Montreal Screwjob

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The Montreal Screwjob (a.k.a. the Montreal Incident or The Double Cross) is professional wrestling parlance for a genuine, unscripted incident (a screwjob) that took place on November 9, 1997, during a match for the WWF Championship between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

History

In October 1996, Bret Hart signed an unprecedented 20-year contract with the WWF after considering, then rejecting, a very lucrative offer from the WWF's main rival, World Championship Wrestling. Hart had been with and had remained loyal to the WWF since 1984, and had emerged from wrestling mainly in tag teams to become a popular and respected singles star. Between 1991 and 1996, Hart won the WWF Championship three times and the Intercontinental Title twice. He also won the 1993 King of the Ring tournament and was joint winner of the 1994 Royal Rumble alongside Lex Luger. The contract he signed in 1996 called for him to wrestle three more years with the WWF and then complete his career in a behind-the-scenes writing and booking position. Both sides felt that it was a suitable and appropriate expression of Hart's loyalty to the WWF and its loyalty to him.

However, by the middle of 1997, the WWF was in serious financial straits, due mainly to WCW taking over as North America's #1 pro wrestling promotion. WWF owner and chairman Vince McMahon informed Hart that he wished to withdraw from the contract and he encouraged him to again seek employment with WCW. However, as soon as the deal was in place, and at the last minute, suddenly McMahon claimed that he could pay out the whole contract as signed, and wanted Hart to stay. However, when asked about his plans for Hart's "Hitman" character, giving McMahon an option to entice Hart with interesting story ideas, the ideas put out by Vince made it clear to Hart that he was not part of McMahon's longterm plans, and he elected to sign with WCW. At this time, Bret was still the WWF Champion, having won the belt for a fifth time that August from The Undertaker.

On November 1, 1997, Hart verbally agreed to a $3m a year contract with WCW. As part of his WWF contract, Hart had complete creative control over his character in the last days of his WWF tenure. Therefore, he had the final say over what he would and would not do and say.

He also had two major caveats: He would not lose his WWF Title to Shawn Michaels, and he certainly would not lose it in his home country of Canada. The legitimate backstage ill-feeling between Hart and Michaels, which had been bubbling for years, meant that neither man was willing to lose face in or out of the ring to the other, but they agreed to work together for the sake of the business. Hart and Michaels, back then, had radically different lifestyles and attitudes out of the ring and had clashed previously. One such incident was provoked when Michaels claimed that Hart was sleeping with WWF valet Sunny, which lead to a physical confrontation between the two. The relationship between both men was very rocky at best, Hart been angered about how much booking power The Clique (Kliq) had gained during the mid 1990s. At WrestleMania XII Michaels beat Hart for the WWF Championship. Michaels was supposed to return the favor in WrestleMania 13, he however refused to lose to Hart which saw Michaels get written out of the storylines although he did appear at WrestleMania 13. Michaels simply wouldn't lose to Hart and as a result, Hart wouldn't lose to Michaels.

McMahon began seeking a way to transition the title off of Hart. Michaels was booked as the #1 contender to Hart's title in the fall of 1997 however. Of course, Hart took immediate issue with the idea that he would lose the title to Michaels, in Montreal, at the Survivor Series PPV event on November 9, 1997. He did not believe that Michaels would have offered a loss in return had he stayed in the WWF, and moreover he did not want to lose to Michaels in Canada. Hart had offered to forfeit the belt, but McMahon was insistent that the belt would go to Michaels at the PPV in Montreal.

McMahon tentatively agreed to end the match in Montreal with a planned disqualification finish, which would involve various cohorts of both Hart and Michaels running in and disrupting the match. McMahon then told Hart he could either make a live speech on the November 10, 1997 edition of Raw and then hand the belt back, or he could lose the title in a match on December 7, 1997 at the PPV scheduled for Springfield, Massachusetts. After much negotiation, Hart agreed to hand the belt back on Raw.

The setup

The Wednesday before Survivor Series, Vince McMahon devised what would become the Montreal Screwjob. As Gerald Brisco sat in a hotel room showing Michaels how to defend himself against Bret attempting to shoot on him (hit him for real), Vince decided that he had no alternative other than to make sure that he left the Survivor Series with Shawn as champion.

On the day of Survivor Series, Bret and Vince sat in a room and discussed the different possibilities. Vince seemed to agree to everything that Bret wanted to do, knowing full well that he was never going to fulfill it anyway. Bret left feeling a little more relaxed, despite being warned by several wrestlers (including Vader, who was a veteran of the Japanese scene and knew the prospect of a screwjob could be looming) never to let himself be pinned for more than a count of 1 or be on his back for too long.

