Here's a question that doesn't get asked often enough - would Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels have the Hall of Fame legacies they have now if they had never feuded with each other? After all, they had incredible matches in three major phases of their careers. Bret and Shawn's tag team matches as part of the Hart Foundation and Rockers, respectively, were the highlights of an exceptional late 80s/early 90s WWE tag scene. Their singles careers broke out around the same time, as well, and they had some classic matches for the Intercontinental Title.
Of course, it was when they both reached the main event that the feces began to collide with the air circulation device with these two. Their Iron Man match at WrestleMania XII is, as they say, one for the ages. However, this was also before they really let their personal animosity towards each other get the better of them. Soon after, we had the Montreal Screwjob - I don't think we need to go over that again, do we? - and Hart left for WCW, never to wrestle Michaels again.
Thankfully, because they were both contemporaries and bitter rivals, it makes a "who was better" comparison a little easier as opposed to, say, Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali or Hulk Hogan and John Cena or, I dunno, Bruce Lee and Jet Li. You get the idea.
We're not here today to pick the ultimate winner - we'll leave that to you cats. Instead, we're just going to add a little fact fuel to the argument fire, and give you eight reasons why Bret Hart was better than Shawn Michaels... and vice versa.
16 Team Bret: Bret was the better technical wrestler
Nobody is arguing that Shawn Michaels wasn't an accomplished performer - just look at his two matches with Undertaker at WrestleMania or the aforementioned match with Bret at WrestleMania XI. But, let's consider for a moment - who trained Bret and who trained Shawn?
Bret was trained by his father, Stu Hart, who had a legendary career in amateur wrestling well before he turned pro. He made the teaching of legitimate "shoot" submission moves a cornerstone of his training philosophy. Michaels, on the other hand, was trained by Jose Lothario - a staple of the NWA in the 1960s and 70s and, if Shawn's career is any indication, a very good trainer in his own right.
But Lothario didn't have the amateur and technical background that Stu Hart did. Add that to the fact that Bret also had success as an amateur before becoming pro and you have a valid case for the first point here.
15 Team HBK: Shawn Michaels was the better showman
People who claim that Bret Hart had no charisma clearly weren't paying attention (and you know who you are). Bret had plenty of charisma - the fans wouldn't have connected to him like they did if he hadn't. His promos were often full of passion and fury when he had a particularly heated rivalry. Frankly, the guy was just cool.
But, Shawn.... oh man. Sorry Bret and fans Of Bret, but that guy was (and still is) on another level. While he was in The Rockers he showed glimpses of it, for sure, but the real showman came out the minute he threw Marty Jannetty through that Barber Shop window. HBK may not go down in the books as the best technical wrestler to ever live, but we all know where we were when he retired Ric Flair...or chained wrestled Kurt Angle...or came back from a broken back...or was retired by The Undertaker. The four moments just named aren't just great Shawn Michaels moments, they are some of the greatest moments in professional wrestling history.
14 Team Bret: Bret was the better babyface
Now, we're certainly not insinuating that Shawn wasn't good in the role of the hero, HBK was just simply better in the role as the villain - for reasons we'll go over shortly. But that also doesn't mean that Bret was simply the better babyface by default; far from it, in fact. While many wrestlers certainly enjoyed playing the role of a hero, Bret took pride in it.
Outside of the ring, Bret always spoke about how he felt it was important to portray a character that people could look up to. He had a certain set of ideals that he wanted the "Hitman" character to live by (which is ironic considering his nickname essentially means "killer for hire"). All of these reasons contributed to the fact that his heel turn in 1996-97 was so interesting to watch. He didn't change his ideals much- the fans changed theirs.
You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain, right? Or long enough to get kicked in the head by Goldberg. One or the other.
13 Team HBK: Shawn was the better heel
Shawn's charisma and talent certainly caused fans to gravitate his way. Let's take a look at the early days of Shawn's WWE career for a moment. He broke in with Marty Jannetty as The Rockers in 1987 (and then again in 1988 after getting fired. See?! Natural heel tendencies from the start!). He didn't really start making headway into a successful career until he went solo - which he did by turning on his partner and literally throwing him out a window.
Even as a babyface, he's been sneaky and manipulative. Consider his match with Batista at the 2008 Backlash PPV, where he used a fake knee injury to get the win (a move that would set in motion Chris Jericho's own amazing heel run that year). He was even able to switch from face to heel and back on a dime, like he did during his 2005 feud with Hulk Hogan.
12 Team Bret: Hart had the more effective finishing move
If you're gonna be a big shot in the world of wrestling, you've got to get yourself an effective finishing move. A move that is immediately identified with you, and tells the crowd "this match is over"! For Bret Hart, it's the Sharpshooter, one of the most recognizable submission maneuvers in the world. Whenever you see another wrestler perform the move, it's in one way or another in tribute to Bret Hart. Yes, we suppose it could be in tribute to Sting, too, or... you know what? Shut up.
