This article may lack focus or may be about more than one topic.(December 2022)
|Date||November 9, 1997|
|Venue||Molson Centre, Montreal, Quebec, Canada|
|Shawn Michaels defeated Bret Hart (submission, 19:58)|
The Montreal Screwjob (also called the Montreal Incident) was an infamous unscripted professional wrestling incident that occurred on November 9, 1997, at the Survivor Series pay-per-view produced by the World Wrestling Federation (WWF, now WWE) in Montreal. During the WWF Championship match between Shawn Michaels and champion Bret Hart, WWF owner Vince McMahon and select WWF employees covertly manipulated the predetermined outcome of the match in favor of Michaels; the screwjob occurred without Hart's knowledge, causing him to lose the championship.
Hart had been WWF Champion since August 1997. A week prior to Survivor Series, Hart, who performed for the WWF since 1984, agreed to join rival wrestling promotion World Championship Wrestling (WCW) from December 1997. McMahon sought to prevent Hart from leaving WWF as champion, but Hart was unwilling to lose to Michaels – with whom he had a legitimate feud – at Survivor Series, as it was taking place in his home country of Canada. The match was planned to end in disqualification, causing Hart to retain the title, and then losing or forfeiting it at a later date. Instead, under McMahon's direction, referee Earl Hebner ended the match as Michaels held Hart in the sharpshooter submission hold (Hart's signature move); although Hart did not submit, Michaels was declared the winner by submission and became WWF Champion.
As a result of the screwjob, McMahon and Michaels elicited angry responses from Canadian audiences for many years; McMahon was viewed by many fans to have betrayed Hart, who was one of the WWF's longest-tenured and popular performers at the time. The screwjob caused several changes and impacts to the professional wrestling industry: according to WWE, the incident is considered the beginning of the Attitude Era, leading to McMahon featuring as a villainous on-screen character on WWF television, and has been used as a theme in matches and storylines across the wrestling industry. It was also partly chronicled in the documentary film Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows (1998).
The screwjob has garnered a notorious legacy; accounts differ as to who exactly was involved in the plan and the extent of their involvement, while some wrestling fans, performers, and bookers believe the incident was an elaborate work executed in collaboration with Hart, which he denies. Hart did not return to the WWE until being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in April 2006 and he made his first live appearance on WWE programming in January 2010. Hart later said he legitimately reconciled with McMahon and Michaels, and the screwjob was used in a storyline between McMahon and Hart, leading to a match at WrestleMania XXVI. Longtime industry writer Mike Johnson referred to the screwjob as "arguably the most talked-about [event] in the history of professional wrestling".
Hart's departure from the WWF
At the time of the screwjob, Bret Hart was a 14-year veteran of the WWF, having got his first break in the promotion in the 1980s as one-half of the Hart Foundation tag team with his brother-in-law Jim Neidhart and manager Jimmy Hart. After the team had two reigns as the WWF Tag Team Champions - splitting from Jimmy Hart and becoming heroes between reigns - Hart then achieved tremendous success as a singles performer in the 1990s, twice taking the Intercontinental Heavyweight Championship, and then winning the WWF Championship five times. Between his third and fourth reigns, Hart took a seven-month leave of absence from the company after WrestleMania XII, during which he considered contract offers from both the WWF and its rival, WCW. In October 1996, Hart declined a three-year, $8.4 million offer from WCW, instead opting to sign an unprecedented 20-year deal offered by McMahon, which promised to make him the highest-paid wrestler in the company and secure him a major role with the company management following his retirement. Both Hart and the WWF saw the contract as an expression of mutual loyalty.
By mid-1997, however, the WWF was facing financial difficulties due to stiff competition from WCW, which had become the largest professional wrestling promotion in the United States. At the same time, McMahon was planning to make the WWF a publicly traded company (even though the WWF wouldn't go public until 1999), a move which required him to minimize any long-term financial commitments.
For several months prior to the 1997 Survivor Series, Hart and Shawn Michaels had several backstage arguments, culminating in a fight before a WWF Raw event in Hartford, Connecticut (after Michaels had publicly accused Hart of having an affair with Sunny) that saw Michaels suspended for two months. After a show in San Jose, California, on October 12, 1997, Hart claimed he spoke to Michaels about being professional and trusting one another in the ring; Hart allegedly said he would have no problem losing to Michaels if McMahon requested. He also claimed that when Michaels replied that he "would not be willing to do the same" to Hart, Hart was shocked and became angry. This led to Hart's outright refusal to lose the WWF Championship to Michaels at the pay-per-view event in Montreal, although in Hart's documentary, Hart states to McMahon that he would happily drop the belt but not in Canada. However, in his own autobiography, Michaels refuted Hart's claim, saying that he would have cleanly lost to Hart had storylines demanded so (though others, including Jim Cornette in various shoot interviews, have often refuted this, saying that they knew first-hand that Michaels had no intention of losing cleanly to Hart). Michaels also pointed out that he had lost cleanly to Hart several times in the past, most notably in the WWF's first ever ladder match at a Wrestling Challenge taping on July 21, 1992, which would subsequently be made available on multiple Coliseum/WWE Home Video releases, and in the main event of the 1992 Survivor Series. Michaels also lost to Hart in a Steel Cage match in December 1993.
