Mr. Tito Presents... WHAT IF Owen Hart Didn't Die at WWE Over the Edge 1999?
By Mr. Tito
May 26, 2014 - 12:45:31 PM
Follow Mr. Tito on Twitter.com: @titowrestling
15 years ago, the saddest day in pro wrestling occurred. At the Over the Edge Pay Per View on May 23rd, 1999, Owen Hart died from a harness malfunction when he was supposed to enter the ring from the rafters of the Kemper Arena. Owen Hart was presently wrestling under his Blue Blazer gimmick and he was set to actually wrestle the Godfather for the Intercontinental Title. The Blue Blazer gimmick was brought back as a comedy act as his catchphrases would mock Hulk Hogan with "say your prayers, take your vitamins, and drink your milk" while deploying from the rafters was meant to mock Sting's entrance.
Owen tested the rafter jump on the day of the event, and despite some hesitation told to his wife, Owen never debated WWE management on the Blue Blazer gimmick or its creative direction. Reportedly, Owen Hart returned to his Blazer gimmick, per Vince Russo's creative lead, after he refused to be in a "love triangle" storyline with Jeff Jarrett and Debra. Owen and Jarrett were tagging at the time and it was Vince Russo's idea to create a conflict between the tag team members with Debra. Owen Hart, a proud family man, objected to the storyline and Russo brought back the Blue Blazer as "something to do" for Owen Hart. Blazer used to be a high flying midcard act during the late 1980's in the WWF but became a comedy act during 1999. With the Monday Night Wars still limping along between WWE and World Championship Wrestling (WCW), Blazer was used to openly mock Hogan/Sting who were still hanging on at WCW.
At Over the Edge, the harness failed and Owen fell 78 feet from the rafters to the ring. Worse yet, Owen caught the ropes on the way down and causes his body to snap. He died from internal bleeding from the landing. In what remains a controversy to this day, the WWE made the call to continue the Pay Per View. To the fans watching at the Kemper Arena, many thought that it was a dummy that hit the ring and not a real person. Pay Per View fans, however, were filled in by Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler providing updates. WWE did NOT air Owen's fall from the rafters because the show was on tape delay. Later in the night, Jim Ross officially announced that Owen Hart did in fact pass away.
The reactions poured in from fans and wrestlers... Owen was a beloved wrestler by fans. He was never allowed to have a Main Event run but most everyone enjoyed the "King of Harts" on the midcard. He provided great entertainment on the midcard whether it was being against his brother Bret, being proud of winning Slammy Awards, or his great tag teams with Yokozuna and British Bulldog. He was awesome as a heel and was a solid in-ring competitor. Among wrestlers, he was one of the favorites backstage. If you watch the RAW following Over the Edge PPV, wrestlers are torn up. They loved him as a friend, admired him as a family man, and loved his pranks/ribs. Worse yet for the WWE and the Harts, Owen's death caused an even larger divide not only with WWE and Bret Hart, but internal conflicts with the Hart family itself. Bret Hart, in particular, was "screwed" at Survivor Series 1997 and now the same promotion killed his brother?
But WHAT IF Owen Hart didn't die on May 23rd, 1999 at the Over the Edge Pay Per View?
In other words, his jump as the Blue Blazer was successful and then continuous jumps thereafter were also successful. What would happen in the WWE and to the pro wrestling industry if Owen Hart was still alive? The answer is more complicated than you'd expect because his existence not only affects WWE, but WCW as well...
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Owen Hart surviving the rafter jump "saves" WCW, but it changes a few significant events. First and foremost, the "Owen Hart Tribute Match" between Bret Hart and Chris Benoit on October 4th, 1999 at the Kemper Arena, the same arena where Owen died. Bret and Benoit wrestled to a 30 minute classic that drew a strong ratings number that made WCW management take notice. It assured WCW officials that Bret Hart still had something left in the tank and that Chris Benoit could be a serious player as well. This match was very important to both careers and does NOT happen if Owen Hart is still alive. Bret Hart would probably remain in the spotlight and in the WCW Title picture, given that he was willing to work for Vince Russo, but this match really helped Bret Hart get sympathy from the fans almost 2 years after WWE trashed him at Survivor Series 1997.
And who knows? If Bret Hart doesn't wrestle the Kemper Arena WCW Nitro match on 10/4/99, does Vince Russo (who I'm assuming still gets burnt out during 1999 and jumps to WCW around the same time) want to book Bret Hart vs. Bill Goldberg at Starrcade 1999? Remember, that was the event where Bret's head took 2 hard shots. The first was on the Figure 4 around the ring post where Bret's head hit the concrete floor hard while the second was the superkick delivered by Bill Goldberg. If Bret Hart is able to avoid Bill Goldberg at that show, the concussions problems that ended Bret's career do not exist. We could have seen Jeff Jarrett vs. Bill Goldberg instead if Bret didn't have momentum from the Kemper Arena Nitro match. Bret could have wrestled a few more years unless Russo and WCW management had long-term plan of Bret vs. Goldberg all along for Starrcade 1999. We'll never know because Russo always thought short-term instead of long-term.
