• Matt Dod

The Montreal Screwjob, What Really Happened?

For a video on this topic The Montreal Screwjob, What Really Happened? (WWE Documentary) - YouTube




In an industry that focuses on creating iconic moments in order to attract it’s audience.

For one particular moment to stand out, as you can imagine, it takes something extraordinary.


Something so astonishing, over-the-top, or downright dangerous for that moment to stick in fans minds for years to come.


I say this, in an attempt to give you an idea of the magnitude of the topic we are about to discuss.


On the surface this is just a recollection into a night in 1997, in an arena in Canada. A moment where one wrestler won a match over a rival, something which we’ve seen countless times across the wide breath of wrestling history. Wrestling is fake right. So why does it even matter?


The Montreal Screw Job is not just a historic pro wrestling moment that stands out from the masses.


It is in fact, quite possibly the single most important and memorable moment in all of pro wrestling history.


And here is why.



BRET HART


Known for his world-class in-ring skills, The Hitman is arguably the greatest technical wrestler in the history of WWE. The excellence of execution, once coined by Gorilla monsoon, didn’t take long for others to come to terms with the moniker.


In an industry built around bravado and hyperbole, “the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be” may not be everyone’s opinion of this generation spanning wrestler.

But his character at least deserves to be discussed in those upper circles of grappling’s elite.


His humble yet determined attitude towards his rivals & his honest and truthful look out onto the wrestling industry meant he was both appreciated and respected both on television, by fans In the arenas around the world and in the locker room with his peers.


“I think it's hard to differentiate between your wrestling character and your real character - you kind of end up being both. I've always been my wrestling character in and out of the ring and in and out of the dressing room, and I was always really respected in the dressing room by the other wrestlers.” – BRET HART

Clad in contrasting neon sunglasses, singlet and trademark leather jacket, the pink and black attack fit nicely into the 90’s new generation aesthetic amongst other colourful characters of the time such as; Macho Man Randy Savage, Hulk Hogan & Shawn Michaels.


“The pink was something that they liked. For those kids, the pink and black and the whole look with the sunglasses and the leather jacket was the right kind of hero they could get behind, and I think that really set me apart from everyone else.” – Bret Hart


SHAWN MICHAELS


White skin. Brown Hair and a glittering pro wrestling career which rose to prominence within an iconic tag-team. These are the similarities which are shared between Bret Hart and one of his greatest rivals.


In almost every other conceivable way. These two men are opposites.

The heart-break kid thinks he’s cute, he knows he’s sexy. He’s got the looks that drives the girls wild. He’s got the moves, that really move them. He sends chills up and down their spines. He’s just a sexy boy.


Where Bret was proud of his noble attitude and no-nonsense approach to in-ring combat, Shawn Michaels was the opposite. Arrogant, flashy and always certain of his own abilities, the on-screen character of the Heartbreak Kid was so charismatic that this persona even began to seap out into the real-life world of Shawn Michaels.


As part of the The Rockers tag-team in the AWA Shawn drew the attention of fans and fellow wrestlers alike with his unbridled desire to entertain the crowds and ever-growing ability to create some of the greatest pro wrestling matches of all-time.


When Shawn betrayed Marty in one of the most brutal tag team break ups ever, Michaels quickly became public enemy number one. However, even as fans around the US came to shows to boo and show their disgust at Shawn’s despicable actions, in the back of their minds, they knew it was hard to hate a man who was just so damn good.


“I'll go out there and give you a show like you've never seen. Why... Because I can!” Shawn Michaels

1989


25th November

A time-limit draw between 2 teams who the fans cared little about. Not the epic fairy-tale opening that perhaps this bitter feud deserved. However, all stories have to start somewhere. And as the WWF’s match began, we have the first encounter of this now historic feud.


On the 25th November 1989 inside of Madison Square Garden in New York. As Bret Hart was joined by Jim the Anvil and Shawn Michaels paired with Marty Jannetty came face to face. Nobody could have predicted the way in which these two men’s paths would be contorted around one another over the next decade.


Both teams tried their best to impress and the fans in attendance got to witness two babyface factions battling it out for nothing more than respect and a little momentum on their way to the tag team title belts.


1990

February of 1990. The start of a new decade and the start of a new feud. At WWF’s Wrestling Challenge in Florida, Shawn Michaels faced off against Bret Hart for the first time in a televised match.


Both men impressed with their chemistry between the ropes and put on a quick but effective bout full of quick reversals and smooth chain wrestling. The fans in attendance got behind the action and seemingly were in support of both wrestlers.


This match was a trial of sorts for these performers. Seeing how they would fare in front of a crowd without their partners. However, the Rockers and The Hart Foundation were far from being separated.


This fact was evident when the fight ended with an interruption by Marty Jannety and Anvil Neidhart causes a no contest call from the referee. The keen eyed of you will have also noticed the referee who made the call to end the match. Earl Hebner. How fitting that the first match between Michaels and Bret would be called to a sudden halt by the same man who would do just that 7 years later in Montreal.


1990


4th April

Later in April of 1990, the two teams faced off once again on WWF’s Saturday Night’s Main Event. The Rockers and Hart Foundations once again showed their potential as both teams and singles wrestlers, with some nice chain wrestling on display from the quartet.


Fans in Austin Texas witnessed two teams who were evenly matched on the night, in a match which ended with a double disqualification. Leaving the question of who was the better unit, still to be answered.


