In August 1992, Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart and the late, great ‘British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith squared off in the main event of WWF SummerSlam in front of a record crowd of more than 80,000 fans at London’s Wembley Stadium.
These two men – then positioned as mid-carders by the World Wrestling Federation – were given the previously-unheard-of chance to headline this huge international event and to showcase their talents to a worldwide audience. What followed was more than 35 minutes of some of the greatest wrestling ever seen; a true masterpiece that demonstrated just how much of an artform wrestling can be.
Exactly 20 years, to the day, after that historic encounter first took place, I spoke with members of the Smith and Hart families – daughter of the British Bulldog, Georgia Smith; oldest brother of the Hitman, Smith Hart; son of the Bulldog and former WWE Tag Team Champion in his own right Harry Smith; and Diana Hart Smith – wife of Davey Boy, sister of Bret and the ‘third wheel’ in the bout – to find out what it was like to experience such an emotionally-charged affair.
Settle in and get set to take a trip down memory lane as we relive one of the greatest matches in wrestling history…
Two decades ago I watched my first ever professional wrestling bout. As an eight-year-old living in England, the WWF was going through an international boom-period at the time, as was evidenced by the fact that the entire Wembley Stadium sold out in just ten hours for SummerSlam, the first time that the world’s leading wrestling promotion had ever taken a major pay-per-view event out of North America. I knew a little about wrestling as a youngster – HulkaMania was hard to miss wherever you were in the world – but I had never actually seen a match.
So the fact that the first bout I ever saw ended up being perhaps the greatest match in the organisation’s history is either extremely lucky, or extremely unlucky, depending on the way that you look at it. Regardless, Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith’s classic encounter sparked a fire in me that has yet to be quelled, and is the one match that I will happily show to anyone who questions why I enjoy watching wrestling.
Why? Because, for me, it’s because it had it all: superb athleticism, an incredible atmosphere, and a good, strong storyline that blurred the lines between fiction and reality. The bout centred around a competitive rift that had formed between the two (real-life) brother-in-laws to find out who was the very best, with Diana caught in the middle between her husband and her brother:
“It was very real to me … there actually was a lot of tension in the family over the match, just like two runners competing in the same race” remembers Diana. “It was hard for the family to choose who to support. I say that sincerely.
This was a tremendous opportunity for both Davey and Bret. You have to understand that this was the very first pay-per-view that they [the WWF] had done without Hulk Hogan; this was the first pay-per-view that they did outside the US, and this was the first pay-per-view that they put the Intercontinental Title match for a main event, instead of a World Title match on a pay-per-view. I think a lot of guys didn’t think that my husband and brother could pull this off.
As incidental [as] I was to this match, the skills my family demonstrated for over 40 mins and the storyline (the family feud) just added to this match being perfect in all ways, in my opinion. I don’t think the fans really knew who was going to win. It wasn’t easy for them to decide who to hope for. It was Davey’s homeland and Bret was/is so popular there too, and I was a sympathetic person for the fans to get emotional with.”
In the fictional world of professional wrestling, it was a story that was very close to home – especially for Smith’s young children, Georgia and Harry, four and seven years of age respectively at the time:
“I didn’t really understand the magnitude or the level of it [at the time]“ recalls Georgia. “All I knew was that my dad was going to be wrestling Bret, and I remember I was like “Why are they fighting? Why can’t they get along?” I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen. One thing I knew for sure, was that this match was a BIG deal based on the tension and the promos on TV.
I didn’t understand the feud, but it made me sad a bit when I was little. I really believed that these two were going to fight and that it didn’t matter they were family, or that my Mom was in the middle. I didn’t want them to hurt each other; I especially did not want Bret to hurt my Dad, and I didn’t know why Bret was challenging my Dad. I really believed it, and no-one let on that it was fictional. It was very real to me.”
As many wrestling fans will know, the very fact that the match took place at all, let alone went on to become one of the greatest encounters in the history of the sport, is a true testament to the abilities of both men competing in the ring that night. Several months prior to the match, Smith was hospitalised with a legitimate staph infection, and was unable to compete in the run up to the encounter.
