The Montrιal Screw Job
It will go down in history as the single most famous finish of a pro wrestling
match in the modern era. Twenty or thirty years from now, this story, more than
any famous wrestler jumping promotions, more than any prominent death, and more
than any record-setting house, will be remembered vividly by all who watched it
live, and remembered as legendary from all who hear about it later. Through the
magic of video tape, the last minute of this match will live forever and be
replayed literally millions of times by tens of thousands of people all looking
for the most minute pieces of detail to this strange puzzle. But the story of
what led to those few seconds starts more than one year ago, far more
reminiscent of the dirty con man past of the industry than the current attempted
facade of a multi-million dollar corporate above-board-image those in the
industry like to portray.
October 20, 1996
- Bret Hart was in a hotel room in San Jose, CA, hours from making the biggest
decision of his life: who would win the biggest bidding war in the history of
pro wrestling. He had pretty well leaned toward staying with the World Wrestling
Federation despite a much larger offer from World Championship Wrestling, but
had changed his mind a few times over the previous two weeks as each side
presented new offers. In the waning hours, Eric Bischoff and Kevin Nash were
trying to convince him to change his mind [by telling him] how great life was
with an easier schedule. Many close advisers of Hart tried to tell him going to
WCW was the best move for his present, and, more importantly, his future after
wrestling. But largely out of loyalty, and that obviously wasn't the only factor
involved, he declined the offer.
McMahon, not to lose a very
public fight, offered him the famous 20-year contract where he'd, after
retirement in about three years, become almost a first lieutenant when it came
to the booking process. Hart would earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5
million per year as an active wrestler, and a healthy but far lesser figure
working in the front office for the 17 years after retirement as an active
wrestler. As part of McMahon's offer, he also was going to allow Hart to explain
live on television his decision-making process, should he sign with WCW.
Hart flew to Fort Wayne,
Indiana, where the WWF (WWE) was holding its live Raw taping after having
already verbally agreed to the deal, signed the contract, and gave the interview
saying basically that he would be in the WWF (WWE) forever, figuring to be
positioned as the top babyface and perennial champion until he finished his
active career riding off into the sunset in a blaze of glory, like Hogan and
Savage and the rest of the Superstars before him didn't. As is the case in
wrestling, not all the promised scenarios that everyone believed were going to
transpire as originally planned. And just over one year later, the feelings
between McMahon and Bret Hart had taken a 180-degree turn, to the degree nobody
would have ever believed.
March 10, 1997
- Top babyface didn't last long as McMahon asked him to turn heel. At first Hart
balked at the idea but after three days, McMahon presented him with two lists.
One list was his prospective opponents as a babyface: Vader, Mankind, and Steve
Austin. The other list was his prospective opponents as a heel: Undertaker,
Michaels, and Austin. Hart agreed for drawing money. His opponents as a heel
made up a better list and he and McMahon agreed that he would turn back babyface
over the last few months of his contract and end his career on a positive note.
He and Steve Austin did the double-turn at Wrestlemania. Hart himself then came
up with the Anti-American angle, where he would remain a babyface in Canada and
Europe and do interviews that would, for the most part, speak the truth, so he
could, when the time came to turn back in the U.S., have a reasonable
September 8, 1997
- Vince McMahon and Bret Hart had their first meeting where McMahon seriously
approached Hart about his contract. About three months earlier, McMahon had told
Hart that the company was in bad financial straits and that they might have to
defer some of the money until later in the contract. This time his approach was
more than point blank. He wanted to cut Hart's regular salary, around $30,000
per week, more than in half and defer the rest of the money until later in the
contract period when hopefully the company would be in better shape financially.
Hart declined the suggestion, because he didn't want to risk not getting the
money in the future after he was through taking all the bumps.
September 20, 1997
- About one hour before the beginning of the PPV show in Birmingham, England,
McMahon approached Davey Boy Smith and asked him to put over Shawn Michaels that
night for the European title. Smith was apparently shocked, having been told all
along in the build-up of the show, that Michaels was going to do a job for him,
since Europe was promised to be "his territory." The explanation, which made and
still makes logical business sense, is that they wanted to build for a bigger
show: a second PPV show from Manchester, England, Smith's former home town,
where Smith would regain the title -- the same scenario the WWF (WWE) did to
draw 60,000 fans in San Antonio with Michaels in the other role working a
program with Sycho Sid. So while it all made sense, it was rather strange he
wasn't approached with this idea until just before the start of the show.
