It will always be recognized as the single most important, and biggest finish to a pro wrestling match ever. It forever changed how everyone (including insiders) view the business we all know and love. It broke pro wrestling “kayfabe”, and forever altered pro wrestling realism. On that cruel and harsh November evening, pro wrestling was to forever be changed.
It is the Montreal Screw Job, and this is the true story.
It all started off as something fairly simple. Basically, over a year before that fateful night occurred, Bret Hart was deciding where to finish off his fantastic career. Eric Bischoff and Kevin Nash were desperately trying to get him to come down south to WCW; while Vince McMahon was working his butt off to get Hart to stay with the World Wrestling Federation. McMahon, however, made a deal that Hart could not resist. It was a twenty-year deal actually. Bret Hart would be allowed to finish out his career in WWF as it’s top babyface by making roughly 1.5 million per year for the next three years. And after Hart’s in ring career ended in about 3 years, he would be paid handsomely to work as a top executive in the front office.
That was the deal breaker. Hart signed the massive 20-year contract. The relationship between Bret Hart and Vince McMahon, however, had taken a huge turn for the worst in only one year. No one really knows where the tension started between the two, but it certainly escalated when McMahon asked Hart to turn heel. Bret, obviously, was against being a bad guy, since he was promised that he could finish out his career as a good guy. After awhile though, Bret decided that he could draw more money as a heel, and he could turn babyface later to finish his career on a high note. Once again, things may have seemed fine between Hart and McMahon from the outside looking in, but no one knew what was truly happening at the time.
Months after Hart turned heel, and just a couple months before Survivor Series 1997, Bret Hart and Vince McMahon had a serious meeting about Hart’s mega-contract. Vince McMahon wanted to cut Hart’s salary almost in half, and put the rest of the money away until the company was in a better position financially. Basically, Hart would receive all of his guaranteed money at a later point in his contract. Bret, however, was more than concerned about the possibility of never receiving his money.
In the coming weeks, however, things became even worse for Bret Hart and Vince McMahon. McMahon told Bret something that Bret never, ever thought he would hear. Vince McMahon told Bret Hart that WWF was going to intentionally breach Hart’s contract to get out of paying Hart money that they simply couldn’t afford. Vince personally told Bret to start negotiations with WCW.
I feel like an old prisoner in a prison where I know all the guards and all the inmates and 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 working for WWF.
Hart said of the shocking words Vince McMahon told him.
Bret Hart had a very interesting clause in his contract where if he were to leave WWF, he had to give them a 30 days notice. Bret also had a clause where if he chose to leave WWF, he could have “reasonable creative control” of his character; for the sake of not being humiliated on TV on his way out the door.
This is around the time period where the Bret Hart-Shawn Michaels controversy started. You see, these two men had been having professional and personal issues for a long while now, and both really disliked the other. They eventually agreed to work with each other for the sake of business, but neither of them was willing to take a loss to the other. This is when McMahon proposed a “no contest” finish at Survivor Series in Montreal with The Undertaker causing the finish. This would lead to Shawn unintentionally helping Hart retain the title at the next PPV vs. The Undertaker. This would all lead to the Royal Rumble being headlined by The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels. Now, the big problem in all of this was, Shawn Michaels was not willing to lose to Hart at the end of the feud.
McMahon then brought up the possibility of Hart dropping the title to Shawn Michaels in Montreal at Survivor Series. Hart, however, was not willing to drop the title in his home country, and was even angrier that Shawn wasn’t willing to lose to Bret later on. Eventually, Shawn told Bret that he was willing to do the job later in the feud, Bret Hart, however, still was committed to not lose at Survivor Series in Montreal.
Vince McMahon then threw a curveball in Bret’s face when he told him that he would be able to pay Bret everything that was originally promised. Bret was obviously excited at that proposition because he never really wanted to leave WWF in the first place. Hart was still uncomfortable dropping the title at Survivor Series to Michaels though. Bret Hart had until November 1, 1997 to make up his mind. On that day he would either have to tell Vince McMahon that he was staying with WWF, or that he was headed down south. And, by this point, since WCW hadn’t even made an offer yet, it was widely believed that Bret was staying right where he was.
