This post is a long time coming, but luckily nostalgia knows no boundaries, ha, ha.
A while back, I heard a Stone Cold Steve Austin podcast during which he interviewed Bret “Hitman” Hart. It was a great discussion between two of the biggest WWE stars ever. A surprise came, however, when Austin brought up a match Hart fought against Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat in the old Boston Garden.
The match took place on March 8, 1986, just a few weeks before WrestleMania 2. A huge crowd of 16,000-plus fans was in attendance in Boston that night.
Hart had been in the WWF for about a year and was hitting his stride with Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart as the Hart Foundation tag team. Steamboat was already one of the top performers in wrestling in the midst of his first WWF run after making his mark in the NWA.
Austin told Hart he caught his bout on YouTube. “Man, that was a hellacious match,” Austin said. “And just the work itself … the tightness, the snugness. You guys weren’t potating each other. I’m just talking about good, solid work.”
The match started right off with one of Hart’s explosive chest-first bumps into the turnbuckles off a whip by Steamboat. There were a lot of great exchanges between the guys, including one in which Steamboat came off the ropes, got punched in the gut by Hart, and then continued across the ring and clear through the ropes to the floor.
“When I watched you in the ring, you can watch it today, tomorrow, 20 years from now — that is reality,” Austin said of Hart’s work. “That is what professional wrestling is supposed to be.”
Hart provided some great behind-the-scenes background to the match with Steamboat. In the weeks prior, the two athletes received the news that they would fight at WrestleMania 2, so they got booked in dry-run matches in Boston and Washington to get comfortable with each other, Hart told Austin.
“The beauty of that match [in Boston] is that we never worked with each other before,” Hart said. Ironically, earlier that night in the Boston Garden’s dressing room, Hart found out the Steamboat match was off at Mania; Bret was instead in a battle royal, and Steamboat fought Hercules.
Hart ended up happy in hindsight because the Hercules match was short and a throwaway.
During the Boston match, referee Fred Sparta got taken out, which was kind of weird to see in a match that was not a main event (the big attraction that night was Hulk Hogan and Junkyard Dog vs. Terry and Dory Funk). With the ref down, Hart delivered his Hart Attack clothesline to Steamboat and covered him for the pinfall with no count.
Shortly after, Hart came off the ropes and hit Steamboat with a bodypress, which Steamboat rolled through on and got the pin.
In hindsight, you can tell the WWF brass was protecting Hart in the loss. Not only did he get the perceived pinfall when the ref was down, but later after the match ended, announcer Gorilla Monsoon put over Hart.
“The Hitman doesn’t have to feel bad about that loss,” Monsoon said. “The referee was knocked out of commission when the Hitman had the Dragon reeling … A lucky night in the Boston Garden for that man, Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat.”