Saturday Night’s Main Event

When The Rockers challenged The Hart Foundation to two out of three falls match in October 1990. Fans were treated to a real wrestling clinic. The previous matches between the two teams had allowed all four men to hit their strides. All of these performers played their parts expertly as Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty finally overcame the odds and won in a hard-fought contest.


Although fans back at the time wouldn’t have known this. As the match was never aired on television.


During the bout, one of the ring ropes had forced the turnbuckle loose and caused for the confines of the ring to collapse. Even though the wrestlers managed to continue and showed real professionalism to negate the unexpected. WWF owner Vince McMahon felt that the accident with the ring construction made the company look cheap and unprepared. Especially as both teams had to change their offence on the fly.


With WWF television being filmed weeks ahead of it’s air date. This meant that for a brief while The Rockers took with them the belts and even defended it against Paul Roma and Hercules. Before the boss decided that the original title change match wouldn’t air and The Hart Foundation would continue on as champions until a rematch could be scheduled.


Since then Shawn Michaels has spoken about how he believes the Hart’s got into Vince Mcmahon’s ear and persuaded him to hold off on the title change. In the time after November 3rd, no rematch happened between the Rockers and The Hart Foundation and thus the title never officially changed hands. Something which, due to the fact that Shawn Michael’s and Marty Jannetty never went on to hold the tag team titles in WWF, stings all that much more.


In the modern day you can see the full un-aired title change on the Shawn Michaels Story DVD, which is interesting since the video was never edited, and commentary never added. A real hidden gem for those die-hard wrestling historians out there.


1991


30th March

By March of 1991. Just a week after the Hart Foundation losing the tag titles at Wresltemania 7 to the Nasty Boys, Bret and Shawn faced off once again, In only the second ever match at the Tokyo Dome to feature only WWF wrestlers, The Hart Foundation defeated The Rockers in front of an excitable crowd. A hot start to a crossover show known as Wrestle Fest.


Presented by short lived promotion SWS and WWF simultaneously. This fast-paced tag bout was filled with great ring psychology and expert grappling and really allowed time for the match to breathe. This version is the best quality I can find. I’m not sure if this series is available officially online. If it is, I couldn’t find it. However, that being said. Just the sheer spectacle of seeing classic WWF wrestlers such as Ric Flair, The Undertaker, Macho Man Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan facing off against notable Japanese wrestlers of the period, such as Yoshiaki Fujiwara, Minoru Suzuki and Genichiro Tenryu makes SWS Wrestlefest and their entire SWS Tokyo Dome show run worth a watch.


In December of 1991 Shawn Michaels had become the clear stand out from the Rockers tag-team and decided to go it alone. A moment now infamous for it’s shocking nature, as Michaels threw Jannetty into a glass window pane causing blood to ooze from his once close allies head.


Since then the moment has gone on to be a blueprint for how to dramatically split up a partnership as well as an iconic part of pro wrestling history.


At the time, it meant that Shawn has a chance to branch out on his own, and began to spread his wings as a performer, growing more confident in the ring and out.


1992

Shawn Michaels was now accompanied to the ring by his Sensational valet, Sherri. The pair forming a unique duo, with Sherri even lending her voice to the original version of the Heartbreak Kid’s entrance theme.


As both Michaels and Hart continued to improve and make their way up the card. By 1992 Bret Hart was the Intercontinental Champion with the belt on the line against his now recurring enemy. The first time these two wrestlers could come face to face for a title belt came on Prime Time Wrestling in Ottawa, Ontario.


Even with Sherri at his side in matching glittery outfit, Michaels still came up short as Bret managed to retain his WWF Intercontinental title in his home country of Canada.


21st July

By July of 1992, the pair’s rivalry had started to heat up with the two men now having faced off enough times to be able to consistently amaze with the quality of the wrestling in their matches.


Shawn Michaels had begun to exude charisma on the microphone and sexiness with his movements and costumes. But he also started to show that his in-ring work justified his cocky attitude.


Bret had now become widely accepted as an in-ring general, earning the moniker of “the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be.”


When Bret approached Vince McMahon with an idea which he had taken from his time wrestling for Stampede in Canada. The Boss didn’t need any convincing. WWF would put on their very first ladder match. A stipulation which was and still is extremely dangerous. A match type which takes a certain type of wrestler in order to make it work.


One who processes agility and balance in order to work with the ladder safely as well as an excellent understanding of ring psychology in order to make the story of the match. Vince knew that both Shawn and Bret processed these skills amongst many more in abundance and thus, on an untelevised and little marketed event the two men laid the foundations for the modern day WWE ladder match.


Both men were inventive with their use of the ladder throughout the match and every time one of both of them made their way up towards the belt, the crowd couldn’t contain their excitement. A real energetic reaction from the live fans certainly adds to the atmosphere, making this lost match worth hunting down and watching.


Obviously, this match is much less known and less well respected with the next ladder match Shawn Michaels would have. But nether the less, as Bret Hart climbed the ladder in the middle of the ring and retrieved his Intercontinental belt, fans in attendance knew they had just been a part of something revolutionary.


14th November

In summer of 1992, Bret Hart faced off against his brother in law Davey Boy Smith The British Bulldog, inside of a packed out Webley Stadium in London. Where the Hitman lost the belt in a sun soaked classic in the UK.


The British Bulldog seemingly handed the belt due to the location of Summerslam, eventually lost the belt to Shawn Michaels.


