The WWE Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs Bret Hart DVD, which was released in North America earlier today, comes with the highest recommendation, as it's quite simply the best shoot documentary the company has ever released. It's not perfect, but that couldn't be expected, as there are still some subject matters that are too sensitive to be ever discussed on a WWE release, which we'll get to later on in the review. Taking that into account, it's as honest, in depth and kayfabe breaking as it could possibly be given the controversial nature of the Montreal Screwjob and the events that led up to it. I sincerely hope that they can use this format on other future DVDs, as it worked very well, with the reactions to what was being said being almost as intriguing as the words themselves.
If you have a Blu Ray player, then I'd also recommend shelling out the few extra dollars for the Blu Ray version of this title, as it includes exclusive extras like key promos from their feud in 1997, their Survivor Series 1997 match together (yes, this is indeed perplexingly absent from the DVD set) and extra footage of their sit down discussion together that didn't make the cut of the main presentation. You will want to hear how their ladder match together, the first one ever in WWF history, came about; how Bret carried a coked out of his mind Davey Boy Smith to one of the best matches of both their careers at SummerSlam 1992 in Wembley Stadium; a brutal burial of the booking talents of Eric Bischoff and Hulk Hogan that needs to be desperately seen by the Carter family; and even the story behind how Shawn got his lazy eye!
Read a very detailed review of the DVD with spoilers after the jump.
The DVD starts a little shakily, as they pretend that The Rockers debuted in the World Wrestling Federation in late May 1988, when in fact they had a one week run in the company exactly one year earlier. Shawn and his tag team partner Marty Jannetty, were brought in originally to be fresh babyface opponents for the then WWF Tag Team Champions The Hart Foundation, but they were fired in under a week for excessive partying. By the time they returned to the promotion, Bret and Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart had turned babyface, a role that they stayed in until they split up after WrestleMania VII, meaning that what could have been a legendary WWE tag team feud never happened and we had to make do with a handful of babyface vs. babyface matches between the two teams. So the timeline of what they were discussing here was a bit skew-whiff and was potentially confusing to those who don't know that backstory going in.
Things picked up as Shawn honestly discusses the problem of being an undersized team in the land of the
steroid giants, talking about how lots of teams didn't even want to work with The Rockers, feeling it wasn't credible to work a competitive match with them where they would have to sell. He also admits to developing a chip on his shoulder by being constantly told he wasn't big enough by the dinosaurs on top and the people in control to ever be the one of the main players in the business. This created a bond with Bret who didn't think that way (indeed he saw Shawn's talent and when he made it, he felt that Shawn would be the guy that he would eventually pass the torch to) and had similar problems when he first became a singles competitor, despite being somewhat larger than Shawn.
However, both Bret and Shawn make too big of a deal about the fans forcing change in the early 1990s by starting to favour the smaller, more versatile performers like themselves that went to great lengths to tear the house down over the limited, musclebound headliners like Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior that relied on the same pat match night in and night out. That was part of the impetus for the transformation in the product, but the bigger catalyst was the steroid scandal that begun in the summer of 1991 when Dr. George Zahorian was convicted of selling steroids to WWF wrestlers including Hogan, which led to strict drug testing that eventually forced most of the bodybuilders out of the promotion, leaving the path much clearer for both Bret and Shawn to eventually get to the top and win the WWF Championship.
Of course, neither of them could mention that, as the history of steroid usage within the professional wrestling business remains a sore spot for the McMahon family to this very day. This was perfectly demonstrated just last month on the Night Of Champions go home Raw where Triple H was scripted to verbally steamroller CM Punk in a worked shoot promo after Punk had the gall to suggest he was hard done by because both Vince McMahon and his son-in-law had bodybuilder fetishes.
Shawn also made a point of emphasising that the WWF started having their best tag teams on last to close the show, implying that they couldn't be followed. But this wasn't as important as he made out, since the promotion in many markets wanted to put the real main event on before intermission, so the marquee match of the next show could be announced immediately afterwards and thereby entice fans to buy tickets at the box office for the return to the arena before they left that night.
Things started going downhill between Bret and Shawn at WrestleMania XI, where Bret clearly felt that Shawn intentionally stole his spot as the number two babyface in the company. Shawn did so by performing in a selfish manner as a heel that would guarantee cheers and make him look like the much superior performer in his match against then WWF champion Kevin "Diesel" Nash, sabotaging his good friend. This led to a rushed babyface turn on Raw the next night when he was power bombed by his bodyguard Psycho Sid three times. It didn't help matters that Bret's third WWF title run was a frustrating one with both management and Shawn himself making it clear to him that he was just a safe pair of hands to keep the belt warm for HBK until WrestleMania XII. Meanwhile, Shawn started seeing Bret as being a bit of an out of touch relic; not that he couldn't go anymore, but he was resistant to the edgier product that the Kliq was lobbying for.