At around this same time
period, McMahon approached Hart about working with Michaels. Hart said that he
had a problem with that since Michaels had still never really apologized to him
for the Sunny-days comment, and said it would be hard to trust somebody like
that in the ring ... and told McMahon that he would figure that Michaels would
have the same concerns, since a few weeks earlier after first making it clear he
would never work with anyone in the Hart Foundation, Michaels had finally agreed
to work with only Smith, saying he still couldn't trust Bret or Owen.
September 22, 1997
- On the day of the Raw taping at Madison Square Garden, McMahon told Bret Hart
flat out that they were going to intentionally breach his contract because they
couldn't afford the deal. He told a shocked Hart that he should go to World
Championship Wrestling and make whatever deal he could with that group. "I
didn't feel comfortable doing it," Hart said of the suggestion. "I feel like an
old prisoner in a prison where I know all the guards and all the inmates and I
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 of working for the WWF (WWE)."
Hart had an escape clause in
his contract since he had so much negotiating leverage when making his WWF (WWE)
deal 11 months earlier, in that he could leave the company giving 30 days notice
and that he would have what the contract called "reasonable creative control" of
his character during that lame-duck period so that he couldn't be unreasonably
buried on the way out.
There was a window period for
giving that notice and negotiating elsewhere that hadn't begun yet, so McMahon,
showing he was serious, gave Hart written permission to begin negotiating with
WCW, and Hart contacted Eric Bischoff. The same day, during a meeting with Hart
and McMahon, Michaels told both of them point blank that he wouldn't do any jobs
for anyone in the territory.... Michaels later reiterated that statement to Hart
on 10/4 in St. Paul when the two agreed that for the good of the business that
they'd work together.
At a meeting, McMahon proposed
a scenario where the two would have their first singles match in Montreal, where
Undertaker would interfere causing a non-finish. This would lead to Hart
wrestling Undertaker on the 12/7 PPV in Springfield, MA, where Michaels would
interfere causing Bret to win the title, which was poetic justice since it was
his interference that caused Bret to win the title in the first place, and that
Royal Rumble on 1/8, in San Jose, would be headlined by Undertaker vs. Michaels.
During the meeting, Hart told Michaels that he'd be happy to put him over at the
end of the run, but Michaels told Hart flat out that he wouldn't return the
favor to him. Michaels and Hart spoke again on the subject on 10/12 in San Jose,
when once again Michaels told Hart that he wasn't going to do a job for him.
October 11, 1997
- The verbal war in the ring, had gone beyond work. After Michaels claimed Hart
was having an affair with blonde bombshell Sunny, the two came to blows in the
dressing room. Hart had problems with what he considered the perverted sexual
content of the show because he has four children that were wrestling fans.
By this point, Hart and his
family had stopped watching RAW (the WWF (WWE) television show) because he was
furious with the way Vince had dealt with the death of his friend and fellow
wrestler, Brian Pillman. McMahon did a live interview with Pillman's wife on
that night's wrestling show, and made it part of a wrestling story line.
October 21, 1997
- McMahon approached Hart with the idea of losing the title to Michaels in
Montreal but promised that he would win it back on 12/7. Hart, remembering his
conversations where Michaels was adamant about not doing any more jobs in the
territory, was reluctant, saying after the way the angle had been done with him
representing Canada and it becoming a big patriotic deal, that he didn't want to
lose the title in Canada. He was then asked to lose to Michaels on 12/7 in
Springfield, MA. Hart told McMahon that since Michaels had told both of them
that he wasn't doing any more jobs in the territory, that he had a problem doing
a job for somebody who wouldn't do a job back.
Later, McMahon, Pat Patterson,
Michaels, and Hart had another meeting where Michaels, teary-eyed, said that he
was looking forward to returning the favor to Bret and, once again, talked about
his mouth saying the stupidest things. Hart still refused to lose the title in
The night before, he had been
asked to put Hunter Hearst Helmsley over in Oklahoma City via pin fall due to
Michaels' interference, but changed the finish to a count out.
On this night he was asked to
tap out to Ken Shamrock, before the DQ ending involving Michaels, which he had
no problem doing because he liked and respected Shamrock and wanted to help
The personal problems with
himself and Michaels, which had become legendary in the business, resurfaced
once again when the two and McMahon made an agreement to work together but to
leave their respective families out of their interviews. It took just one week
before Michaels did the interview talking about Stu Hart being dead but walking
around Calgary because his body and brain hadn't figured it out yet.