By November of 1992, Bret Hart held the WWF title and Shawn held the intercontinental belt, with the two men still heavily involved in a rivalry. Shawn beating Bret’s family member had made it feel personal and as the pair came face to face on Main Event, Mean Gene Oakerlund had to do his best to stop the confrontation boiling over.


Survivor Series 1992

Soon after, Shawn challenged Bret at the upcoming Survivor Series pay-per-view, one on one, title for title. Two athletes who were just hitting their prime, with bags of experience and the world as their feet. Both had swarms of adoring fans following them to shows and autograph signings around the country.


Bret had always stayed true to his good guy persona, never willing to cheat and always relying on hard work and skill to get him to the top.


Shawn was growing ever more arrogant, flashier and his in-ring work reflected that. His betrayal of Marty was still in fans minds, but somehow through all his boasting and showboating, the fans could never seemingly bring themselves to hate Shawn.


With the crowd split in Ohio. Bret retained his belt in a half hour classic. The best match that these men had shared thus far in their career and a taste of the almost unfathomably levels of skill we were about to witness from the pair.


1993


The following November at Survivor Series 1993, one of the key stories leading into the event was the ongoing feud between Bret Hart and Jerry The King Lawler. But with Lawler unable to compete due to an ongoing legal dispute the details of which I won’t discuss in this video. Bret was left without a match.


The advertised bout was set to take place in the classic Survivor Series format of two themed teams, one headed by Bret Hart, featuring his brothers Owen, Bruce and Keith the other with Jerry The King Lawler leading out a team of masked knights.


However, with Lawler out, Shawn replaced him, but due to the last-minute switch, WWF didn’t have time to organise and advertise Michaels to have another team with him that night in Boston.


Thus we were treated to the lacklustre bout between The Hart brothers and Shawn Michaels and his knights, whose identities were hidden behind lucha masks, as I think even Vince McMahon knew these characters were a one off.


If you’re interested, Jeff Gaylord was the Black Knight, Greg Valentine was the Blue Knight, and Barry Horowitz was the Red Knight. Shawn Michaels ended up walking out of the match for a count out, handing the victory to the opposing team.


This match was less about the story between Bret and Shawn. The drama of the story came when Owen Hart was eliminated at the fault of team leader Bret which created tension after the final bell and led into their now iconic feud moving forward.


Steel Cage

A month later. In December of 1993 the next match between the pair took the stakes to the next level. The animosity between the two men had grown to a point where a regular singles match couldn’t confine the aggression.


Outside interference had caused a number of non-finishes to several matches along the feud thus far and so, the WWF sanctioned a match in New York between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart inside of a steel cage.


In a short match which didn’t have any room to gain momentum, Hart was victorious over Michaels in a timely 11 minutes. The Hitman making the escape over the top of the cage when Michaels got his boot and tights trapped in the cage’s construction, leaving him hanging upside down with little recourse.


The match itself, which took place in Germany as part of a WWF European tour, was held back from television and only saw the light of day when a Coliseum Home Video featured this hidden gem as part of a Best Of Germany feature VHS.


This would prove to be a point at which all parties felt it valuable to take a break from the rivalry as Michaels and Hart went their separate ways over the next 18 months.


1995

The next time we would see the pair in a ring together, was when they were paired together to face off against Jerry The King Lawler and Hakushi in an untelevised match.


Jerry Lawler got the crowd riled up before the contest got underway and the match had a great pace. Little is known as to why this match never made it’s way to television as during the 10 minute bout the wrestling on display from Bret and Shawn is stellar and the same can be said for the character work from The King and Hakushi.


Bret ends up getting jumped at the bell and is on the receiving end of a serious beating for the majority of the contest. The excitement rises as he tries again and again to make his way towards his partner Michaels.


With Bret staying true to his no cheating rule, he is frustrated when Michaels begins to bend the rules. As Shawn gets the hot tag, the crowd erupts as he manages to swing the momentum in his side’s favour.


The bell rings as Hart forces Hakushi to tap out to the sharpshooter as Bret and Shawn reluctantly share in the celebrations of victory.


The odd-couple of Bret and Shawn paired up once again to face off against Jacob and Eli The Blu Brothers in a tag match.


A twist on the pre-existing formula allowed a chance for these now well travelled foes, to put aside their differences and show what they can achieve as a unit. On an untelevised dark match Bret and Shawn easy beat The Blu Brothers with little resistance when Hart applied his patented sharp shooter submission.


Not a memorable match by any stretch, but notable as one of the lesser scene instances of Hart and Michaels in-ring together.


It was around this time, that Shawn Michaels began to see the light. He had moved away from the more extreme sides of his personality and had become one of the fan favourites inside of WWF, cementing his new stance with his move away from the loss to Diesel and his heel valets, choosing instead to be paired with José Lothario an experienced veteran of the ring.


During a trip to Syracuse, New York, Shawn Michaels finished up in his match against the British Bull dog and the pair, joined by X-Pac Sean Waltman left the show in search of celebration. After one too many drinks, the trio were invited to a local nightclub where they continued to drink and chase after women. Shawn found himself belligerently drunk, pulling shapes with a group of young women on the nightclub dance floor. One of whom Michaels invited back to his hotel room, only to be met by a rather large local man who intervened.


Shawn being the showman he always has been, continued to dance and thrush his way around the club, drawing the ire of a few others and causing friction with the locals.

