Here is another instalment of a series of interviews with the legends of the squared circle. This time, we have a member of one of the most legendary families. As a member of the legendary Hart family, Smith Hart has made his own way in the wrestling business and continues to train people in the art of wrestling.
You come from the legendary Hart family, what’s it like carrying the Hart name?
Well, being a Hart was a source of pride long before Bret and Owen made our name synonymous with wrestling. Growing up in the shadow of my father, was always a special feeling, as we knew at an early age, our father was an important man that demanded respect. Being the son of one of the greatest wrestlers/trainers/promoters of all time, certainly always brought a smile to my face. Now as I’ve gotten much older, the name continues to demand respect globally which has helped me greatly with many opportunities and friendships that have been fostered.
Being trained by your father, the legendary Stu Hart, on and off in the infamous ‘Dungeon’ must have been some experience, what can you tell us about that?
I didn’t spend a tremendous amount of time directly in the basement with my father. I had been training down there on and off since I was a small child but I feel I didn’t truly begin to develop fully as a wrestler, until I went to Japan in the early 1970’s. Having said that, I can say training with my dad was always like a come-to-Jesus meeting, meaning you knew you were going to be getting schooled in an art that scarcely exists anywhere else.
You wrestled for, of course, Stampede. What are your memories of competing in Stampede Wrestling?
I had great times in the ring with such legendary figures as The Stomper Archie Gouldie, Abdullah The Butcher, Tor Kamata, Davey Boy Smith and The Dynamite Kid amongst many others but I do feel my best work came outside of Stampede. Not to say I wasn’t tremendously proud of the work my brothers were putting into Stampede or tremendously proud of the family promotion we had built also, because I was. I just found that as a wrestler, I had much more success in areas like Japan, England, Germany and Puerto Rico. I never aspired to be a wrestler though; my goals were always centred more into the backstage operation of the promotion, such as creative and production.
Aside from wrestling from Stampede Wrestling in Canada, you also travelled abroad to compete in Japan, England, Germany and the Netherlands. Are there any stories you can tell us about your times on the road, travelling to the next show?
I was the first in my family to meet and wrestle with both The Dynamite Kid and Davey Boy Smith. I think meeting and establishing a lifelong relationship with Wigan’s finest was fun. I enjoyed my time in the UK but I truly have enjoyed everywhere I’ve ever had the opportunity to visit, thanks to this incredible industry. I’ll never forget the time I partied and shared a hotel with Ric Flair in Hawaii. Without getting into details, we will just say the legends are true. There are many stories that will all be revealed one day, when I do get my book written.
In WWC (World Wrestling Council), you won the tag titles with your brother Bret, looking back, was that a great achievement?
It was a tremendous achievement, more for the foundation that Bret and I helped build with Carlos in Puerto Rico than anything. I ended up meeting the love of my life, my dear wife Maria in Puerto Rico. I later made it my home and together, Maria and I, raised our beautiful daughter Tania, who was born there, until Maria’s untimely passing. I still consider Puerto Rico my primary home and have fallen deeply in love with the majestic tropical paradise.
Without dwelling on Bret or Owen, what are your thoughts on WWE these days?
I think they have made tremendous strides in improving the quality of the business. No promotion ever has operated on a more professional level and they have brought a certain amount of distinguished pride to the once questionable industry of professional wrestling. On the other side, I am not tremendously fond of the overall creative direction and feel a lot of basic fundamentals are skipped over in favour of ridiculous scripting by ‘Hollywood Twinks’ that seem to entertain nobody aside from the old man himself. It’s pretty much been that way since Vince Russo was given an opportunity to destroy the business.
You opened a ‘Hart Brothers Wrestling School’, where you’ve trained many wrestlers, including the Highlanders (who were in WWE for a time) and more , what’s the proudest moment you’ve had from the talent that have passed through?
I think from a training perspective, my time working and training with Chris Benoit was the high point in training, as he was such a natural and I truly enjoyed working with him as a young protégé. On the other hand, working with my son Matthew who continues to be a source of inspiration has always made me incredibly proud. Although he has lacked focus to pursue wrestling beyond the fun of the local level, there is no greater pride I have in as a father than to pass down to him what my father passed on to me.
What is your opinion on the wrestling landscape today, do you still watch it?
I think the opportunity of the wrestling business is as grand, if not grander than it has ever been. The big problem, is that those with the resources to do something about it, have no clue how to do it properly and are unwilling to learn, while those that have the knowledge and passion to reinvigorate this business, do not have the available resources. On the North American scene alone, such remarkable available free agents such as Rey Mysterio, CM Punk, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, Harry Smith, Rob Van Dam, Alberto Del Rio and so many more. Imagine those names backed by a financial investor like Mark Cuban, on a network like Netflix producing, with a product being called by the likes of a Jim Ross and Mauro Ranallo with say Jim Cornette, Court Bauer or even myself and my brothers doing the booking in an old school NWA format.
I have no doubt, that with available resources, a product of that nature could immediately become a viable number 2 within a year and perhaps viable competition to WWE within 3-5 years.
Unfortunately, the North American landscape is filled with TNA, which is as clueless as an emu trying to fuck a duck. Ring of Honor, which is very good but lacks production or resources in its own right from its benevolent corporate backers. And of course, Lucha Underground, which is a niche of a niche of a niche product, meaning it can only possibly appeal to a small audience. It truly is sad, when you see a product as refined as New Japan’s recent Wrestle Kingdom pay per view and think of the possibility of what could be if the wrong corporate executives hadn’t greedily decimated our industry.
Do you still get the itch to get back into the ring?
Never. I never had the itch to begin with. I only wrestled to make a living because it was sourced to me relatively easily. As I said before, my passion always laid in the backstage production and creative sides.
What’s in store for the rest of the year?
I’m focusing on family at this stage of my life. I do plan on launching a podcast at some point but have encountered a few obstacles in terms of scheduling and production in launching it. I do still train some students from time to time.
Is there anything else you’d like to say, add or plug?
I’d always like to plug the fine people at the Cauliflower Alley Club in Las Vegas every year. Also, I’d like to plug my friend Tony Vellano and his crew that run the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in Amsterdam, New York. For anyone wanting to know the true history of pro wrestling, I encourage you to frequent these fine institutions, where you can spend a weekend interacting with the real legends that built this business.
Thanks to Smith for taking the time to participate in this interview.