‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper vs Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart
Intercontinental Championship Match – WrestleMania VIII (1992)
What separates the great wrestling matches from good ones is the ability to stand the test of time – and to become enriched as time passes and the context deepens. This is very much the case with Bret Hart and Roddy Piper’s match for the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania VIII, under the glow of the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis.
I remember watching this at the time as a huge fan of Hart. I’d followed his rise from a hugely proficient tag team wrestler (as part of the Hart Foundation) to becoming a star in his own right.
But a hero, of course, is only as good as their antagonist, and Piper was one of the very best. Antagonists are most effective when there are shades of grey, and Piper is arguably the best ever at being the guy people loved to hate. Indeed, there were as many fans pulling for Piper in the Hoosier Dome – and no doubt in homes around the globe – as there were behind Bret Hart’s compelling underdog tale.
The scene was set for a compelling match and these two all-timers didn’t merely deliver – they absolutely nailed it, making the match an instant classic.
Like a great action movie, there’s an economy to the storytelling and the action. The stakes are clear and high, the characters are truly compelling, and their relationship only adds to the tension. Also like a great action movie, it’s short and to the point. It’s the wrestling equivalent of an 80-minute action classic. From the wrestlers’ entrances to the moment the belt is awarded to the winner, the match clocks in at less than 20 minutes – and a hell of a lot is packed into that time.
Both Hart and Piper were skilled wrestlers, and both were capable of delivering compelling matches, so pairing them together to provide a launching pad for Hart’s career was a great piece of booking. What took it to the next level was the risks Hart and Piper took to make the match stand out – adding blood at a time when bleeding was banned in the WWF, and pretending it was an accident so neither got in trouble with top brass. There’s some great storytelling too when Piper threatens to hit Hart with the ring bell but backs down – he can’t go all the way to the dark side.
The only thing about the match that I’m conflicted on is the soft ending; the crafty roll-up Hart uses to pin Piper doesn’t sit right on re-watch. I get that having Piper submit to the Sharpshooter would have been a bit much and didn’t play into the underdog element. But Piper seemed too wily a veteran to fall for such a move. Still, Piper wrapping the belt around Hart’s waist post-match is a tremendous moment between wrestlers who were close friends in real-life.
It’s harsh to say that they don’t make them like they used to, as there’s tremendous talent on display in current WWE, but Hart vs Piper had everything going for it and happened at the exact right time, which is why it stands out as one of the greatest matches of all time.
Glen Chapman @GlenTChapman