The Montrιal Screw Job (Part 2)
November 9, 1997, The
Prelude - Imagine the most anticipated match in years and on the day of
the show not having any semblance of a finish?
McMahon and Hart met that
afternoon and McMahon said something to the effect of, "What do you want me to
do? You've got me by the balls." Hart said that he just wanted to leave the
building with his head up. Hart said to McMahon, "let me hand you the belt on
Raw (the next night in Ottawa). Everyone knows I'm leaving I'd like to tell the
truth on Raw Monday."
At this point the "truth"
wouldn't include talking about finances, contract breaches, arguments about
finishes, or anything that would make McMahon or the company look bad publicly.
McMahon said he agreed, that it was the right thing to do, and the two shook
hands on it.
Hart and Michaels were dressing
together putting together a match. Both were professional with one another and
talking about putting on the best match possible in Hart's last hurrah. Agreeing
to a DQ finish in about 17:00 after a lengthy brawl before the bell would even
sound to start the match.
As they were putting their
spots together Patterson came in. He had a suggestion for a high spot in the
match as a false finish. There would be a referee bump. Michaels would put Hart
in his own Sharpshooter. Hart would reverse the hold. Hebner would still be down
at this point and not see Michaels tap out. Hart would release the hold to
revive Hebner. Michaels would hit him when he turned around with the Sweet Chin
Music. A second ref, Mike Ciota, would haul ass to the ring and begin the count.
A few paces behind, Owen Hart and Smith, and possibly Neidhart as well, would
run down to the ring. Ciota would count 1-2, and whomever got to the ring first,
likely Owen, would drag Ciota out of the ring. While they think they've saved
the day on the pin on Bret, suddenly Hebner would recover 1, 2 -- and Bret would
kick out. That would set the pace for about five more minutes of near falls
before it would end up in a disqualification ending.
Before the show started both
Vader, with his Japanese experiences, and Smith told Hart to watch himself. He
was warned not to lay down and not to allow himself to be put in a compromising
position. He was told to kick out at one, not two, and not to allow himself into
any submission holds. Hart recognized the possibility of the situation but his
thoughts regarding a double-cross were more along the lines of always protecting
himself in case Michaels tried to hit him with a sucker punch when he left
himself open. The idea that being put in a submission, or one of the near falls
while working spots would be dangerous for him, would be something to worry
about normally. But he put it out of his mind because he had Hebner in the ring
as the referee.
The Match -
People on the inside were watching this as close as on the outside. Would Bret
do the job? Would Shawn do the job? Would Bret give Shawn a real beating before
putting him over? The Molson Center was packed with more than 20,000 rabid fans,
who, up to that point, had seen a largely lackluster undercard.
It appeared that about 10 to 20
percent of the crowd knew Hart was leaving and there were negative signs
regarding his decision and negative signs toward the promotion for picking
Michaels above him or the direction that seemingly forced him to leave.
Some things were also strange
and not just the absence of McMahon from the broadcast. Hart the champion in the
main event wasn't scheduled for an interview building up the match. When his
name was announced early in the show there were many boos from fans who knew he
signed with the opposition.
Once he got in the ring for the
introduction, Michaels wiped his butt, blew his nose and then picked his nose
with the Canadian flag. He then put the flag on the ground and began humping it.
Hart was immediately established as a babyface. The two began the match as a
brawl all around ringside and into the stands. The crowd was so rabid that it
appeared there was genuine danger they'd attack Michaels. At one point, they
were brawling near the entrance knocking down refs as planned, knocking down
Patterson as planned, and, as planned, Hart and McMahon had an argument almost
teasing the idea of a spot later in the match where Hart would deck McMahon.
Yet it was also clear that
everything going on was 100% professional and the only curiosity left at that
point was how good the match was going to be (it appeared to be very good) and
how would they get "out" of the match (with something nobody will ever forget).
But one thing was strange: Why
were so many agents circling the ring and why was McMahon right there and acting
so intense? About eight minutes before the show was "supposed" to end, Bruce
Prichard in the "Gorilla" position (kind of the on-deck circle for the
wrestlers) was screaming into his headset that "We need more security at the
ring!" Why? They had already done the brawl in the crowd. The finish was going
to be a DQ and it was still several minutes away.