Outiside, as Shawn attempted to leave he was met in the car park by the man who had previously accostyed him and a few of his equally large friends. One man reportedly shouted;


“What are you hanging around with those loser wrestlers for? They are all a bunch of fakes.”

At Shawn and the woman he was with before the tension began to escalate. With no friends in sight, Shawn threw a floppy right hand toward his aggressors to no avail, he was set upon by the now angry group who sent him away with a concussion and a split lip.


This real life event played into the WWF show as the story was exaggerated and grew to how Michaels had been set upon by an angry mob and valiantly fought till the last. This drew enormous sympathy from the wrestling fans and helped push Michaels further towards the light.


WWF pushed the story so far, as to have Shawn collapse during a promo segment in the ring, really driving home the seriousness of his injuries.





1996

Michaels returned to WWF At the start of 1996. He managed to win the Royal Rumble match for the second time in a row and set up a much-anticipated rematch with the World Champion Bret Hart.


The build up to the match was brief in it’s screen time, however, an excellently edited video package which aired in the lead up to the Wrestlemania main event summed up everything that this match meant to Michaels and Hart. The story was once again built around the two performer’s core ideals, Bret the hard-working athlete who was always willing and able to defend his championship. And Shawn Michaels, the other side of the wrestling coin. Focused on entertaining the masses at all costs, with over-the-top charisma and heart stopping in-ring ability.


I’m not sure if those who were writing these stories within WWF at the time, knew just how masterfully nuanced it was. Perhaps they did. Regardless, the idea that Bret and Shawn were enemies had and still to this day has so many layers.


On the surface, two wrestlers determined to be the best, fan favourites in their prime about to set the world a light with their main event spectacle.


But as we look deeper, we see that Shawn and Bret are in a way, the Ying and Yang of pro wrestling, the sports of Bret Hart and entertainment of Shawn Michaels, brought together to represent this wild form of entertainment in it’s entirety.


As the Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart are both performers in WWF and real people, the line between what they believed should be happening in the ring and how they acted outside of it began to blur.


WWF was moving towards a more adult approach to it’s presentation, one filled with sexual innuendo, graphic violence and a grittier feel. This new way of presenting pro wrestling was spearheaded by Michaels.


Away from the bright neon, realistic and often times slow approach which had been lead up to this point by Bret Hart.


The match would determine the direction for the WWF on screen and behind the scenes and that sense that the wrestling landscape was changing, can be felt when watching Wrestlemania 12.


Two of the most beloved good guys in all of pro wrestling. Their twisted and tangled path leading us to this epic moment. Face to face on the biggest stage in all of pro wrestling. Wrestlemania 12 with Bret’s WWF title on the line. In a match which some say is the greatest of all-time.


A 60 minute iron-man match in the main event in front of little over 18,000 fans whose enthusiasm on the night could trick those merely listening into thinking the crowd was double that size.


As Shawn Michaels made his now infamous descent via zip wire over the crowd, arena lights catching the sequins of his attire and scattering strobes of beaming light into our televisions, it felt different. It felt special.


Bret hit a piledriver which showed that he was putting every last drop of effort into his defence. Michaels made a diving leap to outside the ring, landing a picture-perfect cross-body at a time in wrestling where that kind of a move was still relatively fresh, I know as a kid watching, I felt like I’d never seen anything like that high flying stunt in my life.

An absolute classic and clinical display of two of the greatest wrestlers to ever exist. An absolute must-watch match for all those wanting to see how far technical mastery in the ring, both physical and emotional – can be pushed.


The end of the match came as the 60 minute time limit closed out, with Bret managing to ensnare Michaels in the sharpshooter with the clock showing it’s final seconds.

With both men tied, if Michaels tapped out or submitted, Bret would be declared the victor. After a gruelling hour of wrestling, even as a Bret Hart fan, I was willing on Shawn not to lose in the last moments. For me, both men had excelled, and it would have been a harsh outcome for the challenger who looked as good as Bret throughout.


As the clock fell to zero, Bret believed that Shawn had submitted, declaring himself the victor and making his way to the back.


However, the camera clearly showed that Shawn had not been defeated, and Bret was met on the ramp by WWF President Gorilla Monsoon who announced: “There must be a winner!”

Now Bret was furious and set to work dismantling Shawn, working on his lower back and taking complete control during the now sanctioned over-time period, where the next pin fall would win the match.


One last drop of energy from Shawn allowed him to leap over Bret in the corner and deliver a glancing Sweet Chin music super-kick. One that merely disorientated Hart and knocked him back into the corner.


A second more decisive kick from Shawn sent Bret back to the mat. In Anaheim, California, that night, “The boyhood dream has come true” as Shawn pinned Bret, 1,2,3 and won his first ever WWF World Championship.


“As for my finest WrestleMania moment, that happened at WrestleMania XII with Shawn Michaels. I think it stands as the best pro wrestling match. Kudos to Shawn, too. We both made that a classic match that will never, ever lose its shine. There were no wasted moves, and the precision in every move, right down to Tony Chimel getting kicked off his chair—I’ve watched it maybe 10 times in the last 10 years—and the beauty of that match was that Shawn and I had put a lot of thought into different aspects of the match. I remember there was a certain point when I had to be setting up a move with exactly five minutes left in the match. I remember setting up on the second rope and looking at the score clock, and there were exactly four minutes and fifty-nine seconds left in the match. It was those little details where we were exactly on cue, on the second, that made the “Iron Man” match unlike any other live drama. The amazing stuff I did with Shawn that day eclipses anything I ever did in terms of timing and thinking on my feet. The drama of me staggering back up to my feet, still fighting, then taking the big boot for Shawn’s finish, and the drama, frustration, and emotion my fans must have felt was huge. It still stands as one of the most dramatic matches in WrestleMania history.” Bret Hart

A moment which solidified both men as the best in the world and the height of their abilities to work as a unit in the ring, with the goal of creating stories which will last a llifetime. The last time that Bret and Shawn would see eye to eye on a human level and from here, things only go downhill.


For Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, the road ahead in a complex one. Full of lies, deceit and betrayal.


After Wrestlemania 12. Things began to change. Bret Hart losing his cherished belt to his most bitter rival destroyed not only his reputation as the best wrestler in the company, but also destroyed Bret’s belief that hard work and skill would always trump showmanship in the ring.


This led to a point of re-evaluation for the Hitman who was clearly dejected following the biggest defeat of his entire career.


On an episode of Raw in April we saw a video package showing Bret taking time away from the ring in order to think things over, and a brief segment of Bret explaining how his feeling were hurt following the loss of his belt.


Over the following months, Bret was off screen, given time to rehab a few of his niggling injuries and allowed time to spend with his family, whom he had spent so many weeks and months away from during his historic rise to the top within the WWF.


By October, fans were beginning to wonder if Bret would ever return to form, or if indeed he would even be returning to wrestling. After all, Hart’s rabid fans had never had to wait so long to see their hero and had, in part become fans of the man and the wrestler due to his ability to consistently perform at the highest level, week in, week out.

When The Hitman appeared on Raw in October, the wrestling world welcomed him back with open arms amidst speculation surrounding his career.


In November Shawn Michaels faced off against Sycho Sid at Survivor Series. After Sid attacked Shawn’s manager with a video camera, Shawn became distracted and eventually fell to a wicked powerbomb from Sid and lost the WWF belt.

By December Bret was next in line to challenge Sid for his newly won title.


In a match at In Your House, one in which Bret Hart had the upper hand, the action spilled out of the ring and out to the ringside area. Which not so coincidentally was were guest commentator for the match Shawn Michaels happened to be sitting. After and altercation next to the commentary table between Hart and Michaels, Shawn became enraged.


Sid had followed Bret outside of the ring and shoved Michaels in the face, which pushed The Heartbreak Kid to boiling point.


As Bret and Sid climbed back into the ring they were followed by Michaels who clambered up on the ring apron. As Sycho Sid threw Bret towards to ropes his slammed into Shawn leaving Bret temporarily hunched over, in the perfect position for Sid to grab Bret and forcefully execute a powerbomb to retain his belt.


A moment which nowadays is played out and repeated ad nauseum, however at the time the interference from Shawn, following the altercation perpetrated by Bret only served to deepen the divide not only between the two wrestlers, but also between their respective fanbases.


In what I consider to be the start of a masterful piece of storytelling, we see a desperate Bret on his knees outside of the ring, the usually clean-cut athlete who would never normally dream of using an illegal weapon to win a match, for just a brief second, can be seen grabbing at Shawn’s chair.


Would Bret have used the chair against Sid if things had played out differently?

As we are about to see, this is a subtly indicator of the change which Bret was about to undertake.


On Raw the next week. All of the subtlety disappeared. As Bret made his way to the ring it was clear that everything had changed. His demeanour was not that of a man who was doing it all for the fans. Bret had lost hope and this was clear to see on his face.

For me, this is the turning point for the entire story. Everything that came before saw Bret and the hero. But now. Now things were different for the first time.


Later in December Shawn and Bret once again came face to face as Hart finally let loose and told Michaels and the entire wrestling world how he felt on an episode of Raw. In a segment which also featured a heated encounter between The Undertaker and Sycho Sid as the four men’s rivalries became entangled.


During this segment Bret Hart really began to look different from his ring general Hitman persona, trading his classic pink and black singlet for a biker style jacket, bare chest and classic 90s stone wash denim jeans.


1997


The animosity continued into 1997, where in January at the Royal Rumble: Stone Cold Steve Austin won, by last eliminating Bret Hart. After in fact Bret had first eliminated Stone Cold, something that the referees claimed to have missed. This moment was seen from Bret’s point of view as another low point, he believed that he had been betrayed by the referee officiating the match and by extension his employers WWF.


Shawn and Bret took to the ring again during a March edition of Raw. The two men’s anger getting the better of them as their hatred for one another turned from aggressive words on the microphone to blows with their fists.


By May Bret’s turn to the dark side was in full effect. When Shawn made his way to the ring to address the fans live on Raw. Hart and his contemporaries followed him and delivered a dastardly beat down to Hart’s long time enemy.


A few months later, with Bret held up in a wheelchair, his passion for the hatred inside of himself continued to grow. In a now infamous segment on Raw, Bret rolled to the ring and berated Shawn and the fans for the way in which they had changed pro wrestling. Bret blamed Michaels for WWF’s turn towards the attitude era and the darker sides of entertainment.


Bret in real life never enjoyed the smut and sexual exploitation which fans in the mid-90s seemed so interested in. This bled into the storylines on screen and Hart, rightfully put Shawn as the spearhead of pro wrestling’s new adult themed direction. Not willing to back down from a fight, Michaels made his way to join Hart in the ring and the segment ended with The Hitman pushed from his wheelchair and laid out in the middle of the ring.


