Eleven years is a long time. In wrestling terms, almost a lifetime. Faces change and new stars are made, but one man has remained the same. Vince McMahon.
Eleven years ago this month, the wrestling world as I knew it changed forever. Gone were the days of superstars you latch on to and relate to. Vince McMahon was changing the game for good. "Attitude" was in full phase and you could truly begin to see the wrestling world being turned upside down.
Bret "The Hitman" Hart was the ultimate good guy. Fans all over the world loved and adored the Hitman. Fans would literally wait hours upon hours to meet the Hitman. Vince McMahon however saw an opportunity. Vince wanted Bret to be so hated for his Canadian background, that he destroyed the character of Bret Hart. Not all the fans hatred and aggression could be attributed to Vince, but because Vince single handedly had the power to change Bret's character, he went with the fans. In reality, this is an excellent business decision.
For those who don't know the story by now, you've either been living under a rock for ten years, or you are too young to care. Vince and Bret didn't see eye to eye on the direction of the business or his character in general. Bret decided to take a massive pay cut just to be loyal to the then WWF to the tune of $400,000 a year. In terms of contracts, that was nearly two and a half million dollars less than Hall and Nash were receiving in WCW. This wouldn't be that out of the ordinary except that Hart was the WWF world champion. Bret was working upwards of 300 days a year and paying for his own travel expenses, yet to be loyal, he decided the money wasnt important.
Vince McMahon on the other hand had an obsession with being the most powerful man in the business. He also had plenty of "kliques" in his ear during this time, which we will get to a bit later. Vince changed his mind seemingly overnight for what I foresee as two different reasons.
First, Vince was losing so badly to WCW that he could not afford to pay his World Champion anymore. WWE nearly went bankrupt several times according to McMahon, who was in reality trying to pinch pennies in order to take his company public. Vince encouraged Bret to begin negotiating with Bischoff and WCW because he would be unable to pay him the remainder of a 20 year contract they had worked out. Getting close to the event, McMahon feared Bischoff would try to convince Hart to show up on his show with the WWE Title, much the same way that Ric Flair did in joining WWE 5 years earlier.
Vince McMahon is not a man who is outdone by other people. Vince refused to be upstaged. He also had Triple H and Shawn Michaels in his ear constantly telling him that keeping Bret around would do nothing but hurt the direction of his company. Bret had a creative control clause put into his contract that stated any "reasonable" objections he had with the direction of his character could be vetoed by him. Vince was not about to be upstaged by anyone, that was for sure. And with Bret publically going against the direction of WWE, he signed a 3 million dollar deal with WCW effective December 5, 1997.
Here is where I become upset. Rather than be civil and save future opportunities to work together, Vince decided to burn the bridge with Bret. We all know how the screwjob went down, and if you dont look it up on youtube. The original plan called for Bret and Shawn to go to a double disqualification finish at the Survivor Series. Despite numerous guarantees to Bret that he would not swerve him, they scrapped the original plan.
After the double count out, Bret would come out on Raw and lose to Ken Shamrock, thus securing the title wouldnt go to WCW with him. After the match, Bret would address the fans and thank WWE and Vince McMahon and say his goodbyes. If Bret were allowed to leave on those terms, wrestling would be saved for me. However, Vince McMahon's ego got in the way. Since that day, Vince McMahon has ruined the lives and careers of many of the stars who make him what he is.
Vince has mocked the contributions to his company ever since that day whether it was taping footage to air on his show of Owen Hart's funeral, mocking the deaths of Sherri Martel and others by airing himself "dying" on TV not once, but twice! And I will even go so far as to say his negligence and lack of attention to drugs in wrestling lead to the deaths of Brian Pillman, Eddie Guerrero, and Chris Benoit and his family. Vince wants so badly for this industry to be shaped in his image, that these smaller guys felt the need to push themselves further and further while mixing drugs, alcohol, and steroids just so they wouldn't become the next Bret Hart.
Bret Hart has all but vanished from the wrestling world, and we owe that to Vince McMahon. To this day he still mocks and berates his character on TV to uphold his image. A man who we deserve to see and appreciate is left suffering through strokes and other health issues because of what he put his body through for McMahon himself. I for one believe that something has to change, because as a fan of men like Hart and Randy Savage, Vince has the ability to block the world out from truly enjoying these men and the memories they created for us.