As the youngest boy in the legendary Hart wrestling family, Owen was always destined to enter the squared circle.
Starting in the family company – Stampede Wrestling – based out of Calgary, Alberta, the youngest Hart learned his trade in the federation’s tag-team division, winning the first of numerous tag-team titles and even picking up Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Rookie of the year in 1987. He soon spread his wrestling wings and flew to Japan to capture the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship and in the process becoming the first non-Japanese wrestler to hold the belt.
Owen had a couple of runs with WWF and even a short stint in WCW before cementing his place on the WWF roster, as one of the go-to guys to deliver top-quality ring work. During his main run in the WWF, he would team with Jim Neidhart in the New Hart Foundation, following in the footsteps of his more famous brother Bret, and also with WWE Hall of Famer Koko B. Ware. If you’ll allow me a moment of personal insight, I always found High Energy to be a particular favourite. Both of these tag-team runs didn’t produce any championship gold, though that was to come later.
His career kicked off proper, in the singles ranks, when he started a feud with Bret after becoming increasingly angry at his position in Hitman’s shadow. Following the official parting of the ways at the Royal Rumble, the two had a series of superb matches, with Owen besting Bret at WrestleMania X – in what many still consider the best opening match in WrestleMania history. Following Bret’s WWF championship victory at Mania, Owen became number one contender, a position he held for the majority of the year. This position was made stronger with his success in the King of the Ring tournament that year, beating Razor Ramon in the finals following help from Jim Neidhart. Owen and Bret had an even greater match at Summerslam 1994 inside a steel cage, which saw Davey Boy Smith make his WWF return to counter the involvement of Neidhart. The fantastic feud with Bret sadly yielded no gold for the “King of Harts”, as Bret routinely held on to his title. On more than one occasion, usually house shows, Owen would actually pin Bret following outside interference, and be announced the new WWF champion, before a second referee would reverse the decision. Inevitably, Bret would then win the match with the Sharpshooter.
Returning to the tag-team ranks, Owen would go on to form partnerships with ‘mystery partner’ Yokozuna in 1995, capturing the doubles gold from The Smoking Gunns at Wrestlemania XI. They teamed successfully for the remainder of the year, eventually dropping the titles to Shawn Michaels and Diesel under controversial circumstances. Due to the controversy, Owen and Yoko were awarded the belts back, before dropping them to former champs The Smoking Gunns later the same night.
His career as a tag-team wrestler proved to be the biggest source of finding gold for Owen, winning the belts twice more; once with his brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith and also with Jeff Jarrett in 1999. King of the Ring win aside, Owen did find singles success elsewhere, with the Intercontinental championship twice finding its way around the waist of the two-time Slammy Award-winner, while he also added the prestigious European championship to his impressive resume.
One of Owen’s career highlights came as part of a reformed Hart Foundation, with the pinnacle arguably being the memorable ten-man tag-team main event at In Your House: Canadian Stampede, with Owen actually getting the match-winning pinfall on Steve Austin. Following Bret’s controversial exit from the company, Owen had a brief flirtation with the main event with high-energy (no pun intended) show-ending attack on Shawn Michaels at In Your House: D-Generation X, playing off the aftermath of the Montreal incident one month previous at Survivor Series. Unfortunately, there was to be no further interaction with Michaels; Owen’s target was changed to Michaels’ partner Triple H, who Owen faced and lost to at WrestleMania XIV.
Prior to his death, Owen had just gone back to portraying his whiter-than-white superhero character The Blue Blazer, which was never going to be a top-line character.
Owen Hart should have held the WWF championship, even if only for a few months during his feud with Bret. I, along with many others, have no doubt about that. It’s the one thing missing from his storied in-ring career, however despite that one omission, it isn’t to say we can’t still go back and enjoy the King of Harts for the talent he was.