By the time SummerSlam rolled around in the summer of 1997, the animosity between Michaels and Hart had reached fever pitch. So, when Shawn allowed Bret to beat the Undertaker to win the WWE Championship in a match that featured Shawn Michaels as the referee, it further added subtext to this intriguing competition. For more on the topic, I’d like to hear from my good friend who above all else, loves wrestling. His name. I Hate Wrestling.


At In Your House. Bret Hart won the vacant WWE Championship in a 4-Way Elimination Match that also featured Steve Austin, the Undertaker, and Vader. Showing exactly just how highly WWD regarded his career at this time.


WrestleMania 13 served as the finale for the battle against the Texan Rattlesnake when The Hitman beat Steve Austin in a Submission Match, imagery from that night, those moments seared into the consciousness of wrestling fans globally.


In the background some tension was building between Shawn Michaels & Bret, off-screen. Bret wanted to agree with Michaels that some topics from each other’s personal lives should remain private. And wanted to enforce a rule which would see both Michaels and Hart refraining from involving each other’s families in on-screen storylines.


However. Shawn Michaels has always been a showman. He has always known just exactly what it takes to entice audiences and ensure that pro wrestling stays fresh and exciting. Although the pair spoke at length about Hart’s desires for a certain level of privacy, Shawn knew that blending the line between fiction and fantasy was where the world of pro wrestling was heading, and he was right.


At In Your House, One Night Only Shawn Michaels decided to make the feud once again about family. Insisting on challenging Davey Boy Smith, The British Bulldog and Bret Hart’s brother in law to a title match for the Bulldog’s European belt. A match which saw Michaels picking up the victory with Triple H and Chyna ringside and one which backstage infuriated Bret who seemingly began to confuse in-ring storytelling with a personal attack against him and his loved ones.


Something which to this day seems to be a recurring theme whenever you hear the Hitman talking about pro wrestling. And especially when you hear him talk about all of the events that occurred in 1997. Bret Hart admits that during this time, he began to allow his ego to take over and has always said how he found it difficult to distinguish between Bret Hart the wrestler and Bret Hart the man.


The next week on Raw, as Shawn and Triple H made their way to the ring to show off Michaels’ new shiny European belt, Bret and the Hart family had seen enough of their brashy, cocky celebrations. As the Harts stood on the ramp, we were left with this famous image from Michaels and Triple H who seemingly didn’t care about the Hart’s threats and lauded their recent victories over the family.


This cockiness shown by Michaels and Hunter shows a glimpse into the attitude that made the attitude era. The fans ate it up and enjoyed the direction in which the company was now clearly headed. But Bret. Bret did not.


A MONTH BEFORE THE SCREWJOB


On Raw In October, Bret decided to play by Shawn’s rules and went after his nearest and dearest challenging Triple H to a match, one in which, given Hart’s stature within the company and Triple H’s then role as Michaels side kick, was seemingly unbalanced and a threat made to teach Michaels a lesson.


Later that night as Triple H and Bret faced off, Shawn did everything within his power ringside to cause a distraction and hurt Bret’s feelings. If there was anything that Bret loved as much as his family and pro wrestling. It was Canada. So when Michaels began to degrade Hart’s beloved home country, holding up a sign that says Canada sucks, the feud only began to grown more deeply personal.


Shawn blew his nose on the Canadian flag something which infuriated Bret. And when Chyna and Michaels helped Triple H to win via count out, it left Bret and his family enraged.


During this time, Bret began to communicate with Vince McMahon about his lack of confidence in the way in which WWF was developing and even spoke about his uncertainty about his place on the roster. As The pair continued to have heated exchanges backstage, the animosity began to build, something which those closest to the situation began to recognise.


“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. Everything I had delivered for him – I really delivered for him and gave him so much, and I really felt that he didn’t come through.” Hart added, “McMahon’s integrity was pretty shoddy.” Bret Hart

The following week on Raw as Bret and his brother Owen were in the ring, the live feed cut to a backstage camera where we saw Shawn sitting with his allies Triple H and Chyna, the friends declaring that the new age of pro wrestling had officially begun and that they would be the heads of a new generation, known as D-Generation X.


In hindsight DX would become one of the most influential parts of the entire pro wrestling world, both on screen and behind the scenes and would help revolutionise the way in which the artform was presented, for better and for worse.


DX represented everything that Bret saw was wrong with not just pro wrestling, but with popular culture in general at the time. He admitted that this was the point where in real life, he decided to not let his children continue to watch WWF as the programming had become too violent, too sexual and too full of adult themes.


Bret has every right to feel how he did. However, that doesn’t change the fact that from this point on, pro wrestling was entering into it’s most popular period of all-time and an era which would change the landscape of WWF forever.


CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS

It was around this time that WCW made a large offer towards Bret, promising a contract that financially far overshadowed his current WWF pay check. But Bret was undecided, he was going to stay loyal to WWF even if he hadn’t been treated the best in recent months.


Bret was an honourable man and wasn’t going to turn his back on those who had paid his wages for so many years. At this point he had signed a contract which would last longer than any other WWF contract ever signed and was guaranteed a pay check every month for 10 years.


