The Montreal Screwjob is one of the most controversial decisions in the history of pro wrestling. The focal conflict involved Bret Hart and Vince McMahon (and Bret's departure from the World Wrestling Federation). It occurred in November 1997 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and the business would reguarly benefit from re-enactments and other grudges from it for the next 13 years.
At Survivor Series 1997, Shawn Michaels was set to challenge then-WWF Champion Bret Hart. In March 1996, Shawn beat Bret at WrestleMania XII for the championship while Bret Hart took time off. Bret signed a new, 20-year, multi-million contract with the WWF (turning down a more lucrative offer from World Championship Wrestling). Shawn was outraged because Bret was earning twice a year more than he was. Although Shawn had said the amount of money he was paid did not matter to him, he felt someone earning more to him meant that someone else was more valuable than he was. After Bret returned to the WWF, working with Shawn became obligatory yet impossible. The WWF bought time by putting Bret in a feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin, but when it came time to finalize plans for WrestleMania 13, Shawn forfeited the title in February 1997 due to an ill-timed injury. Many fans felt Shawn faked his injury to avoid losing to Bret, and when Shawn returned to action at 100% a few months later, it confirmed their suspicions for them.
Tensions grew between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. After WrestleMania 13, Bret was wrestling as a heel, but in August, Shawn also turned heel. The original plan was to place Shawn in the Hart Foundation, but all parties rejected the idea. Instead, Shawn formed DX, but with hated enemies both working heel, something had to change. The WWF pacified the situation by placing Undertaker in a program with Shawn, but the compulsory encounter had to happen. Shawn beat Taker for a title match at Bad Blood 1997 in the first ever Hell in a Cell match for the number 1 contender ship to face the WWF champion in Survivor Series.
With tempers flaring as high, WWF owner Vince McMahon stood at ringside, seemingly to simply oversee the match, instead of working commentary as he had been for the past several years. During the match, Michaels "accidentally" knocked out referee Earl Hebner. Moments later, Shawn locked Bret in his own patented SharpShooter. As Bret attempted to escape the move, Hebner miraculously revived and signaled the timekeeper for the bell. Likewise, McMahon ordered the timekeeper to "RING THE FUCKING BELL!" Shawn Michaels was awarded the WWF title, and Bret Hart & the fans was confused since it was obvious Bret did not submit (this was before the days of "tapping out" in the WWF to signal a submission).
As it turned out, Vince McMahon informed Bret Hart in September 1997 (during a show at MSG) that he could not afford their contract. He insisted Bret Hart contact Eric Bischoff to see if WCW's previous offer still stood (WCW was starting a new show, so Bischoff was very interested in Bret's services). Once Bret verbally agreed to sign with WCW, things got complex because then-WWF Women's Champion Alundra Blayze once threw the belt in a trashcan on a live segment of WCW Monday Nitro earlier in the year, so Vince didn't want to risk any chance of Bret doing the same thing.
Adding further sensitivity to the issue, Bret allegedly had a contract clause that warranted "reasonable creative cotnrol" in the last days of his career, and he refused to drop the championship to Shawn in Canada. He offered to lose the title to any other wrestler, or lose to Shawn on any other day, but he refused to lose at the Survivor Series. Unfortunately, Survivor Series was a pay-per-view event, and Vince did not want the fans to pay to see a title match end inconclusively, only for the championship to change hands later that month on Monday Night Raw. Therefore, McMahon, Shawn, and Gerald Brisco concocted a plan to make sure Bret didn't leave the arena as champion (Earn Hebner was given his role right before the match started).
The "scheduled" ending to the match was for Shawn to put Bret in the SharpShooter, but Bret would reverse the move, and then D-Generation X ( Triple H, Rick Rude, and Chyna) would storm the ring. Then, Bret's family members from the Hart Foundation would storm the ring, and the match would be declared a no-contest, and Bret would forfeit the championship the following night on Monday Night Raw. This plan did not happen though due to the double-crossing of Bret Hart by McMahon and the WWF Championship Belt was taken away from him and awarded to Shawn Michaels.
Luckily for fans, Bret Hart was filming an indepedent documentary at the same, so there is a wealth of footage around what would have otherwise been secretive events regarding the decision; plus the film documented Bret Hart's initial (real) thoughts and emotions surrounding the situation. The now-famous documentary was released under the name Wrestling With Shadows.