On top of being so distinctive, it was incredibly effective. Rarely did you see anyone reverse the Sharpshooter once Hart slapped it on. His opponents would either eventually find a way to grab the ropes for a break, or they would submit (or, in the case of Steve Austin, simply pass out). There, was no kicking out at the last second, unlike that move Shawn Michaels used to use.
Speaking of which...
11 Team HBK: Michaels had the more exciting finishing move
Pretty much every pro wrestler and their mother (assuming their mothers are also pro wrestlers... or kicking enthusiasts) use the Superkick in one form or another. Dolph Ziggler, Rusev, the Young Bucks... if a guy knows how to kick, he probably uses a Superkick. Which makes the fact that Shawn Michaels was able to not only use it as his finisher, but make it so believable an amazing feat.
Michaels could pull SCM "outta nowhere" if he needed it for a quick, stunning finish (or a dramatic near fall) or HBK could "tune up the band" and draw out the tension . I don't have the stats, but if I did, I'm fairly sure that the number of matches won with the Sharpshooter probably outnumber those finished my the Superkick, but, hot diggity damn, was Sweet Chin Music more fun to watch.
10 Team Bret: Hart was more consistent with his character (even as a heel)
Let's.... ignore Bret's WCW run for now. In fact, we can just go ahead and pretend it never happened, and that Bret was sent to live on a farm after the Montreal Screwjob to run and frolic in the fields. When it came to his WWE career after he switched to a solo career, he played the same character for decades - a virtuous and moral guy with a stubborn streak a mile wide.
But, consistent doesn't mean stale. The fan base was changing in the late 1990s - they were less interested in "superhero, squeaky-clean" good guys, and they wanted tweener rule breaker anti-heroes! So, did Bret decide to become one of those anti-heroes? Of course not; he remained the same character, but turned against the American fans because they had turned against him...except the Canadians, or pretty much anybody but Americans. You could threaten them with nuclear war and they still wouldn't boo Hart.
9 Team HBK: Shawn had the more evolved character arc
While the changes in Shawn's character weren't overly dramatic, they were certainly evident. Whether it was due to changing attitudes, his own popularity or things that happened to him outside the ring, HBK had a character arc that most novelists wish they could think up.
From the moment he turned on his partner, Marty Jannetty, he displayed the confidence and the conceit (although he would often remind us not to confuse the two) that defined the first half of his solo career. He came to the ring with a full size mirror, and his theme music - which he sang himself - was about how sexy he was. When his popularity became more than they expected, the WWE had no choice but to turn him babyface, and he still maintained that arrogance and charisma he had before - he just wasn't as much of a jerk about it on camera.
Eventually, that arrogance turned into disdain for his workplace, as he felt he was better than the WWE, so he formed a group that would openly mock it - D-Generation X. Of course, it all came crashing down with a loss to Steve Austin (ironically, another anti-establishment roughneck) and a back injury.
After leaving the company for years, he was a changed man. He attempted to atone for past sins - in some ways, quit literally. He would still show signs of his old self - just look at his infamous overselling for Hulk Hogan - but now he was an honorable man. So much so that he has stuck to his word ever since after losing a retirement match against The Undertaker.
8 Team Bret: Hart had the cooler ring gear
Bret Hart would come a long way from his white tights and black jacket that he wore during his debut match in the WWE. The future World Champion would lose the generic tights in favor of something a little more flashy for the rest of his career.
Why did Bret's look stay pretty much the same his entire career? Because it was awesome. Just look at what he was rocking. Awesome sunglasses...check. Leather jacket...check. How about some crazy black and pink tights...double check. Not only did Hart make wearing pink cool, but can you think of anyone who would tell a guy nicknamed "Hitman" that he looks silly in pink. Go on. I'll wait. I didn't think so. Even when Hart jumped ship to WCW, he kept the same gear and nobody batted an eye; it was cool because it was classic.
7 Team HBK: Nuh uh. SHAWN totally had the cooler ring gear
Pfffffft. Whatever. Like the man himself, Shawn's ring gear evolved over time. Sure, he looked like a gaudy male stripper a lot of the time (or, at least, what someone who has never seen a make stripper imagines a male stripper dresses like), but the outfits were flashy because he was flashy. Lots of mirrors and probably just slightly too much leather. Plus, he wore chaps a lot. Just.... look. You have the dang WWE Network, just go back and look for yourself.
As he got older, he toned down the flash, but not the style. When his hobbies became less about doing shots of Jack Daniels and, instead, shooting deer, he incorporated more of that theme. Cowboy hats, camouflage from time to time, oh, and dude - that all white outfit he wore in his match with the Undertaker at WrestleMania XXV? Dang, son.
6 Team Bret: The Hart Foundation was a better stable than DX
Look, I'm not deluded. Okay, maybe a little, but not about this. The antics of D-Generation X spurred on the life of the Attitude Era and changed the course of history of the business for decades to come and blah de blah de blah. That's all well and good. But, as a team? At its core it was two people (and I'm not discounting Chyna's contribution, but she wasn't much of an active wrestler at that point) who ran roughshod over WWE. And all Rick Rude did was stand around and look bored during the group's inception.
