A History of Mutual Disrespect in the WWE: Hart-Michaels

Alberto CortezCorrespondent IMarch 13, 2009

There has been very few things that have caused me physical pain when it comes to watching a wrestling match, but I can think of one thing in particular.

I absolutely find it disgusting when Shawn Michaels uses the Sharpshooter, so much that it causes me to impulsively change the channel when I see him locking it in.

For those of you younger readers who are in a dire need of a history lesson, "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels was engaged in a heated and personal backstage war for the better part of the mid-1990s with the company's (at the time) top star, Bret "The Hitman" Hart.

Bret, having earned his way to the top after eight years of loyal work to the company that made him a star, got his first push in the WWE (WWF) in 1991's Summerslam, during which time Shawn Michaels was still one of "The Rockers" (along with Marty Jannety) and mainly being used as a jobber since entering the WWE in 1988.

Reportedly, the trouble between Hart and Michaels started at a taped house show sometime in October 1990, which pitted The Hart Foundation (Bret Hart and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart) against The Rockers.

The story backstage was that Jim Neidhart was supposed to leave the WWE after reported disputes, and was trying to negotiate his release from the company.

At that time, The Hart Foundation were the reigning WWE Tag Team Champions, and due to Neidharts's impending departure, management decided to put the belts on The Rockers.

So in this taped event, The Rockers beat The Hart Foundation for the Tag titles, as a solution to the company's problem—freeing up Neidhart to leave the company.

But the real problem was that the WWE came to an agreement with Neidhart after the match was taped, thus he was rehired.

Management then overruled the match, stating that The Hart Foundation were still the champions due to some technical difficulties with a broken turnbuckle (which in fact did happen during their match), in which they stated the match shouldn't have continued. In so never acknowledging the victory and never airing/ televising the title match.

The Rockers were rightfully outraged by the move, feeling that they were overlooked in comparison to the The Hart Foundation.

An unspoken rivalry began.

More importantly, Michaels, upon seeing Hart's Intercontinental title push in 1991's Summerslam, demanded singles attention, and a few months later departed from Marty Jannety and assumed his Heartbreak Kid persona.

Bret Hart was the reigning Intercontinental Champ till Summerslam 1992. Up till then—between April 7, 1992 to July 23, 1992—Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels wrestled each other in a total of 49 matches, of which Hart won 47 of their encounters.

One of their final matches during this period was the little-known, un-televised, first-ever ladder match for the WWE IC championship (which occurred almost two years before the Wrestlemania X ladder match in which Michaels credits himself for the innovation, when in actuality Hart brought the idea over from Stampede Wrestling).

If I were Michaels, I would be a little resentful of Hart, too, considering their previous history.

But aside from win-loss records, Michaels was part of a now infamous backstage stable of wrestlers, including Diesel (Kevin Nash), Razor Ramon (Scott Hall), and Triple H.

The Kliq, as they were known, wrote the book on backstage politics and maneuvered themselves into prime positions in the company with their tactics. They established booking influence and challenged the main event status of Bret Hart, among others.

Michaels was a favorite of McMahon, and although he did not have faith in the smaller wrestlers performing on a main event card, decided—with much lobbying by Michaels—to give him a shot in 1995 over more established wrestlers like Hart.

This of course would all culminate at Wrestlemania 12 in 1996, where the main event was an hour-long Iron Man Match between current WWE Champion Bret "The Hitman" Hart and the 1996 Royal Rumble Winner, Shawn Michaels.

We all know what events transpired; Shawn Michaels delivered Sweet Chin Music on The Hitman a few minutes into overtime and dethroned Hart to capture his first WWE title. A widely publicized fact was that Shawn Michaels proceeded to yell to Bret to "Get the f*** out of my ring, this is my moment," when he was being handed the title.

In his Autobiographical DVD, Bret The Hitman Hart: Best There is Best There Was And Best There Ever Will Be, Hart commented on the Iron-Man match, recalling that the match "did not benefit me in any way" and that he felt sad and angry that Shawn did not show him the proper respect following their match.