McMahon believed he made the right choice in pressing Hart to return, which kept him from joining WCW in 1996. However, by September 22, 1997, the WWF's monetary problems were at an all-time high. McMahon began to defer payments to Hart, claiming that the WWF was in "financial peril." At this time, McMahon reviewed the WWF's plans for the future, and saw the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker, and D-Generation X (DX) leading what was to become "The Attitude Era". WWF's plans did not include Hart; McMahon therefore encouraged Hart to reopen negotiations with WCW.
While Hart considered an offer from then-WCW President Eric Bischoff, McMahon informed Hart that the WWF would honor his contract if he chose to stay. But, when Hart talked to McMahon about future plans and storylines, he was disappointed by McMahon's response and what he considered lackluster suggestions. At the time, Hart felt as though his career had been sabotaged by changes to his character, which had been retooled as an anti-America Canadian nationalist; as a result, he drew significant ire from American audiences, but remained a hero in his native Canada, as well as throughout Europe. As a result, he was neither a hero nor a villain, and as such could not be properly placed into feuds with other wrestlers with more concrete personas. Hart had also been unhappy about McMahon's move towards more controversial subject matter, which would become a staple of the company's product during the Attitude Era.
Convinced that McMahon's future plans did not include him, Hart resigned from the WWF and signed an agreement with WCW, which had just offered him a large $3 million per annum contract on November 1, 1997. Hart's signing the WCW deal caused McMahon to worry about the possibility of Hart entering WCW while still WWF Champion. Hart asked McMahon if he would be mocked after leaving for WCW, as had occurred with other wrestlers who had transferred to WCW from the WWF (for example, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage going by the names of "The Huckster" and "The Nacho Man" respectively in the "Billionaire Ted" sketches of early 1996, as well as having Rick Bognar and Glenn Jacobs portray the characters of Razor Ramon and Diesel respectively, characters that were made famous by both Scott Hall and Kevin Nash respectively before they joined WCW later in 1996). McMahon assured him that nothing of the sort would happen. Despite this, on the night after the Montreal Screwjob on Monday Night Raw, D-Generation X performed a segment mockingly re-enacting the match between Michaels and Hart, with a little person dressed as Bret.
Hart's imminent move to WCW created a tense situation, as he had won the WWF Championship at SummerSlam 1997 from The Undertaker, which had featured Michaels as a special guest referee. The finish of the match saw Hart spit in Michaels face, followed by Michaels swinging a steel chair towards Hart, who ducked, and the chair striking The Undertaker down. Hart would cover The Undertaker, and Michaels would reluctantly perform the three count.
Hart's WCW contract was scheduled to begin on December 5, one month after the WWF's annual Survivor Series event, which was to be held in Montreal. Shawn Michaels, the leader of the emerging D-Generation X (DX) stable, had been booked into a main event title match with Hart at that show. McMahon, anxious for Hart to give up the title, sought his consent to job to Michaels. Hart, however, refused to give up the title to a member of The Kliq (a group that included Michaels, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, and Sean Waltman that had previously held enormous backstage influence), apparently standing up for the rest of the locker room. As part of their rivalry storyline, Michaels had repeatedly performed acts insulting the Canadian flag and Canadian fans, which had also upset Hart.
Wrestling fans also knew of Hart's long-standing personal difficulty with Michaels—Hart had been angered at Michaels's forfeiture of the WWF Championship in February 1997, ruining plans for a Hart–Michaels rematch at WrestleMania 13, where Michaels was expected to lose the title to Hart. Hart also believed that Michaels had faked a knee injury and talked about major surgery just to get out of their planned match. While Michaels denied rumors that he did not want to lose to Hart, and indeed Hart wound up winning the title shortly after Michaels relinquished it, Hart felt certain that Michaels would not have offered a loss in return if he had been staying with the WWF. The two had been involved in a real fight after Michaels implied that Hart was having an affair with WWF valet Sunny. The recent storyline rivalry had also seen Michaels make insulting remarks about Hart's father Stu Hart, which had left Bret and others in the Hart family upset. McMahon's offering of an estimated $3 million contract to Hart in 1996 had reportedly also upset Michaels.
McMahon remained insistent about Hart dropping the title. The WWF owner was anxious over Hart pulling a move like that of former employee Debrah Miceli. Miceli, a veteran women's wrestler who competed under the name Madusa for much of her career, performed as Alundra Blayze in the WWF from 1993 to 1995 and won the Women's Championship during her stay there. McMahon, however, had neglected to renew her contract when it expired, and Miceli signed with WCW whilst still Women's Champion. When she made her first appearance on WCW Monday Nitro, Madusa made fun of her time in the WWF and brought her title belt with her to the program, dumping it into a trash can. McMahon feared a repeat, despite claims from Bischoff that legal issues between the WWF and WCW would prevent such a thing, and that he would rather have Hart join WCW with a "clean slate".
Hart continued to refuse to drop the title to Michaels, offering to lose the title anywhere in the United States prior to Survivor Series or to surrender the title to McMahon on the episode of Monday Night Raw the day after Survivor Series, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. After several disagreements, McMahon, Michaels and Hart agreed to a proposal of a disqualification finish, which would be the result of a brawl between Hart's allies Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart, and Davey Boy Smith with Michaels's allies Triple H and Chyna, who would interfere in the match to aid Michaels. Hart would then lose or forfeit the title at a later date, as he was not due to start in WCW until December. Hart also asked for and obtained McMahon's permission for an opportunity to explain his actions, his heel character, praise McMahon and the WWF and thus leave on good terms with the company and the fans.
