It was twenty years ago today
Hitman Hart told McMahon “no way”
He’d been going in and out of style
But was soon to hit the Nitro aisle
So Vinnie introduced to him to
A carny bomb he was forced to lob
Vince McMahon’s Montreal Screwjob!
*trumpets and cheers*
There’s no need for me to walk you through history, blow by blow. That’s been done very well right here. Probably every wrestling fan who has followed the genre for more than a year (if that) knows the gist of it. The so-called Montreal Screwjob is one of the pivotal, defining moments in the history of pro wrestling. I’d put it up there with Undertaker’s streak ending or with Kane body-slamming The Great Khali.
It’s one of those rare moments that truly marks time: There was the era before Montreal and there was the era after.
What happened as a result created a shockwave that pulled the WWF out of the ratings gutter and eventually toppled WCW. After all, it was the moment of conception for the evil “Mr. McMahon” character and it was the progenitor for the amazingly stupid Starrcade 97 finish. The former gave the WWF the big push they needed to take off like a rocket (aided, of course, by Steve Austin’s parallel rise). The latter was enough to convince a sizeable portion of WCW’s fanbase that their preferred choice had jumped the shark and a better alternative was out there. Montreal was huge.
So who gets the credit?
That’s right: Not the blame, the credit (ignore the title). Hindsight is 20/20 they say, but you know what else is true: To the victor go the spoils. You can lament over the screwjob and you can pick your heroes and villains, but that’s purely an academic debate. The fact is Vince did it and Vince won. And if you were honest with yourself you’d admit you’d much rather have the WWF in power than the three-ring circus of WCW. One of those two was going to go out of business; it was a nuclear proliferation arms race and it coincided with a bubble of pro wrestling popularity that was always destined to burst. There wasn’t going to be a “loser takes the silver” here: It was a game of thrones, win or you die scenario.
The WWF Vince McMahon won and he won because of Montreal. So who do we credit? The way I see it there eight individuals that we can point the finger at and say “if it wasn’t for _____ the Montreal Screwjob would never have happened.”
Let’s break them down:
On December 18, 1995—almost two whole years before the Screwjob mind you—the WWF women’s champion, Alundra Blayze, appeared on WCW Monday Nitro. Her contract with the WWF had expired (though some say she was fired for cost-cutting measures) and apparently, unbeknownst to anyone, she never handed over the WWF Women’s championship belt that she still had in her possession. When she showed up on Nitro (as Madusa), she showed up with the belt…and publicly threw it in the trashcan. Even though it was “just the women’s title” and it’s clear the WWF didn’t care much about the belt or they would have…ya know, paid more attention to the actual champion, it was still a tremendous embarrassment to the WWF and it was an embarrassment that Vince McMahon refused to let repeat.
So when Bret Hart was on his way to WCW as champion—the champion—and refused to surrender the title under the plan Vince laid out for him, Vince’s memories of 1995 came back to him. If Alundra Blaze/Madusa hadn’t done what she did, cooler heads in Montreal might have prevailed.
Of course Madusa wasn’t the one to conceive the idea of tossing the WWF belt in the trash. That genius bit of publicity was from the king of “controversy creates cash,” Eric Bischoff. At the time he was the closest thing WCW had to a “Vince McMahon.” He wasn’t the owner and the company wasn’t living and dying with his pocketbook, but Ted Turner was too busy trimming his mustache to care and he had more than enough money to throw around. Turner wanted the top “wrasslin” show on the market and Eric was ruthless enough to ensure that happened.
Bischoff’s relentless attitude is something to be admired. Truth be told he knew next to nothing about wrestling, but he knew television and he knew marketing and he knew how to push the right buttons to get people to tune in. Without Bischoff’s scorched earth tactics, Vince would not have been as desperate as he was in Montreal.
“HOLLYWOOD” HULK HOGAN
This one’s easy: Hogan is the reason Bret waffled so much in the months leading up to Survivor Series 1997. First he was going to WCW, then he decided to stay, then he was going again, and even right up until three seconds before the final bell rang in Montreal, Bret was still doubting if he’d made the right move. The source of his anxiety? The absolute stranglehold Hogan had on the main-event scene in WCW.
