Hype; a blessing and a curse in every profession, especially professional wrestling. When a wrestler lives up to the hype, it can make them immortal; when a wrestler doesn’t, it can turn them into a joke. For many wrestling fans out there, the rise and subsequent fall of Roman Reigns (thus far) is the most glaring example of that in 21st Century pro wrestling. And yet compared to the subject of this column today Reigns doesn’t even come close. Earlier this morning I woke up and found a lucha match to watch; it was a Lucha Libre Elite bout from last Thursday, with the always reliable Rey Escorpion taking on the man you are about to read all about. It was a wrestler I hadn’t seen in a long time, the product of a famous wrestling family whose career in the United States was toppled by immaturity, arrogance, indiscretions and numerous indulgences. He would find a home in Mexico in lucha libre, until he didn’t, with his vices catching up to him. But watching his match today, the second in what appears to be a full time return to Mexico after several years away, I was fascinated to see that even after all this time this man possessed the sort of natural talent and charisma that made once the hottest prospect in wrestling history. And even though Rolling Stone already covered this man to much greater effect than I ever could, I couldn’t help but sit myself down all day, watch match after match and produce a column on this talent, a talent everyone needs to know about. This, wrestling fans of all ages and genres, is the story of The Greatest Wrestler That Never Lived. This is the story of one Teddy Hart.
What You Already Know
There are three things every hardcore wrestling fan knows about Teddy Hart. The first and most obvious; Teddy loves cats. Like a lot; if you read his Rolling Stone article, you’ll know he pretty much takes the cats anywhere, he has people with him to take care of the cats, he’ll sell the cats. Basically if you need anyone to help you with your cat, Teddy Hart is your dude. I expect DC to revive the long forgotten Cat-Man character in the DC Cinematic Universe just so Teddy can play him.
Secondly, Teddy is a member of the famous Hart Family; yeah, that Hart family. He’s the grandson of the legendary Stu Hart, son of Georgia Hart and pro wrestler/bodybuilder B.J. Annis, nephew to wrestling legends Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith and cousin to current and former WWE superstars Natalya, Tyson Kidd (technically his cousin-in-law) and Harry Smith. That’s a whole lot of really talented people Teddy is related to and seemingly suggests he should’ve had a crack in WWE as well. Which leads to the second thing Teddy is known for; be the wild wacky dude that has burned a shit ton of bridges over the years. There was his falling out with WWE (not once but twice), his falling out with TNA after a fight with the internet’s new least favorite wrestler CM Punk and most infamously his falling out with Ring of Honor after he performed an awe inspiring yet dangerous display of aerial attacks off a cage following Tag Team Scramble match in at ROH’s 2003 show Main Event Spectacles (note; Teddy’s good pal Jack Evans does a SICK double moonsault off the cage in this match too). Those two incidents with TNA and ROH all but ostracized him from both promotions; he’s only appeared in ROH twice since and has never stepped foot in TNA again after his fight with Punk (who Teddy is now a big fan of actually). And none of that even involves the most serious situation he was involved in; sexual assault charges filed in 2014 claiming that Hart had raped and held two women hostage. The charges were dropped this year, but the effects were large as Teddy only worked fifteen matches all of last year. By comparison, he’s worked sixteen this year, with five months still to go.
What You Didn’t Know
Get ready folks because this section is going to be LONG! We begin with the fact that Teddy Hart is the youngest wrestler to ever be signed by WWE. You read that right; even after all these years Teddy remains the youngest person WWE has ever brought aboard, signing with the mother ship of wrestling when he was only eighteen years old and going on to train with the legendary Dory Funk Jr. in preparation for his debut. Clearly you can tell WWE had big things planned for Teddy. Why didn’t they happen? As many will tell you (including Teddy himself), Teddy was his own undoing, with attitude problems and a lack of motivation ultimately contributing to him getting released from WWE four years into his deal. Not surprisingly Teddy would get a second chance, signing another deal with WWE in 2007 to join Natalya, Smith and Kidd (then known under his real name T.J. Wilson). All indications are that Teddy was going to be a huge player for WWE, with the company putting him and the rest of his family together (along with Ted Dibiase Jr.) to form The Next Generation Hart Foundation in Florida Championship Wrestling. Right before the stable was supposed to be called up however Teddy was released; it’s not really known why, but you could make the assumption that the issues that haunted him in the past came back to bite him in the ass again here. Needless to say Teddy has never appeared for WWE again and the Next Generation Hart Foundation wouldn’t officially debut on the WWE roster until over a year later, this time renamed the Hart Dynasty and featuring only Kidd, Smith and Natalya. Yet another case of what might’ve been huh?