October 24, 1997
- McMahon, before the show at Nassau Coliseum, told Hart that the money
situation in the company had changed and they would have no problems paying him
everything promised in his contract. Hart told McMahon that WCW really hadn't
made him a serious offer and that he really didn't want to leave but that he was
still uncomfortable doing the job for Michaels in that situation.
He left the country for the
tour of Oman with the idea that he was staying with the WWF (WWE), but knowing,
due to his window in his contract, he had to make the decision to give notice by
midnight on 11/1.
October 31, 1997
- Hart surprised McMahon and returned from the middle-east a day earlier than
planned. Never one to work without a flair for the dramatics, Bischoff finally
caught up with Hart who was basically incommunicado in a foreign land most of
Just one day before Hart had to
either give notice or stay for another year, Bischoff made a huge concrete
offer: $3 million per year and working one hundred and twenty five days a year,
half the days in the WWF (WWE) contract. Hart neither agreed nor turned down the
deal, but gave the impression to WCW that they had a great shot at getting him.
November 1, 1997
- Hart had until midnight to make up his mind. He called McMahon and told him
about the WCW offer and said that he wasn't asking for anymore money to stay,
but that he wanted to know what his future in the WWF (WWE) would be over the
next two years as an active wrestler and that at this point he was leaning
toward accepting the WCW offer. McMahon said he'd think about it and call him
back in an hour with some scenarios. Before McMahon called back, Bischoff called
again trying to solidify the deal. McMahon ended up calling back four hours
later from his barber shop and told Hart he didn't know what he was going to do
with him but that he should trust his judgment because of their past
relationship. He said he had made him into a superstar and he wanted him to stay
and that he should trust him and asked Hart to give him an idea of where he
wanted to go.
During the conversation,
McMahon still brought up the scenario of wanting Hart to drop the title in
Montreal, but promised that he would get it back in Springfield. "I realized he
had given the top heel spot to Shawn, but to turn back babyface, it was too
soon," Hart said. Like in the negotiations one year earlier, it was going down
to the wire and he had until midnight to make up his mind.
When he was talking to McMahon,
McMahon told him he could extend the deadline for giving notice. Hart asked for
the permission in writing but McMahon told him that he was going out to a movie
that night with his wife and said he was verbally giving permission to extend it
and get written permission from the chief financial officer of the company. When
Hart called to get the written notice he wasn't given it because he was told he
couldn't get it in writing in such short notice.
At 7pm, Bischoff called again
and presented a deal that, according to Hart, "would have been insane not to be
taken." At that point Hart was really having mixed emotions. He somehow felt bad
about leaving the WWF (WWE) and was hoping McMahon would lay out a good set of
scenarios for him and convince him to stay. At 9pm, McMahon called and,
reversing fields once again, urged him to take the WCW offer. Hart told him that
his heart was with the company and it would break his heart to leave, and that
he appreciated everything McMahon and the company had done for him.
McMahon told Hart that he
wanted him back as a babyface, and had been wanting him to turn babyface for two
or three months but just hadn't brought it up until this point. He then
presented a scenario to Hart, presenting it as a way to get Hart to stay, but
obviously designed to get Hart to take the WCW offer. He wanted Michaels to win
the title in Montreal. For Springfield, they would do a final four match with
him, Michaels, Undertaker, and Ken Shamrock, that Michaels would again win. At
the Royal Rumble, the two would have a ladder match, which Michaels would win.
On Raw, on 1/19 in Fresno, CA, Hart would open the show and say that if he
couldn't beat Michaels and win the title that night, that he would retire from
wrestling, and in that match he would regain the title. And then in Boston at
Wrestlemania he'd drop the strap to Austin. Hart looked at the scenario of four
major losses with only one win and before his midnight deadline, gave official
notice to the WWF (WWE) and signed the contract WCW had sent over, with the
agreement from all parties that the word wouldn't leak out until 11/10 to
protect the Survivor Series PPV. Hart went so far as to have his few confidants
sign written confidentiality letters to make sure word of his negotiations and
signing with WCW didn't get out until 11/10.
November 2, 1997
- Hart and McMahon started a very amicable conversation with the pressure
finally off and the decision for Hart to leave having been made. He again
suggested that Michaels win the title in Montreal and in what will go down as
perhaps the ultimate irony, said they could do a screw job ending to steal the
title from him, and that the next night, on Raw, McMahon suggested the two get
into a mock argument where Hart would punch him, blaming him for the screw job.
