Bret Hart racked up an endless amount of accolades and accomplishments in his storied career, but it was his match against Tom Magee in 1986 that many consider to be his most impressive achievement to date.
“He’s the successor to Hulk Hogan!” This statement on Tom Magee became the most embarrassing misjudgment of Vince McMahon’s career.
Bret Hart didn’t just say he was “the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be” as a cute catchphrase. There was real conviction behind it. Bret is one of the greatest wrestling talents in the history of the business and he is revered by countless fans and wrestlers of today. At the 2019 WWE Hall of Fame ceremony, Bret became a two-time inductee – something only a handful of people have achieved. But with all of his accomplishments over the years, it was a match against Tom Magee in 1986, a name unfamiliar with even the most passionate of wrestling fans until only recently, that is touted as the most impressive feat in Bret Hart’s career according to pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer.
Recommended read: Behind the Curtain Stories on The Man Who Wore Black and Pink
Tom Magee had the physique Vince McMahon desired so greatly in his workers. 6’5″, 275 lbs, chiseled good looks and long flowing blonde hair. When Magee had his WWF tryout match against Bret Hart in Rochester, New York on October 7th, 1986, at War Memorial Auditorium, his legacy was seemingly etched in stone. The match was so good that Vince was seen acting ecstatic backstage, referring to Tom Magee as the next WWF champion to all within earshot as he stared intently at his monitor backstage. “He’s the successor to Hulk Hogan!”
“That’s my next champion! That’s my next champion”
This became the most embarrassing misjudgment of Vince’s career.
Bret completely carried the match and made Magee look like a star. It was evident soon after when he began working with talent much worse than Bret that Tom Magee was, for lack of a better word, quite bad.
Did you know? The match between Bret Hart and Tom Magee on October 7, 1986, is blacklisted in the WWF archives, and footage of the obscure bout was lost to history for over thirty years.
Times have changed over the decades where smaller guys in the business have more of a chance than ever to reach the top of the mountain under the seeing eye of Vince McMahon. In the midst of the ’80s, however, this wasn’t in the realm of possibilities. It was all about having a muscular physique if you wanted to sit on top of the throne of the WWF.
That was unless your ring skills were so bad that even good looks couldn’t sugarcoat them.
You can imagine the thoughts that went through Vince’s mind when he first saw Tom Magee. Visually, he was everything Vince wanted. Hulkamania was running wild in ’86 but Vince was already looking for a successor.
Magee was such an exciting prospect because it wasn’t only just the way he looked – he also had a tremendous background that implied a recipe for success. Magee excelled in karate as a black belt, was a champion powerlifter, placed 2nd place in the World’s Strongman competition in 1982, and had talents in gymnastics, which was unprecedented for a guy of Magee’s stature in the wrestling industry. Tom, one of the strongest men in the world, could flip around like a cruiserweight. His athleticism was miles ahead of Hogan. Not to mention, he had a full set of hair! Magee had Vince McMahon seeing dollar signs.
Before arriving in Rochester for his WWF tryout match, Magee had been trained by the legendary Stu Hart and had worked for Stu’s promotion Stampede Wrestling in Calgary. He later made his Japanese debut in the main event of an All Japan Pro Wrestling show against Japanese icon, Riki Choshu.
His debut certainly left a big impression on Dave Meltzer and countless others.
“He was the greatest combination of strength and agility the business had ever seen,” Meltzer wrote in his Wrestling Observer Newsletter after watching Magee’s first match.
The potential was buzzing around Magee before he had even stepped foot into the WWF territory. Nine months after his All Japan Pro Wrestling debut, Magee was set to compete in a tryout match in Rochester, New York for the WWF. Vince undoubtedly loved what he saw on tape and was eagerly awaiting his debut to see what this physical specimen had to offer.
Vince could have easily given Magee a squash match against any of the lower ranked talents of the WWF, but so large was the potential and promise around Magee, Vince decided to pair him up with one of his greatest talents, a mid-card heel named Bret Hart.
Initially, Bret wasn’t pleased about being booked to sell and lose to a guy who had hardly gotten his feet wet in the business. Vince was able to reassure The Hitman by saying that he was chosen for this match because Bret was the one who could make this Magee prospect look his best. He also reassured that only the fans would see this match and that it would never air to a larger audience. The connection of Magee being trained by Bret’s father Stu was a contributing factor, too.
Magee and Hart made their way to the ring in front of the Rochester crowd. Vince had his eyes fixated on the monitor backstage as he witnessed the debut of Tom Magee. The bell had rung. The match had finished. Vince was delirious! “That’s my next champion!” he could be heard proudly proclaiming.
