So in case you’re a bit out of practice, the Montreal Screwjob took place on November 9, 1997 at “Survivor Series 1997”. In short, WWF World Champion Bret Hart was leaving the company but refused to lose the title to Shawn Michaels in his home country of Canada. With his back against the wall, Vince McMahon did the only thing he thought he could and legitimately screwed Hart over, calling for the bell while Michaels put him in the Sharpshooter.
The original plan had called for a disqualification but McMahon changed things up, sending Hart away from the company for over twelve years and kind of kickstarting the Attitude Era at the same time. While you can argue forever about who was right and wrong (and I’ll certainly be doing that today), we’ll be looking more at the overall impact, but also at the ridiculous amount of parodies/repeats/obsession with the entire concept.
We’ll start with one of the bigger ones: who was right and who was wrong? We’ll look at the two major parties involved (Michaels was little more than the person who happened to be there at the time so we’ll leave him out), starting with Hart. First and foremost, it was pretty ridiculous to suggest that he wouldn’t lose the title to Michaels in his home country. The old expression in wrestling is you go out on your back and that’s not exactly what Hart was going for here. Can you imagine Steve Austin saying he wouldn’t lose the title in Texas? What Hart is saying is far bigger than that and far more ridiculous.
At the same time though, Hart wasn’t your normal wrestler. Hart had carried that company on his back for a very long time and had put over a ton of wrestlers in the process. Couple that with the idea of Hart having to put up with stuff like Hulk Hogan at “Wrestlemania IX”, feuding with a pirate and a dentist and all the nonsense of Michaels in the first place and there’s a real case to be made for Hart getting what he wanted. Throw in a clause in his contract that gave him “reasonable creative control” and Hart’s case is made even stronger still.
On the other side you have McMahon, who comes at this from the perspective of a promotion getting killed in the Monday Night Wars. You also look at it from the perspective of someone who had his Women’s Title thrown in the trash on live television by the same promotion that Hart was going to. While I don’t think McMahon believed Hart would do that, I do believe he thought WCW would, which was basically the same thing. McMahon had to do something and he was running out of options.
Now that being said, there are some major questions about what McMahon did. First and foremost, why in the world did he put the title on someone who was leaving in just a few months? I know it’s Hart but you would have to be crazy to think that you could just wait until the very last opportunity to turn over the title, especially when it’s against someone with as many issues as Michaels. This was tempting fate and there was almost no way that it was going to work in the short or long term.
So that leaves you with the other question of why it had to be Michaels vs. Hart. Sure that’s the dream match on paper, but sometimes those matches just can’t happen. It would be nice to have, but when you get to the point they were reaching in Montreal, it wouldn’t have been the worst idea in the world to have someone else take the title off of Hart before.
As Jim Cornette said: “Put Ken Shamrock in the ring with Hart and see how long before he’s willing to drop the title early.” While that’s a big more extreme than necessary, it was clear that something should have been done earlier and it just never happened, leaving us with the mess we had.
With the actual screwjob out of the way, it was high time for people to start ripping it off and sweet goodness did they do that in droves. The biggest would of course be at “Starrcade 1997” when WCW managed to botch the heck out of what should have been a huge layup. Instead, there was a stupid idea about a fast count (which wasn’t fast) and Hart, who was now with WCW, coming out and saying he wouldn’t let it happen again. Ignoring the fact that he was already in the arena BEFORE the screwjob happened and the whole thing was a mess.
Then two years later at “Starrcade 1999”, WCW went with just redoing the whole thing, this time with Hart playing Michaels (in quite the head trip), Goldberg as Hart and Roddy Piper as Earl Hebner. The on-screen explanation: Vince Russo, then the head writer for WCW, wanted to make Montreal up to Hart. Yes, their big idea was referencing the screwjob with another screwjob which was basically the sequel. That’s one of many reasons why WCW isn’t around anymore, though there were so many other problems around there that I’m not even sure how high it can be on the list.
The WWF did it as well, basically recreating the whole thing a year after the original at “Survivor Series 1998”, because that’s exactly what they should have done. The idea has been used again multiple times, both at “Breaking Point 2009” when CM Punk “defeated” Undertaker by submission and on an episode of “Impact” in 2010, neither of which meant anything because fans rolled their eyes at the idea of having ANOTHER Montreal reference.
After all those years, Hart finally returned to WWE and buried the hatchet with Michaels, as well as beating McMahon in a match at “Wrestlemania XXVI” (which I still like). The whole thing was FINALLY done, though you can almost guarantee that it’s going to come up again someday. I’m really not sure why it needs to, but then again when has a wrestling company ever realized that repeating the same ideas over and over again is rather dumb?
Overall, the Montreal Screwjob was a perfect storm of everything hitting at once. All of the parties involved went a little crazy and went a lot further than they needed to. Hart’s reaction after it happened was understandable, though you could rather easily argue that he took it too far. I’m glad the whole thing is over as it’s been twenty years and thankfully, people seem to be over it for the most part.
Oh and as far as the idea of the whole thing being a work: seriously? I mean SERIOUSLY? A twelve year period of Hart trashing the company and refusing to appear for the sake of an appearance on “Monday Night Raw” in 2010? I’ve seen a long list of wrestlers who think it might have been a work, but for the life of me I can’t believe for a second that that’s really the case. I mean…what would the point be? It’s an ordeal that got out of hand and that’s it.