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The Dark Side of The Montreal Screwjob

A Look Back at Dark Side of The Ring: S1E2

Thank you for joining us here at Sports Obsessive. Today is all about S1 E2 of Vice’s Dark Side of The Ring: The Montreal Screwjob.

Before we get into it, I have a question for you. Was The Montreal Screwjob a work or a shoot? Was Bret “The Hitman” Hart screwed over or were we (the fans) taken for one hell of a ride? After all, pro-wrestling is show business at the end of the day.

The Montreal Screwjob is a phrase that wrestling fans worldwide are all too familiar with. We have heard this story from many different wrestling personalities since the incident occurred on November 9th, 1997, in Montreal, Quebec, Canada at the WWF’s Survivor Series pay-per-view.

Dark Side of The Ring: The Montreal Screwjob

If you have stumbled upon this article while being unfamiliar with professional wrestling, first of all, welcome to Sports Obsessive. You don’t need to know the background story here because I’ll break it down for you. WWE is a scripted wrestling show that falls under the category of ’sports entertainment .’The winners of the wrestling matches are all pre-determined. The performers are all exceptionally talented human beings. The Montreal Screwjob is the phrase that many wrestling fans and personalities alike use to refer to the main event match of WWE’s pay-per-view, Survivor Series 1997. The match was between the challenger, “The Heart Break Kid” Shawn Michaels, and the WWF Champion, Bret “The Hitman” Hart.

As I alluded to above, Bret Hart may have been the company’s Champion, but he did not actually “win” the Championship. Bret Hart’s character was written into the storyline of the show to become the WWF Champion. This means that the WWF had so much faith and respect in Bret Hart to be the face of their company and hold their most prestigious prize.

Before we go any further, I must applaud Dark Side of The Ring for revisiting the Hart family tree. Bret Hart was an exceptional grappler, but he was not the only Hart to taste success as a professional wrestler.

The Involvement of The Hart Family Within Pro Wrestling

Dark Side of the Ring exceptionally reiterated the importance of not only Bret Hart’s presence in the professional wrestling business but the entire Hart Family. Bret’s dad, Stu Hart, is famous for the Hart Dungeon. This was a basement under the Hart family home where the entire family would train and learn to wrestle. Not only were the Hart family professional wrestlers, but many of them also married wrestlers. This family gave us the likes of Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Jim ’The Anvil’ Neidhart (who married Ellie Hart), and ‘’The British Bulldog’’ (who married Diana Hart). Not to forget also that current day star Natalya Neidhart, who is ‘The Anvil’s’ daughter, is married to fellow-wrestler and former WWE star Tyson Kidd. I cannot name the entire Hart family because there are so many great athletes in the family. ‘’Rowdy’’ Roddy Piper is even a distant relative to the Hart Family.

The Hart Foundation
From right to left; Davey Boy Smith, Owen Hart, Bret Hart, Jim ”The Anvil” Neidhart.

Stu Hart owned and operated Stampede Wrestling, a company which was eventually purchased by Vince McMahon, the man who would go on to screw over ‘’The Hitman’’. Bret went on to work for McMahon and soon caught the boss’s attention as a guy who could be the company’s shining star. It wasn’t long before Bret captured the company’s most prestigious prize, the WWF World Heavyweight Championship. Dark Side of the Ring presented this story very well by reminding the viewers that, yes, this is a scripted television show and Bret did not really ‘’win’’ the Championship. Still, the owner of the company, McMahon, approved the storyline that Bret would be positioned front and centre. It was crystal clear that Vince McMahon liked and respected Bret Hart.

Why, Vince, Why?

As we know, the native Canadian, Bret “The Hitman” Hart, was the reigning WWF Champion at this point. As far as Bret was concerned, he was scheduled to regain his WWE Championship in front of his fans in Canada against his challenger, “The Heart-Break Kid” Shawn Michaels. There was a lot of backstage tension between Bret and Shawn. Shawn admits that he wasn’t a pleasure to be around this day. Bret and Shawn had even gotten into “real” fights backstage, adding fuel to their very personal rivalry. Before this Survivor Series Championship match, Bret told Shawn that the match would be completely professional, meaning that there would be no fear of Bret legitimately harming Shawn. However, Shawn couldn’t promise to return the favour.

