(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart - WrestleMania X (1994)

(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart - WrestleMania X (1994)

It has been called the greatest opening match in pro wrestling history. It has been a favorite of many wrestling fans for decades, and remains on many people’s shortlists for greatest WWE match of all time. It was a refreshing change of pace in the wacky world of 1990s WWF/E. Whereas most of their matches ventured far into the realm of the wacky and the unrealistic, this match went in the opposite direction. It was hailed for its incredibly in-ring quality and how it was centered on a straightforward tale that resonated deeply with the average fan.

Now, over a quarter-of-a-century, we revisit this WrestleMania classic. It’s the famous opening singles match between brothers Bret and Owen Hart from WrestleMania X, which was 27 years ago today.

As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.

The story

Six months earlier at Survivor Series 1993, Bret and Owen teamed together in a traditional Survivor Series elimination tag match alongside two more Hart brothers. The Harts won that match, but Owen was the only one eliminated from his team. Two months later at the 1994 Royal Rumble, Bret worked double duty in both the eponymous Rumble match and in a tag title match alongside Owen. But the Harts lost that tag match and Owen turned on Bret and attacked his injured knee. Owen wanted to prove he was better than Bret, even though Bret didn’t want to fight his brother.

But Bret didn’t have a choice. In the Rumble match, both he and Lex Luger were declared co-winners. To solve this problem, WWE booked two WWE World Title matches for WrestleMania X. Luger got the first one; and if he managed to beat then-champion Yokozuna, he’d have to defend against Bret. To compensate for this, Bret would have a singles match earlier on in the show, which led to this match being announced.

The match

This match originally took place on March 20, 1994 at WrestleMania X. You can read John Canton’s original review of WrestleMania X here, and his in-depth review of this contest here (he rated it five stars out of five). This match was originally rated ****3/4 by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. Let’s see how well this match holds up today, more than twenty-five years later.

Owen breaks the first lockup and starts celebrating prematurely. He lands a fireman’s carry but Bret counters into a head scissor hold. Owen escapes and mocks Bret’s taunt. Bret takes Owen down again but Owen gets to the ropes. Owen takes Bret down this time with the same move but Bret counters by tossing Owen out of the ring. Owen dashes back into the ring and slaps Bret in the face. They trade hammerlocks, Owen hands a drop toehold, and Bret counters into another armlock. Then Owen pulls a Tiger Mask and counters into an armlock of his own, only for Bret to counter again. Owen whips Bret into a corner, Bret flips over and gets two off a roll-up. Bret takes Owen down and gets another armlock. Owen elbows and lands a shoulder tackle and charges, Bret ducks down and monkey flips Owen and clotheslines him out of the ring.

Owen goes to leave but Bret tosses him back into the ring and they have a standoff in the middle of the ring. A shoving match leads to a schoolboy pin for two for Bret and Bret goes back to the left armlock.

Owen escapes and goes for a clotheslines but Bret counters into a crucifix pin for two and again works over Owen’s arm. This time Owen whips Bret and leapfrogs over him and lands a wheel kick. He stomps Bret out of the ring and then slams him back-first into the steel ringpost. Owen tosses him back into the ring and Irish whips him HARD into a corner. He follows with a single-knee backbreaker and then a camel clutch, which works over Bret’s back. Bret elbows out and charges but Owen lands a belly-to-belly suplex for two and Bret goes to whip him in the corner, but Owen counters into a crossbody, but Owen counters into a pin for two. Owen knees Bret and puts in a chinlock while pressing a knee in Bret’s back. Owen goes to slam Bret but Bret counters into a pin for one. Bret rolls out of the ring and Owen gloats some more.

Owen goes to suplex Bret over the ropes but Bret lands on his feet. He waistlocks Owen but Owen counters into a bridging German suplex for two. Owen lands a legdrop to Bret’s neck for two and goes for a suplex, but Bret counters into a small package for two. Bret reverses an Irish whip but Owen counters into a Tombstone Piledriver. Great counter. Owen climbs the top rope and flies. Bret dodges Owen’s diving splash. Owen tries to maintain control but Bret lands a Manhattan drop and a running clothesline for two. He whips Owen lands a hard right hand to the gut and a Russian Leg sweep for two. Single-knee backbreaker by Bret. Diving elbow drop. Owen kicks out. Bret gets in the ref’s face. Bret catches Owen’s leg on a kick but Owen counters with an enzuigiri. Owen goes for the sharpshooter but Bret counters. No, Owen counters Bret. European clutch. Bret kicks out. Bret with a plancha to the floor. And he hurts his knee in the process.

Bret limps towards Owen and Owen kicks Bret’s knee hard. Sensing an opportunity he starts working that left leg methodically. Owen smashes it into the ringpost and mocks Bret’s suffering. Dragon screw leg whip. Indian deathlock. The crowd chants for Bret. Bret can’t go on his back because he risks being pinned. Owen drops a knee on Bret’s leg. Another dragon screw by Owen. Figure-4 leglock. Bret rolls over and reverses the hold. Both men reach the ropes.

