw Bret Hart, Jim Neidhart and British Bulldog all depart the WWF for WCW.
HART FOUNDATION 2.0, 2003-2004
In the late 90s, a new generation of Harts were entering the business, including the son of British Bulldog, a powerful young man named Harry Smith, an athletic specimen of unbelievable innovation named Teddy Hart (son of Stu Hart’s daughter Georgia and Stampede wrestler BJ Annis), and the tomboy daughter of Jim Neidhart and Ellie Hart, Natalie Neidhart. The three formed a close bond with two other Hart Dungeon trainees, family friend TJ Wilson and a US trainee named Jack Evans. The five often competed with and against each other in Stampede Wrestling and other indies, becoming Stampede’s version of The Kliq.
HART FOUNDATION 2.0 II, 2004-2009
With TJ Wilson and Harry Smith pairing off as The Stampede Bulldogs, Teddy Hart and Jack Evans paired off as The Hart Foundation 2.0. The duo would venture beyond their home promotion in Calgary, Alberta, working with upstart MLW in Florida in 2004, as well as stints in Ring of Honor, TNA/Impact Wrestling (they were original members of Team Canada), Jersey All Pro Wrestling (JAPW), and in Mexico with AAA. They ended their partnership in 2009, and Jack Evans went on to become a star with Lucha Underground (although the two recently reunited for a match against The Lucha Brothers, Pentagon Jr. & Fenix, over WrestleMania weekend).
THE NEXT GENERATION HART FOUNDATION, 2009
The reason why Hart and Evans split was because Teddy Hart was given a second chance with the WWE, where he rejoined his cousin Harry Smith – now renamed David Hart Smith – and Natalie (renamed as simply Natalya) – in the Next Generation Hart Foundation in Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW). Sadly, things once again didn’t turn out well for Hart in the WWE and he was soon released.
HART DYNASTY, 2009-2010
With Teddy Hart out, his spot in the stable was replaced by TJ Wilson, now Natalya’s fiance, who was renamed Tyson Kidd. The trio was also renamed as The Hart Dynasty and were soon pushed to the top of the WWE Tag Team division, defeating The Miz & The Big Show for the WWE Tag Team Championship, as well as having a huge feud with another multi-generational tandem, the debuting Usos (with Tamina Snuka). By the end of 2010, the team was no more, when Smith turned on Kidd, and by the spring of 2011, Smith was released from the company. Smith would head to Japan and change his name to Davey Boy Smith Jr., joining NJPW where he’s since become a 3x IWGP Tag Team Champion in The Killer Elite Squad with Lance Archer. Tyson Kidd would go on to another successful tag team with Cesaro, before a career ending injury in 2015, while Natalya would become a 2x Women’s Champion (Divas and Smackdown titles).
THE HART FOUNDATION, 2018
Which leads to today’s announcement of a new Hart Foundation heading to MLW this July in New York City. This time, it’s Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Teddy Hart carrying on the family legacy, as both return to MLW after being part of the companies original run in 2004. And this time, they’re bringing in a third and new member of the storied stable – Brian Pillman Jr., the real life son of former Hart Foundation member Brian Pillman, who entered the wrestling biz last year, trained by Hart trainee Lance Storm in Calgary, whose already turning heads with his natural take to the sport. The Hart Foundation is back and ready to show the world that the Hart legacy lives on forever.