But this didn’t stop Vince Mcmahon, longstanding owner and chairman of WWE and Bret to come to a stand-still over new contract negotiations, with the clock running out on Hart’s duties, neither man was willing to budge. Hart was willing to hand over the title via a loss and even said he’d do so after his contract had expired. However due to the previous conflicts with Shawn Michaels, his only stipulation was that he wouldn’t drop the belt to HBK in Canada.


This led to a situation where WWE’s main champion was about to be out of contract and still in procession of it’s most important and historical belt.


With WCW circling, Vince Mcmahon, not wanting to lose one of his biggest stars and his biggest titles as the same time made an industry changing decision. One that not only changed the fate of Bret Hart, but those around him, Vince Mcmahon’s long-running character arc, the fan’s perception of WWE and the path that sports entertainment would take from that moment fourth, the incident which will now and forever, be held up in wrestling folklore as the Montreal Screwjob.


Longstanding showrunner and WWE executive Bruce Pritchard said at the time: “He told us that he would lose it to the perennial jobber Brooklyn Brawler in Madison Square Garden, but that he wouldn’t drop the title to Shawn in Canada, There was an uneasiness because Bret had been pretty difficult all week, It was a constant negotiation.” Bret would agree, then he’d disagree, he’d agree, then disagree, he’d agree, then call back and say ‘Nah, I don’t wanna do that.’ It was a lot of give and take all week, trying to get to the point that we needed to get to.”

“It was a situation where Bret didn’t want to lose in Canada, “He didn’t want to lose before the Pay-Per-View because he didn’t want to disappoint his fans because he was advertised as champion. ” Jim Cornette explained.

"I didn't want him to go to WCW with our championship," Vince McMahon said in an interview. "So the request for Bret would be, 'Okay, let's drop this championship back to someone in WWE where it belongs' and that didn't happen so I had to do what I had to do. It's no different than an actor in a television series who at the end of it refuses to die or refuses to do the job so to speak. What do you do?”

As the old entertainment business saying goes, the show must go on! So whilst all of these heated contract negotiations were turning into fully fledged arguments behind the scenes, the storyline of Shawn vs Bret continued to play out onscreen.


At the beginning of November after countless hours spent on the telephone and in the office of Vince McMahon, Bret made his decision. One which must have felt like the ultimate gamble as he took his pride and his creative control in his hand and signed with WWF’s biggest rivals WCW.


To most WWF fans, wrestlers and backroom staff, this was the ultimate betrayal. A moment which saw Bret acting in his own interests both in terms of his wrestling career and financially.


Bret would continue on for the next month after sending a fax to Vincent McMahon informing him of his final decision on his way to receiving a guaranteed $3 million per year contract down in Orlando.


Something which is said to have hurt the personal feelings of McMahon who believed he had always done right by Bret and was surprised to receive the news of Bret’s departure as his contract began to expire.


THE WEEK BEFORE


Say what you will about Vincent K McMahon, but the businessman has assembled an empire through almost half a century as the figure-head of WWF and now WWE. The man is a billionaire and knows how ruthless one must be in order to steer such an enormous ship. Bret was still being elusive on the week leading into Survivor Series in 1997. He was heading to WCW but wasn’t willing to give a solid answer when questioned about his plan for dropping the WWF belt.


McMahon was backed into a corner. From his point on view, if Bret wasn’t willing to operate in the way in which most benefitted the WWF then McMahon must act in order to correct the companies course.


“Vince McMahon held a meeting at the hotel with Jim Ross, Jim Cornette, Pat Patterson, and Michaels. Reports are that at least two of the aforementioned names looked extremely uncomfortable leaving the meeting,” wrote respected wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer in his Wrestling Observer newsletter.

"I just recall, up to that point, there being big scuttlebutt all over like 'Dun dun dun -- what's going to happen with Bret leaving?'" Michaels said to ESPN.com, "And then of course was, I guess, an infamous phone call between myself and Hunter and Vince -- I want to say it was just the week before. “We had the meeting, and as everyone was leaving, Vince asked me, Hunter, and Jerry Brisco, a longtime agent and close confidant of Vince’s, to stay. We sat down and talked,” Michaels wrote in his autobiography . “Pat was in the room with us earlier, and he had no idea what was going to happen. He had a strong relationship with Bret. He wouldn’t have done it, and Vince knew that. That’s why he didn’t tell Pat …”

It was agreed that to get the belt from Bret some underhanded tactics would be needed, reminiscent of the old-fashioned shoot wrestling events seen in the early days of the NWA. Shawn was going to have to work out a way to win a match against Bret without Bret being a part of the finish, and in a way which would ensure the belt changed hands at the upcoming Survivor Series pay-per-view.


THE DAY BEFORE


"It was probably the most uncomfortable day I've ever had in the wrestling business," Michaels said of having to sit with Hart and plot out the match before the show began. "By the time the day comes, the decision has been made. But no one knows how it's going to get done until Bret and I sit down to start discussing the match -- none of this can actually go into play until we do that. And so it was just an uncomfortable day knowing what you know, how others assume it's going to happen, and then you having to be the one to orchestrate it all. Bret came later than usual, and so the process of being able to find out what in heaven's name was going to happen, or how we were going to do this was prolonged even longer because we didn't know what was going to happen until he and I sat down."

Vince McMahon had agreed to split the issue with Shawn. McMahon would take all of the blame for the incident from fans and the wrestlers in the locker room. However the owner of the company wasn’t the one who would be physically in the ring opposite Bret and thus the final decision on how things played out, laid at the feet of Shawn Michaels.