Thus, if Bret remains healthy, Vince Russo might keep his first role as lead WCW writer for a bit longer. Remember, it was heading into the WCW Souled Out 2000 Pay Per View that caused Russo major problems. Bret Hart and Jeff Jarrett were both hurt for the show and it put the show in complete turmoil. Desperate to impress AOL/Time Warner and other WCW officials, the idea of having Tank Abbott win the WCW was submitted by Russo. Ratings were starting to really tumble through early 2000 and WCW management had enough. Russo was removed as lead writer and Kevin Sullivan was put in his place. Sullivan's promotion caused Chris Benoit and his loyal friends (Eddie Guerrero, Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko) to demand their immediate releases to watch the idiots at WCW granted their wishes. They joined the WWE as the "Radicalz" and helped thicken up the midcard for that awesome roster.
But if Bret Hart remains healthy, maybe Vince Russo doesn't get demoted during January 2000? Therefore, there exists a possibility that in this alternative timeline with Owen Hart still alive, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, and Perry Saturn do NOT jump to the WWE as early as they did and debut on January 31st, 2000. Russo's demise was probably around the corner, as WCW's death was already in the making with the expensive contracts signed from 1996-1998 and their pure inability to create brand new stars to replenish the talent pool (WWE was not impressed with their developmental system wrestlers during March 2001). Eventually, even in this alternative timeline, WCW still dies sometime during 2001. The bigger discussion is movement of talent and Bret Hart. Chances are that many contracts would come up during 2000 and many of the WCW wrestlers who would join the WWE would eventually jump ship anyway. With Bret Hart, though, he could have mended fences with the WWE soon after 2001. Bret was very involved with Owen's widow's lawsuit against the WWE and it caused an extended rift between the WWE and Bret. If Owen Hart is still alive, Bret may want to rejoin his brother in the WWE...
Now that a different part of the pro wrestling world is out of the way, let's discuss World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) from 1999 and beyond. What happens to the "King of Harts" if he's still alive?
The real question is this: how long does Owen Hart wrestle? He was notorious for being extremely frugal with his money and while saving and investing it for the future. It's almost like he was preparing to retire early... BUT he and his wife Martha Hart bought a pretty big house that they were about to move into before Owen's death. Chances are that Owen would either have to (a) finance that house with credit or (b) if Owen paid for it with cash, he'd have to replenish it with a few more years in the WWE. He was 34 years old when he passed away and had plenty of peak wrestler years left in the tank. Additionally, the WWE grew stronger during 1999 with sold out arenas, big Pay Per View paydays, and 1999-2000 was the peak of the "Attitude Era". The potential for higher earnings was there for Owen to stick around for a few years. If Bret Hart does in fact return to the WWE during or after 2001, Owen may stick around longer. Many wrestlers stay in the spotlight until their early 40's... Owen had 6 years to make it to 40 which means he could have wrestled through at least 2005?
Had Owen survived, he's still the Blue Blazer during 1999 for the time being. I figure that this comedy act runs its course in a few months and then Owen possibly snaps to become heel Owen Hart again. If so, I have his sights directly on Steve Austin. If you recall during late Summertime, the whole Corporate Ministry fizzled out and the WWE was seeking new opponents for Austin. Reportedly, Jeff Jarrett was to be one of the opponents that Vince Russo pushed but Austin refused. This helped Jeff Jarrett easily jump to WCW soon thereafter with Russo. The WWE then began with a feud with Triple H. As you'll recall, Austin had problems putting Triple H over as champion. See SummerSlam 1999 when Mick Foley was randomly inserted into Triple H vs. Steve Austin and then Foley won the Title only to lose shortly thereafter to Triple H.
The reason I say Austin is that his neck was bothering him during the home stretch of 1999 and doctors were advising WWE officials that surgery was needed. If you'll recall, Owen Hart broke Austin's neck at SummerSlam 1997 when a Tombstone Piledriver went wrong. Could the WWE go back to that well and do an injury angle with Owen Hart instead of the goofy angle where Rikishi hit Austin with a car ("I did it") with Triple H pulling the strings? Maybe Owen Hart could have been the driver in some kind of cruel twist and it gives Austin the perfect opponent for his eventual 2000 return from injury. To suggest this, it would require Owen Hart to be a HEEL from late 1999 through much of 2000...
