Typically I like to reserve my Monday’s for my favorite wrestlers, but after the finish to the Bound for Glory PPV main event last night, it reminded me of the infamous night in Montreal almost twenty-one years ago. As was much of the discussion on Sirius XM’s Busted Open radio show, I want to give my thoughts on what happened at Survivor Series in 1997. But first, what brought up the thoughts of the this event some two decades later.
Bound for Glory last night, Impact Wrestling’s version of Wrestlemania, the main event was a world title match between Johnny Impact and Austin Aries. The match was for all intents and purposes a great match, but the finish was what left everybody wondering, is this a work or a shoot? Johnny Impact hit his finisher on Aries, and picked up the 1,2,3 winning the Impact world championship. However, immediately following the pin fall Austin Aries got up and left the ring, “no selling” the finisher. On his way out Aries, proceeded to flip off the crowd and the powers that be in Impact wrestling. That’s not something we would typically see at the finish of a match, unless there was some real heat going on. There appeared to be some confusion as the show ended. Regardless of whether it was supposed to happen or not, it has every wrestling fan and critic talking about it today. So if Impact was trying to get some attention… well done.
Although, the finish to last nights Bound for Glory main event was filled with controversy, nothing compares to the ending of the main event of Survivor Series 1997 in Montreal, Canada. Late 1997 was a transition period for the then WWF. They were losing in the Monday night ratings war, and was beginning to take their product in a more edgier direction. Late ’97 was the birth of the most polarizing era in WWE, the Attitude Era. The lead up to the Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart main event was a heated one. These two men despised each other at the time. They had real life hatred for one another, and I would like to say it culminated at the ’97 survivor series, but I don’t believe that to be the case.
Bret Hart was to be leaving the World Wrestling Federation, for rival World Championship Wrestling. I have watched the Bret Hart documentary: Wrestling with Shadows, multiple times. In the documentary, Bret clearly did not want to leave the WWF. However, WCW offered him an incredible amount of money to come work for them. Even with the lucrative offer, Hart was loyal to the WWF. Owner of WWF Vince McMahon had offered Bret a long-term deal, which Bret had accepted. In the following weeks/months Vince rescinded his offer, saying he would not be able to afford it. WWF in 1997 was nowhere near the worth of WWE in 2018. So I think there is some validity to McMahon’s concerns of being able to honor the contract. So, Hart accepted the offer from WCW and was set to leave the WWF in late November 1997.
The idea that Vince had, was for Bret to drop the title to Shawn Michaels at the Survivor Series PPV. Bret, a proud Canadian wrestler, pleaded with Vince that he not drop the title to Shawn in front of the Montreal crowd. According to the Wrestling with Shadows documentary, Vince gave Bret the opportunity to call the finish of the match. Bret could be heard stating in be a smoz, (the match ends without a clear winner) and then relinquish the title the following night on Monday Night RAW. You could hear Vince say “Whatever you want.”
When Shawn Michaels received word of the finish he was supposedly livid. Triple H who was with Vince and Shawn during the meeting, has been quoted as saying “If Bret doesn’t want to do business, we do business for him!”
Vince was left with a decision to make. I think he trusted Bret to drop the title, the next night on RAW, but at the same time Bret had possesion of WWF’s most prized title. Vince already had a wrestler leave and put one of his championships in the trash on WCW television, and if it happened again, it would not only bury him as a promoter, but quite possible bury his company. I personally think that Vince did the only thing he could do that night.
The match was about to begin and the Montreal crowd was hot that night. Very vocal and ready for a great main event. A lot of smart fans in attendance were intrigued, but probably expected a Bret Hart loss as they knew he was leaving for WCW. But, at the same time, Bret Hart does no lose in Canada. Bret was the clear fan favorite on that night, and Shawn who was a heel in both the U.S. and Canada at the time, didn’t need much help getting booed. Triple H accompanied Shawn to the ring, and for some reason Vince and Sgt. Slaughter were at ringside for the match. It was not a custom for Sgt. Slaughter and especially Vince to sit ringside for a match.