At some point in the days leading up to Survivor Series, however, McMahon began to reconsider that decision. Word of Hart's impending departure from the company had leaked to fans and wrestling news sources. McMahon was worried that allowing Hart to remain champion after the match at Survivor Series would cause problems and reckoned that Bischoff was still prone to doing anything he could to get under McMahon's skin and McMahon thought he would be likely to mention the signing of Hart to WCW on Nitro the following night (something Bischoff said would not have happened under normal circumstances). Furthermore, Bischoff would have a one-hour head start on McMahon due to Nitro going on the air live at 8:00 p.m., which would have been more than enough time to announce Hart's WCW arrival. Therefore, McMahon felt, he needed to find a way to preemptively strip Hart of the title.
Setup and execution
On November 8, 1997, one day before Survivor Series, McMahon met with Pat Patterson and Michaels in a hotel room in Montreal and planned the screwjob. It is unclear how many people knew of the impending betrayal, but McMahon's close aide Gerald Brisco was involved in the planning. Jim Ross has insisted that he did not know the screwjob would take place, although many, including various members of Hart's family, thought he was involved. Ross has stated that Jerry Lawler also did not know about the screwjob beforehand. Hart and Michaels had met with Pat Patterson to discuss the match setup and plan, during which Hart agreed to allow Michaels to put him into the Sharpshooter hold at a time when the referee would be unconscious, as Patterson suggested.
The rest of the match was planned to proceed thus: Hart would grab Michaels's foot and reverse the hold, putting him in the Sharpshooter. Michaels would submit to the hold, but the referee would still be unconscious. Hart would let go of the hold to try to revive the referee, but Michaels would hit Hart with his finisher, Sweet Chin Music, and make the pin. A second referee would then run to the ring with Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart, and Davey Boy Smith following close behind. The second referee would start the count, but Owen and Davey Boy would break the pin. The original referee would then recover and start to make the count, but Hart would kick out, setting up about five more minutes of brawling that would result in a disqualification.
In his 1998 documentary Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows, Hart said that his fears were largely assuaged because he was close friends with referee Earl Hebner and trusted him implicitly. Asked by Hart, Hebner swore by his children that he would never double-cross Hart and that he would rather quit his job than participate in a screwjob. However, according to Michaels's account of the events in his 2005 autobiography, Heartbreak and Triumph: The Shawn Michaels Story, Michaels himself informed Hebner of the plan only on Sunday evening, just as Survivor Series was about to commence. This contradicted what Hebner said on a 2003 edition of WWE Confidential, claiming that he first knew of McMahon's plan only ten minutes before the match finished, and out of panic following the bell ringing, he ran out of the ring and through the crowd, after which he locked himself in his hotel room for the night, refusing to speak to anyone.
Tensions and excitement were high as the wrestlers and officials congregated for Survivor Series. Hart was anxious over the match finish and had been warned of the prospect of a screwjob by his brother-in-law and Hart Foundation member Davey Boy Smith as well as Vader, who had experienced similar situations while wrestling in Japan. They advised Hart to be alert, not lie on his back for too long, kick out from pinfall counts immediately so as to avoid a fast count, and not allow himself to be placed in submission holds.
The Molson Centre in Montreal was sold out, with more than 20,000 fans in attendance. Rumors of Hart's imminent departure from WWF had leaked and consequently heightened the fan interest in the match. The mixed signals and a war of words between Hart, McMahon, Michaels and WCW further heightened anticipation. Emotions were also running high due to the Hart–Michaels rivalry and the "U.S. vs. Canada" storyline. While both men had been cordial with each other backstage, WWF officials ordered the deployment of a large number of company agents around the ring as a precaution if Hart decided to attack Michaels or McMahon in reaction to the double-cross. Highly unusual for any wrestling match, the deployment was explained on television as a necessary precaution in wake of the intense animosity between Hart's and Michaels's characters.
There was also some legitimate concern that Michaels could be attacked during the planned in-crowd brawl, by fans angered at his actions of demeaning the Canadian flag. Michaels's entrance was greeted by loud booing and upon entering the ring, he proceeded to rub the Canadian flag against his crotch, picked his nose with it and later humped it—Michaels maintains that this flag desecration was actually suggested by Hart as an effective way to draw heat and emotion. The palpable anger of the fans was converted into raucous cheering as Hart entered the ring carrying the Canadian flag and wearing the championship belt. Hart, however, was visibly disturbed when segments of the crowd that were aware of his move to WCW jeered him with chants of "You sold out!" as the match progressed.
Once the match began, Hart and Michaels brought their performance outside the ring and into the crowd, while being followed by McMahon and WWF officials. As the climax of the match approached, the two wrestlers returned to the ring while WWF officials continued to order more personnel to ringside. Hart's suspicions were first aroused upon noticing that Vince McMahon was not at the announcers' table to perform commentary, and that on-screen commissioner Sgt. Slaughter was also standing at ringside with Vince McMahon. Nevertheless, the match continued. As planned, Michaels pushed Hebner in front of him as Hart jumped from the top turnbuckle, sending all three men to the canvas. Michaels and Hart both got up, but Michaels performed a rake on Hart's eye, sending Hart back to the mat. Michaels then proceeded to grab Hart's legs to execute the Sharpshooter maneuver.
