The Montreal Screwjob: 20 Years Later

Wrestling is really starting to make me feel old. Last year it was twenty years since the formation of the nWo in WCW. This year it is twenty years since the most real life, off the script incident to ever take place inside the wrestling ring: The Montreal Screwjob.

If you are reading this site, you know the history of what happened in Montreal. Bret Hart signed a lucrative 20 year deal with the WWF one year earlier. Bret was to wrestle then take a backstage position with the company once his wrestling career was over. By the summer of 1997, Vince McMahon was already having buyer’s remorse. The company was facing money problems and  Vince didn’t think he could afford to pay Bret anymore. In addition, by the summer of 1997 it was becoming more obvious that the WWF was moving towards a more edgier product. Bret wasn’t the biggest fan of that. It also started to become clear to Bret that Shawn Michaels was Vince’s next chosen star.

All of this added up to Vince letting Bret Hart begin negotiations with WCW. But the problem? Bret was still the WWF Champion, and Vince McMahon had to find a way to get the Title off him. And that is where the drama kicks into high gear.

Bret refused to drop the Title to Shawn Michaels. Hart put over Michaels at Wrestlemania 12 but Michaels never returned the favor. Hart even believes Michaels faked a knee injury so he didn’t have to drop the Title to Hart at Wrestlemania 13. McMahon tried to get Hart to drop the Title before Survivor Series, but reports were that Hart didn’t want to because he was billed as being Champ going into the show.

It was finally agreed upon that the finish would be a DQ, with members of D-X and the Hart Foundation coming out to start a brawl. Hart would then drop the Title or simply relinquish it in the coming week. Bret’s WCW contract didn’t start until early December so there was plenty of time for Hart to drop the Title. But Vince McMahon was paranoid, especially after what happened with Alundra Blayze/Madusa a few years ago. Vince met with Michaels, Pat Patterson and Jerry Brisco to go over the screwjob finish. As the match played out, Michaels put Hart in the Sharpshooter. Referee Earl Hebner called for the bell as Hart was transitioning to counter the hold, and that was it. Bret Hart was screwed out of the WWF Title in a real life double cross.

Earl Hebner bolted out of the ring into a waiting car. Both Hart and Michaels got up and were livid. Michaels played off that he didn’t know about it, but it was obviously later revealed that he was in on it. Hart spit on McMahon and then destroyed monitors and equipment around the ringside area. Once everyone was backstage, Hart and McMahon had a fight that left McMahon with a black eye. Michaels denied being involved to Bret.

The fallout from the Montreal Screwjob changed the course of the Monday Night War. WCW was still killing the WWF in ratings. The nWo angle as still strong, and the much anticipated Hulk Hogan vs Sting match was happening the next month at Starrcade. With Bret Hart now in the fold, many thought WCW would continue to reign supreme and come closer and closer to putting the final nail in the WWF’s coffin.

But that was not the case. Vince McMahon became the biggest heel in the WWF after the Montreal Screwjob. His two sit down interviews with Jim Ross caused the wrestling audience to hate him. It lead to the birth of the Mr. McMahon character, which in turn became the best possible foil for the rise of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Without the Montreal Screwjob, who knows if that even happens. Shawn Michaels was only around until March of the next year, where he dropped the Title to Austin. Michaels was in a bad place mentally at this time and most didn’t think he’d be the top star much longer. His back injury just sped up the process.

The biggest loser in this entire process was Bret Hart. Financially he made out great. But WCW mis-handled him from the second he entered the company. He was made the special referee for a match between Larry Zbyszko and Eric Bischoff for control of Nitro. He then came out to stop Hogan from beating Sting, which was suppose to replicate the Screwjob finish. But Hogan changed the finish so that didn’t happen. Bret Hart should have been a top face in WCW and challenged Hogan for the Title. But for some reason, Bret was quickly turned heel and aligned with Hogan. My personal theory is that Hogan did it so he didn’t have to fight or job to Bret. And even when WCW finally put the Title on him in November 1999 when he returned after Owen’s death, they still quickly turned him heel and ruined a long Bret Title run as a face.

So who was in the right? Who was in the wrong? To this day I personally still side with Vince McMahon in this debate, but that doesn’t mean I agree with every move he made. If Vince was going to try and get Bret out of his contract then why did he put the Title on Bret in August at SummerSlam? That pretty much caused this entire issue to start. But once everything started rolling, I took the side of Vince. Bret coming out and just handing over the Title would have been a slap in the face to Vince and everyone in the WWF locker room. In my eyes that is handing over the top prize in the company to go work for the competition. I would have never even entertained the notion of doing that. Not only that, but if I’m Vince there is no way I’m trusting Eric Bischoff when he said he wouldn’t have Bret on Nitro with the Title.

I also feel Bret took his status as a Canadian hero a little too seriously. Dropping the Title in Montreal should not have been a big deal. The people of Canada would not have thought differently of you if you lost or not. It is normal tradition to drop the Title on your way out. And guess what? You were probably never going to work with Shawn Michaels again in the ring so it wasn’t that big of a deal to lose it to him one more time.

Everyone has their crazy Montreal conspiracy theories. But at the end of the day it changed the tide of the Monday Night War and got people talking about the WWF. It was a real life double cross that broke the script for the first time in a long time in pro wrestling, and it is still talked about among wrestling fans to this day.

Until Next Time,

Justin C

Follow Me On Twitter @JCWonka