McMahon even suggested to hardway him to make it look legit. Hart again refused
to do the job in Montreal, saying that he had never refused to do a job but he
wasn't going to lose on Sunday or Monday (at Raw in Ottawa). Hart made it clear
that to lose in Canada would be an insult to his Canadian fans, and would
destroy the "Hitman" character in Canada. He said he was a hero in Canada, and
wouldn't do the job there. He agreed to put Michaels over in Madison Square
Garden on 11/15, Springfield or anywhere else and said he'd put over Vader,
Shamrock, Mankind, Undertaker or even Steve Lombardi.
McMahon then made legal threats
to Hart if he wouldn't lose in Montreal. Hart talked about the clause in his
contract giving him "reasonable creative control" but McMahon claimed that
refusing to drop the strap in Montreal wasn't "reasonable."
The two argued about the finish
in Montreal and the legalities of their respective positions all day Sunday and
well into the night before finally agreeing to do a DQ finish in Montreal. Then
in Springfield, in the final four match, Michaels would win the title. Bret
would then go out on Raw on 12/8 in Portland, ME and give a farewell interview
as a babyface to the WWF (WWE) fans and put the company and McMahon over as big
as possible. He would apologize to the American fans and try to reasonably
explain his actions in a way to end his 14-year association with the WWF (WWE)
on the highest note possible, something largely unheard of in pro wrestling, so
that all parties and the fans could come out if it and his legacy with the
company with a good feeling. Technically there was a problem in that his WCW
contract began on 12/1 so Hart called Bischoff, who when presented the scenario,
agreed to allow him to work through 12/8 with Titan.
Hart asked an associate who
monitors news for him if he thought it was possible to keep the secret from the
public until 11/10. Hart specifically asked about being able to keep it secret
from one person until after the show and the associates laughed and said they
would bet a million dollars that person already knew.
November 4, 1997
- McMahon called Hart and said that he had changed his mind. He suggested now
that Michaels should lose clean in Montreal, then he'd "steal" the title with a
controversial finish in Springfield and Hart would get to do his farewell speech
in Portland. He said he was going to call Michaels and present the scenario to
By this point word that Hart
had signed with WCW had actually been reported the previous night on the
Observer and Torch hotlines. In response, WWF (WWE) Canada released a press
statement originally totally denying the story, claiming it was simply
propaganda being spread by WCW. However, as the word got out, Titan Sports in
Connecticut, a few hours later, contradicted that story saying simply that Bret
Hart was exploring all his options but not going any further, with the feeling
that they wanted to protect the PPV show. Hart wouldn't publicly talk to anyone.
November 5, 1997
- The internet had paved the way for stories in the Calgary Sun, the Toronto Sun
and one line in the Montreal Gazette in a PPV preview story about Steve Austin,
a line which resulted in the paper getting an incredible switchboard-blowing
response of phone calls. McMahon called Hart and said that Michaels had agreed
to the previous day's scenario, but that now he had changed his mind. He said
the news was out everywhere and that Bret had to drop the belt before Monday
because he couldn't have Bischoff go on television on 11/10 and announce the
signing of his world champion while he still had the belt. Hart said that he
would get Bischoff to postpone the announcement, but with Bischoff on a hunting
trip all week in Wyoming, Hart couldn't get a hold of him.
McMahon then asked Hart to drop
the title on 11/8 at the house show in Detroit. Hart again refused, feeling the
way everything had been built up, he wanted the match with Michaels, which in
the wake of all the insider publicity was building up a life of its own like no
match in the recent history of wrestling, to not come off as anti-climatic and
for that to happen he needed to go into Montreal as champion. He said that he
would drop the title any time after 11/12 suggesting he'd do it at the house
shows in Youngstown, OH on 11/13, Pittsburgh on 11/14, or in Madison Square
Garden if they wanted it that soon rather than wait for 12/7.
Jim Ross on the company's 900
line acknowledged the statement that Hart was exploring other options, said that
nobody knows the real story, and in hyping the big match tossed in the phrase
they'd be pushing in the final days leading up to the match, "It will be their
first meeting in 18 months, and most likely the final match between the two
November 6, 1997
- In a story in the Toronto Sun, Tiger Ali Singh, at a press conference
promoting the WWF (WWE) house show the next night in Toronto said of Hart's
leaving, "It's very disheartening. He's not only been a mentor, but I've been a
great admirer of him since I was a kid, and if he leaves you're going to see a
whole bunch of other people leaving. And I'm not going to mention any names but
WCW has been approaching a lot of people."