- Hart climbed the top rope for a double sledge on Michaels. Michaels pulled
Hebner in the way and Hart crashed on him. Just as planned. Michaels for a split
second looked at McMahon and put Hart in the sharpshooter, just as planned. The
next split seconds were the story.
Ciota listening to his
headpiece for his cue to run in heard the backstage director scream to Hebner it
was time to get up. Hebner, listening himself, immediately got up. Ciota started
screaming that he wasn't supposed to get up. Owen Hart and Smith readying their
run in were equally perplexed seeing him get up. Prichard was freaking out
backstage saying that wasn't supposed to happen. Bret still not realizing
anything was wrong laid in the hold for only a few seconds to build up some heat
before the reversal. Michaels cinched down hard on the hold and glanced at
Hebner and then looked away (which more than one wrestler in the promotion upon
viewing the tape saw as proof he was in on it) but then fed Bret his leg for the
Hebner quickly looked at the
timekeeper and screamed, "ring the bell."
At the same moment, McMahon,
sitting next to the timekeeper, elbowed him hard and screamed "Ring the fucking
bell!" The bell rang at about the same moment Bret grabbed the leg for the
reversal and Michaels fell down on his face on the mat. Michaels's music played
immediately and was immediately announced as the winner and new champion. Hebner
sprinted out of the ring on the other side, through the dressing room and into
an awaiting car in the parking lot that already had the motor running and was
going to take him to the hotel where he'd be rushed out of town with his ticket
home instead of staying to work the two Raw tapings.
Michaels and Hart both leaped
to their feet looking equally mad, cursing in McMahon's direction and glaring at
him. Hart spit right in McMahon's face. The cameras immediately pulled away from
Hart to Michaels. Vince screamed at Michaels to "pick the fucking belt up and
get the fuck out of there." Michaels still looking mad was ordered to the back
by Jerry Brisco, who told him to hold the belt up high and get to the back. The
show abruptly went off the air about four minutes early. The camera never
returned to Hart, standing in the ring, looking perplexed, disappointed, angry,
and even somewhat amused.
- The officials left the ring immediately, McMahon went into his private office
in the building with Patterson and a few others and locked the door behind him.
Hart in the ring flipped out on
the realization of what happened and began smashing the television monitors left
behind until Owen, Smith, and Neidhart hit the ring to calm him down. The four
had an animated discussion in the ring all looking perturbed. Finally, Hart
thanked his fans, who for the most part, left with the air let out of their
sails, gave the "I love you" sign to the fans and finger-painted "WCW" to all
four corners of the ring, which got a surprisingly big pop, and went back to the
He first confronted Michaels
who swore that he had nothing to do with it. Michaels obviously afraid Hart
would punch him out right there told Hart that he gets heat for everything that
happened but this time it wasn't his fault and he was as mad as Hart about the
finish. He said he didn't want to win the belt that way, was disgusted by what
happened and to prove it, would refuse to bring the belt out or say anything bad
about Hart on "Raw" the next night.
Hart said that Michaels could
prove whether he was in on it or not by his actions on television the next
The entire dressing room was
furious at McMahon by this point. The feeling was that if Hart, having worked
for the company for 14 years and not missing shots due to injuries the entire
time and having made McMahon millions of dollars throughout the years, could get
double-crossed this bad, then how could any of them trust anything he would say
or do? People were saying that "How could anyone trust anyone ever again?" and
that it was an unsafe working environment.
For three years after the
steroid trial and all the bad publicity McMahon had worked favourably to change
his legacy in the industry: Not as the man who ran all the other promoters out
of business; not the man who marketed pro wrestling to young children while
pushing steroid freaks; not as the man who tried to destroy wrestling history
and create his own; not his worked Harvard MBA; ... not a man so vain as to give
himself a Hugh award in Madison Square Garden as "the genius who created
Wrestlemania"; not the man who, at one time, tried to monopolize every aspect of
the business for himself. But instead, as the working man's hero, coming from
humble beginnings, fighting those ruthless rich regional promoters and through
nothing but guts, gusto and vision, became the dominant force in this industry
and taking it to a new level.
And now, against all odds,
fighting against Billionaire Ted Turner.
