The Montreal Screwjob
This is a long explanation of this infamous incident. It may be the most famous real-life incident in wrestling history....
It will go down in history as the single most famous finish of a pro wrestling match in the modern era. Twenty or thirty years from now this story, more than any famous wrestler jumping promotions, more than any prominent death, and more than any record setting house, will be remembered vividly by all who watched it live, and remembered as legendary
from all who hear about it later. Through the magic of video tape, the last minute of this match will live forever and be replayed literally millions of times by tens of thousands of people all looking for the most minute pieces of detail to this strange puzzle. But the story of what led to those few seconds starts more than one year ago, far more reminiscent of the dirty con man past of the industry than the current attempted facade of a multi-million dollar corporate above-board-image those in the industry like to portray.
October 20, 1996
Bret Hart was in a hotel room in San Jose, CA, hours from making the biggest decision of his life - who would win the biggest bidding war in the history of pro wrestling. He had pretty well leaned toward staying with the World Wrestling Federation despite a much larger offer from World Championship Wrestling, but had changed his mind a few times over the previous two weeks as each side presented new offers. Many close advisers of Hart's tried to tell him going to WCW was the best move for his present, and more importantly his future after wrestling.
McMahon, not to lose a very public fight with his archrivals, offered him the famous 20-year contract where he'd, after retirement in about three years, become almost a first lieutenant when it came to the booking process. Hart would earn somewhere in the neighbourhood of $1.5 million per year as an active wrestler, and a healthy but far lesser figure working in the front office for the 17 years after retirement as an active wrestler.
The money was still only around half that offered by WCW, but largely out of loyalty Bret was ready to sign with McMahon. He was concerned about the legacy and future of the Bret Hart character, and Vince assured him the character would be a WWF hero (babyface) for years to come. He accepted the WWF offer.
March 10, 1996
Top babyface didn't last long as McMahon asked him to turn heel. At first Hart balked at the idea but after three days, Hart realized that people might be tired with his white hat image and agreed. He figured it's more fun to be the heel anyway. McMahon and Hart came up with the Anti-American angle, where he would remain a babyface in Canada and Europe and be the heel in the States.
September 8, 1997
Vince McMahon and Bret Hart had their first meeting where McMahon seriously approached Hart about his contract. About three months earlier, McMahon had told Hart that the company was in bad financial straights and that they might have to defer some of the money until later in the contract. This time his approach was more than point blank. He wanted to cut Hart's regular salary, around $30,000 per week, more than in half and defer the rest of the money until later in the contract period when hopefully the company would be in better shape financially. Hart declined the suggestion, because he didn't want to risk not getting the money in the future after he was through taking all the bumps
September 22, 1997
On the day of the RAW taping at Madison Square Garden, McMahon told Bret Hart flat out that they were going to intentionally breach his contract because they couldn't afford the deal. He told a shocked Hart that he should go to World Championship Wrestling and make whatever deal he could with that group. "I didn't feel comfortable doing it," Hart said of the suggestion. "I feel like an old prisoner in a prison where I know all the guards and all the inmates and I have the best cell. Why would I want to move to a new prison where I don't know the guards and the inmates and I no longer have the best cell? I felt really bad after all the years of working for the WWF." McMahon agreed to insert an escape clause in Hart's contract and that he would have what the contract called "reasonable creative control" of his character during that lame duck period so that he couldn't be unreasonably buried on the way out.
October 11, 1997
The personal problems with Hart and Shawn Michaels were legendary. The verbal war in the ring, had gone beyond work. After Michaels claimed Hart was having an affair with blonde bombshell Sunny, the
two came to blows in the dressing room. After some time, the two made an agreement to work together again, and to leave their respective families out of their interviews. It took just one week before Michaels did an interview talking about Stu Hart being dead but walking around Calgary because his body and brain hadn't figured it out yet. By this point, Hart and his family had stopped watching RAW (the WWF television show) because he was furious with the way Vince had dealt with the death of his friend and fellow wrestler, Brian Pillman. McMahon did a live interview with Pillman's wife on that night's wrestling show, and made it part of a wrestling story line. Hart had problems with what he considered the perverted sexual content of the show because he has four children that were wrestling fans. He found out about Michaels remarks about Stu from his brother Owen. Once again, Hart concluded that the feud with Michaels was personal.
