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How Bret Hart Wrestled Back Into the Story 3/27/2023 Abraham Josephine Riesman

Vince McMahon did much to hurt Bret “The Hitman” Hart over the thirteen years in which the legendary wrestler worked for him. As owner of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now known as WWE), McMahon first encountered Bret in 1984 after McMahon bought Stampede Wrestling, the West Canadian promotion owned by Bret’s father. McMahon never paid the Hart family for the purchase; they didn’t sue because Bret would’ve lost his new job.

McMahon worked Bret hard in the WWF, dangling opportunities and then snatching them away with a cackle. In 1997, McMahon subjected Bret to what is known in the wrestling profession as a “screwjob”: without telling Bret, McMahon flipped the script in a high-profile match and told the referee to declare Bret the loser, taking away his championship in humiliating fashion. Bret left for Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling (WCW) immediately afterward.

Less than two years later, on May 23, 1999, Bret’s beloved younger brother Owen, who was working for the WWF, fell more than seventy feet during a sloppily coordinated zipline stunt at a live WWF show. Owen hit the ring in front of thousands and died soon afterward. McMahon decided to keep the show going, and it ran to its completion. The following excerpt from my new book, Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America, picks up in 1999, shortly after Bret learned of his brother’s tragic death.

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