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Unfortunately the wrestling industry is not unfamiliar with tragedy. Almost every wrestler has a story about a friend in the business who lost his or her life. Some of these tragedies are the result of the dark side of the business. Drug addictions, alcoholism, pain killers. In recent years these grim moments from wrestling history have been brought more to the forefront of the world, mostly after the shocking Benoit murder suicide. However, an sad side effect of these horridly dark moments is the legacy of the fallen performer. Often times the world they built in life is forgotten or smeared by the situation regarding their passing.
You could ask every wrestling fan what the biggest loss was and in keeping with the varied opinions of wrestling fans you’d receive a wide assortment of answers. Certain names spring immediately to mind; Guerrero and Benoit being the two which I hear the most. However, if you were to ask me what is the most tragic loss in the history of this business the answer would have to be the death of Owen Hart. You don’t hear his name a lot these days, and when you do it is typically being brought up by his Hall of Famer brother, Bret. Sometimes we get so caught up in the little details of the wrestling world that we fail to pay homage and respect to those who have come and gone, those who have paved the way for the superstars you’re cheering for today. I wanted to take this time to write about, honor and remember Owen Hart.
Owen Hart was arguably one of the most athletic and talented wrestlers to ever grace a ring. Anyone who has ever seen one of his matches can’t help but immediately be impressed by his abilities. Though his brother became the fan favorite and was granted the title “Excellence of Execution” there is some discussion, and this writer is inclined to agree, that Owen was actually more technically sound. It is hard to discern, in most cases. Owen rose to his highest peeks as a heel and his in ring repertoire was limited in order to keep him under the faces he was battling against. In his book, “My Real life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling”, Bret Hart goes on to explain how he and Owen had to rework their entire match at Wrestlemania X when they came to realize Owen was going to be viewed as somewhat of a babyface if he were to perform all of the spots they had lined up for him. However, despite his placement on the card or his move list, when Owen Hart was having a match you had a guarantee that you were going to see damn good wrestling.
There are too many awesome matches for me to select a favorite, however I am one of those who deem his battle with Bret in the Steel Cage at Summer Slam 1994 as one of the best steel cage matches in history. That match is a clinic on how two superstars can take a match designed to be a violent brawl and turn it into a gracefully executed showing of skill, ability and wrestling. Owen’s career saw him hold many titles including the European, Intercontinental and Tag Team titles, though he never did transcend and capture the WWF title. However, it is arguable that had he not been tragically lost he would have become a major contender for that title, and a definte Wrestlemania main eventer. I can’t help but wonder what magical matches we lost out on over the years in his absence. A dream match of mine has been, and unfortunately always will be Owen Hart vs Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania.
Behind the scenes Owen was known for his sense of humor, compassion and undying love for his family. To this day I have never read an article or seen an interview in which someone who worked near Owen did not have something glowing to say about the man. For me, it is bittersweet. I own many videos and DVDs on which he is prominently featured and I often find myself watching them and wonder what might have been different if he were still with us. There are always the memories, however. Owen Hart was one of my favorite wrestlers, and to this day is one I still want to see again.
Though the wrestling business is littered with tragedy, with loss and with men and women who have met their ends too soon, we often lose sight of the people behind the tragedy. Owen was a fantastic performer, a generous and caring man whose commitment to the business was second only to his commitment to his family. Sometimes, however, people will exceed their legacy and stand out as stalwart figures of a better time, in a better place. I think it is safe to say the wrestling business would be a much better place were Owen still here. The King of Harts will always live on, however, as long as we do not let him fade away. I don’t think any fan of wrestling who ever saw Owen Hart would ever allow that to happen.