Vince was convinced he had seen the successor to Hulk Hogan, his next box-office attraction. Vince had a rocket that he was about to strap onto Tom Magee right then and there. His athleticism paired with his good looks had McMahon entranced. The match exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations.
Bret, being the genius in-ring worker that he was, asked Magee three things he could do well before the match. Bret worked and carried the match around those three things. It’s nice to leave a good first impression, however, the impression Magee left was too good which was left as a result of Bret’s outstanding job of carrying the match. This became detrimental to Magee in the long run.
Bret Hart on Tom Magee: “As good as he looked, he was horrible, pathetically phony. He couldn’t walk across the ring without tripping.”
Bret Hart, in his highly recommended autobiography, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, had this to say of Tom Magee and his match with him:
“[Stu] asked me to tell Vince about his latest pet project, a kid he wanted him to look at named Tom McGhee [sic], who was one of the world’s strongest men. It was just like my dad to try to ensure that Magee would have a bright future with Vince even though he knew what losing a top star would do to his own business.
[When I first met McGhee], I couldn’t help but notice the handsome, muscle-headed rookie. He couldn’t walk across the ring without tripping.
As soon as I set my bag down in the dressing room in Rochester, I spied Tom McGhee anxiously getting dressed. Chief approached me, sullenly.
“Ah, [Bret], you’re working with McGhee and we need him to catch one on ya.”
“What?” I asked in disbelief.
He shrugged. “Vince wants him over.”
I went straight to Vince’s room, walked right in, and asked why he wanted me to put over an unproven guy in one of my regular towns when he had a whole backstage full of jobbers. It was a wrestler’s right to consider who he lost to. If bookers sensed he didn’t care, he might find himself losing all the time.
“You’re the only one I can trust to get him over and show me if this guy can draw me money,” Vince replied.
What was I supposed to say to that? “Vince, if he’s any good, you’ll see it after I’m done; if anyone can get him over, I can.”
He promised me that the match would never air on TV anywhere.
I found McGhee with Owen and told him that if he trusted me, I’d get him over, “Give me your three absolute best moves. If you have a good match, Vince will have big plans for you.” I designed a match that was really simple, inserting his big moves at just the right times.
[When it came to match time], I walked out with Jimmy Hart to a chorus of boos. Then McGhee came out looking like a handsome, well-muscled statue with curly golden locks. The crowd cheered as he jumped straight up to the ring apron and skipped right over the top rope. Once the bell sounded he did everything exactly as I’d told him. As good as he looked, he was horrible, pathetically phony. I struggled to maneuver him into place without the fans realizing his shortcomings, putting on an absolute clinic for anyone who ever wanted to know how to make a big green guy look great.
When I came back through the curtain, Vince and Pat [Patterson] had swarmed all over McGhee. Afterward, it was Tom who told me that Vince nearly wet his pants while watching the TV monitor, as he exclaimed loud enough for all to hear, “That’s my next champion!”
McGhee not only got hired but appeared like he was going to be elevated to superstar status! Not only that, Vince seemed to think McGhee did it on his own.
Back at the hotel, Roddy told me I should have made Magee look bad, but I just couldn’t do that.”
Vince sent Magee out on the road to ‘C’ level towns to get more experience under his belt. He adopted the nickname “Megaman” and was working with much lesser talent than Bret Hart. His matches were underwhelming, to put it lightly. Magee’s ring psychology was shown to be horribly bad and it was becoming apparent that he just didn’t have “it”. McMahon’s dream prospect was vanishing before his very eyes and it became clear that he made a huge misjudgment on Tom Magee that night in Rochester.
Vince soon later gave up on Magee and by 1988 he was back in Japan having the worst matches of his career. Tom Magee’s wrestling career was over altogether by 1990.
Following his disappointing wrestling career, Tom did some acting with his movie of most merit being the 1991 release, Stone Cold, ironically.
He went on to settle as a trainer at Venice, California’s famous Gold’s Gym.
Such was Vince’s embarrassment about the initial vision he had for Magee, the match has been banned for the last thirty plus years. The only person who seemingly had a copy was Bret Hart.
Colt Cabana, in his ‘Pro Wrestling Fringe’ series on his podcast, shockingly explained that when he was a part of the WWE system, he was able to request any match he wanted and the tape would get sent to him from the WWE tape library that stores thousands upon thousands of footage. Cabana received any match he requested except one – Bret Hart vs Tom Magee.
“It exists!” How a wrestling fan discovered the holy grail of wrestling tapes.
Fans have been itching to see the highly mysterious match for decades. There hadn’t been a single sign that the tape still existed given the secrecy behind it… until one night late in March of 2019. Hope was restored! A woman by the name of Mary-Kate Anthony posted a photo of the VHS tape on Twitter.