Owen Hart's success would depend on Triple H, in all honesty... The Game ruled the WWE during late 1999 and much of 2000. HHH and the Rock filled the void that an injured Steve Austin left and they filled it well. The Rock was the only wrestler during 2000 that could get the better of Triple H. Wrestlers like Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, and Chris Benoit put up great fights with Triple H but could never beat him. Would Triple H be generous to Owen Hart? I think so... All indications were that Triple H and Owen Hart were friendly and HHH was very emotional for Owen's death. Many wrestlers who had heat with Bret Hart, Triple H included, seemed to easily separate their disgust for Bret away from Owen. Most admired Owen for fulfilling his WWE contract despite what happened at Survivor Series 1997. Owen and Triple H did decent business at Wrestlemania 14 and I believe HHH might remember that for a future 2000 feud. HHH seems loyal to the wrestlers who helped him on the way up.
Owen's in-ring influence would have been his biggest asset to the WWE during 2000, however. In my opinion, Chris Benoit was a bad influence on wrestlers such as Kurt Angle. While Benoit's impactful style made for many great matches, it proved to not allow for longevity. Chris Benoit's style had him acting as a bump machine for everyone while taking high impact moves, such as the flying headbutt. Furthermore, Benoit pushed things like doing multiple German suplexes which does nothing but damage to necks in the end. Kurt Angle was an ongoing student of Chris Benoit and Angle has credited Benoit for his style. However for Angle, it's led to ongoing neck problems and probably led him to various substances to help him endure the pain. Could you imagine if Owen Hart, instead of Benoit, had a bigger influence on Kurt Angle? Better yet, could you imagine Owen Hart acting as an influence for Chris Benoit?
Owen wrestled a much safer style in the ring and knew how to execute high impact moves perfectly. Honestly, I cannot recall a time period where Owen Hart was out for an extended period of time. He knew how to work a match and didn't have to rely on sacrificing his body to do so. Kurt Angle was born with talent to entertain as a strong personality and didn't need to wrestle like Chris Benoit to survive. In fact, wrestling like Benoit limited his growth in the WWE because he repeatedly had to take time off for neck surgeries. If Benoit doesn't jump to the WWE during January 2001 (see above WCW explanation of events) or if Owen has a bigger influence on wrestlers than Benoit, Kurt Angle becomes a better and healthier wrestler. Plus, Owen Hart's life as a family man could also have a major influence on Angle to avoid legal issues. Angle was looking for a teacher when he debuted during 1999 to soak up as much wrestling knowledge as possible... Should have been Owen.
As a teacher, he could have polished Chris Jericho's high flying abilities as well. In fact, matches between Owen Hart and Chris Jericho would have been excellent. Both had similar styles and backgrounds and probably would have worked hard together on executing great matches. The matches between Owen and Chris Benoit would be sick. To have Owen's safer yet effective style rub off on Benoit could be a benefit to his career and his life. Eventually, Owen would have worked with Edge and Christian in the same way. Edge, Christian, and the Hardys became too dependent on high risk moves during the TLC matches. Consequently, Owen's death did NOT stop the WWE from letting Hardys, Edge/Christian, and Dudleys perform high risk spots. At the very least, Owen could have taught them balance between wrestling instead of relying fully on high risk for their matches. And again, Owen's influence as a veteran who could properly balance WWE life and family life would have been nice to have around.
For 2001, when the WWE was seeking a babyface wrestler to face Triple H/Steve Austin after Wrestlemania 17, look no further than the "King of Harts". Owen would have been a perfect replacement for Chris Benoit to allow for Chris Jericho/Owen Hart as the HHH/Austin opponents instead. The timing could have been right for a strong babyface push for Owen Hart, particularly since Chris Benoit wasn't exactly ready for the main event spotlight as a draw. Benoit could more than wrestle a match with anyone at the top but his reactions were never there due to his height and lack of personality. Owen and Jericho both had personalities that could have challenged HHH/Austin with some great promos to hype various Pay Per Views or RAW matches during that time. Benoit/Jericho's team put the focus on workrate and nothing else. Sure, it gave us some great matches but nothing long-term. Imagine if Owen could proudly tell a HEEL Steve Austin in 2001 that "Owen 3:16 says I BROKE YOUR NECK".
Then, the ECW/WCW Invasions of 2001. Quite possibly, Bret Hart could join the WCW Invasion with the bitter feelings of Survivor Series 1997 almost being 4 years old and Owen Hart still being employed with WWE. The WWE could add the Montreal component to the Invasion by having Owen turn heel on the WWE to join the WCW/ECW Alliance. Owen could easily allude to Survivor Series 1997's screwjob as the reason he joined Team WCW/ECW and Team WWE could encourage fans to chant "nugget" at him. His response, again: "I AM NOT A NUGGET!". Little known fact... Owen Hart DID work for World Championship Wrestling during 1991. He could simply state that he was waiting for the perfect opportunity to "screw" the WWE.