However, Hart was deeply aware of the possibility of a last-minute change of plan behind his back and, fearing a double-cross, went as far as asking the match's referee Earl Hebner to swear an oath on his children's lives that he would not participate in such an incident. Hebner shook on this. The match script given to Hart on the day detailed the planned disqualification finish. Shawn would put Bret in the Sharpshooter, and Bret would reverse, only for D-Generation X and The Hart Foundation to run down for a big brawl to end the match. This would then lead into the title being dropped and Bret being free to leave for WCW.

During the match, after an arena-wide brawl before the match had even officially started, Hart allowed Michaels to place him in the Sharpshooter, his famous finishing leglock hold. Michaels then gave Hart his foot to reverse the hold, but clamped down the pressure at the same time. McMahon, positioned at ringside, elbowed the timekeeper and screamed at him to "Ring the fucking bell!" Hebner then signalled to the timekeeper as if Hart had submitted to the hold and Michaels was quickly awarded the match and the title as his theme music began to play. Hebner rapidly ran backstage from the ring, allegedly to a waiting car. This is a very extreme example of a screwjob (hence the term Montreal Screwjob) as well as a shoot event.

Astounded by the unexpected turn of events, Hart was immediately outraged. He stood dazed in the ring as Michaels walked backstage to a cascade of garbage from fans. Michaels himself was told to act even more outraged than Hart, because if he didn't, they feared that Hart may have attacked him and pummelled him for real again (he had done so earlier in the year backstage at a Raw taping), which would have been bad for business if their new champion had been beaten to a pulp on live PPV by the leaving participant. Bret spat at McMahon, hitting him in the eye, and shortly after also destroyed several TV monitors at ringside before climbing the turnbuckles and signing the letters "WCW" to the rabid crowd. Backstage, after cooling off, he learned that many of the other wrestlers were outraged and were forcefully pressuring the now-in-hiding McMahon to face up to Hart (Hart even proclaimed to his wife, "The piece of shit's locked himself up in his office"). Hart's son was physically upset at what had happened and his wife laid a verbal onslaught onto Triple H (whom she rightfully believed knew about the whole thing), while The Undertaker confronted McMahon and demanded that he meet with Hart face-to-face. McMahon went to see Hart, and the incident ended up as a physical confrontation in the Montreal locker rooms. After McMahon tried to apologize to Hart, he was told to get out or get punched in the face. McMahon refused to leave, and got punched in the face. With Shane and Brisco also there, one of them trampled onto Vince's ankle by accident and broke it. He was carried out, somewhat dazed and unaware of his surroundings, in a scene captured on the Wrestling with Shadows documentary.

Several wrestlers threatened to walk out on the WWF after the event and were only calmed by a backstage meeting in which McMahon lied in order to soften the pain of the wrestlers, fearing that if it could happen to one of the most loyal and popular members on the roster, it could happen to anyone. In the end, Mick Foley was the only non-Hart to not come to work the next day.

The next night on Raw, McMahon and Michaels did what they could to kill the Bret Hart mystique. When the show opened, Michaels gave an interview in the ring where he mocked Bret by saying "I ran the Bret down south with all the other dinosaurs, and Hitman, the gentlemen down there that aren't dinosaurs are my friends and they can't wait to kick your butt either." Hart was watching back at his home in Calgary and wasn't suprised at what they were doing.

Later that night, McMahon gave an interview giving his side of the Montreal Screwjob. He then concluded saying that he himself didn't screw Bret, but "Bret screwed Bret."

About 3 weeks later, a week before Hart was set to debut on WCW Monday Nitro, Michaels further disgraced the Hitman name by claiming that he had secretly negotiated a deal to "Set the record straight" with Hart before he was going to leave. Hart's signature music played, and out came a midget dressed up like Hart. Michaels and the other members of D-Generation X pretended to torture him before attaching a WCW bumper sticker on his butt, kicking him out of the ring and saying "There you go Hitman, head down south with all the other has-beens."

Legacy

In the days to follow, Hart left for WCW, and McMahon claimed he could not trust Bret with the title, fearing he would show up on the competition's TV show with the WWF World title belt. McMahon had reason to fear this; in December 1995, the WWF Women's Champion, Debra Miceli (who wrestled as Alundra Blayze in the WWF), showed up on WCW Monday Nitro with the championship belt. Miceli proceeded to throw the belt in a trash can on live TV, imitating a well-publicized act by heavyweight boxer Riddick Bowe.

Michaels, and his friend Triple H, claimed total innocence over the situation but several years later admitted that they too had been in on the fix.

A legacy of this incident is that at wrestling shows in Montreal (and to a lesser extent, Canada in general), chants of "You screwed Bret!" will spontaneously arise when key players in the screwjob make their appearances, particularly Hebner and Michaels. Several parodies of the event have also been booked into subsequent WWF matches, such as at the end of the following year's Survivor Series main event between The Rock and Mick Foley. Another notable play on the infamous event took place on the May 28, 2001 episode of Raw in Calgary, Alberta, featuring Chris Benoit being cheated out of a WWF Title win, when Stone Cold Steve Austin applied the Crippler Crossface finisher on Benoit, and McMahon yelling at Hebner to ring the bell. However, Benoit and his ally, Chris Jericho, applied their finishers on McMahon and Austin at the end of the show.