HOURS BEFORE THE SCREWJOB


On the morning of the 9th November 1997 arrived, wrestling fans around the world were still unaware that only a few hours later, the WWF and by extension the entire pro wrestling world was about to change.


For most of the wrestlers on the roster, it would have felt like just another pay-per-view event were they were expected to go out to the ring and perform for the entertainment of the fans.


However, for Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, the mood that day would have been incredibly tense.


“It was about seven o’clock when I walked into the locker room,” Michaels wrote in his autobiography. “There were only a few people in there, and none were close to Earl. He was putting on his referee gear, and I started to put my boots on. Earl, I need you to listen to me very carefully. I was speaking very softly. ‘We are doing a big swerve tonight. I am going to get Bret in the Sharpshooter, and I need you to ring the bell.”

Have you ever had the feeling that someone was lying to your face? That feeling of awkwardness and discomfort where you want to call them out, but you don’t fully understand why. Bret had to have felt that something was off. As he made his way through the arena and into the locker room, I imagine the air in the locker room would have felt different. But he could have in no way known what was about to happen.

With the Survivor Series show running smoothly, Bret and Shawn got into their ring attire and nervously awaited their call for their hotly anticipated match.





MINUTES BEFORE THE SCREWJOB


"I was getting ready to go through the curtain when they circled Earl and basically told him this was how the match was going down. They also reminded him he was mic’d, with a microphone behind his ear, so they could hear everything he said. If he did anything to tip me off, they’d fire him." Bret Hart

As the two men’s music hit, fans were jubilant to see their favourites perform. As they made their ways to the ring, it felt like a big match with a lot on the line. But nobody could have predicted just how much was at stake. The bell rung and the match begins, and even with the knowledge of what was about to occur, looking back, the match doesn’t stand out as anything other than the classic confrontations we’d grown to expect from these two expert wrestlers.


A back and fourth contest with Bret and Shawn both doing their best to put on a display worthy of the main event.


Throughout the match, Bret’s ears were ringing, he couldn’t stop thinking about what was said to him by a fellow wrestler just as he exited through the curtain just a few minutes prior.


“Be careful out there,” White told his friend. “Vince has a tendency to screw people in these types of situations.” VADER

Why had Vader mentioned that to him on this night? What did it mean? And why could Bret not shake the feeling that he was caught in the middle of something that was now completely out of his control.


I’m sure most of you are familiar with this wrestling-universe altering event. What happened next is possibly the most memorable and heavily speculated upon event in all of wrestling’s vast history.


In the Molson Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada –the home country of the Hitman, saw Bret captured by Shawn in Bret’s iconic sharpshooter submission. But for a second. Before referee Earl Hebner gave the signal to ring the bell and declared Shawn Michaels the victor and new WWF champion.


"When the Montreal Screwjob occurred, I wanted to make sure that Bret saw me out at ringside and know that what I did was the right thing to do at least from my standpoint.” - VKM

A truly villainous move on your average show, but when the ref Earl Hebner signalled that Bret Hart had submitted, the arena deflated with confusion.


Bret clearly hadn’t tapped out or shouted that he submitted, he hadn’t made any gestures towards the officials and was only in the hold for a second or two.

He knew instantly, that he had been screwed.



MINUTES AFTER THE SCREWJOB


The men and women in the locker room knew what had happened and chaos broke out behind the curtain as the screwjob was still taking place.


"Watching it, I thought it was a mistake. I’m watching for a spot, and then all of a sudden, the bell rings. So I’m trying to talk to the truck, to the timekeeper, I’m trying to find out what’s going on. In the meantime, I’ve got Davey Boy in front of me, and he’s going ‘They just fooked him. They fooked Bret. What do we do?’ And I had no clue. I just kind of sat there for a minute and then said, ‘I guess fucking go out? I dunno.'” Explained Bruce Pritchard who was as confused as any of the wrestlers backstage at the time.

THE SPIT


"He's really good at spitting, I'm sorry to say." VKM

In this moment he lost the WWE Championship to Shawn Michaels. But that wasn’t the reason that Hart tried to wrestle Shawn Michaels to the mat after the bell, shot straight over to loom over Vince Mcmahon who had made the call ringside and spit in his face.

A disgusting display of aggression from Bret as he brought up a vile wad of phlegm and delivered a sharp shot of his own, spitting to outside the ring like a sniper. Landing in the hair and eye of his boss.


Bret knew he had been betrayed. Barring some run-ins with wrestling’s biggest cunt Hulk Hogan, The industry famous back-stabbing Bret had upto this point managed to avoid in part due to his own decisions had finally caught up to him.


As Vince McMahon wiped the goz from his brow, all hell broke loose.


Bret climbed out of the ring and rained down destruction on the ringside area, smashing up tables and throwing televisions to the ground in a fit of rage.


The fans realising that something was up began to boo and throw cups and bottles at Shawn and Vince, who quickly realised they may have a riot on their hands.


THE PUNCH

As all involved quickly made their exit towards the back. The Survivor Series show went off the air amidst anger and confusion.


Bret, still furious made his way to the locker room to find out what had happened, only to find himself face to face with Vince McMahon.


“I think Vince gambled that I was going to take the high road and say a few words to him, and then I would walk out or grab my stuff, and leave the dressing room, and that would be the end of it, and he could say, ‘at least I confronted him. Somewhere in that conversation, I said, ‘If you’re still here after I get dressed, I’m going to punch you out. " Bret Hart