Bret made it known backstage that he would be leaving the WWF to join their rival promotion, WCW. Bret’s departure was simply down to money. WCW could offer to pay Bret more; that was that. An unwritten rule in the WWF was that if talent were to leave the company, that they would “lose” a match on their way out as a sign of respect and to elevate their opponent. That’s where things began to show signs of difficulty. I’m sure that Bret would have been more than happy to drop his WWF Championship at Survivor Series if the event were not taking place in his homeland of Canada.

Vince McMahon was present at ringside.
WWE Chairman Vince McMahon had cruel intentions going into Survivor Series 1997.

Bret did not want to lose a Championship match in Canada and felt that the WWF should have more respect for him than to have him lose and “look weak” by losing in Canada. Bret was happy to show up on the WWF’s flagship show, Raw, the very next night and drop the Championship once they were no longer in Canada. Does that seem too much to ask? I don’t think so. Then again, I don’t own a multi-billion-dollar corporation such as World Wrestling Entertainment (then-World Wrestling Federation).

WWF Chairman Vince McMahon did not believe that Bret would honor his word. This feeling has to go back to Madusa in 1995. Madusa was the WWF Women’s Champion in 95, but moved over to rival promotion, WCW. Madusa brought the WWF Women’s Championship onto WCW television and dropped it into a garbage can on live television. This was just not the done thing.

In 1997, WWF and WCW were in a rating war, and WWE was not necessarily knocking it out of the park. McMahon looked at the whole Bret Hart situation through the lens of avoiding history repeating itself. Who knows what would have happened if Bret Hart were to bring the WWF Championship to WCW. Certainly, if that was to happen, it would have been a big knock against the WWF’s credibility.

Vince Screwed Bret

In this episode, Bret Hart was on hand to provide his candid thoughts and opinions on The Montreal Screwjob. Bret wanted the WWF to show him enough respect as an employee to not have him lose his Championship in Canada. However, WWE Chairman Vince McMahon had other plans as he was desperate to keep the WWF Championship with the WWF. The closing moments of the infamous Championship match showed Bret Hart locked in his own signature submission move, The Sharpshooter, at the hands of the challenger, Shawn Michaels. At this point, McMahon, who was on the outside, called for the ring bell to sound, ending the match, awarding the title to Michaels and screwing over Bret Hart in the process. WWE referee Earl Hebner, who had called the match, fled the scene out of pure fear of the consequences that were to come.

Vince McMahon and Bret Hart

Expectedly, Bret was livid and stared a hole through McMahon before walking over to the ring ropes and spitting on him. By this point, Shawn Michaels had escaped to the backstage area, which left Bret standing in the middle of the ring and spelling out the letters W-C-W with his finger, driving the point home that he was done with the drama of the WWF. As the story continued, we were reminded that Vince McMahon made his presence known in Bret’s locker room in the backstage area. Bret told McMahon that if he was still in the locker room once he had finished his shower, he was going to knock him out. That’s exactly what happened. Bret Hart knocked out the WWF Chairman and was rid of the company that disrespected him on his home turf.

Final Thoughts

If you’re asking me, I’m going to say that this was a legitimate incident. However, if you ask former WWE Superstar and friend of Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall, he will tell you otherwise. Scott Hall went on record by stating that The Montreal Screwjob was a “work.” Meaning that all parties involved had agreed to how the night would end. I find that very hard to believe. Part of my reason for this is due to the fact that Hall mentioned that he did not speak to Shawn Michaels after the incident. That’s kind of hard to believe, given that we know of their close friendship. Bruce Pritchard even commented on Hall’s statement, adamant that The Montreal Screwjob was as real as real gets within the world of pro wrestling.

What do you think – was this a work, or was it a shoot? Let us know how you feel about The Montreal Screwjob in our comments and Social Media. This is undoubtedly one of the most talked-about wrestling moments and will continue to live on in infamy.

Written by James Corcoran

James writes about Professional Wrestling. Be it a show from the mid to late 80s, current-day or anything in between. He is intrigued with all aspects of sports-entertainment.

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