What's it like to grow up as one of twelve children in a famous wrestling family? How significant is the Hart family's legacy on the professional wrestling industry today? Has any one family ever made a greater mark on the business than the Harts?
Ross Hart has never known life without professional wrestling. Born into the business as the son of legendary Stampede Wrestling promoter Stu Hart, the industry has had a huge impact - both positively and negatively - on Ross Hart's life. Now, in an open, candid and fascinating #WrestlingLife conversation, the brother of Bret 'Hitman' Hart and 'The Rocket' Owen Hart and talented in-tring competitor in his own right opens up about his experiences as part of wrestling's most illustrious family, and the enduring legacy that the Hart family has had, and continues to have, on wrestling.
'It was insane at times"
As one of twelve children, Ross' upbringing was unusual to say the least - fighting for his place at the table in a sprawling Calgary home that also served as both the headquarters of Stampede Wrestling and as the infamous Hart Dungeon - a much-vaunted training ground that would see Stu Hart stretching aspiring stars to their absolute breaking point.
"It was insane at times," fondly recalls Hart. "Twelve kids - and I was one of the youngest ones, I was the tenth out of twelve, with a lot of older brothers and sisters to bow down and be respectful of. It was always busy. There was always something going on.
My parents were running the wrestling business out of there, so there were phone calls coming all the time from wrestlers, sponsors, advertisers - that was going on all the time while my parents were [also] running the household, feeding us and getting us off to school every day ... my mom [Helen Hart] looked after all of [Stampede's] business transactions, so she was an accountant, a paralegal, a bookkeeper, a receptionist all in one, and a mom on top of that. She was just an amazing woman, who had a very special relationship with all the wrestlers."
"My parents were both workaholics, but they did an amazing job keeping us straight, raising a family and keeping that historical house going, as there was always something going wrong or breaking down. [Hart House was declared a heritage site by the city of Calgary in 2012.] It was a lot of fun growing up there."
'The Dungeon was in our basement, and that was my Dad's workshop. He would train aspiring wrestlers, put them to the test - he never charged anyone and never collected a fee - but if you were going to break into wrestling [via the Stampede territory], you had to go through him. He would stretch them pretty good, lock up with them and sometimes go back-and-forth for 20 or 30 minutes, just pushing them ... my Dad would punish them ... he wanted these guys to know how tough wrestling should be."
"It was a perfectly laid-out match"
The Hart family - and Stampede Wrestling - produced some of the most influential names in the history of professional wrestling. Talents such as Bret Hart, Owen Hart, The British Bulldog Davey Boy Smith, Jim 'The Anvil' Neidhart and 'The Dynamite Kid' Tom Billington would go on to revolutionise the industry with their technical skills, incredible workmate and storytelling abilities, all developed in the Calgary territory.
Famously, brothers-in-law Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith would clash in an iconic bout that headlined the World Wrestling Federation's Summerslam spectacle in 1992, in front of a capacity crowd at London's Wembley Stadium. "It was a perfectly laid-out match,' recalls Hart. "It was great to see that match unfold; one of my favourite memories."
Ross and Bret's sister, and wife of title challenger British Bulldog Diana Hart Smith, was central to a storyline that felt very real to fans of that era. "Diana was very modest, very quiet, but they [WWF] used her very well in that storyline. She handled it really well ... Diana was a good performer, she could play a number of roles well. She was a wife and sister-in-law caught in the middle there, and I thought her expressions were perfect."
The family feuds would continue going into 1994, when Owen Hart - the youngest child of the Hart clan and a highly-talented and innovative performer - leapt out of the sizeable shadow of his famous brother Bret to challenge 'The Hitman' to a match to kick off WrestleMania X in New York City's Madison Square Garden.
"Owen had always been a babyface, someone who followed the rules. There was nothing devious or evil about him at all. Unfortunately his career was floundering a little bit [in 1993], the WWF was doing much with him and Bret was champion at the time. Maybe the logic and rationale was that you can't have both Harts really strong ... they were using Owen to put guys over to then face Bret, guys like Jerry Lawler and Bam Bam Bigelow. Owen wasn't being utilised very well. "
"Bret came up with this idea: we'll turn you heel, but we'll do it suddenly ... they developed this storyline where Owen became the jealous brother, looking from the outside at Bret's success and wanting that for himself. They played it up very well ... it was a really good storyline and they took their time building it up. I don't think anybody expected Owen to win [at WrestleMania X]. He was definitely the underdog in the match."
"Teaching was a nice outlet after I stepped away from wrestling"
Widely regarded as an encyclopaedia of wrestling knowledge, Ross' recollection of past wrestling events, angles and industry history is highly impressive - yet also unsurprising, given the vocational avenue that he chose to pursue post-wrestling.
"I've been teaching for over thirty years [and have] good recall and memory skills," says Hart on Wrestling Life with Ben Veal, who proudly works as an English teacher for the Calgary Board of Education. "Teaching was a nice outlet after I stepped away from the wrestling industry in the nineties [but] I still follow wrestling a lot and keep up with all of the changes and the trends in the industry."
Episode 007 of Wrestling Life with Ben Veal is out now: real talk from real talent.
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