October 24, 1997
McMahon, before the show at Nassau Coliseum, told Hart that the money situation in the company had changed and they would have no problems paying him everything promised in his contract. Hart told McMahon that WCW really hadn't made him a serious offer and that he really didn't want to leave. McMahon asked Hart to go on a tour of Oman, Hart agreed, with the idea that he was staying with the WWF, but knowing due to the window for the release in his contract, he had to make the decision to give notice by midnight on November 1st.
October 31, 1997
Hart surprised McMahon and returned from the middle-east a day earlier than planned. This allowed the WCW's Eric Bischoff to catch up with Hart who had been basically incommunicado in a foreign land most of the week. Bischoff used to work for McMahon, and the hatred between the two made Hart and Michaels look like friends.
Just one day before Hart had to either give notice or stay for another year, Bischoff made a huge offer: $3 million per year and working one hundred and twenty five days a year, half the days in the WWF contract. Hart neither agreed nor turned down the deal, but gave the impression to WCW that they had a great shot at getting him.
November 1, 1997
Hart had until midnight to make up his mind. He called McMahon and told him about the WCW offer and said that he wasn't asking for anymore money to stay, but that he wanted to know what his future in the WWF would be over the next two years as an active wrestler. Hart made it clear his main concern was with the direction his character would take. McMahon said he'd think about it and call him back in an hour with some scenarios. Before McMahon called back, Bischoff called again trying to solidify the deal. McMahon ended up calling back four hours later from his barber Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. and told Hart he didn't know what he was going to do with him but that he should trust his judgment because of their past relationship. He said he had made him into a superstar, and he wanted him to stay and that he should trust him, and asked Hart to give him an idea of where he wanted to go.
During the conversation, McMahon brought up the scenario of wanting Hart to drop the title in Montreal, but promised that he would get it back in Springfield. "I realized he had given the top heel spot to Shawn, but to turn back babyface it was too soon.", Hart said. Like in the negotiations one year earlier, it was going down to the wire and he had until midnight to make up his mind.
At 7pm Bischoff called again and presented a deal that, according to Hart, "would have been insane not to be taken". At that point Hart was really having mixed emotions. He somehow felt bad about leaving the WCW and was hoping McMahon would lay out a good set of scenarios for him and convince him to stay. At 9pm, McMahon called and, reversing fields once again, urged him to take the WCW offer. Hart told him that his heart was with the company and it would break his heart to leave, and that he appreciated everything McMahon and the company had done for him.
McMahon told Hart that he wanted him back as a babyface, and had been wanting him to turn babyface for two or three months but just hadn't brought it up until that point. He then presented a scenario to Hart, presenting it as a way to get Hart to stay, but obviously designed to get Hart to take the WCW offer. Hart looked at the scenario of four major losses with only one win and before his midnight deadline, gave official notice to the WWF and signed the contract WCW had sent over, with the agreement from all parties that the word wouldn't leak out until November 10th to protect the Survivor Series PPV.
November 2, 1997
Hart and McMahon started a very amicable conversation with the pressure finally off and the decision for Hart to leave having been made. He again suggested that Michaels win the title in Montreal. And, in what will go down as perhaps the ultimate irony, said they could do a screw job ending to steal the title from Hart, and that the next night, on RAW, McMahon would suggest the two get into a mock argument where Hart would punch him, blaming him for the screw job. McMahon even suggested to hardway him (a real blow) to make it look legit. Hart refused to do the job (lose) in Montreal, saying that he had never refused to do a job but he wasn't going to lose on Sunday or Monday (at RAW in Ottawa). Hart made it clear that to lose in Canada would be an insult to his Canadian fans, and would destroy the "Hit Man" character in Canada. He said he was a hero in Canada, and wouldn't do the job there. He agreed to put Michaels over in Madison Square Garden on November 15th, Springfield or anywhere else.
McMahon made legal threats to Hart if he wouldn't lose in Montreal. Hart talked about the clause in his contract giving him "reasonable creative control" but McMahon claimed that refusing to drop the strap in Montreal wasn't "reasonable".
November 4, 1997
By this point word that Hart had signed with WCW had actually been reported the previous night on the Observer and Torch hotlines. In response, WWF Canada released a press statement originally totally denying the story, claiming it was simply propaganda being spread by WCW. However, as the word got out, Titan Sports in Connecticut, a few hours later, contradicted that story by saying simply that Bret Hart was exploring all his options but not going any further - with the feeling that they wanted to protect the PPV show. Hart wouldn't publicly talk to anyone.