“I was very worried about Davey’s knee and the match in general”, recalls Diana. “If one of them had seriously hurt the other one, in this case it was Davey’s knee that I’m mostly talking about, it would have been hard to get past that. I know wrestlers get hurt all the time, but Davey was just getting over the flesh-eating disease that just about finished him off. He was lucky that he didn’t lose his leg from it.
This was his first time [back] in the ring and no one knew if he was ready, but it was too important for Davey to not go through with it. He probably would’ve rather lost his leg and gone through with the match then not to have had the match at all. I don’t think anyone realized how serious it was, except Davey, me, and Davey’s doctor.”
For Georgia, of course, her father’s health was even more concerning, being so young at the time:
“I remember my Dad was sick in bed a lot, and I remember watching clips on TV, at my grandparents’ house in England, and seeing my Dad and Bret on TV cutting promos about the match, and I remember seeing my Dad look pumped and ready to fight on TV, and then he was sick in bed. I remember wondering if he was actually going to wrestle? I didn’t realize or know how many people were going to be attending and stuff – I was four!”
With Smith incapacitated and unable to prepare for the match alongside his opponent, it was up to seasoned veteran Hart to craft the match, and to call the action when the two were out in the ring. In his 2007 autobiography Hitman, Hart remembers the pressures that he faced on the night, guiding his opponent through such a high-profile bout, under the scrutiny of one of the largest audiences in company history:
“This [was] the test of my career … me calling out every single high spot for Davey, sometimes even the necessary facial expressions, helping him conserve what little stamina he had for a comeback that was still more than thirty minutes away.”
The WWF’s decision to capitalise on its growing European fanbase and shift the event to London resulted in ‘The British Bulldog’ being named the challenger for the coveted gold; according to Hart’s memoirs, he was originally scheduled to drop the belt to rising star Shawn Michaels, but hometown hero Smith was booked to square off against Hart to ensure maximum buy-in from the native market. What surprised many at the time, however, was the WWF’s decision to place what was sure to be a technically-sound bout for the organisation’s secondary title in the headline slot over and above seasoned main eventers ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior’s clash for the WWF Heavyweight Championship – a sizeable gamble given the health of the challenger leading up to the match.
Smith Hart, the oldest brother of Bret, recalls watching the match whilst living in Puerto Rico working for the WWC, and his family’s reaction to the bout back in Calgary:
“My family in Calgary were thrilled about Davey and Bret being on a national stage - I know my parents were very happy about that match getting the attention it deserved. Keep in mind that both Davey and Bret had competed against each other numerous times in the past as far back as when they were both still with us in Stampede, then revolutionizing the tag team division in the WWF in the late 80′s. So we all knew how good both of them were and the true potential of what was about to unfold.
By the time SummerSlam happened, both Bret and Davey were global superstars, and I think that the entire business saw a sense of pride because two of the best in the world were center stage. Was I surprised to see them headlining the show? No, because in the end, we all knew that Davey and Bret would put on a much better main event [than anyone else could do], and that their star power was much bigger in that market.”
In his autobiography, Bret Hart recollects conversations with Vince McMahon regarding whether or not they would be able to carry the main event of such a big show:
“I can promise you nobody will be able to follow us!” I’d said [to Vince]. And when I asked Vince whether he wanted me to run the finish past him, he told me, “I don’t want to know; surprise me.” I’d never, ever heard him say that to anyone else before – or after – but now I truly had no idea what surprises that match was likely to have in store.”
Put simply, this match was make or break time for both Hart and Smith. After spending years honing their craft in Calgary’s Stampede Wrestling, the pair had redefined the WWF’s tag team division with respective partners Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart and ‘The Dynamite Kid’ Tom Billington, and had both become established upper-mid-card performers – but this was their opportunity to show that they could deliver and carry a show, with the pressure on.
