While the WWE seems to be waiting for the blessing of widow Martha Hart before inducting Owen Hart into its WWE Hall of Fame, the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in Waterloo, Iowa decided to go ahead anyway this weekend, inducting “The King of Harts” into his Hall of Fame, housed inside the Dan Gable Wrestling Museum, as part of the 2018 Class. Owen Hart was inducted alongside former NWA World Heavyweight Champion and UFC Hall of Famer Dan “The Beast” Severn. Other honoured honorees included Booker T (Lou Thesz Award, for an individual in wrestling who has taken the skills of professional wrestling into the realm of public service), Bruiser Brody (posthumously for the Frank Gotch Award, for bringing positive recognition to professional wrestling through work outside the ring), Ben Askren (George Tragos Award, given to an exceptionally competitive wrestler who has adapted his wrestling skills and competitive nature to excel in Mixed Martial Art), and Koji Miyamoto (Jim Melby Award, recognizes excellence in professional wrestling journalism).
Owen Hart started out in 1986 with his father’s Stampede Wrestling in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, following a successful collegiate amateur wrestling career. In 1987, he was sent to New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) in an excursion exchange, heading to Japan with NJPW Young Lion Keiichi Yamada, who had spent the past year with Stampede. Yamada would fight great success back in Japan as the masked superstar Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger. Owen Hart would spent the next three years with NJPW, becoming the first gaijin to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, while splitting duties with Stampede and the WWF as The Blue Blazer. He departed the WWF in 1989 and headed overseas, splitting his time between NJPW and Austria’s highly competitive Catch Wrestling Association (CWA). He also did small stints with Universal Wrestling Association (UWA) in Mexico.
He returned to North America in 1991, but opted for World Championship Wrestling (WCW) instead of the WWF, where his older brother Bret “Hitman” Hart was starting out on his own singles career. But his WCW run only lasted two months, and only four televised appearances, before he left for the WWF (sad we missed out on the tag team of Owen Hart and fellow Dungeon graduate and future Hart Foundation member Brian Pillman, who worked WCW Live Events in that time). He returned to the WWF in November of that year, paired with brother-in-law Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart in The New Foundation.
The New Foundation was short lived and Owen was paired with someone more athletically inclined like himself – and thus, High Energy with Koko B. Ware was formed. High Energy lasted only briefly longer than the New Foundation – one feud with The Headshrinkers (Fatu & Samu). It was becoming too obvious that Owen Hart was too talented to keep down with a tag team gimmick. But it was a slow build, starting his WWF singles career in feuds with the likes of Bastion Booger, Papa Shango and Adam Bomb. But he would progress quickly, building to feuds with his other brother-in-law “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith and Intercontinental Champion Razor Ramon.
In early 1994, Owen once again found himself in tag team action, but this time with his brother and main eventer Bret “Hitman” Hart. During this time, Owen turned on his brother, leading to one of the greatest WrestleMania opening matches of all time, when he defeated his brother in the opening contest of WrestleMania X. In the main event of the same WrestleMania, his brother would defeat Yokozuna for the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. Owen was immediately thrust into the main event, with a program against his brother around the world. That summer, he won the 1994 King of the Ring tournament.
Owen was now a top tier star in the WWF during the New Generation Era. He was constantly in the top of the midcard and worked well no matter what spot he was put in. In 1995, he joined Jim Cornette‘s stable, pairing with Yokozuna to become WWF World Tag Team Champions. By the end of the year, he began a new team with the British Bulldog. The two brothers-in-law remained a team for over a year together, capturing the WWF World Tag Team titles and holding them for 246 days.
In the spring of 1997, the two reunited with family members Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart – as well as fellow Hart trainee Brian Pillman – to form a new Hart Foundation. The stable was one of the most successful factions of all time and set new territory for character development – the anti-Amercian family unit were the most hated heels in the US, but enormous faces throughout the rest of the world, especially in Canada. The stable was short lived, however, plagued first by the sudden death of Pillman, and then the Montreal Screwjob, that saw Bret, Neidhart and Bulldog all leave for WCW.
Owen Hart remained loyal to the WWF and continued to work for them for another two years, first as a member of the Nation of Domination – “The Black Hart” – and then in a successful Tag Team Championship team with Jeff Jarrett. By the time he was tragically killed in 1999 in St. Louis, Owen Hart was a 2x WWF Intercontinental Champion, WWF European Champion, and 3x WWF World Tag Team Champion. One of his final matches, at a WWF Live Event, was a dark match against a rising newcomer, former US Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle (Kurt would make his televised debut six months later at Survivor Series).
The George Tragos/Lou Thesz Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame has a board committee that votes on its membership each year, as opposed to the WWE being selected by Vince McMahon. Owen Hart’s induction was celebrated by his brothers Bruce Hart, Ross Hart and Keith Hart, his sister Diana Hart-Smith, and his nephew Harry Smith (aka Davey Boy Smith Jr.).
The Hart Family accept the induction of Owen Hart into the 2018 George Tragos/Lou Thesz Hall of Fame pic.twitter.com/LTv7iz6BOe
— David Lagana (@Lagana) July 29, 2018
What a great weekend it was and an honor inducting Owen Hart into the 2018 National Hall of Fame in Waterloo Iowa. 🙏The banquet was fantastic and checking out the museum was great to see too 👏👍👍 🇨🇦 🇺🇸 🤼♀️ 🤼♀️ I hope to be back next year as well. pic.twitter.com/aNSmtB1uSU
— Davey Boy Smith Jr. (@DBSmithjr) July 30, 2018
— Nattie (@NatbyNature) July 29, 2018