Posted: Wednesday March 29, 2006 11:00AM; Updated: Wednesday March 29, 2006 6:41PM
It's been a long time since Bret "the Hitman" Hart was in the WWE family.
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SI.com's Arash Markazi skipped out on the Final Four in Indianapolis and instead decided to make the three-hour drive up to Chicago for the Super Bowl of professional wrestling, WrestleMania, on Sunday. He checks in from the Windy City on the heels of the WWE's annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Saturday night. Check Scorecard Daily on Monday for Arash's recap of the weekend.
It's become an annual April Fool's Day tradition, as honored as trick-or-treating on Halloween or turkey carving on Thanksgiving. For the past eight years wrestling fans have endured countless reports that former world champion Bret "the Hitman" Hart was returning to the WWE on message boards, newsletters and from friends before being disappointed by the news that they've been fooled once again.
It is understandable, then, that many wrestling fans still refuse to believe that Hart, who hasn't appeared on WWE television since leaving the company in 1997, will actually be on stage Saturday night -- April Fool's Day -- when he will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame at the Rosemont Theatre.
"It's an auspicious day, that's for sure," said Hart. "I've seen some of those stories. At least it gives me a good chance to get even."
Still, though, the mere thought of being in the same building as WWE owner Vince McMahon at a WWE event makes Hart shake his head. It's something he swore he'd never do. Not after the events of Nov. 9, 1997.
The pay-per-view show that night was called Survivor Series, but to anyone associated with the wrestling business, the event is commonly referred to as the Montreal Screwjob. It's an event ripe with more soap opera story lines than anything on Raw or Smackdown and was even the subject of an award-winning documentary, Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows, in 1998.
On that night McMahon promised Hart that he wouldn't have to drop the world title to Michael Shawn Hickenbottom (known to wrestling fans as Shawn Michaels) since Hart, who had signed a three-year, $9 million contract to leave the company for rival promotion WCW a week earlier, did not want to lose the belt in his home country of Canada to Michaels, whom he disliked personally, before he left. He would lose to anyone else, anywhere else. McMahon, however, wanted Hart to drop the belt to Michaels in Montreal and orchestrated a double-cross of Hart by instructing the referee, Earl Hebner, to call for the bell as soon as Michaels put Hart in his signature "sharpshooter" submission move toward the end of the match, giving Michaels the title to the surprise of Hart and nearly everyone backstage. After the show went off the air, an outraged Hart spit in the face of McMahon, who was ringside, and later punched McMahon in the dressing room, knocking him out cold, before leaving the arena and the company for good. As Hart would later say, "People talk about wrestling not being real. It's far more real than people think."
Since leaving the WWE that night, the lives and fortunes of Hart, 48, and McMahon, 60, have taken dramatic turns. McMahon and the struggling WWE turned into a billion-dollar company that would buy out rival promotions WCW and ECW, thanks in part to the devil-incarnate character McMahon had established by "screwing Bret." Meanwhile, Hart endured the most difficult five-year period anyone could imagine. He divorced his wife of 20 years, Julie, with whom he had four children. He lost his younger brother, Owen Hart, who was killed when he plunged 78 feet into a wrestling ring because of a harness malfunction while he was being lowered from an arena catwalk during a WWE pay-per-view show. He lost his brother-in-law, David "Davey Boy" Smith, a WWE wrestler who died of a heart attack while on vacation. He lost his mother, Helen, and his father, StuHart. And on June 24, 2002, nearly three years after being forced into early retirement following a severe concussion from a match against Bill Goldberg in WCW, Hart suffered a stroke while riding his bicycle near Calgary's Bow River that hospitalized him for over a month.