There are certainly those moments in professional wrestling that will go down in history as being game-changers and the Montreal Screwjob was certainly one of those moments.
A game changer because it changed the scope and direction of an entire company and the industry itself, or rather helped nudge it in a particular direction. It also gave birth to that evil Mr. McMahon character.
But it also showed just how real the world of professional wrestling—which is based on the make-believe—could actually be…and as Bret Hart once said in the documentary, Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows, “…it’s far more real than people think.”
Join us as we take a deep look at the Montreal Screwjob in its entirety, the aftermath, and what it meant for WWE and for the entirety of the professional wrestling industry.
The Hart Dynasty
The Hart family is one that is known to pro wrestling fans everywhere. Stu Hart, the patriarch of the family was a legendary wrestler and promoter based out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It’s where he founded Stampede Wrestling and opened the legendary Hart Dungeon.
Much to the chagrin of the Hart Matriarch, Helen Louise Smith, all of their sons turned out to be wrestlers to some extent, and so many of the daughters ended up marrying wrestlers. The talent that came out of that dungeon is incredible…the names legendary…names like Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart, the British Bulldog, Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, and so many others…including yet another son of the late, great Stu Hart, Bret Hart.
He did well in his father’s territory and caught the eye of one Vince McMahon. It was in 1984 that McMahon would purchase the entirety of Stu’s territory and take on many of its talented wrestlers, Bret Hart among them.
One heck of a 15-year run for Bret in WWE
It can’t be said that he didn’t face adversity during his 15 years working for Vince McMahon. It took a lot for Bret Hart to convince those round him that he was bankable. He was often set aside in favor of Shawn Michaels or Diesel or any other talent McMahon decided to shine a light on, but as 1996 progressed, Vince saw that Hart was the most dependable person to strap a rocket to, and so he did so.
It was clear in 1996 that after Diesel (Kevin Nash), and even Scott Hall jumped ship to go to WCW for less days worked and for more money, Shawn wanted to go right along with them and it was alleged that he faked an injury to do so.
Regardless, after Shawn ‘lost his smile’ on national television, McMahon put the belt back on Bret eventually and although at first this was a blessing, it would be one in disguise for Bret and all of his fans.
A loss of ratings
WWE was losing the war on ratings with WCW. After the start of the nWo, and Vince McMahon’s WWE was suddenly brought to the doorstep of financial peril, as Vince McMahon was quoted as saying in the aforementioned documentary film that caught the entirety of what would be the Montreal Screwjob on camera, believe it or not, the treachery unfolding on-screen in the film.
Well, even though McMahon had signed Bret to a twenty year deal, he decided to renege on that deal and asked Bret who had decided to stay in WWE, even though WCW had asked him to jump ship, offering him loads of money, to see if WCW would still give him the deal they’d originally offered him…again a deal he had previously rejected to stay loyal to WWE.
Well, that was that and just like that after all the loyalty, Bret was supposed to leave for WCW. There was just one problem: He still had the WWE title, and Vince wasn’t going to let him just leave with the strap. So they had to get it off him, but how?
What was the Montreal Screwjob?
So they needed to figure out how to get the title off of Bret Hart. Bret had no problem dropping it, but he had stipulations: He didn’t want to drop the title in Canada, which is his home country, and he didn’t want to drop the title to Shawn Michaels, whom Hart had had a falling out with in recent years, especially after Michaels told Hart he wouldn’t ever drop the title to him once Hart said he didn’t mind dropping the title to him. That respect wasn’t reciprocated and it made Bret change his mind, understandably so.
Again…one major problem…Hart was slated to face Michaels in Montreal at Survivor Series in 1997…and it was to be Hart’s last obligation with the company.
Well, Hart would come up with a solution…have the match at Survivor Series end in a disqualification because of a run-in from the rest of the Hart Foundation—Bulldog, Owen Hart and Jim Neidhart (all three men now deceased), and Hart stated that he would show up on Raw the next night and surrender the title, leaving the company on a good note. (Titles cannot change hands on a disqualification in pro wrestling unless otherwise stipulated.)
