Below is wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer's EXTREMELY detailed account of what happened during and the events that led up to the infamous Montreal Screw Job from Vince McMahon to Bret Hart.
It will go down in history as the single most famous finish of a pro wrestling match in the modern era. Twenty or thirty years from now this story, more than any famous wrestler jumping promotions, more than any prominent death, and more than any record setting house, will be remembered vividly by all who watched it live, and remembered as legendary from all who hear about it later. Through the magic of video tape, the last minute of this match will live forever and be replayed literally millions of times by ten of thousands of people all looking for the most minute pieces of detail to this strange puzzle. But the story of what led to those few seconds starts more than one year ago, far more reminiscent of the dirty con man past of the industry than the current attempted facade of a multi-million dollar corporate above board image those in the industry like to portray outwardly that it has evolved into.
October 20, 1996 - Bret Hart was in a hotel room in San Jose, Ca, hours from making the biggest decision of his life - who would win the biggest bidding war in the history of pro wrestling. He had pretty well leaned toward staying with the World Wrestling Federation despite a much larger offer from World Championship Wrestling, but had changed his mind a few times over the previous two weeks as each side presented new offers. In the waning hours, Eric Bischoff and Kevin Nash were trying to convince him to change his mind and how great life was with an easier schedule. Bischoff was offering big money and a shot at becoming a movie star, a goal Hart had been pursuing while on semince McMahon was offering him, in the now immortal words of Arn Anderson, not just a spot but the top spot in the company, and almost literally to be WWF 4 life. Many close advisers of Hart's tried to tell him going to WCW was the best move for his present, and more importantly his future after wrestling. But largely out of loyalty, and that obviously wasn't the only factor involved, he declined the offer. McMahon, not to lose a very public fight, offered him the famous 20-year contract where he'd, after retirement in about three years, become almost a first lieutenant when it came to the booking process. Hart would earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million per year as an active wrestler, and a healthy but far lesser figure working in the front office for the 17 years after retirement as an active wrestler. As part of McMahon's offer, he also was going to allow Hart to explain live on television his decision making process, should he sign with WCW. Hart flew to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where the WWF was holding it's live Raw taping after having already verbally agreed to the deal, signed the contract, and gave the interview saying basically that he would be in the WWF forever, figuring to be positioned as the top babyface and perennial champion until he finished his active career riding off into the sunset in a blaze of glory, like Hogan and Savage and the rest of the Superstars before him didn't. As is the case in wrestling, not all the promised scenarios that everyone believed were going to happen transpire as originally planned. And just over one year later, the feelings between McMahon and Bret Hart had taken a 180 degree turn, to the degree nobody would have ever believed.
March 10, 1997 - Top babyface didn't last long as McMahon asked him to turn heel. At first Hart balked at the idea but after three days, McMahon presented him with two lists. One list was his prospective opponents as a babyface - Vader, Mankind, and Steve Austin. the other list was his prospective opponents as a heel, Undertaker, Michaels, and Austin. Hart agreed for drawing money. His opponents as a heel made up a better list and he and McMahon agreed that he would turn back babyface over the last few months of his contract and end his career on a positive note. He and Steve Austin did the double-turn at Wrestlemania. Hart himself then came up with the Anti-American angle, where he would remain a babyface in Canada and Europe and do interviews that would for the most part speak the truth, so he could, when the time came to turn back in the U.S., have a reasonable explanation.
September 8, 1997 - Vince McMahon and Bret Hart had their first meeting where McMahon seriously approached Hart about his contract. About three months earlier, McMahon had told Hart that the company was in bad financial straights and that they might have to defer some of the money until later in the contract. This time his approach was more than point blank. He wanted to cut Hart's regular salary, around $30,000 per week, more than in half and defer the rest of the money until later in the contract period when hopefully the company would be in better shape financially. Hart declined the suggestion, because he didn't want to risk not getting the money in the future after he was through taking all the bumps.
September 20, 1997 - About one hour before the beginning of the PPV show in Birmingham, England, McMahon approached Davey Boy Smith and asked him to put over Shawn Michaels that night for the European title. Smith was apparently shocked, having been told all along in the build-up of the show, that Michaels was going to do a job for him, since Europe was promised to be "his territory." The explanation, which made and still makes logical business sense, is that they wanted to build for a bigger show - a second PPV show from Manchester, England, Smith's former home town, where Smith would regain the title - the same scenario the WWF did to draw 60,000 fans in San Antonio with Michaels in the other role working a program with Sycho Sid. So while it all made sense, it was rather strange he wasn't approached with this idea until just before the start of the show. At around this same time period, McMahon approached Hart about working with Michaels. Hart said that he had a problem with that since Michaels had still never really apologized to him for the Sunny days comment, and said it would be hard to trust somebody like that in the ring due to their past, and told McMahon that he would figure that Michaels would have the same concerns, since a few weeks earlier after first making it clear he would never work with anyone in the Hart Foundation, Michaels had finally agreed to work with only Smith, saying he still couldn't trust Bret or Owen.
September 22, 1997 - On the day of the Raw taping at Madison Square Garden, McMahon told Bret Hart flat out that they were going to intentionally breach his contract because they couldn't afford the deal. He told a shocked Hart that he should go to World Championship Wrestling and make whatever deal he could with that group. "I didn't feel comfortable doing it," Hart said of the suggestion. "I feel like an old prisoner in a prison where I know all the guards and all the inmates and i have the best cell. Why would I want to move to a new prison where I don't know the guards and the inmates and I no longer have the best cell? I felt really bad after all the years of working for the WWF." Hart had an escape clause in his contract since he had so much negotiating leverage when making his WWF deal 11 months earlier, in that he could leave the company giving 30 days notice and that he would have what the contract called "reasonable creative control" of his character during that lame duck period so that he couldn't be unreasonably buried on the way out. There was a window period for giving that notice and negotiating elsewhere that hadn't begun yet, so McMahon, showing he was serious, gave Hart written permission to begin negotiating with WCW and Hart contacted Eric Bischoff.
The same day, during a meeting with Hart, Michaels, and McMahon - Michaels told both of them point blank that he wouldn't do any jobs for anyone in the territory, word that when it got out made most of the other top wrestlers feel even more warmly than usual toward Michaels. Michaels later reiterated that statement to Hart on 10/4 in St. Paul when the two agreed that for the good of the business that they'd work together. At a meeting, McMahon proposed a scenario where the two would have their first singles match in Montreal, where Undertaker would interfere causing a non-finish. This would lead to Hart wrestling Undertaker on the 12/7 PPV in Springfield, Ma., where Michaels would interfere causing Bret to win the title, which was poetic justice since it was his interference that caused Bret to win the title in the first place, and that Royal Rumble on 1/8, in San Jose, would be headlined by Undertaker vs. Michaels. 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 to him. 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.
October 21, 1997 - McMahon approached Hart wit the idea of losing the title to Michaels in Montreal but promised that he would win it back on 12/7. Hart, remembering his conversations where Michaels was adamant about not doing any more jobs in the territory, was reluctant, saying after the way the angle had been done with him representing Canada and it becoming a big patriotic deal, that he didn't want to lose the title in Canada. He was then asked to lose to Michaels on 12/7 in Springfield, Ma. Hart told McMahon that since Michaels had told both of them that he wasn't doing any more jobs in the territory, that he had a problem doing a job for somebody who wouldn't do a job back. He told McMahon that he didn'
Answered By: The Instant Classic - 7/13/2008