At this point, the match director was heard shouting instructions into his headset for Hebner to get up, but Hart did not notice anything amiss. Mike Chioda, the referee who was supposed to run in after Hebner went down, began yelling back that Hebner was not supposed to be up yet. Pat Patterson reacted in a similar way, and Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith, who were waiting for their cues to run in, remained backstage in a state of confusion. Michaels was then seen by many viewers as having glanced at Hebner as he put Hart in the sharpshooter, which some saw as proof that he was in on the scheme. Contrary to their agreed plan, Michaels tightened the hold and refused to offer his own leg to Hart for the latter to break out of the hold. At that moment, Hebner got to his feet, looked toward timekeeper Mark Yeaton, and shouted, "Ring the bell!" McMahon then elbowed Yeaton hard and yelled, "Ring the fucking bell!" Yeaton rang the bell just as Hart reached forward and grabbed Michaels's leg, which broke the hold and caused Michaels to fall. According to Bret Hart while he was trying to trip Shawn Michaels's knee he heard Vince McMahon say, "Ring the bell!" and he described he knew he was screwed right after the referee rang the bell.
Michaels's theme music then began playing as the ring announcer declared him the winner and the new WWF Champion. Hebner had already exited the ring and was on his way out of the arena. Jim Ross can be heard on commentary asking, "What happened?" A moment later, he says, "Bret Hart gave up in the Sharpshooter." After an initial moment of shock, Hart got to his feet, approached the apron where McMahon was standing and spat directly in his face, while Michaels feigned confusion. Michaels was ordered by McMahon to "pick up the damn belt and get the hell out of here!" Michaels left the arena with Brisco and Triple H and the broadcast signal cut off almost immediately after Michaels exited, with the last shot being a tight closeup of the Survivor Series logo above the entranceway. McMahon and most other WWF officials also quickly made their way backstage as an angry Hart smashed cameras, monitors, and ringside equipment. Fans in attendance also began to vent their fury on McMahon and WWF officials; a few even heaped garbage on them and some who were close enough pushed Michaels as he hurried backstage. Owen Hart, Neidhart and Davey Boy came out to the ring and had a conversation with Bret calming him down. Hart proceeded to finger trace "W-C-W" and "I love you" to the cheering fans before returning backstage.
While much of the live Montreal audience immediately understood what had happened and responded angrily, television viewers had been left largely confused as Jim Ross promptly wrapped up the event on commentary and Survivor Series went off the air four minutes ahead of schedule with the parting image of Michaels holding the belt aloft as he disappeared backstage. Rumors and expressions of surprise and shock pervaded the Internet almost immediately after the match ended. Some observers considered it a creative and all-time great match finish. Observers of professional wrestling speculated whether the entire episode would result in WCW becoming the dominant promotion in Canada, where a large majority of fans had remained loyal to WWF, especially as the Hart family was working with the company.
As seen on Hart's documentary, Hart proceeded to the dressing rooms and questioned Michaels, who pleaded that he knew nothing about what had taken place and was equally outraged. McMahon locked himself in his office with Pat Patterson and other agents. Mark Calaway, known in professional wrestling as The Undertaker, furious with McMahon, banged on the door. McMahon opened and was told by Calaway he had to apologize to Hart. As recounted in Michaels's autobiography, he was told by McMahon not to say anything about the screwjob to anybody, because McMahon needed to have everyone think that it was only him involved. Michaels offered his assurance that he would not carry the title belt out the next day on Raw and would refuse to say anything derogatory about Hart. Hart states in his autobiography that Undertaker and many wrestlers in the back supported him and it would have become mutiny. Hart proceeded to the dressing room to shower and change after discovering that McMahon, Brisco, and Slaughter had locked themselves in McMahon's office. When McMahon went to Hart's dressing room and tried to explain himself, Hart angrily rebuffed him and warned him to leave immediately or risk being punched.
An altercation ensued, with Hart giving McMahon a single punch, dropping him to the floor. Although Vince's son, Shane McMahon, and Brisco struggled briefly with Hart and Davey Boy Smith, Hart told them to take McMahon and leave or risk similar consequences. Hart angrily asked McMahon if he was going to screw him on the pay he was still owed, to which a groggy McMahon replied in the negative. In the hallway outside the dressing rooms, Hart's then-wife Julie angrily confronted Triple H and others about the finish, but was escorted away by Owen Hart. McMahon had a black eye and a sprained ankle, which according to Bret Hart, was a result of his punch lifting Vince off the floor and Vince rolling his ankle once he landed. However, McMahon and Brisco have since stated on WWE Confidential that Brisco accidentally stepped on Vince's foot, which as he tried to get back to his feet, immediately sprained his ankle and sent him back to the floor, from which he suffered a concussion, and referred to Brisco's action as a 'comedy.' Michaels and Triple H were later confronted and assailed by angry fans outside the Molson Centre and in the lobby of their hotel.