Few who watched the show at the time – either in attendance at Wembley Stadium or around the world via pay-per-view – will ever forget the incredible atmosphere for the match, as the challenger made his way to the ring, accompanied by Lennox Lewis, before a veritable sea of Union Jacks and fog-horns.
By contrast, the hugely-popular Hitman’s entrance was very unusual for the time period; a mixed response punctuated by a smattering of boo’s for the champion, who strode out confidently to the ring with a look of determination on his face despite the partisan crowd. Before the opening bell even sounded, it was clear that Davey Boy Smith was going to need more than just the sizeable home-field advantage to pick up the win in this encounter. Sitting in the packed arena, alongside sister Georgia, was seven-year-old Harry, who remembers the atmosphere in the stadium on the night:
“My mom was sitting down in the audience on the ground, and the rest of the family was sitting up top in the ‘Royal seats’ where the Queen goes to watch events. It was a little bit difficult watching the match because we were so high up, but I could certainly feel the intensity and atmosphere of the crowd. It was amazing.”
Georgia recalls a similar experience:
“I’ve never been to a wrestling event [since] that’s ever compared to that. That was larger then life, and I was captivated by the atmosphere. Experiencing that at four years old was incredible; I’ll never forget it. I was very lucky to have been alive and to have witnessed that match and that atmosphere. I’ve never felt anything like that. It’s hard to explain, just that feeling, that buzz from the audience.”
With the weight of the world – and the hopes of 80,000 fans – on his shoulders, there was clearly a lot of pressure on ‘The Bulldog’ to bring home the gold on the grand stage.
Following a tense staredown and shoving match between the two brothers-in-law, the bout kicked off with a collar and elbow tie-up and a show of power from the muscular challenger, before the champion took over with a barrage of side headlocks and small packages, showing to the world just why he was regarded as ‘The Excellence of Execution’.
In the early going, the agile Bulldog showcased his athleticism with a smooth escape from a hammerlock, and thenreally sent ‘The Hitman’ flying with a huge slingshot into the turnbuckle, as Vince McMahon, on commentary, noted that “perhaps The British Bulldog’s dream will come true tonight”.
Subsequent near-falls from Davey Boy drove the crowd into a frenzy, but after several minutes in the driving seat, the challenger was taken down by a knee-strike from Hart, resulting in a chorus of boo’s raining down on ‘The Hitman’, and the first glimmers of the babyface champion playing up the heel card to appease the crowd.
With Diana watching on pensively from ringside, the pace was slowed down as Hart applied a headlock, and then scouted The Bulldog’s offence, keeping him grounded as commentator Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan quipped: “They know they’re going to be here for a while … they know what’s at stake.”
The Hitman continued on the attack with, ironically, a high-powered bulldog to the challenger, before Davey Boy countered with a big slam from the top rope and a rare aerial attack, missing the wiley veteran Hart, who remained one step ahead, moving at the last minute. With the challenger on the outside, the Hitman went for an over-the-top-rope plancha on the challenger, only for the challenger not to catch him, leading to a nasty neckbreaker manueover, a move that both men were very lucky to escape from without serious injury.
On the outside, tempers spilled over as the action took a turn for the worse, with The Hitman using the ring post as a weapon. Dominating the middle section of the match, Hart hit an ‘excellently-executed’ snap suplex, back breaker and second rope elbowdrop – all moves that would become established parts of Hart’s arsenal in the years to come.
After wearing The Bulldog down with a sleeper hold in the centre of the ring, Smith fed on the passion of the hometown crowd to power back, straddling The Hitman painfully on the middle rope and then quickening the pace with a succession of running clotheslines. By this point, every fan in attendance was on the edge of their seat for the action unfolding before them, as Heenan, on commentary, astutely summarised what everyone was thinking: “What a match! I don’t care who wins!”
To the joy of the crowd, The Bulldog hit his patented standing vertical suplex on Hart, following that up with ahard Irish whip to the buckle and his running powerslam finisher in the centre of the ring – but only getting a two-count, the first time that anyone had ever kicked out of the move in a WWF ring.
