JUNE 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 6
Vince McMahon and his WWF drop the ball with their plans for an alternate professional football league.
MARC CIAMPA, a native of St. Albert, Alberta, Canada is the staff sports writer for Renaissance Online Magazine. A student at the University of Alberta, Ciampa is the public relations coordinator for the St. Albert Saints and writes a weekly article in the Edmonton Sun on junior hockey during the winter. During the summer he runs the official Calgary Cannons website.
The news of Owen Hart's death on Sunday, May 23rd sent shockwaves throughout not only the wrestling world but also the world in general.
It was not because of where the death occurred - right in the middle of the wrestling ring - but the fact that it was completely unnecessary. Owen Hart, who grew up with wrestling in Calgary as his father Stu and brother Bret were both among the greatest wrestlers of their respective eras, was becoming disillusioned with the entire pro-wrestling scene. It was no longer about wrestling, it was about "sports entertainment" and this, unfortunately, is what killed Owen Hart.
His father ran a wrestling school in his basement since before Owen was born but at no time did Stu ever teach his prospective students how to lower themselves into a ring from eight stories high. Unfortunately, Vince McMahon had other ideas. People should have noticed that he was beginning to take things a little bit too far when wrestler Mick Foley (aka "Mankind") fought a cage match several months ago despite a separated shoulder. Another incident included Foley being body slammed from the top of a "cell" fifteen feet into the middle of the ring on a pile of thumbtacks. But it was simply written off as "extreme wrestling." The fans demanded - and got - more. More violence, more theatrics and more showmanship. Eventually, the sport once thought to be wrestling started to become Jerry Springer in tights. Unrecognizable to the man who spent countless hours teaching the finer technical aspects of the sport. A man who no longer has a son.
"He was born into the sport," said Stu, 83. "He was a pretty damn good amateur wrestler, a Canadian college champion. He was also an excellent professional wrestler."
But Stu, along with the rest of the Hart family believed that Owen may have been a sacrifice for Vince McMahon and his constant need to better his competition, World Championship Wrestling "Frankly, wrestling was getting so far out and my poor brother Owen was a sacrifice for the ratings," said Owen's sister Ellie.
Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, who has one of the most respected opinions in professional wrestling, agreed with this sentiment. "They have to go to greater and greater extremes to get the fans going," he said. "It used to be one guy hitting one guy with a chair. Now you have to set them on fire, you have to throw them off the balcony."
Owen's brother Bret, himself a top professional wrestler in the rival federation, said that Owen did not even want to do the stunt initially, "but somehow over the weekend he got talked into doing it again.
"We're professional wrestlers. We take our falls on the mat, inside the ring," he went on to say. "I was never a stuntman, and my brother Owen was never a stuntman."
"He got into the business to wrestle, not to dangle 100 feet off the ground," said Canadian veteran stunt man Steve Lucescu. "I read that he had done this stunt several times, but it's absolutely ridiculous to think that just because he did it several times he was qualified to do it. You might be a stunt performer for 10 years before you even get the chance of doing a big fall like this."
Absolutely, one of the key questions surrounding this incident has been why was Owen Hart forced to plunge eight stories from the roof of the arena into the middle of the ring when he is not a stunt man and has never been a stunt man. However, the most wildly debated topic has been, why did the WWF not cancel the event directly after Owen plunged to his death?
Without a doubt, professional wrestling involves a high amount of skill and expertise but one thing it is not is a true sport. The outcome is pre-determined, as simple as that. There is absolutely no harm - except financially - in stopping the show, refunding tickets to both the live and pay-per-view audience. What McMahon showed by allowing the show to go on - and further claiming Owen would have wanted it that way - was an absolute lack of class.
And, of course, lost in all of this was the man himself. Anyone who ever had the privilege to meet Owen Hart knew that he was as kind a man as you would ever meet. A devoted family man, Owen had hoped to retire at the end of the year when his WWF contract expired. He aspired to be a teacher so he could stay at home with his wife, Martha and two children, Oje, 7 and Athena, 3.
And now, thanks to the high-flying, high-risk ratings war that has become professional wrestling, a wife is left without her husband and two children are now without a father.
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