Three years of a facade that
was largely working to a new generation wrestling fans who saw him as their
underdog hero. The man, who to a generation that didn't know better, created pro
wrestling, Hulk Hogan, and vocalized interviews; and rose this grimy little
industry from carnival tents to major non-smoking arenas and who was the
friendly face in the Father Flanagan collar who every Monday night epitomized
the world of pro wrestling was flushed down the commode. Even though he was so
good at hiding who the old Vince McMahon was to the point only those who had to
deal with him for many years remembered about not letting your guard down when
the pressure was on, the old Vince returned. Only this time it was in a
situation where those who didn't "know" him were truly "introduced" to him for
the first time.
Undertaker was furious,
pounding on McMahon's locked door. And when he came out to talk with him,
Undertaker told him in no uncertain terms that he needed to apologize to Hart.
He went to Hart's dressing room where Hart had just come out of the shower.
Smith answered the door and
Hart said he didn't want to see him. Vince and son, Shane McMahon, came in with
Sgt. Slaughter and Brisco anyway. Vince started to apologize saying that he had
to do it because he couldn't take the chance of Hart going to WCW without giving
back the belt and he couldn't let Bischoff go on television the next night and
announce Hart was coming while he was still his champion and said how it would
kill his business.
Hart shot back that he had no
problem losing the belt and told McMahon that he was going to dry off and get
his clothes on and told McMahon, "If you're still here I'm going to punch you
Hart called McMahon a liar and
"a piece of shit" and talked about having worked for him for 14 years only
missing 2 shots the entire time and being a role model for the company and the
industry, and this was his payback?
McMahon tried to say that in 14
years this was the first time he'd ever lied to him and Hart rattled off 15 lies
over the last year alone without even thinking about it. Those in the dressing
room watching were stunned listening to Hart rattle those off and McMahon not
offering a comeback.
Hart got dressed and twice told
McMahon to get out. Hart got up and a scuffle started with them locking up like
in a wrestling match. Hart broke free and threw a punch to the jaw that would
have knocked down a rhino. One punch KO in 40 seconds. McMahon growled like he
was going to get up but he had no legs.
Shane McMahon jumped on Hart's
back and Smith jumped on Shane's back pulling him off. Not realizing there would
be trouble, Smith had already taken off his knee brace and hyper extended his
knee in the process of pulling Shane off. Hart nearly broke his hand from the
punch. McMahon's jaw was thought to be fractured or broken.
Hart asked Vince if he was now
going to screw him on all the money he owed him, and a groggy Vince said "No."
He told Shane and Brisco to get that "piece of shit" out of here and glaring at
both of them told them if they tried anything they'd suffer the same results. In
dragging McMahon out, someone accidentally stepped on his ankle injuring it as
And later -
Hebner, at the hotel and on his way out of town was confronted by one of the
wrestlers who asked how he could do that to one of his best friends. Hebner
claimed ignorance and swore that he knew nothing about it and was so mad about
it he was going to quit. Jack Lanza likely as part of another facade was begging
him not to.
Patterson, Michaels and
Prichard all denied any knowledge to the boys. Everyone denied it, but it was
clear everyone had to know from the production truck to go off the air several
minutes early, to the director to get the perfect shot of the sharpshooter where
you couldn't see Bret's face not quit, to Hebner in particular, to the ring
announcer to get the announcement so quickly, to the man handling the music to
have Michaels music all cued up, to the agents who were surrounding the ring
knowing the possibility of something unpredictable happening.
When Hart got back to his hotel
room in a total daze he was furious at McMahon because he knew he was screaming
at the timekeeper to ring the bell but almost recognizing it as a reality of the
business that he should have known better than anyone. But when he had a tape of
the finish played to him he clearly heard that it was Hebner's voice screaming
"ring the bell" and at that point was personally crushed.
Phone lines were ringing off
the hook around wrestling land that night. People closest to the inside of the
business were thinking double-cross, although the big question was whether
Michaels, since he looked so pissed at the finish, was in on it. Some more
skeptical types, remembering Brian Pillman and Kevin Sullivan, thought it
because of the prominence of the match and the interest, that it had to be a
very well acted work. Virtually all the wrestlers backstage thought it was a
double-cross, but a few not wanting to be marks were weary of fully committing
to the idea. Some people who were close to the inside thought it was the
greatest worked finish in the history of wrestling because it got everyone
talking. But by the morning the true story had become obvious.
- When the wrestlers fully realized what had happened, Hart turned into almost a
cult hero and McMahon's image took an incredible tumble. Hart himself remarked
that while he had his problems with McMahon in the late 80's that when Phil
Mushnick wrote all those scathing articles about him during the 90's, he
defended McMahon even though he deep down knew most of what was written about
him to be true.
