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The Montreal Screw Job: The True Story

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

About Logan Randall

I love professional wrestling. I love writing. Regardless of what promotion it is, I watch it, cover it, and have fun with it. Also, I've been writing on Wrestle Enigma since the very beginning, and I'll continue to do so until the very end.
  • BigWill

    you can give it all the legalese you want to Vince McMahon is a scumbag he is a piece of s*** human being who will one day have to answer for the way he treated people.the only thing Bret Hart is guilty of is being a man of honor a man of his word and being a bit naive about the scumbag he was dealing with.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.goodwich.1 Sarah Goodwich

    As an attorney, allow me to offer some insights:

    Since Bret had a valid written contract with the WWF, he held all the cards as to whether he would allow Vince OUT of that contract. If Bret wanted to, he could have signed with the WCW and forced Vince to pay the difference.

    Therefore if Bret agreed to a deal with Vince, that was binding as well.

    Bret’s problem is that he tried to be his own lawyer; and as Abe Lincoln said, that means he had a fool for a client.

    A lawyer would have gotten the deal in writing, since an oral agreement is invalid under something called the “Statute of Frauds” if its value exceeds $5,000.00– which this clearly did.

    But Bret could still legally enforce his contract with Vince, on this basis…. but again, he’s trying to be his own lawyer, or he hired one that’s just as bad.

    • john wayne

      First of all, I doubt you’re a lawyer. But either way you don’t seem to know wtf you’re talking about, or how it actually went down.
      Bret’s contract was NOT renewed. They had an ORAL agreement, NOT signed, but Vince balked at the last second, so Bret put in his papers and took the better and obviously more appropriate offer for a guy of his status.

      And stfu with your condescending bullcrap. Bret was an honest, up and up guy, did things old school. He could’ve sued Vince for punitive damages b/c of having creative control the last month of his contract, but again, Bret wasn’t going to waste 100’s of thousands of dollars, good “lawyer” or not, while trying to start his new career with the WCW.

      He was payed 9 mill over 3 years. He punched the shit out of Vince backstage, made the Wrestling with Shadows movie to embarrass him, and as far as he was concerned, it was enough. Again, I DOUBT you’ve even been in court before. I have. What’s considered “creative control” could be discerned one way by a judge that doesn’t necessarily agree with common sense.

      Why the hell would he waste all that time and money just to reap relatively small dues in return. He’d have to prove his image was tarnished; given that he just received a massive contract offer, that’d be kinda hard to do. Again, Bret’s old school. It’s not about being “smart” you MORON, it’s about the way he goes about his business. He’s not some chickensh*t pencilneck like you. He settled his score, and that’s that.

  • http://twitter.com/TheBerge_ Kevin Berge

    Good work here getting the story out there as much as you feel you could. Just a few notes that I think could be added/elaborated upon in some sense to the story as a whole.

    First, Shawn Michaels never seems to factor into the discussion enough in these instances. While he didn’t cause the Screwjob itself, if Michaels had been more professional up to this point in his career, I have no doubt that Hart would have been more willing to graciously drop the title.

    As you said, the WWF at this time repeatedly disrespected Hart as a performer up to the point he was ready to leave. All he wanted at the end was to leave with his head held high which shouldn’t be that hard to set up.

    The frightened state of the WWF at this time when referring to WCW is quite clear. They were afraid of what steps Eric Bischoff would take to humiliate the WWF. It was said by many people that they weren’t afraid that Hart would refuse to drop the title. They were afraid of what Bischoff could do with that title under his contract. Bret was naive in that matter. He didn’t realize just what it could mean to be WWF Champion while employed by WCW even if it was a mere day in difference.

    The most important point everyone seems to forget as this all is talked about again and again though is that Bret Hart should never have been champion at the end of his contract. As a company, there is no excuse for allowing a rival company to have this kind of chance at the title. Hart should have graciously lost the title months before, and he could’ve won against any opponent in Montreal that night without conflict. If Vince was truly pushing Bret to sign with WCW, then he really should’ve taken immediate action to have Hart lose the title so that a fair situation could be set up where Bret wasn’t holding the title on the last day of his contract. If a fear of a rival company can cause you to take action in screwing a superstar, it should cause you to have the foresight to never let this situation be set up in the first place.

    A veteran has the right to leave with dignity, and Hart should’ve been allowed that right. However, he should’ve been allowed that right without holding the title. Hart couldn’t drop the title the following day. That was a naive idea, but any smart business man should realize that the title shouldn’t be in this mess at all anyway.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.goodwich.1 Sarah Goodwich

      But if you recall, Bret WASN’T at the end of his contract: he signed a NEW one which extended the old one for 20 years.