With both men exhausted, The Hitman hit a perfect german suplex for a close near-fall, closely followed by a top-rope superplex from Smith. After a double running clothesline took both men down, ‘The Hitman’ wrapped up Smith’s legs for his Sharpshooter submission, turning him over in the centre of the ring. Returning the favour from moments previously, The Bulldog managed to escape Hart’s finishing move by grabbing the bottom rope, as Diana cheered on with tears visible in her eyes.
Staying on the offensive and with momentum on his side, The Hitman set up The Bulldog for a sunset flip pinning attempt centre-ring, but, to the shock of the crowd, the move was countered into a cradle pinfall from Smith and, with nowhere to go, referee Joey Morella counted the champion’s shoulders to the mat for the 1…2…3.
What followed was a crowd reaction the likes of which you may never hear again.
“Me, Harry, and the rest of the Smith’s sat WAY up in the nose bleeds, so you couldn’t really tell what was going on!” remembers Georgia. “It was like two polly pockets wrestling each other, with THOUSANDS of fans around the ring …. I remember that I knew my dad won when ‘Rule Britannia’ played and I remember the crowds reaction, (which by the way, is the biggest pro wrestling pop ever on YouTube!). The power my Dad had along with Bret, and the audience [reaction] was, and is, amazing. I had goosebumps then, and I get goosebumps now when I see my dad get the pin, and the crowd shoots up and cheers.”
No music played as over 80,000 British fans cheered in unison, creating one of the loudest pops in wrestling history as the official announcement was made, naming ‘The British Bulldog’ Davey Boy Smith the WWF’s new Intercontinental Champion.
“It was a really great moment, and probably my father’s biggest accomplishment throughout his amazing career”, says Harry. “When the three count did in fact happen, I couldn’t quite see who was pinned in the sunset flip reversal especially since we were so high up. There was a huge Bret Hart following too, so I wasn’t sure who had won [at first]. It was so loud I couldn’t even hear myself think! So I had to wait for the official word from Howard Finkel and even more excitement came as I heard my father won the Intercontinental title.”
“I think my Dad felt relieved [at the end of the match]” adds Georgia. “He was emotional and actually didn’t believe what happened, what he accomplished, or that HE had won. I could only imagine how he felt, what was going on in his mind, or the feeling he got when he won the Intercontinental Title, in his home country, in front of over 80,0000 people. He did it. He did what seemed impossible for that company at that time and more. The crowd’s reaction to his win was incredible as well. Everyone in that stadium played a part in creating that masterpiece of a match.”
But the drama wasn’t yet over. As Smith stood in the middle of the ring, clutching his newly-won gold, a disbelieving Hart sat, head in hands, swallowing what had just taken place, and then prepared to leave the ring, not congratulating his brother-in-law’s victory. As the new champion offered his hand in friendship, Hart teased an exit to the ring – before embracing the Bulldog with a hug, to the ecstacy of the crowd as ‘Rule Britannia’ rang out loudly.
In one of the most iconic celebrations in the WWF’s history, Diana joined her husband and brother-in-law in the middle of the ring, embracing them both and raising their hands in victory as fireworks rained down overhead in Wembley Stadium. As the pay-per-view went off the air, the organisation’s owner Vince McMahon – no doubt delighted with his decision to put the bout on last – screamed on commentary: “What a SummerSlam … what a match-up!”. In an industry rife with hyperbole, for once, it was a statement that didn’t quite do justice to the action that had just taken place.
Following the match, both Davey Boy Smith and Bret Hart would go on to have long and storied careers in the World Wrestling Federation. ’The Hitman’ would quickly recover from his loss at SummerSlam to win his first World Title from ‘The Nature Boy’ Ric Flair, a belt that he carried with pride as the face of the company on five separate occasions for the next five years.
‘The Bulldog’, meanwhile, dropped the Intercontinental Championship to Shawn Michaels just two months after winning it at Wembley Stadium, and would shortly leave the Federation for a main-event run in WCW, before returning to the then-WWF in 1994 and staying with the company for the next three years, during which time he would have classic matches with the likes of Michaels, Owen Hart, and Bret once again – and would become the first-ever man to capture the WWF’s newly-created European Title following a deeply competitive tournament. But whilst Smith had many memorable moments during his career, his family agree that the match at SummerSlam 1992was his defining moment in the squared circle.