Vince McMahon would agree to the above terms proposed by Hart. What Vince didn’t know was that when this meeting was taking place, Bret was wearing a wire…the documentary filmmakers having put a microphone on him for the filming of the aforementioned film…and the idea from Bret, the agreeing to it by McMahon…all of it was caught on tape.
Fast forward to the ring, the match itself…Bret is put by Michaels in his own submission maneuver…the sharpshooter, Vince McMahon is at ringside and even though Bret doesn’t submit, McMahon is clearly heard saying: “Ring the bell,” the referee at the time, Earl Hebner, calling it as if Hart had in fact submitted when he didn’t.
Whose idea was it?
As it turns out, the idea was actually Triple H’s…not one to shy away from inserting his opinion, he stated essentially that if Bret didn’t want to do the right thing for the company, let’s make the choice for him.
Apparently, Michaels was also in on it by his own admission, despite not admitting to it back in 1997…and even Gerald Brisco was involved, coming up with the logistics of the Screwjob itself according to Hart.
Here are a few comments from the Hitman himself talking about it all:
“You know, a lot of people take credit for it. I’ve had a lot of people come up to me and tell me that they were involved in it, like, ‘I didn’t want to say anything, but I was in on the whole thing.’ It’s bulls–t…I mean, the only guys that were in on it, that I know of, were Vince, Triple H, Shawn of course, and Jerry Brisco…
That’s it, period. Earl Hebner got pulled in at the last minute when he walked out, but nobody else knew. Not even the TV guy, the producer, the guy that does all the – Kevin Dunn. Vince’s TV guy didn’t know anything about it until we were in the ring, then I think they told him…
I believe that leading into everything, the integrity of Vince in particular, his integrity started to really wane…There were a lot of things where I’d go, ‘this guy’s not being straight with me.’ And everything from Vince saying he couldn’t pay me, to then Vince saying he would even negotiate my [WCW] contract, that he was giving me all this information so I could leave, so I could be the first one to get out because it was a sinking ship…
They were all things – when he told me these things, I’m trying to believe him. I did have a very trusting relationship with Vince, and I’d like to think I was a guy who went to bat for him for a lot of things…
I trusted Vince but there were things leading up to the Screwjob that I just couldn’t trust. It was just getting very hard to believe anything he said, and again, I tried not to leave. I didn’t want to leave, and I kind of got pushed out, and I kind of felt even before the Screwjob happened that I felt betrayed…
Especially when I won the title, as an example, I had so much pride and respect for what [McMahon] was doing for me, appreciation. And I would have jumped in front of a moving train for Vince McMahon and probably would have up until those last few months…
The truth is, I took a $1.5 million salary over a $2.8 million salary. Oh, I think maybe the first offer was $2.5 [million], but that’s a considerable amount of money. I said, ‘no, I’m going to stay loyal with you.’ And you only have so many years to make whatever I could make, and for them to try and ruin me and tear me down based off of that I cost more or I’m making more money? …
Shawn and Triple H, all I can say about what they did with me was clearly they were offended that I made more money than them. And it’s like, is Triple H offended when Brock Lesnar is making more money than him? Does that give them the right to go screw him too? To mess with somebody else’s [livelihood]? So, you can kind of see the frustration of A) why I would be offended by this and B) why I got so mad when it happened?”
-via Wrestling Inc.
It was because of the light that McMahon was shown in during the release of the Wrestling With Shadows documentary and in the press after this event, that enabled him to explore that evil McMahon character even more.
That character unearthed the later storyline with Steve Austin and we all know how epic that angle would end up being for the company. It was practically an era in and of itself, the Austin/McMahon saga one to write home about for sure, but perhaps that’s a story for another time….
As for Bret Hart, he would go off to WCW, and that would turn out to be an ill-fated run if ever there was one, resulting in a career-ending injury he would suffer at the hands of an inexperienced Bill Goldberg.
Hart, McMahon and Michaels would eventually mend fences, so to speak, and Hart was even inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, but it took a lot of work. Eventually they got there, but no one will ever forget the impact the Montreal Screwjob would have on the industry.