Bret Hart vs Roddy Piper. “The Excellence of Execution” and “Hot Rod.” You’d be hard-pressed to find two more different wrestlers. Bret carries himself with composure and is a man of few words. He wrestles a highly technical, mat-based style and would prefer to keep things in between the ropes. Piper, on the other hand, is almost the complete opposite. He’s brash, loud, in-your-face, and would rather punch you in the mouth than apply a headlock. Regardless, both men are bonafide icons in the business. Known as one of the best promo men in the business, Piper is also one of the best brawlers of all time. To many, including myself, Bret Hart is simply,
“the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.”
Bret Hart vs “Rowdy” Roddy Piper – WrestleMania 8
Shortly before WrestleMania 8, Bret was exclusively a tag team specialist. Teaming with Jim “the Anvil” Neidhart, he made quite a name for himself as one half of the Hart Foundation. A major part of multiple memorable WrestleMania matches and multiple tag team championship reigns means that the potential was always seen. Following the previous years’ WrestleMania, the Hart Foundation split up after a loss to the Nasty Boys. It wasn’t long after that Bret secured his first singles title by beating Mr. Perfect for the WWF Intercontinental Championship at Summerslam 91. On January 7 of 1992, after a pretty lengthy reign, Bret dropped the title to the Mountie. However, two days later, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper defeated the Mountie to become the new champion.
Setting the Stage
Roddy Piper was already a certified legend by the time WrestleMania 8 came around. After years of performing in main event-level programs in pretty much every major company in America, no one questioned Piper. At this point in his career, he was starting to be used to put over younger up-and-coming talent. Not only that, but the “New Generation” was beginning to be ushered in.
Bret Hart vs. Roddy Piper
Cousin vs. Cousin
Dungeon Member vs. Dungeon Member
WrestleMania VIII, April 5th, 1992. #WrestleMania #RoddyPiper #BretHart pic.twitter.com/UOG9DK0mDE
— Wrestling Tapes (@wrestlingtapes) April 3, 2020
It was apparent that Hulk Hogan and the other stars that propelled WWE into the stratosphere they now occupy had become tired and stale with the fans. Vince McMahon decided to change the hierarchy of the company, and evolving with the times was necessary. They were searching for something new and exciting. McMahon knew that he had to make some changes and knew that Piper’s time being a main event player was coming to an end. He was always looking to the future; he decided to enter him into a program with one of the world’s hottest young wrestlers. Bret Hart.
“Hot Rod” vs. “The Hitman”
There admittedly wasn’t too much build for the match. It honestly didn’t really need it. When Bret lost the IC title to the Mountie, it was on questionable terms, to say the least. The Mountie shocked (both literally and figuratively) Bret with a cattle prod behind the referees back to secure the win. Consequentially, the Intercontinental Championship was still Bret’s, if you asked him, that is. After Piper defeated the Mountie, Bret challenged “Hot Rod.” Never one to back away from a fight, Piper gladly accepted. Setting the stage for The Granddaddy Of Them All, WrestleMania.
The showdown begins with Bret and Piper in a pre-match promo conducted by “Mean Gene.” Roddy puts over the Hart family as well as Bret himself. While mixing in some not-so-subtle insults, he recalls knowing Bret as a snot-nosed kid. He goes to pinch Bret’s cheek like a young child condescendingly, and Bret grabs his hand and coldly says, “Keep your hands to yourselves.” This changes the tone of the interview to a confrontational one. They both shove each other and argue briefly as the camera cuts away.
Bret makes his entrance first to a big pop. The crowd is solidly behind the honorable blue-chipper. The trademark bagpipes start to ring through the arena as Piper comes out next. He doesn’t break his gaze from the “Hitman.” Intense doesn’t begin to describe it. Intent on showing that he isn’t intimidated, Bret left the ring, spotted a young fan, and gave his trademark sunglasses away. Both men enter the ring, and the ref calls for the bell.
Bret Hart vs Roddy Piper
They start out feeling each other out with a collar and elbow tie-up. Surprisingly, Piper gets the advantage with a wrestling move, an arm drag. They lock up again, but this time Bret wins the exchange with an arm drag of his own. Piper executes a drop-toe hold and rides the Hitman’s back. Bret moves towards the ropes and allows Piper’s momentum to carry him out the ring. “Piper’s hot!” exclaims Gorilla Monsoon. Perfectly called as always, as Piper is living up to his “Rowdy” nickname by throwing a fit.
