Bret Hart called himself ‘The Best There Is, The Best There Was and The Best There Ever Will Be’ during a time that hardly anybody in the entire industry could even argue it.
It reads braggadocious and unpleasant, but for anybody living through WWE’s leanest years, the ‘Excellence Of Execution’ was a vital component not just in shoring up support of a product on its knees but actively enhancing the enjoyment of it. Need a hero that felt authentic with the inflated comic book stars of yore now lost to a mid-1990s distaste to steroids and twisted steel? Hart made art. Require a well-built six footer to reduce himself in stature for the good of your pushed monster projects? Bret’s a safe bet. Need a guy to work an OAP psychopath, a Japanese stereotype, a phoney King, a dentist and a pirate in one calendar year and still be the most credible threat to your World Title? ‘The Hitman’ was the man.
The quantity of audience wasn't there, but the quality of his matches and support was such that the fanbase didn't feel half as diminished as a modern day Ring Of Honor audience or half-filled WWE television taping. Vince McMahon was good at perception management even with his earnings at an all time low, and Bret Hart was expert in massaging that perception with his will and want to remain on top of a gradually crumbling empire. He was a winner even when the company at large was losing, and wrestlings fans - the few remaining, anyway - always backed winners.
When viewing declining television ratings in 2020, the query often raised is to where exactly all the fans have gone. But perhaps those looking for answers weren't asking the right questions. Maybe WWE became a "Universe" without winners before it chased away the crowds too?