Why Bret Hart Ended His Wrestling Career

"I'm the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be." Those words dripping with bravado were spoken by legendary wrestler Bret "The Hitman" Hart after he won his first WWE championship by forcing Ric Flair into submission with his signature move, the Sharpshooter (as seen on YouTube). From that victory, The Hitman would go on what his official WWE bio calls a "stellar run" of wins: King of the Ring in 1993, Royal Rumble in 1994, and a triumph over Yokozuna at WrestleMania 10 that same year brought him the WWE title.

It was during this time that Hart began his notorious rivalry with the "Heartbreak Kid," Shawn Michaels, which culminated in the controversial 1997 Survivor Series match in which WWE owner Vince McMahon conspired to change the predetermined result of the match. In what went down in wrestling history as the "Montreal screwjob," McMahon had the official call that Hart had submitted (to his own signature move, no less) when he actually hadn't. The Heartbreak Kid went home with the title belt and the Hitman went home furious and dejected. He decided he'd had enough of the WWE and went over to wrestle in the competing WCW league, but never gained the same notoriety of his WWE days. He lasted a few more years in the pro wrestling game, but an unfortunate accident in the ring would finally bring an end to his career in 2000.

Not all wrestlers were as careful as Bret Hart was

According to the bio on Hart's official website, the Hitman wasn't the best of all time because of his strength, "but because in all those thousands of hard hitting action packed bouts — what Bret is really so prideful about is that he never actually hurt even one opponent." That precise technical skill is what earned him his other nickname: "The Excellence of Execution." Unfortunately, not all of his opponents were equally careful in the ring, and that carelessness would ultimately bring his illustrious career to a halt in December 1999.

The Hitman fought Bill Goldberg (pictured above) for the WCW World Championship at the Starrcade event. As they neared the end of the match, Goldberg threw Hart into the ropes and when he came running back, the big bald guy kicked him straight in the head for real. (You can see a video of the devastatingly not fake boot to the face in a video posted to Daily Motion.) Hart suffered a severe concussion and was forced to stay out of the ring well into the 2000 season. He was fired later that year by the WCW, and soon after he decided it would be best to retire from the sport he loved so well. Considering that chronic traumatic brain injuries ended up causing the deaths of athletes of all physical contact sports — from football's Junior Seau to BMX's Dave Mirra – the decision was a wise one.

Bret 'The Hitman' Hart would make one final in-ring appearance a decade later

Despite the severity of the concussion, Hart faced what the Napanee Guide called his "toughest opponent" in June 2002, when he suffered a stroke while riding his bike through a park in his hometown of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The stroke temporarily paralyzed the left side of his body, but the Hitman bounced back and ended up becoming a spokesperson for the March of Dimes Canada's Stroke Recovery Program. He even recovered well enough to return to the ring in 2010, where he faced down his all-time rival Shawn Michaels one last time. Hart won the match, exacting revenge for the Montreal screwjob, and proved to the wrestling world that he truly is "the best there ever will be."

In May 2019, Hart spoke at a neuroscience symposium in Columbus Ohio about his experience with head injuries during his time as a wrestler. The Columbus Dispatch reported how Hart recalled the moment just before that career-ending match with Goldberg, a wrestler known for injuring opponents in the ring. "One of the last things I said to Bill before I walked out to the ring was, 'Don't hurt me,'" said the Hitman. "I wish he heard me a little better."

But Hart isn't down for the count. His website says he's "exploring new adventures" like musical theater, has written a "critically acclaimed" autobiography, and is working on a romance novel.