Bret Hart was on Raw in Montreal last Monday and seeing him back in the ring again, with an expression that looked longing—as if he wishes he could still wrestle in venues like these, I got to thinking, “what if Bret Hart had never been screwed at the 1997 Survivor Series?”
Bret Hart is the best there was, the best there is and the best there ever will be, but in 1997, just under 15 years ago, Vince McMahon devised a plan that would change the face of the professional wrestling forever.
In an event that lives in infamy, the Montreal Screwjob at the 1997 Survivor Series in Montreal Canada, not only changed Bret Hart’s career, it changed the WWE, WCW and the whole industry.
Bret Hart was one of the most important superstars to ever grace a wrestling ring. He was one of the most technically gifted athletes the then WWF had to offer and he had fought off the stigma of being small and technical to gain the WWF Championship multiple times.
Though backstage not everything was as rosy as it seemed, Bret Hart captured the hearts of all the fans who adored him and every single child that was lucky enough to receive a pair of those famous pink shades.
The WWF had entered the phase of a new generation and more high-flyers and men of Bret Hart’s stature were flying through the WWF ranks. Shawn Michaels was arguably the challenger to Bret Hart’s status in the WWF.
The rivalry that these two men had inside and outside the ring was amazing by anybody’s standards. You only have to read Bret Hart’s autobiography and watch the recent “Greatest Rivalries” production by the WWE to see that this relationship was more than complicated.
As these two men were competing in epic battles in the ring, WCW was using the seemingly unlimited money of Ted Turner to beat WWF in the ratings. As the WWF popularity began to rise, Bret Hart’s tenure there was coming to an end, unbeknownst to his fans and followers.
WCW had approached Bret with a solid contract which gave him more money, more time off and a better quality of life in general. Bret Hart accepted this contract and was set to go to WCW. He was the WWF Champion at the time, something that he had had to work extremely hard to achieve.
Vince McMahon realised the situation this put his company in. The original finish at the 1997 Survivor Series would have seen Bret retaining the WWF Championship by reversing the Sharpshooter that Shawn Michaels had him locked in. Eventually both DX and the Hart Foundation were to run to the ring, leading to a no-contest. This planned reversal is clearly visible on the footage as Bret had his hand ready to reverse when Vince McMahon asked for the bell to be rung.
Shawn Michaels won the WWF Championship because of this decision; Bret went mental and left for WCW with a sour taste in his mouth. However, had Bret not left us so soon, had WCW not existed, how would his career have gone from here?
It is a well known fact that Bret was not happy with the direction the WWF was going in. Its newfound attitude did not sit well with the father of four and he disagreed with the less-than-family-friendly product that was being produced every week.
Bret Hart left the company just before the Attitude Era managed to get into full swing so whether he would have stayed with the company is anybody’s guess. Something tells me that his love for wrestling would have kept him tied to the company and coming back for more.
He was brilliant as a heel as he pushed Stone Cold to superstardom at WrestleMania 13. But Bret Hart’s departure from the company begs the question; Would Stone Cold have won the WWF title at WrestleMania XIV had Bret not been in WCW?
I would like to assume that he still would. Given that Bret and Shawn’s rivalry would have continued past Survivor Series, the WWF Championship would have likely been defended at the Royal Rumble.
Had Shawn Michaels won it here, that would have quite easily set up the feud between himself and Stone Cold Steve Austin and Bret Hart would have been thrown into another feud during the 1998 Royal Rumble. However, this has bigger consequences.
The Undertaker would also have been in the Royal Rumble, Michaels would have not injured his back and may have been able to wrestle throughout the attitude era.
Owen Hart was still going strong in the mid-card throughout this period and I have to wonder whether Bret would have had any more battles with his brother or whether he would have formed a tag team with him. It is sad to think that Bret Hart was in a completely different company when tragedy struck his brother at Over The Edge 1999.
It is also interesting to think of another tragedy that hit Bret Hart when he was wrestling in WCW—in a match with Goldberg, Bret received a threatening concussion from a wayward kick that ended his career.
This was further compounded from another concussion received when he hit his head on a concrete floor when trying to place the famous figure-four leglock around the post on Goldberg.
He would not wrestle again after the year 2000, barring a few times recently in WWE. But in terms of proper in-ring action, it was the end for Bret.
Had he stayed with the WWE, I can’t help but feel that Bret would have been a legend the size of The Undertaker or Triple H, and he would have had many great matches with the likes of John Cena, JBL, Brock Lesnar, and probably even Sheamus.
If Ric Flair could still go, there is no doubt in my mind that The Hitman would have been able to.
I would like to think he would have faced The Undertaker in one of the all-important streak matches. It is certainly a dream match of mine as Bret and The Undertaker were two of the best in the business and I think Bret would have cemented his legacy as being the man who may break the streak, just as Shawn Michaels and Triple H did.
The only question left to ask in this “what if?” article is how WCW would have been affected. To be honest with you, with or without Bret Hart, I fear WCW would have followed the same path. They may even have folded quicker with Bret Hart still in the WWE.
Rest assured, the WWE would have remained on top and Bret would have been a part of so many great moments—moments that probably would have shaped the Attitude Era into something slightly different from what we remember today.
The fact still remains that Bret was a fantastic wrestler, a wrestler that captured the hearts of so many fans and after showing the amount of respect he had from Montreal last Monday, it really does prove he was the best at what he did.