Or…the one that directly led to DX, Montreal and Shawn Michaels's bad back
You can make an argument that in terms of impact, no entry on our countdown is as important as today's entrant. The reverberations of this match were so shattering that without this match occurring the way it did one can make a reasonable argument that not only the World Wrestling Federation would be bankrupt, but as a result of that American professional wrestling would be vastly different, and most likely not in a good way.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves.
We start our look by looking at WrestleMania 13, specifically the sublime Bret Hart-Steve Austin submission match. One of professional wrestling's rarest creatures – a successful double turn – was spotted at the Rosemont Horizon. The match was superb. If you haven't seen it recently, go watch it again. It is one of the two best matches in the history of WrestleMania (the other being Michaels-Taker I from WrestleMania 25).
Hart, now a full-blown heel for the first time in years, reformed the Hart Foundation, consisting of the British Bulldog, Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart and Brian Pillman. The entire faction feuded with the Texas Rattlesnake. At the next pay-per-view, Bret Hart beat Austin by disqualification.
Austin and Shawn Michaels – making his return after both finding his smile and getting a knee surgery – won the WWF Tag Team Championship over Owen Hart and the Bulldog on a May episode of Raw, but the pairing wouldn't last. Michaels and Bret Hart had a backstage fight over – the story goes – Hart being pissed that Michaels insinuated on TV that Hart was cheating on his wife with Sunny. Michaels played it off as nothing more than kayfabe, but Hart claimed his kids were watching Raw and the comment scared them into thinking Hart and his wife were getting a divorce. As a result of the fight Michaels left the company, returning in July.
In July we were blessed by a top-notch pay-per-view: Canadian Stampede. It's only a four-match, two-hour show, but go watch it. The highlight the Hart Foundation beating a team of Austin, Ken Shamrock, Goldust and the Legion of Doom in an excellent match. Two important things came from this match: 1. The end of the Austin-Hart feud and 2. The continuation of Bret Hart being treated like a demi-god in the Great White North and a villain south of the 49th parallel, a trend that would continue until he left the World Wrestling Federation in November.
Hart next set his sights on the WWF Champion the Undertaker. Hart was named the number one contender in July. Hart announced that if he did not win the WWF Championship at SummerSlam, he'd never wrestle in the United States again. A few weeks later, Shawn Michaels was named the special guest ref, much to the disgust of the Hart Foundation.
This feud was really between Bret and Shawn, one of the most storied and hate-soaked rivalries of in the history of the WWF/WWE. Undertaker was around though, and he made his presence felt with a few well-times chokeslams.
In order to ensure Michaels wouldn't screw Hart out of the title, it was stipulated that if Michaels favored the Undertaker in any way, he too would be banned from wrestling on American soil. The three men spent the next few weeks attacking each other and costing each other matches as the feud worked its way to a crescendo.
Main Event Time!
This match had the added benefit of being very good. It is a good match with good storytelling – Hart both worked the Undertaker's leg for the Sharpshooter and spent the entire match provoking Michaels into being impartial.
Hart, being Hart, also went out of his way to bump and sell for the Undertaker. Speaking of 'Taker, we were starting to leave the Undertaker gimmick of no-selling and invulnerability and entering the phase where he'd both wrestle (he broke out some acrobatic moves, including a flying clothesline) and sell. He and Hart worked a very basic but still excellent big-man little-man match, but it had a twist in that the big-man was the face.
The start was slow and methodical, with rest holds by both men (Hart targeting the leg, ‘Taker the back). The middle portion picks up with some outside brawling that Michaels does a half-hearted job to break up and one of my favorite all-time moves: Bret Hart's figure-four around the ring post. (Aside: I think that would a perfect move for either Dean Ambrose or Seth Rollins to use). Highlights here include a chokeslam from outside the ring back inside the ring that Hart sold brilliantly and Undertaker breaking out of the Sharpshooter, which popped huge.
Shawn takes the ref bump so Bret grabs a chair and absolutely wallops 'Taker with it (get your hands up Undertaker!) Shawn, selling his ref bump counts two and 'Taker kicks out! Bret and Shawn argue when Shawn sees the dented blue chair. Shawn and Bret get into an argument about Bret's use of the chair when Bret says a not nice word and spits on Shawn. Michaels, incensed, swings the chair only for Hart to duck and poor Undertaker eats his second chair shot in about ninety seconds. Michaels has no choice but to count the three and award Hart the title. People were both cheering and throwing garbage in the ring after this result.
Again, a good but not great match. So why is it so high? Let's count the aftershocks.
1. As a direct result of this match, Bret Hart was the champ. So what? It took the Montreal Screwjob to get the title off him.
2. As a result of the Montreal Screwjob and Vince McMahon's actions that November night, the World Wrestling Federation won the Monday Night Wars (in large part because of Steve Austin vs. a heel McMahon) and eventually bought rival World Championship Wrestling for a fraction of what it was worth a few years prior.
3. Shawn Michaels turned heel after this match. Within a few weeks he was teaming up with Hunter Hearst Helmsley. The duo would form Degeneration-X by October.
4. Once Shawn Michaels won the title back at Survivor Series, he feuded with the Undertaker, who was still pissed about the chair shot (can't blame him actually). The two not only had the very first Hell In A Cell match (which led to the introduction of Kane), but had the infamous Casket Match at 1998's Royal Rumble where Michaels herniated his back on the hinges of the casket and had to retire that spring.
Pretty influential, no?
Curtain Jerker's Star Rating – The match itself is a solid 3¾. Everything else, especially the aftereffects, bumps it up in the countdown.
Up next – A one-on-one match for a title is up next.
Also in this series: