This week, we’re taking a look at one of the greatest matches in wrestling history: Bret Hart vs The British Bulldog for the Intercontinental Title at SummerSlam ’92.
Even in 2020, SummerSlam ’92 remains one of WWE’s most successful pay-per-views. It drew an attendance of over 80,000 – despite taking place at Wembley Stadium in England – the second highest attendance record in WWE at the time (the first being WrestleMania III in 1987) and the fourth highest attendance record in WWE history. It remains the only major WWE pay-per-view to have taken place outside of North America.
In addition to breaking records, the show itself was stellar in every way possible. Shawn Michaels fought Rick Martel for the affection of Sensational Sherri, Ultimate Warrior defeated Randy Savage for the WWF World Heavyweight Title– in what should have been a cocaine-on-a-pole match– and Undertaker defeated Kamala. Interestingly, all of these matches ended in non-finishes (two countouts and one disqualification), but nonetheless the matches were still entertaining (take note modern WWE).
But the biggest spectacle of the night was the country’s own British Bulldog taking on Bret Hart for the Intercontinental Championship. The match was confirmed the month before SummerSlam took place, although the original plan was for Hart to drop the belt to Shawn Michaels at the event, but Bret pitched the idea of losing it to Bulldog first since his win would get a huge pop in his home country.
Additionally, the match was originally scheduled to go on before Ultimate Warrior vs Macho Man, but Bret personally convinced Vince McMahon that he and Bulldog should headline. It was the first time under the WWE banner that the IC Title went on above the Heavyweight Title, something which wouldn’t happen again in confirmed singles competition until Extreme Rules 2018.
While Hart is known as one of the best technical wrestlers and ring-psychologists in history, it’s the little things (like the above story of convincing McMahon to swap the card) that make him deserved of his “legend” status. Bret saw an opportunity to capitalize on a unique circumstance, create a fantastic story, and put someone else over in the process.
The build-up to the match was nothing short of a masterclass. Bulldog and Bret were brother-in-laws in real life as Bulldog was married to Bret’s sister, Diana. The storyline incorporated this real-life connection, claiming that the SummerSlam match was allegedly causing all manner of tension within the Hart and Smith families.
Outside of kayfabe, something similar was happening. In the weeks leading up to the SummerSlam match, Bulldog had developed something of a drug dependency. Bret had attempted to track down Bulldog several times in the days before they were due to fly to England to piece their match together, but Bulldog was nowhere to be found. Instead, he had been… indulging with Jim Neidhart.
The day they left for England was a similar story. Bret called up Jim and was told that he’d just taken Bulldog to the airport – but he was as high as a kite. Bret, ever the perfectionist, was wracked with concern that their match in two nights would be a trainwreck. Vince McMahon, likely aware of Bulldog’s drug issues, asked Bret that if he was sure he could pull off a main event-level match with a possibly-intoxicated Bulldog. Bret assured him they’d be fine.
It wasn’t until their entrance rehearsals the day before the event that Bret finally ran into Bulldog for the first time in weeks. When Bret challenged him as to why he’d been avoiding him, Bulldog broke down and confessed that he’d spent the past few weeks getting high. Bret promised him they’d make it through the match and went through every spot several times. Fortunately, Bret had been piecing everything together himself ever since their match was announced – another testament to his dedication and ability.
Evening set in overhead, casting a darker hue over Wembley Stadium. Bulldog came out to the notes of Rule Britannia, receiving the loudest pop of the night. He was accompanied by boxing legend Lennox Lewis. Bret followed to a similar ovation, but it was clear whose side the crowd was on.
The match began slow with some classic technical maneuvers. But within minutes, while Bulldog was stuck in Bret’s headlock, he whispered the now-famous line:
“Bret, I’m fooked.”
Bulldog was clearly struggling, unable to remember the sequences he’d been over with Bret beforehand. Bret leaned into him and told him he’d carry Bulldog through the match so long as he followed his lead.
If you’ve ever wanted to watch someone wrestle themselves, watch this match from the five-minute mark onwards. For the rest of the 25-minute bout, Bret does absolutely everything. He later went on to say “every time Davey picked me up, I went up like a feather. He went up for me like a full refrigerator.”
Watching the match back with this knowledge, it became clear that Bret did all of the heavy-lifting. However, to the untrained eye, Bret and Bulldog put on a classic match worthy of its lore.
The match gradually escalated, moving from spot to spot, but doing so in a logical fashion. Bret called every sequence in Bulldog’s ear but never once made it obvious. Halfway through the match, Bulldog picked up the momentum and worked up to hitting his finisher, The Running Powerslam. He hit it, but to the shock of all 80,000-plus in attendance, Bret got the shoulder up. Back in 1992, most major finishers were highly protected, so you knew something special was about to go down.
After a brutal Superplex, Bret and Bulldog smoothly transitioned into the finishing sequence of the match. Bret locked Bulldog into the Sharpshooter while they both lay on the ground – a unique spot which I personally don’t remember ever seeing again. Bret turned Bulldog over, but Bulldog managed to crawl to the ropes and break the submission. It marked the first time in history that someone had escaped the Sharpshooter.
Time to go home. Bulldog whipped Bret off the ropes and Bret jumped in for the sunset flip. However, he couldn’t get the full rotation, and so Bulldog dropped down and cradled Bret’s legs. One, two, three. New Intercontinental Champion. Bret got the inspiration for this finish from WWC and Stampede wrestler Leo Burke, and it has since been used numerous times for someone to steal a win while keeping the loser looking strong (Cody Rhodes stole the finish for his match with Nick Aldis at All In).
Bulldog celebrated in the ring with his teary-eyed wife Diana. Bret sold it like a master actor, refusing to shake Davey’s hand when he offered it to him. However, as we all knew he would, he eventually yielded and the two embraced in a brotherly (in-law) hug.
The match has gone down in history as being the best match under the SummerSlam banner. It was an important match for WWE as a whole as this was the first Big Four pay-per-view since Hogan’s departure, so it was crucial for WWE to show they could still put on entertaining shows without his involvement.
On a personal note, I actually attended this show as a wee 5-year-old. I’d be lying if I said I remembered the entire event, but I do remember the incredible number of Union Jack flags being waved around after Bulldog’s win. It’s just a shame he didn’t really deserve it.
The bout received 4.25 stars from Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Bret has since called it his favorite match of all time.