He gets back in and initiates a test of strength which turns into a nice technical back-and-forth in which Bret refuses to let go of an arm wringer. Piper tries everything: raking the eyes, slamming Bret’s head into the turnbuckle, knife-edge chops, even running around the ring. He finally breaks the hold by firing Bret into the ropes and going for a clothesline. The clothesline, however, is ducked by Bret, who then lands a dropkick. Unfortunately, the “Hitman” landed wrong on his shoulder. He’s grasping at it and is obviously in pain. “Look at this! I think the ‘Hitman’ hurt his shoulder on the way down. He may have dislocated his clavicle!” Monsoon points out. “Either that or he’s [faking it]!” countered Bobby “the Brain” Heenan.
Bret Hart vs Roddy Piper
Feeling Out Period Is Over
Bobby shows why he is called “the Brain” as he was correct. Cleverly and suddenly applying a small package, Bret gets a near fall. Piper stands up and lands an incredibly disrespectful slap to the face. Slung into the ropes by Piper, Bret hits a crossbody that carries both men to the outside. Bret gets the worse of it, as Piper is first back in the ring. “Hot Rod” shows respect for his opponent and holds the middle ropes open for the “Hitman.” The crowd is very receptive and pops for the sportsmanship.
Bobby Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon are widely regarded as one of the best commentating duos in wrestling history. It’s easy to see why by their performance in this match. Their chemistry is impeccable, and they have an uncanny way of making every spot feel important. As Bret re-enters the ring, he bends over to readjust his boot. Showing that the respect was all just a ploy, the “Hitman” is nailed with a cheap shot by Piper. This is where things start to break down.
Bret Dons Crimson Mask
It was evident that the niceties were over. Everyone in the building and watching at home knew that this was about to turn into a fight. Piper starts brawling, landing closed fist right hands, stomps, ramming Bret’s head into the turnbuckle once again. He grabs a headlock and absolutely hammers Bret with a punch to the forehead. I really want to drive home the point of how hard he hit him. You can literally hear the shot echo through the arena. A beautiful bulldog followed, and the damage inflicted by Piper is obvious. The camera cuts to a high shot above Bret as Roddy goes for the pin, and you can see that he got busted open the hard way from the vicious strike.
After getting only a two count, Piper’s frustration is obvious as he wastes time arguing with the referee. He continues the ruthless attack, biting Bret’s bloody head, slinging him with force into the turnbuckle, then delivering a vicious knee lift for another two count. After more punches, Bret gains a momentary advantage, utilizing a sunset flip pin for a near fall. Still, obviously, the fresher man, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, jumps to his feet and continues his assault with a four-piece punch combo. Bret begins to gain steam in a back and forth striking showdown before nailing “Hot Rod” with a flying forearm that knocks him out of the ring. Piper quickly recovers and re-enters the ring.
Bret Hart vs Roddy Piper
Hart and Soul
He runs at Bret as Bret runs at him, and both men wipe each other out with a double clothesline. Both men are down momentarily, and Piper is once again the first to his feet. He goes out of his comfort zone to the top rope, which proves to be a mistake. Hart was once again playing possum and pops to his feet and knocks Piper off the top.
At this point, the crowd was electric. They had totally bought into the story these two masters of their craft were telling. The “Hitman” seems to have caught his second wind as he lands an inverted atomic drop followed by a snap suplex. After a two-count, Bret hits his patented Russian leg sweep. Another two count. Bret, determined to not let Piper recover, picks him up and hits a backbreaker. He grabs both feet and looks around to the crowd teasing his finishing move, the Sharpshooter. Piper is luckily able to grab his foot as he steps through to block the attempt. Bret attempts the Sharpshooter twice more but is denied both times again.
Bret gives up the legs, repositions, and lands a pointed front elbow drop to the face. He goes to the second turnbuckle for another front elbow drop, but Piper is able to get his foot up, which connects right with the face of the “Hitman.”
“Rowdy” and Conflicted
Both men begin to exchange punches from the knees, working their way back to their feet, still exchanging punches. Bret applies a headlock. Piper shoots him off, and the ref gets incidentally ran over in the exchange. This gives “Hot Rod” enough time to knock his opponent over the top rope with a clothesline. He follows up by slamming Hart’s head into the steel steps and throwing him back into the ring.