It appeared that about 10 to 20 percent of the crowd knew Hart was leaving and there were negative signs regarding his decision and negative signs toward the promotion for picking Michaels above him or the direction that seemingly forced him to leave.
Some things were also strange - and not just the absence of McMahon from the broadcast. Hart the champion in the main event wasn't scheduled for an interview building up the match. When his name was announced early in the show there were great cheers, but there were many boos from fans who knew he signed with the opposition.
Once Michaels got in the ring for the introduction, he wiped his butt, blew his nose and then picked his nose with the Canadian flag. He then put the flag on the ground and began humping it. Hart was immediately established as a babyface.
The two began the match as a brawl all around ringside and into the stands. The crowd was so rabid that it appeared there was genuine danger they'd attack Michaels. As one point they were brawling near the entrance knocking down refs as planned, knocking down Patterson as planned, and, as planned, Hart and McMahon had an argument almost teasing the idea of a spot later in the match where Hart would deck McMahon
Yet it was also clear that everything going on was 100% professional and the only curiosity left at that point was how good the match was going to be (it appeared to be very good) and how would they get "out" of the match (with something nobody will ever forget). But one thing was strange: Why were so many agents circling the ring and why was McMahon right there and acting so intense? About eight minutes before the show was "supposed" to end, Bruce Prichard in the "Gorilla" position (kind of the on-deck circle for the wrestlers) was screaming into his Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. that "We need more security at the ring." Why? They had already done the brawl in the crowd. The finish was going to be a DQ and it was still several minutes away.
THE DOUBLE CROSS
Hart climbed the top rope for a double sledge on Michaels. Michaels pulled Hebner in the way and Hart crashed on him. Just as planned. Michaels for a split second looked at McMahon and put Hart in the sharpshooter, just as planned. The next split seconds were the story. Ciota, listening to his headpiece for his cue to run in, heard the backstage director scream to Hebner it was time to get up. Hebner, listening himself, immediately got up. Ciota started screaming that he wasn't supposed to get up. Owen Hart and Smith readying their run in were equally perplexed seeing him get up. Prichard was freaking out backstage saying that wasn't supposed to happen. Bret still not realizing anything was wrong laid in the hold for only a few seconds to build up some heat before the reversal. Michaels cinched down hard on the hold and glanced at Hebner and then looked away - which more than one wrestler in the promotion upon viewing the tape saw as proof he was in on it - but then fed Bret his leg for the reversal. Hebner quickly looked at the timekeeper and screamed, "Ring the bell!"
At the same moment McMahon sitting next to the timekeeper elbowed him hard and screamed, "Ring the [sic] bell!" The bell rang at about the same moment Bret grabbed the leg for the reversal and Michaels fell down on his face on the mat. Michaels music played immediately and was immediately announced as the winner and new champion. Hebner sprinted out of the ring on the other side, into the dressing room, through the dressing room and into an awaiting car in the parking lot that already had the motor running and was going to take him to the hotel where he'd be rushed out of town with his ticket home instead of staying to work the next two RAW tapings.
Michaels and Hart both leaped to their feet looking equally mad, cursing in McMahon's direction and glaring at him. Hart spit right in McMahon's face. The cameras immediately pulled away from Hart to Michaels. Vince screamed at Michaels to "pick the [sic] belt up and get the [sic] out of there." Michaels still looking mad was ordered to the back by Jerry Brisco who told him to hold the belt up high and get to the back. The show abruptly went off the air about four minutes early. The camera never returned to Hart, standing in the ring, looking perplexed, disappointed, angry, and even somewhat amused.
The officials left the ring immediately. McMahon went into his private office in the building with Patterson and a few others and locked the door behind him.
Hart in the ring flipped out on the realization of what happened and began smashing the television monitors left behind until Owen, Smith and Neidhart hit the ring to calm him down. The four had an animated discussion in the ring all looking perturbed. Finally Hart thanked his fans who for the most part left with the air let out of their sails, gave the I love you sign to the fans and finger painted "WCW" to all four corners of the ring, which got a surprisingly big pop, and went back to the dressing room.
He first confronted Michaels who swore that he had nothing to do with it. Michaels obviously afraid Hart would punch him out right there told Hart that he gets heat for everything that happened but this time it wasn't his fault and he was as mad as Hart about the finish. He said he didn't want to win the belt that way, was disgusted by what happened and to prove it, would refuse to bring the belt out or say anything bad about Hart on RAW the next night.
