(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: The British Bulldog vs. Bret Hart - WWE SummerSlam 1992

(Almost) 5-Star Match Reviews: The British Bulldog vs. Bret Hart - WWE SummerSlam 1992

Many fans have called this match one of the best in WWE history. It has been praised for the incredible quality of its action, great storytelling, and rabid crowd. It was said to be a perfect main-event match. And one of the two men involved called it his favorite match of his career.

Today we look back at a WWE classic and one that has been brought up time and again by WWE and its fans. it took place in front of one of the largest wrestling crowds ever and it helped launch the main-event career of one of the most famed and celebrated wrestlers in Canadian history.

Today we revisit the Intercontinental title match from SummerSlam 1992 between Bret Hart and The British Bulldog.

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

Hart and Bulldog had been very close friends (and brothers-in-law) for years. They trained together in the Hart Family Dungeon and Bulldog eventually married Bret’s sister Diana. By 1992, Bret had accomplished pretty much everything there was to do in WWE except win the world title. But in order to reach that level, he needed to drop the Intercontinental Championship. And to capitalize on WWE’s swelling international popularity, WWE chose to hold SummerSlam in the United Kingdom, where Bulldog would receive a hero’s welcome.

Going into this match, the Hart Family was a bit divided. Some of them like Bruce Hart favored Bulldog while others like Owen favored Bret. Diana, something of a centerpiece of the rivalry, was undecided and simply hoped that neither wrestler would get hurt.

For Bulldog, this was his chance to have his own big singles run. Previously, he had been largely pigeonholed into tag storylines and couldn’t ever shake the image of ‘tag team wrestler’ off of himself. For Bret, this was going to be a big test. He had already proven that he could wrestle. Now he had to prove he was deserving of the main event.

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The match

This match originally took place on August 29th, 1992 (aired on August 31) at SummerSlam. It was originally rated ****1/4 by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. TJR’s John Canton also reviewed it as well as doing an in-depth column about it and rated it a full ***** out of five. The match was also voted Match of the Year by Pro Wrestling Illustrated. With all that praise, let’s see how good the match looks now, almost thirty years later.

This is for Bret’s Intercontinental Championship. The bell rings and the crowd is INSANELY loud. A shoving contest starts things and Bulldog shoulder tackles Bret so hard that he falls out of the ring. Back in the ring, Bret starts a chain grappling sequence but Bulldog powers out. Bret avoids a press slam and rolls Bulldog up and gets two two-counts off a roll-up and a small package. Bret grounds Bulldog again with a headlock but Bulldog escapes and starts working over Bret’s arm. Bret counters into an armlock of his own but Bulldog counters that Dynamite Kid-style and puts his own armlock on once again. Bret pushes Bulldog into the ropes, whips him, and goes for a leapfrog, but Bulldog catches him and slingshots him into the turnbuckle. Bulldog goes back to the arm as Bret gets back to his feet. Bret whips Bulldog into the ropes, but Bulldog counters with a crucifix pin for two. Bulldog goes back to the arm once again, and even keeps the hold maintained as Bret scoop slams him. Bret still manages to get to his feet and Irish whips Bulldog. A knee lift to the stomach sends Bulldog down hard as the crowd boos Bret.

Bret drops a leg across Bulldog’s throat and applies a chinlock, then knocks a charging Bulldog down with an elbow. He lands an atomic drop and whips Bulldog once more, and this time counters the crucifix with a Samoan drop for a one-count. Bret applies another headlock and answers an Irish whip with a shoulder tackle. They crisscross until Bulldog monkey flips Bret with his legs. Bulldog whips Bret into two different corners and charges but Bret gets his feet up and drops Bulldog with a…bulldog. Bret goes to the top rope but Bulldog press slams him down. He goes for a dive but Bret rolls out of the way. Bret goes for a slam but Bulldog lands behind him. He goes for a roll-up but Bret ducks and sends Bulldog out of the ring.

Bret lands a pescado from the apron onto Bulldog on the floor. He smashes Bulldog back-first into the steel ringpost and then tosses him back into the ring. In the ring, Bret whips Bulldog hard into the corner and forearms him in the small of his back. A Russian leg sweep gets Bret a two-count. Bret lands a flurry of strikes followed by a big back body drop. Another pins leads to another two-count.

Bret suplexes Bulldog but only manages another two-count. Bret applies another headlock and goes for an elbow smash but Bulldog counters into a backslide for two. He follows with a single-knee backbreaker and a second-rope elbow drop and that too gets two. Bret gets a torrent of boos from yanking and throwing Bulldog by his hair. Bret maintains control with punches and headlocks but Bulldog tries to fight back. But it doesn’t work as Bret ducks a punch and applies a sleeper. Bulldog starts fading. Then he crawls to the ropes. Bret takes a long time letting go of the hold.