November 7, 1997
- There is no questioning that the power of on-line services, when it comes to
influence of pro wrestling, was established this past week. It was generally
portrayed that it was a power struggle between Hart and Michaels, that Michaels
had won out, and to a lesser extent Hart was leaving over the direction of the
product. While there was some truth to all of this, probably the greatest truth
of all is it was simply a manipulation by McMahon to get out of a contract that
in hindsight he wished he'd never offered.
Michaels, who the wrestlers
feel has McMahon's ear right now, has convinced him that what turned around WCW
is Kevin Nash and Scott Hall and not Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper, and that he ...
and the company should do what [Nash and Hall] did to get the WCW over. There is
also a feeling amongst WWF (WWE) wrestlers that Michaels pushed McMahon in the
direction to rid the company of his hated rival, who had apparently one-upped
him when signing the new deal that made him so much higher paid. Maybe it was
simply economics because the company is in financial straits. Hart did have a
lot of problems over the direction of the company and his own decision was
partially made based on that, but it's clear in hindsight that McMahon had a
strong hand in manipulating Hart's decision to get out of the contract. In the
vast majority opinion on-line from people who really had no clue as to what was
really going on, Titan, McMahon and Michaels were coming off as major heels.
The WWF (WWE)'s own on-line
site, said to be the domain of young kids with no clue about wrestling, was
besieged with reports about Hart leaving; and the so-called "marks" were
reacting very negatively toward Titan to the point Titan pulled all its folders
by the early afternoon which caused another outcry of censorship of opinions
from wrestling fans. Finally McMahon responded publicly on-line with a letter of
his own stating
Over the past few days I have
read certain comments on the Internet concerning Bret Hart and his alleged
reasons for wanting to pursue other avenues than the World Wrestling Federation
to earn his livelihood. While I respect the opinions of others, as owner of
the World Wrestling Federation I felt that it was time to set the record
As it has been reported
recently on line, part of Bret Hart's decision of pursuing other options is
allegedly due to his concerns with the direction of the World Wrestling
Federation. Whereby each and every individual is entitled to his or her opinion
I take great offense when the issue of the direction of the World Wrestling
Federation is raised.
In the age of sports
entertainment, the World Wrestling Federation REFUSES to insult its audience in
terms of Baby Faces and Heels. In 1997, how many people do you truly know
that are strictly good guys or bad guys? World Wrestling Federation
programming reflects more of a reality based product in which life, as well as
World Wrestling Federation superstars are portrayed as they truly are -- in
shades of gray ... not black or white.
From what I am reading it has
been reported that Bret may be concerned about the morality issues in the World
Wrestling Federation. Questionable language, Questionable gestures, Questionable
sexuality, Questionable racial issues. Questionable? All of the issues mentioned
above are issues that every human being must deal with everyday of their lives.
Also, with that in mind, please be aware that Bret Hart has been cautioned -- on
numerous occasions -- to alter his language by not using expletives or God's
name in vain. He was also told -- on numerous occasions -- not to use certain
hand gestures some might find offensive.
My point is: regardless of what
some are reporting, Bret's decision to pursue other career options IS NOT
genuinely a Shawn Michaels direction issue, as they would like you to believe!
In the personification of DeGeneration X, Shawn Michaels character is EXPECTED
to be living on the edge -- which I might add Mr. Michaels portrays extremely
well. The issue here is that the direction of the World Wrestling Federation
is not determined by Shawn Michaels, OR Bret Hart for that matter. It is
determined by you -- the fans of the World Wrestling Federation.
You DEMAND a more sophisticated
approach! You DEMAND to be intellectually challenged! You demand a product with
ATTITUDE and as owner of this company -- it is my responsibility to give you
exactly what you want!
Personally, I regret the
animosity that has built up between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, but in the
end, it is the World Wrestling Federation that is solely responsible for the
content of this product -- NOT Bret Hart -- NOT Shawn Michaels -- NOT Vince
McMahon for that matter.
May the best man win at the
This only made the situation
worse in regard to how fans were viewing McMahon and the company. "You demand to
be intellectually challenged?" By doing racial angles? The fans chose that
direction? They asked to see Michaels pull his pants down and jump up and down
Hart was booked for his first
public appearance before the house show that night at the Sky Dome in Toronto.
He was on a half hour TSN (The Sports Network, the Canadian version of ESPN)
talk show called "Off the Record." Host Michael Landsberg opened the show saying
the show had received more than 1000 calls to ask Hart if he was leaving for WCW.
