Professional wrestling, due to its once secretive nature, was at one time a difficult sport for an aspiring star to find an opportunity to enter. Similar to the mafia, it has been suggested by some of the wrestlers who were active in the Golden Age that to get your break in the sport almost required being endorsed by someone who had paid their dues and opened the door for you. It seems difficult to believe now, with the widespread proliferation of wrestling schools across the country, but at one point, there were only a handful of trainers that could grant access to the sport of professional wrestling.
One of the most reputed trainers of his era was Calgary’s Stu Hart. A former professional football player and amateur wrestler himself with aspirations to compete in the Olympics, Hart was a well-known sportsman in western Canada and upon his completion of service in World War II had launched his own wrestling career in the American northeast in 1946. It wasn’t long after his return to western Canada that he began to mold athletes and strongmen from other disciplines into wrestlers, many of whom have gone on to Hall of Fame wrestling careers.
While two generation of Harts would follow Stu into the ring and earn their own acclaim, there are dozens of wrestlers aside from the family themselves who owe their wrestling career to the introduction they got to the sport in Stu Hart’s basement, infamously dubbed “The Dungeon."
20 Angelo Mosca
“King Kong” Mosca first arrived in Canada to play professional football in the Canadian Football League. However, it wasn’t uncommon for newspapers of the day to carry stories about altercations involving Mosca outside of the ring, which made him an attention-grabbing villain right from the start. As early as 1960, Mosca declared his interest to become a wrestler and sought out opportunities with Montreal promoter Eddie Quinn to secure his earliest matches. He appeared in about a dozen matches in the off-season before he arrived in Calgary to train under Stu Hart in 1968. As his career on the gridiron wound down, Mosca’s training in the Hart dungeon launched his career as a wrestling bad guy.
19 Billy Jack Haynes
18 Gama Singh
17 Reggie Parks
If the name Reggie Parks seems familiar to younger fans, it is because the name Parks has been well associated with championship belts. Parks, dubbed by the sport of wrestling as “The King of Belts,” earned that reputation by crafting some of the finest championship hardware in the history of the sport. However, before his reputation as a belt-maker was made, the Edmonton, Alberta-born Reggie Parks was turning heads between the ropes as a wrestler himself. He was introduced to the sport by Stu Hart in 1951 and traveled around the globe. During his ring career, Parks was known for his incredible abdominal strength and would often engage in contests to demonstrate his cast iron stomach. This included a stunt where a car was driven over his stomach.
16 Luther Lindsay
15 Phil Lafon
14 Johnny Devine
13 Dan Kroffat
12 Mongolian Stomper
11 Jos Leduc
10 Tyson Kidd
T.J. Wilson has been associated with the Hart family for so long that many may have believed that he was one of the many children whose family tree winds back to Stu Hart himself. Wilson was a childhood friend to the Hart family’s third generation and found himself in the ring at a young age, training alongside Harry Smith, Teddy Hart and Natalya Neidhart. In his young career, he would even go on to hold the Stampede Wrestling tag team titles alongside his trainer, Bruce Hart. Re-named Tyson Kidd, Wilson was signed by the WWE and formed a championship winning tag team with Harry Smith as the “Hart Dynasty” and he repeated his championship success on a short-lived team with Antonio Cesaro a few years later.
9 Hiroshi Hase
8 Chris Benoit
As always when mentioning Chris Benoit, his inclusion on this list is strictly for informative purposes, regarding the theme of the article.
7 Brian Pillman
6 Jim Neidhart
Known affectionately by Stu Hart as "that big bastard," Jim Neidhart fit the mold of what Stu Hart looked for in a wrestler when he arrived on his doorstep in 1979. Neidhart was a former football player with the Oakland Raiders and was a barrel-chested brute to boot. Jim was not only adopted by the wrestling brethren, but would find himself even more closely connected to Stu through his marriage to daughter Ellie Hart. Jim ventured out into the wrestling territories with key stops in Florida and Louisiana, but his greatest success came when he partnered with Bret Hart in the WWE for the Hart Foundation in 1985 and went on to enjoy two reigns as a WWE tag team champion.
5 Nikolai Volkoff
4 Fritz Von Erich
3 Greg Valentine
It may come as a surprise to many that Greg Valentine -- son of one of the legends of the Golden Era of wrestling, Johnny Valentine -- was not trained in the sport by his father. The senior Valentine was still actively touring as a wrestler himself when his son decided that he wanted to enter into the family business and Johnny elected to send Greg to Calgary for a proper introduction to the sport. Under Stu Hart, Greg paid his dues, making appearances as a referee while preparing for his in-ring debut. Greg would wrestle his earliest matches under the name Johnny Valentine, Jr. before moving on to a few other names, but would eventually return to Valentine.
2 Billy Graham
1 Bret Hart
The five time WWE World champion is the only Hart-born wrestler to make the list as his introduction to the sport is somewhat different from his brothers Smith, Bruce, and Keith who proceeded him, and Ross, Wayne and Owen that followed. While there was some pressure among his brothers and from his father to progress from his amateur wrestling career to the pros, Bret’s mother Helen had hoped to steer him another direction. When he was lured to the basement of the Hart family mansion, it wasn’t Stu that would orient him to the sport, but instead Kazuo Sakurada and Mr. Hito.
The two Japanese wrestlers wanted to thank Stu for the opportunities that they had given them and conveyed that by breaking Bret into the sport. Bret, who was declared by Western Report magazine as “the most famous Albertan in the world” during his WWE career, may well be the greatest success story to emerge from the Dungeon.
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