In the corner, Owen kicks Bret’s injured leg. He goes for another dragon screw but Bret counters into an enzuigiri of his own. Bret tries a comeback with punches and head-butts. He whips Owen so hard into the corner Owen does the Bret Hart bump. A leg drop gets Bret a two-count. Running bulldog. Owen kicks out of a pin. Piledriver. Owen kicks out again. Superplex. Owen kicks out yet again. Bret lands some punches and Owen tries to fight back but Bret ducks. Sleeper hold. Owen lands a low blow. The referee doesn’t see it. Sharpshooter by Owen.

Bret reverses. Owen grabs the ropes. Owen reverses an Irish whip into the corner. He charges but Bret boots him in the face. Bret goes for a sunset flip out of the corner. But Owen reverses the pressure. Owen pins. One, two, three! That’s it. Owen beats Bret!

Winner after 20:21: Owen Hart

Review

As expected, these two Hart brothers put on a wrestling masterpiece here. It was technically spectacular. It was exciting. It was unpredictable. It had a great inner story that pretty much anyone that has siblings can relate to. Even now, over twenty-five years later, it still holds up as the best show-opening match in wrestling history.

This match was all about Owen proving he was a better wrestler than Bret. And he showed the whole world why he thought so, and why many of his peers – including Bret himself – thought so as well. Owen matched Bret hold for hold, move for move, sequence for sequence. He showed a cocky arrogance that played well into the match and managed to get under Bret’s skin by mocking him. Everything he and Bret did was smooth and crisp with perfect timing.

And while he was supposed to be the heel here, there were plenty of people that cheered for him when he won simply because of what it meant in terms of story. The younger sibling outshined the older favorite child that always got all the glory while the younger was left with nothing. Owen’s story resonated with so many people that even though he acted selfish and underhanded, he was doing so because he was desperate to finally be noticed. And when he won, there was genuine emotion from him and a lot of others because of what it symbolized. Would Owen get a world-title-level push? It was hard to say, but it was now FAR more likely than it was before this match.

This really was one of the best storylines WWE showcased on one of their major shows. And it was so good because it was simple and relatable. WWE has always prided itself as being home to ‘larger-than-life’ characters, but to them, that has been both a blessing and a curse. Some of those characters were successful (Hogan, Savage, Undertaker, Ted Dibiase), but the overwhelming majority were either forgettable or floundered.

My only real problems with this match are that nothing happened in the opening minutes and the ending was a bit anticlimactic. Both men traded armlocks and arm-based submission holds for what seemed like forever, but none of that played into any part of the match afterward. That stood in stark contrast to Owen’s legwork, which was central match and was followed up on consistently by both Owen as the aggressor and Bret when he was on defense. As for the ending, it was anticlimactic because it was so abrupt. It was one of those ‘out of nowhere’ moments that basically protects both wrestlers without either one experiencing any real shift.

Owen got his win and the history books would record that, but it didn’t come across as decisive and instead came off as a fluke. And for Bret, it was supposed to be a critical loss, but it was completely negated later on when he beat Yokozuna in the main event to win the world title. Just like that, Owen’s win was overshadowed once again. And while the two brothers continued their feud, I think that this match would’ve been better if Owen had a more decisive win. That way, it would’ve done more to elevate him and it would’ve added more anticipation and drama to Bret’s later match as well.

Final Rating: ****3/4

This match showcased the opposite of WWE’s typical bread and butter at the time: instead of being a dramatic display with over-the-top characters featuring some degree of athleticism, it was a technical wrestling masterpiece with a simple but relatable storyline underneath that connected to the average fan on a personal level.  It was all the better for going in that direction, and remains one of the best WWE matches of all time to this very day. Even by today’s standards, it makes for easy watching. It’s not too extreme with the high-speed chain grappling or reversals, and has the perfect balance of all the ingredients of a great, high-caliber wrestling contest.

And yet, while this is a great match, I found it hard to isolate this match from what was happening in the wider wrestling world around the same time. As much as I enjoyed this match and think it’s one of the best WWE matches ever, I don’t think it’s in the same stratosphere as other legendary matches that took place during the same year. I think it’s better than Jushin Liger vs. Great Sasuke from the 1994 Super J Cup, and much better than the Eddy/Barr/Santo/Octagón AAA match from November. But it’s nowhere near the amazing in-ring quality of the All Japan’s matches from the same year, like Kobashi-Dr. Death, The Four Pillars Part III, Misawa & Kobashi vs. Dr. Death & Johnny Ace, or the mythical Misawa-Kawada 6-3-94 match. Hell, I think that from a pure drama perspective, this contest got outclassed by something on the same show: the Shawn/Razor ladder match.

I’m not saying this match isn’t great (it really is, and makes the WWE Network subscription worth it to re-watch). But it’s a tad outclassed by matches that, in my opinion, went to further heights and better stand up to the test of time.

Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.