He stated that the business is about helping make each other's career, and when he recalls the match that he had with the late Mr. Perfect (Curt Hennig) at Summerslam 1991, and the fact that Mr. Perfect gave Bret and incredible match to make fans believe that, "this is the guy," he did so out of sheer respect for Bret, and teary eyed Bret expressed his gratefulness for his friend.

Well, since then, it was no surprise to anyone backstage that their was both an on-and-off-screen rivalry between the two. 

To further cement Michaels's disrespect of Hart, he refused to drop the title to Bret Hart at Wrestlemania 13, instead using a minor knee injury as a scapegoat as he relinquished the title following the 1997 Royal Rumble in his infamous "I lost my smile" speech on Raw.

In the following year, Bret would continue to fued with Austin, culminating in a Submission Match at Wrestlemania 13, which laid the foundation for a double-turn.

Then-heel Austin would finally turn face after a year in the WWE, and Hart would turn heel again after close to nine years.

Hart was not done after his match, and would continue to attack Austin (Kayfabe) in order for a reversal of roles. It was a historic match for Bret and Austin, but it was not the match Bret desired to have at WM 13

He wanted his title back, and he wanted the man that he helped create it to be the one he pinned.

Michaels was done putting Hart over, he did not want another opportunity to make Hart look good at his own expense. At Wrestlemania 13, before the main event of Undertaker vs Sid Vicious, Hart came out and called out Michaels (who was doing commentary alongside McMahon and Ross) for refusing to fight him, claiming he was using his "pussy foot injury" as an excuse.

Bret started an Anti-American, Pro-Canadian campaign, and he reformed "The Hart Foundation" with Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, his brother Owen (may he rest in peace), "The British Bulldog" Davey Boy Smith, and "Flyin" Brian Pillman. They Fueded with Austin, Legion of Doom, and anyone trying to defend the honor of the US Flag.

Meanwhile, Michaels, not content playing his stagnant role as a face, asked to be put over as a heel, and McMahon saw the potential and finally allowed Michaels to start his heel faction with his partner and friend, Triple H, alongside the mentorship of an older heel, Rick Rude, a temporary member, and Chyna.  

The group would come to be known as D-Generation X (a name unknowingly created by Hart, as he called Michaels a degenerate on TV programing after performing lewd acts).

This was a mistakenly weird moment in WWE history; you take your biggest face (Hart) and have him turn heel, and try and make him the biggest heel in the company, then you take another face (Michaels) and you make him an even bigger heel, who feuds with other heels (Hart).

They basically took the rug underneath the feet of Hart and then gave it to Michaels.

This led to an eventual on-screen rivalry of the two heels.

In the US, Michaels was the face, anywhere else, Bret was the face. For months it was DX vs The Hart Foundation, until a final resolution was declared.

Hart, a tried and true WWE persona, had been offered a contract from WCW (1996) by then head of talent Eric Bischoff.

Hart, true to his beliefs, told McMahon about the offer and insisted that he would reject whatever offer they made him. McMahon told him to meet with Bischoff and see what they put on the table (in order to gauge how much Bret meant to another promotion and to see if it was worth McMahon's interest to keep him).

Bret revealed the surprising contract to McMahon, and McMahon offered Bret a 20-year contract in-lieu of WCW's $50 Million dollar contract, Bret accepted.

Problems backstage continued.

Bret reportedly beat up Michaels backstage before a house show in Connecticut, when Michaels reportedly was spreading gossip about Hart having an affair with Sunny (of the Bodydonna's).

Hart, a devoted family man, was rightfully angered at the allegations which had no basis.

A few weeks later, on October 12, 1997, Hart confronted Michaels and talked to him about putting aside their differences and acting like men, stating that "We are professionals, if McMahon requests me to lose to you in a match, then so be it."

Michaels shot back by saying "I will never lose to you." This of course was a big sign of disrespect for Hart—he could not believe Shawn's pettiness.

