The Owen: A Look at Owen Hart in Wrestling Tournaments

Owen Hart
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This past September, AEW Owner Tony Khan revealed that All Elite Wrestling (AEW) had entered a partnership with Owen Hart‘s late wife, Dr. Martha Hart, and The Owen Hart Foundation, to continue Owen Hart’s legacy in pro wrestling through multiple ventures, including using Owen’s likeness in upcoming AEW video games and potential action figures and merchandise. But the most exciting announcement was the creation of a new annual tournament in AEW called The Owen Hart Tournament, affectionately to be known as “The Owen”.

Throughout a 16-year career in pro wrestling that saw Owen Hart transcend his father Stu Hart‘s Stampede Wrestling in his hometown of Calgary, Alberta, Canada into stints in the WWF, WCW, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and in Europe, Owen Hart emerged as one of pro wrestling’s most gifted competitors. Owen Hart was able to walk the line of being a superior technical athlete as well as an innovative high flyer, but was equally adept at adding comedy to his performances as they required (and as the many tales of his ribs have shown, even when not required). Even now, 22 years after his tragic death at a WWF Pay-Per-View in 1999, Owen Hart still remains a much beloved figure in pro wrestling history, whose influence in many facets continues to be recognized.

While one of his best-remembered runs in the WWF was his huge victory in the 1994 King of the Ring tournament, Owen Hart was a formidable tournament participant in tournaments throughout his career, beginning in the late 1980s. With that in mind, and as we all anxiously await further details on the next announcement on The Owen in AEW, Last Word on Pro Wrestling takes a look at Owen Hart’s storied history in singles tournaments throughout his career.

NJPW, Top of the Super Juniors I (1988), II (1991)

Despite a brief house show tryout with the WWF in 1986, Owen Hart’s first major opportunity outside of Stampede Wrestling was in Japan. During the mid- to late 1980s, Stampede Wrestling was one of the chosen destinations for excursions for Young Lions from NJPW. During his own early days with Stampede, Owen trained in a class that included Young Lions Jushin Thunder Liger and Hiroshi Hase. When the duo returned to Japan, Owen Hart followed in 1987 in a reciprocal endeavor. By the end of 1987, Owen had become a solid addition to NJPW’s burgeoning Junior Heavyweight Division.

In January of 1988, he was one of the men to compete in the first ever Top of the Super Juniors tournament (which would become better known as Best of the Super Juniors following its renaming in 1994). Owen Hart placed fourth in the tournament (out of 12 competitors) with 39 points (only two shy of tournament winner Shiro Koshinaka). Despite winning the tournament, Koshinaka failed to capture the new IWGP Junior Heavyweight title from champion Hiroshi Hase on three attempts, but the next challenger, Owen Hart, proved to be the chosen one. In May of 1988, Owen Hart defeated Hase to become the new IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, becoming the first gaijin (non-Japanese) competitor to win the prestigious title.

Following a two-year hiatus, NJPW returned with its second Top of the Super Juniors tournament, and once again Owen Hart was invited to compete. For the second year, it was reduced to just seven competitors, with Owen facing Norio Honaga, Jushin Thunder Liger, Pegasus Kid (Benoit), Negro Casas, Fit Finlay, and 2 Cold Scorpio. Despite big wins over Finlay, Pegasus Kid, and Scorpio, Hart finished fifth. That tournament would be his final time working for New Japan, and become an annual tradition that continues in New Japan to this day.

CWA, Catch World Cup (1990)

From the early 1970s until 1999, one of the toughest promotions in the world was Austria’s Catch Wrestling Association (CWA), a tough-as-nails group that sought to maintain the traditions of catch wrestling in Europe. Names from around the world competed for the CWA during its three-decade run, including Tatsumi Fujinami, Fit Finlay, William (then Steven) Regal, Chris Benoit, 2 Cold Scorpio, and more. Owen Hart competed for CWA from 1990 to 1991, as he was floating between stints in both WCW and WWF (but not being satisfied with either). In the summer of 1990, Owen Hart competed in the two-month CWA Catch World Cup tournament where he faced the likes of Finlay, Dave Taylor, and a pre-Razor Scott Hall. Owen Hart didn’t win the tournament but built upon his international awareness.