While Jim Neidhart, Davey Boy Smith, and Owen Hart had flown out of Montreal with Bret, McMahon faced a major revolt in the WWF locker room. Most wrestlers were outraged at him and threatened to boycott Raw or leave the company altogether. McMahon addressed a meeting in an effort to mollify the wrestlers who had been outraged that a WWF veteran had been double-crossed by McMahon—many feared for their own future and were suspicious of McMahon. McMahon sought to explain that Hart had been disregarding the company's interests. By refusing to drop the title in Montreal, McMahon claimed Hart was jeopardizing the company's future by creating a potentially embarrassing situation that could affect its fortunes. The potential revolt was also quelled by Hart's counsel to wrestlers who asked him about boycotting Raw or leaving the company altogether. Hart advised them to fulfill their contractual obligations and not risk their own future over the episode. In protest, Mick Foley did not attend the next night's Raw show, but returned to work after that due to his contract stipulations.
Hart later commented in his autobiography that if Foley returned to WCW, he would be committing career suicide. Rick Rude, who was working there briefly as a story line manager for Michaels and was a real life friend of Hart's, called WCW and informed Eric Bischoff of what had transpired, and also returned to WCW two days after the events in Montreal mostly due to his disgust over Hart's treatment. Rude appeared on both WWF Raw is War and WCW Monday Nitro on November 17, 1997. A mustached Rude appeared on Nitro, which was live, and proceeded to criticize Michaels, DX, and the WWF, calling the company the "Titanic" (a reference to Titan Enterprises, as WWF's parent company was then known, as the "sinking ship"). An hour later on Raw (which had been taped six days earlier), Rude then appeared with the full beard he had been sporting during his last few weeks in the WWF. Of the Hart family, only Owen continued to work with the company, being unable to terminate his contract.
At the next night's Raw in Ottawa, Michaels appeared carrying the WWF title belt and performing a segment where he boasted before the audience of how he beat Hart with his own trademark move in his own country. McMahon gave a televised interview to commentator Jim Ross, explaining his version of events and making the now-infamous statement "Vince McMahon didn't screw Bret Hart. I truly believe that Bret Hart... screwed Bret Hart." Michaels continued his mocking of Hart in the coming weeks, performed a skit badgering a little person dressed up as Hart.
As McMahon expected, WCW did address Hart and the aftermath of the screwjob on Nitro from the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis that same night. Mike Tenay and Tony Schiavone strongly criticized McMahon and Michaels for their actions. The show started with Bischoff making reference to Hart's impending arrival in WCW and his punching McMahon in the face, and he then used his on-air persona as the mouthpiece for the New World Order to claim (kayfabe) that Hart was to join the nWo as soon as he could be signed to WCW. Hollywood Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and the rest of the nWo members stood with Canadian flags and sang the Canadian national anthem.
WCW invoked the Screwjob again at Starrcade 1997, as Hart prevented Hogan from leaving with the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. He claimed that the referee Nick Patrick gave a fast count and that he would not allow Sting to be screwed. The result was what critics called an anti-climax as most had expected Sting to win cleanly on skill alone. At Starrcade 1999, the finish of the match between Goldberg and Hart was for guest referee Roddy Piper to "ring the bell" once Hart placed Goldberg in the Sharpshooter despite Goldberg not submitting.
The "Montreal Screwjob" remains one of the most high-profile double-crosses in the history of professional wrestling and the first heavily publicized professional wrestling double-cross since Wendi Richter lost the WWF Women's Championship to a masked Fabulous Moolah following a money dispute on November 25, 1985. It is perhaps the most controversial match in the history of the WWF, with the effects of its outcome being felt for over a decade later due to its notoriety and the infamous legacy it left in the company. Hart was ostracized by McMahon and later refused offers of induction to the WWF Hall of Fame. The Hart family expressed outrage with McMahon and WWF for their neglect and the lack of safety precautions that could have prevented Owen Hart's later accident and death. The documentary Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows included footage of McMahon's conversations with Hart in which he affirmed the planned disqualification finish and expressed determination for Hart to exit "the right way" and as amicably as possible—McMahon did not know that the conversation was being recorded. In the recordings, Hart refused to drop the title to Michaels.
The Montreal Screwjob's impact defined later storylines and rivalries. The WWF successfully tapped fan outrage at McMahon over the incident by creating the persona of "Mr. McMahon" — an authoritarian and arrogant heel boss who imposed his own will and authority on rebellious characters such as Stone Cold Steve Austin. Within the storylines, McMahon "screwed" such wrestlers in order to hand the title to the performer of his choice. The "Bret screwed Bret" line inspired promos that McMahon made during his feud with Austin. At Unforgiven: In Your House, McMahon sat at ringside, placed strategically near the timekeeper, during Austin's title defense against Dude Love, which caused Austin to allude to the Montreal Screwjob during a promotional interview. At Survivor Series 1998—the first anniversary of the screwjob—McMahon's son Shane, a match referee, abandoned his on-screen rebellion against his father and allowed his father to screw Austin, by refusing to count Austin's pinfall against Mankind. The McMahons then double-crossed Mankind in his main event WWF Championship match against The Rock later that night. Just as The Rock put the Sharpshooter hold on Mankind, McMahon called for the bell to be rung, even though Mankind did not submit. The Rock was declared the winner by submission and the new WWF Champion, fully re-enacting the Hart double-cross, this time with a switch between the respective face and heel characters.
Since then, professional wrestling storylines, including some storylines written by WWE, continue to refer to the screwjob whenever a title match ends under controversial circumstances.