The legitimacy of the tape was put into question upon its revelation on social media. The date of the match was October 7, 1986, but the date written on the tape of the incredibly rare match was September 19, 1989. Speculation ensued online around the possibilities on why the wrong date was written down. Some of the reasons hypothesized were that the date written on the VHS tape was the date Bret received the tape. An interesting other option was that the tape was a completely different Tom Magee vs Bret Hart match altogether, not the original desired copy.
Towards the end of Magee’s run as a wrestler, after McMahon had already shamefully given up on him, Magee and Hart had another match together. This time in 1989, three years after their miraculous encounter. The feeling coming out of the match was nowhere near the same as the original. Magee was now the heel and was taking more of a leading role in calling the match rather than following Bret all the way through. The magic was not duplicated.
The problem with the date of September 19, 1989, is that it also doesn’t correlate to when the second match between Bret Hart and Tom Magee took place which was on May 16, 1989. Not to mention, Magee’s name was spelled incorrectly as “McGhee”, though coincidentally, this is how Bret spelled Tom’s last name in his book. With these faults, the tape didn’t appear to be legitimate.
That was until Mary-Kate, the tape holder of the match in question put the majority of the doubters away after posting promising evidence that ultimately confirmed it was the real tape of the original match.
“I have the VCR. Tape is in and I’m watching it,” Mary-Kate captioned alongside a photo of Tom Magee and Bret Hart grappling.
The photo provided the much-needed clarity that the tape was indeed legitimate. The holy grail of wrestling tapes existed. Bret Hart’s attire lacking his iconic pink was the biggest indicator that the timeline matched up with 1986.
Fans weren’t the only ones freaking out about it. Wrestlers past and present were intrigued about the emergence of the tape.
Idolizing Bret growing up, The Revival’s Scott Dawson let his excitement be known amongst the buzz the tape’s appearance produced. “I’m dying. My heart (pun intended) can’t take it.”
Mary-Kate Anthony isn’t a random fan that somehow got her hands on the tape either. She is a mutual friend of Marcy Engelstein, a personal assistant of Bret’s for many years now. Marcy handed over VCR tapes of Bret’s matches so Anthony could digitize them for Bret’s archive. The holy grail match just happened to be amongst a pile of other matches in her possession.
TJ Wilson, known as Tyson Kidd in the WWE and husband to Bret’s niece Natalya Neidhart, was quick to show interest in the tape as well writing, “You have this!!??”
“These are the tapes Marcy had me convert 10 years ago for Bret’s archive!” Mary-Kate explained. “That’s how you know they’re legit.”
Whilst so many were doubting the legitimacy at this stage, TJ believed it wholeheartedly.
“I don’t doubt the legitimacy of it at all,” TJ replied.
Mary-Kate knew there was interest around the tape as she had friends and people asking if she may have it, but it appears the interest for it on a global scale was bigger than she could have imagined.
She excitedly explained, “Guys. I’m shaking. I’m so excited that we have found something so amazing. I’m trying to respond to all the messages I am getting.”
Being one of the lucky handfuls of people that have ever seen the tape in the last thirty plus years, Mary-Kate shared fascinating insight regarding the commentary during the match.
Gorilla Monsoon: “We are going to be seeing a lot of this youngster…”
::Magee botches another move…::
Bobby Heenan: “I hope not!”
Classic Monsoon and Heenan commentary right there.
The fact that there was commentary on the match in the first place is rather odd, considering this match was never supposed to air. Who knows what WWF and Vince had planned. As if there wasn’t enough myth and legend around the tape already, having classic Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan commentate over the match only increases the interest.
Even with all the insight the tape holder, Mary-Kate was dropping, there were still doubters that it was legitimate, to her frustration. She decided enough was enough and provided a clip of the mythical matchup.
The clip showed Magee reversing Bret Hart into a turnbuckle, taking his familiar chest first bump, followed by Magee posing.
— Mary-Kate Anthony (@marykayfabe) March 30, 2019
Ten minutes was all Tom Magee needed for Vince to think he had landed his next major star.
The questions kept coming for Mary-Kate and the answers continued to provide important insight. On one occasion, she was asked how long the match was:
“It’s about 11 min total including a backstage interview with Magee afterwards.”
Ten minutes was all Tom Magee needed for Vince to think he had landed his next major star.
Tom Magee’s story is one that includes major irony:
- He had the “Holy Grail” of matches against Bret Hart – the son of the man who trained him.
- His biggest movie was called Stone Cold – years before it became a legendary name in wrestling.
- And he’s drawn major comparisons as a bigger looking version of Kenny Omega – both hailing from Winnipeg.
The irony struck Lance Storm regarding the Magee tape, too. A month before news erupted that the tape exists, Storm replied to a GIF of Magee’s horrendous offense.