The lack of exposure from WWE, TNA or ROH didn’t stop Teddy from wrestling however, and as it turns out he had one last link to his days training in the Hart Dungeon; his good friend Jack Evans. Another member of the last group of Hart trainees, Evans was bizarrely never given a look by any of the major companies either (outside of ROH), which allowed him to team up with Teddy frequently on the indies. The duo became mainstays in the New Jersey independent Jersey All Pro Wrestling, where they captured the JAPW Tag Team Championships in a Steel Cage match in 2005. Even after they lost the titles and Evans moved on, Hart remained a mainstay in JAPW, winning both the JAPW Light Heavyweight and JAPW Heavyweight Championships while having a series of high profiles matches with big names like Jay Lethal, Frank Kazarian and A.J. Styles (the Lethal match was most notable for Hart hitting the current ROH Champion with a moonsault off a soda machine. Wonder if it was a Sunkist one!). He has continued to make sporadic appearances for the company since, most recently last year when he teamed with Chris Hero to take on MVP and Samoa Joe. See; not every promotion wants Teddy Hart to go away for good!
Of course the biggest exposure Hart around the world since his falling out with every major US company has been with two very unique promotions. The first is Lucha Libre giant AAA. Thanks to Konnan, both Teddy and Evans were brought into the company back in 2007 following Teddy’s ill fated second WWE stint. Dubbed The Hart Foundation 2.0, the duo joined up with Konnan’s highly underrated La Legion Extranjera and quickly became two of the top rudos in Mexico thanks to their high flying ways and their refusal to learn Spanish in interviews. I would dare call this the highest point of Teddy’s career in fact; even though they never won any titles, him and Jack often found themselves high on the card, were often involved in big matches (including a Vampiro-Konnan hair vs. hair match where the majority of the action was carried by them) and were in many ways the biggest mainstays of the group alongside Konnan. Unfortunately even this good time couldn’t last; eventually Evans and Teddy were split (largely due to Evans getting really over) and soon after their feud started Teddy was suspended (once again, reasons for it weren’t given but you could probably guess). He wouldn’t appear again for AAA until 2012, when he joined Perro Aguayo Jr.’s Los Perros del Mal and resumed his feud with Evans, making his final appearance for the company in October in a six man tag with Perro and Psicosis against Evans, Cibernetico and Ozz. Teddy has continued to work in Mexico however, making appearances for The Crash (a gig Konnan helped get him) and the aforementioned Lucha Libre Elite, and recently claimed on Konnan’s new podcast that he was offered a spot on this year’s Triplemania card. Perhaps an AAA return isn’t out of the question just yet.
We’re not done yet though. I mentioned at the beginning of the last paragraph that there was one other promotion Teddy has worked with in the past ten years that was unique and notable. That promotion; Wrestling Society X, the Lucha Underground before Lucha Underground and the brain child of friend of the blog, Rudo Can’t Fail boss man and snazzy dresser Kevin Kleinrock. Though the show only lasted ten episodes Teddy was a big part of the WSX Universe and in fact has the distinction of headlining both the WSX premiere and finale. Along the way he formed a highly entertaining tag team called The Filth and The Fury with M-Dogg 20 Matt Cross (who may or may not have gone on to find great success as a bearded luchador from the Open Road), which culminated in the two headlining that season finale against the dastardly Team Dragon Gate (Horiguchi and Yoshino) in a, wait for it, EXPLODING CAGE MATCH. Needless to say we’ll be diving into that bout more in a few moments. In talking with Kevin (who referred to Teddy as “magical”), it’s pretty clear that Teddy was to be a major part of WSX had it gone on, as Kevin viewed him as someone who could always be believable because it was so easy for the audience to believe that Teddy’s opponents hated his guts (the truest of true statements). I’d say more, but that would give away a whole lot of material for the eventual Wrestling Society X tribute that’s coming. Good lord is that going to be a good time!
This is going to be a long section too because there’s so much great stuff from Teddy out there that you have to see multiple matches just to see how fucking good this guy is. We start with a match in TNA against Juventud Guerrera, a match that earned 4 ¼ stars from Dave “it would’ve been 5 stars in Japan” Meltzer, the only match of Teddy’s to ever be rated by Dave (that I can find at least). If the Meltzer endorsement doesn’t work for you allow mine to; this match is an absolute lucha tour de force. That’s in some ways to be expected because The Juice was still in his prime then and other than Rey, no one could much like Juvi could at his best. But a then 23 year old Teddy hangs with Juvi every step of the way and in many ways matches the lucha legend. I’ve seen many a straight up lucha match but this is one of the most impressive things I’ve ever seen, and proves without a shadow of a doubt that Teddy is capable of being one of the best high flyers in the world.