After 2001, it's difficult to project... He could have been a good in-ring teacher for the Ohio Valley Wrestling "Class of 2002" wrestlers like Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton, Shelton Benjamin, Charlie Haas, Batista, and John Cena. Again, showing them the proper way to work while also showing them the proper balance between wrestling and family life. Also for 2002, the World Titles split into 2. Brock Lesnar made the WWE Title exclusive to the Smackdown brand while Triple H was crowned the first WWE World Heavyweight Champion for RAW. With 2 World Titles around, Owen Hart would have been World Champion. He could have had a brief reign during 2000 and maybe during 2001 if I was correct on my projections, but with 2 World Titles now around, the chances are greater. As you can see from the ridiculous amount of reigns that Triple H, John Cena, Randy Orton, and Edge mounted, there's no doubt that Owen could have at least 1 reign. Title inflation, baby!
Shawn Michaels made his in-ring return during 2002 and as a changed man as well with HBK as a born-again Christian and proud family man. With Owen Hart still around, you could imagine how tight Shawn and Owen would be. Both had families and Owen would have strengthened HBK as a person even further. As in-ring veterans, Owen and HBK could have tore a few houses down with matches. Remember, Owen Hart was the one who caused Shawn Michaels to pass out during their late 1995 RAW match when he delivered an enzuigiri (sp?) to the back of HBK's head. In truth, Michaels needed some time off after getting roughed up at a bar fight in Syracuse, NY. But Owen was cited in the storylines as the one who hurt HBK. Years later, Owen could have bragged that up and it could have formed a great revenge storyline. Plus, HBK was involved with Survivor Series 1997 and Owen could suggest that he's fighting for Bret. The stuff just writes itself for a perfect feud.
As the 2000's wore on, Owen would be older and certainly there to put over any of the new Ohio Valley Wrestling developmental call-ups. By 2005, as noted, he would have been 40 and probably saved enough money to retire. He would have been a no-brainer WWE Hall of Fame inductee, as he was anyway through 1999, and could have rode off into the Canadian sunset to enjoy the rest of his life. I wouldn't doubt that he would open up his own pro wrestling school or maybe become employed by WWE to help with the developmental system. He would be the perfect teacher in that he could show wrestlers how to safely execute moves and also to be a big influence on younger wrestlers as a role model. Bad times for the WWE were coming with the Wellness Policy yet to be installed and who knows if Chris Benoit would have still killed. Maybe Owen Hart could have helped Chris Benoit? Hard to project with Benoit as Eddie Guerrero's death reportedly sent him over the edge (no pun intended). Having another possible friend to talk to could have helped. Who knows?
If Owen Hart were still alive, he could have helped the WWE in many positive ways. For one, he could have added to the great depth of the 2000 year. Secondly, his influence could have helped shaped many wrestlers better both in the ring and outside of the ring. Third, Owen could have given the WWE another strong main eventer by having the right combination of in-ring ability and personality. When the Rock left the WWE during 2001 to film The Scorpion King following Wrestlemania 17, the WWE needed someone to step up in the main event scene. The team of Chris Benoit/Chris Jericho provided entertaining matches but were no match for the strong personalities of HHH/Austin. Even if HHH/Austin vs. Jericho/Benoit still happens and Triple H still destroys his quad muscle, someone would be needed to step up. After HHH was injured, the WWE was lost and rushed the WCW/ECW Invasion angle to fill the void. The botched WCW/ECW Invasion ended the "Attitude Era".
Owen Hart's death is pro wrestling's greatest tragedy, by far. He died on the WWE clock and it was not his fault other than saying "yes" to the dangerous stunt that he probably thought safety precautions were in place. Had Owen fought the Blue Blazer gimmick and/or doing ridiculous stunts with the character, he would be alive. But Owen said "no" to the Jeff Jarrett/Debra love triangle storyline and probably felt that the Blazer gimmick was the lesser of the evils to Owen as a family man. WWE should never force pro wrestlers to become Hollywood stuntmen and the carelessness of the stunt has caused the WWE Corporation to lose millions to the Hart family in lawsuit settlements. Worse yet, WWE took a great husband and a father away from his family. Furthermore, the WWE's role in Owen's death has disabled his fans from any WWE celebrations of Owen Hart such as DVD/Blu Ray collections of matches or the Hall of Fame induction. Owen's wife, Martha, has fought the WWE on any exploitation of Owen's likeness on WWE stuff.
Owen Hart should STILL be here. It's a crying shame that the WWE put Owen in a situation to die by a horrific accident. Wrestlers should perform in the ring, not leap from the rafters to land in the ring.
SO JUST CHILL... 'TIL THE NEXT EPISODE!
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