With the ref still down, Piper grabs the timekeeper’s bell and enters the ring. He raises it over his head, readying the bell for a strike. The crowd does not like this and begins giving him a piece of their mind. Beginning to have second thoughts, he doesn’t hit Bret with it. He looks around the booing crowd, feeling their contempt for his underhanded ways. The Intercontinental Championship was finally in his grasp, as he had never captured it previously. He certainly didn’t want to give it up but was struggling to decide what ends he would go to retain.
Looking conflicted, he raises the bell again. Once again, he holds the bell above his head, contemplating on using it against his foe. Finally, to the crowds’ praise and cheers, he puts his weapon down and slides it under the ring. Even after the cheap shot from earlier, it is obvious that Piper respects his opponent too much to cheat. Known for his “do whatever it takes” attitude, this decision from Piper shocked lots of fans watching as well as Monsoon and Heenan. “Just clobber him with it!” offered “the Brain.” He picks Bret up as the two exchange a few more strikes. Piper spins Bret around and applies his world-renown sleeper hold that has vanquished so many of his previous foes.
Excellence of Execution
The camera cuts to show the ref beginning to get up. Still locked into the sleeper hold and fading fast, the “Excellence of Execution” shows what earned him his nickname. In a last-ditch effort fueled by desperation, Bret sticks his feet on the middle turnbuckle and uses him momentum to flip backwards on Piper, pinning his shoulders to the mat. 1, 2, 3. Your winner, AND NEW WWF Intercontinental Champion, Bret “the Hitman” Hart!
Following the match, Bret is still down as Piper is obviously disappointed with himself. Bloodied and beat up, Bret can’t even get to his feet. Piper angrily snatches the WWF Intercontinental title from the referee. He approaches Bret slowly and hands the championship to Bret. In a true show of sportsmanship, Piper helped Bret to his feet and places the belt around his waist. The crowd erupts. Both men hug after the performance and walk out together.
Bret Hart vs Roddy Piper
A Star Is Born
Having secured his first major singles victory at WrestleMania, Bret had arrived. Anyone watching was aware of that. Every member of the audience was on their feet roaring, showing these two brilliant competitors the respect and admiration they deserved for this classic performance. He would go on to become the face of WWE for several years. Holding the company together in a time that is often looked at negatively by fans. He constantly was paired with opponents with goofy gimmicks and placed in campy programs. Despite all that, Bret put on memorable programs with the likes of Issac Yankem (who would later be known as Kane), 1-2-3 Kid (X-Pac), and past their prime stars such as Jerry Lawler and Bob Backlund, just to name a few. This is the win that really put him on the map and led to his Hall of Fame career.
Known later in his career as “the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be,” Bret became a five-time World Champion (WWF Champion 5x, WCW Champion 2x). When asked by many all-time greats who their best match was against, a large majority say Bret. It’s often talked about for being egotistical and only out for himself; it’s odd when you consider how much he focused on making his opponent look great. Undertaker Shawn Michaels, Sean Waltman (X-Pac), Kevin Nash, and countless other sites Bret as being their favorite opponent.
Bret Hart vs Roddy Piper
End of an Era
Piper, on the other hand, disappeared from the company shortly after Mania. Starring in a few on-air appearances, he also recorded four episodes of “Piper’s Pit.” They never aired. He would remain gone from the company until another brief run in 1994. Following that, he signed with rival WCW and had one last main event-level run. Regardless of his fate following this match, Piper is still an all-timer. You can listen to just about anybody who talks about “Hot Rod,” and all you’re likely to hear is great things. Just read what Bret had to say about the legend in his WWE Hall of Fame acceptance speech.
“I look at Roddy Piper. I could name a lot of wrestlers that helped me in wrestling, gave me advice — Harley Race — but I don’t think anybody did more for me or helped me more, and helped me make those decisions to get me to where I was than Roddy Piper.”
-Bret “Hitman” Hart H/t Baltimore sun
This truly was a star-making performance in the often forgotten WrestleMania match. It features a little bit of everything: suspense, drama, technical wrestling, brawling, blood, anything a fan could ask for.