Later, McMahon would regret his decision to keep Bret and started to defer his paychecks, while at the time encouraging Bret to ask Bischoff to put the offer back on the table, stating that the company's (WWE) financial perils were too much and he could not afford to keep a talent like Bret.

Bret was hesitant, but McMahon insisted. Using his father-son relationship, he told Bret that he just wanted what was best for him. Bret, reluctantly, signed a $3 million-a-year contract with WCW, thinking that he was doing what was best for himself, his family, and the company that made him a star.

After the deal was done, they had to figure out a way to have Bret lose his WWE title (His fifth and final WWE Title, won it from The Undertaker after Michaels, as referee, interfered and mistakenly knocked out Taker with a steel chair when he was aiming for Hart).

Hart's last match was to be at Survivor Series 1997.

Survivor Series November 9, 1997, was held at Molson Centre in Montreal, Quebec.

Bret, being the champion, did not want to lose the title in Canada, especially to Michaels (who he was going to face after weeks of back and forth promos), and instead came to an "agreement" with McMahon about a match disqualification due to outside interference by Dx and The Hart Foundation.

As we all know, that didn't happen. Bret was screwed by the man he despised. The man he thought was a father figure.

In a way, that is so disgusting any fan or non-fan of Hart would have to agree that no one deserves their career to be ended like that—betrayed.

Michaels applied the sharpshooter, Hart's signature finisher, on Hart, and within three seconds, referee Earl Hebner (may he rot in hell) called for the bell.

We have all probably seen Hart's destructive path after the incident—destroying cameras, spitting on Vince and attacking him backstage. He was right to do so.

Michaels hid behind McMahon, stating he didn't know the match was going to end like that, that he "wasn't in on it."

Years later, in 2001, on WWE Confidential, Michales admitted that he knew what was going to happen and that he helped McMahon create the scenario (the idea of the sharpshooter) in which to call for the bell.

The stranglehold of Michaels's WWE Championship title era, and Michaels's DX era following Hart's abrupt departure from the WWE, ended at Wrestlemania XIV when Michaels forcefully retired early due to a broken back he sustained in a casket match at the 1997 Royal Rumble against The Undertaker.

The difference is, he got to leave the WWE with dignity, after losing a well contested match to Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Years later Michael Shawn Hickenbottom (Shawn Michaels) would resurface, a much less volatile figure, a changed man, some might say (not me).

He was no longer addicted to drugs or living a fast life with loose women. He settled down, got married, had children, and found religion. But that didn't stop him from coming back to the WWE as HBK.

Bret Hart worked for WCW, earning two WCW title championships and two United States Title Championships. But he was mostly misused by WCW writers and officials.

He continued his work there until 2000, when he sustained a concussion during a title match with Bill Goldberg. Along with other injuries sustained along the way, he was force into retirement due to Post-Concussion Syndrome.

In his autobiography, Hart states that he ended as both company's (WWE and WCW) Champion, having never officially lost either respective title.

Prior to WM 22, Bret Hart was finally inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, and his only request was that Michaels not be in attendance.

Much to his dismay, Michaels was in attendance, but left prior to Hart's induction. Hart refused to appear the next night on Wrestlemania 22 due to Michaels being at the Hall Of Fame Ceremony.

Since Michaels's return to the squared-circle, he has been on occasion using the sharpshooter on some opponents. He is also now using the Crippler Crossface as one of his submission holds.

Considering the late Chris Benoit was an alumnus of Stu Hart's Dungeon, and he was dear friends with the Hart family, including Bret Hart, using the Crossface is almost as despicable as using the sharpshooter.

Both sides have their rightful baggage with each other, but I personally think that Shawn Michaels has always been an arrogant prima donna, and that conflicted with Hart's code of honor and respect he had for the industry.

Hart is arguably the better professional among the two; I mean, when it comes to Shawn, how dare he spread vicious rumors of an affair and be a chief architect of the Montreal screw-job. On top of that, he still has the gall to use The Sharpshooter, yet he is still seen as a face?

He's not kidding anyone, especially not me.