“After the match, he [Davey Boy] said his mind was blank and he wasn’t sure if he even won” recalls Diana. “He said to me in the dressing room, ‘Did I win? I’m sorry, but I don’t remember. My mind has gone blank.’ He had many highlights but this was his cloud 9 of highlights. This match to him was like the ‘Hey Jude’ song for the Beatles. Like, you never get tired of it and nothing can quite compare to it. I think that’s how Davey saw it too. That’s how I see it.”
“I think it was the proudest moment for my dad, and was the highlight of his career” adds Georgia. “If I have children, I will show them that match, and I want them to show their children that match, and so on. Show them how amazing their Grandfather was, what a performance he put on that night, and what a proud legacy my dad left behind.”
Of course, the legacy of the bout extends beyond praise from fans and peers – the true legacy lies in the family that watched the bout, specifically Harry ‘DH’ Smith, who would go on to become one-half of the WWE Tag Team Champions, The Hart Dynasty. Did he ever believe, watching that match, that he would one day go on to follow in his father’s footsteps?
“Yes – with hard work and passion [I believed] it could be done. I never did wrestle on a SummerSlam though, unfortunately” [Smith was released from his WWE contract in 2011].
Harry remembers the hero’s welcome that his father received in England:
“I remember [after the show] we went back to Golbourne where my Dad was originally born for about five days. The whole town was stoked about one of their people winning such a prestigious championship.”
Twenty years on, Smith and Hart’s classic match-up still lives on in the hearts and minds of fans around the world as one of the greatest examples of story-telling that the industry has ever seen, and also has now achieved a new honour, being named WWE.com’s greatest SummerSlam match of all time.
“I think it’s the greatest match of all time. EVER. In my opinion!” says Georgia. “I think it’s great and only right that that match is in fact named as the greatest SummerSlam match of all time; WWE has given credit where it’s deservingly due. There’s no topping that match. That match will never get old, it is timeless. It’ll go down in wrestling history as the best. I’m so proud of my dad and of Bret for that match.”
The oldest son of Stu and Helen, Smith Hart also agrees with WWE.com’s verdict on the match:
“Not only is it easily the greatest match in SummerSlam history, it certainly would rank as one of the greatest matches in all of WWE history.”
For Diana, who was, of course, so close to both the action in the ring and the story which surrounded the match-up, Bret and Davey Boy’s battle will always hold a special place in her heart:
“I’m glad to hear WWE has given it that kind of recognition – it means a lot to me” comments Diana.”They made a good choice in letting the match happen, and for rating it the best SummerSlam match of all time. I’ll always be grateful to the company for letting it happen the way it did, and I’ll always be grateful to Bret and Davey and the families. What an honor it was for me to be a part of … I’m just as captivated watching it now as I was then. I see different things in it all the time, and I get very emotional and overwhelmed with pride, still twenty years later. I want to give thanks to the fans as well for making the match what it was.”
But perhaps it is the Hitman’s recollection on the WWE’s recently-released Hart & Soul: The Hart Family Anthology boxset that is the best demonstration of just how much of an impact the bout had on both families:
“As an artist you have the ability to [create] one of the greatest movies of all time, and in a lot of ways that was one of my greatest movies. I know that everybody in my family was proud of me, proud of Davey, proud of where we’d come from … it was one of those incredible moments that wasn’t just for me and Davey but it was for the whole family.”
For me, if that match had never taken place, it’s likely that I wouldn’t be sitting here now, 20 years on, as an ardent fan and frequent defender of the world of professional wrestling. Over the twenty years that followed, wrestling has brought many memorable moments, an abundance of jaw-dropping action and surprises, and many breath-taking championship wins but, for me personally, nothing has ever come close to the story that was told between two men on that night in Wembley Stadium. And that is a legacy worth celebrating.