When Hogan got to TurnerTown in 1994 he did so as a red and yellow babyface. The magnitude of his starpower and the sizeable salary he commanded ensured he’d be the top attraction in the company, whether fans liked it or not (they quickly stopped liking it). After he turned heel he found a career resurgence few thought he had in him, but by 1997 his shtick was wearing thin. Under normal circumstances, bringing in an ace talent like Bret Hart would have meant bringing in a new top attraction, but Hogan’s political prowess was as powerful as his leg drop.
Without Hogan’s dominating ways, Bret might have made the jump to WCW with much more confidence and might have been more willing to give up the belt under any of Vince McMahon’s circumstances. Instead, his own worry about his future spot in WCW led him to be extra sensitive about his present spot in the WWF, which led to Vince (needing to?) screw him out of the title he refused to drop.
Shawn Michaels is the only guy to have two separate hall of fame careers. Sure guys like Ric Flair have earned two different rings, but Michaels had two different careers. Had he stayed retired in 1998 he would have been inducted, probably in 2004 or 2005. Instead he came back, and even if you only consider the body of work he gave us from 2002-2010, that alone was amazing enough to warrant a Hall of Fame induction. That’s how incredible the Heartbreak Kid was.
He was also—at least in the 90’s—a grade-A jerk.
He was arrogant. He was brash. He was immature. He was entitled. He was extroverted where Hart was introverted. He was showy where Hart was calculated. He was frenetic where Hart was methodical. He was exciting where Hart was…not exciting. I’m not saying Bret Hart was a Ford Taurus…I don’t know what kind of car Bret Hart was. But I know HBK was a Ferrari.
And he drove Bret Hart insane.
And since HBK was Vince’s current teacher’s pet, there was nothing Bret could do about it. Michaels could fake a knee injury, skip a WrestleMania and suffer no repercussions. He could do implicitly what Hart did explicitly, refuse to drop the belt clean to a guy he didn’t like, and get away with it where Hart did not. If Michaels had been the HBK of 2007, he might not have made Bret Hart so sour and Hart might have been happy to drop the belt to him. After all, Hart offered to drop the WWF title to Austin or Bulldog or Mankind or Shamrock or Undertaker; anyone but HBK.
Because HBK was a jerk.
I mean obviously, right?
Who ordered the bell to ring?
Who is the guy that made the call to go through with the screwjob?
Who gave Bret a contract that would have essentially set him for life, with a main-event career ending with him becoming Vince’s next Pat Patterson/right hand man and creative counterpart, only to renege the deal (something he never would have tolerated had he been on the receiving end)?
Who encouraged Bret to go to WCW when he decided he could no longer afford to pay his most loyal top star, and the one main-event guy who had kept the company afloat after Hogan and who had proven to be the most consistent draw he had in the post-steroid era?
Who thought he could strong-arm Bret Hart into just doing what he wanted the way everyone else in Titan Towers does whatever he wants?
Who spun the whole sordid affair, after the fact, into a net-positive that saved his company from bankruptcy and ushered in the most profitable era in pro wrestling history?
Who makes Steve Guttenberg..A STAR!?
Sorry, where was I?
“If he doesn’t want to do business with us, we’ll do business for him.” Those were his words. And with that, the old and seemingly forgotten carny practice of shooting away a title was conceived.
“I swear on my kid’s heads, I will quit my job before double-crossing you”
‘zat you Earl?
Based on multiple testimonies, Bret Hart had a strong suspicion that something like the Screwjob would happen. That’s like Kennedy rolling into Dallas and saying “you know…I got this baaad feeling.” A screwjob of that magnitude had not been seen since the 1985 Richter/Moolah double-cross. It was unthinkable. It was unfathomable. And yet Bret knew he had put Vince in just such a position that it wasn’t only a mere possibility, but he knew it was likely.
He talked with Earl Hebner about it before hand. He even went over shoot-holds with British Bulldog and his brother Owen and was warned not to put himself in any position that might lead to a fast count or a sudden bell-ring. He was prepared. He was on guard. He was...
‘zat you Bret?
WHAT ARE YOU DOING ALLOWING YOURSELF TO BE PUT IN A SUBMISSION HOLD!?
If you know they’re going to screw you and if you’ve already talked about not being put in a vulnerable position, why would you let someone put you IN YOUR OWN submission hold?!
Bret screwed Bret indeed.
Sound off Cagesiders.
If someone out there watched it live, I’d love to read your immediate reactions when it happened. Comment below.
Until next time, I’m Matthew Martin: I love WWE but everything sucks and I’m never watching it again.
See you next Monday.