Friday, November 09, 2007

The Montreal Screwjob: Ten Years Later

It was a night that changed pro wrestling history like few others. Hulk Hogan beating the Iron Sheik? Yes, definitely a significant moment back in 1984. But this event was as significant for other reasons, and most, if not all of them were bad ones. Just like when a new era dawned thirteen years prior, when Hogan broken the camel clutch and pinned Sheik in the middle of the squared circle at Madison Square Garden; a new era also began on this night in Montreal. Wrestling fans know where this is going and even casual observers of the grappling biz may recall the infamous night.

Bret Hart was screwed on this night, or so he said. Perhaps, Vince McMahon was really protecting his company's interests. Nonetheless, I will do my best in the following paragraphs to explain this complex web of chicanery, known as the "Montreal Screwjob."

It was 1997 and Vince McMahon was sweating bullets because his competition, World Championship Wrestling (W.C.W.), was stealing his wrestlers and seemingly had better storylines at the time as opposed to what was then known as the World Wrestling Federation(W.W.F.). Sitting atop the W.W.F. as World Champion was Calgary native, Bret"The Hitman"Hart. A man, who in his W.W.F. career won the title five times. He also was a former co-holder of the W.W.F. tag team titles and the W.W.F. Intercontinental Championship, each on two occasions.

McMahon had signed Hart to a 20-year contract in 1996, which he would later regret. The W.W.F. was going public and had to be free of any long-term debt. W.C.W. and its owner Ted Turner were dangling major bucks in Bret's face, and amazingly Vince McMahon encouraged Hart to take it. Most likely because he wanted Hart out of the long contract. So Bret Hart signed a deal with W.C.W. that would pay him $3 million per year.

For the record, Hart felt that he was not going to be a major player in McMahon's promotion going forward, and was dismayed in the storylines that were becoming more and more edgy.

So Bret Hart was set to face Shawn Michaels at the Survivor Series pay-per-view in Montreal at the Molson Center, or what is today called the Bell Center. Now let me put all of this in perspective: Bret Hart considered himself to be a hero in Canada and the storyline for months was Bret playing the role of the anti-American, despised in America, while adored in Canada. Michaels, was a member of Degeneration-X, which was a faction that also included Triple H, Rick Rude, and Chyna (think amazon woman). Michaels was doing things like insulting Bret's father, spitting on the Canadian flag, and even accusing Bret of having an affair with Tammy"Sunny"Sytch. The accusations of an affair led to a real fight backstage between Michaels and Hart.

Bret Hart had signed the deal with W.C.W. and was set to debut for the arch rival in December, the date of the Survivor Series was November 9, 1997. Hart absolutely refused to lose the W.W.F. Championship to Michaels in his home country, though he was willing to drop the belt any time after his "farewell" match. McMahon feared a repeat of what W.W.F. Women's champ did when she jumped to W.C.W. Alundra Blaze appeared on W.C.W. Monday Nitro and dropped the title in a garbage can, mimicking boxer Riddick Bowe's disposal of the W.B.C. World title in similar fashion.

McMahon, Hart, Michaels and some of the top brass of the W.W.F. met and came up with an outcome that worked for everyone. The Hart-Michaels match would end in a disqualification which meant that Hart would walk out with the title. A championship can only change hands via pinfall or submission. The plan was for Davey Boy Smith and Owen Hart to interfere on behalf of Bret and get into a brawl with Triple H, Rick Rude, and Chyna, who would interfere on Michaels' behalf. The night after the Survivor Series, he would surrender the belt to McMahon on Monday Night Raw and thank him for all the years with the promotion. This way everyone would save face. But it was never to be.

Allegedly, McMahon met with Michaels and Triple H along with some other W.W.F. brass and came up with what eventually did happen. Michaels would put Hart in Bret's own submission move, the sharpshooter, and the bell would immediately be called for. This is just what happened. McMahon was ringside and jumped up calling for the bell. Michaels was awarded the championship and took off. Bret, stunned, was in the middle of the ring and spit in Vince McMahon's face. Hart then went on to smash up the W.W.F. t.v. monitors at ringside.

Vince McMahon holed himself up in his office with two of his top agents, Sgt. Slaughter and Gerry Brisco. That was, until Mark"The Undertaker"Callaway went back and demanded that McMahon apologize to Bret. When Vince went to explain things to Bret, McMahon got leveled with a punch in the face. Vince ended up with a black eye and a broken ankle as a result of being inadvertently stepped on by someone trying to separate the two.

Hart, moments before had confronted Michaels who swore he did not know about the screwjob. Michaels and Triple H then took off out of the arena. However, on the way back to the locker room from the ring (Triple H had run down to the ring as part of the planned storyline) some fans shoved Michaels and Triple H. The two were also later confronted by some fans in the lobby of the hotel they were staying at.

W.W.F. wrestlers threatened to quit or boycott the promotion. In fact, Mick Foley did not show up to Raw the next night. But Foley would later continue working for McMahon because of his contract. To his credit, Hart encouraged all the wrestlers to fulfill their contracts. Let's see, is there anything I am forgetting?

Oh yeah, the next night on Raw McMahon stood in the middle of the ring and uttered the infamous statement: "Bret Hart says I screwed Bret Hart. Well, Bret Hart you screwed Bret Hart." Thus was born the Mr. McMahon character; an obnoxious, overbearing boss that was a stickler for the rules.

Bret Hart jumped to W.C.W. as planned, as did his brother-in-laws, Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith who demanded their immediate releases from the W.W.F. Owen Hart stayed with the Federation.

The last few years has seen a thawing in the relationship with Vince McMahon and Bret Hart. A relationship that was further strained as a result of the tragic death of Bret's brother, Owen. Bret's got a book coming out in January that has already been released in Canada. In it Hart writes about how he would have talked Owen out of entering the ring by being lowered from the rafters with cables. Owen, as most people know, tragically died when one of the pulleys snapped.
Bret has stated that McMahon has since admitted to him that he wished things were done differently and Hart says that he wishes he never left the W.W.F. Hart was inducted into the W.W.E Hall of Fame two years ago. He still does not forgive McMahon, Michaels, Triple H, or anyone else involved, but says he doesn't carry it around with him

Ten years ago today pro wrestling changed. It's fun to wonder "what if" the event had never happened. Hart's talent was wasted in W.C.W. where he would later suffer a career ending concussion while wrestling Goldberg. I put Bret Hart third in my tops of all-time, behind Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair. What was great about Hart was that he was as real as you could get in a world of great showmanship. Hart wasn't flashy or a great interview like Flair, nor was he a "superman" like Hogan. Bret Hart was Bret Hart. The question is did Bret Hart screw Bret Hart or did Vince McMahon screw Bret Hart?

"The Montreal Screwjob," ten years later, wrestling's whodunnit, leaves us with more questions than answers.


Anonymous said...

You forgot, Smackdown vs Raw had Bret Hart and one challenge was to beat him by submission using Shawn Michaels. The following year's game even explicitly referred to Montreal...Cena fights Bret in a submission match in Montreal and they keep referring to the night, even having Shawn appear and say he wants to make peace.

Sean G. Kilkelly said...

Thanks for that. I was not aware of it.