May 7th is the birthday of the late Owen Hart. Had he not died tragically on May 23rd, 1999, he would have been 51 today.
To mark the occasion, I wanted to share with you one of the first Owen Hart matches I can vividly remember. I had just started really getting into wrestling only months earlier, around SummerSlam in 1995. Shawn Michaels became the Intercontinental Champion, but had to forfeit the belt when the then-World Wrestling Federation decided to run a real-life altercation he’d had at a bar in Syracuse, New York as part of a storyline.
Shawn would make a recovery — or so we thought, as a match with Owen Hart would see “The King of Harts” deliver an enzuigiri kick to Michaels’ head, leading to a collapse in the ring that would end Monday Night Raw for the week and leaving The Heartbreak Kid’s future in question. For many of us watching, the way the announcers went silent and the mass of confusion around the whole thing left us wondering if he’d collapsed for real.
Owen capitalized on the moment for all it was worth, and when Shawn Michaels returned to the Royal Rumble in 1996 and won for a shot at the WWF World Champion Bret “The Hitman” Hart at WrestleMania XII, he and Shawn agreed to a match at the February In Your House event. If Shawn wins, he gets his revenge on Owen; if Owen wins, he gets to take Michaels’ place at The Show of Shows against his older brother for the title.
I have to admit, I was rather heavily engrossed in this storyline. Shawn Michaels was (and is) my favorite wrestler of all time, though I’d have to put Owen as a very close second — though I didn’t realize how good Owen was at this point in time. I was so into the story going on that even though I’d missed the Royal Rumble the preceding month (“just call your cable provider” only works if you already have the cable box, it turns out, and Sunday night is not the time to get one. Go figure), I made sure to get this pay-per-view event, thus making it my very first wrestling pay-per-view ever.
Well, that wasn’t watched through a scrambled screen of television static, anyway.
Over time, though, Owen would continue on to become that close second-favorite wrestler I spoke of. And while Shawn was facing early retirement due to an injured back, Owen pretty much was my favorite up until his untimely death. Sometimes I wonder, if he’d continued on, if he would have eclipsed Michaels’ spot in my mind. Instead, Owen holds a special spot all his own.
In any case, while they would have other matches, this one remains very special to me. And if Owen hadn’t played his part so well, who knows if I’d even be into wrestling today?
So thanks, Owen, and may you rest in peace.
Oh, and if you’re interested in a retrospective look at Owen’s life and wrestling career, it was this post at Cageside Seats earlier today which reminded me of the occasion.
David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.