WWF eventually surpassed its arch-rival WCW. With its business steadily declining and a corporate takeover of its parent company (Time Warner) by America Online, WCW was put up for sale and purchased by Vince McMahon in 2001, once again making WWF the single-largest wrestling company in North America. Bret Hart's entry into WCW had been hailed at the time as a major coup for the company, but it subsequently failed to utilize his popular appeal. Hart's active wrestling career ended in 2000 after he suffered a serious concussion during a match with Goldberg. After dropping the WWF title to Austin at WrestleMania XIV in 1998, Michaels was forced into retirement for four years due to a serious back injury. After a long period of rehabilitation, Michaels returned to the ring in 2002 at SummerSlam, and eventually retired in 2010 at WrestleMania XXVI, losing a Streak vs. Career match to The Undertaker in the main event, but came out of retirement for one match eight years later at Crown Jewel in 2018.
After weeks of speculation, WWE.com announced in late August 2005 that Hart and WWE had agreed to collaborate on a DVD project chronicling Hart's wrestling career. In subsequent interviews, Hart attributed his decision to his desire to be remembered for his storied career that spanned two decades. The project, which had been given the working title of Screwed: The Bret Hart Story, was renamed Bret "Hit Man" Hart: The Best There Is, the Best There Was, the Best There Ever Will Be. In the 2005 DVD chronicling his career, both Hart and Bischoff denied that his holding the WWF title was a factor in WCW's desire to sign him. While McMahon claimed that there was mutual regret, Hart defended his actions and asserted that he stood by what he did. Hart was interviewed about the DVD and his career by Todd Grisham on the November 16, 2005, edition of Byte This!, marking Hart's first appearance on WWE programming since the Montreal Screwjob.
Hart's refusal to lose to Michaels in Montreal has been criticized by others such as Ric Flair, who asserted that it was Hart's responsibility to drop the title belt of a company he was leaving (Flair himself was WCW World Heavyweight Champion when he left the company and signed with the WWF in 1991, even appearing on television with the NWA/WCW belt, but also dropped the WWF Championship to Hart on October 12, 1992, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan at a house show). Hart, however, maintains that he was prepared to lose the title anywhere and to anyone, except to Michaels in Canada given that, during 1997, his "Hitman" character had been built up as a great Canadian hero. As his contract with WWF did not expire for four more weeks, Hart asserts that there was plenty of time and several other opportunities for him to drop the title. Several accounts claim that McMahon had originally proposed that Hart drop the title at December's In Your House pay-per-view in Springfield, Massachusetts, or at January's Royal Rumble in San Jose, California.
Although Michaels expressed happiness at Hart's 2006 induction into the Hall of Fame, the Hart–Michaels relationship remained laced with antagonism. Michaels criticized Hart's behavior and conduct during his days in WWF in his 2005 autobiography, comparing the Screwjob to a "mafia hit," and Hart has stated in his 2007 autobiography that he would "never forgive" Michaels. In interviews prior to the induction ceremony, Hart asserted that he would walk out from the ceremony if he saw Michaels anywhere on the WrestleMania 22 weekend. Michaels decided to step out of view to avoid a possible scene. Hart did not appear at the WrestleMania show in a mini-ceremony with the other inductees, explaining in an interview that he had never intended to attend or appear at the show. Hart would later return to WWE television on the June 11, 2007, edition of Raw, where he appeared in a taped promo spot mocking Mr. McMahon's "appreciation night." While he was able to reconcile to a degree with McMahon, Hart had never reconciled with Michaels. In a November 17, 2008, radio interview, Hart mocked Michaels's version of the incident, saying, "Shawn's this Christian today; and in his book, he wrote that Vince took a dive and that I never even hit him and I thought, 'This guy is such a liar'. I wonder what kind of Christian he is." Asked if he had seen or spoken to Michaels since 1997, Hart said, "No. And I hope I never do... for his sake."
However, in 2009 Bret Hart stated in an interview with Sky Sports that he will forgive Michaels, if Shawn apologizes first, saying "For me I don't really have much issue with it anymore. If you asked me that up until probably about a year ago I'd have probably said something different. But I've cooled off a bit now. I don't want to carry it around anymore. If he wanted to apologize I would accept it. I'd move on but I wouldn't forget it." He also put over the Michaels-Undertaker match at WrestleMania 25, saying he was proud of both men's efforts and that despite his personal feelings towards Michaels, he always had the utmost respect for his abilities. Similarly, Michaels has commended Hart's abilities, calling him a "sheer joy" to work with in the ring.
Bret Hart's WWE return
On the December 14, 2009, episode of Raw, Vince McMahon came out to announce the nominees for Guest Host of the Year during the Slammy Awards. After announcing Bob Barker as the recipient of the award, McMahon asked guest host Dennis Miller who he would like to see as a Raw guest host. Miller said he would like to see his long-time favorite, Bret Hart. McMahon dismissed Miller's suggestion, reminding him that the last time Hart was in the WWE was when "Bret screwed Bret," and that he likely would have no interest in hosting the show. Miller then asked the audience if they would like to see Hart as a guest host, to applause, but McMahon simply walked away. On December 16, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter reported that Hart had signed a four-month contract with WWE, and would debut as the guest host of Raw on January 4, 2010. On December 28, WWE.com confirmed that McMahon would be at Raw that night to address the rumors about Hart hosting the show. That night, McMahon confirmed that Hart will indeed be guest host on the January 4 episode of Raw. A WWE.com article published shortly after the December 28 edition of Raw alluded to an "almost guaranteed encounter between the WWE Chairman and the Hit Man."