      Rather, the change to WCW essentially TERMINATED that contract by mutual agreement of the parties, as is their right.

      However here, Vince terminated the contract by bad faith; and therefore Bret still has the option of ENFORCING that contract, since bad faith is never good law.

      Bret screwed Bret by not having a good lawyer, which was a stupid risk when this was so important to him.

      Bret can still sue Vince for many millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages, but without a good lawyer he’s just a bitter old man with no case.

      The problem, of course is the nature of the wrestling business, since it was always technically fraudulent, and so it was a dog-eat-dog business; and Bret grew up on that rule, and once kayfabe broke, Bret never grew up and learned that it was a business like any other, and that means going by the law.

  • SiD

    I enjoyed the article, and I read this thoroughly, and let me get this straight: if your article is factually correct (and I’m assuming it is) then Bret Hart comes off as a big douche to me. I was never a fan of him, and well…reading this article has made my feelings stronger.

    • http://twitter.com/RandyWE_ Randy

      Yes, everything is true. It’s both McMahon’s and Hart’s fault. McMahons for offering a contract that in hindsight he never wanted to offer anyway, and then trying to get out of it. And Bret for refusing to drop the title in his “territory”, without thinking about the repercussions of WCW announcing their newest signee as the WWF Champion.

      • SiD

        Ehh, I’m thinking Bret is at fault here. Many people say that the Hogans and the HHHs refused to be buried, but look at Bret Hart. He can’t drop his title? Is he really that obsessive? Even JR agrees to be embarrassed in his hometown, so what’s up with Bret? Anyway, thank god I don’t have to watch him anymore.

        • http://twitter.com/TheBerge_ Kevin Berge

          Hart didn’t want to drop the title… in his hometown to a kid who had disrespected him and fought to not drop the title to Hart before while leaving the company on a down note that would forever be remembered as his last act in the company that had basically thrown him out.

          • SiD

            If that was really his last night, wouldn’t a loss in a good match be a good leaving moment?

          • http://twitter.com/TheBerge_ Kevin Berge

            Losing in your hometown is a failure. Every time it happens, the superstars are upset beyond belief if given time to show it. Add in that you would lose to somebody that you non-kayfabe feel is not fitting of being a champion and is acting poorly as a person. Now you have your last image in wrestling of your absolute failure. That is no way for a man who has carried the company for years to forever leave the company.

          • http://twitter.com/RandyWE_ Randy

            Again, i reiterate that it is both McMahon’s and Hart’s fault.

          • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.goodwich.1 Sarah Goodwich

            It’s irrelevant, the point is that it was a deal made in good faith, and Vince broke it.
            All Vince cares about is money, which he calls “respecting the business” but in reality he’s STEALING by doing it in bad faith.
            Vince is an expert on humiliating himself, his family and everyone else for money, so he’s not one to understand why Bret wouldn’t be the same way.

          • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.goodwich.1 Sarah Goodwich

            If he’s retiring perhaps, like HBK did with Undertaker; but Bret was going to WCW (i.e. Wrinkled Codgy Wrestlers) and so he couldn’t afford to look like old news, and have fans view the WCW as the place where old wrestlers go to die (which is WAS).

      • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.goodwich.1 Sarah Goodwich

        Ok, it’s Bret’s RIGHT to refuse anything he legally wants as the price for allowing Vince out of his contract.
        So Bret didn’t do anything wrong. Vince engaged in bad faith, and that means the contract is still valid.
        Maybe Bret figured that the loogie and the punch was good enough, and we all know that Vince has taken worse for a fast buck.

      • john wayne

        No it’s Vince’s fault for being a pompous insecure azzhole who doesn’t know how to run a business like a professional.

    • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.goodwich.1 Sarah Goodwich

      Bret’s not a douche, since he had a valid contract with Vince, and therefore he was doing Vince a favor by leaving.
      You might not agree with his price, but only he had the right to decide; and in the end Vince AGREED to it, so a deal’s a deal.
      Bret didn’t misrepresent anything, he simply had his price and Vince agreed to it, fair and square.
      The problem is that Bret wouldn’t go to court over it, probably fearing that Vince would bury him in legal fees; however again a good lawyer can avoid this under standard evidentiary rules. It just seems that Bret doesn’t believe in using them.