Owen Hart tragically lost his life 21 years ago today at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri. As this week's Dark Side Of The Ring focused on, Hart's death was something that could have been prevented if proper precautions would have been taken, and we lost one of the most skilled wrestlers of his era as a result.
However, rather than dwelling on the tragedy today, we thought this would be a good time to look back on Hart's career and smile. After all, he was an incredibly charismatic performer who seemed to have a good match with just about everyone he got into the ring with. It's been said many times before, but it bears repeating: nobody anywhere has had a bad thing to say about Owen Hart.
I have spent the last several days combing through Hart's career and reliving some of his classic matches that I loved as a kid to see if they still hold up. Spoiler alert: they do. It was hard to narrow this list down to just ten matches, but that is what I attempted to do.
Presented in chronological order, here are ten must-see Owen Hart matches.
Owen Hart vs. Pegasus Kid (NJPW, June 26th, 1990)
This is a deep-cut that some fans might not even know exists: a singles match between Owen and Pegasus Kid aka Chris Benoit. Benoit often spoke about how he was inspired by Owen as a young talent and here he gets his chance to step into the ring with one of his heroes.
This was Owen's second tour of Japan. He had another run there back in the 1980s prior to signing with WWE. After his stint as the Blue Blazer in WWE didn't work out as hoped, Owen hit the independent circuit again and went back to Japan (and also had a brief stint with WCW).
Owen and Benoit would work together several times in 1990 and 1991, including some tag team matches in Mexico as well. However, there were only two singles matches during this period and this was the first one. In fact, it was the first time they had ever been in the ring together.
Owen Hart vs. Jushin Liger (NJPW, April 28th, 1991)
This another deep-cut, and if you haven't seen it, should seek it out immediately. I sent this match to a friend of mine the other day and he was absolutely blown away.
It was on this second Japan trip that Owen had a classic singles encounter with one of the most famous Japanese wrestlers of all time, Jushin "Thunder" Liger. Though the two worked several times together, the matches were usually tags. They only had two singles matches together in New Japan, once in 1990 and this match at Top Of The Super Juniors II that stands out above the rest. This is classic Owen Hart at his best, the young athletic performer who was ushering in a ring style that would inspire so many young and soon to be pro wrestlers.
Owen Hart and Bret Hart vs. The Steiner Brothers (January 11th, 1994)
The dissension between the Hart brothers began at the Survivor Series in November 1993 when Owen became the only member of the Hart brothers team to be eliminated in their winning effort against Shawn Michaels and his knights. The frustration for Owen boiled over at that point, but he and Bret were able to patch things up for a brief time and had a short tag team run together.
That tag team run would be culminated with a WWE Tag Team Championship match against the Quebecers at January 1994's Royal Rumble. The losing effort, specifically Bret's hurt knee, would become the focal point of Owen's turn on his brother and the build to their eventual match at WrestleMania X.
However, a couple of weeks before the Royal Rumble, Bret and Owen had a tag team match that was filmed as a special home video exclusive (it was released on Coliseum Video's WrestleFest '94 tape) that easily ranks as their best tag bout. Bret apparently specifically requested this match, which sees he and Owen go out and have a 20+ minute classic against one of the most famous tag teams of the era: the Steiner Brothers.
The match starts hot, slows down a little throughout the middle, and then ends in a flurry. You also get a rare glimpse of Scott Steiner's "Steiner Screwdriver" in WWE (a vertical suplex into a piledriver, performed on Owen). This was the first-time Steiner had done the move outside of Japan, which really drew eyeballs to this match at the time.
If you can find this one, watch it immediately. I promise you will not regret it. The match was on the aforementioned WrestleFest VHS tape (which is, sadly, not currently on the WWE Network) as well as the Hart Family Anthology DVD set released by WWE.
Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart (WrestleMania X)
This is arguably Owen's most famous match and with good reason. Although the ladder match between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon might be the most famous bout of this particular WrestleMania, the Owen vs. Bret match that opened the show is the superior contest.
Owen and Bret went out in New York City and had an incredible technical bout that left the fans in Madison Square Garden in awe. Even better was the finish, with Bret agreeing to put over his younger brother and helping to elevate him in the process. Later in the show, Bret worked a second time and defeated Yokozuna for the WWE Championship and a dejected Owen came out on the entrance way, staring at his brother in disbelief. You could feel his frustration; he should be the WWE Champion! And a little part of you had to empathize with that.
The stage was set for a feud between the two that would last throughout most of 1994 with the Hart brothers feuding over the WWE's top prize.
Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart (SummerSlam 1994)
In my opinion, this is still the best steel cage match proper in company history (not including Hell In A Cell matches). It's definitely the best of the "blue bars" era of the steel cage.
Following the finish to WrestleMania X earlier in the year, Bret and Owen continued their feud which led them to Chicago's new United Center and the main event of the second biggest show of the year, SummerSlam. This was actually the first major event at Chicago's new sports venue - pro wrestling opened it up before the Bulls and Blackhawks had a chance to.