However, with Bret being preoccupied with what he thought would be a blossoming acting career after being offered a role in Lonesome Dove and wanting to take some time off to recharge his batteries, they managed to patch things up and have a very good Iron Man match together at WrestleMania XII where Bret dropped the belt to Shawn. So much so, that they decided to set the wheels in motion for what was both simultaneously the best and worst worked shoot angle of all time. The best because once they finally did the rematch at Survivor Series 1997 it did great business on pay-per-view, beating that year's WrestleMania buy rate; the worst because it took them 20 months to agree to do the first and what turned out to be final rematch after they both lost sight that their insults were supposed to be for business not personal reasons. But it all started out perfectly, as everyone at the time, including the WWF locker room, thought that Bret really hated Shawn, even though they really didn't, after Shawn had told him to "get the hell out of my ring" as soon as he had been pinned and Bret stormed out of the arena in disgust. That didn't last for very long though, as the wheels on the runaway train had been set in motion.
The problem was that Bret's jibes cut too close to the bone. He brought his family into the angle by asking how could they be proud of a son like Shawn, which was ironic given that Bret didn't take too kindly to Jerry "The King" Lawler mocking his parents Stu and Helen so viciously in their summer '93 feud until his mother told him she found Lawler's schtick funny. He insinuated that Shawn might be "a little less than a real man's man" by making snide remarks about his stripper dance and posing for Playgirl, which was difficult to cope with in an industry insecure about their gay following. Even today, Shawn is uncomfortable with and takes offence to Bret's assertion that it was inappropriate for him to bring kids into the ring and have them copy some of his dancing mannerisms. Unfortunately, Shawn was too immature and emotional (exacerbated by his worsening drug problems, which WWE completely shied away from mentioning in the DVD) to realise that Bret wasn't saying such nasty things to bury him, but to do business with him.
Their mutual mistrust increased as Shawn opted to lose his smile and take time off for a knee injury rather than lose the WWF title belt to Sycho Sid and face Bret at WrestleMania XIII, a match where Shawn was expected to return the favour for one year earlier and put Bret over. However, the straw that broke the camel's back on Shawn's side was when Bret accidentally missed his time cue to wrap up a promo from his wheelchair at the end of the May 12th, 1997 edition of Raw meaning that the show went off the air before Shawn got to superkick him in retaliation for his finishing line, on the same day they had just brokered yet another short-lived truce. That was what caused Shawn to "take the gloves well and truly off" and deliver the infamous line a week later about Bret seeing some "Sunny days" of late, which caused his whole family to think that he was having an affair with then WWE Diva Tamara "Sunny" Sytch. This led to their backstage fistfight before the June 9th, 1997 Raw and Shawn quitting the promotion in a huff over an "unsafe working environment", only returning when he realised that Vince McMahon wouldn't allow him out of his contract to join his buddies in WCW.
I won't recap all the politics that led to the Montreal Screwjob, particularly Bret's side, as the facts have been repeated ad nauseum in Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Paul Jay's documentary Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows and Bret Hart's autobiography Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling. The key was a conversation in October 1997 between Bret and Shawn at a time when they had just been told that they were going to be booked to feud with each other in the near future. Bret offered Shawn the peace pipe by telling him that "I don't have any problem putting you over", only for Shawn to "throw sh*t in his face" by saying "I appreciate that, but I just want you to know that I won't do the same for you". Then losing to Shawn first became a matter of principle that Bret couldn't budge on. Indeed, it would be safe to say that most World champions up to that point in time would have also steadfastly refused to drop the title to someone who had shown them such flagrant disrespect.
There were only two real surprises in this part of the discussion, though it was still extremely fascinating to see them both honestly recall their perspectives at the time. Firstly, that Shawn admits that Triple H had to convince him very reluctantly (due to all the heat it would cause him with the boys in the back and the guilt he would feel) into concocting a plan with Vince McMahon to screw Bret out of the WWF title if necessary. It should be noted that at the time, and maybe even to do this day, Triple H held a grudge against Bret for failing to put him over as originally scripted on a taped edition of Raw from Cologne, Germany in February 1997. Secondly, Bret reveals for the first time that he wasn't even contractually obligated to turn up at the Survivor Series, as he had already fulfilled all the dates on his contract for that calendar year, which torpedoes once and for all the myth that they had to screw him out of the WWF title for fear that he would turn up on WCW Monday Nitro wearing their belt.
The closing moments of the DVD are gripping due to the genuine emotion shown by both parties. Bret recalls how devastating the Montreal betrayal was to his psyche, dreaming of parachuting into a WWE event with a machine gun and throttling Shawn Michaels' neck, and how he kept all that rage pent up inside of him until he suffered his debilitating stroke in 2002, which was thankfully the catalyst to finally let go of that "big bag of rocks" that had been weighing him down psychologically for so long. It's also important to note that Vince McMahon being the first to call him while he was convalescing from his stroke on a hospital bed and giving him a good pep talk went a long way to healing their rift together. The rift with Shawn took longer to heal, as he was so scared of not being forgiven and stricken with guilt that he couldn't bring himself to call Bret, even when Bret let Shawn have his number via mutual friend Tyson Kidd, until days before Bret was to return to WWE on the January 4th, 2010 Raw. Fittingly, their onscreen reconciliation on that show was pretty much a shoot, just like their wrestling feud developed into 13 years earlier. Finally, Shawn Michaels had obtained the validation from his peer that he had always secretly craved, which was clearly solidified by participating in this DVD project.