According to two WWF (WWE)
wrestlers roughly 95% of the wrestlers in the company were planning on
boycotting the Raw taping that night over what happened. But as the day went on
the talk simmered down, Hart told those who asked him that since they had
children and mortgages that they shouldn't risk breaching their contract and
should go. However Owen Hart, Smith, Neidhart and Mick Foley were so upset that
all flew home, missing the tapings both this night and also in Cornwall Ont. the
next night. Many were saying they could no longer work for someone who would do
something like that.
While rumors abound about Hart,
Smith, and Foley all quitting at press time it appeared none of the three truly
knew their future but that they all had a bitter taste in their mouth for the
company. They weren't the only ones. Most of the wrestlers were there and with
none of the Hart family around McMahon gave his side of the story. He portrayed
it as if Hart had agreed to drop the title in Montreal but when he got to the
building he said he was a Canadian hero and an ICON and refused to drop the
title and said Hart said he would give the belt to McMahon on Raw the next night
and refused to ever drop it. Reports were that by this time few if anyone in the
dressing room believed a word of it. Most of the wrestlers by this time knew
Hart was more forced out than voluntarily leaving over money, although knowing
he had signed a great money deal.
Most of the heat was on
Michaels with the belief that Michaels was younger and more in Vince's ear and
there was a lot of bitterness because it wasn't a secret by this point that
Michaels had told people on several occasions that he would never do a job in
The show went on in Ottawa but
not before Bischoff had already announced on Nitro one hour earlier in what was
the same angle he's done so many times to tease and deliver the opposite that
Bret Hart had signed with the NWO. Bischoff opened the show with the entire NWO
holding Canadian flags and badly mockingly singing "Oh, Canada." WCW announcers
Tony Schiavone, Mike Tenay and Larry Zbyszko talked for most of the first hour
about the announcement, with Schiavone and Tenay, likely on orders from Bischoff
acting stunned describing Hart as a second generation wrestler who stands for
tradition. In other words positioning him as another Curt Hennig or Jeff
Jarrett, rather than the level of a Hulk Hogan to justify a nearly $3 million
per year salary. Zbyszko was the one who acted as if he didn't believe it. In
the first commercial break Gene Okerlund did a 900 line tease saying how Bret
Hart punched out a prominent official and he'd have the story on his hotline,
which did huge business. Because of fear of legal repercussions, the story
wasn't told until late in the report, but only a sketchy version was told. And
McMahon's name was never mentioned.
With more curiosity than
anything in recent memory the WWF (WWE) drew its strongest Raw rating since the
early days of the Monday Night War: a 3.39 rating and 5.16 share, largely due to
curiosity stemming from the publicity, the match, and from the announcement
about Hart earlier in the event on WCW and amidst all the chaos and confusion
presented one of its all time worst shows. Nitro did a phenomenal 4.33 rating
and 6.39 share.
Michaels opened the show. Yes,
he was carrying the belt. And what did he say about Hart? He said he beat the
man in his own country with his own hold and that he ran him out of the WWF (WWE)
to be with all the other dinosaurs down South. And said that the few down there
who weren't dinosaurs are his good friends and some day they'd kick his ass too.
Those who were on the fence on the Michaels issue waiting for his interview to
prove himself were given their final answer. McMahon never showed his face on
camera. The fight with Hart was never acknowledged in the commentary although
Michaels couldn't resist in his interview saying how Hart beat up a 52-year-old
man after the show.
In the commentary, nobody tried
to bury Hart but Ross who had never used this figure before on both Sunday and
Monday used the phrase "21-year veteran" perhaps as subtle acknowledgment of
Hart's age. And Lawler did bring up the $3 million per year figure as a way to
encourage the mindless "You sold out" chants. It was acknowledged that it was
Hart's final match in the WWF (WWE) although the reasons for it being the case
were never even hinted at. The replay was pushed harder than ever and why not as
it was the most bizarre finish in modern wrestling history complete with a
commercial clearly showing Hart spitting in McMahon's face and destroying the
monitors which took place after the show itself had gone off the air.
The show dragged on and the
efforts to push the new stars, Mero as a heel, Goldust back as a heel,
Interrogator, Blackjack Bradshaw and Road Dog & Billy Gunn all came off lame.