Despite the word being out everywhere by this point, Hart would only go so far
as to say that he had given his 30 day notice to the WWF (WWE), that he's
reviewing offers from both groups and is strongly leaning going one way. "I'd
like to really come more clean on this as I can, you know, that I have, but I
have to do this thing by the book kind of thing." Hart categorized the split as
not being a money issue but said that he and the WWF (WWE) had reached kind of a
crisis or we've reached professional differences as to what direction that the
wrestling shows are taking. You know, I'm not saying I'm always right, but I
feel that some of the content of the shows goes against my belief in what
wrestling should be and can be.
Later in the show he criticized
Michaels and then stated that wrestling is often scoffed at as a form of
entertainment sometimes, or it used to be. I believe it came way up and I was
very proud in the direction which has a lot to do with where I am right now
today. Wrestling was cleaned up and it became something families could watch.
He talked about inner workings
of the business having to trust the guy you are working with because you give
them your body and said the real animosities and hatred that exists have to be
set aside. He said that everything he has said about Shawn Michaels is about the
Shawn Michaels character, but said that Michaels has said things that have hit a
raw nerve with him to the point it was unprofessional.
The show aired the footage of
the Shawn Michaels interview where he blamed the Hart Foundation for trashing
the NOD dressing room and insinuating that Hart was a racist. Hart said that he
doesn't blame Michaels for that. "That's obviously a promotional direction and
that's a poor concept. I think that racial tension is something to be very
careful with." Hart said that he stopped watching Raw about five weeks earlier
because he didn't like the direction and agreed when the host brought up
Michaels calling him the Grand Wizard (a KKK reference, not a reference to a
famous wrestling manager of the 70s) and then brought up what Michaels said
about his father that he didn't see.
You know I don't mind if anyone
pokes fun at my dad. Jerry Lawler's made a living the last two or three years
saying comments about my mom and dad but he's always fairly humorous about it.
Actually I used to get offended at some of the things he used to say about my
mother -- until I realized that my mother thought they were humorous and it was
kind of OK with me.
He then spoke at length about
... For all of Hart and
McMahon's wanting to keep the story quiet, word getting out was the greatest
thing for the buy rate. There were 14,374 fans paying $496,674 at the Sky Dome
one night before the show.... Obviously some fans knew and there were chants of
"you sold out" directed at Hart. Although this should have been expected and
Hart had been a pro wrestler for 21 years, and been around the business a lot
longer than that, the chants in his home country, knowing what he was going
through, did get to him.
The main event was a six-man
tag with Undertaker & Mankind & Austin vs. Bret & Smith & Neidhart, subbing for
brother Owen who was supposed to start back but wasn't ready to return after a
severe concussion from a few weeks earlier. Bret was asked to do the job for the
Stone Cold stunner, debated the question for a while then refused figuring he
was the only Canadian in the main event in the U.S. vs. Canada type match with
the big nationalistic angle and Austin ended up using the stunner on Neidhart
November 8, 1997
- The WWF (WWE) ran a house show in Detroit at Cobo Arena for what would turn
out to be Bret Hart's final match in the United States as a wrestler for the
World Wrestling Federation.
Tensions were really high and
the prospect of a double-cross were looming by this time in many of the more
paranoid types. But really this was 1997 and this was the World Wrestling
Federation. That's stuff from the 20's where the real bad guy low-lives were
running the business. The days of making Lou Thesz world champion because you
needed someone who could handle himself in the case of a double-cross had been
over for more than three decades.
That day Hart went to the one
member of the front office he knew he could trust: Earl Hebner. While there are
what you call a lot of good acquaintances in this business, Hart and Hebner were
genuine close friends for years. Hart said he'd use his influence to get Hebner
to referee the match because he wanted someone in the ring that he could trust.
Hebner said he understood the situation and told Hart, "I swear on my kids'
lives that I'd quit my job before double-crossing you." On a personal basis a
little more than 24 hours later, remembrance of that conversation crushed him
more than anything.
At about the same time the WWF
(WWE) braintrust was in Montreal one day early. 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.
Ross on the WWF (WWE) 900 line
filed a report saying due to the tension between Hart and Michaels that there
would be armed security backstage and the two would dress as far apart from each
other as possible. That was a total work since Michaels and Hart actually
dressed together and were on professional terms the next afternoon. He also said
that McMahon was not going to announce the show and instead would be handling
any last-minute problems backstage. Ross also hinted that it could be Hart's
final match in the World Wrestling Federation -- something Hart at that point
wasn't aware of.
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