It is important to note that some well-informed observers hold the opinion that the whole Montreal incident and its aftermath was in fact a work, not a shoot, and that McMahon, Hart, and Michaels all conspired to generate controversy and interest in their product by staging it. One piece of evidence can be found in the fact that Hart's wife refers to Triple H by his stage name at the time, Hunter, instead of his real name, Paul (although wrestlers do often refer to one another by their stage names, depending on how well they know one another). However, given the public enmity between Hart and McMahon which persisted for several years as well as Michaels' confession of his role, this seems rather unlikely. There was also no pay off in the years that followed. A work of these proportions would have made a lot of money for the WWE had they capitalized on it already. The fact that they haven't suggests that the reality is what we saw in front of us that night.

The Montreal Screwjob was the first heavily publicized professional wrestling double-cross since Wendi Richter lost the WWF Women's Championship to a masked Fabulous Moolah following a contract dispute on November 25, 1985. However, it is not the only screwjob in wrestling history. In fact, it is common practice among some companies, and has been for years.

The incident was featured in the 1998 movie, Wrestling with Shadows, a documentary about Hart's life as a WWF wrestler.

There has also been a comment made on the Wrestling Classics forum by Dave Meltzer which states that the full Montreal story still hasn't been revealed, and won't be until a certain person responsible for the "Sharpshooter spot" in the match passes away. They originally thought it was Pat Patterson, despite popular belief. Although it was Patterson that told Bret about it.

Trivia

  • The aftermath of the real-life screwjob, and McMahon's later "Bret screwed Bret" speech, laid the groundwork for the storyline "Mr. McMahon" character, the evil boss of the WWF who would "screw" faces in order to ensure the dominance of his hand-picked heel champions, whose feud with the anti-authority face Stone Cold Steve Austin would be the central storyline for the WWF for the next several years.
  • The classic "Bret Screwed Bret" line would be thrown in a couple of promos that Vince McMahon cut during his feud with Stone Cold. Unforgiven 1998 opened with a video package that ended with McMahon saying "Vince McMahon didn't screw Stone Cold...Stone Cold Screwed Stone Cold." This was obviously a play on what Vince spoke about Bret the year eariler.
  • After this event, the popular opinion was that this was a deathblow for the WWF and a major score for WCW. The combination of a company screwing over a popular wrestler, angering many fans, would deal a massive blow to the WWF and a TON of hype for WCW to work with. Ironically, it went the other way around. McMahon harnessed the real-life hatred fans held for him afterwards and created the "Mr. McMahon" character. This, combined with the red-hot popularity of Stone Cold Steve Austin created a feud that later pushed the ratings in the WWF's favor. WCW, on the other hand, more-or-less sat on Hart for years never pushing him and never doing anything relevant in terms of storylines.
  • After the event, some WWF wrestlers did leave the WWF for WCW. Davey Boy Smith, Jim Neidhart and a few others left the WWF as a result of McMahon's actions. Owen Hart attempted to leave as well but decided to stay in the WWF, as he could have faced a legal battle had he departed.
  • At StarrCade 1997, Bret prevented Hollywood Hogan from leaving with the WCW Championship. He claimed that the referee gave a fast count and that he wouldn't allow another wrestler (Sting) to be screwed.
  • To this day fans (especially Canadian fans) continue to blast the WWE for the screwjob. It is not uncommon for many Canadian fans to carry Bret Hart signs to WWE shows. Shawn Michaels in particular is incredibly unpopular with Canadian wrestling fans due to the Montreal Screwjob. For example: at Backlash 2004, which took place in Edmonton, Alberta, Michaels wrestled in the main event. The fans completely tore him apart with loud boos during his entrance and loud "YOU SCREWED BRET!" chants that actually distracted him for a few moments. On the other hand, many Canadian wrestlers (even those who are portraying heels), are wildly cheered by the Canadian fans. The main characters that gain a heel status in Canada are Vince McMahon, Shawn Michaels and referee Earl Hebner.
  • Whenever a wrestler is trapped in the Sharpshooter and the show is in Canada, there are always references to not only Bret Hart, but also the Montreal incident. Major controversy erupted when at Backlash 2004, Shawn Michaels trapped Chris Benoit in the Sharpshooter and Earl Hebner was officiating the match. The fans booed wildly, and Jerry Lawler constantly screamed "Ring the bell Hebner, you've done it before!", which was a reference to the screwjob.

External links

de:Montreal-Screwjob