You could almost hear the crowd groan when it was Rocky Maivia positioned as the
next challenger for Steve Austin's IC title. With all the special effects, the
Kane gimmick still came across as a sure winner. And Ken Shamrock was thrust
into the spotlight as Michael's first challenger on 12/7 after all.
However there was another screw
up. Shamrock's main event with Helmsley was suppose to end with Michaels
interfering and then Shamrock pinning him and the ref counting to three, perhaps
to take heat off Michaels's rep for not doing jobs and perhaps as a way to
convince Shamrock to return the favor for such an unpopular wrestler on PPV.
However the show went off the air with Shamrock down apparently being pinned
after Michaels nailed him with the briefcase. He kicked out just as the show
went off the air.
The crowd in Ottawa, largely
pro-Hart, finally figured out about 15 minutes before the show was going off the
air that none of the Hart Foundation was there and that the Bret Hart situation
was no angle. The Shamrock-Helmsley main event heat was non-consistent drowned
out by adamant chants of "We Want Bret."
Ross went on his hotline and
did nothing but praise Hart for all his work even to the point of saying that he
himself being right there never heard a submission but that the referee claimed
that he heard it.
November 11, 1997
- The Calgary Sun ran an article about the double-cross reporting that Hart's
leaving for WCW was actually requested by the WWF (WWE) due to the WWF (WWE)
claiming financial hardship.
And Where Does It Go
from Here - It's hard to make sense out of all that happened. While
Hart's contract with the WWF (WWE) was much higher than anyone else's, to
dismiss him as being paid above marked value is raising a potential valuable
point. What is the Canadian wrestling market worth? Far more than $1.5 million
per year. At the Calgary Stampede PPV show alone the market was worth about
$400,000 on PPV and another $200,000 in live gate, granted those are Canadian
money and he was being paid in American money but you get the drift. While WWF (WWE)
has lost its foothold in the United States to WCW, it owned Canada. WCW, with
TBS getting moved from premium cable to basic cable nationwide, and with TSN
picking up Nitro every week, was how the tired time getting strong television
exposure in the country.
No matter what he did or didn't
mean elsewhere and there is no denying he was a major draw in the United States
and probably more so in Europe, Germany in particular, he was the wrestling star
in Canada. Beating him to the opportunities will mean from a Canadian standpoint
every bit as much as Hulk Hogan joining with WCW, and we've all seen what the
long term effects of that turned out to be. It's hard to reclaim fan reaction.
Fans are more loyal these days to brand names than ever before more than to
When in a similar situation
only he didn't get into the ring and was fired before "not" doing the job, Ric
Flair came out of a situation with Jim Herd in 1991 recognized by more fans as
the real world champion the WCW belt became largely meaningless, Flair went to
WWF (WWE) and did big business in what was never called unification matches but
many thought of them as such against Hulk Hogan. For nearly two years before
Flair retired as the cult hero the small crowds attending WCW matches never
stopped the "We Want Flair" chants. But a lot of the newer fans also for the
most part have less respect for the wrestlers as people and more as animals to
perform stunts to mesmerize them. Like in other sports have more loyalties to
the "home team" than its players who come and go for the bigger buck. And while
everyone will put their different spin on what happened and like with Hogan and
Bruno and nearly every other wrestler of the WWF (WWE) beforehand, Bret Hart
failed one of the things he wanted most out of his career and that was to walk
away from the company without the bitterness and with many good memories.
Both Bret Hart and Vince
McMahon wanted their legacies to be tied together and represented all that can
be good about pro wrestling. But the fact is no matter how great the match with
Smith at Wembley Stadium or at the In Your House in Hershey were, or the
Wrestlemania match and SummerSlam matches with Owen were, or the SummerSlam
match with Hennig or the Survivor Series match with Michaels, or any of the
rest, his legacy and Vince McMahon's legacy will forever be tied together in
wrestling history. The defining moment of both a Hall of Fame wrestler and the
man who for a decade was the prominent promoter in the industry will be the
moment that the world realized right in front of their eyes with no apologies
and with no turning back to rewrite history just how truly deceitful to the core
this business can be and just how much 14 years of being one of the great
performers in the history of the industry truly meant on the inside to the
company that benefited from it. Only the future can determine whether this was a
definite moment in the hallmark of business when it comes to pro wrestling.