Bret returned on the January 4, 2010, episode of Raw, and promptly called out Michaels in order to bury the hatchet. Hart and Michaels then aired their grievances with one another while recognizing that their Ironman match at WrestleMania XII ought to be the highlight of their relationship rather than the Montreal Screwjob. The pair shook hands and Michaels turned as if to deliver Sweet Chin Music, but instead chose to embrace Hart. While many cast doubts on the sincerity of their reconciliation, Hart has confirmed that it was indeed genuine, as did Michaels, and acknowledged that he felt that Michaels changed as a person, for the better. Later in the night, a storyline between Hart and McMahon began with the two appearing to have their own reconciliation only to have McMahon subsequently kick Hart in the gut: in real life, Hart and McMahon have been on slight speaking terms since 2002, when McMahon called Hart during his recovery from a stroke. The feud culminated in an encounter at WrestleMania XXVI, which saw Hart defeat McMahon in a match that involved the Hart family. After the match, Hart would continue to periodically work televised events for WWE. Hart briefly held the WWE United States Championship in May 2010, a title he had held four times previously, all during his tenure in WCW. It was Hart's first championship reign in WWE since the Montreal Screwjob.
Hart appeared on the September 10, 2012, episode of Raw at the Bell Centre in Montreal, marking his return for the first time to the same building where the Screwjob occurred, where he took part in an interview segment featuring John Cena and WWE Champion CM Punk. However, the episode was overshadowed by Jerry Lawler's real on-air heart attack earlier in the evening, from which he eventually made a full recovery. He also briefly appeared during the 2013 Royal Rumble, giving a pep talk to Alberto Del Rio before his Last Man Standing match for the World Heavyweight Championship with Big Show. On the May 27, 2013, episode of Raw, it was named 'Bret Hart Appreciation Night'. Bret was pictured in the evening speaking to the likes of Kane, Daniel Bryan and Cena among others. At the end of the show, Michaels and Lawler handed him a plaque commemorating his career. The following week, Bret took part in 'WWE Inbox', a webshow held by WWE on its YouTube channel where Bret answered fans' Twitter questions.
Different accounts of proclaimed proponents of the event
In his 2005 autobiography Heartbreak and Triumph: The Shawn Michaels Story, Michaels stated that it was his idea, "It was my turn to chime in. ' I'll do whatever you want. We'll just take it off him. I'll just swerve him or whatever I have to. You tell me what needs to get done. You and this company have put up with so much from me. My loyalty is here with you. I'll do whatever you want.' 'What are we talking about, Shawn?' 'Whatever it takes. If we have to do a fast count or get him in a hold and tell someone to ring the bell, I'll do whatever you want me to do.'" while the sharpshooter spot had been suggested by Hart. "We were talking things through, and Bret came up with this spot where I get him in the Sharpshooter and then he reverses it by pulling on my leg". Indirectly corroborating this assertion is Hart's own testimony in his autobiography Hitman, that "Pat Patterson told me that he thought it would be a heckuva spot to let Shawn put me in the Sharpshooter and then reverse it on him," which would indicate that Patterson had initially proposed the "Sharpshooter" spot to Bret. However, in the same work, Hart also states, "I found myself jostling with Jerry Brisco, who I would find out later was the one who had designed the whole Screwjob for Vince."
Adding to this confusion, Vince Russo states in his book Forgiven that it was he who proposed the match's ending to McMahon: "'Vince - we're making this way too difficult,' I said. 'Why don't we just do this? During the course of the match, let's have a spot where Shawn puts Bret in his own hold - the Sharpshooter. As soon as Shawn clamps it on, have the referee call for the bell as if Bret quit...'". In a 2010 YouShoot interview, Jim Cornette told how he suggested to have Ken Shamrock "double-cross" Hart for the title – as Hart was reportedly willing to drop the belt to anyone except Michaels – therefore unwittingly introducing the concept of a screwjob to McMahon. During a meeting prior to the show, Triple H was the first person to suggest screwing Hart in the match, however in Viceland's Dark Side of the Ring episode on the Montreal Screwjob, Cornette revealed that he was the first person to specifically suggest the Sharpshooter spot to Vince McMahon.
Involvement of referee Earl Hebner
In his book Heartbreak & Triumph, Michaels states "It was about seven o'clock when I walked into the locker room. There were only a few people in there and none were close to Earl. He was putting on his referee gear and I started to put my boots on. 'Earl, I need you to listen to me very carefully.' I was speaking very softly. 'We are doing a big swerve tonight. I am going to get Bret in the Sharpshooter and I need you to ring the bell.'" However, Hebner states that Brisco was the person to tell him of the plan. And in an interview on Bruce Prichard's Something to Wrestle podcast, Brisco confirms he told Hebner of the secret plan and pressured him into betraying Hart. Hebner was warned by Brisco that he was being microphoned, and at any point should Hebner alert Hart of the double-cross, he would be fired immediately.
