Bret Hart's heel turn in March 1997 was one of the sparks that ignited a wrestling boom in the late 1990s.
Though WWE never reached the highs that it would between 1998 and 2001 while Hart was with the company, his heel turn, formation of the Hart Foundation for a memorable U.S. vs. Canada storyline, and classic feud with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was when WWE's business fortunes began to turn the corner.
At the time of his turn in 1997, Hart had been one of the company's most popular stars for years. He hadn't been a full-on heel since his days with the original Hart Foundation tag team in the mid 1980s. So it may have been a tough sell to convince the WWE legend to flip his character back to the dark side.
Hart spoke about how Vince McMahon convinced him the heel turn was the right thing to do during a recent interview with Sky Sports.
"I very much worried about losing my fan base when they wanted to turn me heel," Hart said. "I remember that Vince McMahon laughed and joked on the phone when he called me to tell me, and I said 'I don't want to turn heel, I don't want to be a bad guy.' I really took pride in being a worldwide hero, much the same as John Cena today. But much the same as John Cena today, the wrestling audience was wanting something different. They wanted somebody new. So it was like, 'Do I change styles to stay alive?'
"Vince said 'Give me five minutes and I'll talk you into it', and I said 'No, thank you, I'm not interested,' but he talked me into it pretty fast because my option as a good guy was that I was going to wrestle Vader for the next year. That was going to be brutal, and I was thinking 'anything but Vader.' So the heel turn was a difficult choice to make, and I remember Vince stressed to me - and I wonder whether that was the beginning of them trying to tear me down - that 'You are going to be a hero everywhere else except the United States.'
"I don't know if they were totally honest. I remember when we wrestled that pay-per-view in '97 in Birmingham that they were clearly trying to turn me heel or trying to turn the audience against me on the mic and commentary, and that was Vince and Jim Ross and guys like that."
Longtime fans will recall that during the Hart Foundation vs. U.S.A. storyline, Hart and his stable mates (Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith, Jim Neidhart, and Brian Pillman) were babyfaces in every country but the United States. It was one of the most creative and memorable storylines WWE has ever done.
In recent weeks, Hart has found himself embroiled in a war of words with Owen Hart's widow, Martha Hart. Hart came out with a statement about why he feels that his brother should be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, which prompted a firey response from Martha. Bret clarified his original statement with another empassioned column on Wednesday.