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So Bret Hart tells it, the brother to turn heel to face him headed into 1994 wasn't mean to Owen Hart, it was meant to be Bruce Hart. Bret nixed the idea, feeling Owen was much more suited to the role, and off we went on a feud that spanned twelve months and would easily be the best thing to happen to the company in 1994, it solidified Bret as one of the best wrestlers in the world at the time, and took Owen from an awkward, bumbling heel to one who conceivably could've taken a top spot in the company in 1995.
We start on Thanksgiving eve 1993. Bret Hart had been feuding with Jerry “The King” Lawler for a while at this stage, having faced him in a big match at Summerslam. The match was set at Survivor Series with Bret teaming with a trio of Harts (Owen, Keith and Bruce) to face Jerry Lawler and his Knights (which was set to include Terry Funk). Funk withdrew, Lawler was taken off with legal issues and instead we had Shawn Michaels and his Knights in what would end up being a disappointing and long match at 30 minutes. Michaels' Knights quickly fell by the wayside, Owen was the sole man eliminated on the Hart side. The story being as Owen and Bret collided – sending Bret flying to the guardrail on the outside – Bruce and Keith were too pre-occupied with Bret to notice Owen was being eliminated. Owen flipped after the match, claiming that Bret was always the brother who got special treatment.
The touch-paper was lit, but it would be a while before these two would collide. In the 8 weeks between pay per views, Bret would describe himself as being unwilling to fight his brother, and the two would appear to patch things up ahead of the Royal Rumble, where they would take on the Quebecers for the WWF Tag Team Titles. During the match, Bret would go to the outside an appear to injury his knee, he returned to the ring attempting to battle through the pain, but instead of tagging Owen when he had the chance he went for the Sharpshooter and his knee gave way. Bizarrely, the referee threw out the match, but Owen would properly flip this time, kicking Bret's injured leg “out from under his leg” - as Owen would put it in a promo post match. Talking was an area Owen would have to do a lot of work on. In the Rumble match itself, Owen would be eliminated before Bret entered the match, Bret tying the victory with Lex Luger as his own push towards the WWF Title continued.
The turn was on. Bret would be required to wrestle twice at Wrestlemania; firstly against Owen in the opener, then against the winner of Luger vs Yokozuna in the second of two WWF Title matches on the show. The pair would put on a phenomenal opening match, with Owen wrestling a distinctly different style than what was planned after house show matches prior to the event didn't generate the right kind of response to the newly heel Owen. Instead, the younger brother would focus on his in ring charisma, quickly settling in to a despicable in ring heel working a much more methodical style – including a jumping tombstone piledriver. Owen would win the opening match, sitting out on a victory roll by Bret from the top rope. Bret would go onto defeat Yokozuna for the WWF Title in the main event, and the show would close with Owen in the aisle way staring down the new champion.
Surprisingly, it would take nearly five months for the pair to face off for the title. Bret would instead focus on the rising Diesel, while Owen would plot his own path to becoming the “King of Harts” defeating Razor Ramon to win the 1994 King of the Ring. Owen would also play his part in the finish of the title match, as he and his new partner in crime Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart would cause a DQ when Diesel appeared to have the match and the title won. Owen didn't just want to win the WWF Title, he wanted to beat his brother in the process. Owen's “coronation” promo was a fine effort from a man who was settling nicely into his new heel persona.
And so we come to Summerslam 1994. Bret, once again, would be in the mid card, facing Owen in a cage match for the WWF Title with a match that featured the entire Hart family (including Anvil and the returning and, shall we say 'inflated', Bulldog) at ring side. The match would clear half an hour and would be about a good a match as you could expect given the stipulation. After the match, Anvil and Owen would lock themselves inside the cage with Bret, doing significant damage before other members of the family could run them off.
For the time being, that would be the end of the line for Owen as a title contender (although he would face Bret in a very good match in the inaugural edition of WWF “Action Zone” for the title). Bret would focus on the surprising face of Bob Backlund headed into Survivor Series, who ascended into main event status in a highly entertaining run in the Autumn. Owen would play his part though, as he and Bulldog would be the cornermen in the Backlund/Bret submission match – with the cornerman required to “throw in the towel” to force the end of the match for their respective man.
The submission match was a bit of a disappointment, Bret and Backlund were unable to rekindle the chemistry from the match that laid the foundations for their feud at the end of July on Superstars. The stipulation meant that the match never really changed through the gears, but it was saved by events outside the ring. Owen got involved causing Bulldog to chase after him and crash into the steel ringsteps. Bulldog was out cold, and with Bret now firmly locked in the the Cross Face Chicken Wing (a move the WWF had done such a good job building 79% of hotline voters called the more devastating move than Hart's Sharpshooter – no easy feat given it was the finisher of the heel man).
With Bret locked in the chicken wing, and Bulldog unable to help, Owen would Hollywood it up and bring on the tears trying to convince her to throw in the towel. After Bret had been in the move for so long (9 minutes), their mother Helen would finally throw in the towel, making Bob Backlund the new WWF Champion. Owen, who had teased a change of heart in looking compassionate for Bret grabbed the towel and legged it to the back, before delivering his most polished heel promo to date.
That would be the end of the line for the pair, for now, with Bret rehabbing the impact of the chicken wing before focusing on the now WWF Champion Diesel (who defeated Backlund for the title just three days later). It wouldn't be hyperbole to say that the pair saved the WWF in 1994 from being an utter disaster. In my ten WWF matches of 1994 this feud and these two feature throughout in a year that included few other highlights. It should've given Owen Hart the platform to be a major player for the company in 1995, but we will find out where that went wrong in the coming months.