Eric Bischoff obviously had other plans. On the day that Hart was forced to decide his future, Bischoff offered him a 3 million dollar contract to come to WCW. Hart himself said that the deal would have been insane not to take. So, he called McMahon and told him about the offer. Bret said that he didn’t care about the money, but that he wanted to know what Vince would do for Bret’s active in ring career for the next couple years that he was planning on wrestling. McMahon really didn’t know what to do with Bret and, once again, threw Bret a curveball by urging him to take the WCW offer.
Bret Hart eventually decided to take the offer from Eric Bischoff and WCW and leave the World Wrestling Federation. Bret, however, was still adamant about not losing at Survivor Series in Montreal. Hart said that he would lose anywhere else, but not there. Vince, in panic that WCW would announce there newest wrestler as the WWF Champion the night after Survivor Series, threatened to take legal action against Bret unless he would drop the strap to Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series. Eventually, all three parties agreed on a DQ finish at Survivor Series.
Just a few days later, McMahon changed the scenario again. This time he suggested that Michaels lose clean at Survivor Series, and (ironically enough), screw Hart out of the title at a later point in time.
After the pro wrestling “newz sites” and “dirt sheets” broke this story and it became amazingly publicized, Vince McMahon once again felt that he needed to change the finish to the all-important match. McMahon basically said that Hart needed to drop the title, because if he didn’t, Eric Bischoff would announce Bret Hart “The WWF Champion” as their newest employee the next night on WCW Monday Nitro.
Bret was again refusing, and everyone was panicking at the World Wrestling Federation.
On the historic day, Survivor Series 1997 in Montreal, Canada, McMahon and Hart finally agreed to a finish. Hart would leave, whether he would win or by DQ, as the WWF Champion. The next night on RAW, Bret would announce that he was leaving the WWF, and professionally hand over the title to Vince McMahon. Both men agreed that this was the way to go. Later that day, Shawn and Bret planned the finish. Earl Hebner (who had swore on his children that he wouldn’t screw Bret that night) would get knocked out. Mike Chioda would run to the ring and count Shawn Michaels. Michaels would kick out, hit a Superkick on Bret, and Chioda would count Hart. Owen Hart would then run down to the ring and pull Chioda out of the ring at the count of 2. This would all end in a big disqualification brawl.
The match began. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels had a wonderful match. The ending, however, forever changed this great industry. Shawn Michaels had the Sharpshooter on Bret Hart and Earl Hebner was knocked out. Everything was going the way it was suppose to go. Mike Chioda was waiting for his cue to come out, as was Owen Hart. Suddenly, the Backstage Director was yelling for Hebner to get up. Chioda and Owen started screaming at him that this was not what was scheduled to happen. Hebner than called for the bell, even though Hart hadn’t tapped out, and McMahon elbowed the timekeeper to ring the bell. The bell was rung, and Earl Hebner was rushed out of the building to an already started car that would take him to his hotel, and bring him to the airport later. Michaels, looking shocked, was rushed out as well. And the pay-per-view suddenly went off the air after Bret Hart spit in Vince McMahon’s face.
Backstage, things were even more hectic. The Undertaker, furious, forced Vince McMahon to go and apologize to Bret. Bret punched McMahon in the jaw, and nearly broke it. Bret then left the WWF, went to WCW, and the rest is history.
This moment, this story, this match changed everything. It is a moment that embodies every ugly, evil aspect of pro wrestling. It is a moment that has been, and will continue to be replayed time and time again.
What this moment truly stands for, however, is if you don’t work with the system, the system doesn’t work with you. If you do what’s right for yourself instead of what’s right for business, the business chews you up and spits you out.
No other three words have ever described this situation better and truer than these infamously stated by Vince McMahon the night after Survivor Series 1997: Bret Screwed Bret.
Sources: Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Hitman Hart Wrestling With Shadows, Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart: Greatest Rivalries DVD