The match started and it was a typical Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels match. I use the term typical lightly, because these two, despite their dislike for each other, worked phenomenal well together. They worked a crisp, yet stiff looking match. About ten to fifteen minutes into the match, Shawn put Bret in his own finisher the sharpshooter. Once the move was locked in, you could see Bret reach back to try to reverse the hold, however to the surprise of everyone in the arena that night, the referee called for the bell. The referee that night was Earl Hebner, and he was told by Vince to ring the bell at that spot. To be clear Bret did not tap and he did not say “I quit!” Both Shawn and Bret sat at the ring apron looking puzzled before Shawn was awarded the winner and the new WWF champion. Shawn, Triple H and multiple WWE officials left the ring in a hurry. The Montreal crowd was livid, and so was Bret Hart. Vince stayed at ringside expecting to be retaliated against by Bret. Bret in the ring and Vince on the floor were having words when Bret then spit in the face of Vince. Vince left the ringside area, and Bret went on to basically throw a fit, destroying the table and monitors at ringside. Bret then went on to air paint WCW in the WWF ring before he went to the back.
In the Wrestling with Shadows documentary, it was filmed with Shawn and Bret in the locker room and Bret asked Shawn “Did you know anything about this?” Shawn denied, denied, denied of any knowledge of the finish, as instructed by Vince. Vince was to take all the blame per his instruction. The filming of the documentary stopped when Bret and Vince had their meeting, but the filming resumed when Vince was walking down the hall-way clearly disoriented. Bret punched Vince right in the eye, and Vince sported a black eye for the next few weeks.
In the documentary, Bret was stated as saying “Being a wrestler, is a lot like being a circus animal. Once your job is done and there is no worth to you, they take you out back and kill you. And that is what they did with the Bret Hart character.” Bret Hart went on to wrestle a couple of years for WCW, but it was forgettable. He didn’t seem to fit, and he will be the first to tell you he hated his time there. You can kind of feel for Bret at this point. How many of us have put many years into a job, only for it to go south and feel like a complete waste of your time. You give and give and when your services are no longer needed, they spit you out. No thanks or we appreciate all you did for us, but a harsh abrupt end to your relationship.
As for Shawn following the “Montreal Screw Job” he went to hold the title for several month. The next night on RAW, Degeneration X went on to further humiliate Bret, by having a “little person” come out and be harassed by Shawn and Triple H. They even slapped a WCW logo on his back side when he left the ring. Bret could be seen watching it on TV in the Wrestling with Shadows documentary in complete disgust.
Shawn’s run as champion was on borrowed time, because at the January 1998 Royal Rumble he hurt his back in a casket match with the Undertaker. He was in a lot of pain in the lead up to Wrestlemania 14 in March of the same year. Shawn was able to suffer through the pain and get to the Wrestlemania 14 main event match with Stone Cold Steve Austin. The match was great despite Shawn being in excruciating pain. You could see during the match he was in a lot of pain. Mike Tyson was the special enforcer for the match and was supposed to be a honarary member of DX, but turned on him in a swerve and counted the 1,2,3 as Stone Cold won the match and his first of many WWF/E titles. Also launching the Austin/McMahon rivalry into wrestling history. That was Shawn Michaels last match with the WWF/E for over four years before he returned in the summer of 2002. Shawn took the time off to turn his life around and was clearly a different person when he returned. Honestly, the injury to his back probably saved his life.
Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels have since buried the hatchet. They even sat down together to do a documentary about their rivalry and the Montreal “Screw Job”. Bret was even able to get some revenge on Vince in a match at wrestlemania. All parties have seem to put it past them. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels both are now WWE Hall of Famers. Vince someday will be inducted, but he will not allow it until after his death I’m sure.
If you get a chance check out Bret Hart: Wrestling with Shadows, Shawn Michaels Heartbreak and Triumph and the Rivalry documentary. This long rivalry could be a movie, it was so interesting. Obviously, it still is as twenty-one years later it is a topic of conversation. It will go down in wrestling folklore as one of the most controversial nights in wrestling.
Thanks for checking out gohomepwb.com, check us out tomorrow as I give my Monday Night RAW review. I will get to my fourth favorite wrestler on Friday this week. Some of you may be surprised as to who it is, unless you were in my fifth grade classroom in the 1992-93 school year. Which is only about fifteen people. But, I am happy to share my thoughts on this wrestler. Feel free to comment or like this blog, and let me know your thoughts on the Montreal Screw Job.