The second match is a rarely seen bout that took place in Court Bauer’s Major League Wrestling promotion in 2004 between Teddy and a certain “American Dragon” called Bryan Danielson (you may or may not have heard of him under a different name). Billed as the last student of Shawn Michaels vs. the last student of the Hart Dungeon (always a nice sell), this bout is the polar opposite of the Teddy-Juvi match. Sure Teddy does take to the air several times, but he also shows off some impressive mat and technical wrestling in this bout and amazingly keeps up with Danielson, perhaps the greatest technical wrestler of all time. It doesn’t go long, but these guys make the absolute most of their time and quietly put on one of the best matches you’ve ever heard of. The best part (spoiler alert!); Teddy actually wins the match VIA submission (that’s right; the Yes! Man tapped out) and brawls with Bryan after doing several back flips off the turnbuckle to show off, in a clever play off both men’s personalities.
The third match, and the one you’ve been waiting for the most, is that EXPLODING CAGE MATCH between The Filth and The Fury and Team Dragon Gate that closed out Wrestling Society X. I’m going to level with you; this isn’t a particularly long match (at least not the version found on YouTube) and it’s definitely not the type of match you watch every Monday, Tuesday or occasionally Sunday evening. But my God is it beautiful in its own amazing way. There are great spots, there are numerous explosions (duh); pretty much if you can’t have fun with this match then you’re either a disgruntled British wrestling fan or you’re like Jon Snow and have never known what fun is anyway. Also you can’t be pals with Kevin, and why would you want to subject yourself to that?!
The fourth and final match here is also my favorite Teddy Hart match; a bout between him and Jack Evans prior to their breakup in 2009, during the quarterfinals of AAA’s Cruiserweight Championship tournament. You may notice a pattern here in my choices. The first match showed that Teddy was capable of telling a story via the lucha style; the second showed he could tell a story via technical wrestling; the third showed he could tell a story in a gloriously over the top environment. Here he shows he can tell the story in the ring by just being an amazing rudo. This match is cleverly book ended by two promos, the first being Teddy and Jack before the match talking about how this will be a clean match and how neither wants to ruin the friendship they have. Thus it’s natural when Teddy goes out there and immediately cheap shots Jack to give himself the advantage. It’s brilliant character work; by doing that Teddy is playing into the perception of many fans; that he’s a complete and utter dick who will even sell his only friend down the river to get what he wants. It’s a great little touch that adds fuel to this match and of course, because it’s Jack and Teddy, the timing and work rate is so good that everything falls into place for a beautiful piece of lucha.
Teddy Hart is the defining example of how all the talent in the world still can’t get you everything. And trust me; Teddy has ALL the talent and then some. I’ve seen all sorts of wrestlers in all shapes and sizes, but there’s very few I’ve seen that have the capability of wrestling at the level Teddy does with multiple styles, all while maintaining a high level of charisma and, like Kevin said, an incredible level of believability in what he does. I would venture to bet there’s an alternate universe out there where Teddy Hart is the number one heel in WWE right now, a multi-time World Champion and one of the most innovative performers wrestling has ever seen. That it never happened is one of the greatest travesties in wrestling history. But for all his many flaws, issues and bridges burned, at the end of the day the fact remains that Teddy Hart has had a pretty amazing career. He’s had great matches. He’s regarded as a well rounded performer by almost all wrestling critics. He’s worked for many prestigious promotions. Even with all the baggage and failed expectations Teddy Hart is still a talent that at his best was a performer who needed to be seen to believed and is still to this day a talent talked about. You think Rolling Stone just wrote about him for the hell of it? There is still interest in Teddy Hart; there is still value in Teddy Hart and, at the still young age of 36, still time for him to live up. I can’t see him getting another shot in WWE, TNA or ROH. But with Lucha Underground now out there, lucha libre now having more American eyeballs than ever and the possibility of Japan, there are other places for Teddy to perhaps change his destiny. Maybe he can make it, even after all this time.
That’s a wrap folks. I’ll see you later tonight for my review of the CMLL Tuesday show. Till then, a cat meme! It’s a Teddy Hart column so it’s only natural.
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