The Hart Foundation, one of the pillars of tag-team wrestling during the 1980s and early 1990s, will be inducted as part of the 2019 WWE Hall of Fame class on April 6.
“It was very emotional for me,” Hart, who will become a two-time inductee, told Yahoo Sports. “It really means a lot to me and I think it would mean a lot to my late tag partner, who would be really honored to be in the Hall of Fame. I think we both were really proud of our work as a team. I had hoped for years that we would get inducted together and get to go on stage together, but that’s not going to happen now. Emotionally, I feel really proud and I’m glad to get a chance to speak for Jim and I know he’ll be listening.”
Neidhart, who died suddenly last August, and Hart first teamed up in 1985 and were managed by fellow WWE Hall of Famer Jimmy Hart. During their time together, the Hart Foundation would become staples of WWE’s tag-team division, feuding with the likes of the British Bulldogs, The Fabulous Rougeaus and The Rockers.
“When wrestling went through the big change with WWE, moving out of legion halls and into big arenas, it was a metamorphosis that never took place before,” Hart said. “I think at the time there was sort of a stereotypical tag team wrestling format and I think the Hart Foundation and the Bulldogs [Davey Boy Smith and Dynamite Kid] turned it on its head, we took it to a whole different level.”
The Hart Foundation made its debut as a tag team at “WrestleMania II” and would go on to become two-time WWE tag-team champions before disbanding after “WrestleMania VII” in 1991. Initially a singles star, Neidhart was a powerhouse wrestler who complemented Hart, who is considered among one of the best technical wrestlers ever. Hart would use their contrasting styles when delivering promos on television, describing himself and Neidhart as a “Porsche and a tank.”
“Jim and I brought a different mental thinking to wrestling, we were one big guy, one smaller guy,” Hart said. “We were very versatile in the sense that we could wrestle any team. Word of mouth is kind of what got Jim and I recognized as a team that would work.”
Although the duo would go on to have successful -- and now Hall of Fame -- careers, the Hart Foundation almost never came to fruition. Initial plans were for Hart to develop a “Cowboy” Bret Hart persona and for Neidhart to remain a singles wrestler until a car ride through Canada changed the course of both stars’ careers.
“I was going to do the rhinestone cowboy type of thing,” Hart recollected. “I was going to have a horse with the toy and they were going to sell it as a package and it would be a big seller. I was kind of excited about it. I was riding to Brantford, Ontario from Toronto with Jim and Adrian Adonis and I remember they started laughing about it and started chuckling about it and teasing me about it. It kind of got the best of me because I started thinking about what they were saying and thought maybe it wasn’t a good idea.
“I went back to [WWF booker] George Scott’s hotel room after the tapings and said ‘I don’t think I want to do this thing.’ George couldn’t believe it because he said it was going to be such a big break because of the toys and the money I’d make off of merchandise. I remember thinking ‘This is probably the biggest mistake of my life, turning this down.’ I said to him out of thin air, ‘Why don’t you just team me with Jim. He’s got Jimmy Hart as a manager and you can call us the Hart Foundation.’ George told me, ‘You could never be a bad guy, you’re a babyface, you look like it.’”
A few weeks later, Hart had planned to quit and return home to Canada when Scott broke the news that he’d be teaming with Neidhart.
“I remember feeling kind of funny because I never asked Jim or got his permission,” Hart said. “When I went to him and told him they were going to turn me heel and tag us up, he was so accommodating and happy. He always made me feel like it was the best thing that could happen for the both of us. He could have easily gone on his own and done the solo thing, so I feel totally indebted to Jim for going along with everything the way he did.”
Hart credits the burly Neidhart, who returned to the public eye after his wrestling career ended as WWE’s “Total Divas” reality show followed his daughter Natalya, for keeping him motivated and happy due to his positive, fun disposition.
“I’m very grateful because he was a guy who picked up my spirits every day and always brought a smile and a happy thought to everything,” Hart said. “If you were in a bad mood and were with Jim for a couple of minutes, you were happy again. I don’t think I would have survived my early days without him.”
That side of Neidhart was also evident when he interacted with fans, a part of the job Hart says his brother-in-law truly loved.
“You look at him and his character when he was a babyface with me, kids in particular, young boys, there’s a lot of kids that are like Jim -- chubby, boisterous kids,” Hart said. “A little Jim Neidhart would come over to get an autograph and tell Jim that he was a fan of his and Jim always took so much time with those kids during signings. I always noticed how he would single out the kids that looked like him and had similar genetics or build to him. He would make them feel good and when they walk away feel like they wanted to be a professional athlete like Jim.”
Hart and Neidhart’s impact on the wrestling industry stretched beyond their time with WWE. The two laid the foundation -- pun intended -- for future generations of Hart family wrestlers and even reunited in the late 1990s alongside Bret’s brother Owen Hart, the British Bulldog and Brian Pillman as a reincarnation of the Hart Foundation.
More than three decades after their debut as a team, the Hart family name lives on in Nattie Neidhart, Jim’s daughter and Bret’s niece, who is among the most accomplished and respected female wrestlers in the industry. On Sunday, April 7, Nattie will be carrying on her father’s legacy as she wrestles alongside Beth Phoenix for the WWE women’s tag team championship at “WrestleMania 35.”
“I think [the Hall of Fame announcement] had as much or more of an impact on her, just to be recognized,” Hart said. “Everybody I know up here is so proud of Nattie. You go back to the most recent wave of Harts that went to WWE, Nattie, Davey Boy Smith’s son Harry and Tyson Kidd and Teddy Hart. No one would have thought back then that the biggest star of all of them would be Nattie and that she’d raise the banner for the Hart name and put it back into prominence.”
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