Hart said that Michaels could prove whether he was in on it or not by his actions on television the next night.
The entire dressing room was furious at McMahon by this point. The feeling was that if Hart having worked for the company for 14 years and not missing shots due to injuries the entire time and having made McMahon millions of dollars throughout the years could get double-crossed this bad, then how could any of them trust anything he would say or do? People were saying that "How could anyone trust anyone ever again?" and that it was an unsafe working environment.
For three years after the steroid trial and all the bad publicity McMahon had worked favourably to change his legacy in the industry: not as the man who ran all the other promoters out of business; not the man who marketed pro wrestling to young children while pushing steroid freaks; not as the man who tried to destroy wrestling history and create his own; not his worked Harvard MBA, worked billion dollar company; not a man so vain as to give himself a Hugh award in Madison Square Garden as "the genius who created Wrestlemania"; not the man who at one time tried to monopolize every aspect of the business for himself. But instead, as the working man's hero, coming from humble beginnings, fighting those ruthless rich regional promoters and through nothing but guts, gusto and vision, became the dominant force in this industry and taking it to a new level. And now, against all odds, fighting against Billionaire Ted Turner.
Three years of a facade was largely working on a new generation of wrestling fans who saw him as their underdog hero. Only this time there was a situation where those who didn't "know" him were truly "introduced" to him for the first time.
Undertaker was furious, pounding on McMahon's locked door. And when he came out to talk with him, Undertaker told him in no uncertain terms that he needed to apologize to Hart. He went to Hart's dressing room where Hart had just come out of the shower.
Smith answered the door and Hart said he didn't want to see him. Vince and son, Shane McMahon, came in with Sg. Slaughter and Brisco anyway. Vince started to apologize saying that he had to do it because he couldn't take the chance of Hart going to WCW without giving back the belt and he couldn't let Bischoff go on television the next night and announce Hart was coming while he was still his champion and said how it would kill his business.
Hart shot back that he had no problem losing the belt and told McMahon that he was going to dry off and get his clothes on and told McMahon, "If you're still here I'm going to punch you out."
Hart called McMahon a liar and "a piece of shit" and talked about having worked for him for 14 years only missing 2 shots the entire time and being a role model for the company and the industry, and this was his payback?
McMahon tried to say that in 14 years this was the first time he'd ever lied to him and Hart rattled off 15 lies over the last year alone without even thinking about it. Those in the dressing room watching were stunned listening to Hart rattle those off and McMahon not offering a comeback.
Hart got dressed and twice told McMahon to get out. Hart got up and a scuffle started with them locking up like in a wrestling match. Hart broke free and threw a punch to the jaw that would have knocked down a rhino. One punch KO in 40 seconds. McMahon growled like he was going to get up, but he had no legs.
Shane McMahon jumped on Hart ' s back and Smith jumped on Shane's back pulling him off. Not realizing there would be trouble Smith had already taken off his knee brace and hyper extended his knee in the process of pulling Shane off. Hart nearly broke his hand from the punch. McMahon's jaw was thought to be fractured or broken.
Hart asked Vince if he was now going to screw him on all the money he owed him and a groggy Vince said, "No". Hart told Shane and Brisco to get that "piece of shit" out of here and glaring at both of them told them if they tried anything they'd suffer the same results. In dragging McMahon out someone accidentally stepped on his ankle injuring it as well.
Phone lines were ringing off the hook around wrestling land that night. Some people who were close to the inside thought it was the greatest worked finish in all of wrestling because it got everyone talking. By the morning, everyone realized the truth. This was the biggest double-cross in the history of modern, professional wrestling.
With all that being said, Bret Hart later appeared in WCW and made a big time heel turn. His gimmick became that he was a bitter pissed off wrestler and that he would injure anyone who would wrestler him and he did. He was quite convincing at this and I always wondered if they had just paid the guy off to take a serious beating at the hands of the newly insane Bret Hart.
He has since mended fences to a certain extent with Vince McMahon and he was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame eariler this year. He certainly deserved it, his career had been one of sweat, toil and heartbreak. From the Screwjob to watching his brother die on live TV in the sport that they had devoted their lives to....He may not have been a good speaker, often he looked out of his element on the mic and he was but everything else that he did, he was the best at....in terms of actual wrestling he truly was " The best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be "
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