Now, look at the Hart Foundation. Of course, there's Bret - recently reunited with his brother, Owen. The brothers joined by the powerhouses Davey Boy Smith and Jim Neidhart. Top off that family unit with the brilliant loose cannon Brian Pillman, and you have the total package (no, not you, Lex Luger).
5 Team HBK: The Kliq had way more impact
It's kind of interesting to think that none of the five member of The Kliq - Shawn, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Sean Waltman, and Triple H - were in a stable together at one time. Looking back, there was never really much of a window of opportunity there - hell, that could be an article in of itself. Behind the scenes - and just in wrestling history in general - The Kliq had more of an impact than any on-screen team.
Hall and Nash going to WCW in 1996 did more than help shift the balance of power between wrestling - it changed the way wrestlers got paid. Sean Waltman's arrival in WCW as Syxx just lent more credibility to the idea that the nWo were invaders from the WWE (one of the most - if not THE most - meta storylines in wrestling). We've already discussed what DX did to the WWE at the time.
Of course, Triple H has gone on to, more or less, become the heir apparent to Vince McMahon (which will never happen as Vince McMahon is an immortal warlock). And overall none of these guys would be where they are today if it wasn't for HBK bringing them into the fold.
The Hart Foundation were great, but I don't think they ever did anything close to that.
4 Team Bret: Hart held more major championships overall
Okay, this part deals with numbers and such, so bear with me. In the process of deciding what constitutes as a "major" championship, we're counting the mid-card, Tag Team and World Titles of both WWE and WCW. Even if we included the two AWA Tag Team Championships that Michaels won with Marty Jannetty, Bret would still have him beat here - so we won't. If we really wanted to be picky, we could also include the reverse WWE Tag Team Title win The Rockers had, but my head already hurts as it is, so no.
Bret's got 17 major championships in between his runs in both WWF and WCW. That includes seven World Titles with both companies, three Tag Team Championship runs and a handful of mid-card titles. Compare that to Shawn's 15 and, well, an inch is as good as a mile and Bret wins this round. However...
3 Team HBK: Shawn has held more major championships in WWE
Consider that, for the most part, Shawn and Bret were in the WWE for pretty much the same amount of time. Bret debuted in the WWE in 1985, and Shawn followed up a couple of years later (we'll ignore that blip where they were fired temporarily). Bret, of course, left for WCW in 1997 after Survivor Series, whereas Shawn "retired" after WrestleMania XIV that next year. Once you factor in the few months where Bret was back in WWE but couldn't really wrestle, and the second wind that Shawn got when he came back from retirement, and it is pretty much even.
Here's the point. Out of those 17 titles Bret won, only ten of them were in the WWE, and I'm almost tempted to not even count that last U.S. Championship win. Plus, those WCW World Titles were during the David Arquette era, where an actor held the belt, which diminishes the quality of those reigns.
Bret has a great championship legacy but, when it comes to championships in WWE, Shawn's got him beat.
2 Team Bret: Hart's legacy is way more visible
This one's a little unfair, as Shawn doesn't exactly have other relatives in the business, nor is he really associated with anyone working today (with some exceptions - hold on, I'm getting to that). But, the Hart name is still going strong in one fashion or another, despite the Hart Family Dungeon being all but a memory now.
Natalya (daughter of Jim Neidhart and Bret's sister Ellie) is a highly visible performer on SmackDown Live, while her husband, Tyson Kidd's (also trained by the Harts), former tag team partner, Cesaro is on Raw and even uses the Sharpshooter in tribute to the currently injured Kidd and the Hart family. Hart's nephew (Diana Hart and Davey Boy Smith's son) Harry, was also a prominent member of the WWE roster, teaming with Kidd as part of the Hart Dynasty - even winning the Tag Team Titles - before getting released. He's currently tearing it up in Japan.
Oh, there's, um.... there's also Bret's nephew, Teddy.
There's a lot of young members of the Hart family out there and they have plenty of talented wrestlers in said family that will - and have been - more than happy to train them, ensuring we'll be hearing from the Harts for years to come.
1 Team HBK: Shawn trained arguably the best wrestler of the last decade
When Michaels retired for the first time in 1998, he opened up the Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy in San Antonio, TX. The school produced some pretty notable wrestlers, such as former WWE Tag Team Champion Lance Cade, current Raw cruiserweight star Brian Ken - sorry - THE Brian Kendrick, and Kendrick's former tag team partner, Paul London.
But the most successful trainee from that school is, without a doubt, four time WWE World Champion and current SmackDown Live general manager, Daniel Bryan. Bryan took the skills he learned at HBK's school, honed them in Japan and the U.S. indies and then made a name for himself in WWE, becoming one of the most talented and popular wrestlers in history. I mean, when you get pro sports teams to perform your chant during games, you're onto something.
I'm not 100% certain exactly how much actual hands-on training Bryan had with Shawn - interviews on WWE programming, radio shows and podcasts seem to tell two different stories. But, whatever it is, he had a part in training a sure-fire future Hall of Famer.
So, which are you? Team Hart or Team HBK? Let us know!