In the thirty-eight years of WrestleMania, this is arguably one of the best matches. The showdown between Bret Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin began after Austin won the 1996 King of the Ring tournament, with Austin taunting Hart while he was inactive. Bret would make his much-anticipated return in October 1996 and accepted Austin’s challenge for a match, with them facing off the following month at Survivor Series, with Bret defeating Austin at the event.
The rivalry did not end there as Austin and Hart would find themselves as the final two participants in the 1997 Royal Rumble match. Earlier in the match, however, Hart had originally eliminated Austin from the match but due to a ringside brawl between Mankind and Terry Funk, the referees did not see Austin being eliminated. Austin took full advantage of that, returned to the ring, and, eventually, eliminated Bret to win the match.
It continued the following month at In Your House: Final Four, as both Hart and Austin, along with The Undertaker and Vader, were participants in a four corners elimination match for the vacant WWF World Heavyweight Championship. Hart won the four corners match, and the title, only to drop the title the following night against Sycho Sid, again, due to interference from Austin.
This would all culminate at WrestleMania 13, as Austin and Bret agreed to face off in a No Holds Barred submission match with former UFC fighter Ken Shamrock serving as the special guest referee. The video package prior to the submission match really put over how personal this rivalry had quickly become with Hart even claiming that there was a new motto in the World Wrestling Federation “You scratch my back and I’ll stab yours”. Austin even claimed that on his best day, Bret couldn’t lace his boots. The final line of the video package really puts over how important a victory for Bret would be: “But what if Stone Cold Steve Austin wins? What becomes of Bret “The Hitman” Hart then?”
Prior to Austin and Hart making their entrances, ring announcer Howard Finkel introduced UFC fighter Ken Shamrock as the special guest referee. Austin’s entrance during Mania 13 has been played a lot over the years, with the iconic glass break entrance as Austin made his way down to the ring. You could tell how personal the rivalry was as Austin didn’t even wait for Bret to finish his entrance before attacking him.
The match did not even stay in the ring for very long as Austin and Hart brawled all around ringside and even in the crowd. Hart’s main focus was attacking Austin’s leg, possibly setting up for the Sharpshooter submission move. Hart attacked Austin’s leg so much that Austin could barely stand. It didn’t take too long before a steel chair was introduced as Bret looked as though he was trying to break Austin’s leg by wrapping a steel chair around his ankle until Austin recovered and used the chair himself.
Austin was then busted open after Bret sent him flying into the ringside steel barricade, with this rivalry becoming even more personal now, due to the bloodshed. Hart threw Austin into the steel ringpost, making Austin bleed even more profusely. Hart attacked Austin’s injured leg with a steel chair but didn’t keep Austin down for long as he quickly took over control, sending both himself and Hart crashing to the mat below with a Superplex.
Austin then tried to really make Hart submit by choking him out with a cable, with Hart escaping by clocking Austin with the steel ring bell. Following that, Hart locked Austin in the Sharpshooter, which would then result in one of the most infamous images in WWE history, showing Austin screaming in pain with his face covered in blood. Not long after, Austin passed out from being in the submission for so long, with Ken Shamrock ringing the bell and awarding the match to Bret due to Austin completely passing out. While Hart tried to continue the attack on Austin, Ken Shamrock took Bret down with a takedown, with Ken challenging Hart to fight him. Then, to a chorus of boos, Bret Hart walked back up the aisle. Austin would refuse any help and even Stunnered a referee to prevent him from helping him to the back. Austin would then limp to the backstage area to the crowd chanting his name. The commentary team put over how tough Austin looked, passing out to the submission and refusing help from anyone.
Hart vs. Austin has to be one of the best matches in WrestleMania history, thanks in turn to both Hart and Austin. This would also result in one of the most famous double turns in WWE history with Bret turning heel at the conclusion, and Austin turning face. Austin’s face turn would result in him becoming one of the most beloved WWE superstars in the history of the company. In my opinion, Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin is one of, if not, the best WrestleMania match in history, not only because of the action but because of the story told in it. WrestleMania 13 is fondly remembered mainly because of this match and it will go down in history as one of the best double turns ever pulled off in wrestling history.
by Craig Simons