Everything you could possibly look for in a cage match is here. Drama, athleticism, high spots, and a great finish. With several members of the Hart family looking on from the front row, we even got their involvement after the final bell, including a returning British Bulldog who had just spent the previous couple years with rival WCW.
Owen Hart vs. Razor Ramon (RAW, January 9th, 1995)
As it turns out, Owen had a number of very memorable matches on Monday Night RAW. This is another one that might fly under the radar a little bit as Owen took on Razor Ramon for the Intercontinental Championship at Houston's Summit.
What stood out to me during this one on my re-watch is just how action packed it is. There's never a dull moment with both guys seemingly not letting up throughout the match. Owen's athleticism really shines here, bumping all over for the reigning Intercontinental Champion.
While Owen would go on to win the Intercontinental Championship later in his career, this was the first tease of it as he had the match won (cleanly!) before some others come down to the ring to cost him the title.
Owen Hart vs. Shawn Michaels (In Your House, February 1996)
One month before Shawn Michaels would go on to win the WWE Championship for the first time in the legendary Iron Man Match at WrestleMania XII from Bret Hart, Bret's younger brother got him warmed up at In Your House. That WrestleMania title shot was also on the line in this match.
Owen and Shawn had a story that went back to the previous fall. In October, Shawn was forced to forfeit the Intercontinental Championship after being attacked outside of a bar in Syracuse, New York (for real). The following month, he and Owen had a match on RAW where Owen gave Shawn an enziguiri kick. Shawn would end up collapsing in the match, with the explanation being that he was suffering from a concussion. At the time, many believed this moment was legitimate; Shawn and Owen worked the "smart crowd" during the early days of the internet.
Michaels would end up being gone for the next couple of months, contemplating retirement, while Owen bragged about ending his career. Shawn then returned at the Royal Rumble and won the match, earning a WrestleMania title shot. However, he couldn't move on to WrestleMania without vanquishing his old rival in Owen Hart.
This is a great match between two of the most athletic performers on WWE's mid 1990s roster.
Owen Hart vs. The British Bulldog (RAW, March 3rd, 1997)
This edition of RAW early in 1997 was a unique one as it took place in Berlin, Germany. The main event of the night was the finals in a tournament to crown WWE's first-ever European Champion. The Bulldog seemed like an obvious choice to make it to the finals given his European roots, but Owen up-ended his older brother Bret in the semi finals to also reach the championship match. This was surprising at the time given Bret's popularity in Europe and the fact that Owen and Bulldog were the reigning WWE Tag Team Champions!
The duo went out and put on a show for the crowd in what still holds up as one of the best RAW main events in history. Owen's athleticism is there as always, but what really stood out to me in the re-watch is how good Bulldog looked in the match as well. He's a lot more acrobatic than I remember him during this period, and there's no doubt that his brother-in-law Owen helped bring out the best in him on this night.
Owen Hart and The British Bulldog vs. Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin (RAW, May 26th, 1997)
Just a couple of months after their classic match for the European Championship in Germany, Owen and Bulldog had another memorable RAW contest: this time defending their tag team championships against the unlikely team of Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels.
The match was controversial in that it was Michaels' first match back since forfeiting the WWE Championship just three months earlier (the famous "I've lost my smile" moment) where he declared his career could be over. The line at the time was that Shawn had a serious knee injury and it cost him his planned WrestleMania match against Bret Hart. However, here he is back in action just a few months later, and he even does a moonsault in the match which caused many to question just how serious that knee injury really was.
Either way, this is a fantastic tag team match that still ranks among the best Monday night tag team bouts in company history and is well worth a watch. The title switch to an unlikely team set the stage for some memorable television over the ensuing several weeks.
Canadian Stampede 10-Man (In Hour House, July 1997)
What needs to be said about this match that hasn't already?
I've written about this match before here on ComicBook, and it remains one of my all time favorite matches due to the environment it was held in. During the Hart Foundation's U.S. vs. Canada storyline of 1997, this event was held at the apex of the story with the Hart's returning to their hometown of Calgary. They receive a heroes welcome on this night in front of what may very well be the best crowd in company history.0comments
This is also probably the final major highlight of Owen's career. He ends up getting the pinfall victory over Steve Austin to finish the match, and afterward, the entire Hart family that was present in the Saddledome that night flood the ring for a memorable celebration. Hart's wife and kids are visible in the ring celebrating with he and the rest of the family as the show comes to an end. Knowing what was to come, it's a bit gut-wrenching to see today, but it also takes you back to a moment in time where the Hart family had reached the mountain top together.
That's the list. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section below. Better yet: drop me a line on Twitter and let me know what you think of these matches after watching them @ryandroste. You can also check out this week's episode of my podcast, Top Rope Nation, where we examined the life and legacy of Owen Hart.