Bret whips Bulldog and reapplies the sleeper. Bulldog signals to the crowd as he sinks to his knees. Bulldog’s hand falls once…twice…thr—no, Bulldog’s still in this. He picks Bret up onto his back and backs up into the corner. But Bret applies another sleeper. Bulldog does the same thing and smashes Bret into the turnbuckle.

Both men start brawling. Bulldog counters an Irish whip and goes for a press slam but loses control and drops Bret into the ropes. Bret lands hard and awkwardly. Bulldog lands a trio of clotheslines for a two-count. He follows with a press slam and gets two once more. Then he lands a delayed vertical suplex but gets only two yet again.

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Bulldog whips Bret hard into the corner and he does his patented forward corner bump and Bulldog pins for two again. Bulldog signals the end. Running powerslam! One, two, NO, Bret kicks out.

Bulldog shoves Bret onto the apron and goes for a suplex but Bret lands on his feet behind him. Bridging German suplex. Bulldog kicks out. Bret goes for a suplex. Bulldog counters and puts Bret on the top turnbuckle. Superplex connects. One, two, th—no, Bret kicks out. Bret counters an Irish whip, Bulldog ducks, and both men clothesline each other. Bret crawls over and applies the sharpshooter. Bulldog reaches the ropes and the raucous crowd screams wildly. Bulldog counters an Irish whip. Bret goes for a sunset flip. Wait, no, Bulldog counters into a cradle pin. One, two, three! That’s it. Bulldog beats Bret! The stadium explodes in cheers!

Winner and NEW WWF Intercontinental Champion after 25:40: ‘The British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith

Post-match, both men shake hands and Bulldog’s wife and Bret’s sister Diana raises both their hands in celebration.

FULL MATCH - Bret Hart vs. British Bulldog - Intercontinental Title Match: SummerSlam 1992

Review

For those that might not know, Bulldog went into this match completely messed up. Bret mentioned in his autobiography that Bulldog had been partying and doing drugs beforehand so he couldn’t remember how the match was supposed to go. That forced Bret to carry Bulldog from bell to bell, but the result was still impressive. Almost thirty years have passed and this match is still pretty damn great.

It was an exciting match with both Bret and Bulldog each having their moments to shine. Bret was in control for the most part, but his long moments of control were buoyed by Bulldog’s explosive comebacks and retaliation spots. They worked the face-vs.-face dynamic well with the fans cheering both guys equally at first. That was a rare thing to see in WWE so there was a risk that the fans wouldn’t react as intended. Luckily they did, especially through the story of Bret’s increasing desperation as the match went on.

Bret, being the genius that he was, knew that his getting cheers wouldn’t create the proper payoff, so he went into overt heel territory out of necessity to get the crowd 100% behind Bulldog. By the time the finish came about, the audience was desperate to see Bulldog win. And when he did, the reaction was absolutely nuclear. If nothing else, the crowd reaction to the finish made this match. They had eighty thousand fans screaming that their hometown hero won the then-still-prestigious Intercontinental Championship. It was a testament to how well the story and the match paid off. And the ending was an example of simple storytelling. All the struggle and Bret’s frustration ended with a sportsmanlike handshake. It was one of those grounded, respect-centric storylines that made for a nice breath of fresh air in WWE’s otherwise cartoonish and unrealistic universe.

Sadly, I wasn’t as mesmerized as others watching this match. While it was undeniably a great display of power vs. speed, I found some parts of the match lacking. The opening minutes involving the armwork were boring and meant nothing by the end. Bret spent a long time working Bulldog’s back but there was little payoff with it. And while I was indeed balanced as I mentioned earlier, it lacked raw tension and back-and-forth thanks to Bulldog being knackered. The match had some notable botches like Bulldog failing to catch Bret on the pescado and dropping him onto the ropes instead of to the floor. And Bret went back to the restholds many times in order to tell Bulldog what to do. Normally I can overlook so many control and rest segments in a single match, but not here. Not only was it blatantly obvious that they were talking to each other, but those holds kept stopping the progress and pace of the match. I’m not blaming Bret for this given the circumstances he had to deal with. But Bulldog might as well have been a warm body instead of a genuine challenger.

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Final Rating: ****1/4

I wanted to like this match, I really did. With all the great matches I’ve seen and all the praise I’ve heaped on other wrestlers and companies, I wanted to look back at this match and say, ‘wow, it’s a lot better than I thought.’ But I can’t. It might’ve been great for a WWE match at the time, but it just doesn’t hold up that well to time. Thirty years later and this is still a great match, but nowhere near historic levels of greatness. It was completely outclassed by other matches that took place around it, and in a vacuum it just didn’t age as well as I thought it would.

Though I generally disagree with Meltzer, this is one match where I sort of understand his position towards WWE’s style. This match was choreographed to hell with little sense of spontaneity or ad-lib. It was less a fight and more of a performance, with Bulldog being too messed up to remember his parts. That forced Bret to do the work of two men which, naturally, is never as good as when two wrestlers pull their weight equally.

Ultimately, I think this match will forever be remembered for its nuclear crowd and great story, but also for being a match that could’ve been much better.

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