WWF, King of the Ring (1994, 1995, 1996, 1998)

Owen Hart’s most famous tournament participation, and only tournament win, came in 1994 as part of WWF’s King of the Ring. Amidst a torrid, violent feud against his brother, WWF World Champion Bret “Hitman” Hart, over the world title, Owen Hart qualified for the 1994 King of the Ring with a win over Doink the Clown on Raw in May of that year. At the PPV, he beat Tatanka in the opening round, 1-2-3 Kid (Sean Waltman/X-Pac) in the semi-final, and finally Razor Ramon in the final to capture that year’s crown. It made it the third straight KOTR tournament to feature a Hart as King, following back-to-back wins by Bret Hart. Sadly, Hart wasn’t able to defend his crown in 1995 – his opening round match against his brother-in-law British Bulldog ended in a 15-minute time-limit draw, meaning neither man advanced in the tournament. Owen was also a first-round knockout in 1996, losing to Marc Mero. The 1998 King of the Ring would prove to be Owen Hart’s final tournament. He defeated 2 Cold Scorpio in the opening round, but his second-round match-up against Dan Severn didn’t go the King of Harts’ way. Owen wouldn’t get the chance to participate in any future tournaments – in WWF/E or elsewhere – after his tragic death in May of 1999, just one month prior to the 1999 King of the Ring tournament.

WWF, Kuwait Cup (1996, 1997)

WWE’s recent sojourns to Saudia Arabia starting in 2018 weren’t WWE’s first forrays into the Middle East. In fact, they’d been doing Live Events in Saudia Arabia from 2014 through 2016. Going back even further, WWE (then still WWF) did back-to-back tours in Kuwait in 1996 and 1997, each time hosting a special tournament called The Kuwait Cup. In the first one, Owen did rather well. He defeated former WWF World Champion Yokozuna in the first round and then upset another former WWF World Champion – his brother Bret – in the second round. In the semi-finals, he lost to Ahmed Johnson, who would go on to beat Triple H in the finals. The following year, Owen did even better. He disposed of Henry O. Godwinn in the first round, pinned “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in the second round, and Vader in the semi-finals. He fell short in the finals, however, surprisingly to Tiger Ali Singh. In late 1996, Owen also took part in The Middle East Cup in Dubai (United Arab Emirates (UAE)) but fell in the opening round to Austin.

WWF, Intercontinental Title Tournament (1996, 1997)

AEW Owen Hart Cup

Owen Hart twice competed in tournaments to be crowned new WWF Intercontinental Champion following vacancies, starting in 1996 when Ahmed Johnson forfeited his title due to injury. Owen beat his brother-in-law British Bulldog in the first round, but fell to Marc Mero in the second, with Mero eventually winning the tournament and the title. In the 1997 tournament, however, Owen Hart ran the gauntlet, defeating Goldust in the first round, Brian Pillman in the semi-finals, then finally defeating Farooq (Ron Simmons) in the finals at WWF In Your House: Badd Blood for his second and final WWF Intercontinental Championship.

WWF, European Title Tournament (1997)

In February of 1997, Owen Hart was also selected to be in the inaugural tournament to crown the first WWF European Champion, held during a tour of Germany. Owen defeated Flash Funk (2 Cold Scorpio) in the opening round and then his brother Bret in the semi-finals, before ultimately facing British Bulldog in the finals on Raw from Berlin. In January of 1998, Owen would finally win the WWF European title, defeating Goldust (representing champion Triple H), before losing it back to Triple H in March.

Owen Hart may have only won two of the many tournaments he was a participant in, but he was always one to watch in each and every one. He defeated some huge names on the roster every time, including multiple upsets of his brother Bret “Hitman” Hart, as well as Yokozuna, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and others, and always made his opponents better off when he took the loss. Here’s hoping that AEW’s upcoming Owen Hart Tournament can create as many beautiful memories as Owen Hart himself did.

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