#67: My Brief Brush with Bret “Hitman” Hart

Continuing the theme of yesterday’s blog post concerning photographing pro wrestling, another great experience I had was at a Ring of Honor (ROH) card at Toronto’s Ted Reeve Arena a few years ago. I wrote an article on the event here and posted some personal thoughts about meeting and speaking with the boys here, so I won’t go into that now. Instead, I want to discuss my brush with Canada’s greatest professional wrestler, Bret “Hitman” Hart.

To me though, as a kid, Bret represented a lot more than just a championship wrestler. He was a David in a world

dominated by goliaths and bulked-up bruisers. Still, Bret found a way to rise to the top of his profession against all odds by the sheer execution of his craft (hence his nickname, “The Excellence of Execution”). To the fans he made the pre-determined world of pro-wrestling seem completely legitimate and carved an image for himself as a  feared shooter — someone who could take any sized man down to the mat and tie him in knots. Behind the scenes, he paved the way for a new generation of wrestlers to enter a world where, if you could master the art of wrestling, size was no longer an issue. In Canada, in particular, due to his staunch patriotism and very public separation from the then World Wrestling Federation, Bret became a symbol of honour and dignity and self-respect.

That evening, at Ted Reeve Arena, I stood mere feet away from this man. Technically, I’d met him years earlier at a very brief and informal autograph signing in Toronto after a screening of the excellent documentary Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows. This time, though, I had press credentials and questions prepared.

Upon arrival at the area, however, I was told unequivocally by the media person that I wouldn’t be getting an interview with Bret or another Canadian wrestling great, Lance Storm. I managed to wrangle an interview with the latter anyway, as I spotted him standing near the ring as the boys warmed up and I asked him if we could talk for a few minutes (as a side note, Lance Storm is an incredibly kind and obliging man and a pleasure to interview). Bret, however, was nowhere in sight.

Some of the Ring of Honor warriors battle it out in Ted Reeve Arena

As the evening progressed, Bret was ushered into the arena and sat at a table to sign autographs. I approached from the opposite side and spoke with the mountain of a man acting as Bret’s bodyguard. I asked if I could speak with the “Hitman” for five minutes once he was finished signing autographs, but the bouncer said it had to be cleared with ROH management. Incidentally, the bouncer told a man wearing a tropical-looking t-shirt the same thing.

The bouncer was kind enough to allow me to get really close to the table to take pictures, as long as I didn’t interfere with the autographs. The man in the tropical t-shirt decided to try his hand at speaking to Bret anyway and was, incidentally, never seen again. I assumed the bouncer devoured him and figured I should probably mind the rules.

When Bret was finished signing he walked past me and stopped right in front of me to wait for someone else. I looked at the bouncer and he looked at me and I was hoping I may have earned points for good behaviour. I had a sort of “Can I talk to him quickly” look on my face but the bouncer stayed close and eventually whisked Bret away.

As a journalist, it’s tough to know how to handle such a situation. The guy at the door said I couldn’t speak to Bret or Lance Storm and yet when I saw Lance hanging out I figured there’s no harm in asking for a few words. However, when one of your childhood heroes is standing next to you and a Mack truck of a bouncer is giving you the eye, suddenly your idea of yourself as a hard-nosed, straight-shooting journalist takes a backseat to your love for functioning kneecaps and the ability to chew food.

In the end I never did get to speak to Bret. And, like in yesterday’s post about covering Lucha Libre, most of my photos from the event were lost when my hard drive made the decision to cease functioning (including my pic with Lance Storm). Still, it was kind of nice to be so close to a childhood hero. It’s not about glorifying someone or celebrity fascination. It’s about speaking with a man who had a real impact on you in your formative years. It’s like having the chance to meet your favourite comic book or action movie hero. And I can tell you that if I ever do get to interview the Hitman, before we speak about his years of entertaining fans, or his setting an example of hard work and dignity, or his taking time to speak with a journalist to whom he happened to be a childhood hero, the first words out of my mouth, encompassing all of those points and more, will be “Thank you.”

This post appears as part of the FOCUS 365 photo blog component of Bastard Type


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