The immediate reaction amongst the fans was mostly negative towards the WWF, especially in Montreal (which was prone to riots, having just endured one after winning the 1993 Stanley Cup). According to a shoot interview with Vince Russo, the "inner circle" at the WWF wanted to ignore the incident as much as possible and let it blow over, but (again according to him) Russo insisted that they should capitalize on it since it has fans talking. The WWF had been down in the ratings for so long, despite an arguably superior product, so getting the interest of viewers was their primary goal. Logic prevailed and the WWF turned Vince McMahon into a heel character in response to the bittness directed towards him as owner after Bret's departure. This "evil boss" character was the perfect fodder for their rebellious Steve Austin.
Because so many pieces fell perfectly into place after the incident, there are several fans today who believe the entire situation was a work. Kay's thoughts are that the WWF was attempting to goad the Canadian crowd into a riot, which were further compounded the following month when DX no-showed a couple house show main events in Arkansas, and WWF-TV boasted that the atmosphere as "near-riotous." Of course, the only reason the WWF would want to cause a riot would be to garner attention and turn it into ratings, so any benefits were seized by the WWF regardless.
Re-enactments & Other AnglesEdit
- The first angle built around the Montreal Screwjob came the following month at Starrcade when Bret Hart kept Hollywood Hogan from leaving with the WCW World championship, feeling referee Nick Patrick aided him with a fast count over Sting, and Bret restarted the match, which Sting won the match with the Scorpion Deathlock. Unfortunately, the fast count was very fast (in fact, it was clocked at 3.17 seconds) so Bret's rant made him look obsessed with the Montreal Screwjob (perhaps a case of life immitating art).
- The first worked re-enactment of the Montreal Screwjob came the very next year against at Survivor Series 1998 when The Rock won the same WWF championship by forcing Mankind to "submit" in a SharpShooter.
- The first worked re-enactment in WCW came at Starrcade 1999, where the finish of a match between Bret Hart and Bill Goldberg saw guest referee Roddy Piper "ring the bell" once Hart placed Goldberg in the sharpshooter despite Goldberg not submitting.
- In July 2000, Vince Russo publicly ranted at Hulk Hogan when he won the WCW Championship from Jeff Jarrett. There is some question whether it was planned or a worked shoot, but Eric Bischoff provides details of how the angle was supposed to play out, and Hogan filed defamation lawsuit against Vince Russo and Time Warner afterwards (despite all contractual disputes in the Montreal Screwjob, no lawsuits were filed).
- The first worked re-enactment in Montreal was in February 2003 when Vince McMahon 'screwed' Hulk Hogan in a match with The Rock by turning out the house lights when Hogan had Rock covered, and then giving Rock a steel chair to level Hogan and secure the win. This was done to build towards Vince/Hogan at WrestleMania XIX the next month.
- After Chris Benoit won the World Heavyweight championship in March 2004, one of his first challengers was Shawn Michaels, and (especially while visiting Canada) fans chanted "YOU SCREWED BRET" at Shawn during interviews and matches. The chant also haunted Earl Hebner and Vince McMahon for years after the incident.
- When Shawn Michaels started feuding with the McMahon family in 2006, which started when Shawn told Vince he needed to grow up because Vince was still bragging about the Montreal Screwjob eight years later. Shortly therafter, Shane forced Shawn to "submit" to the SharpShooter on Saturday Night's Main Event.
- The most recent re-enactment came at the first Breaking Point in October 2009 when then-World Heavyweight champion CM Punk forced Undertaker to "submit" to the Anaconda Vice.
After bitterly speaking ill of Vince McMahon for years, Bret Hart was able to work again with WWE in 2005 when they released a DVD entitled The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be: The Bret Hart Story and inducted him into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006. Both honors were things that Bret had always promised he would be interested in doing, even when he left the WWF in 1997. Bret had previously vowed that he would not work another match for Vince, but time heals all wounds. His first match in WWE (and his first match anywhere since retiring in January 2000) came at WrestleMania XXVI, facing Vince McMahon in a Street Fight that was built heavily around the Montreal Screwjob. Bret worked a handful of other WWE matches in 2010 and continued his involvement into 2011, including a DVD centered around his rivalry with Shawn Michaels.