Pat Patterson's involvement
Michaels states in Heartbreak & Triumph that during planning he was told "'This cannot be discussed with anyone. Pat can't know, nobody can know about this but the three of us right now'", "We had the meeting, and as everyone was leaving, Vince asked me, Hunter, and Jerry Brisco, a longtime agent and close confidant of Vince's, to stay. We sat down and talked", and "Pat was in the room with us, and he had no idea what was going to happen. He had a strong relationship with Bret. He wouldn't have done it, and Vince knew that. That's why he didn't tell Pat...". However, in Dave Meltzer's online account of events before, during, and after the Screwjob, he states "Vince McMahon held a meeting at the hotel with Jim Ross, Jim Cornette, Pat Patterson and Michaels. Reports are that at least two of the aforementioned names looked extremely uncomfortable leaving the meeting" which suggests that Patterson may, in fact, have been in on the Screwjob. This is corroborated by a Pro Wrestling Torch article from November 15, 1997, by Wade Keller which states, "However, a two-hour meeting was held on the second floor of the Montreal Marriott on Saturday night with McMahon, Jim Ross, Pat Patterson, Jim Cornette, and Michaels. Bret was wrestling that night in Detroit. There is some belief that at this meeting McMahon proposed the idea of the finish to whoever of that group wasn't already in on it. Ross and Patterson entered the meeting in a good mood and when they were seen in the hotel lobby afterwards, were said to be irritable, forlorn, and shaken."
In addition, Hart states in Hitman, that while conversing with Michaels: "I added, 'I also want you to know that I have no problem dropping the belt to you if that's what Vince wants.' He glared back at me. 'I appreciate that, but I want you to know that I'm not willing to do the same for you.' And then he left. Jim [Neidhart] snorted, 'I can't believe that he just said that.' There was no way I could ever drop the belt to him now: he'd just shown complete disrespect not only to me, but to the position of champion..." This exchange is confirmed in Dave Meltzer's account: "During the meeting, Hart told Michaels that he'd be happy to put him over at the end of the run, but Michaels told Hart flat-out that he wouldn't return the favor. Michaels and Hart spoke again on the subject on 10/12 in San Jose, when once again Michaels told Hart that he wasn't going to do a job for him." Additionally, in Forgiven Vince Russo stated, "Well - no surprise here - Bret refused to do the job (get pinned) for Shawn in Canada. Not because he was being unprofessional - but because according to Bret, Michaels had said that he wouldn't do business with him (the right thing for the company in the ring), due to the way he felt about him."
Several within the business believe the Montreal Screwjob was a work, in which Hart acted in collaboration with McMahon. Longtime pro wrestling journalist Bill Apter, along with industry veterans Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Bam Bam Bigelow, Road Dogg, George Steele, Chris Kanyon, Steve Corino, Tony Mamaluke, Justin Credible, Paul Bearer, and Sunny, have gone on record saying they believe this to have been the case (Sunny reported that her former boyfriend, Chris Candido, also subscribed to this notion). Shawn Michaels recalled people backstage saying that the screwjob "had to be a work", and claimed that McMahon "took a dive" and "sold like he sells on TV" when struck by Hart following the incident. Earl Hebner, who refereed the contest, was asked in 2019 if he thought Hart was "in on the work", to which he replied, "I really do... I'm not going to lie about it anymore."
Jerry Lawler, who served as ringside commentator for the match, found it plausible that Hart was working with McMahon. This position was shared by Hart's nephew Teddy Hart, as well as by his former colleagues Demolition (Ax and Smash), Road Warrior Animal, Steve Blackman, Gregory Helms and Sean Waltman. Waltman, who claimed to know Hart well, was bewildered as to how Hart could not have seen the screwjob coming from "a million miles away", and felt there was a "high possibility" of the incident being a work. Waltman added that Hart would not have told anyone, including his wife, about his involvement, and deduced: "I think [the screwjob] was so compartmentalized that the guys that were in on it don't even know who else was." The Pro Wrestling Torch reported that, outside of the business, "many wrestling fans" believe the screwjob to have been a work.
In an interview in 2022, Bret Hart maintained that he was screwed.
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I remember thinking – still thinking – 'it's a work'.
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I honestly think that the whole thing's been a work.
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That [screwjob] was all a work... I don't believe all that.
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It was the most brilliant work, probably ever, in the history of the business.
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I thought Bret was in on it from day one.
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Steve Corino: "I think this [screwjob] is a contrived plan, it's the greatest work of all time."
Tony Mamaluke: "Just like everything else in wrestling, it's a work."
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I was confident it was a work... I still pretty much think it's a work.
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Road Warrior Animal: "Could I believe they worked the whole thing? Yeah.
Sunny: "[I]t was way too quick for Vince to have such a black eye... It was set up beforehand, they knew it was gonna happen and we [Chris Candido and I] always said, 'We betcha that Vince had his own son punch him in the eye, make it look good, and make it come out, so it would look like Bret did it."
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I can remember people saying, 'Now that had to be a work'... [Vince] even knew that he was going to get hit. And I was right there when he did... he took a dive. He sold like he sells on TV, which is brutal.
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I wouldn't be surprised if Vince and Bret were in on it.
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Maybe they [Hart and McMahon] were working us all.
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It's possible... that Bret knew – absolutely. That is a working business.
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I used to think it was a shoot... Who fucking knows?
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