The Legendary Tom Magee. pic.twitter.com/J2hPH1vBUp
— Dwayne “The Ron” Swanson (@JaimsVanDerBeek) February 23, 2019
“Bret Hart got a good match out of this guy,” a bewildered Lance Storm responded.
Only a month later, the tape of Bret Hart and Tom Magee surfaced and Storm was undoubtedly interested.
“I want to see this so bad,” Storm said in reply to Mary-Kate.
“If this is finally getting out how has WWE not added it to hidden gems?”
It was a very good question and a topic of debate. Mary-Kate responded, “They don’t have the tape. Two different office employees have told me personally. This has been the wildest week of my life.”
Dave Meltzer opposed this saying, “WWE has had the tape all along.”
Nobody really knows if WWE actually has the rare match between Bret Hart and Tom Magee in their possession.
Whether WWE has the tape in their archives or not has always been a big topic of debate regarding the Tom Magee vs Bret Hart match. Even after the recent resurgence of this match being discussed, no one really knows whether or not WWE has it in their possession. Just another reason that makes this match so storied.
Unfortunately, just because knowledge of the tape existing has come out doesn’t mean access to the match in full will be available anytime soon. Mary-Kate made clear she wouldn’t be able to distribute the match anywhere for legal reasons.
After all of the excitement over the discovery of the footage and over thirty years of waiting, the match still can’t be watched anywhere. But what can be taken away from this is hope that in the long-term, the match will finally become available.
WWE didn’t take the route of ignoring the much-wanted tape’s emergence. In fact, just weeks after the Internet went wild over the discussion of the tape, WWE cheekily added a ‘Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase vs Tom Magee match to their Hidden Gems section on the WWE Network. This could be seen as a huge positive that they’re grooming us for an eventual Bret Hart vs Tom Magee match. One thing is for sure – they’re aware of how much the match is in demand.
The match was entitled “The Mystical Magical Magee”. Mystical, indeed.
If you’re curious about this Bret Hart vs Tom Magee matchup just as much as we are, the hidden gem match is definitely worth taking a looking at. In there, you get glimpses of Magee’s extreme athleticism and why Vince was once so high on him. You’ll also see glimpses of how green he really was and why it never worked out for the ‘Mystical Magical’ Tom Magee.
Fingers are crossed that WWE is working on adding to their Hidden Gems in the future. It’s reasonably safe to say it would be their biggest hit on the already popular category.
What is Tom Magee up to today?
As of writing, Tom Magee is 60 years old and residing in Mars Vista, California.
Sadly, in May of 2018, Magee was assaulted by six young men in front of his home over a parking space. His injuries were serious and he sustained a broken jaw, a broken eye socket, and a concussion. He was lucky to survive the cowardly attack.
If it wasn’t for a neighbor coming out to see what all the commotion was about, Tom may not have lived through the attack.
In an interview with CBS News, the neighbor who saved Tom’s life speaks on the horror of what she saw. “They were literally kicking him, punching him in the face and in the head.”
When the neighbor came out, all six of the attackers made a run for it.
“To me, it was attempted murder. If we wouldn’t have come out here I don’t know if [Tom] would be alive. To look at his face if you saw his face right now and saw what they were doing to him, he’s really lucky to be alive.”
There’s been no update on his recovery since. We here at Pro Wrestling Stories wish Magee all the best and hope he is found happiness and health since the horrendous attack.
Tom Magee found great success in many areas of life and he can hold his head high with his life achievements with powerlifting, Strongman competitions, and acting. Pro wrestling just wasn’t his thing.
Editor’s Update (May 13th, 2019):
WWE beat Conrad Thompson and Starrcast to the punch by airing the match (mostly) in full for the very first time tonight on the WWE Network in an original special entitled “Holy Grail: The Search For WWE’s Most Infamous Lost Match”.
In the half-hour documentary which aired directly following Monday Night Raw, Sean “X-Pac” Waltman, TJ Wilson, Harry Smith, Sam Roberts, Chris Hero (aka Kassius Ohno), tape owner Mary-Kate Anthony, Bret Hart, and Tom Magee himself took part in discussing the backstory and importance of this long-time forgotten and lost match.
Tom Magee, looking much better and happier since last year’s disturbing news report, discussed how pleased he was that fans still have interest in him and this match thirty-three years after the fact. “I’m definitely happy that people want to see it and that they care. That’s great. I don’t know what they’ll think of it. I don’t know if they’ll be impressed or not. I don’t know if I’ll be impressed or not, I’ve never seen it.”
The match is now out there for everyone to see. Tune into the documentary via the link above. The match starts from the 19:38 mark partially through the match. What were your thoughts on the match? Did it live up to thirty-three years of hype and folklore? Be sure to let us know via our socials on Facebook or Twitter!
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